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Debbie Johnston ('90) has spent her professional
life pursuing international law experiences
D
ebbie Johnston graduated from
Mount Allison with a focus on
pursuing anything international.
She accepted a year-long Rotary Interna-
tional Scholarship to go to Hong Kong.
While she was there she had an experience
that would set the course for her life.
Johnston volunteered in a Vietnamese
refugee camp one and a half days a week,
teaching English and organizing children's
activities. It was this glimpse into the refu-
gee experience that piqued her interest in
justice and the law.
"In the end, refugee law wasn't my career
path, but I think the idea of using the law
for justice purposes has remained through-
out my career," says Johnston.
After returning from Hong Kong she
immediately entered McGill's four-year,
bi-jural law program, where she studied
both civil and common law and obtained
two law degrees. She then worked as a
prosecutor and counsel for the Depart-
ment of Justice Canada for 12 years, while
also obtaining a Master's of Law in inter-
national human rights law and criminal
law at the University of Ottawa.
In 2004 she led training sessions in Chile,
an opportunity that came about because of
her ability to speak Spanish and her expe-
rience as a courtroom litigator. She helped
develop a training program that was run
out of the Justice Studies Center of the
Americas -- a think tank that trains pros-
ecutors, judges, and defense lawyers all
across Latin America. She did this for five
years with a colleague and also conducted
training at a conference in Venezuela and
at a university in Colombia.
When it comes to the law, Johnston says
she is an idealist. Over the past two years
she has shifted her focus on criminal law to
professionalism and ethics in prosecution.
Today she is Senior Counsel at the Pub-
lic Prosecution Service of Canada and
is responsible for coordinating a major
revision of the prosecutorial guidelines
for federal prosecutors -- a 65-chapter
publication that contains publicly available
rules and guidelines for federal prosecutors.
"One of the main purposes of this pub-
lication is to help ensure transparency,
accountability, and fairness in the criminal
justice system, so that prosecutors have
objective guidelines to assist them in
making decisions that have a significant
impact on people's lives," she says.
Because of her international experience,
Johnston was chosen to participate in a
training program in Mexico over the past
year. Most Latin American countries are
in the process of rolling out a new crimi-
nal justice system to replace the inquisito-
rial model of justice with oral trial-based
models like those in Canada and the U.S.
She has already led two weeks of training
as part of the Harmonization of Criminal
Legislation and Strengthening of Prosecu-
tions in Mexico Project. The overarching
objective is to promote professionalism,
accountability, and transparency, reduce
corruption, enhance the rights of those
accused, and uphold the rule of law.
"It is an enormous challenge to conduct
such a sweeping and profound systemic
overhaul in all of these countries," says
Johnston. "It is going to take years and
years to complete."
Johnston says her career choices and
international justice focus have led her to
do what she is really passionate about and
she hopes to continue this training either
through her work or on a volunteer basis.
"I know I am but one small drop in the
very large ocean of this process, but you
need drops, otherwise it just dries up."
by Melissa Lombard
feature StOry
SAC VP External Campaign, 1988