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Professor Janet Walker Appointed Officer of the Order of Canada

March 2, 2022

Roz Bahrami

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Janet Walker, Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School teaching International Commercial Arbitration in the International Business Law LLM. Professor Walker told us of her professional journey, and how it led to the magnificent achievement of appointment to the Order of Canada. The Order of Canada recognizes Canadians who make extraordinary contributions to the nation, and it is the second highest honour for merit in the system of orders. We asked Professor Walker about her background, what it means to her to be appointed, and what advice she might have for prospective students.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I went into the field of crossborder litigation and arbitrationwhen it was an underserved area for academics who were prepared to devote their time to thinking carefully about difficult questions Over time, these issues have found their way into the mainstream of legal practice and this has given me all the more opportunity to be helpful in the work I do.

I started studying law at Osgoode after completing an undergraduate degree and a masters degree at York and then spending some years as a full-time mother and homemaker. From the start, I loved studying law and, although I very much enjoyed the brief time that I spent in private practice, I think I was probably always meant to be a scholar and a teacher. This is not to say that I prefer theory to practice. On the contrary, crossborder litigation and arbitration is exciting because it brings the two together. Every time I contribute to real cases, as expert or arbitrator, or work on law reform projects, it helps to keep me on top of this fast-paced field and supports my teaching and scholarship.

What does it mean to you to be appointed to the Order of Canada?

The nomination process for the Order of Canada is confidential, so it was a surprise to hear that I was to be appointed; and it was humbling to be included among a group of such accomplished Canadians. It was fascinating to learn that the motto of the Order is “desiderantes meliorem patriam,“ – “they desire a better country.” I have always been very drawn to projects and initiatives that seek to improve the community, whether it is Osgoode, the legal profession, the international arbitration community, or the wider community beyond them. Some of these were projects that I thought up, and others were projects that I joined. In almost every case, they have been highly collaborative efforts; and, when they have succeeded, it has been the success of the team working on them that has been one of the most exciting parts. I always thought of myself as fortunate to have a position at Osgoode that gave me the freedom to pursue these initiatives and it was wonderful to discover that the Order of Canada was an award not only for people who accomplish great things, but also for those who just want to make things better.

What advice would you give for prospective students interested in studying law?

The wonderful thing about studying law in Canada is that students come to it after another degree and have a variety of different areas of interest. And, year upon year, our students also come from a wider range of personal backgrounds – each with their own unique strengths and aspirations. However, admission to law school is very competitive, the program is demanding, and the potential for a highly remunerative career is close at hand. This can create a funnelling effect, in which students begin to think that they all are on the same track to the same kind of career, and their success will be measured in terms that career. It can take them some time after they graduate to find out what work will suit them best. I would encourage all those interested in studying law to think of what excites them about the law and, even if this changes as they learn more, always to be guided by their passion. That is how they will do the best they can for themselves and for the community.