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VOL. 80 PART 3 MAY 2022
Bruno, Nancy’s partner for decades and the love of her life, died unexpectedly
in 1995. It would be easy to get sidetracked down the path of
Nancy and Bruno—the place he still occupies in her mind and heart is firm
and unchanging. The stories she tells about him are often touching and
mostly very funny. However, this is not the place for that, and there is
always her book to refer to.
Nancy was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court (where, unlike in the
Provincial Court, she had to wear robes) in 1996, shortly after Bruno died,
and while she was still completing the cookbook they had been writing
together, Love in the Kitchen. She remained on the Supreme Court until her
retirement in 2011.
Efrat Arbel, former law clerk, now a professor of law at UBC, refers to the
great privilege of clerking for Nancy. She says Nancy treated everyone in
the room as an equal, valued them for their humanity, and conducted each
case, even the most violent and difficult criminal matters, with compassion
combined with intellectual rigour. Susan Griffin J.A., a close friend of
Nancy, says Nancy’s graceful style has been a lesson for her, describing
Nancy as a fair-minded and compassionate judge, combining prairie wisdom
and legal smarts.
Nancy presided over some very difficult jury trials—for example, R. v.
Ellard, which concerned the murder of Reena Virk in Victoria. She extended
the range of general and punitive damages for sustained domestic sexual
assault in Waters v. Bains, 2008 BCSC 823, where she noted that the learning
process of understanding the horrendous impact of sexual abuse is still
ongoing. She also remained ever practical and concerned about the lives of
people interacting with the court. At one point, she became aware of a huge
backlog of desk order divorces in New Westminster. She took it upon herself
to go to that registry when not in trial in Vancouver, sit down with a clerk
and attack the mountains of files until they were all done. She enjoyed judicial
case conferences in family matters, interacting with the litigants in a
warm and personal manner, often defusing a tense situation by asking to
see pictures of the children.
This short survey of Nancy’s life shows a few things. She was very lucky
to have loving and supportive parents, and to have come along at a time
when the legal world was just opening up to women. Nancy is the first to
acknowledge that, although she faced and overcame many hurdles, she was
in the privileged position of being able to obtain an education and move
around the country as an independent woman at a time when jobs were
available and the costs of living, even in Vancouver, were manageable with