Summary of a Presentation from NAWL’s 14th Biennial Conference
On International Women’s Day (March 8th), at the NAWL conference, over 300 equality activists came together to say “Hats Off” and “Thank You” to Madame Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, of the Supreme Court of Canada, for her contributions to the advancement of equality. This honour was in anticipation of the announcement of her retirement from the Court in the summer of 2002: she reaches the official judicial retirement age of 75 this autumn.
Throughout the evening, Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dubé demonstrated the grace, commitment and dedication that defines both the woman and her career. She urged us to pause and reflect on ordinary women in daily settings, and she commented on equality gains over her lifetime, acknowledging NAWL’s work in helping to secure them. She also reminded us that much work remains for equality seekers. By way of proof, she indicated that 19 per cent of adult women are poor, the highest rate of poverty since the 1970s, and she highlighted such problems as trafficking in women, unequal access to health care, gender-targeted violence, and gender-based disparate treatment of refugees.
Martha Jackman, law professor at Ottawa University and longtime supporter of NAWL, hosted the evening’s program. Nathalie DesRosier, president of the Law Commission of Canada and Constance Backhouse, law professor and Director of the Human Rights Centre, University of Ottawa, gave tributes to Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dubé. Lori Pope, on behalf of NAWL, presented the Justice with an antique portrait of Nellie McClung containing an inscription of Nellie’s own words: “Never retreat; never explain; never apologize; get the thing done and let them howl.” No words could better describe the courage demonstrated by Madame Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé.
Ottawa social justice activist, Joan Gullen, and Ottawa playwright and anti-poverty activist, Dorothy O’Connell, wrote and presented a skit entitled “McClung’s Dream” which portrayed a chastening visit by the ghost of Nellie McClung to her sleeping grandson, now a retired Alberta Court of Appeal Justice, John McClung. The performance was very entertaining, and also revealed the errors in law and the sexist myths and stereotypes inherent in Justice McClung’s decision in Ewanchuk (2000), 91 Alta. L.R. (3d) 221 (C.A.), errors that the Supreme Court of Canada highlighted when it overturned the decision ( 1 S.C.R. 330), much to the chagrin of Justice McClung.
The evening was a significant fundraiser for NAWL and thanks are owed to the following members of the volunteer Organizing Committee: Naylor Ashley, Constance Backhouse, Sharmila Biswas-Mistry, Wendy Byrne, Brenda Cameron Couch, Melissa.Coleman, Bonnie Diamond, Joan Gullen, Marilyn Lister, Sara Neamtz, Dorothy O’Connell and Jane Shakespeare Horner. A special thanks to Pam Mayhew, for her support in ticket sales and finance, to Kathleen Stephenson for her photography, and to Michael Cullen for his assistance with mailing lists.