Like many Canadians, I knew that Donald Trump could get elected on November 8, 2016 – I just didn’t think he would. (I dressed up as a Hillary Clinton campaign volunteer for Halloween, after all.) After much cathartic crying, hugging, and talking it out, I placed myself in the camp of those who want to use the election results as a catalyst for increased community involvement. I want to make sure we in Canada strengthen our defences against the kind of intolerance, racism, and misogyny that won the election south of the border.
Most lawyers I know are already incredibly generous with their time and impressively involved in their communities, but as my favourite podcast Another Round reminded me last week, there’s always more we can all do in our own spaces. So without further ado, some ideas, in case you too are ready to start feeling a little more helpful and hopeful, and a little less helpless and hopeless:
It was a relief to learn that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose someone from Atlantic Canada to fill the vacant spot on the Supreme Court. As I have argued, it would have been constitutionally questionable – and politically problematic – for him to do otherwise. Assuming all goes smoothly, Justice Malcolm Rowe will become Newfoundland and Labrador’s first Supreme Court judge within the next few weeks.
This milestone is worth applauding. So is the preservation of regional representation on the Supreme Court. But – and there’s always a ‘but’ with judicial appointments – what about diversity?
Because of that nagging question, there’s something unsettled about this appointment. Justice Rowe, it must be stated, is yet “another white male,” when the Supreme Court already has four of them. #SCCsowhite is a hashtag for a reason.
Would I have liked to see a woman nominated, to give the Court a majority of women judges? Of course. I would have been even more thrilled if the PM had chosen the court’s first indigenous jurist, or the first SCC judge of colour, or the first openly queer Supreme Court justice. (And unlike the Globe and Mail editorial board, I don’t see “demographic variety” and competence as either/or criteria – there were surely qualified candidates who weren’t white men, and their diverse backgrounds would have only enhanced their competence.)
My relief about maintaining regional diversity was, then, mixed with disappointment about not advancing demographic diversity. (With a nod to Leonid Sirota for the helpful “regional diversity” and “demographic diversity” terminology.) To quote my original post on the revamped appointments process: “The essential goal of enhancing diversity on the Supreme Court can work in tandem with the need to preserve regional representation.”
I thought we could have both this time. And we certainly can, with future appointm
The wine-loving woman has become something of a stereotype, at least in certain corners of North American pop culture. Picture Scandal’s Olivia Pope – trained as a lawyer – and there’s probably a large glass of red wine in one hand and a big bowl of popcorn in the other. It’s no different in the real-world legal profession, where events for women lawyers often feature wine as the focal point.
That’s just the way it is, I thought.
And then I read this article by Kristi Coulter, which went viral over the summer (be warned: it contains lots of swears) and woke me up to the connection between the pressures that professional women face, and the social pressures to drink. Coulter wrote, “there’s no easy way to be a woman, because, as you may have noticed, there’s no acceptable way to be a woman. And if there’s no acceptable way to be the thing you are, then maybe you drink a little. Or a lot.”
At first, Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement of a revamped process for appointing Supreme Court judges ticked all the right boxes. Independent advisory board? Check (and chaired by a woman, too – former Prime Minister Kim Campbell).
A less partisan, more open application process? Yes. Parliamentary scrutiny of the nominee? That too.
But what the Prime Minister’s op-ed failed to mention is that qualified lawyers and judges from across the country will be considered to replace Nova Scotia’s Justice Cromwell when he retires in September – not just applicants from the four Atlantic provinces.
This is a problem (as Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil; Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister Andrew Parsons; and David McLaughlin, former deputy minister in the New Brunswick provincial government and former Conservative chief of staff, have all argued). It might even be a constitutional problem.
It is not written down in our Constitution Acts, or even in the Supreme Court Act, that one of the Court’s nine judges must come from Atlantic Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador has never had a judge on the Court, by the way). But that’s been the historical convention, as Emmett Macfarlane pointed out in his piece for Maclean’s.
Like fellow blogger Rebecca Bromwich, I was excited to read Danielle Groen’s recent piece for Chatelaine about women and work (featuring hometown hero Megan Leslie!) to see how it might apply to women lawyers. But it didn’t put me in “feminist fist pump” mode the way I wanted it to. So I’ve taken Rebecca up on the invitation at the end of her post and decided to offer my own thoughts.
Rebecca’s description of just getting around to reading the article as an uphill battle is all too familiar. I read it in one sitting (I think), but only after I saw the headline on social media while simultaneously cooking dinner and listening to a podcast. I had to write a note to self in my phone reminding me to read it later that night. All this after a long day of working on a pro bono access-to-justice project, drafting a motion brief, and attending a women lawyers’ networking event (a wine tasting, if you must know).
You know that meme that pictures a woman’s brain as a browser with multiple tabs open? It’s totally true, in my experience. All the tabs are always open.