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B.C. judge who helped reform child-care system awarded honorary doctorate

Judge Thomas Gove's work led to the creation of the Ministry of Children and Families and the provincial children's commissioner.
Judge Thomas Gove.

Judge Thomas Gove, the B.C. judge who spearheaded changes to B.C.’s child-care system and helped initiate a Vancouver court to assist the addicted and homeless has been awarded an honorary doctor of law degree.

The Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) honour was in recognition of Gove’s “outstanding and sustained contributions to justice, public safety and service” during a 47-year career as a lawyer and judge.

“Judge Gove has earned a reputation for fairness and compassion and for using tools at his disposal to help people receive treatment and help them get onto better paths,” JIBC president Michel Tarko said. “His approach has exemplified JIBC’s vision of safer communities and a more just society.”

Gove was born in Vancouver but, as a child of an army officer, spent his childhood living across Canada and in Germany.

He attended John Oliver High School in Vancouver and obtained UBC degrees in commerce and law, and was called to the B.C. bar in 1974.

He worked as a lawyer for the next 16 years, specializing in family, child welfare and criminal law. He frequently represented the provincial government in child protection cases and defended youths in care charged with criminal offences. He is also one of the first lawyers in Canada to represent children in custody disputes.

Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection

Gove was appointed to the provincial court bench in 1990, working primarily in courthouses in Surrey until 1994 when the provincial government appointed him to head a Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection.

The inquiry came in the wake of the Fort St. John death of five-year-old Matthew Vaudreuil.

Much of testimony Gove heard in 1994 focused on the failure of authorities to remove Vaudreuil from the care of his abusive, mentally ill mother, Verna, who was convicted of manslaughter after admitting she suffocated her son while trying to discipline him in 1992.

His subsequent recommendations led to reforms, including the creation of the Ministry of Children and Families and the provincial children’s commissioner.

Donning his judge’s robes once more, Gove sat in Burnaby and then in Vancouver, where he became the first judge to preside in the Downtown Community Court launched in 2008.

There, he helped shape the innovative court’s problem-solving approach to help offenders break free from the cycle of crime, homelessness, addiction and mental illness by providing integrated services.

The JIBC awarded him its first Anthony P. Pantages, QC Award for significant contribution in the field of justice for the benefit of British Columbians in 1994. In 2002 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for outstanding and exemplary contributions to his community and Canada as a whole.

Gove retired in 2020 but was re-appointed for a one-year term and sat as a judge until July 2021.

At a 2020 retirement ceremony, deputy regional Crown counsel Kirstin Murphy said Gove “treated each young person as an individual and always endeavoured to deal with their unique circumstances and challenges so to have a meaningful and positive impact on the young person, and to foster accountability, not to mention trying to foster a keen sense of the importance of punctuality before the court.”

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