While some judges are appointed to the Bench after having legal careers that mainly focused on and specialized in particular branches of the law, Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Justice Tamara (Tami) Friesen ended up on a different, less-travelled path.
Justice Friesen had been ready to pursue a career as a writer and post-secondary English teacher after earning a Master’s Degree in Canadian literature when a friend convinced her that she should apply for law school instead.
“I think I would have been quite happy with a career in teaching and writing,” she says.
“But I doubt it would have given me as many wonderful opportunities to get into ‘good trouble’ as my legal career has.”
Justice Friesen, who was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton on January 31, 2019, graduated with an LL.B. with Distinction from the University of Alberta Faculty of Law in 2001. While there, she was awarded First Prize in Law or Administration of Justice in the North, received the 2001 Lieberman Prize in Law and Medicine for superior academic achievement, and had her article “The Right to Health Care” published in the Faculty of Law Health Care Institute’s Health Law Journal.
Justice Friesen clerked with both the Alberta Court of Appeal and Court of Queen's Bench and finished her articles at Lucas, Bowker & White, LLP (now DLA Piper) before being called to the Alberta Bar in 2002.
After the completion of her articles, she was hired by Alberta Justice as a Crown prosecutor and worked in Edmonton General Prosecutions until 2006, when she transferred to the Special Prosecutions Branch, Economic Crimes. In 2009, she went to work at the Appeals, Education & Prosecution Policy Branch as appellate counsel.
Her career path changed in 2010 when she took a position as the Director of the Legal Research & Writing Program at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law and, in 2012, it took another turn when she became Legal Counsel for the Law Society of Alberta.
In 2013, she decided to enter the world of private practice and joined Nugent Law Office where she worked mainly in labour and employment law, and also in the areas of administrative law and professional discipline.
Justice Friesen has appeared before a variety of administrative tribunals and at all levels of court, including appearing twice before the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Over the course of my 17 years as a lawyer, I dealt with complex legal issues in several different workplaces and legal contexts,” she says. “I feel very lucky. I’ve had many opportunities to learn from wonderful colleagues, to work on impactful and interesting cases, and to contribute to Alberta’s jurisprudence in all these different areas of law.”
During this timeframe, she also participated in subgroups as a member of the Canadian Bar Association, was on the organizing committee for the annual Law Day at the Edmonton Law Courts, attended and spoke at legal conferences as an Alberta Justice delegate, and taught seminars on employment law for the Legal Education Society of Alberta.
As well, she volunteered, on a pro bono basis, for the Edmonton Community Legal Clinic and at the U of A Law School as an instructor and a guest lecturer and as both a moot judge and a moot coach. She also got married and raised two amazing daughters with her husband.
Born and raised in Lethbridge, Alberta, Justice Friesen gained valuable experience while working at a variety of non-legal jobs before embarking on her legal career. Those include stints at retail and restaurant outlets, being a camp counsellor, planting trees, editing a student newspaper and being a teaching assistant, freelance writer and political intern.
She has received honours and awards for her scholastic essays, articles and reviews, and has been published in newspapers, magazines and law journals.
Away from work, Justice Friesen has engaged in community activities such as coaching amateur soccer and basketball, singing in choirs and volunteering with educational groups. She also played Ultimate Frisbee in community leagues in three different Canadian cities, as well as on a national level.
Her life and work experiences brought Justice Friesen into contact with people from all facets of society, ranging from working with vulnerable and marginalized groups, to participating in a First Nations justice project, to engaging in community cross-cultural and religious projects and events.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” she says. “By engaging with and listening to the stories of all the diverse and unique people I have met in my lifetime, I have developed an ability to understand and appreciate perspectives different than my own, personally and legally. I believe this will help me make decisions that are both logical and compassionate. I want to make those people proud.”