The Very Model of an Honorary Colonel

  • February 06, 2015

CBA CEO John Hoyles is now Col. Hoyles, having been welcomed to the position of Honorary Colonel of the Legal Branch of the Department of National Defence on Feb. 6.

“It is a great honour for me to be doing this, and I'm absolutely thrilled by it,” said Hoyles in an interview with National Magazine. “I think it’s a compliment, not so much to me, but to the CBA.”

The position carries a particular honour because of his family’s rich history in both the military and the law.

His position has a three-year term, which can be renewed. The honorary rank comes with actual responsibilities, says Hoyles, who will meet with lawyers in the Judge Advocate General’s office in Ottawa, Halifax and Victoria to talk about the importance of their roles; and also helping to educate and raise awareness of lawyers in military towns about the differences between military and civilian law.

The involvement of the Judge Advocate General’s office in the CBA has given members a whole new perspective on military law, he says.

“I think there’s something very interesting when you have people that are in uniform attending the Canadian Legal Conference. They very much wanted … the military lawyers to be more engaged in the profession, but the legal profession (also) needs to better understand what military lawyers do.”

He jokes that when he was a lawyer practising in Northern Ontario his midnight phone calls were along the lines of, “this guy wants to talk to you to see whether he should blow into a breathalyzer.” A JAG lawyer working in a war zone, on the other hand, could be awaked in the middle of the night to decide whether bombing a certain area would meet the rules of engagement. The lawyer who’s helping Hoyles learn his new role is dealing with Shell on questions of that company’s oil rights on land used by the army as a training ground.

Hoyles was able to choose which branch of the military he wanted to represent. He chose the army because of his grandfather, a member of the Black Watch who was killed on the battlefield in Amiens, France in 1918, just before the end of the First World War.

The Uniform Code is coming to mean something more than military justice to Hoyles, who wore fatigues to his welcoming ceremony with current JAG Maj.-Gen. Blaise Cathcart because his dress uniform wasn’t ready. First of all, he’s only to wear the uniform when he’s acting as an ambassador for the JAG’s office. Hoyles’ son-in-law, who serves in the military, taught him how to shape (and shave) his beret – which carries its own obligations.

“I was walking down the street wearing my uniform and I see a guy in a military uniform about to get out of a car. I am about to walk past him, and four paces before I got to him he salutes me, ‘Sir!’ and I have to respond and salute him as I go by him.” He got the salute because of the beret, it seems – if he’d been without headgear the lower-ranking solder might have just stood at attention as he passed.