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Harapiak hangs portrait, says goodbye


As one of her final duties after almost 15 years on the bench in Dauphin provincial court, Judge Christine Harapiak hung her portrait, Feb. 4. And by adorning the wall, Harapiak has made history, as the first female judge appointed in Dauphin.
Appointed Apr. 13, 2005, Harapiak began sitting in Dauphin in June.
“We moved out here in early June. Got the house, that all went really quickly. And, you know, for the whole family, that was a big change for everybody,” Harapiak explained.
“A fortunate change for Gwenan, since she met her future husband in her Grade 3 class, when we arrived in Dauphin.”
The whole family included Harapiak’s spouse, Jean Louis Guillas and daughters Gwenan and Sophie Guillas.
Born in Swan River, Harapiak was about three years old when the family moved to The Pas.
“My dad was a railroader and I spent 15 years in The Pas. So I did my entire schooling in The Pas, I’m a graduate of Margaret Barber Collegiate,” she added.
Harapiak’s law career began when she was called to the bar in 1995 and moved to Dauphin shortly afterward, to practice with Hawkins and Sanderson for five years.
“I did a smattering of criminal law, but developed mostly a family law practice. Then I did a little bit of solicitors work as well, because Greg (Sanderson) was really good support for that kind of thing. But we were a two-to-three person shop. Bruce Johnson was with us for a while, as well,” she added.
The family moved back to Winnipeg for five years, where Harapiak worked at Orle Davidson Giesbrecht Bargen for about six months, before taking a job with the family law branch.
“When I was there, I was primary counsel to the maintenance enforcement program. So I was doing also litigation. I’ve been a litigator, a courtroom lawyer basically, for my entire career. And after two years at the family law branch, which was a term position, I had an opportunity to go for a full-time position at the federal Department of Justice doing residential school litigation,” Harapiak said, adding she found the work interesting and eye opening, regarding the struggles indigenous people have had.
“You hear these stories, but to sit down across from people and hear them tell stories about their childhoods and other things that they missed, the people that they didn’t get to grow up with, it’s pretty memorable. A pretty important learning experience.”
When Harapiak was appointed, she had been practicing for almost 10 years. Currently, Dauphin Courthouse does not have a sitting provincial court judge and, Harapiak pointed out, she gave notice on Feb. 13, 2019, she would be retiring the following year.
“Because I think it’s so important to think about transition in succession and I am walking out the door with nobody to replace me,” she said, noting Judge Slough gave several months of notice, as well.
It may not be common knowledge, but Harapiak’s minor is in theatre and it is connected to some of the ways she has tried to give back to the community.
“You know, we all bring our own skills to wherever we go and part of my past is doing community theatre,” Harapiak said, adding she did some acting in university and enjoyed creative writing.
“And one of the ways that I’ve contributed to the community outside of a legal setting is I’ve been nine years doing youth theatre in Dauphin now. And had a lot of chances to, try to grow some leaders.”
Harapiak has also taken theatre into her job, with several mock crime trial programs for youth.
“It’s just a way to get the kids to own the process and the courthouse. Part of my goal through the years was to, kick open the doors a little bit and make sure people can come in,” she said, noting most court proceedings are public.
“You can go and watch and see what’s going on. And that’s part of how the judicial system remains accountable to the public. It is public and I’d invite people to stop in any time. They are more than welcome.”
On a national level, Harapiak was president of the Provincial Judges Association of Manitoba for 2-1/2 years and served as a director for almost three years. She was co-chair of the history committee and with another judge from Quebec, developed a slide show to use in education environments.
“And most importantly, a small group of us got together and developed an ethics advisory committee which provincial and territory court judges didn’t have in the past. Now there’s a group of judges from every jurisdiction, and if someone is struggling with an ethical issue, they can send a request and get some feedback from their colleagues about where they see the problems are and what they might do to address the concern that they have,” she added.
“Superior Court judges have had that, this is a brand new initiative for us. So I was really proud of my contribution there.”
Harapiak understands the importance of being the first woman appointed in Dauphin, but she also feels it is important to see the faces of other women working in the courthouse, reflected in the history of the building.
“And that’s not the only thing that’s important to be reflected. We’re an increasingly diverse society. I mean, it would be great to have an indigenous judge up on the wall and before that, in the courtrooms. And an immigrant judge, you know, from some of these other diverse communities,” she said, noting two provincial court judges can not address all of that diversity, but as a whole in Manitoba, the composition of society can be reflected.
“Because we all bring different perspectives. And women bring different perspectives, as well. So I think that that’s important.”
While she has retired, Harapiak is now a senior judge, which she explained is a part-time, or per diem judge.
“It’s to the judicial system what substitute teaching is to the education system,” she explained, noting she is the first senior judge in rural Manitoba.
Also a deputy judge in the Yukon and NWT, Harapiak will be back on the bench for a five-day trial in May and she is considering work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
And when she is in Dauphin, Harapiak hopes to give back to the community through the Rotary Club and other projects.
“We love the area. We think it’s a great city. We love the walkable life, the music scene, the proximity to the park and all of the passionate people who are developing new things in Dauphin,” she said.