Newly sworn-in Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Justice Jane Fagnan is the first ever QB Legal Counsel to be appointed as a justice to the province’s superior Court.
And, thanks to her 20-year career working with more than 75 judges in criminal, family, administrative, commercial, estate, and other areas of law, she will find herself in familiar territory.
“My work at QB has required me to become fairly knowledgeable in all of the relevant areas of law coming before the Court,” says Justice Fagnan, who was appointed to the Bench by the federal government on May 4 and officially sworn in on Sept. 7.
“I have had the benefit of being closely mentored by a very diverse group of judges who are all highly intelligent, wise and passionate about justice and the role of judging,” she says. “And I have benefited from years of performing legal research and analysis, drafting, and reviewing judges’ drafts with a critical eye.”
The new Justice believes her time working at the Court as Legal Counsel also gave her great insight into the lives and challenges of all types of Canadians, including families in crisis, accused, victims, self-represented litigants, individuals suffering from mental illness and vexatious litigants.
She also feels her work on many cases involving members of First Nations communities has given her a better understanding of distinctive communication styles, values and challenges.
“In particular, this work has sensitized me to the need for the justice system to develop creative strategies tailored to supporting these individuals and their communities to overcome systemic challenges,” she says.
However, Justice Fagnan admits she has no misconception about the steep and long learning curve faced by new judges and the fact that the first few years of a judicial career require a huge investment of time and energy.
“I am a strong advocate of lifelong learning and have not only chosen a career which has entailed ongoing learning in numerous substantive legal areas, but I have also engaged in continuing education in non-legal areas,” she says. “In my observation, this desire to learn is an absolutely essential arrow in a judge’s quiver.”
Speaking of learning, the bilingual Edmonton Justice – who grew up in an Anglophone family – earned her law degree entirely in French at Université Laval in Quebec City after completing a one-year French as a Second Language certificate program. She also has an undergraduate degree in music and, in 2011, while working full time, Justice Fagnan earned her Master of Laws Degree from Osgoode Hall Law School with a double major in criminal law and health law.
During her time as a QB Legal Counsel, the married mother of three was also very engaged in the work of several Court committees, produced valuable educational resources, provided language assistance on French litigation files and played a primary role in the Court’s articling program.
Justice Fagnan also taught legal research and writing as a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta law faculty, she was a moot court judge at law student competitions and she was active in the research section of the Canadian Bar Association and l’Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta.
She is also an avid cyclist, an accomplished pianist, organist and harpist who is involved in Chorale Saint-Jean as both a chorister and the accompanist, and has been a member, volunteer and fundraiser with local charitable organizations such as Kids with Cancer, Toastmasters and the Mustard Seed.
Justice Fagnan comes from a modest background and considers herself to be very much “the neighbour next door.” She also participates in community, church and recreational activities and has friends and family from various ethnic, cultural and political backgrounds.
“My everyday life experiences resemble, to a large extent, those of a vast number of Canadians,” she says.
The new Justice also believes that being a woman, mother and wife and her extensive involvement in both the Franco-Albertan and arts communities will help make her a better judge.
So why did Justice Fagnan aspire to be a judge?
“I wanted to serve the public more directly using the knowledge and skills so generously imparted to me by my mentors,” she says.
And what kind of judge does she hope to be?
“Patient, respectful and fair,” she says.