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Armed Forces lawyers must be prepared for anything, students hear

Major-General Blaise Cathcart presents an alternative career path at annual Howard Lecture
February 11, 2015
Major-General Blaise Cathcart, Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces, speaks to Faculty of Law students at the University of Calgary on Tuesday. Photo by Andy Nichols

Major-General Blaise Cathcart, Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces, speaks to Faculty of Law students at the University of Calgary on Tuesday. Photo by Andy Nichols

Law students looking for an alternative to the traditional legal career learned of a different path on Tuesday when Major-General Blaise Cathcart, Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces, gave the annual William A. Howard Memorial Lecture at the Faculty of Law.

With several areas of focus within both domestic and international law — including military law, operational law, military justice, and military administration — the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) employs more than 300 people, from legal officers, non-legal military personnel, and civilian staff.

JAG’s mission further supports the many options available for a legal career with the office, and states, “In support of the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence, the JAG delivers independent, operationally focused, solution-oriented legal advice and services across the full spectrum of military law, and superintends the administration of military justice.”

“JAG has multiple offices across the country, making it a truly national ‘law office’,” says Major-General Cathcart. “We have offices from coast to coast, as well as two international offices, and you can work with us from recruitment to retirement.”

Cathcart pointed out that a legal career in the Canadian Armed Forces is not for the light-hearted, and that interested law students must be willing to serve as a member of the military as well.

“No matter what you’re trained for in the Armed Forces — if you’re an infantry officer, a pilot, a lawyer — there are six fundamental tasks that you must be prepared to do. Things like carry a buddy out of harm’s way, or dig a trench… things you are expected to do in a stressful situation,” he said. “All of our men and women must be at a state of readiness to do whatever the nation requires, not only in combat situations, but also in situations like the flood relief efforts in High River.”

Areas of law within the Office of the Judge Advocate General

Military administrative law includes career administration, compensation and benefits, grievances and dispute resolution (including Judicial Review), pensions, and service estates.

Domestic operations includes the defence of Canada, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, assistance to law enforcement authorities, and aid of the civil power.

International operations includes giving advice on a legal basis for operations, giving advice to commanders (such as on rules of engagement), rule of law development, negotiation of international agreements, training in the law of armed conflict, and the legal review of means and methods of warfare.

The Judge Advocate General acts as a legal adviser to the Governor General, the Minister of National Defence, the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Armed Forces in matters relating to military law. The JAG is responsible for the superintendence of the administration of military justice in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Thirteenth year of the Howard Lecture

The William A. Howard Memorial Lecture is presented annually by Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, to preserve the legacy of William Howard, a builder of the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary. The lecture was established to ensure the continued investment in the next generation of legal professionals, a cause for which Howard had much passion.