Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

Tom Ullyett is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory.

The award is the highest honour bestowed by the association and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding service and professional achievement. Ullyett was announced as the recipient on Feb. 17.

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon since he arrived in 1986 as an articling student on a one-year contract. He spent 33 years working for the Yukon government, initially as a public sector lawyer and eventually a deputy minister. He now works in human resources for the City of Whitehorse.

He has also served as the co-chair of the bar association’s Yukon branch and acted as a mentor to young lawyers in the territory.

“I really saw the need of what others had done ahead of me, to support and encourage young lawyers, both with their work and to get involved with their community,” Ullyett said.

“I’ve always encouraged others to become involved, and tried to mentor, mostly informally.”

In an interview with the News on Feb. 25, Ullyett was humble. When asked to describe highlights of his 36-year career in the Yukon, he spoke of his compatriots in the Yukon government and justice ecosystems.

“Rarely was I the leader of the pack, I was mostly there to help support good ideas,” Ullyett said.

“I’ve worked with some amazing people. They’re amazing because of their work ethic, they’re amazing because of their brilliance, they’re amazing because of their sense of collegiality.”

While working for the Yukon government, Ullyett prioritized increasing access to the justice system, which he described as another highlight of his career.

“From a justice perspective, (we were) trying to improve the administration of justice and trying to make it more real and accessible to members of the public,” Ullyett said.

Ullyett was part of the team that established the Yukon’s Community Wellness Court in 2007, which takes a therapeutic approach to addressing the root causes of criminal offenses. It targets individuals with addictions, mental health problems and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

A few years after the Wellness Court was established, the likelihood of participants offending again was seen to diminish from 75 to 33 per cent.

“That became something the whole country was interested in,” Ullyett said.

Ullyett has seen the Yukon’s justice landscape change drastically in the last three decades. The biggest change, he said, has been in the recognition of Indigenous systems of law and the introduction of self-governing First Nations.

“There’s another order of government and I think in the Yukon we’ve come to recognize that more than anywhere in the country,” he said.

The mosaic of the profession itself has also changed. “The face of the bar has changed. It used to be a man’s job … like so many areas of the workforce,” Ullyett said.

“Our first female lawyer in Yukon was not until the mid-70’s … so it took decades. If you look at the stats of the bar today — we have (161) lawyers in the Yukon and 91 are female.”

While the Yukon has seen improvements in broadening the spectrum of lawyers and increasing access to the legal system, there is still work to be done in both areas. Ullyett expressed awareness of his own place within that system.

“I also recognize in receiving this award, that I do come from a place of privilege. I grew up in a white, middle-class, urban environment with a stable family life,” Ullyett said.

“It’s quite possible if I was Black, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you right now. Or if I was South Asian, or Indigenous. So, we have our own issues to deal with.

“Before we try to change anything, the first part is recognition and acknowledgment of who we are and the challenges we still have.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

During our recent conversation, John Nicholson showed me snapshots of his time working on the Yukon riverboats 70 years ago. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: Yukon man relives the riverboat days after seven decades

John Nicholson took summer work on Yukon steamers in the 1950s

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: Another election, another anomaly

Monday’s “double-tie” election is generating some free publicity for the Yukon as Outside news agencies scramble to find someone to interview.

A cyclist rides along the Millenium Trail in downtown Whitehorse on a frigid Feb. 9. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of an e-bike bylaw that would designate how e-bike riders can use city trails. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
First two readings passed on Whitehorse e-bike bylaw

Delegate calls on city to consider age restrictions and further regulations

Whitehorse City Hall at its Steele Street entrance. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Change of plans approved for city hall

Project would see 1966 city hall demolished

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

Joel Krahn/ Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

A bulldozer levels piles of garbage at the Whitehorse landfill in January 2012. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Rural dump closures and tipping fees raise concern from small communities

The government has said the measures are a cost-cutting necessity

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: Hands of Hope, the quilt of poppies

Toilets are important Ed. note: Hands of Hope is a Whitehorse-based non-profit… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

Most Read