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TRU home to niche law expert who now wants to expand the university’s law offerings

Photo courtesy: Tayla Scott

TRU home to niche law expert who now wants to expand the university’s law offerings

KAMPLOOPS (CUP) — Associate dean of law Jon Heshka created and teaches two sports law courses at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), which is more than any other Canadian university offers, and he’s not stopping there. In the next few years, he plans to create a centre for excellence in sports law and make a sports law certificate available at the university. Coming to

TRU was “almost too good to be true” for Heshka, who started as an adventure studies professor in 2002. It was a position he was well suited for, having lived an adventurous lifestyle.

After graduating high school in Winnipeg, Heshka moved to Brazil and played semi-pro volleyball for a year. It was there he had his first taste of worldly adventure, but it certainly wasn’t his last. Between pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science and in arts, a master’s degree in education and in law, Heshka has had multiple careers relating to adventure sport. He worked as a climbing guide at Canada West Mountain School and as a search and rescue co-ordinator for the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

“In 1989 I began the first of a series of big mountain climbing expeditions. That took me to South America three times, then Europe and what was then the Soviet Union, Alaska and the Yukon,” Heshka said. “In the late ‘80s, I could see that adventure and climbing was where I was destined.”

Heshka’s interest, experience and education in extreme sports liability law and risk management has made him one of the few experts on the subject in Canada and the United States. He has written more than 50 articles about extreme sports, and has been hired as an expert witness around the world in cases involving adventure sport risk management. He has also worked as a consultant for municipal, provincial and national levels of Canadian government regarding risk management. Today, Heshka is focused on building sports law opportunities for the students at TRU.

“We have two courses in sports law. No other Canadian university has two. For those universities that do offer something in it, it’s always combined with entertainment law,” Heshka said. “[Students] will certainly have a leg up in approaching any professional, semi-pro or amateur franchise.”

“I’d like to build up other courses or modules so that, if a person takes [both courses], they can be rounded out with a certificate in sports law,” Heshka said.

It’s Heshka’s goal to have a certificate created for students who take sports law courses, although it is too early to say if this will definitely be the form in which students receive recognition. Heshka also plans to start a centre of excellence in sports law in the next few years. This will provide mentoring and training in sports law practices.

“There would be some research opportunities that come along with it and publishing opportunities not just with ourselves here, but elsewhere, for students and faculty,” Heshka said.

One the students who learned sports law under Heshka is Mitchell Smith, a third-year law student.

“The class centered around liability and his expertise within the actual law and we did a big section on doping,” Smith said.  “He’s probably one of the most approachable profs. It’s kind of nice to get his ear because he’s actually so busy as associate dean,” Smith said. “He would be approachable with any ideas or if you had a draft ready he’d be more than helpful to have it read and provide feedback.”

Smith has an interest in hockey and enjoys coaching youth teams. He was glad for the chance to incorporate his law studies with his interest in sports. So far Heshka has had roughly 20 students enrolled in each sports law course. He would like to see that number rise in the future.

“Sport itself is ubiquitous, that is, it’s everywhere. It’s the oxygen we breathe. When you combine the ubiquity of sport from amateur to professional levels and the amount of money at play, it almost creates the perfect conditions for there to be conflict. And where there’s conflict, there are lawyers,” said Heshka. “So why is sports law important? Because there’s a market demand for it.”