With the immortal words “Beam me up Scotty,” Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Scott Brooker put the finishing touches on a stellar judicial career that spanned 24 years.
Justice Brooker used the classic Star Trek reference to end his thank-you remarks at the conclusion of his virtual swearing-out ceremony held in the Ceremonial Courtroom at the Calgary Courts Centre on May 29.
The first ever such event was attended both in person and by video by Justice Brooker’s Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal colleagues and special guests including his wife Susan and their children and grandchildren. Former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Sheilah Martin of the Supreme Court of Canada also attended by video.
Chief Justice of Alberta Catherine Fraser, Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau, QB Associate Chief Justice John Rooke and former QB Chief Justice Neil Wittmann spoke at the ceremony and all praised Justice Brooker for his excellent work, collegiality and dedicated service.
As well as being on the QB Bench since his June 20, 1996, appointment, Justice Brooker also spent a lot of time sitting in the North as a Deputy Judge of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, since 1998, a Deputy Judge of the Nunavut Court of Justice, since 2002, and a Deputy Judge of the Supreme Court of Yukon, since 2005.
“I would just like to say that it has been an honour to have had the opportunity over these past years to have served the people of Alberta as well as those of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut,” says Justice Brooker.
The 75-year-old distinguished jurist, who was raised in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, graduated from Dalhousie Law School in 1970 and then made his way to Calgary. He was in legal practice there for 25 years before his appointment and spent all but the first couple of years with the firm Code Hunter Wittmann. He mainly practiced civil litigation, but also did quite a bit of criminal law early on in his career.
Justice Brooker says one of his best moments with the Court was the day he was sworn in as a QB Justice. “I know it sounds corny, but it was truly one of the happiest days of my life.”
Another top moment was when he was sitting as a Deputy Judge of the Nunavut Court of Justice in Sanikiluaq and court had to be held in the school gym because the community hall had been condemned by the health department. He recalls sitting in his robes at a folding table waiting for court to start and noticing two young boys peering in from the door and talking animatedly.
“The clerk came over and said ‘you might be interested to know what those little boys were talking about. One boy said to the other “that guy looks just like Santa Claus.” The other boy said “yeah, but he can’t be Santa Claus because Santa Claus is dressed all in red and that guy is in black.” The first boy replied “you’re right. He must be Santa Claus’ brother.”
Justice Brooker says he thinks the most interesting case he ever presided over was the high-profile first-degree murder jury trial of R v Larue while acting as a Deputy Judge of the Yukon Supreme Court in Whitehorse. It began with a jury selection from the roughly 700 potential jurors who responded to the 1,300 summonses issued, with the defence insisting on both challenging for cause every single one of them and using rotating triers.
Once the trial, which took over three months and had more than 20 voir dires, started, there were all kinds of odd things that arose. They included an RCMP officer witness who worked in the forensics lab being found guilty of perjury in another case, a continuity issue when an officer who was taking the victim’s remains to Vancouver for analysis had her flight cancelled and was forced to store them in her home freezer and the accused’s co-accused girlfriend being held in contempt after refusing to testify.
There were also all sorts of issues relating to what was believed to be the first Mrs. Big police sting operation in Canada, one of the jurors suffered a heart attack and both the air conditioning and elevators broke down for weeks during the summer sitting.
Despite the many wrinkles, the jury convicted the accused and Justice Brooker notes with relief that both the Yukon Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada upheld his jury instructions, although not unanimously.
One of the worst cases Justice Brooker presided over was the murder trial of the 12-year-old Medicine Hat girl who, along with her then-23-year-old boyfriend, killed her parents and eight-year-old brother in 2006. And for many years following her 2007 conviction, he officially monitored her progress while serving her sentence.
Justice Brooker says his thoughts about retirement are mixed. “There is a certain amount of trepidation, but on the other hand, I am looking forward to the freedom that should come with it.”
He also says he has not yet fully decided what he will do and figures he will initially do next to nothing so he can get used to the idea. Then he might consider doing some mediation work, working on his photography skills, honing his guitar skills and learning to play the bagpipes.
He states he will definitely spend more time with his grandchildren and do lots of hiking and walking and will also think about training with a friend to run another marathon, working on improving his French language skills and possibly becoming an extra in the Vancouver film industry.
And so, while the Court is definitely going to miss him, what will Justice Brooker miss?
“What I will miss most about QB is the staff and my colleagues. We have a great group of dedicated and pleasant clerks, judicial assistants, court drivers and dining room staff that I enjoy working with. And my colleagues are second to none. Many have become good friends. And I shall miss the chance to get to know better the recent appointments who are all destined to be great judges.”