The Honourable Kenneth F. Arkell recently reached out to the Allard School of Law to enquire about updating his LLB from 1959 to a JD. When asked why he wanted to make the change, he began sharing his fascinating personal journey from RCMP officer to professional football player to judge. Here are just some of the stories from this alumnus with a passion for the law, a penchant for golf, and a great sense of humor.
You had a challenging childhood. Tell us about it.
I was born in Calgary in 1930 in a former bakery. My parents could not afford to go to a hospital or pay for a medical doctor, so my great grandmother acted as a midwife. The years from 1930 to 1939 were difficult years financially for our family (and many others). We lived in rental housing in East Calgary, a tough part of town. The area was surrounded by industry – oil refineries, slaughterhouses, breweries and sawmills – but it was still difficult to find work and my family, like most of the others in the neighbourhood, often relied on relief (welfare). At the school I attended, if someone had an apple it was a treat; everyone wanted the core of the apple to eat, so the first one to yell 'cores' would get the 'treat'.
After the war started in 1939 my father found full-time employment and our life improved. In order to make some money, I had numerous seasonal jobs including delivering early morning newspapers and meat for the local grocer and working in a greenhouse and a linotype press plant.
In 1944 my parents decided to move to a small farm in southern Ontario. We drove from Calgary in a 1929 Plymouth and it took seven days. Just before we started on the trip I was hit by a lumber truck while riding my bike. I suffered severe lacerations to my right leg and it took 120 stitches to repair the damage. During the cross country drive, gangrene developed in my leg and when I arrived in Ontario I was hospitalized for three months. Fortunately I survived with my leg intact!
Our new home had no electricity, relied on water from a well, and had an outdoor privy. We had 20 cows to milk every morning and afternoon plus horses, sheep, pigs and chickens to feed and water. There were endless stalls to clean and wood to cut and in the summer I worked at Silverwoods Dairy loading the horse drawn milk wagons at 4am. No wonder I didn’t want to be a farmer!
So you didn’t want to be a farmer, but you also didn't start out wanting to go into the practice of law. What eventually led you to law school?
Right after high school I joined the RCMP. During our training in Ottawa and Regina we studied the Criminal Code and were introduced to the federal and provincial statutes. I was eventually posted to the West Coast and held various posts including Ocean Falls, a remote community in Northern BC that was policed entirely by boat, and New Westminster, where I was assigned to prisoner escort duty between the BC Penitentiary, Oakalla Prison Farm and the BC Supreme Court. I was also responsible for guarding the prisoners in the court room docket and had the opportunity to take in the court proceedings. Listening to counsel in action, lawyers like Colin McQuarrie, QC for the prosecution and Tom and Maisie Hurley and Angelo Branca for the defense, aroused my first real interest in the practice of law.
After two years in the RCMP, I decided that this was not the right career for me and returned to Ontario to take the pre-med program at the University of Western Ontario (UWO). But after being accepted into medical school, I once again decided it was not the right path and instead completed a Bachelor of Arts while playing football and basketball at UWO. I was also playing football for the Kitchener-Waterloo Flying Dutchmen and in 1956 I moved to Vancouver to play football for the BC Lions (which had just been established in 1954).
Once in Vancouver I began exploring options at UBC. My first choice was an MBA but the program had not yet been launched so I settled on law school instead because of my exposure to the law as a member of the RCMP. As it turned out, I was the first person to play pro football and attend law school at UBC, (although two friends in the year behind me, The Honourable Sherman Hood and Rae Ross, also played for the BC Lions).
What was it like juggling a professional football career and law school?
It was difficult at times, especially in first year, when we had to travel out of town for the Friday night and Monday games. Fortunately during the week, most of our classes were in the morning and our football practices were in the afternoon. But in my first year I didn’t do very well in Dr. Gilbert Kennedy’s exam on Judicial and Legislative Procedure. When he discovered that I had missed many of his Monday and Friday classes to play ‘pro’ football, he was not impressed. Even when I explained that I was playing football to pay for law school, he said that the law was also a profession and that I had to make a choice. Knowing that I was in trouble, I studied really hard and received the highest mark in the class on Dr. Kennedy’s final exam. The next year Dr. Kennedy was named the Deputy Attorney General of British Columbia. After I started to practice law in Dawson Creek he appointed me to prosecute the Assizes and we became friends!
You were a judge for various courts throughout British Columbia for 30 years. What were the biggest challenges you faced? What were the most rewarding aspects of your work?
The biggest challenge when I was first appointed as the Provincial Court District Judge for the Peace River area was simply providing service to all of the courts from Lower Post (near the Yukon border) down to Mackenzie (just north of Prince George) plus courts in Ft. Nelson, Ft. St. John, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, and Hudson Hope. I travelled constantly by air and by car during that appointment.
I had many interesting cases while sitting in the Provincial Court. In one case I had to decide whether a wife was a 'compellable’ witness against her husband on a common assault. There was considerable controversy until the Canada Evidence Act was amended in 1980. My decision in that case was cited with approval in the House of Lords in England which was very unusual.
I was also faced with a personal challenge in 1975 when I was offered an appointment in the County Court in Vancouver as a Judge at Large for the Province of BC. Neither I nor my family wanted to leave the Okanagan at that time, so I reluctantly turned down the appointment. Then in 1976 I was appointed as the County Court Judge for the County of Yale and as the Local Judge of the Supreme Court in Vernon, allowing me to stay in the Okanagan and still move ahead in my career.
You contributed to the drafting of the new Provincial Court Act in 1975. Were there any specific changes for which you were advocating?
The first BC Provincial Court Act was enacted in 1969 which repealed and replaced the Magistrates Act and created the first Judicial Council. I was appointed to the first Judicial Council in 1970. One of the duties of the Council was to recommend to the Attorney General the names of persons who should be appointed to the Provincial Court. At the first meeting of the Judicial Council it was decided that only legally trained persons should be appointed to the Court (whereas historically, under the Magistrates Act, that had not been the case). It wasn’t until a change in government in 1972 when I was retained in my role as Deputy Chief Judge to draft a ‘new’ BC Provincial Court Act. Passed in 1975, the ‘new’ Act removed (specifically retired with pay) the non-legally trained judges (formerly magistrates) from the bench. The ‘new’ Act also established rules around salaries, pensions, security of tenure and administrative independence based on research I had done previously.
You finally retired in 1999. What have you been doing with your time since then?
I have spent the summers in Kelowna and the winters playing golf in Texas, California and Arizona.
You recently had your LLB converted to a JD. What inspired that decision all of these years after graduating?
My wife Olivia Tofteland and I (married in 1960) have four children. Two girls and two boys. Both of my sons completed law degrees in the United States, so I really wanted to have the same designation as them to prove, once and for all, that I am just as smart as they are. I also thought it would look good on my resume when I applied for a ‘greeter’ job at WalMart!