It’s not just the movie, television and music industries that celebrate their achievements; the not-for-profit and academic worlds do, too. Given the cancellation of such events as the Golden Globes because of their deeply rooted lack of diversity, it seems to me that while the world I occupy still has work to do in this area, we are doing a much better job of inclusivity than our corporate distant cousins.
Time for a bit of bragging.
Victim Services Award of Distinction
At a Zoom event in early May, Luke’s Place along with 14 other recipients, received this award, from the Attorney General of Ontario. Our award recognized the work to expand our Virtual Legal Clinic (VLC) in response to the pandemic-driven increased need of women for legal advice. The VLC links woman abuse survivors to family law lawyers via video-conferencing; a service that is desperately needed, especially by women in rural and remote parts of the province, who often don’t have ready access to a lawyer in their community. Through this program, the lawyer – offering their services pro bono — provides the woman with what is called summary legal advice. This can involve giving the woman some basic legal advice based on the information she shares about her situation, advising her about legal options and processes or reviewing court documents the woman has prepared on her own.
“This spotlight on our Virtual Legal Clinic is a spotlight on all the lawyers who volunteer their services as well as our staff and the service providers across the province who have worked so hard during the pandemic to make sure abuse survivors have access to legal services.”
Among the 15 recipients were Salem Berhane, who created the volunteer-run Eritrean Canadian Committee of Windsor, Shauna Pitawanakwat of the Wiikwemkong Unceded Territory of Manitoulin Island, who provides support to family members of murdered and missing Indigenous women, Shalini Konanur of the South Asian Legal Clinic Ontario, which works with survivors of forced marriage, and Erin Lee of Lanark County and Patti Lessard of Mattawa, who work with women in rural communities; women who are often especially vulnerable to gender-based violence and lack access to services and supports.
Queen’s Law Alumni Awards
Each year, Queen’s Faculty of Law gives out four awards to recognize “a wide range of alumni for their substantial contributions.” One award is for overall distinction, another for early-career success, another for public service. The J.A. Corry Award, of which I am the 2020 recipient, is for “success in fields outside the practice of law.”
I received an email from Dean Mark Walters early in March of last year – before COVID-19 had fully intruded into our lives and while I was enjoying what turned out to be my final days in San Miguel – telling me that I was the recipient of this award for 2020. An in-person celebration was planned for May which, obviously, didn’t take place. A few months ago, when the recipients of the 2021 Alumni Awards were decided on, the law school decided to hold a virtual celebration for recipients from both years.
A Zoom event offers both positives and negatives. On the negative side: there’s no chance to visit with other people, perhaps with a glass of bubbly in hand. It’s also really hard to stare at your own face in a little square (just when did my mouth start to look so much like my mother’s?), knowing that a couple of hundred strangers are also staring at it. On the positive side, I only had to worry about what I looked like from the shoulders up (neck jewelry has really been in demand for the past 15 months), I didn’t have to leave my home, and friends and family who would not have been able to make an in-person event could attend the virtual celebration.
Each of the award recipients had the opportunity to speak for no more than two minutes. That’s not a lot of time for a lawyer, so I wrote, rewrote and rehearsed my remarks several times, eventually getting them to one minute and 48 seconds. Here’s what I said:
I am deeply honoured to be receiving this award.
When I started law school in my mid-30s, I had plans to practice law and save the world. So I did, for about four years.
Well, I practised law, but I did not save the world.
In fact, I quickly realized that the women I represented – most of them survivors of gender-based violence – were denied meaningful justice when they turned to legal systems.
I gave up my fantasies about appearing before the Supreme Court or perhaps becoming one of its justices and shifted my work to the systemic advocacy I’ve been engaged with ever since.
I have not once regretted that decision.
I use what I learned at law school and in my few years of practice in my work every day; work that can be intense, challenging, humbling, infuriating and discouraging. Always, it is interesting; always, it is inspiring; occasionally, it is funny.
I get to work with smart, passionate and committed women across the country; driven in our work by the courage of survivors of gender-based abuse.
Laws in this country offer women considerable formal equality, but not so much when it comes to the substantive equality women need to live free from abuse of all forms.
I have always believed that the privilege I’ve enjoyed throughout my life carries with it a responsibility to challenge, push back and open doors to invite others in.
The law has given me a way to try to do that.
Once again, thank you very much for honouring me with this award.