The Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) awarded Judge Thomas Gove (retired) an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at its 2022 Spring Convocation in June. The reward recognizes his “outstanding and sustained contributions to justice, public safety and service” during a 47-year career as a lawyer and judge.
Judge Gove was born in Vancouver. As the child of an army officer, he spent his childhood living across Canada and in Germany. He attended John Oliver High School in Vancouver and obtained degrees in commerce and law from the University of British Columbia. In 1974 he was admitted to the BC bar. He worked as a lawyer for the next sixteen years, specializing in family, child welfare, and criminal law. He often represented the BC government in child protection cases and defended youths in care charged with criminal offences. He was also one of the first lawyers in Canada to represent children in custody disputes.
In 1990 he was appointed a judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. He worked primarily in courthouses in Surrey until 1994 when the BC government appointed him to head a Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection in the province. Published in 1995, his recommendations led to reforms including the creation of the Ministry for Children and Families and the provincial Children’s Commissioner.
Following Judge Gove’s return to the Court he sat in Burnaby and then in Vancouver, where he became the first judge to preside in the Downtown Community Court (DCC) launched in 2008. He helped shape DCC’s problem-solving approach to help offenders break free from the cycle of crime, homelessness, addictions, and mental illness by providing integrated services.
When he retired a Crown lawyer described working in DCC during Judge Gove’s tenure by saying, “We truly believed we were connecting people to services, fostering accountability, and building a unique justice system for a community that needed something a little different. Judge Gove brought accountability, respect, and most importantly, compassion, to every person who appeared before him.”
He was also known for bringing people together and hosting gatherings of DCC personnel - where he sometimes acted as barbeque chef.
Provincial Court Judge Thomas Gove before his retirement
Judge Gove was an early proponent of mediation to resolve child custody cases. He enjoyed conducting judicial mediations when the Court adopted settlement conferences in small claims cases in 1991, and in child protection and family disputes a few years later.
In 1996 the JIBC awarded him its first Anthony P. Pantages, Q.C. Award for significant contribution in the field of justice for the benefit of British Columbians, and in 2002 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for outstanding and exemplary contributions to his community and Canada as a whole.
Judge Gove retired in 2020 but was re-appointed for a one year term and sat as a judge until July 2021.
At a 2020 retirement ceremony Kirstin Murphy, deputy regional Crown counsel with the BC Prosecution Service, said he “treated each young person as an individual and always endeavoured to deal with their unique circumstances and challenges so to have a meaningful and positive impact on the young person, and to foster accountability, not to mention trying to foster a keen sense of the importance of punctuality before the court.”
Announcing the honorary degree, Dr. Michel Tarko, President and CEO of JIBC said, “It is our privilege to honour Judge Thomas Gove for his more than 45 years of service in the justice system, first as a lawyer and then as a provincial court judge for 31 years.”
“Judge Gove has earned a reputation for fairness and compassion and for using tools at his disposal to help people receive treatment and help them get onto better paths. His approach has exemplified JIBC’s vision of safer communities and a more just society.”