British Columbia

Isolated, above reproach, and fair: Life as a B.C. Supreme Court judge

Justice Catherine Bruce looks back at her career on her last day on the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Justice Catherine Bruce, who presided over the Nuttall and Korody trial, retired Friday

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce — second from left — presided over the John Nuttall (far left) and Amanda Korody (far right) terrorism trial. (CBC)

It was a verdict that surprised the country.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce overturned terror convictions against John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, ruling that the pair was entrapped by RCMP.

In her decision, she described the defendants as vulnerable and chastised officers for going too far.

"Simply put, the world has enough terrorists. We do not need the police to create more out of marginalized people who have neither the capacity nor sufficient motivation to do it themselves," she wrote in the July ruling.

For Justice Bruce, who retired from B.C. Supreme Court bench Friday, it was the culmination of a lifelong commitment to fairness.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce is retiring from the bench. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

Empathy and connection

Bruce started her judicial career as a provincial court judge at the Main Street courthouse, where she often had to preside over people with severe drug and alcohol addiction.

The courtroom became the frontline of a debate over whether addiction was a social problem or criminal behaviour.

"[I wanted] to look the people who are in front of me in the eye and be secure in the knowledge that I was making the fairest possible legal ruling that was consistent with the law, that I understood and had empathy for the parties before me," she said.

Bruce says her work changed once she went to B.C. Supreme Court because the offences became more serious and the courtrooms themselves were bigger.

"My goals remained the same — to connect with the people that came before me. Hopefully I accomplished that," she said.

An isolated life

The Nuttall and Korody trial thrust the judge into the national spotlight.

"It made being in the courtroom difficult because you had to control everything," she said.

"You couldn't act like a normal human being when there were funny things happening in courtroom. You had to pinch yourself to make sure you couldn't give away those kinds of emotions."

Having spent the past 19 years as a judge, Bruce has become used to what she calls the "isolated" life.

"There's no doubt that a judge does not continue to socialize with other lawyers and with other people in the same way," she said.

"We always have to behave in a manner that befits the office, we have to be above reproach in everything we do."

As for retirement, Justice Bruce says it marks a totally new era in her life.

"I hope to do something completely different — something creative."

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Justice Catherine Bruce retires from B.C. Supreme Court