Rebecca Watmough, VIU Criminology alum

From Community Cousin to Canada’s Highest Court: Rebecca Olivia Watmough

Celebrating Indigenous mentorship at VIU

Vancouver Island University’s ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins Aboriginal student mentorship program is celebrating its 10th anniversary in September 2021. In honour of this important milestone, we are sharing the stories of 12 people closely connected with the program – one per month – leading up to the anniversary.

The ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins program builds capacity for mentors to gain leadership and employability skills through outreach and mentoring activities. Students hone skills in self-awareness, communication, leadership, self-care and an exploration of personal values, with an emphasis on “telling one’s story” as a path to self-empowerment through outreach to others.

 

Transferring to VIU from a much-larger institution in her second year, Rebecca Olivia Watmough (Bachelor of Arts ’16, Major in Criminology, Minor in Psychology) had several life-changing experiences at VIU that have left a lasting impression on her and set her on her current path of becoming a lawyer. Those included being part of the unique Inside-Out prison exchange program, joining the ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins Aboriginal mentorship program, helping to develop a new program at VIU through a work-op experience, and completing an internship with the Forensic Psychiatric Services Commission.

In fall 2021, she will become one of 36 judicial law clerks assigned to one of the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada – a coveted position that will give her important insights into how decisions are made at the country’s highest court. 

 

Tell us a bit about your experiences at VIU.

Throughout my three years at VIU, I found the courses and instructors incredibly diverse and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed the smaller class size environment and felt it was more conducive to my learning. It allowed me to grow and foster relationships with my professors.

In my final year of studies, I had the opportunity to participate in the first year of the Inside-Out prison exchange program, which involved 15 criminology students and approximately 15 inmates incarcerated at the Guthrie Therapeutic Community within the Nanaimo Correctional Centre taking a university course together in Guthrie.

Not only did I take a variety of courses at VIU, I also had the opportunity to engage in various practical learning opportunities. For instance, in my final semester of studies, I completed an internship with the Forensic Psychiatric Services Commission, where I attended the Nanaimo Clinic two days a week in lieu of two courses. The work I was provided was diverse. I had the opportunity to attend Not Criminally Responsible by Reason of Mental Disorder (NCRMD) review board hearings – a process I had begun to learn about in my criminology classes. I also had the opportunity to shadow psychologists, social workers and outreach workers in their work with those involved in both the criminal justice and mental health systems.

In my final year of studies, I was lucky to obtain a VIU work-op position and work as the Legal Studies and VIU Law Network Research Assistant. In this position I facilitated LSAT seminars for potential future law school students and helped with the beginning phases of the non-degree program proposal for the Legal Studies Certificate, which was implemented at VIU in 2019.

What outside of class had a positive impact on your VIU experience?

I was proud to be a ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousin. This Aboriginal student mentorship program provided me with an invaluable opportunity to connect with my Métis heritage, experience traditional teachings on Snuneymuxw land, engage in cultural activities and connect with other Indigenous VIU students. I also had the opportunity to act as a mentor for my fellow Indigenous students. The ‘su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins program allowed me to take a break from my studies and focus on the importance of connection and culture.

I learned many skills throughout this invaluable program. Part of the program involved getting up in front of various audiences to make short presentations, whether that was introducing an event or speaking to a group of students. This public speaking aspect of the program allowed me to find my voice and increased my confidence with respect to public speaking. My comfort with public speaking has increased to a level that I am now comfortable presenting evidence and arguments in the courtroom.

I also learned the importance of gratitude. Throughout the program, there are frequent opportunities for the cousins to express what they are grateful for. I found this to be very grounding and something I continue with today. The program emphasized the importance of making time for what matters. No matter how busy you are, it is important to make time for what really matters, for instance culture, exercise or community. I raise my hands to the incredible work that goes into this program. 

Are there any events you participated in as a Cousin that stand out for you in particular?

There are two events that stand out for me as a Cousin, and that I can remember like they occurred yesterday, although it was more than four years ago. I had the chance to travel to Ahousat First Nation to participate in a day dedicated to recruiting Ahousat high-school students to post-secondary institutions. Four of the cousins, including myself, went by car and boat from Nanaimo to Ahousat First Nation. Once we arrived at the Nation’s high school, we set up our booth and spoke to various interested students that approached us. Later in the day, I did a presentation about the Community Cousins Program and the various supports that are offered to Indigenous students at VIU. Being able to act as an ambassador to Indigenous high school students and stand in front of a large crowd and speak from the heart about my experience as an Indigenous student was empowering. 

Another event that stands out for me involves Xulsimalt, or Uncle Gary, as I know him. Uncle Gary, a VIU Elder-in-Residence, offered to take the Cousins on a guided forest walk. Because it was exam time, only myself and one other student showed up. Uncle Gary took the two of us on a guided walk, explaining how our ancestors used the various plants that surrounded us. At the end, after collectively lighting a fire, Uncle Gary, drum in hand, taught us a song, line by line. It was a powerful and intimate experience and something I will carry with me forever. 

What’s next for you?

After completing law school at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law in 2019, I worked at the Supreme Court of British Columbia as a judicial law clerk for seven justices. In this position, I conducted legal research in different areas of the law, wrote legal memoranda and provided feedback on draft reasons for judgment. It is a fascinating window into how judges think and make their decisions. I am currently articling with the Ministry of Attorney General. Articling is a year where you apprentice with an experienced lawyer who guides you through the challenges of beginning to practice law. During this year I am getting the chance to try out different areas of law I find interesting.

Following that, I will have the honour of clerking at the Supreme Court of Canada for one of the nine justices of the Court. In this position, which will begin in August 2021, I will conduct legal research, write legal memoranda and provide feedback on draft reasons for judgment. As I will be working at Canada's highest court, I am incredibly excited to engage with important legal issues that impact Canadians across the country. It is truly an honour to have the opportunity to work on decisions that will have a longstanding impact on the Canadian legal landscape.

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