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Success: From the streets of Coniston to the B.C. Supreme Court

Sandra (Hawes) Sukstorf grew up in Coniston, but her career has taken her to some surprising places over the years
In this 2015 image, Governor-General David Johnston presents the Order of Military Merit at the Officer level (O.M.M.) to Commander Sandra Sukstorf, assistant judge advocate general Central at Rideau Hall.

Sandra (Hawes) Sukstorf, who grew up in Coniston, was recently appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Port Coquitlam.

"My upbringing in Coniston and Sudbury holds cherished memories and has profoundly influenced who I am today," Sukstorf told

The daughter of the late Barbara and Ronald Hawes has fond memories growing up in a small town as a member of a large family of six children. 

Her brother, Chris Hawes, is a successful comedian. Another brother, Dan, was co-creator of the cartoon Chilly Beach, which was produced in Sudbury by March Entertainment and aired on CBC from 2003 to 2006.

She was a top student at St. Paul the Apostle Elementary School and a promising tennis player.  She belonged to Girl Guides and delivered the Northern Life newspaper with her siblings. As a teenager, Sukstorf wrote a weekly column for Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

"Despite Coniston's somewhat isolated location outside of Sudbury, we, as young people, always found ways to have fun," said Sukstorf.

"It was a diverse melting pot of immigrants, with families from Italy, Ukraine, and a thriving French-Canadian culture. Our childhood home, nestled behind the Ukrainian church and not far from the smelter, may have been on the 'other side of the tracks,' but it was where we made countless cherished memories.

"Our Saturday evenings often began with attending mass, as it was the social hub where plans for the night were made. Our tight-knit group of friends provided unwavering support, fostering healthy relationships and encouraging each other to pursue our dreams, no matter where they may lead."

Sukstorf attended Marymount Academy. Later, she switched to Sudbury Secondary School where the semester system allowed her to complete three senior grades in two years.

She dreamed of going to university and travelling to British Columbia. A career in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) offered an opportunity to do both.

"I found myself waiting for a bus in January in frigid weather, and the only open place was the Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre. I learned about the regular officer training plan offering a free university education with summer training in Chilliwack, B.C.

"Interestingly, I didn't end up in Chilliwack that summer, but I was posted there immediately after my university graduation. Subsequently, a significant portion of my career was spent in B.C. or supporting naval units based in the province."

A role model for young women, Sukstorf was one of the first women admitted to the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC) in Kingston in the early 1980s.

Sukstorf earned a bachelor of laws from Dalhousie University and an honours Bachelor of Arts (Economics and Commerce) from RMCC. She completed a Master of Defence Studies at RMCC and a Master of Laws at Queen’s University In Kingston.

Sukstorf cites several career highlights with the armed forces.

"A defining moment in my career was when I was promoted to the rank of commander at the base of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France. This poignant location held deep personal significance as it was where my grandfather and other family members had bravely fought during the First World War. 

"Following this milestone, I was entrusted with the role of assistant judge advocate general (AJAG) for Central Region (Ontario), further advancing my professional journey as a lawyer."

Another highlight was being honoured as an Officer in the Order of Military Merit by the Governor General of Canada. This prestigious order acknowledges exceptional service and outstanding dedication demonstrated by members of the CAF, recognizing commitment and going beyond the call of duty. 

Prior to her appointment to the B.C. Supreme Court, the military veteran served as a military judge (2017-2024) over courts martial (proper plural) across Canada. 

Mid-career, Sukstorf transferred to the military reserves in 2004 to work with her brother, Dan, at March Entertainment in Sudbury.

"It was a dream to engage in such creative work while returning to my hometown," said Sukstorf.

"Some may recall me as Sandra MacLeod (when I lived in Sudbury) but I've since remarried."

She practised law in the city and was a member of the Cambrian College board of governors, the city's economic development board and the Sudburyh Airport Commuity Development Corporation board. 

"In 2008, amidst the escalating war in Afghanistan, I was asked to return to full-time service with the Office of the Judge Advocate General due to a shortage of trained lawyers.

"Initially, I intended to assist temporarily, but the compelling nature of the work kept me engaged for the next seven years," she said.

After retiring from the CAF in 2015, she and her husband, Simon, a retired colonel, moved to Vancouver. In February 2017, she was appointed as a military judge by the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of National Defence.

The Sukstorfs  have a blended family of four grown children and three grandchildren. 

"The most significant challenge I faced in my career was navigating the delicate balance between motherhood and a demanding job that offered little flexibility. 

"As a young mother, I grappled with the strain of juggling my cherished role at home with the rigors of a career that often-required international deployments. 

"During those times, communication options were limited, with no Zoom or Teams to bridge the gap between me and my children. While we all managed to cope, I must admit it was the most difficult thing I've ever had to endure," she said.

With the armed forces, Sukstorf served in Bosnia in 1999 and in Southwest Asia after the 9/11 attacks. In 2013, she found herself in another dangerous place.  She and her husband were in Boston during the Boston Marathon Bombings. 

"The most vivid memory for me is the overwhelming sense of uncertainty that enveloped everyone caught in that situation. My husband had just completed the marathon, and as I waited for him to return to our (hotel) room, the bombs detonated outside our window, shattering nearby building windows. Instinctively, I sought safety in the stairwell, known to be the safest spot during such emergencies.

"Due to our hotel's proximity to the blasts, we were swiftly evacuated, managing to grab only our wallets before leaving. My husband, still in his marathon attire, started another marathon that evening … until we could find a place to stay."

Sukstorf's Supreme Court appointment was made Feb. 28 by Justice Minister and Attorney General Arif Virani.

“I am deeply grateful and humbled by my recent appointment. Having previously served as a military judge, I held a strong desire to continue my judicial career here in British Columbia …,” she said “It is an immense privilege and a profound trust to be entrusted with this position, and I am fully committed to upholding my responsibilities and oath to the best of my abilities.”

Vicki Gilhula is a freelancer writer. Success is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.