THE ADVOCATE V O L . 7 5 P A R T 2 M A R C H 2 0 1 7 287 The Honourable Justice Joyce DeWitt-Van Oosten Joyce M. DeWitt-Van Oosten, Q.C., was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver on October 20, 2016, and no one familiar with her stellar legal career was at all surprised. Rags to riches (relatively speaking) is a standard trope in many Hollywood melodramas and a few judicial biographies, but it may actually be true in this case. Flashback: The early 1970s. A tiny hamlet in the Chilcotin called Riske Creek (pronounced “risky”). Fifty kilometres to the nearest school in Williams Lake; it is an hour’s drive away. A bright young girl is up before dawn to catch the school bus—way before dawn. This will become a lifelong pattern. After school and the long bus ride home, she is in a trailer adjacent to her family’s roadside service station. Every evening, from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m., while doing her homework, she keeps an eye out for any customers pulling up at the pumps outside. When they do, she drops her homework and runs out to fill their gas tanks and clean their windshields. Occasionally she even fixes a flat tire. Humility. Long days. Hard work. Unstinting service. With Madam Justice DeWitt-Van Oosten it is bred in the bone. Flash Forward: 1994. A newly called lawyer is hired by the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Justice. Joyce arrives at the Vernon Crown counsel office. Her new colleagues are curious and a bit skeptical. They know she has received her undergraduate degree from the University of Alberta and her law degree from UBC. They know she clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada and articled at an upscale Vancouver law firm. Rumours about her life and career have preceded her. Will she be a big city snob? Is she too much of an egghead for the rough and tumble of small town criminal practice? Is the sum total of her court experience really just a single small claims trial? Is it really true that she was kicked off the University of Alberta women’s hockey team for being too aggressive? Her new colleagues’ fears do not materialize. Joyce proves to be urbane and self-possessed, modest and understated, a fast learner and a very hard worker. Her learning curve is actually more of a straight line upwards. In less than a year, she is doing charge approvals and conducting prosecutions in difficult and serious cases, reorganizing office procedures, and becoming a valuable source of advice to lawyers far more experienced than she is.
March Pages 2017
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