Photo: Brian Cox, here with his dog Geneva, has followed an unusual career path, a winding road that led to the Glebe.
By Steve Zan
Some people found a straight career path right out of school. Others perhaps bounced along from one thing to another. Still others started in one place and made some major pivots along the way based on what they learned in previous phases. Brian Cox falls in the latter category. I sat down with him and his golden retriever, Geneva, last month to learn about his varied and interesting career as well as how Geneva earned such an unusual name.
Cox grew up in Oklahoma and joined the U.S. Army after high school, eventually serving in an airborne regiment. He left active duty in 1999. Not wanting to give up the airborne aspects, he remained in the reserves. At a local college, he trained as a combat camera operator, whose role is to document the actions of active U.S. soldiers conducting missions. Cox was assigned to serve on the U.S.-led mission into Iraq in 2003-4. He was there to witness first-hand the fall of Saddam and collapse of the Iraqi state.
Beyond simply operating a camera as a documentation tool, his trained eye made him a focussed observer of a country re-forming after a collapse. He began to record the rebuilding of a new Iraq with Sunnis, Shias and Kurds trying to work together. Cox realized that the structure, effectiveness and power of a functioning legal system was something he and most of us take for granted. The idea of becoming a lawyer took root.
Cox was accepted into law school at the University of North Carolina in 2007, initially setting his sights on corporate law. During the two summers between terms of school, he worked for a large corporate law firm in Atlanta and spent the other summer working in the Judge Advocate General (JAG), the legal branch of the U.S. Army.
In Atlanta, he found himself as a small gear in a large machine with no work/life balance, whereas in the JAG office he found himself “in a collegial atmosphere working with real responsibility.” When he finished law school Cox made up his mind to work for the JAG and returned to active duty as a military lawyer.
He spent seven fruitful and challenging years practising international law in the JAG, including another deployment, this time to Afghanistan. During those years, he also met a Canadian woman who was serving in our JAG, and there was more to their meeting than a legal connection and a mutual interest in international law. As their relationship grew, Brian and Katherine tried to find postings that would allow them to live near each other, but on opposite sides of the U.S.-Canada border. In 2018, the relationship was ready for a full commitment, so Cox left the military and moved to Canada, convinced he wanted to apply his experience and learning to the next phase of his career. He’s now a permanent resident.
He saw the next phase of his career as an instructor and wanted to pursue teaching where he could leverage his military background and experience in the classroom, lecturing on rules of engagement. He turned his efforts to teaching international law and the use of force. A chance opportunity led him to teach this course at Cornell Law School while enrolled in a Master of Law degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, where he is now a visiting scholar.
Cox has expanded his teaching repertoire to include international law – use of force at the Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton, and courses in law and ethics of armed conflict, and in comparative military justice. Teaching graduate school often inspires research, and he has now nearly completed his Doctor of Juridical Science at Cornell. His dissertation is centred on the interaction of the Law of Armed Conflict and of International Human Rights Law.
In Cox’s view, there is plenty of discussion on how these principles could and should interact, but little agreement on how they do. His dissertation arguments try to bring fidelity to how these bodies of law work together. Recent and current global conflicts including Afghanistan, northern Syria, Ukraine and the Middle East provide ample frameworks for him to apply his approach. He’s also mentoring a third-year law student at Dalhousie University who is in Ukraine helping train locals to gather evidence of war crimes and prosecute same.
In 2021, he and Kat were ready to leave Kingston with their two young sons and return to the Glebe. Kat had grown up on Fifth Avenue, the daughter of Madeleine Aubry and the late John Horvath. They found a home on Third Avenue and enrolled the boys at Mutchmor Public School.
And Geneva? Turns out she is named after the Geneva Convention; international humanitarian laws close to the hearts of both Brian and Kat.
Steve Zan is a Glebe resident and mostly retired aeronautical engineer.