We are Justice

Catherine Kane

Photo of Catherine Kane

Working in government was not an option Catherine Kane considered coming out of law school.

“I didn’t even know that criminal law policy existed nor what it would address,” she says. “I knew about criminal law, but I thought of it from the perspective of either a prosecutor or defence counsel.”

Then in 1982, Catherine got a six-month contract working in the Criminal Law Policy and Amendments Section in the Department of Justice Canada.

Twenty-eight years later, she is Senior General Counsel and Director General of the Section (now simply called the Criminal Law Policy Section) and still finds the work as interesting and challenging as she did then.

Catherine’s first job with the Department was to support a federal-provincial task force on victims of crime. She says it was the perfect job for a junior lawyer – doing research, gathering information and writing papers.

“The first thing I worked on was figuring out what already existed in the criminal law, in the Criminal Code, and in case law that is of use to victims of crime,” she says. “There wasn’t much. There was some stuff there, and I had to try and unpack all of that and take it a step further.”

Catherine did take it a step further. After the first six-month contract was renewed, she says, “I started to get my bearings and think that Justice was a pretty amazing place.”

She continued in Criminal Law Policy, making it her career. Victims’ issues remain particularly important to Catherine.

“I like to finish what I start,” she says. “Over the years there have been these waves of progress in victims’ issues at the federal level, and also many at the provincial level and non-governmental level, as well. But our involvement has ebbed and flowed with the resources available to us.”

“In the early ’80s we focused on the task force recommendations, law reform and new program funding with new resources. Then, over a period of time, priorities would change and there would be less progress, then we’d gear up again to see if we could get more funding to expand the programs.”

“So, I wanted to see it through to a certain point, so that it would become really ingrained in, or part of, the section, that we would have an ongoing mandate to look at some of these issues. And that is what happened.”

Between 1998 and 2000, Catherine was instrumental in setting up a separate unit at Justice – the Policy Centre for Victim Issues – which is dedicated to law reform and policy development in criminal law issues that affect victims.

The Criminal Law Policy Section has also changed and grown over the years. It is now a group of more than 75 people, including 50 lawyers. The Section provides legal and policy advice to the Minister of Justice, other parts of the Department, and other federal departments.

The Section is responsible for monitoring trends in the criminal law and developing options for criminal law reform. The issues addressed include sentencing policy, criminal procedure, high-tech crime issues, social and moral issues, victims’ policy, substantive law and evidence, and organized crime.

And it’s not just the law in Canada that the lawyers in Criminal Law Policy Section deal with.

Catherine notes that her colleagues work on international criminal justice issues and participate in Council of Europe and United Nations initiatives, sharing what Canada does and learning what other countries do, as well as providing direct assistance to developing countries.

Between 1998 and 2000, Catherine was instrumental in setting up a separate unit at Justice – the Policy Centre for Victim Issues.

“Anything you can do in private practice, you can do here, and at a different level of complexity,” says Catherine. “There is a ton of stuff that you wouldn’t think of because you really have to scratch below the surface or ask someone to tell you what goes on in the Department.”

She feels her work can have a direct impact on the lives of Canadians, especially those involved in the legal process.

“Victim impact statements are one thing. You never heard of victim impact statements 20 years ago. Now, you read an account in the paper about a sentencing and how the victim impact statement was read, and we have all sorts of really positive feedback about that. You hear the victim say, ‘It may not have made a difference, but I’m sure glad I had the chance to explain it to people.’ It humanizes the law.”

Despite being Director General with the accompanying daily tasks of meetings, reviews and briefings, Catherine says she’s still a lawyer and wants to get “as immersed as possible” in the discussion and debates and advice.

She loves the diversity of her job and can never predict what each day will bring.

“Luckily I work with a wonderful group of expert colleagues who support me in responding to the daily challenges.”

Photo of Catherine Kane