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Military law course is a unique offering for non-military students
By Brian Murphy
August 19 2005 issue

Students are introduced to the soldier, a Canadian citizen who must obey the laws of this land but takes on a number of unique obligations. Canadian Forces Photo

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Every September since 1999, I sit at the front of classroom 101 at the law centre, University of Alberta, and ponder why they are here, as 15 to 20 students take their seats in my military law seminar law course. It usually takes me a class or two, but all are there for a reason; usually a family member like their grandfather or grandmother serving in WWII or a brother in the navy. Most of my students have never served.

How I got into is this very simple — opening my mouth at the right time and not for the wrong reasons. Sometime in 1996, I was visiting then associate dean Levis Klar (later our dean) and the conversation turned to my background as a JAG officer and the fact that Edmonton was about to become one of the largest garrison’s in the country. I suggested that my alma mater should offer a military law course. Dean Klar agreed and asked for a proposal as soon as possible, which I completed within a week. Immediately he demanded a course outline and the next thing I knew, the first class was in January 1997, with eight students. It was a success and, skipping a year, we began our fall offering. Throughout the law school, the dean and his staff have been very supportive.

Let me say that this is a unique course both within and without the Alberta Law School. First it’s hard to equate to other courses, but a good understanding of basic international law principles and our Criminal Code helps. Secondly, we’re unique in that to my knowledge, no other law school has a similar introductory course on the subject taught to non-military students. UBC and a couple of other schools have seminars on the laws of armed conflict (war).

Returning to the early Friday (always Fridays) in September, I introduce the students to the National Defence Act, the Canadian Forces organization and rank structure, and where I am going with the course. I unofficially call this boot camp. I introduce them to the object of our attention, the soldier, a Canadian citizen who not only must continue to obey the laws of this land but upon enrolment takes on a number of unique obligations. Some may very well manifest themselves in the Code of Service Discipline and the reasons we have these military orders and regulations. I also jokingly tell my students that if you are going to practise law in Edmonton and area, if a soldier becomes a client just remember the Alberta Labour Code doesn’t apply to them.

There is no exam, but each student is required to do a class presentation (30-40 minutes) on some aspect of military law, such as the legality of the war in Iraq. Two students are entitled to do a class presentation (30-40 minutes) on some aspect of military law. Two students are entitled to do a class presentation together. Unwittingly, students cover my course outline in these presentations. At the end of the classes they have to hand in a paper not to exceed 10 pages on either an expansion of their class presentation or a new subject. You can see I’m not a hard taskmaster. I want them to enjoy their progress. The one thing I’ve learned is that all Canadians have a view on military law and my students are no exception.

To assist me, I have a number of guests come by. Professor emeritus Leslie Green takes the students through command responsibility and war crimes. The Commander, 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (a full Colonel-Combat Arms Officer) talks about the importance of discipline especially in operations offshore such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and the role of his military lawyer especially in the area of targeting and treatment of potential foes.
I am really blessed with some very experienced retired JAG officers, who contribute to the course as much as their busy schedules allow. L/Col. Ed Gallagher makes the Post-Somalia 1999 changes to the NDA and Queen’s regulations and orders come alive with their effect on the application of the Code of Service Discipline today.

Along the way we do cover the basic laws of armed conflict, the Code of Service Discipline (Courts Martial System), Aide of Civil Power (October 1970 and OKA) family law and estate issues involving the military, actions against the military Crown (which I call Mission Impossible), the role of the Office of the Judge Advocate General and veteran’s legislation and how it impacts the tort system.
The course concludes with a “field” trip to Edmonton Garrison, such as last December when officers and members of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were our hosts. The students spend time with soldiers and their machine guns, personal weapons, armoured vehicles and then eat lunch in the Junior Ranks Mess Hall.

L/Col (Ret’d) Brian Murphy, C.D. is a pensions advocate with Veterans Affairs and a sessional lecturer in Military Law. A former RCAF supply officer, for 27 years (20 in the Regular Force) he was a JAG officer, serving in Canada, West Germany, Cyprus, the Middle East and Norway.

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