Canadian Bar Association president Steeves Bujold welcomes SOGIC co-founder and winner of the 2022 Louis St-Laurent Award, barbara findlay.
LGBTQ2S+ rights and the Charter.
barbara and Steeves discuss the past, future and current state of LGBTQ2S+ rights and experiences in Canada. Their discussion covers Rape Relief v. Kimberly Nixon, Egan v. Canada, SOGIC's beginnings, the Charter & the notwithstanding clause, coming out, keeping fit, and ally-ship.
"Be all of who you are."
Canadian Bar Association - Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence (cba.org)
barbara findlay Q.C. - Home
Canadian Bar Association - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community (cba.org)
Canadian Bar Association - The first comprehensive national study on wellness in the legal profession is published (cba.org)
[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]
Steeves: I’m really happy to see you, barbara, today.
Barbara: And you. Yes, me too.
Steeves: Thank you for accepting to participate in my podcast, Conversations with the President. I think we have a lot to discuss together.
Barbara: Yes, absolutely.
Steeves: When we use the expression we’re sitting on the shoulders of giants I often think of you.
Barbara: There are many ways to take that comment, Steeves [laughs]. Speaking as a fat person, I’ve often been referred to as a giant one way or another [laughs].
Steeves: It would take probably all the time we have to go through everything you did for our community and all the battles you fought and all the organizations you’ve been involved with. But maybe starting with the last one, you received last year the Louis St-Laurent Award, which is one of the most important award our association is giving and named after a Canadian prime minister who was also president of our association, for your outstanding contribution to the legal community. So congratulations.
I also know that you’re one of the founding member of the SOGIC Section, maybe we can start there. So how did you end up being one of the founding member, could you give us some history about the creation of that section?
Barbara: In 1992 I decided that I needed to resolve the impossible tension between being a lawyer by day and a lesbian by night. And so I created for myself an identity as a lesbian lawyer, I think as far as I know the first time anybody had ever called themselves that, and I set up a private practice intending to provide legal services to queer communities.
And it was the wonderful time when the Charter Challenges Program existed and so I was – and I have always believed that to create social change you need the law, you need community education, and you need publicity or the broader spectrum of things.
So a media strategy, a community development strategy and a legal strategy and I applied for and was given consultation funding, so I thought we need a national queer lawyers group. Well, there was only – like I only knew a tiny handful of queer lawyers across the country, but with the funding from Court Challenges I invited a few of them to come to Vancouver and we sat around and decided that yes, we needed a national queer lawyers group.
And Doug Elliott in particular and I set up SOGIC and each of us began in our respective province to request that a provincial organization be established. And that caused them some consternation because it was the first time they’d ever had an organization that wasn’t legally like family law or administrative law, or something like that, but an affinity group and that was quite a shocking proposition. Nevertheless, we prevailed and soon enough we had a national organization.
Barbara: Yes, it was a time for sure.
Steeves: So, Barbara, you fought many battles. So can you tell us where this courage, energy, a willingness to change things is coming from?
Barbara: Honestly, Steeves, I have no idea. I mean I think I would say that I kind of did what was in front of me, what seemed to need to be done. And so that meant that – I mean when I opened my legal practice in 1992 the law relating to queers was a desert. There was, for example, no family law regime relating to queers at all period, we were invisible.
And when I acted for the non-bio mom in a lesbian family where they had had a child together, I’d go to court on behalf of the non-bio mom and the court would treat her as a legal stranger like entirely. So work needed to be done, it was pretty clear. How about you, what was it like for you to enter – when did you get called to the bar?
Steeves: I was called to the bar in 1999.
Barbara: There you go. So I was called in 1977 so it was like we’re almost a generation apart.
Steeves: And 22 years for our community, it’s almost a century.
Barbara: Yes, yes. So what was it like when you hit the profession?
Steeves: I wasn’t out. When I went through law school no one knew that I was gay, so I made my coming out in 2001 when I was then practicing in Montreal. So that was quite a journey even if it’s – when you think about it it’s only 22 years ago, but it was a different time 22 years ago. It was even before gay marriage was legal in Canada, so it took another two or three years. So it put things in perspective when you look at all the battles of the LGBTQ2S community.
Barbara: So when you came out, did you have repercussions from coming out?
Steeves: I don’t think so, I don’t think so. I couldn’t find a single major thing that happened to me in my personal life and professional life. However, it was late because I was already 25 years old at the time which may sound surprising in 2023. So I was ready and I think my environment, my family, my professional network was ready. I wouldn’t say it was easy for me, but it was certainly easier being more mature, knowing also who I was and being able to talk about it genuinely and with confidence. So it helped I think.
Barbara: You talked about same-sex marriage and, you know, in about 1993 or so, maybe 1994, we had a meeting of the then queer lawyers in the country, Egale hosted the meeting. And it was in the face of the first gay marriage case, which was argued in Ottawa and lost, and we collectively were concerned – we were concerned for political reasons. We thought this is the wrong case to start with.
So we got together and we decided collectively that our litigation strategy for the country would be to litigate partnership benefits analogizing between lesbians and gay men on the one hand and common law partners on the other. We decided that marriage was like the [unintelligible 00:07:25], it was that people were going to freak if we said marriage.
So off we went to court and said, “We have nothing to say about marriage. This is not about marriage. Don’t worry, we don’t want to get married,” and thereby one jurisdiction, one law, one initiative at a time we knocked down any of the laws that discriminated against same-sex partner in the partnership benefit regime.
Steeves: So how did you react when the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in Egan in 1995 confirming the decision of the Federal Court to deny benefits to a gay man couple?
Barbara: Well we figured that we had lost the battle and won the war. That decision turned on – basically on a Section 1 argument and so it was four, four and one. I have to say Mr. Justice Sopinka, may he get the eternity he deserves for his [laughs] – for refusing to be the majority in that case.
But the fact of the matter was going into that decision I was worried that this is what was going to happen. I was worried that the Supreme Court of Canada was going to say yes, sexual orientation is a Charter-protected ground because as you know sexual orientation isn’t listed in Section 15, so it’s an analogous ground.
But, and here was my concern, I was afraid they would say it applies only to individual characteristics and not to partnership benefits thereby making it illegal to deny me, you know, a meal in a restaurant but legal to continue to discriminate against queer families. So for me, it was an enormous relief, enormous and really after that it felt kind of like a mopping-up operation. You know, there was no doubt really that we – the way forward had been set.
Steeves: And would you have believed that only eight or nine years later gay marriage would become the state of the law in our country?
Barbara: No. You know, that’s something – there are many things about my legal career that astonish me and one of them is that we’re sitting here having this conversation. Another is that and there you are, president of the Canadian Bar Association.
I mean another is in common law history where we’re taught in law school from precedents to go back 900 years, the idea that you could transform the legal landscape for an entire group of citizens in that blink of an eye was and to me remains astonishing. And then we have the wonderful phenomenon of the same thing happening over again for trans people. So to me, the Charter has made all the difference in Canada, all the difference.
Steeves: Definitely, that’s the anchor on which we built all the rights for equality. So you mention trans rights, so that’s a big subject because both of us, as far as I know, are cis people so we’re not part of the trans community. However, I know that both of us are strong allies defending, talking about trans rights is one of two of my priorities this year and I know that you’ve been involved as well. So how do you see the relationship between the two communities and what’s our role as cis people and what is the role of trans people in that big discussion?
Barbara: I first got involved in a trans case I guess because I had a profile as a queer lawyer and trans people came to see me. And that seemed kind of logical to me at the time, but I knew nothing, so I had to learn from square one. And we did a number of things. I was very, very conscious of being cis in an environment where the issues were trans issues.
And so, for example, we wrote – we got funding from the Law Foundation to look at human rights for trans people in British Columbia and I worked with a group of trans people called the High-Risk Project or the project was ultimately called the High-Risk Project. And the meetings to discuss what protections trans people would have were meetings that I did not attend because I knew that if I did my voice as a lawyer would be so loud that it would be hard to hear what trans folk were saying.
So Sandy Laframboise and Deborah Brady gathered up people from all parts of the trans and gender-diverse communities in Vancouver, people who didn’t ordinarily speak to each other, drag kings and queens and crossdressers and transexuals as they were then called, gender variant people, everybody.
And then they brought to me the results of their deliberations and we advocated, we were the – BC was the first jurisdiction in Canada to consider adding gender identity and gender expression to the Code. And at the time, when I went to do the legal research, there was exactly one book in the Canadian library system about trans people.
Barbara: So it was a time. And then of course we did – then Kimberly Nixon came to see me, and Kimberly Nixon was – is a trans woman who had volunteered at a rape crisis centre, but when she went to the training program they confronted her and said, “You used to be a man.” And though she was legally, medically, socially in every way a woman, they said she couldn’t work there.
So we did a human rights case which honestly, Steeves, in retrospect I’m not sure that the time – the timing of that might have been wrong. Like it might have been like doing the same-sex marriage case at the beginning to do a trans woman in a rape crisis centre as kind of one of the very first major trans cases in the country.
Steeves: Too big as a step?
Barbara: Well more along the lines of you’re challenging the very most – you’re taking the thing that people feel most passionately committed to and challenging it in your first salvo. So Rape Relief, for example, went to court and argued that Kimberly had no human rights at all. That protection on the grounds of sex under the Human Rights Code meant only protection of men and women, which is like an appalling proposition.
But the Human Rights Tribunal actually wrote a truly excellent judgement and gave Kimberly their highest award ever. Rape Relief JR’ed it and it went to the Court of Appeal who decided that the human rights analysis was beside the point because Rape Relief got off the hook by virtue of being a non-profit organization with an exemption certificate. So once again, from my perspective, we lost the battle and won the war.
But what that case did was establish the way legally to think about trans issues and in the wake of that case, you know, I did things like go to CASHRA, which is the Canadian Association of Human Rights Agencies and do training for them about trans issues. And it is really interesting to think about our role as cis people in relation to trans people.
Number one for me – I don’t know about you, but for me the very most important thing is cultural humility, it’s not my decisions to make. So my job is to listen and then to take what I’m told and enact it in the legal context. How do you see your role in that context?
Steeves: It starts with humility because you don’t know what you don’t know. Trans issues are relatively new in my life. I would like to start with thanking Marie Laure Leclercq, that you probably know. She’s a former board member, she was also a founding member of the Women’s Network at CBA and so many other things. I was lucky to be chosen to deliver training to judges on the legal and social history of the LGBTQ2S+ community in Quebec and I think similar trainings have taken place under SOGIC across the country.
So it’s by getting to know better each other and working on and updating that training that I learned so much from her, she’s a trans woman, and it opened just a new world. And then in parallel, I started reading on the issue, seeing what’s happening in the U.S. that is extremely troubling.
And then when I was close to take the role as president, deciding what would be my priorities I wanted at least one priority to be related to my community, but I wanted to take the most compelling one, the most urgent one. So it became obvious that talking and advocating for trans rights – and I’m including gender-diverse people, two-spirit people as well, it’s a big tent so I don’t want to leave anyone outside – was the way to go.
And since then we’ve seen the report ordered by Justice Canada on the experience of gender-diverse people in our legal system and it’s quite shocking the data we can find in this report and even the sentence, you’ve probably seen, it says the legal system is not much a solution but rather the problem that the people are experiencing, so it’s troubling. And I think it starts with education and according to the data, the last census last year, there are more than 100,000 people – I think it’s a conservative number – that are trans and non-binary in Canada.
So back to your question. The role of allies like anything else it’s the same thing for gay people, straight people, if they are supporters they know what they’re talking about, they can talk to people, they can convince people that it may be harder for our community to reach. So I see it as the same thing here. I’m being given as the president a big microphone, I’m being given a lot of podiums, I’m being given airtime. So I’m using that to talk about this issue because otherwise the audience I’m being given for five, 10, 15 minutes may not hear about it otherwise.
So that’s what I did during the last 10 days during my tour in the Prairies, so I addressed trans issues in each and every podium I was given. Probably for many people it was the first time they were hearing that – they were hearing that much about it and that’s the objective. I don’t want to revisit something that has already been settled or that is easy.
I want to open new doors, I want to make a change and maybe in 10 years, and let’s hope shorter than that, in five years we’ll have a big decision or a big law and we’ll say now it’s mostly settled, but maybe not. But however, there’s a long road ahead and I’m a big believer in baby steps. A bit like what you said, let’s start with something smaller, a small [French 00:20:05] as we say in French, it’s easier to swallow and then let’s turn it into a success and build on it. So that’s how I see my role.
And as you know, I’ve put in place at CBA a trans advisory group. It’s an advisory group on trans, non-binary, gender-diverse issues that will advise me and the following presidents for the next three years and will serve as a think tank, as an advisory group because I’m not the person, I don’t know the answers. And I understand that you’ve accepted to be part of that advisory group, so thank you for that. We’re really happy to see you –
Steeves: – and to have you around the table. But that’s how I see my role. And my term as president is getting close to the middle so things are going fast but it will survive me. And for sure I will make sure I will ask the association to continue and my successor, John Stefaniuk, is already committed to that issue, to continue with this important objective and to make sure we deliver.
Because the final objective is to come up with an educational program, policy, recommendations and I hope that will address the needs of this community in the legal system, but even beyond. We should be ambitious enough and see ourselves as an association but also as the legal community as leaders for the whole Canadian community and even beyond.
Barbara: Well I think it’s fantastic that someone with your role and your reach and your profile is making that a centrepiece of your tenure because it wouldn’t get anywhere near the play otherwise. And it is really wonderful that you’re able to take that understanding into communities who haven’t heard about it and lend your authority to say – I mean it’s one thing – just it’s really great that you’re doing that. I’m really thrilled.
Steeves: Thank you. Everyone needs help. So we all need someone to take our hands and move the other steps, move up.
Steeves: So that’s how I see myself. I won’t walk for people, I won’t do it for them but if I can shovel the snow ahead, help to climb the stairs, help to climb the ladders, I’m there for that.
Barbara: One of the things that I find so fascinating about learning about trans stuff is how much – how exciting it is to learn that things I took for granted are – like I took for granted things that were in error and learning to see the world differently, entirely differently than it was taught to me. Like there’s no greater intellectual fun as far as I’m concerned than to find and unearth and set aside the assumptions that I was educated on.
Steeves: I have a question for you, Barbara, because we keep talking about gender. And then there were two genders and then there were three genders and then now they’re gender-diverse and there’s more and more terms. So why are we talking about gender, like what does it matter now that we can marry whoever we love, we can have children with whoever we love? Is the final objective that we will just not collect those data and not ask people to define their gender because – I’ll let you answer, maybe I can comment after.
Barbara: Well it’s a very profound question that you’re asking. I think that in western thought since [Descartes? 00:23:53] there’s been a real tendency to divide. What you want to be doing is you want to be defining the separate elements of things. It’s a process of deconstruction, it’s a process of individuation, it’s a process of relating something to something else.
And we also come from a Christian or a Judeo-Christian tradition which began with, “Male and female created He them,” and that was certainly what I was teased on in my Presbyterian education when I was a child. So the thing about gender, and the same was true in a different way about sexual orientation, was that what we are doing is disrupting the very fundamental ideas about what is “natural” and disrupting the natural order is a big deal.
Disrupting people’s understanding of the natural order is a big deal. The question of how to treat – I have some answers and not all the answers about how to treat gender. For example, I have no idea why we’re still putting gender markers on carry cards like driver’s licenses. What the hell, it makes absolutely no sense to me. Birth certificates, driver’s licenses, I have no idea.
As to the question of whether we should continue to record sex assigned at birth when we register the birth of a child, on that question I defer to trans people because it’s a really complicated question and I’m not the one who should be making the answer.
Steeves: You made reference to natural order and, in my experience, I see that when we raise the reality of gender-diverse people it triggers people, it triggers – and I’m talking about the general population. It triggers people more I think – I wasn’t there in the fifties, sixties, seventies to witness how gay people were triggering the general population, but if I speak about now I see that people are triggered.
So some people would see a trans individual on the street and often the people are disadvantaged, are vulnerable, are poor and they will be triggered by the fact that that person – it may be a man that would present more in a feminine way, and it triggers people. So I’m wondering why are people triggered while the person is not menacing, the person is just there going on its own life, so it seems that it’s coming down to something very deep.
So when you talked about natural order, maybe that’s the thing. We’re trying to deconstruct something that is quite profound and old and we’re trying to reconstruct it or on a new basis where there would not be that big divide between men and women and everything that comes with it; expectations of behaviour, expectations of clothing, expectations of values, of what you like, of your career path. So there’s a lot at stake here.
Barbara: I remember being at university and seeing for the first time someone who presented as male and was wearing a ponytail. Now this was 1966 and pretty soon it seemed like all the boys had ponytails in those days, they were all hippies [laughs]. But it was the first time I’d seen such a person and I have a vivid recollection of how shocked I was. Like shocked in the sense of a moral what is this – both a kind of what is this and a this is such a transgression of what I had been taught that it really impacted me.
And so I have a really I think – and certainly anybody my age has been, and we’ve grown up with those assumptions and that way of constructing the world and I guess a person can have one of two reactions. You either feel like that’s something you need to protect against the incursions of people who wanted to be different or curiosity, which is that’s how it takes me is it makes me, “Oh my God, there’s a way of thinking about this differently.”
I love teenagers because they are so blasé relative to folks my age about gender and how people are identifying that it’s really, really wonderful to see. Now that doesn’t mean that trans adolescents don’t have a hell of a hard time because they do, but the level of recognition and acceptance of trans and non-binary kids is so much different than it ever was for us, for you or me, I think.
Steeves: That’s my experience too. I’m not lucky to have children, but I hear that it’s more often than not the case that they’re not only accepting but they just don’t care. So they don’t [say things? 00:29:21] or they don’t react to things that the previous generation would take offence or would be triggered, that’s a good thing. So does it mean that everything is settled?
Barbara: God no.
Steeves: What’s your view on what’s coming ahead in terms of equality rights in general for our community?
Barbara: Forever and a day I’ve always said – whenever I’ve talked about the Charter I’ve said here’s the wonderful thing about Section 15 and built right into the Charter is the way that our rights can be lost in the notwithstanding clause. And I watch what’s happening in the United States with alarm because the particularly anti-trans legislation bathroom bills, trans women in sport –
Steeves: Books, yes, education.
Barbara: – all that stuff is shocking, shockingly regressive and punitive and there is in Canada that strain of thought. And I think, it’s my own view, that the climate crisis is going to create an economic crisis worldwide. That the climate crisis plus the economic crisis is going to have a really conservatizing effect socially and probably legally and that our equality rights are none of them safe.
That we need to be absolutely vigilant and to develop understandings and arguments about why as the world shrinks it is more and more important that we maintain a culture of respect and connection because we really are all in it together. And if we kind of shrink into ourselves and adopt a me first or only in my backyard kind of approach to things, we’re doomed. Even though that’s my prediction. So I think that the work for folks in the generations behind us in some ways is more difficult because the world is on fire.
For anybody who’s not a lawyer the way it works is that the Charter says that we’re going to guarantee that any law that discriminates can be struck down because it’s unconstitutional. But in order to get all the provinces to sign onto this thing what they did was make a loophole that said a provincial government or federal government for that matter could opt out of the Charter as long as they wrote it into the law and said notwithstanding the Charter.
That’s why we call it the notwithstanding clause. Notwithstanding, that if you say explicitly that this operates notwithstanding the Charter, you can go right ahead and discriminate all you want in the law. And the expectation at the time was that it would be politically unsaleable for a government to wade in there and explicitly legislate against somebody’s right to be free from discrimination.
And for a while, for many years the notwithstanding clause was used very, very rarely and that seemed – so it seemed to be true their judgement about that. My own sense is that particularly now as the world turns and as the world burns that calculus is going to be different and I myself am not an eternal optimist and I think we have really hard times coming.
Steeves: We’ll know more shortly, stay tuned. What would you tell, Barbara, to a young queer or trans law student, what are the advice you would give that person or even to yourself if you were transported back to today but you’re younger and you have your career ahead of you. So what would be your advice?
Barbara: I would say be all of who you are. That the legal profession as I entered it really was not welcoming with all of who I was. For starters they didn’t want me as a woman, you know. They asked me questions when I was articling like, “Does your husband know that you are going to be a lawyer and what does he think about that. What kind of birth control do you use,” that kind of thing.
I grew up in a regime where the Supreme Court of Canada wrote all of its judgements in the third person he with no recognition that that didn’t include everybody. Certainly there was no recognition of me as a queer, either as a queer citizen nor as a queer lawyer. And there was no recognition about the fact that the legal profession was almost entirely white and entirely male, and I call that Norm and his wife Norma ran the legal profession, Norma didn’t have much of a role back then.
So I think that the profession is really changing and that, in particular, the profession is actively valuing participation and representation from communities who are not straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered men. And that as a community of law students and lawyers, we have a real opportunity to create a welcoming legal environment in every area we practice if we bring all of who we are with us to work instead of trying to “act like a lawyer” which means leaving part of ourselves behind.
Steeves: I totally agree. I would tell my – if you ask me the same question –
Barbara: Let me ask you the same question [laughs]. What do you say to that question?
Steeves: I would tell that person or will tell myself to be more confident. It took me years to develop the confidence I have now, and I still have doubts we all do. If I would’ve had that confidence earlier maybe I would’ve done things differently. I would also – because we’re talking about the fact that the legal community is changing, the values of the following generation are different than the previous generation and I think it’s always the case.
But the previous, which is me and you, the person that are in the legal profession worry that the next generation doesn’t have the same values so it won’t work and they won’t work as hard while the profession will change. It’s evitable because 15 years, 20 years forward the law students will be the leader of the legal profession so it will change. So that’s why I’m telling them don’t hesitate to ask; to ask questions, to ask for change, to challenge. Not to break everything apart the first day but to slowly move that configure differently.
Currently the legal profession is not well. You’ve seen the data of the last wellness survey. The massive wellness survey that we ordered, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association that was performed by the Université de Sherbrooke, Professor Cadieux.
And it’s a robust study and it shows that lawyers are suffering from mental health issues at a rate much higher than the general population and much higher than any other profession. It’s worrying. It means that changes must be done to how we practice private practice, how we practice [with our? 00:37:34] government, how we practice law in legal departments of businesses, wherever you practice no one seem to be immune from mental health issues.
So back to the values of the new generation, I think it’s a refreshing way that is coming and that will challenge how we are practicing and maybe the sacrifices we’re doing, and the previous generations did, in a context that is now different. Different because we are now in relationship where both people work, which is a good thing, but it brings its challenges. People have children, they want to have a life, they want to be involved in the raising of their children, they want to be involved in their community.
So it’s more balance and more balance means probably a better life and less mental health issues. So I’m positive, I’m confident that these two things can align and solve some of the issues we’ve been seeing now, but what do you think?
Barbara: I think one of the problems is that law has demanded that we not be human. That we have a social role as authorities. That we are expected to know and to advance some version of the world without – explicitly without regard to our personal situation. The enterprise of lawyering is an enterprise of dividing yourself from yourself and that is your basic recipe for mental illness – mental unwellness perhaps is a better term. That dividing yourself from yourself as a condition of how you move through the world just can’t work.
So, oddly, I think part of what we need is to knock us lawyers off those pedestals a bit. We’re not those people. We can’t be the authorities always and we need to be able to speak, just to talk about mental health issues, to talk about addictions, to talk about the personal cost of the way the profession is structured. So yes, I think we need to do things like change the numbers of hours that we work and work in extended parental leave and all of those sensible kinds of things, but there’s something about the model of lawyering that also has to change, I think.
Steeves: There’s a lot of potential in also deconstructing the superhero model because your career, my career it’s not a straight line. It’s a big curve and with sometimes big setbacks that looks like big defeats at the time. But you learn more from these challenges often than from the best parts of your career because you develop mechanism of bouncing back, you develop resiliency.
Barbara: What would you say is – from your perspective what – in your life what is the best thing for you about being a lawyer, what’s the – what do you cherish?
Steeves: It’s helping people. I would say it’s helping people, assisting them and I always still today see being able to receive like the most intimate details of the life of someone, like they confide in you, they trust you and they ask you for help as an unbelievable privilege. It’s all pieces of life that are – and often it’s a story that is difficult to hear or is challenging because I practice litigation. I often say people don’t come up to you when you have an idea, they come up to you when it’s broken or it’s more after the fact than when you have a project.
But it’s where people are vulnerable and that’s where it makes a difference and you can with the – we cannot always do that, but often with the right skills, with patience, with [French 00:41:47], I don’t remember the term in English, but just being – just listening carefully and being nice to people and giving them obviously legal advice and recommendations you allow people to go back. The train to go back on the rails and to start again and it’s great. So and why I’m doing it is when people call you after or they tell you at the end, “Thank you for having been there for me,” it makes a big difference.
So it’s quite similar than a doctor, a psychologist, a therapist or any other professional that is assisting people but it’s the legal problems challenge people very profoundly because sometimes it’s their financial stability that is at stake, their license to practice as a professional, their marriage, their children, their status if it’s immigration. So we assist people in all step of life, in their big decisions and big problems. That’s why we need to be healthy, we need to be in shape, we need to be rested, we need to be well because when the oxygen masks drop down you need to put it first.
So we have to think about ourselves first, to protect our own life, to make sure we’re well before being able to help other people because otherwise it won’t work.
Barbara: For me, I came to the law on purpose. I had discovered feminism in 1970, along with the rest of the country, and I looked around for something that would enable me to have power to make change and I picked law for that reason. I wasn’t one of those kids that wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was three. And what I am really happy about is being able to make the – I guess I would say to empower people.
Now that has a bunch of pieces like making people not afraid of the law exactly anymore, understanding that though the law may say we have no rights we have a right to say we have rights, and we have a right to pursue those rights and we have a right to have those rights respected. And that that is an amazing thing to go from being literally – I mean for me going from the wilderness, when I came out gay sex was illegal, it was a mental illness by definition to be queer. I was locked up as a lesbian in a mental hospital for that reason.
So to be able to move not only myself but to be able to work, stand beside people in the community and walk with them through that process of coming to understand that there is power in the law and the power is available to be used has really been gratifying.
Steeves: Have you ever thought of going in politics, Barbara?
Barbara: When I got together with my partner 31 years ago she said to me, “Do you have any political aspirations” and I said, “No,” and she said, “That’s good because I’m not down for being a politician’s wife,” and so that was the end of that [laughs].
Steeves: It was love over politics.
Barbara: Yes. So no, I never – I don’t think I would’ve been very good in that forum.
Steeves: I think you would have been fantastic, Barbara.
Barbara: Well, thank you. It was a real pleasure to talk to you Steeves, really fun.
Steeves: Indeed, it was amazing. Thank you so much for sharing with me and with our audience your history, your thoughts, your leadership tips and so many other good things you covered during our discussion. That was amazing.
Barbara: Thanks, Steeves. And if there’s anything that I can do to support you in your presidency or beyond just let me know.
Steeves: I will. The advisory group was already a big thing. Thank you for that.
Barbara: OK, onward and upwards.
Steeves: Thank you. Thank you for listening. And if I may, please allow me to recommend our other great podcast channels, Modern Law with Yves Faguy, Editor of CBA National; and the Every Lawyer with Julia Tétrault-Provencher.
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