Lawyer’s Career Follows Military Path

Guelph Grads on the Go – Providing legal advice is part of the job

Heather Fogo aboard the HMCS Regina

Heather Fogo stands aboard the HMCS Regina.

For three months, Heather Fogo was part of Operation Artemis on HMCS Regina in the waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s not quite where you might expect to find a lawyer, but as part of the Judge Advocate General team for the Canadian Armed Forces, it was just part of the job for her.

Life on the ship was a bit cramped, she says, and the heat sometimes overwhelmed the air conditioning. The HMCS Regina was part of CTF-150 (CTF stands for Combined Task Force) working in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. Despite the challenges, she found this peacetime work very interesting. “We were on counter-terrorism operations, working with Americans, Australians and the British,” she says. “My job was to advise the commanding officer and staff on legal issues, including operational issues.”

Since her father was a real estate lawyer, Fogo set her sights on a legal career early on. She also joined the air cadets as a teenager, but didn’t seriously think of the armed forces as a potential employer until she did an exchange for a semester at the University of Economics in Prague, Czech Republic. “Getting to travel and have that international experience influenced me to join the reserve force,” she says.

After graduating from U of G with a BA in 2004, she headed to the University of Windsor to earn her law degree, finishing her third year at the University of Ottawa where she took courses in international law. During her first year of law school, she joined the naval reserve as an intelligence officer and continued part-time throughout her law school career.

When she completed articling, she worked in intelligence. “I briefed the commander of the Expeditionary Forces Command on Afghanistan about what was going on and what we thought was going to happen so they could make decisions,” she says. Soon after she was accepted into the Judge Advocate General (JAG) as a legal officer.

She explains that the JAG employs about 160 full-time legal officers and advises on military law, which is comprised of three pillars. One is military justice that oversees court martials and summary trials. A team of lawyers handles court-martial situations, providing both prosecution and defence lawyers.

Another area is administrative law, which deals with employment, personnel issues, administrative investigations, elections, benefits and compensation.

The third is operational law, which deals with the legal basis for military operations, the use of force and rules of engagement. “It’s about where we can be and what we can do in legal terms,” she explains. “This can be either domestic or international, and the laws are different in each case.”

Within the JAG, lawyers can also provide regional services to military bases, advising the chain of command on the base. For the past few years, Fogo has served this role in Victoria, B.C. This summer she was posted back to Ottawa where she will work in operational law. “We tend to be posted every three years, so it can be quite a steep learning curve each time,” she explains. “But it keeps things interesting.”

Speaking of interesting: one of Fogo’s recent assignments was working on Exercise RIMPAC  (Rim of the Pacific), a multinational exercise that takes place every two years to give navies from these countries the opportunity to practice working together.

“They create a gigantic scenario, such as a conflict between countries, but they use code names for the countries like Red or Blue,” she explains. “They might have simulated UN resolutions as the basis for the operations. Some countries will form a coalition, others will act as the opposition.” The entire exercise takes about six weeks. “You have to do all the background work and adapt to the scenario development before you get to conduct fake operations.”

Fogo was an adviser to the deputy commander. Although she worked from headquarters on land, she found herself caught up in the excitement of participating in the event. To learn more about the event and the participants, visit and

Fogo’s husband is also in the navy.

She says her job is a great combination of two things that fascinate her: the law and the military. And she praises the university experience that started her down this road. “I’ve been to many universities, but I really enjoyed my time at the University of Guelph. It’s a shining example of what a university should be.”