Annual Reports

Message from the Chair of the National Steering Committee, Kerri Froc 

In my first message as Chair, I thought I would engage in some “real talk” – the phrase I use with friends when we are through with conversational niceties, and I want to get to the heart of things with plain, sincere communication. I am a relative latecomer to NAWL. I had admired its work from afar as a law student and young lawyer, but I did not join until after my doctoral research on the history of women’s rights under the Charter, which is when I started “fan-girling” NAWL in earnest. NAWL was a young organization in 1981, but the energy and commitment of its women lawyers and law students meant that it was instrumental in making key changes in the Constitution to ensure that women’s rights were protected. This includes insisting on section 28 of the Charter, Canada’s equal rights amendment. NAWL was its first advocate and played a key role in its drafting. 

I am extremely proud to see NAWL come out of a period of government de-funding more vital than ever. We have a new executive director in Tiffany Butler (who never ceases to amaze me with her passion and “hustle”), and the staff has expanded to include a new Head of Communications and a Head of Feminist Law Reform. This group is dedicated, energetic and hungry for women’s equality. NAWL and the NAWL Charitable Trust for Research and Education have both secured more stable funding, with new grants from the federal government and a generous donation of over $1 million dollars, respectively. As the Annual Report outlines, these new resources have allowed both entities to engage in more and deeper law reform efforts, guided by a new strategic plan. Personally, I was proud to be a spokesperson for NAWL in relation to its efforts to reform Criminal Code section 33.1, concerning the “extreme intoxication” defence, after the existing provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in R v Brown. We will be there again when the Parliamentary hearings on the amendments begin in the spring of 2023. 

At a time when it seems like feminists are increasingly fragmented in their positions and interests, NAWL has taken a leadership role in joining feminist organizations together. For instance, together with Luke’s Place, it has launched a new national coalition, The Chanterelle Alliance for Feminist Law Reform. “Real talk” – the women of Canada need more NAWL. More “real talk” – NAWL needs more feminists and feminists from more varied and diverse backgrounds to help inform and lead our work. Will you join us? 

To read the complete Annual Report, click here.

Message from the National Steering Committee

In 2019-2020, NAWL continued to lead and support feminist law reform, strengthen feminist capacities and expand and diversify the network of feminist and equality seeking organizations, lawyers, academics, students and activists working together to advance the equality rights of all women in Canada

The new NAWL website was launched in December 2019 ( In addition to providing NAWL’s current work, the new website is also an archival tool that includes all volumes of Jurisfemme—a bilingual newsletter that NAWL published quarterly from 1977-2007, as well as many briefs, tools, and communications developed over the last forty years, and some great old photos.

Throughout 2019-2020, NAWL’s Co-Chair, Professor Martha Jackman continued to teach a Feminist Law Reform course to upper year common law students at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, utilizing NAWL’s online Feminist Law Reform 101 course materials (  An extensive update of the Feminist Law Reform 101 online course materials and website is underway and the new online materials are being piloted in the Fall of 2020.  The new FLR website modules are expected to be finalized in 2021.

In June 2019, NAWL received a Capacity Building Fund grant from Women and Gender Equality Canada (formerly SWC) to implement the four year project: Sustaining Feminist Law Reform in Canada: Building NAWL’s Capacities to Strengthen its Fundraising and Diversify its Funding Base.  The Project is designed to build NAWL’s fundraising capacities with the goal of diversifying the funding base.  NAWL’s online fundraising approach and software were updated in the Fall of 2019, and piloted with a membership appeal launched in Dec 2019, followed by an end of year fundraising appeal undertaken on behalf of the NAWL Trust.  In 2020, work began to prepare for fundraising with foundations.

For the first time in decades, NAWL re-engaged with strategic litigation at the Supreme Court of Canada.  In November 2019, represented by Co-Counsel Anne Levesque, NAWL Co-Chair, and Nathalie Chalifour, NAWL and Friends of the Earth Canada (FOE) joined forces and filed an application to jointly intervene in the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) appeal.  Leave to intervene was granted to NAWL and FOE in December 2019.  The hearing was postponed because of COVID 19, but on September 23, 2020, Nathalie Chalifour appeared before the SCC to present NAWL and FOE’s joint oral submissions, which were dedicated to the memory of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The NAWL/FOE  intervention focuses on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and girls, especially those who face intersecting and compounding forms of discrimination, proposes a feminist interpretation of federalism, and argues for upholding the GGPPA as an equality-affirming interpretation of the Constitution.  The Court’s decision is forthcoming.

Following discussions with stakeholders, a decision was made for NAWL to engage in Bill C-5, An Act to Amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code.  NAWL’s brief on Bill C-5, which was prepared by Professor Rosemary Cairns Way, and endorsed by thirty-six (36) groups, was submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on April 13, 2020.

NAWL’s pre-budget submission, prepared by Fay Faraday and finalized to include feedback received from members of the feminist law reform network, was endorsed by; Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, Barbra Schlifer Memorial Clinic, Canadian Council of Muslim Women, CRIAW, DAWN Canada, Ending Violence Association of Canada, Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femmes, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, Women’s Shelters Canada, was submitted on August 7, 2020.

Since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, NAWL has been leading and supporting advocacy to highlight both the importance of ensuring there is a fully gender responsive approach to all aspects of the COVID-19 response and recovery. This has included advocacy on the importance of consultations with women’s and equality seeking groups, and funding mechanisms to help stabilize our sector.

NAWL, together with the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, developed a proposal for support to equality seeking women’s groups in Canada during the COVID 19 pandemic.  The proposal was endorsed by twenty-four (24) organizations and submitted to Women and Gender Equality Canada on April 17, 2020. That same day, NAWL and other women’s rights groups wrote a letter to Minister Monsef, which was endorsed by twenty-eight (28) groups, calling on the Government of Canada to ensure a rigorous and far-reaching gendered response to COVID-19.

On behalf of twenty-two (22) women’s rights and equality seeking groups, on May 19, 2020, NAWL also sent a letter to the Prime Minister on the importance of feminist policy making in the context of COVID 19, and advocating for the government’s recovery plan to include: an immediate commitment from the government to the financial stabilization of the women’s rights and gender equality sector; and the establishment and funding of processes for and with organizations with a primary focus on advancing women’s rights and gender equality.

In light of the current and expected future economic consequences of COVID-19 on women, work began to update A Women’s Guide to Money, Relationships and the Law, which continues to be one of the most accessed resources on NAWL’s website.   In addition, a new module on COVID 19 has been developed for the online feminist law reform 101 course.

A series of strategic opportunities had been identified for NAWL to meet in 2020 with decision-makers to discuss  key policy issues.  However the COVID-19 crisis shifted policy priorities and made in-person meetings impossible.  Nonetheless, in July 2020, NAWL successfully convened a virtual meeting of representatives of nine (9) women’s rights groups from across the country with Minister Lametti and Department of Justice staff, to discuss the impacts of the delayed implementation of Bill C-78, and to present recommendations about key implementation issues.

NAWL was also invited to meet with the NDP’s Building for Better Task Force.   On July 29, 2020, NAWL’s ED Suki Beavers and Co-Chair Martha Jackman had a call with the Task Force to provide inputs on priorities for their  COVID 19 policy platform.


Throughout 2019-2020, NAWL continued to work in solidarity with many feminist and equality rights activists, organizations, networks and coalitions to advocate on a range of women’s rights and feminist law reform issues, including as follows:

  • NAWL Executive Director, Suki Beavers, continued to participate as a Steering Committee member of the Beijing +25 Network, and as a member of the Advisory Committee that developed and reviewed the Canadian parallel report, “Unfinished Business: Canada’s Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action”, which was endorsed by 50+ Canadian organizations, and launched on October 28, She also attended the meeting of the Beijing +25 Network hosted by the Canadian Labour Congress on January 22, 2020 and made a presentation on the history of Canadian women’s groups in the follow up to and implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and follow up processes (B+5, +10, +15, +20). On March 2, 2020, NAWL signed a letter demanding governments postpone CSW64 in light of COVID-19, and on March 11, 2020, signed a letter to Ministers Monsef and Gould calling on Canada to join all Action Coalitions of the Beijing +25 review process and ensure coherence between its foreign and domestic commitments to invest in women’s movements and leadership during the Beijing +25 process and beyond. As part of the Steering Committee, NAWL’s ED contributed to the development of concept note and then proposal submitted to WAGE in March 2020, for funding to support the facilitation of Beijing +25 network.
  • NAWL’s Executive Director was a member of the Advisory Committee, the Steering Committee and the Government Relations Committee of Up for Debate 2019, a network of over 100 organizations in Canada calling on federal political parties to participate in a gender equality debate in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.
  • NAWL’s Executive Director continued to participate in meetings of the Gender Equality Network Canada (GENC) Consultative Committee, and attended the 5th national GENC meeting held in Montreal, on November 12, 2019.
  • Following the 2019 federal election and appointment of the new Cabinet, NAWL participated on the drafting committee that prepared a letter sent to Minister Monsef on December 9, 2019, with four key asks. In addition to NAWL, the letter was also signed by: Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (AC), Amnesty International Canada (AI), Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), Feminist Alliance for International Action FAFIA),  NAWL, Oxfam Canada, Unifor, Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC), and YWCA Canada.
  • NAWL’s support for a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women (NAPVAW) included: co-signing a letter developed in December 2019 by Women’s Shelter’s Canada and supported by twenty other organizations, requesting a meeting with Minister Monsef on the development of a NAPVAW, on December 5, 2019, NAWL participated in a social media blitz on the National Action Plan on Violence Against Women (NAPVAW). On March 3, 2020, NAWL signed three letters to Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Monsef and Minister Morneau calling for the establishment and funding of a NAPAW, and in August 2020 NAWL participated in both providing feedback to the government’s draft NAP framework document, and the development of a reissued call for a NAPVAW led by Women’s Shelter’s Canada.
  • NAWL Executive Director, Suki Beavers and NAWL Project Director, Rachel Kohut, attended DAWN Canada’s Conference “Do the Rights Thing: An Intersectional Approach to Human Rights” on December 3, 2019. Suki Beavers spoke on the afternoon plenary “intersectional Human Rights, challenges and opportunities”.
  • NAWL remained a member of the pay equity coalition, and on January 15, 2020, NAWL’s ED met with the new federal Pay Equity Commissioner.
  • NAWL, along with the CLC, the CWF, Oxfam, WSC, YWCA was part of the core committee that convened the meeting; “Defining a Feminist Influencing Agenda” held on January 16th and 17th, 2020, that was attended by forty-one (41) participants from forty (40) organizations from across the country.
  • On February 13, 2020, NAWL signed on to a letter developed by the Canadian Health Coalition sent to Minister Morneau asking for the necessary commitments for pharmacare to be included in the federal budget, and also signed the new joint statement on pharmacare issued by the Canadian Heath Coalition on May 22, 2020.
  • On July 7, NAWL signed a letter opposing the use of a restorative approach to an inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting. On July 8, 2020, Martha Jackman was interviewed about the call for a public inquiry into the NS mass shooting, and on July 12, 2020, Suki Beavers was interviewed by the Todd Veinotte Radio Show in Halifax (95.7), also on the call for a public inquiry into the NS mass shooting.
  • NAWL signed an open letter sent to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on August 12, 2020, calling for the prioritization of a robust system of child care a priority of Canada’s recovery effort.
  • On August 20, 2020, NAWL sent a letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, which was endorsed by thirty (30) feminist and equality seeking groups, urging the nomination of women and/or men who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, and/or from other equality seeking communities, to fill the two forthcoming Ontario vacancies on the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • On September 18, 2020, NAWL signed a letter sent to the Deputy Prime Minister calling for her to host a a roundtable with women’s right organizations and feminist leaders as part of her federal budget consultations.

To read the complete Annual Report, click here

Message from the National Steering Committee

With ongoing support from Status of Women Canada (which in December 2018 became a federal department known as Women and Gender Equality Canada – WAGE), in 2018-19, NAWL continued to deliver a project focused on:

“…increasing women’s capacity to meaningfully participate in the law-making process. The planned activities will bring stakeholders together to rebuild a national law reform network. The network will be used to build the capacity of women’s organizations and enhance engagement in law reform advocacy work. This will reinforce partnerships between feminist law reform experts including feminist law students, legal academics, lawyers and leaders of women’s organizations. Systemic solutions will be shared to engage relevant decision makers including government and other law-making bodies, to inform change and achieve equality in the law-making process.”

In 2018-2019 NAWL continued to lead feminist law reform on a range of issues. The project priorities include; preventing and responding to Violence Against Women (VAW) in Canada, Bill C-78 (An Act Amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreement Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Division Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act), the Canada Summer Jobs Program and women’s equality rights including the right to abortion, and rebuilding feminist law reform capacities using NAWL’s Feminist Law Reform 101 online materials.

As reported in the previous annual report, in April 2018 NAWL convened consultations which resulted in all participating organizations achieving consensus on a series of recommendations a range of issues related to VAW law reform.  NAWL submitted these recommendations to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women its causes and consequences (UN SR VAW) on behalf of the coalition of participating groups, along with the request that they be included in the SR VAW’s report on her official visit to Canada. NAWL and partners were pleased to note that UN SR VAW’s end of mission statement, which was issued on April 23, 2018, included strong emphasis on the need for federal law reform Canada.

In November 2018, as part of the finalization of the report of her official visit to Canada, the UN SR VAW requested and received from NAWL additional information on the legal framework relevant to VAW law reform issues in Canada.

On June 27, 2019, a joint press conference was organized on Parliament Hill to highlight the release of the UN SR VAW’s report on her visit to Canada.  NAWL’s Executive Director participated alongside the Executive Directors of FAFIA, Women’s Shelters Canada, The Canadian Women’s Foundation, The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic and Dr. Pam Palmater, to highlight and call for implementation of the UN SR VAW’s recommendations to Canada.  A joint press release was issued on the same day by NAWL, FAFIA, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, The Ontario Native Women’s Association, Women’s Shelters Canada, Women’s Sexual Assault Centre Renfrew County, the Dr. Pam Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, and the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.

Following the consultations on Bill C-78 that that NAWL convened in 2018, NAWL and Luke’s Place finalized and circulated widely a joint Discussion Paper on Bill C-78, An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act.

In addition, a joint NAWL/Luke’s Place Brief on Bill C-78, was developed and submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on November 8, 2019.  This brief was endorsed by thirty-one (31) organizations from: British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, and more than a dozen national feminist and equality seeking groups.  NAWL circulated the Bill C-78 brief widely, in English and French, and encouraged other feminist and equality seeking groups to also submit to the Standing Committee their own briefs, and to use, adapt and/or amend any portions of the joint NAWL/Luke’s Place Brief and Discussion Paper on Bill C-78, in preparing their own briefs on C-78 to submit to the Standing Committee.  As a result, at least eleven (11) additional briefs on Bill C-78 were also submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that referred to and reflected analysis contained in the NAWL and Luke’s Place Brief.

Decision-makers as well as the general public were also made aware of NAWL’s analysis on Bill C-78. On November 21, 2018, the NAWL Project Director and the Legal Director of Luke’s Place, were invited to appear as witnesses before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Bill C-78, along with several other feminist groups that had participated in the C-78 feminist coalition led by NAWL and Luke’s Place.

When the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill C-78 in June of 2019, the NAWL Project Director was among the few witnesses invited to appear.  Despite the very limited timelines for the Senate’s consideration of C-78, on June 17, 2019, the Senate issued observations that referenced and supported many of the positions taken by NAWL and Luke’s Place and our coalition partners and allies.  When C-78 received Royal Assent June 21, 2019, NAWL and Luke’s Place issued a joint press release celebrating the many positive amendments made to the Divorce Act for women and children facing family violence and calling for “the full participation of feminist organizations, activists and service delivery groups in the development of guidelines and tools, including a mandatory family violence screening tool, and the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of  C-78.”

NAWL continued to lead and support advocacy on women’s right to abortion and to respond to the ongoing attacks challenging the rights affirming approach adopted in the Canada Summer Jobs Program in 2018 and 2019.   In December 2018, NAWL and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights posted a joint public response to the 2019 Canada Summer Jobs Program, supporting the attestation and eligibility criteria included in the 2019 CJSP.  NAWL also built the capacities of interested feminist law students attending the Law Needs Feminist Because National Forum convened in Halifax in February 2019, to undertake advocacy in support of measures designed to advance women’s equality rights, including the right to abortion.  Communication tools are under development to support additional advocacy on these issues.

In the fall  of 2018, NAWL’s Co-Chair, Professor Martha Jackman, and Project Director Suki Beavers again utilized NAWL’s online Feminist Law Reform 101 course materials (, to jointly teach a Feminist Law Reform course to upper year common law students at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.  Many of the law students in the Feminist Law Reform class had their Op-Eds published in national newspapers and the law student evaluations of the FLR course were extremely positive.

In addition to supporting a for credit FLR university course, in 2019 the online FLR course materials were updated and adapted to be used in non-academic settings.  Short FLR introductory workshops were developed to build capacities, alliances and a national network that includes a new generation of feminists with diverse lived experience, to engage in feminist law reform in Canada.

The 2019 Law Needs Feminism Because (LNFB) National Forum, held in Halifax on February 23, 2019 was identified as an important opportunity to introduce NAWL’s online FLR 101 materials to build the capacities of feminist law students studying in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (the hosts of the 2019 LNFB national forum), as well as participating law students from across the country.  NAWL hosted two workshops at the LNFB National Forum.  The first was a half day FLR skills based introductory workshop that was led by Shari Graydon, media expert and founder of Informed Opinions.  The workshop was designed to provide feminist law students with the confidence and tools to contribute their expertise to the public discourse on feminist law reform issues.  Participants received skills based training and hands-on support to strengthen their capacities to write compelling, short-form written commentary for newspaper op ed pages and online sites, on equality rights issues, with a specific focus on the right to abortion in Canada, the attestation added to the Canada Summer Jobs Program, and the government’s legal obligation to protect and promote women’s Charter rights.  All of the law student participants rated the benefits of participating as ‘excellent.

The second workshop hosted by NAWL in Halifax on February 23, 2019, was developed in response to the interest that was reported by the law students who completed the FLR course offered at the University of Ottawa in 2018, to learn how to use social media for feminist law reform advocacy. The workshop, entitled; “A Feminist’s Guide to Using Social Media for Advocacy and Activism” was led by Paula Ethans, a young feminist and recent law school graduate who had completed the FLR course offered at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law in the winter term of 2018.  The workshop was designed for justice professionals interested in feminist law reform advocacy and included analysis of current movements, discussion of opportunities for using social media, potential obstacles, and hands on exercises to practice effective online advocacy methods. Ninety-five percent (95%) of the participants confirmed that the workshop had enhanced their capacity and confidence to use social media for feminist advocacy and activism, ninety percent (90%) said that the workshop increased their interest in engaging in feminist law reform, and one hundred percent (100%) encouraged NAWL to include a focus on using social media in its feminist law reform materials and trainings.

On May 21, 2019, NAWL offered a one-day introductory workshop on feminist law reform in Vancouver.   This workshop was customized for feminist and equality seeking groups that work on some aspects of VAW, including: Atira Women’s Resource Society, Boundary Women Transition Houses, Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), Chimo Community Services, Dixon Transition House, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, the Kelowna Friendship Centre, MOSAIC, Rise Women’s Legal Centre, Snxlhh Transition House, Surrey Women’s Centre, Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, and WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. The morning session of the workshop drew on selected materials and exercises from NAWL’s online feminist law reform 101 materials and provided examples of feminist advocacy efforts on VAW issues.  The Op Ed writing workshop led by Shari Graydon, founder of Informed Opinions who will provide participants was offered in the afternoon.

A similar workshop introducing feminist law reform was delivered in Toronto on June 10, 2019, for feminist and equality seeking groups working on VAW, including: the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Canadian Women’s Foundation, International Women’s Rights Project, Luke’s Place, METRAC, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO), YWCA, and Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke.

On September 13, 2019, NAWL convened a workshop in French in Montreal to introduce NAWL’s online tools and approach to feminist law reform at the federal level.  Participants included representatives from; Collectif des femmes immigrantes du Québec, Comité féministe Université de Sherbrooke, Comité femmes et droit (UdeM), Fédération des femmes du Québec, Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femme, Inuit Siqinirmiut Quebecmi Ilaujut, Le droit a besoin du féminisme car, Le Y des femmes de Montréal, Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale, Réseau d’action des femmes handicapées du Canada, et Réseau d’action pour l’égalité des femmes immigrées et racisées du Québec (RAFIQ).

The final introductory workshop on feminist law reform to be convened in 2019, will be held in Ottawa on September 20, 2019.  Participants are confirmed from the following national feminist and equality seeking groups: Amnesty International Canada, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Frye Societies, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), CUPE National, EGALE Canada Human Rights Trust, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Women of the Metis Nation, Women’s Shelters Canada, YWCA Canada.

Throughout 2018-2019, NAWL worked in solidarity with many feminist and equality rights activists, organizations, networks and coalitions to advocate on a range of women’s rights and feminist law reform issues, including the following:

  • In October 2018, NAWL’s Co-Chair wrote an open letter to Minister Blair, titled: “Reducing violent crime: A dialogue on handguns and assault weapons”
  • On November 6, 2018, NAWL was one of a small number of women’s groups invited to appear before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) on Bill C-86 which established the Department of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE), The Pay Equity Act, and the Canadian Gender Budgeting Act, among many other measures included in this second budget implementation act
  • In November 2018, the NAWL Project Director and Co-Chair each met with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, during his official visit to Canada
  • In December 2018, NAWL was one of 72 organizations to sign a Joint Statement calling on Canada to end sterilization of Indigenous women without consent
  • Also in December 2018, NAWL signed an Open Letter to Minister Duncan, Minister of Science and Sports, to eliminate gender-based discriminations in sports
  • In February 2019, NAWL signed an Open Letter to Minister Jean-Yves Duclos Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development initiated by Canada without Poverty Campaign 2000 and Citizens for Public Justice on Bill C-87
  • Also in February 2019, NAWL signed the Open Letter to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and the Minister of Justice demanding that sex discrimination be removed from the Indian Act
  • NAWL Co-Chair Martha Jackman participated in Engagement session with the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights (CCOHR) held in June 12, 2019
  • NAWL’s Project Director was one of a small group of Canadian NGOs invited to participate in a meeting, with Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights held in Ottawa on June 17, 2019
  • NAWL joined the Beijing +25 coalition and became a member of the B+25 Steering Group
  • NAWL continued to work as part of the core group of organizations planning an Up for Debate initiative to put feminist issues in the spotlight of the 2019 Federal Election
  • NAWL continued to participate on the Consultative Committee of the Gender Equality Network that is facilitated by the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF)
  • NAWL remained a member of the pay equity coalition

2016-2017 was a busy year for NAWL. The organization submitted a significant multi-year application for Status of Women Canada funding, launched its online Feminist Law Reform course and kept up its work to advance women’s equality through law reform advocacy.

Shortly following the Status of Women Minister’s July, 2016 announcement that the federal government would be restoring the eligibility of advocacy activities, NAWL submitted a draft proposal to SWC based on a project idea that focused on NAWL’s traditional area of strength and expertise: to rebuild feminist capacity to engage in the law reform process. NAWL was then invited to submit a full proposal for this multi- year project, the preparation and submission of which took up a significant portion of our time and focus in 2016-2017.

The bilingual law reform project proposal aims to address the under-representation of women’s voices broadly and feminist legal expertise, in particular, in law making processes. Its goal is to revitalize the capacity of feminist organizations and advocates to engage on legislative matters that have an impact on women’s equality rights. Led by a dedicated Project Director, the project is designed to rebuild a network of feminist law reform experts in this country including feminist law students, legal academics, lawyers, advocates and leaders from women’s organizations, and equip them to engage with government to effectively address and remedy systemic gender-based wrongs through the law making process. At the close of this fiscal year, NAWL was cautiously optimistic about the project’s fundability and the future of the organization’s critical law reform advocacy work.

Since our last Annual Report, the NAWL Charitable Trust for Research and Education, with generous support from Shirley Greenberg, launched its open access, bilingual online Feminist Law Reform Course. Over 100 feminist law professors, students, lawyers and activists attended the celebratory launch event, held at the University of Ottawa in November 2016. NAWL’s co-Founder, Shirley Greenberg and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu both addressed the crowd with thoughtful and hopeful remarks and Shirley was presented with a certificate of recognition for her outstanding contribution to the Canadian Women’s movement. It was a fabulous and beautifully intergenerational event – the NAWL NSC is extremely grateful to all of the attendees for the part they each played in making the gathering so successful.

In 2016/2017, NAWL continued to receive and respond to a number of requests to sign letters, co-author briefs, and join various coalitions engaged in advancing women’s equality.

The following provides a sample of some of these activities:

  • NAWL participated in the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s first meeting of the Ad-Hoc Consultative Committee on the Pan Canadian Network of Women Leaders.
  • NAWL wrote a letter to the Quebec government in December 2016, supporting several Quebec-based women’s and First Nations organizations calling for the launch of an independent and systemic inquiry into police abuse of indigenous and aboriginal women in Val-d’Or.
  • NAWL took an active leadership role in advocating for a restored and modernized Court Challenges Program of Canada. To this end, NAWL drafted a letter to Hon. Melanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage regarding the importance of protecting CCPC’s historic mandate to protect and advance substantive equality and access to justice for disadvantaged groups and official-language minority communities. Over 70 major equality rights focused organizations signed onto NAWL’s letter, a copy of which is available on the NAWL website.

To read the complete Annual Report, click here. 

In 2015-2016, NAWL continued operating with a skeletal structure. While committed to remaining administratively sound, the National Steering Committee decided that, in keeping with the direction set in 2013, we would spend as few resources as possible given an inability, without state funding, to do the research and advocacy work the organization was designed to do.

Following Status of Women Minister Patty Hadju’s July, 2016 announcement that advocacy funding would be restored under the Women’s Program, NAWL is cautiously optimistic about the future of the organization.

Despite an extremely reduced structure, in 2015/2016 NAWL continued to work toward its vision of providing feminist law students with the skills necessary for advancing systemic law reform remedies at the federal level.

Since our last Annual Report, the NAWL Charitable Trust for Research and Education, with generous support from Shirley Greenberg, completed work on the development of its open access, bilingual online Feminist Law Reform Course. After a decade of federal government disinterest in, if not outright hostility to, democratic values of equality and inclusion, the NAWL online course is designed to rebuild the skills necessary to advance equality rights and to encourage public re-engagement in the Canadian legislative process.

In 2015/2016, NAWL continued to receive and respond to a number of requests to sign letters, co-author briefs, join various coalitions and make submissions before Parliamentary Committees. In the last year, NAWL has also taken an active leadership role in the work to ensure federal government funding for advocacy was restored. The following provides a sample of some of these activities:

  • NAWL joined other women leaders in signing the “Respect Women” letter in the final days of the Election in October, 2015 calling on “all leaders and public figures in the country to refrain from allowing the issue of the niqab to in any way create an atmosphere of intolerance and xenophobia in this country.”
  • NAWL contributed information about out organizational history for the archival website Rise Up: A digital archive of feminist activism in Canada 1970 to 1990.
  • Shortly after the election last fall, NAWL authored letters to the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Status of Women explaining the importance of state funding for feminist law reform advocacy and research. NAWL also co-authored a letter calling on the Federal government to restore funding for women’s equality advocacy and research with FAFIA, CRIAW, NWAC, LEAF and DAWN.
  • In collaboration with FAFIA, NAWL met with the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women and the Department Head, to discuss the importance of reinstating funding for feminist law reform expertise in Canada. NAWL also authored its own letters to the Ministers of Justice and Status of Women on this issue.
  • NAWL took an active role at the AGM of the Court Challenges Program of Canada.
  • NAWL responded to an invitation by the Director of the University of Ottawa Human Rights, Research and Education Center to participate in the development of a strategy to promote and achieve Canada’s long-overdo adherence to the American Convention on Human Rights.
  • Finally, in the Spring of 2016, NAWL had representatives making submissions before two Parliamentary Committees, the Special Committee on Pay Equity (on proactive federal pay equity legislation), and the Standing Committee for Status of Women (on the impact of cyber-bullying on women and girls). Written submissions to these Committees can be accessed on the NAWL website.

Following Status of Women Minister Patty Hadju’s July, 2016 announcement that advocacy funding would be restored under the Women’s Program, NAWL is cautiously optimistic about the future of the organization.

To read the complete Annual Report click here.

Message from the National Steering Committee

In 2014-2015, NAWL continued operating with a skeletal structure. While committed to remaining administratively sound, the National Steering Committee decided that, in keeping with the direction set the previous year, we would spend as few resources as possible given an inability, without state funding, to do the research and advocacy work the organization was designed to do. Consistent with the decision made in 2013/2014, NAWL ceased all fundraising activities, including its annual letter campaign in the fall.

Despite an extremely reduced structure, in 2014/2015 NAWL continued to work toward its vision of providing feminist law students with the skills necessary for advancing systemic law reform remedies at the federal level.

The NAWL Charitable Trust for Research and Education, with generous support from Shirley Greenberg, is close to completing work on the development of an online Feminist Law Reform Course for broad access through the NAWL website. To this end, over 80 edited video clips have been developed, closed captioned and in some cases subtitled, for various modules of the online course. A number of students, lawyers and law reform experts donated their time and expertise to develop these videos and ensure their accessibility. The video clips are accompanied by suggested readings, discussion questions and assignments. Course modules cover a broad range of topics, including:

  • Foundational concepts in equality law and policy
  • Funding the law reform process
  • The federal law reform process
  • Lobbying
  • Members of Parliament
  • Parliamentary Committees
  • Writing Opinion Editorials
  • Filing Access to Information Requests
  • Media Relations
  • Working in Coalition

It is our hope that by the New Year, this free and highly practical course in law reform advocacy will be launched and that it will strengthen work to advance women’s equality in Canada. In addition to work on the Feminist Law Reform Course, in 2014/2015 NAWL also worked to update its website in order to ensure a complete picture of the organization’s activities and resources since defunding.

Click here to download the 2014/2015 Annual Report.

Message from the National Steering Committee

In 2013-2014, NAWL continued to work toward its vision of providing feminist law students law students with the skills necessary for advancing systemic law reform remedies at the federal level.

In early 2014, Martha Jackman and Julie Shugarman co-instructed a Feminist Law Reform seminar course at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, French Common Law Section.  A number of high-profile feminist lawyers, two Members of Parliament, and several equality advocates offered guest lectures for the seminar course. Work is underway to put a version of this Feminist Law Reform Course online for broad access through the NAWL website.

In October 2013, NAWL suffered an enormous loss when our dear friend and colleague Alison Dewar died. Her powerful lesbian feminist voice and wisdom are deeply missed not only by her friends at NAWL, but by the social justice community at large. Our sympathies go out to Alison’s social justice partner and soul mate, Diana Majury.

Having received a significant number of donations in memory of Alison through the NAWL Charitable Trust for Research and Education, NAWL worked in collaboration with Alison’s law firm, Raven Cameron Ballantyne and Yazbeck (RCBY) LLP, to fund the Alison Dewar Scholarship in Equality, Labour and Human Rights law at the University of Ottawa.

In October, 2013, NAWL filed the amended Bylaws and Articles of Continuance approved at the 2012 AGM with the Federal Government.

In the spring of 2014, Pamela Cross and Julie Shugarman attended Gendered Dissent, Democracy and the Law: A workshop on the gendered face of Canada’s crackdown on dissent, at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. NAWL coordinated a joint proposal for the workshop with FAFIA and the Schlifer Clinic in Toronto, and presented together with Amanda Dale and Shelagh Day at a panel entitled Strategic Silencing: A case study on how federal government action has shut down feminist law reform advocacy work and on measures taken to fill the critical void.

Click here to download the 2013/2014 Annual Report.

Message from the National Steering Committee

In 2012-2013, NAWL focused the majority of its time on advancing the Women and Law Reform Clinic project that was commenced in 2011, following the completion of a McLean Foundation funded feasibility study and with the financial support from feminist philanthropist Shirley Greenberg.

The NAWL clinic was envisioned to respond to women’s access to justice issues by providing the support and expertise needed to organizations and individual lawyers working on systemic law reform remedies for their clients. The unique resource center model NAWL established included training a new generation of young lawyers in much needed law reform skills necessary to advance equality rights in the context of a parliamentary democracy.

After receiving endorsements from 36 members of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Common Law and obtaining key in-kind support from the Dean of Common Law, NAWL entered into formal partnership discussions with the University. NAWL came into these discussions with a well-designed and innovative model for clinical legal education, as well as a commitment of $300,000 in matching funding which we had raised from private philanthropy and a large Canadian foundation. NAWL committed to raise approximately $420,000 in funding in addition to this – a target we were confident we could meet. We asked the University to consider providing $150,000 a year in funding for the clinic over a 3-year period, accounting for approximately one third of the clinic’s projected 3 year budget.

In approaching the University to partner with us in the clinic project, NAWL was seeking a financial commitment from the University, both as an expression of institutional support, and in order to assist in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the clinic.

We were extremely disappointed to report that in May, 2013 the Women and Law Reform Clinic project was ultimately denied funding by the University’s Central Administrative Committee. In response to a letter from NAWL, President Rock cited concerns about space and the amount of money requested as the reasons the project was denied funding. NAWL has since commenced discussions with another law faculty. A feminist law reform clinic at another institution would, by design, require an entirely different governance model and budget from what was being proposed at the University of Ottawa. NAWL will continue to explore alternative and innovative models for offering clinical law reform experience to feminist law students while working to advance women’s equality in Canadian society.

In addition to working on the Women and Law Reform clinic project, in 2013, NAWL joined West Coast LEAF in speaking out on Trinity Western University’s proposal to establish a “gay free” law school. We wrote to the Federation of Canadian Law Societies, outlining why such a proposal on the part of TWU was clearly discriminatory and antithetical to training the next generation of lawyers to live up to their role as guardians of the public interest, which includes protecting and respecting the equality rights of Canadians.

NAWL also added its voice to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada in 2012, calling for the resignation of the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose following her support of Motion 312, which was nothing more than a backdoor attempt to reopen a legislative discussion about the legality of abortion in Canada. We wrote to the Prime Minister to remind him that, as Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Minister Ambrose has an obligation not only to understand but also to ardently defend, the constitutionally guaranteed equality rights of women in Canada, including their reproductive rights.

In keeping with NAWL’s work on women’s economic rights in the context of family law, NAWL posted a public legal education piece on its website about the Eric v Lola decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada found in 2013 that not extending spousal support and the division of property upon relationship breakdown to common-law couples, or de facto spouses, is constitutional. Quebec remains the only province in Canada that requires couples to be married or in a civil union to qualify for spousal support at separation. It is not, however, the only province to exclude common-law couples from the division of family property post-relationship.

In 2012, NAWL also completed a significant governance review process required in order to transition the organization to the new Canada Not For Profit Corporations Act. This review process, led by National Steering Committee members Amy Salyzyn and Anne Levesque, will culminate in the NSC asking the membership to pass a set of amended Bylaws and Articles of Continuance at the 2012 AGM.

Finally, in the last year, NAWL also completed a significant migration of its website to a new content management system. This work was undertaken in order to ensure that NAWL retains its online presence and is in a position to continue to make its publications available to a broad audience.

Click here to download the 2012/2013 Annual Report.

In 2011-2012, NAWL advanced its work to inspire and reinvigorate a community of equality seeking law students in Canada.

A working group of 8 feminist law students completed and published an alternative orientation guide for law students. Downloadable from the NAWL website, the Manual includes excerpts of writing from 28 of Canada’s top feminist legal minds and activists.

This past year also saw the completion of NAWL’s Law Foundation of Ontario funded Economic Security in the Family Project.

Message from The National Steering Committee

In our last Annual Report, for 2005/2006, we told you that it had been a year of financial challenges for the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), because of late funding approval from the Status of Women Canada (SWC) on a major project. Despite this significant delay and eventual approval for a grant running for only 18 months instead of the usual 2 years, we continued with our work of promoting women’s equality through legal education, research and the law reform advocacy through 2005 to 2007.

September 2006 brought the greatest challenge NAWL has had to face in its more than 30-year history. The changes that mandate SWC’S funding criteria rendered NAWL ineligible for funding.

Despite Stephen Harper’s January 2006 election promise – “Yes, I’m ready to support women’s human rights and I agree that Canada has to do more to meet its international obligations to women’s equality. If elected, I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada”—he and his Conservative government moved quickly in opposite direction.

Radical changes to the SWC mandate ended financial support for research and advocacy activities related to women’s equality. Other changes also affected NAWL:

  • The closing of 12 of 16 regional SWC offices
  • The end of funding fir the Court Challenges Program
  • The abolishment of funding agreements for a pan-Canadian childcare program
  • The rejection of the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force
  • The dismantlement of the Law Commission of Canada

NAWL used the remainder of its 18 months funding from Status of Women Canada to meet the obligations of that grant, even as we struggled to survive knowing we did not have the possibility of future funding from SWC. At the same time, we worked with other women’s organizations to fight the changes at SWC and the other program cuts and changes introduced by the government.

Highlights of NAWL’s work in 2006/2007 include:

Pay Equity

NAWL continued to play a leadership role in the Pay Equity Network and, in May 2007, held a national forum to discuss and strategize about the steps necessary to bring about pay equity for women, Details of this forum can be found on NAWL’s website at

Mothering in Law: the NAWL Conference: NAWL held its regular biennial conference on May 11 and 12, 2007, in Ottawa. We partnered with the University of Ottawa for this successful event that attracted more than 100 participants. The policies, programs and legal reforms in such areas as:

  • Maternity and parental benefits
  • Universal child care
  • Custody and access
  • Access to matrimonial property for Aboriginal women living on reserve
  • Parental rights for lesbian mothers
  • Spousal sponsorship
  • Family law and religion

A conference paper was produced, which is available on NAWL’s website at

The conference ended with a Mother’s Day lobby on Parliament Hill on Monday May 14, 2007.

Assisted Human Reproduction Act

NAWL’s Reproductive Technologies Working Group met in Montreal in early June 2007 to discuss NAWL’s position on the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. This legislation reflects Canada’s position on an array of controversial bioethics issues related to assisted reproduction. Women’s bodies and autonomy are at the centre of these issues, which makes this topic a very important one for NAWL.

The June meeting produced the beginnings of a NAWL position paper and generated considerable interest in an ongoing role for NAWL on this issue. NAWL has been unable to follow up on this date because of funding cuts.


Despite limited resources, NAWL produced its Spring 2007 Jurisfemme, which focused on the actions of Stephen Harper and provided updates on a number of NAWL initiatives. The full issue of Jurisfemme can be found on NAWL’s website.

Ad-Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights: NAWL and other women’s equality-seeking groups worked hard through 2006/2007 to draw attention to the actions of the Conservative government. A major event was held on Parliament Hill on December 10, 2006, to amrk the 25th anniversary of Canada’s ratification of CEDAW. For this, the Coalition produced a “Statement of Women’s Equality”, which was signed on to by more than 500 local, provincial and national groups.

For Valentine’s Day 2007, NAWL sent a “Heartfelt Reminder” to parliamentarians to remind them of the importance of ending systemic discrimination, being accountable under the Charter and supporting advocacy by women’s groups.

March 8, 2007, International Women’s Day, brought “Put Equality Back on Track!” stickers and information flyers. Throughout March, women’s group occupied regional SWC offices demanding that they not be shut down.

Through the summer and fall of 2007, the Coalition produced a cookbook containing recipes and strategies to oppose the Conservative government and a video, entitled “Putting Equality Back on Track!”, which is available on YouTube.

Campus Cocktails: NAWL worked very hard through 2006/2007 to involve young women in our work. Our “Campus Cocktails: Braving the Anti-Feminist Backlash” tour visited 10 university campuses across the country and allowed us to hear from young women about feminist advocacy.

To support this tour and other outreach initiatives, NAWL produced its first ever publication aimed directly at young women: a “zine” available on NAWL’s website.

Staying Alive: It is not surprising that fundraising was a significant focus of NAWL’s work in 2006/2007. We launched “Stayin’ Alive” campaign to reach out to women across Canada as we had never done before.

The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) kindly offered us a space in their office, which is where NAWL has been housed ever since.

Most of NAWL files were taken to the Women’s Archives at the University of Ottawa, which has generously offered to allow us to have them back if we are ever in a position to re-establish an office.

From September – December 2007, NAWL maintained itself through the efforts of a very part time office staff person and wonderful volunteers, who ensured that required administrative work was completed. The NSC, which had already provided considerable leadership through 2006 and early 2007, took on the role of working Board.

NAWL received very large donations from a number of trade unions in the fall of 2007. The NSC made the decision to hold this money while it considered the best way in which to move forward.


This Annual Report is required to cover NAWL’s activities only until the end of 2007. However, given the unusual circumstances, we want to update our members with some crucial decisions that have been made and actions taken in 2008.

In February 2008, the NSC decided to use some of its money to hire Pamela Cross, NAWL’S past Executive Director, to work with NAWL on a contract basis to ensure all administrative responsibilities were carried out and to lead the organization in finding an appropriate survival mandate and structure.

The NSC has decided to focus NAWL’s work on research and brief preparation on key law reform that affect women’s equality. The NSC will be holding a Think Tank this fall to determine the appropriate organizational structure and to set an operating budget and resource development strategy to support this focus.

It is our hope that following this meeting, NAWL will once again be providing the law reform analysis and strategies that have supported work for women’s equality in Canada for more than 30 years.

Thank yous

Annual Reports always provide an opportunity for organizations to thank their boards, staff and volunteers. This year, it seems appropriate to be especially effusive in those thanks.

The members of the National Steering Committee have dedicated themselves well beyond the call of duty to ensure NAWL’s survival. All are women with the other lives that are more than full enough. 2006/2007 was a year where some of the steering committee members welcomed new babies while other faced the challenges of new career obligations and illness. Despite these challenges, members continued to be there when NAWL needed them.

For this this commitment and determination, all of us at NAWL are extremely grateful.

It is impossible to find words to convey the extent to which the tireless efforts of NAWL staff have been critical to the survival of NAWL. The NAWL conference, Jurisfemme, Camppus Cocktails, fundraising – none would have been made possible if NAWL staff had said: “Sorry, not in my job description”, or “Sorry, but I have already worked 50 hours this week”.

To NAWL staff, both past and present, we thank you for ensuring NAWL’s survival through the most difficult political climate of NAWL’s history.

The Campus Cocktail event at Carleton University and a student placement from the Human Rights Program at Carleton brought NAWL a crew energetic and enthusiastic volunteers. These young women provided invaluable support with research, fundraising and the conference, as well as with the less pleasant task of packing up and moving the NAWL office. Many are still active NAWL supporters, whom we hope to involve in NAWL’s new incarnation later this fall.

To these wonderful young women – we thank you for your willingness to help NAWL through this difficult time.

Message from the National Steering Committee

NAWL’s financial challenges continued in 2005/2006, once again raising the issue of the effectiveness of project funding over extended periods of time. Despite these challenges, NAWL continued with its work to achieve women’s equality through law reform in the areas of pay equity, maternity parental benefits and family law, including the issue of religious arbitration of family law matters.

The January 2005 federal election provided an opportunity for NAWL to continue working with other women’s equality-seeking organizations to draw attention to key issues facing women in Canada. Our work with the Coalition for Women’s Equality continued. We were successful in seeing the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women, to which we made a number of submissions and presentations, but our efforts to see Status of Women Canada strengthened were not successful, either before or after the election.

We would like to take this opportunity to extend thanks to the members of the NAWL team that made it all happen — to National Steering Committee members, NAWL members, donors, working group members, and most especially, to the staff.

In particular, we would like to acknowledge the work of NAWL’s Executive Director, Bonnie Diamond, who retired in February 2006 after nine years in this position. In November 2005, Bonnie received the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case for her courage, commitment and generosity as a steadfast champion of women’s human rights. Bonnie’s skills will be sorely missed at NAWL, and we wish her well in her future endeavours.

Pay Equity

NAWL continued with its work to achieve substantive pay equity in Canada. In January 2005, NAWL drafted a “Call to Action” for the Pay Equity Network (PEN), which was endorsed by more than 250 local, provincial and national groups in Quebec and the rest of Canada. The Call to Action was launched on Valentine’s Day 2005, when each MP received an oversized Valentine’s Day card, reminding them that “Pay Equity is at the Heart of Equality”.

Maternity Parental Benefits

In the Spring and Summer of 2005, NAWL developed a popular education tool on maternity and parental benefits. Throughout the Fall, we conducted a pan-Canadian education and consultation tour on strategies for improving the federal maternity and parental benefits regime.

Arbitration, Religion and Family Law

In May 2005, NAWL hosted a conference entitled “International Perspectives on Religious Arbitration in Family Law,” at which delegates from more than 50 women’s equality-seeking organizations heard from 5 women involved with Women Living Under Muslim Laws. One of the outcomes of this conference was the development of a Declaration on Religious Arbitration in Family law that formed the basis of the position taken by the No Religious Arbitration Coalition, established in June 2005 to fight Ontario’s Arbitration Act.

NAWL played a key role in the work of the Coalition, and was very involved, with other women’s equality-seeking organizations in Ontario, with lobbying provincial politicians to bring an end to religious arbitration of family law disputes.

In September 2005, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced his intention to end the use of religious arbitration in family law matters, and in 2006, the provincial government passed Bill 27, the Family Statute Law Amendment Act, which established a new regime for the private arbitration of family law issues that required such arbitrations to be “conducted exclusively in accordance with the law of Ontario or another Canadian jurisdiction.”

While this was a provincial issue, NAWL became and remains involved because of the significant women’s equality rights at stake and because the matter of the use of religious arbitration may well arise in other provinces in the future.

Budget Consultations

NAWL actively participated in the drafting of the Coalition for Women’s Equality brief on the federal budget, and participated in the federal budget consultations held by the Minister of Finance in September 2005.

NAWL’s Bi-Annual Conference

More than 300 women from across Canada and Quebec attended NAWL’s conference held in April 2005 in Vancouver. Entitled “Women’s Rights and Freedoms, 20 Years (In)Equality,” the central focus was an examination of the (in)effectiveness of the Character of Rights and Freedoms in supporting women’s equality. Through both plenary sessions and 44 workshops, participants heard from leading feminists in different areas of women’s equality work and discussed strategies for next steps in this work.

Popular Legal Education

Over the course of 2004 and 2005, NAWL developed a two-day popular legal education project for feminist activists and trade unionists with the theme “Women, Work and Equality”. The training and consultation sessions were tested in Spring 2005 in Winnipeg and were delivered in the Atlantic region in the Fall of 2005.


In 2005/2006, NAWL directed resources to redesigning and updating its website so it could function more effectively as a communications tool for women’s equality. The new website now provides readers with easy access to NAWL’s publications, position papers, past issues of Jurisfemme and important information about the issues on which NAWL is working.

>> Click here to view the full annual report.

Message from the National Steering Committee

This was a year of financial challenges for the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL). A late approval on a major project negotiated with Status of Women Canada resulted in a very large unplanned deficit and the depletion of contingency funds. If ever there was a case to be made for how project funding weakens women’s organizations NAWL’s experience this year illustrates the point. NAWL and other women’s organizations remain committed to pressing for the reinstatement of core funding.

Despite financial hardships, NAWL adopted its 3 year Strategic Plan, modernized its mission and principles and continued to actively pursue a vigorous law reform agenda.

We would like to take this opportunity to extend thanks to the members of the NAWL team that made it all happen — to National Steering Committee members, NAWL members, donors, working group members, the 2005 Conference organizing team and most especially, to the staff. The following summary of NAWL’s work in 2004/2005 speaks to our collective efforts making a difference.

Pay Equity

In May 2004 the Task Force on Pay Equity release a final report that proposed pro-active, stand-alone, federal pay-equity legislation and expanded coverage of pay equity to Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities. The majority of recommendations that NAWL made to the Task Force in 2002 were accepted. NAWL publicly supported the report, signalled that support to key politicians and began mobilizing women to press for implementation of a federal pay equity law based on recommendations.

In conjunction with the Canadian Labour Congress, NAWL created the Pan-Canadian Pay Equity Network (PEN) composed of 10 key national and provincial organizations active on Pay Equity issues. NAWL drafted a “Call to Action” for the PEN and coordinated with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) a campaign that resulted in more than 200 groups across Canada endorsing the call to action. A dynamic campaign was launched in February 2005 with a Valentine’s Day Blitz. Around the slogan “Pay Equity is at the Heart of Equality” PEN sent valentine cards to all members of parliament, held a press conference on Parliament Hill and lobbied key MPs.

NAWL responded to the NAPE Case out of the Supreme Court of Canada when on October 24, 2004, the Court ruled that it was acceptable for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to renege on a pay equity agreement all because of an impending ‘fiscal crisis’. In effect, women were forced to bear a disproportionate financial burden for reducing a government deficit that amounted to a special tax on Newfoundland and Labrador women. NAWL, in collaboration with the Newfoundland and Labrador Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) initiated a pan-Canadian campaign urging Prime Minister Paul Martin and Premier Danny Williams to concretely show respect for women’s human rights and despite the SCC ruling pay women what is owed.

Maternal Paternal Benefits

The National Association of Women and the Law, the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada (NOIVMC) and the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) called on Madame Lucienne Robillard, Minister of Human Resources for the Government of Canada, to give Québec its full share of the maternity and parental benefits payouts for 2006 so that the Québec parental benefits scheme could proceed. In 2001, the Québec National Assembly adopted a generous parental benefits law that significantly improves on the coverage as well as the level of benefits that the federal government currently provides under the Employment Insurance Act. However, this legislation had not been implemented, because of the federal government’s reluctance in agreeing on the amount of money that the Québec government will be able to keep from benefits collected from Québecers in order to fund this program. The federal government had been stalling and refusing to negotiate with Québec on this issue since 1997.

NAWL created a working group and developed a consultation paper aimed at strategizing ways to protect women’s hard-won but vulnerable maternity/parental benefits in light of a Québec Court of Appeal decision that in essence ruled that ss.22 and 23 of the Employment Insurance Act are unconstitutional because the matters to which they apply are under provincial jurisdiction. The matter was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. The main issue of concern to NAWL is how to protect one of Canada’s only national programs designed to help women achieve social and economic equality while simultaneously recognizing and respecting Québec’s right to develop and implement its own policies. NAWL will be using our paper to consult with women across Canada to discuss various options for improving maternity and parental benefits, and to strategize on promoting reforms that will help secure women’s substantive equality at work, in the family and in society.

Arbitration, Religion and Family Law

In December 2003, the Islamic Institute for Civil Justice announced its intention to have arbitration tribunals resolve civil disputes based on the principles and rules of Muslim Personal Laws.  A public debate ensured in which this move was characterized by the media as Ontario adopting Sharia law. In response, NAWL and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women conducted preliminary research on the implications of Ontario’s Arbitration Act on family law matters. We found that the use of arbitration in family law matters threatens to reverse the progressive feminist law reform efforts over the last century aimed at reducing women’s inequality.

In the summer 2004, NAWL participated in consultations held by Marion Boyd commissioned by the Attorney General of Ontario to recommend on the issue of religious arbitration in Ontario. Her report, released on December 20, 2004 was extremely disappointing to women recommending religious arbitration be allowed with some 50 safeguards to protect women’s rights.

NAWL produced a major research paper on the issues and adopted a position that opposes the use of arbitration in family law and, in particular, faith based arbitration in family law matters. Additionally, NAWL recommends that family law mediations respect the principles of the family law legislation as well as the Charter equality rights guarantees and that mediation be subject to regulation. Finally, in recognition that the justice system fails women and most particularly fails women from minority cultures, NAWL recommends that significant efforts and resources be devoted to improving the justice system and the courts to eliminate racism, ensure cultural sensitivity, uphold women’s equality interests and adequately address violence against women.

NAWL worked closely with the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) and other equality seeking groups to make the public aware of the equality issues inherent in the public debate and helped to apply pressure on the Ontario government to prohibit religious arbitration in family law matters.

Custody and Access

In December 2002, the Minister of Justice tabled Bill C-22 which died on the order paper when parliament prorogued. There were rumours that this bill would re-emerge after the elections. The reforms in the bill would radically change the rules governing custody and access in the Divorce Act: the notions of “custody” and “access” would be replaced by the notion of parental responsibility, parenting time and parental decision-making authority. These changes would introduce a lot of uncertainty in our law, and increase the risk of disagreement and litigation between parents. They would likely result in more disputes, lower child support payments, and less protection against international abductions of children, all of which are detrimental to women and children.

In addition, Bill C-22 proposed to define what factors should be taken into consideration when determining the best interests of the child: this development is positive, but the list falls short. Racism, homophobia and discrimination against mothers with a disability are not addressed, and the proposed definition of “family violence” is too restrictive. These changes are not in the best interests of children, and they will endanger women’s safety and equality rights.

In anticipation of re-introduction of the bill, NAWL worked on an analysis of issues of race and culture in custody and access and lobbied the federal government against re-introduction of the bill.

Coalition for Women’s Equality

In large part to resist loss of federal government support to women’s groups and the continued deterioration of Status of Women Canada, NAWL joined the eight other women’s equality seeking organizations to form the Coalition for Women’s Equality (CWE). Coalition members include the Canadian Research Institute on the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada (NOIVMWC), Media Watch, Womenspace, the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), YWCA Canada, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

The Coalition’s platform includes passing legislation for women’s equality that is tied to women’s equality rights in the Charter, in the Canadian Human Rights Act and to international instruments, establishing a Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women, appointing a full Minister of Status of Women supported by a well resourced Status of Women department, establishing an accountability mechanism to monitor results and giving adequate and predictable federal government financial support to women’s organizations.

Leading up to the June 2004 election, the CWE produced a “Still In Shock” pink paper featuring 12 feminist issues and questions that women could pose to candidates during the election campaign. An Election Website that had been run in previous elections by NAWL and Womenspace was reactivated and provided feminist analysis of the election campaign and other relevant voting information to women.

The CWE played a key role in convincing the minority parliament of 2004/2005 to establish the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women. CWE made a detailed brief to the Parliamentary Standing Committee regarding the reality of waning equality rights in Canada and on the inadequacy of mechanisms that play a federal role in Canada’s performance. CWE secured a two-hour appearance at the Standing Committee during pre-budget consultations and a feminist financial panel delivered a brief on women’s deepening impoverishment in Canada and mad recommendations for gender budgeting.


NAWL participated in the following outreach activities:

  • CRIAW’s Integrated Feminist Analysis workshop
  • A national consultation held by the Official Languages Commissioner
  • Media and Law retreat organized by “Camp Claire” and University of Ottawa
  • A Québec Conference organized by the Regroupement Provincial de maisons d’hébérgement on the theme, Au dela de l’insécurité.
  • Pan Canadian meeting on the Canadian Social transfer
  • Women’s groups resistance meeting at the federal/provincial/territorial meetings in St. John’s, Newfoundland
  • The Aboriginal Circle on Family Violence National Conference in Ottawa
  • LEAF symposium on the Law Case
  • Income Security and Advocacy Clinic and LEAF Symposium on the Gosselin Case

>> Click here for the full annual report.

Message from the National Steering Committee

The last fiscal year, 2003/2004, was again a busy one for the National Association of Women and the Law. Most significantly, perhaps, we took some time to reflect on the future directions of NAWL. Legislatures are constantly introducing and revising statutes that affect women’s equality interests, which makes it difficult to set aside time to reflect on our priorities and organizational structure. Our strategic planning exercise provided us with that opportunity. Looking back, we were pleased with the wide variety of issues NAWL has worked hard to analyze in the past. Looking forward, we are excited about the opportunity to community with a broader range of constituents about our work.

Once again, the National Steering Committee is grateful for the focus, diligence, attentiveness, and hard work of the NAWL staff. Without Bonnie, Andrée, Pam, and Sharmila it really would be impossible for NAWL to function as effectively as it does. 2003/2004 brought with it a range of challenges for women’s equality seeking groups, including the pending federal election, and in many cases, much reduced government support for organizations that advance women’s equality interests. We are pleased that we were able to continue to focus on the thoughtful and substantive analysis that characterizes NAWL’s law reform work in this difficult environment.

We are also thankful for members of NAWL’s working groups, who provided countless hours of volunteer time to produce briefs and conduct workshops on a range of issues from child custody to the American Convention on Human Rights.

Other good news — NAWL turns thirty in 2004! We are delighted to be part of an organization that has been affiliated with such a wonderful group of activists for women’s equality interests since 1974. We look forward to the next thirty years.


Ros Salvador and Kim Brooks

Following are highlights of NAWL’s quest for equality in 2003/2004

The year 2003/2004 was a year in which NAWL continued to pursue a feminist law reform agenda but also took time to reflect on its past work and focus on the future.

>> Click here for the full report.