Recently sworn-in Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Marta E. Burns has all the tools to be an outstanding judge, thanks in no small part to her experiences as a working mother with a wide exposure to Canada’s rich diversity and a long history of volunteerism.
The Edmonton Justice – who was appointed to the Bench on February 21 and officially sworn in on June 7 – says she believes she is well equipped to be a judge.
“As cliché as it sounds, I love the law, I love being a lawyer and I like helping people figure out their problems and helping them find a path to their resolution,” says Justice Burns.
“I like writing, arguments and debates and the intellectual exercise that entails,” she continues. “I believe I am objective and pragmatic and I am well able to balance solutions between the practical and the legal or technical.”
The mother of three says she “strongly identifies” as a working mother and notes she married young and had their first child between her second and third year of law school.
“I often commented on the fact that I was doing three full-time jobs; mom, lawyer and volunteer,” she says. “I was driven by the need to be all things to all people and by the need to excel at everything. And I believe this is an experience shared by many women.”
Justice Burns gained an appreciation for Canada’s diversity while growing up and living in multiple regions and says she identifies with many different groups of Canadians and feels fortunate to have met, explored, watched and participated in communities across the country.
“A part of me is still a small-town Saskatchewan girl, although I have lived in Edmonton for over half my life now,” she says. “I can relate to both these demographics.”
The relatively new Justice credits her many years of volunteerism as something that has enriched her life and allowed her to interact with people from many walks of life.
“I am blessed in all that life has given me, but I recognize that those with much less education, material things, resources and friends and family can teach me,” she says. “I have learned compassion, empathy, strength and dedication from my volunteer pursuits, all of which have equipped me to be the type of judge I want to be.”
Justice Burns began volunteering while earning her Commerce degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Her first volunteer position was at a local women’s shelter and she was also a Big Sister and a math tutor for a couple of prison inmates.
“This taught me that sometimes people go down paths that they wish they hadn’t, but it is difficult to change paths and it sometimes requires assistance,” she says.
Justice Burns has also volunteered with the United Way, the Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the KARA Family Resource Centre and the WINGS of Providence Society. In 2010, she received the Toyota Never Quit Award for her work with WINGS.
“It is simply a way to give to the community,” she says. “If it is important to you, you make the time. And it is important to me.”
Justice Burns was senior litigation counsel with the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General prior to being appointed to the Bench and her practice included tax, commercial, pension, administrative, labour and employment law.
So after 15 years in private practice and 15 years in public practice, why did she aspire to be a judge?
“I realized it was something I really wanted to do,” she says. “It also seems like a natural progression.”
And what kind of judge does she hope to be?
“A good one,” she replied. “I hope I will be fair and compassionate and reasoned and I want people to know I listened to them and their arguments and I was respectful of the process. And, at the end, I want to try to do the right thing as the law requires me to do.”