On International Women’s Day 2022, Singleton Reynolds continues its tradition of highlighting a senior female lawyer and her accomplishments and contributions to the profession of law.

Bonita Thompson, Q.C., has been with Singleton Reynolds since 1988. As the second female partner at the firm, Bonita brought her passions for public policy, legislative drafting and effective conflict management  into the world of construction law and First Nations  relations, transforming these areas of practice in BC  in the process.

Ms. Thompson knew she wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 11. She attended law school at the University of Saskatchewan, where she was the first female law student to have a baby while attending. She had to apply for special dispensation from the law school to take a reduced course load for a year to care for her newborn daughter, which was granted together however with the condition that she was, as a result, no longer eligible for prizes or scholarships notwithstanding her academic standing. Nevertheless, Ms. Thompson accepted the conditions and was active in the social world at law school, directing its stage production called  Legal Follies along with her husband (and toddler in tow).

A year after graduating from law school, Ms. Thompson returned to the University of Saskatchewan as its first female assistant professor of law, where she started down her career path of always seeking opportunities to innovate.  She taught civil procedure primarily through hands-on practice assignment rather than the Socratic method, established  a novel cross-faculty seminars between law and medicine, and developed “Rourke’s Rules” (Rourke was her surname at the time), an annotated rules of court for her students, which was then published and became widely used by the Saskatchewan bar.

While at Yale University getting her Master of Laws, Ms. Thompson discovered her love for public policy and legislative drafting, both of which she implemented in her distinguished career as Senior Legislative Counsel in Victoria and then as Senior Solicitor for the BC Attorney General.

Bonita thought she would be a civil litigator when she went into practice but quickly decided that there were limitations using litigation to resolve many of society’s conflicts, and that preventing conflict in advance was preferable by far. This belief had shaped her approach to legislative drafting and public policy while working as a government lawyer, and supported her assignment from then Attorney General Brian Smith, Q.C. to do all the legal and practical work necessary to establish  the British Columbia International Commercial Arbitration Centre (BCICAC) in Vancouver in 1986. As its first executive director,  she was responsible for  marketing the centre domestically and internationally and for developing rules of procedure for arbitration and mediation.  Ms. Thompson’s enthusiasm and efforts on behalf of the BCICAC and as a writer and speaker advocating the use of effective conflict management  were seminal in the growth of mediation and arbitration as dispute resolution procedures used in both private and public sectors in BC and across Canada.

In 1988, Ms. Thompson was travelling internationally promoting the BCICAC and giving talks about alternative dispute resolution. John Singleton, Q.C., and Glenn Urquhart, Q.C., the founding partners of our firm, heard her speak and knew that her vision was part of the future of the legal profession. Responding to the appetite in their insurance client base for innovative solutions to reduce the costs associated with resolving their disputes, they decided to try to lure her to the firm. Ms. Thompson recalls getting a call from John and Glenn in her hotel room in Tokyo, and being taken off guard. She had been out of private practice since the 70’s, and had not considered going back to firm life. However, the opportunity was too exciting to pass up, and she joined the firm as a partner in 1988 (running the BCICAC  out of the Singleton office for another year, as they sought her replacement).

At Singleton, Ms. Thompson established a solicitor’s practice (the first and only solicitor in the firm for nearly a decade) based upon her passion for creative innovation. She practiced as a solicitor primarily in construction law drafting manuscript contracts and ADR clauses and processes for standard form contracts for BC Hydro and CCDC. She also practised in the administrative law area on conflict management systems for private and public sector bodies and as legal adviser to self-regulatory bodies. She continued her love of legislative drafting being retained from time to time as external counsel in the drafting of legislation for the Provincial Government as well as for the Nisga’a Lisims Government. She was appointed the first Code of Conduct Advisor for BC Hydro in 1998 and over the next 13 years trained and advised employees and directors of BC Hydro and its subsidiaries on how to avoid or manage conflicts of interest.

Supporting the growth of the firm, she innovated Singleton’s early approach to marketing, as first editor of its well-respected in-house publication for clients, “Letter of the Law”, and by organizing a series of in-house marketing seminars for participants in the construction industry.

Bonita’s contributions were recognized with her appointment as Queen’s Counsel in 1985, with the award of the President’s Award for Distinguished Service (CBA – B.C. Branch) in 1991 and with the Commemorative Medal presented by Governor General of Canada in recognition of contribution to compatriots, community and to Canada in 1993.

Since 2000 she has been Counsel working part time with the firm, advising public and private sector clients on code of conduct and conflict of interest guidelines, drafting legislation and regulations and advising administrative tribunals, sometimes from exotic locations while travelling with her late husband. Her life has been made richer by her 4 children, 7 grand-children, and 5 great-grandchildren in her matriarch role.

Ms. Thompson’s career is far-reaching and varied. She has been in the centre of many important moments in BC legal history, such as the birth of modern ADR in the province and the negotiation of the Nisga’a treaty. Throughout her career, she has let the mantra “how can we do this better” guide her, and followed her unique set of skills and interests to a variety of exciting, dynamic environments, whether it be as senior legislative counsel in the Ministry of Attorney General, as executive director of the BCICAC or as a partner at Singleton.

Bonita’s advice for female lawyers is to follow their passions and develop a unique skill or profile which distinguishes them from others both inside and outside the firm. She encourages them not to be afraid of taking calculated risks – to step outside their comfort zone. To never overlook an unexpected opportunity – you never know where it will lead. The same goes for not burning any bridges. And to remember that if they want it all, they can have it but only attempt to do so with the right support. Her most important advice is to take good care of themselves and put their mental and physical health first. This approach will serve them well and will result in a strong foundation for both career and personal success.

Today, we thank and honour Ms. Thompson for her incredible career achievements and generosity with the profession. Our firm and British Columbia at large has been lucky to have her passion, insight, and commitment to innovation, public policy, and ethics.

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Singleton Urquhart Reynolds Vogel LLP has been at the forefront of policy reform in Canada and has provided extensive public policy advice to government, Crown agencies, and industry associations.