by Lieutenant Commander Sheila Archer
If you don’t like to travel, it’s the wrong job. Working as a lawyer with the office of the Judge Advocate General, Canadian Forces, can lead to assignments around the globe, as well as a great variety of work in Canada. A graduate of UVic Law School and formerly Crown Counsel in Victoria, Courtenay and Campbell River, I have been with the JAG branch for the past three years. Since joining the JAG branch, I have completed basic officers’ training in St. Jean, Quebec (yes, lawyers do it too!), worked at JAG Headquarters in Ottawa, conducted courts martial both in and outside Canada and been deployed on operations in Aviano, Italy before and during the Kosovo conflict.
Like the other two legal officers who were also deployed in Italy during the Kosovo conflict, my duties included advising the Canadian Air Force Contingent Commander with respect to many matters. Among these were advising with respect to orders given to Canadian service personnel by NATO commanders in light of Canadian interpretation of international law. As well, I offered training and advice to Canadian CF-18 pilots in the interpretation and application of rules of engagement, or “ROE”, which, in the context of the air operations during the Kosovo conflict, governed when armed force could be used in air to air and air to ground engagements. Similarly, I advised the pilots on the availability and extent of self-defence both in the air and on the ground, in the event that they had to eject from their plane.
In addition, due to the nature of the operations that were occurring, a crucial part of my role was to review the targets that were assigned to Canadian pilots for legality under Additional Protocol I from a Canadian standpoint. This included an assessment of whether the target was a military objective and whether the collateral damage that would likely result was disproportionate to the military advantage which would be gained. Being fully integrated into the combat team was essential to my ability to do my job properly and has helped to further the involvement of lawyers in combat at both the tactical and operational levels in the Canadian Forces.
Of course, being a lawyer with a deployed unit, I also provided legal advice with respect to disciplinary matters, the application of NATO Status of Forces Agreements, contracts, wills and many other legal issues that arose in the context of a group of Canadians living and working overseas.
Presently stationed at CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, my life is still quite exciting, peppered with trips to various points in Canada and to other countries as well. My most recent trip was to Chile, where I acted as legal advisor to the Canadian Navy contingent participating in a tri-lateral naval war games exercise between Canada, the US and Chile. While in Esquimalt, my duties resemble more of a general practice, albeit all related to military matters within the Canadian legal context. Despite having already had the opportunity to work half way around the world in both east-west and north-south axis, the future looks very interesting with a trip to the Persian Gulf aboard HMCS CALGARY, a Canadian Patrol Frigate, on the horizon for the summer of 2000.
Lieutenant Commander Sheila Archer, Deputy Judge Advocate, Pacific Region
This article was published in the April 2000 issue of BarTalk. © 2000 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.