University of Alberta Faculty of Law Students Attend Q&A with Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe

Lerina Koornhof and Brandyn Rodgerson flew to Ottawa for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Priscilla Popp - 28 October 2016

It's not every day you attend a question-and-answer session with the newest nominee - now member - of the Supreme Court of Canada, meet a party leader, a senator, and take in question period in the House of Commons, but that was the reality for University of Alberta Faculty of Law 3L students Lerina Koornhof and Brandyn Rodgerson on Tuesday, October 25.

Canadian law school deans, including Dean Paul Paton, were asked by the Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to select two students to send to the question-and-answer session, held at the University of Ottawa to allow members of Parliament and senators from all parties the opportunity to address then-nominee to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Honourable Malcolm H. Rowe.

Ms. Koornhof and Mr. Rodgerson were the University of Alberta Faculty of Law representatives at the session, joining approximately 140 of their law school colleagues from across Canada. Fourteen of 24 senators and members of Parliament in attendance were allowed five minutes each to question Justice Rowe on a number of topics, including Indigenous issues, Charter rights, judicial activism, diversity on the Court, and the role of international law.

"I was pleased to send Brandyn and Lerina to Ottawa for this extraordinary opportunity featuring Mr. Justice Rowe and a number of parliamentarians," said Dean Paton. "Lerina and Brandyn have distinguished themselves in different and important ways during their time at the Faculty - Brandyn as the vice president of OUTlaw, and Lerina as one of the leaders of the Law and Social Media project, to name just two examples - and I knew that they would be tremendous ambassadors for us in Ottawa."

During their time in Ottawa, Ms. Koornhof and Mr. Rodgerson met The Honourable Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, and Senator Murray Sinclair, Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2008-2015). They also sat in on question period at the House of Commons.

Both students said that attending the question-and-answer session was the highlight of their law school experience.

"I was very honoured to attend and observe Justice Rowe's responses," said Ms. Koornhof.

"This experience allowed students to gain valuable insight into the process whereby our Supreme Court justices are chosen - and truly humanized the person," said Mr. Rodgerson, of coming face-to-face with Justice Rowe.

Ms. Koornhof is one of the leaders of the Faculty's Law and Social Media project. Last year, the project focused on the anniversary of women's suffrage, and this year the project - Dominion 2017 - focuses on the upcoming 150th anniversary of Confederation. She is also a tremendous advocate for women's and Aboriginal / Indigenous rights and is currently enrolled in the Courts Clerkship Course at the Court of Appeal of Alberta.

Mr. Rodgerson is the vice president of OUTlaw (the Faculty's LGBT and allies student group), a member of the Faculty's Equality and Respect Committee, and a student leader with particular interests in domestic and international human rights. He plans to complete a clerkship with the Court of Appeal of Alberta next year.

Both Ms. Koornhof and Mr. Rodgerson are members of the Alberta Law Review board.

Justice Rowe - appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau on Friday, October 28 - is the first Supreme Court of Canada justice from Newfoundland and Labrador. His appointment is also the first made under the Government of Canada's new Supreme Court selection process, established to promote greater openness, transparency, and accountability. According to the Supreme Court's website, "the new selection process sought jurists of the highest calibre, who were functionally bilingual and representative of the diversity of this great country."

First appointed as a trial judge in 1999, Justice Rowe has sat on the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador since 2001. Throughout his distinguished career working for the federal government, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and in private practice, he has been involved in constitutional matters, foreign relations, the arbitration of maritime boundaries, and the negotiation of conventional law through the United Nations.

It is safe to say that Ms. Koornhof and Mr. Rodgerson - along with many other Canadians - will be following his career for years to come.