Board Member Feature: Christine Bernard

Board Member Feature: Christine Bernard

Title: BA, LLB

Favourite quote: Oh my gosh, I don’t think I have one! *laughs*

When did you start working with FOAJ?

In April of this year. It’s been going well, absolutely!

Can you tell me a little bit about your story getting to where you are now? I.e. where you went to school, where you grew up, etc.

I grew up in Alberta in a farming community called Legal. It’s a small French town, north of Morinville. My dad is a French Canadian from Alberta and my mom is an Acadian from New Brunswick. We grew up there, spending quite a bit of time on the east coast, because my mom’s family is there. It became pretty apparent that I wasn’t destined for farm life. My brothers are still at the farm, but I ran away as soon as I could *laughs*. I moved to Edmonton, went to Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta, and did a degree there. I took a year off while doing my degree to live in Paris. I was very fortunate–I worked as an au pair–but I lucked out with the family because they worked for the government and they set me up with my own apartment. It was really the best of all worlds. I got to travel quite a bit in France and Spain while I was there. I did that for a year, came back, and in typical young student fashion needed to make money and applied for a job at a law firm. It all started when I was a secretary there, and found it really interesting. They pushed me to pursue studies in law. I had done all my schooling in French and continued to do so at the Université de Moncton. I obtained my law degree there in 2004.

Why did you pursue a career in administrative justice?

I was a litigation lawyer for almost 10 years. I was in private practice – personal injury and insurance defence primarily. Like many female lawyers, once you have kids, that becomes a little incompatible with family life. I then switched to government practice. Shortly after that, I became the Registrar of the Financial and Consumer Services Tribunal. That’s a position where I’m a lawyer to my tribunal members, and help them run the hearings, interact with the public and the parties, and whatnot. When I was appointed to this position, I said “That’s all good and fine, but I’ve never practiced administrative law so I need some training–and pretty quickly!” and that’s how I became involved with the Foundation of Administrative Justice. It was a crash course in administrative law! *laughs* That would’ve been about 5 years ago, and since then, basically any course that I can get my hands on I will take. My tribunal, when I came into my role back in 2014, was only 6 months old. It was a brand, brand new tribunal. It’s been really interesting to build this thing from the ground up. As I got more experienced and comfortable in my job, I was looking to get more involved with FOAJ and other national organizations. It seemed like a natural progression to become involved with a board or something similar. 

What are some common misconceptions about the industry?

Well, it depends on who you’re talking to. I think If you’re talking to self-represented parties, they may feel that it’s too much like a court. Some of them find it very daunting. It’s a tribunal’s job to explain the process and make it as easy as possible for them. Especially if they’re before my tribunal, they’ve already been through a rough spell– they’ve probably lost their job, they may have lost a home–and emotions are running high. It’s my job to facilitate the process for them so that they can concentrate on the real issues. I’ve had people tell me after they’ve gone through the whole process with us, “Thank you so much for your assistance with the procedure. It made it easier for me to tell the tribunal members what my story was.” For me, it’s all about access to justice, for each individual, regardless of whether they’re wrong or right, to feel they had their day in court and were able to access justice in a meaningful way. That’s the role administrative law should play, if it’s done properly. 

The other thing I’m passionate about, that ties in with the FOAJ mandate, is that I’m a big believer that tribunals need to do more to be fair. And that there’s nothing to be gained from being unfair. Even if it takes more steps and a little more time, everyone will see that justice has been done. Of course as lawyers, the experience is a little different. They want and need a court-like setting, and they won’t necessarily get that. We run a little more informally, but we tried to make it so that the process works for everyone and everyone feels that they were heard. 

What has been your favourite part so far?

I think It’s been learning about their current initiative. That’s what I find exciting, is to see that they’re trying to broaden their horizons and  broaden their scope to reach more administrative tribunals and more people in the administrative law community. It jives with my personal vision–education, education, education, you can’t have enough of it–and that’s one of the reasons I became a board member of FOAJ: to see it expand across Canada. I’m in Atlantic Canada and we have very little training here.

What are the values that drive you?

Definitely integrity, fairness, and loyalty. 

Your favourite books/podcasts/movies, etc?

My favourite movie is American Beauty, or Life as a House. Favourite book, basically anything by Daniel Silva that I can get my hands on. I like political thrillers! Other than that, I don’t listen to podcasts. I’m old school! I am currently reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. It’s really inspiring, she’s a class act. I read an incredible amount, probably one book a week! It’s my escape. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I like to golf–I’m an avid golfer. I like to garden, I like to read, and I spend time with my family. I’ve got two little girls that are seven and ten. They are very active kids, so we’re often biking, swimming, and doing a lot of sporting activities as a family.

Is this a role you would have envisioned yourself in 10 years ago?

No, because 10 years ago I was a litigator *laughs*, so definitely not. Even 3 years ago, it probably wasn’t on my radar yet. 

Who was your role model growing up?

Probably my dad. My dad has no formal education and is probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He instilled in me the values of hard work, integrity, honesty, and to do things right the first time; put in the effort and you’ll see results. He was a very successful business person through sheer depth and strength of character. Like I said, no formal education – he didn’t have that type of background. I have two brothers, and he really Instilled in us that work ethic, drive, and those values. 

What skill would you love to learn, in work or in general?

I’d like to become proficient, again, at playing piano. I was a piano player, but that kind of went on the back burner with the kids. I’m starting to pick it up again! 

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

I think probably the most fulfilling job is helping parties understand the process and ensuring that we run their hearing. 

What’s your hidden talent?

I’m an avid cook, and aspire to be somewhat of a chef, not many people know that! That would be something that I aspire to be.


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