Eighteen years of military service create a firm foundation for law school

Liz England's strengths in analysis, communication and goal completion transfer smoothly

Helen Metella - 31 January 2020

For 1L Liz England, the road to law school took her first through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Before law school, England had achieved the rank of major in the Canadian Armed Forces, followed by a brief stint in a related career, working as an Operations Centre officer with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Skills from her first career are helpful for law, she says.

"The military taught me that a good leader doesn't know everything but is curious to learn what might affect their plans. I learned to keep my mind open to different ideas, opinions and approaches."

As a Liaison and Observation Team commander in Bosnia during 2004, England monitored the implementation of the Dayton Accords (the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina). She spoke to both government and village leaders, observing and reporting on issues of peace and security.

Tank Commander

In Afghanistan, she worked for the Provincial Reconstruction Team as a duty officer responsible for situational awareness. In Canada, she was a liaison officer between the military and the RCMP during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, and in 2011 she led 15 soldiers and four tanks as tank troop leader with Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) at CFB Edmonton.

Working inside a tank while commanding it and three others taught her "multitasking, prioritizing and communicating effectively under challenging conditions."

England has been passionate about justice since a Grade 11 social studies teacher screened a documentary about the 1995 Srebenicia genocide in the former Yugoslavia. "I wanted to understand the nature of conflict and figure out why this could happen and how to solve it."

In the military she occasionally encountered legal issues. They included Administrative Law matters while working in the military human resources branch at 3rd Canadian Division in Edmonton; setting up boards of inquiry and summary investigations; and dealing with grievances and Reserve Force compensation issues.

After completing a master's, England retired from the military to go to Kyiv with the OSCE, a regional security organization that promotes stability, peace and democracy in Europe. The OSCE had 10 teams deployed across Ukraine, including in the non-government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, and it was her responsibility to know what each was trying to do, while being prepared to co-ordinate head office support if there was an emergency.

Ukraine Mission

In a separate part of the job, she brought together representatives from across the head office and the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine to conduct operational-level planning and contingency planning. That included leading a planning session to develop the Mission's approach in response to increasing tensions in the Azov Sea, months before the 2018 Kerch Strait incident (when the Russian coast guard red upon and captured three Ukrainian Navy vessels).

"When you see the effects of a failed or failing state and how people's frustration contributes to its failure, you come to realize how fragile our own democratic institutions really are. I hope my upcoming career in law helps give people reason to put their faith in these institutions."