Advocacy on family law issues has been among NAWL’s thematic law reform priorities for decades. The Divorce Act is the only federal family law, and it had not been comprehensively reviewed or updated since the 1980’s, until Bill C-78: An Act Amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreement Enforcement Assistance Act ad the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Division Act and to make consequential amendments to an other Act was introduced on May 22, 2018.
Because of the importance of the Divorce Act to so many women in Canada, NAWL prioritized bringing together feminist groups, academics, lawyers, and the media to engage in this law reform process. To anchor feminist analysis of and engagement on Bill C-78, NAWL in partnership with Luke’s Place researched and prepared an in-depth discussion paper and brief on C-78 to submit to the relevant parliamentary and senate committees, with a particular focus on domestic/family violence in the context of divorce. Through online and in person consultations that NAWL convened in Vancouver and Toronto in July, and in Ottawa in September 2018, a coalition of fifty-six (56) women from a forty-three (43) feminist and equality-seeking groups from across the country came together to advocate on this important piece of legislation.
By November 2018, the joint brief on Bill C-78 by NAWL and Luke’s Place, had been finalized, endorsed by thirty-one (31) feminist and equality seeking groups from across the country and submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In addition, eleven (11) coalition members also submitted briefs to the Committee that cited the NAWL and Luke’s Place joint brief, as did women representing a range of coalition members who, like NAWL, appeared as expert witnesses before the Justice Committee. When the Bill reached the Senate in June 2019, NAWL appeared before the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, alongside two Quebec-based coalition members. The Observations issued by the Senate Committee’s on Bill C-78 cited the joint NAWL and Luke’s Place brief. As a result of NAWL’s leadership and partnerships, there was a robust and coordinated feminist engagement on Bill C-78. After almost two decades of feminist advocacy calling for reforms to the Divorce Act, on June 21, 2019, Bill C-78 received Royal Asset and became law.
Ongoing feminist engagement in the implementation of the revised Divorce Act and related laws, is now required.
The resources and opportunities that were made available from the 1970s-2006 to support feminist engagement in law reform disappeared after NAWL and other feminist and equality seeking groups were defunded. The decade that followed left huge gaps in capacity and disrupted the intergenerational transfer of feminist law reform skills.
Without any operational or project funding, NAWL looked for alternative methods of supporting feminist advocacy, including by developing online resources designed for women law students and emerging activists. Through a generous donation made to the Trust by one of NAWL’s founders, Shirley Greenberg, in 2014 NAWL launched the first iteration of the bilingual, online Feminist Law Reform 101 course.
Since 2018, NAWL’s efforts to rebuild an inclusive and diverse feminist law reform network have expanded and intensified. Existing resources, including the FLR 101 online course, are currently being updated with new content, new technologies and accessibility features, to support feminist students, allies, advocates and activists across the country to effectively engage in feminist law reform at the federal level.
In addition, drawing on the FLR 101 materials, a series of workshops were run across the country to provide a diverse set of participants with insight on the federal law reform process and equip them with the necessary skills and confidence to write parliamentary briefs, draft op-eds, work in coalitions, lobby elected government officials and use social media for feminist advocacy and activism. Since March 2018, over 100 women representing almost 50 feminist and equality seeking organizations from across the country have participated in NAWL-led introductory workshops on feminist law reform.
These efforts continue as part of NAWL’s ongoing commitment to lead feminist law reform advocacy and support coalition and capacity building work to advance the equality rights of all women in Canada.
We developed this bilingual online course to equip law students, social justice advocates and community groups with resources and tips on how to engage in feminist law reform to advance women’s equality rights.take the course