The stellar legal career of retiring Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joanne Goss can best be summed up with the two words that also aptly portray the dominant theme of her many years in the profession, first as a lawyer and then as a judge.
“My entire professional life has been coloured and guided by my interest in and passion for dispute resolution,” says Justice Goss. “And it is a theme that has prevailed throughout my career, literally from start to finish.”
The Edmonton jurist, who will have her final sitting on September 4 and will officially retire on September 11 after 21 years on the Bench, was called to the Alberta Bar in 1985 and developed a practice in civil and family litigation before branching into mediation and arbitration.
She spent her entire career as a lawyer with Miller Thompson LLP, having also articled there and worked as a student for three summers back when the law firm was Cormie Kennedy.
She was designated a Chartered Mediator by the Arbitration and Mediation Institute of Canada (AMIC) in 1994 and a Chartered Arbitrator in 1997, served as Equity Ombudsperson for the Law Society of Alberta from 1997 until her judicial appointment and taught Alternate Dispute Resolution at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law from 1992 to 1998.
Justice Goss also served as President of AMIC, now known as the ADR Institute of Canada, from 1993 to 1994, President of the Alberta Arbitration and Mediation Society from 1992 to 1994, and Chair of the Canadian Bar Association (Alberta Branch) Alternate Dispute Resolution Subsection from 1994 to 1995.
The University of Alberta Faculty of Law’s Class of 1984 graduate also co-authored two books: Grievance Mediation, published by Canada Law Book in 1994; Alternate Dispute Resolution: Teaching Materials, published by the University of Alberta Faculty of Law in 1992; and a chapter in Injury Evaluation: Medico-Legal Principles, published by Butterworths Canada in 1991.
In 1999 she was appointed to the Provincial Court of Alberta and assigned to the Family and Youth Division in Edmonton. While there, she was asked to develop the Provincial Court Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR) Program and also became involved with the National Judicial Institute as one of their faculty teaching Settlement Conferencing.
“My time with Provincial Court was equally wonderful to my time on Queen's Bench. I sat in the Family and Youth Division of the court, meaning I dealt primarily with young offenders, family and children’s services matters,” says Justice Goss. “The work was very interesting and one of the highlights of my time there was the opportunity to work with stakeholders to develop the Provincial Court JDR Program in Edmonton in 2000.”
In February 2010 she was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench. She continued to conduct many JDRs and also provided seminar content on differing approaches to JDR (evaluative vs. facilitative) and using litigation risk analysis as a tool.
During her more than two decades as a judge, Justice Goss had her share of memorable cases, among them, two judicial reviews heard together which addressed the Crown’s duty to consult the Indigenous peoples of Canada pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
“The honour of the Crown requires that meaningful consultation and appropriate accommodation take place when a proposed government action threatens to adversely affect Aboriginal peoples,” she says. “The history and evolution of this doctrine, viewed through the lens of judicial determinations, was a fascinating journey.”
Perhaps her most challenging case was a high conflict family law case she managed over the course of approximately 5 years that consisted of continuous court applications between the parents, which had a very obvious impact on the children involved.
“I often felt like a tool in their destruction of one another,” says Justice Goss. “The tragedy was, however, the children - turning on a parent by design of the other parent, threats of suicide by both children at different times and then, the ultimate in destruction, the children turning on each other in the battle of their parents. It was crushing to watch, I felt helpless to stop it and it was exasperating to know that doing your job simply fed the frenzy.”
Her most memorable case was a jury trial in Hinton a few years ago where the jury selection was long and difficult due to the complainant being well known in the small town. After finally selecting 12 jurors, the trial was ready to proceed at 2 p.m. However, when one of the jurors was seen chatting and laughing with the first scheduled witness during the lunch break, this time frame was derailed.
The juror was excused; but a replacement could not be selected as the array of prospective jurors had already been dismissed. That led to Justice Goss issuing a Talisman Order and sending Sheriffs into the community to round up 30 individuals to recommence jury selection.
The Sheriffs went to the Walmart and “nabbed” a group of unhappy shoppers who “felt like they were being arrested for no reason” and corralled them on a bus that had been commandeered, she recalls, adding it became quite the spectacle in the community with many articles and news stories being written about it in the days following.
Justice Goss says a favorite memory from her years on the Bench that she will always carry with her is the feeling at the moment when the parties reach agreement in a JDR.
“You can feel the tension cascade off of the parties and their counsel. It is often somewhat emotional as the parties suddenly see themselves sitting on the same side of the table, working together, to iron out the fine details,” she says. “We can offer no greater service to Albertans.”
Justice Goss says what she is going to miss the most is the work and the people she works with.
“There isn’t a more hard-working group and each is absolutely dedicated to their role. I have grown both personally and professionally in the company of my colleagues,” she says. “I love the work of our Court. It is stimulating, challenging and mostly gratifying. I have enjoyed the speaking and teaching opportunities, both inside and outside the courtroom, and to be able to be a principal to our articling students.”
That said, Justice Goss is “very excited” about retirement.
“I feel very lucky to be retiring at a relatively young age,” she says. “It gives me the opportunity to pursue yet one more career, that of an unsuccessful artist. I have always enjoyed creative endeavours and this will give me the chance to dive into it on a more full-time basis. Of course, this will still be second in priority to my new role as a grandmother.”