Born to immigrant parents in Vancouver, Wally Oppal grew up with a strong work ethic and a will to learn. After finishing broadcasting school he worked in lumber mills and as a disc jockey in order to put himself through his undergraduate and law degrees at UBC. As a visible minority, Wally Oppal pursued a legal career in part because he believed that he could achieve more success in the legal profession than in business. He worked in private practice for fourteen years after graduating from law school, and appeared in approximately 50 homicide trials through his role as a special prosecutor.
Wally Oppal maintains that he "backed into pretty well everything [he] did”. Though he was reluctant to become a judge when he was initially asked by his mentor, Allan McEachern, he was eventually persuaded to do so in 1981. Similarly, he was reluctant to serve on the Court of Appeal, but was ultimately appointed in 2003.
Wally Oppal recounts a meeting with then Prime Minister Paul Martin in which he was asked to run in a federal election so that he could serve as Minister of Justice. After some consternation he turned the offer down to be more present for his young children. However, Wally Oppal did serve as a lawmaker through his role as Attorney General and Minister of Multiculturalism of British Columbia. He was very proactive in the role of Attorney General, and made controversial decisions even within his own ministry, such as the decision to prosecute polygamy in Bountiful, BC.
Wally Oppal describes leading the missing women inquiry into serial killer Robert Pickton as his proudest accomplishment. He is deeply concerned about violence against women in Canada and has offered advice to the current federal government as it seeks to build upon his work.
The advice that he gives to his son, as well as to other law students, is to be an independent thinker, to think outside the box, and to look at the global picture. As a student of history, and having served as both a judge and a lawmaker, Wally Oppal says that lawyers and judges have a special obligation to be vigilant in safeguarding rights and acting as a check against other branches of government.
Wally Oppal visited Allard School of Law in March 2016, and reflected on his rich life experiences in the law school and beyond.
For more, read Profile of Wally Oppal from the UBC Law Alumni Magazine, Spring 2006 , the Profile of Wally Oppal from The Advocate, 67 (2009) , and listen to Allard Law History Project interview with Wally Oppal.