Court of Queen’s
Bench of Alberta Justice Shaina Leonard was first involved with the military as a teen starting university and, after law school, articles and three years of private practice, she enlisted and eventually realized her dream of serving her country overseas.
Her early days with the Royal Canadian Navy, Naval Reserve in Montreal, culminating with a summer in rural Québec putting on historical re-enactments of Canada’s first soldiers from the 1600s, led to six years as a full-time legal officer
with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and a tour in Kabul, Afghanistan mentoring Afghan Army military lawyers.
“I was always curious about a career in the full time military and wanted to contribute through a foreign deployment,” says Justice Leonard, who was appointed to QB on March 6, 2020. “Joining the regular forces was one of the best decisions
I ever made.”
The Edmonton-based judge, who was born and raised outside of Saint John, New Brunswick, began her military legal officer career as an advisor before spending considerable time litigating at court martials, both as a defence lawyer and as a prosecutor.
However, her most significant period with the CAF was while a part of a 2009 NATO training mission tasked with mentoring Afghanistan military lawyers to assist in building an army governed by the rule of law.
“We provided training and mentorship in both code of conduct for military members as well as international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict),” says Justice Leonard. “We walked through the ‘green zone’ daily to
meet our Afghan counterparts, wearing a helmet and fragmentation vest, and carrying a loaded pistol and rifle.
“Being armed while providing legal mentorship and advice was unique and a little disconcerting.”
In 2010, she was awarded a General Campaign Star – South-West Asia for her deployment to a defined theatre of operations (Afghanistan) and was also presented with the United States Meritorious Service Award for her service with the U.S. Forces in
“I am hopeful that my personal involvement may have assisted in raising the awareness of individual Afghans to the idea of equity, particularly with respect to the role of women in society,” she says.
Justice Leonard attended McGill University from 1994 to 1999 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics. She then attended the University of Alberta Faculty of Law from 1999 to 2002, earning a Bachelor of Laws with Distinction.
She clerked with the Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary from June 2002 to May 2003 and then articled with Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Calgary from June to October 2003. She was called to the Alberta Bar on October 3, 2003 and
joined Borden Ladner Gervais LLP as a litigation associate.
In January 2006 she left the firm and joined the CAF as a legal officer, serving in Ottawa, Edmonton and Kabul.
Justice Leonard, who is fluent in French, left the full-time military in March 2012 and joined the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) as legal counsel, based in Edmonton. She worked as trial counsel, appellate counsel and was the federal Crown
representative in the Provincial Court Drug Treatment Court.
In May 2015 she was promoted to Team Leader/Senior Counsel and in November 2016 she was named Deputy Chief Federal Prosecutor Alberta Region.
While with the PPSC, she also remained a Reserve force legal officer. In 2016, she was awarded the Canadian Forces’ Decoration with Clasp for her 22 years of service with the CAF. She was promoted to the rank of commander in 2017 and was also named
Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General, for the Western Region. Upon her judicial appointment, she retired from the military.
Justice Leonard was also involved with the Edmonton Bar Association, including being president in 2014, and was part of the Alberta Justice Summit, which was tasked in 2017 with examining administration of justice issues following the Supreme Court of
Canada’s R v Jordan decision. She also helped coach the University of Alberta Law Laskin Moot team from 2015 to 2018.
She completed her LL.M. at the University of Alberta in 2014, with a focus, inspired by her deployment to Afghanistan, on international humanitarian law and international law as it relates to post-conflict peacebuilding.
Justice Leonard is married and she and her wife have two children. In her spare time, she enjoys running (slowly) and playing the baroque cello and viola de gamba.