Overcoming obstacles is nothing new to Yvonne Peters: As a blind student studying law in the late 80s, when all materials were provided in print format, she overcame the accessibility challenge by paying people to read vast volumes of legal texts onto audio tapes.
From day one at law school, Peters knew that she wanted to use the law to pursue goals of social justice. A human rights activist since the 70s, Peters was a founding member of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund; she also served as president of the Saskatchewan Voice of the Handicapped, and she joined the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Human rights law was a perfect fit.
For 25 years now she has practised as a sole practitioner in Saskatchewan, giving advice on everything from disability rights and women’s health to Aboriginal rights and employment matters.
I first learned about the existence of human rights legislation in the late 70s. I was doing a class assignment and had to look something up in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. I was shocked and incensed that while many grounds were protected from discrimination, disability was not among them. This is the moment when I became a committed disability rights activist. I joined with other like-minded disability rights activists, and through the use of letter-writing campaigns, petitions and public protests, we succeeded in getting the Code amended to include physical and mental disability.
Having gone through this experience, I was very interested in [then prime minister Pierre] Trudeau’s proposal to repatriate Canada’s Constitution which would include a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter contained a clause prohibiting discrimination and guaranteeing equality. Once again, disability was missing from the list of grounds set out in this clause.
A national disability rights organization invited me to participate in an intensive nation-wide campaign to have this clause amended to include disability. I was pleased to be a part of the first ever disability rights protest on Parliament Hill. In November 1980, I chose to protest rather than attend my sister’s wedding — a hard choice indeed — but our public display of dissatisfaction was a turning point in our campaign. In January 1981, the equality clause was amended to include physical and mental disability. Canada was one of the first countries to give disability rights constitutional protection and I am very proud to be a part of that history.
Working as an activist
During my life, I have encountered my share of discriminatory attitudes and barriers. In particular, I have been denied access to public facilities, yelled at and criticized because I travel with a dog guide. Identifying productive ways to make positive change seemed like a logical choice for me. For the past 30 years or so I have had the privilege and benefit of working with many amazing equality-seekers who believe that a society based on justice and equality is completely possible. I am inspired and motivated by this ideal. However, I have to say that recent attacks on the goal of equality, such as federal cuts to equality-seeking organizations, make the struggle for this ideal harder and harder.
Goals for 2014
I was recently appointed by the Manitoba government to serve as chairperson of the Board of Commissioners for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. I am honoured by this appointment and intend to work hard to continue the excellent work already being carried out by the Commission. It is easy to proclaim support for human rights. It is much harder to make such rights a reality, particularly for those who are disadvantaged and living on the margins of society. I sincerely hope that as Chair, I will be able to make a meaningful contribution towards the full recognition of human rights and equality.
Learning, connecting and interacting in Calgary
The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Sub-Section hosted its 9th annual Pan-Canadian Insolvency and Restructuring Law Conference in Calgary in September.
The primary focus of the conference was professional fees in restructuring matters. The issue drew attention from both the bench and the bar in 2013, and resulted in lively debates at the conference, including a comedic mock trial presided over by Mr. Justice Grant Burnyeat of the British Columbia Supreme Court.
During the conference, Larry Robinson, Q.C., was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of the invaluable contribution he has made, and continues to make, to the practice.
Mark your calendars! The 10th anniversary of the event will be celebrated at the 2014 conference on October 23rd and 24th in Quebec City.
Helping those affected by the typhoon disaster in the Philippines
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillipines last November, a group of lawyers from the Canadian Bar Association’s National Immigration Law Section spearheaded a pro bono initiative to help families in Canada sponsor relatives living in areas affected by the disaster to come to this country.
The lawyers offer initial legal consultations and assistance in preparing immigration papers for Canadians and permanent residents in Canada.
“We understand that sponsoring a relative can be a complicated process at the best of times,” says Catherine Sas, Q.C., a member of the Immigration Law Section. “Given the challenges families in Canada are facing, we are prepared to review applications to make sure that documents are in order.”
To facilitate the process, the CBA built a website with an interactive map that allows users to easily locate and contact a participating lawyer in their province of residence. The association also created a checklist that explains how to access the special assistance program.
This initiative follows Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s commitment to fast-tracking new and existing applications for those who have been significantly and personally affected by the typhoon.
“To spread the word, we are promoting the CBA special initiative through our social media channels,” says Mario Bellissimo, chair of the Immigration Law Section. “The CBA will be reaching out through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter as well as community newspapers to reach those who will benefit from the service.”
CBA Quebec Vice-President, Antoine Leduc, wins an award for his recent book published by Éditions Thémis
The author, a law partner with BCF, was awarded first prize in the 2013 Legal Competition sponsored by the Fondation du Barreau du Québec, ex aequo with Doris Farget. His book, Mondialisation et harmonisation du droit des sûretés, published by Éditions Thémis, was selected among 25 works submitted in the Monograph and Treatise category. In his book, Leduc describes and analyzes the emergence of harmonized legal rules in a large number of countries, a phenomenon he observed by carrying out an unprecedented comparative law study. This treatise will be of interest to all jurists, experts interpreting commercial case law, economists, sociologists, and historians who are watching these developments closely.