First female judge advocate general appointed to Canadian Armed Forces

Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez has been appointed the 15th judge advocate general for the Canadian Armed Forces and officially took over the role in a “change of appointment” ceremony in Ottawa yesterday. She is the first woman to fulfil this role.

Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan appointed Bernatchez, who succeeds Major-General Blaise Cathcart. Cathcart will retire later this year.

“As the 15th judge advocate general, my vision of legal service delivery is one that will be very much driven and focused on my institutional clients’ needs,” says Bernatchez, whose role involves advising military decision-makers, such as the minister of National Defence, on legal actions touching on military law. “My role is to ensure that we provide [the Canadian Armed Forces] options in order to allow them to be able to conduct their operations and activity within the construct of international and Canadian law.”

Bernatchez has been with the military for 30 years. She joined the Canadian Naval Reserve in 1987, working part-time as she continued to attend law school at Université
De Montréal. She was called to the bar in 1993. At that time, she chose to occupy various command and staff positions full time.

In 1997, Bernatchez transferred to the Regular Force where she began her work in the JAG office as a military lawyer, combining her legal education with her love for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Being the first woman to occupy this role, Bernatchez says that this sends a clear signal to the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence but also to women and girls across Canada and worldwide.

“We are now at a time in our history where the contributions of women, their vision, their talents, are welcomed and that if they dare dream big, if they dare to give it their all, there is an opportunity for them to be recognized and occupy the most important positions in our Canadian institutions,” says Bernatchez.

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