Six Supreme Court Clerks

April 2016
Fraser Harland, Mary Louise Chabot, Thomas Touchie, Catherine Le Guerrier, Peter Grbac and Brodie Noga, with Professor Alana Klein

L to R: Fraser Harland, Mary Louise Chabot, Thomas Touchie, Catherine Le Guerrier, Peter Grbac and Brodie Noga, with Professor Alana Klein who headed the SCC clerkships program this year.

Six of the 27 law clerks chosen in April to clerk at the Supreme Court are from McGill. In their own inimitable voices, these high-flying, hard-working and down-to-earth Law students share their career aspirations and tell us a bit more about themselves.

Fraser Harland

I grew up in Camrose, Alberta. Before coming to McGill, I completed a BA at Mount Allison University, the Parliamentary Internship Programme in Ottawa, and an MA at the University of Victoria. At McGill, I’ve been a member of the organizing committee of the Christie Bike Ride, worked as a Research Assistant for Professor Robert Leckey, volunteered with the Student Advocacy Program, and am the Editor-in-Chief of the McGill Law Journal. I’m also an avid runner and cyclist and have used my non-law credits to sing with the McGill University Chorus.

Why apply for a clerkship at the Supreme Court?

Clerking at the Supreme Court of Canada has been a dream for me since day one of law school. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to interact with one of the country’s finest legal minds. More than that, though, it’s a chance to build relationships with 26 other young fledgling jurists as we come to grips with the most pressing legal issues of the year.

How did you find out you had been chosen?

I got a call at about 8:30am the day after my interview from Chief Justice McLachlin’s secretary. When I heard it was her secretary and not the Chief Justice herself, I initially thought the call would be to tell me I hadn’t been chosen. Instead, though, the secretary told me: “The Chief Justice would like to speak with you.” I was then put through to Chief Justice McLachlin who offered me the job. It’s a conversation I’m sure I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

What area of the law currently interests you the most?

I remain a curious generalist, which makes a clerkship a great fit as I’ll be able to work on issues in all areas of the law. I do have a particular interest, though, in criminal law and Aboriginal law issues.

What are your plans now?

This summer, I’ll be working at the Crown Attorney’s office in Ottawa before going on an exchange for my final semester in Copenhagen.

Anything else?

It’s worth noting that I will be clerking during Chief Justice McLachlin’s last year on the bench (as she’ll reach the mandatory retirement age a month after I’ll finish). So I feel particularly lucky to be in her last cohort of clerks at the Court.

Mary Louise Chabot

I’m originally from Rimouski in Eastern Quebec and studied at Lester B. Pearson College near Victoria (BC) before completing a BA in Middle Eastern Studies and International Development at McGill. I began law school the fall after graduating from my Bachelor’s and have been working as the Executive Director at the Legal Information Clinic at McGill since last May. I will complete my B.C.L./LL.B. in December 2016.

Why apply for a clerkship at the Supreme Court?

In Middle East Studies, many of the classes I took pivoted on the fact that there are often many ways of perceiving, experiencing and telling of one same event. From the Arab-Israeli conflict to the ways in which gender affected people’s participation and experience in taking down the Mubarak regime in Egypt, I was frequently called upon to consider that there usually exists more than one “truth”.

I often missed this in law school, where the judgments we study usually boil down the two opposing sides of a case into a single outcome or conclusion. I applied to the Supreme Court thinking the work clerks carry out brings them to interact with the two or more perspectives that exist within a single case. I felt curious and very enthusiastic at the idea of gaining a better understanding of how differing perspectives ultimately make their way into one same judgment.

How did you find out you had been chosen?

I participated in the Sopinka Cup moot this year. Justice Karakatsanis called me on the morning when I was leaving to attend the moot in Ottawa. She called at 7:50 am, and I was ironing my clothes in my kitchen in a mad rush to leave the house in-time for our final practice with our mooting coach. It was a very exciting moment for me!

What area of the law currently interests you the most?
I am currently particularly interested in criminal and health law, as well as constitutional law. I truly loved my experience at the Legal Information Clinic and in my moot, and so I really hope to do community legal work as well as litigation in the future.

What are your plans now?

This summer I will be working at Avocats BSL in Rimouski. I hope the experience will provide me with a better understanding of what it is like to work within a smaller community, since I plan on returning to work in Eastern Quebec in the future. During my last term of law school, in the Fall, I will be on exchange at the University of Torino, in Italy. Next Winter I will attend Bar school in Montreal.

Brodie Noga

I was born and raised in East Vancouver, and throughout my life, have been involved in environmental issues, working as a climate change consultant for BC municipalities, researching the environmental beliefs of Bolivian miners or as the current Executive Editor of the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law & Policy. I hope to continue this passion through to a future career in legal practice.

Why apply for a clerkship at the Supreme Court?

Most of all, I saw clerking at the Supreme Court was a unique opportunity to work, and contribute in a small way, to one of the cornerstones of Canadian democracy—the importance of which was impressed upon me after having this summer observed a political trial in Cambodia.

I also believed that a clerkship would be an engaging and challenging place where I would further develop the skills to grapple with the most complex and pressing legal issues that face the Canadian legal system.

How did you find out you had been chosen?

I was in the middle of washing my dishes when Justice Gascon called, which meant I had to frantically take off my rubber gloves and run to my phone!

What area of the law currently interests you the most?

I have never been good at picking favourites. Practically speaking, I am very interested in the private law issues of toxic tort cases, particularly those that involve trans-boundary pollution. More academically I have become fascinated by administrative law and the implications that this area of the law has on the lives of everyday people living in Canada.

What are your plans now?

This summer I will be working at CazaSaikaley, a litigation boutique in Ottawa and will be returning to McGill for my final semester this fall.

Catherine Le Guerrier

I was born and raised in Montreal, studied liberal arts in Cegep, and then entered McGill law, where I minored in philosophy. It was the place where, I passed from tea to coffee, from improv to the theater with fantastic Actus Reus, from poetry to prose, from complaining and thinking orally to writing articles in student papers, and where I learned to crochet and ski without a hill. I graduated in May 2015 with the Principal David L. Johnston Medal for Contribution.

Why apply for a clerkship at the Supreme Court?

I have realized as I was working my way through my degree, and also now that I’ve been working in law (if only for a couple of months), that I cherish the chance to go to the bottom of an argument or idea, and that few places in the world choose to (or rather, can) spend the time and resources that are needed to do that. I figure the Supreme Court is one of those places where that is valued, and where I can learn to get better at it.

How did you find out you had been chosen?

On the phone, at my very empty (no one was there that morning!), tiny office, on a very grey day. I spoke to Justice Gascon, whom I had never met yet, because of the committee process.

What area of the law currently interests you the most?

Philosophy! I’ve also been working for a union and exploring the possibility of working in labour and employment law, and as I am preparing for a master’s degree that will explore some of the civil law’s philosophical implications, I’m more and more aware that I love contracts and torts (mostly their theory and principles).

What are your plans now?

I will be starting a Masters in philosophy at Université de Montréal, as a SSHRC award holder.

Peter Grbac

I earned my AB (magna cum laude) from Harvard College and my MSc (Distinction) from Oxford University where much of my academic/research work focused on International Law and human migration. During my time at McGill Law, I served as Senior Editor for the McGill Law Journal, 3L Co-President, and clerked for the Honourable Mark G. Peacock of the Quebec Superior Court.

How did you find out you had been chosen?

I was just about to head out for a run – the running paths were clean, the sun was out, and I was ready for the weekend – when I barely made out my phone’s ringer over the Florence + The Machine blasting in my ears. I answered and I heard Justice Abella’s voice: “Hi Peter! It’s Rosie Abella! Do you still want to come work for me?” And that was that.

What area of the law currently interests you the most?

I’m currently interested in employment law. I took Employment Law last term with Professor Blackett. Employment law is an area of the law that brings together the economic, political, and social so well because employment is much more than an employment contract—it is about relationships, the good, bad, and ugly that those relationships entail, and the way society views and structures them. This is also an area of the law that is rapidly shifting in response to societal perceptions towards labour, value, and worth. The “sharing” economy raises the tough question of whether or not our current employment law framework is capable of responding to these new situations. The emerging debates and discussions are conceptually challenging but incredibly exciting.

What are your plans now?

The next few months are going to be full of new adventures and some exciting travels. I’ll be splitting the summer between Toronto (working for McCarthy Tétrault) and New York (working for White & Case). The plan is then to head off to Beijing and backpack my way down to Hong Kong in time to begin my last semester of law school (on exchange) at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law. After that, who knows…

Anything else?
I’ve said this now to a number of people but I believe strongly that as much as going through this application process was about me putting my best foot forward, I couldn’t have done it without the words of encouragement and guidance from family, friends, and some incredibly dedicated and passionate professors (and support staff!) at the Faculty.

Thomas Touchie

I’m originally from Baie-Comeau, Quebec, and I grew up around Montreal. I did my undergraduate in history at McGill and I have a graduate degree in political economy from the LSE. I’m currently finishing my third year of law school and should graduate this December.

Why apply for a clerkship at the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court plays a pivotal role in shaping Canadian society – it is at the heart of some of the most momentous debates in our country. Beyond clerking for the Court, I could imagine few ways to make a more meaningful contribution to the legal profession so early on in my life.

One of the greatest pleasures of being a law student has been learning from and working alongside incredibly accomplished jurists. While at McGill, I was lucky enough to work for Professor Robert Leckey for two years and have recently worked as a research assistant for former Justice Louise Otis. I was also a student clerk at the Quebec Court of Appeal for Justice Yves-Marie Morissette, from whom I learned a great deal about appellate litigation. These experiences taught me a lot about the law and certainly inspired me to apply to the Supreme Court.

How did you find out you had been chosen?

I received a call from Justice Cromwell while I was working at the library on the Friday evening following interviews. Our conversation went something like this: “Hi Thomas! It’s Thomas, calling from Ottawa. Are you still looking for a job? Great.” I was really thrilled – I could hardly believe it.

What area of the law currently interests you the most?

Statutory interpretation has been my favourite ever since I took a course on the subject with Professor Frédéric Bachand in my second year. The limits of language in communicating law fascinate me and I really enjoy thinking about the techniques and reasoning judges employ when language is unclear or ambiguous. I also developed a strong interest in administrative law after competing in the Laskin Moot this year.

What are your plans now?

I’ll be working as a summer associate in litigation at Cooley LLP in New York before returning to McGill in the fall. After graduation, I will probably write the Quebec and New York bars before starting at the Court in September 2017.


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