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Public Sector Award Recipient

Colleen Swords-photo2.jpg

Colleen Swords


Colleen Swords

Colleen Swords, currently retired, was a trailblazer as a female lawyer and diplomat at Global Affairs Canada (GAC), where her distinguished career spanned 29 years.


Her top-ranking position at GAC was Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security Branch (2006-2009), but many within CCIL will know her better as Canada’s Legal Adviser (2002-2005). In this role, she served as Agent for Canada before the International Court of Justice in the Case on the Legality of the Use of Force. She was also instrumental in securing Canadian ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2003. She was additionally known for her defence of Canada’s position regarding the nascent International Criminal Court (ICC).


Ms. Sword’s formidable legal and analytical skills allowed her to quickly assume ever-increasing responsibilities both inside and outside of the Legal Bureau. Legal Officer responsible for human rights, humanitarian law, and peace and security issues, Director of the Economic and Trade Law Division, and Deputy Legal Adviser. While in the Legal Bureau, she represented Canada in various dispute settlement proceedings under the NAFTA, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and in the WTO. Ms. Swords applied her considerable legal and diplomatic skills in her postings abroad, most notably as Ambassador of Canada to The Netherlands and Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In this role, she was deeply involved in international criminal justice issues, including by representing Canada at the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC during the ICC’s infancy. She also served as Canadian High Commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean and was posted to Washington, Thailand and Tanzania.


To cap off her career, Ms. Swords served as Associate Deputy Minister and, later, Deputy Minister at (AANDC, as it then was), and Deputy Minister at Canadian Heritage.


Ms. Swords often broke new ground for female lawyers and women in the foreign service, and thoughtfully mentored junior lawyers to continue in her path. She was Canada’s first – and, to date, only – female Legal Adviser.


We congratulate Ms. Swords and thank her for significantly enhancing the understanding of and respect for public international law in the public sector.

Public Sector Award 2020 Colleen Swords-credit Sarah Bradley _

Left to right:  Valerie Oosterveld, Colleen Swords, CCIL President Gib van Ert

CCIL Awards Reception celebrated October 28, 2022 in Ottawa

photo credit: Sarah Bradley @

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