TRU law professor receives prestigious award

Excellence in his field and outstanding community service contributed to Queen’s Counsel designation

TRU law professor and Kamloops lawyer, John O’fee. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

TRU law professor and Kamloops lawyer, John O’fee. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

For his service to his community and profession, Kamloops lawyer and TRU professor John O’Fee received the Queen’s Counsel designation last month. O’Fee was one of 32 to receive the designation across the province.

The title most often goes to lawyers who have contributed to the betterment of their profession in their community, and O’Fee has done just that. His service to his profession and to his community earned him a nomination earlier this year in September.

Winning the designation is definitely an achievement, as by law, only seven per cent of practising B.C. lawyers can receive it. O’Fee said his extensive work in Kamloops courtrooms and community halls wasn’t at all for the Queen’s Counsel designation.

“I did all these things, not because I wanted a Queen’s Counsel designation, but because I wanted to be a part of my community,” O’Fee said.

Despite the designation being more about service to the profession than service to the community, O’Fee’s role in the Kamloops community no doubt helped him along his path to making it on the “Queen’s List.”

Even when he was younger, the Kamloops-born O’Fee had taken an active role in serving his community.

“When I was a young lawyer starting out, I had a friend who told me I should run for the school board,” O’Fee said. “It was something I did half seriously, half not seriously. They had six school trustees in Kamloops at the time. I got elected sixth, out of 11 candidates. So I just barely made it onto the board.”

O’Fee would end up serving three terms on the school board, his last as its chair. Then in 1999, he would run for city council, coming first out of 27 candidates. During his four terms on city council, O’Fee and his fellow councillors accomplished much for the City of Kamloops.

“We did some really cool things during my stay on council – from the Tournament Capital Centre to the water treatment plant, and the expansion of the airport,” O’Fee said. “We felt like we were really accomplishing some great things.”

After his fourth term with city council, O’Fee left to become CEO of the Kamloops Indian Band. There, he would build his skills in land management while also offering consultation to first nations.

O’Fee’s time at the Kamloops Indian Band would do much to inform his current teaching methods.

“We talk quite a bit about human rights in employment law. I have a few Aboriginals in my classes and issues around First Nations frequently come up,” he said. “Of course, you can’t discriminate when hiring, so we talk about the idea of accommodating particular groups when we hire them.”

Though O’Fee may teach law, his courses in commercial and employment law are under the School of Business and Economics.

“I don’t teach these courses like you are a lawyer, I teach employment law like you are an HR manager. I tell my students, ‘Here is the day-to-day stuff that you are going to see, and here is what you can and cannot say in an interview,’” O’Fee said.

Though he is certainly happy to call himself a member of the TRU faculty, O’Fee admits working at the university is definitely not where he would have seen himself when he started out as a young lawyer.

“I wanted to see where things would take me, and ultimately they took me here,” O’Fee said. “One piece of advice I give my students: ‘You have to be alive to the possibilities, your career path will be what it is. It will work out in the end, just don’t carve your future in stone.’”