LEAF celebrates 39 years fighting gender-based discrimination at annual Evening for Equality gala

LEAF highlighted work on reproductive health, anti-trans legislation and survivors

LEAF celebrates 39 years fighting gender-based discrimination at annual Evening for Equality gala

At its annual Evening for Equality, the Women’s Legal Education & Action Fund (LEAF) paid tribute to its supporters and celebrated 39 years of combatting gender-based discrimination.

At the event last Wednesday, Pam Hrick, LEAF’s executive director and general counsel, welcomed the “fellow feminist troublemakers and co-conspirators in the fight for gender equality” in attendance. She touted LEAF’s record in countering gender-based workplace discrimination, improving reproductive healthcare access, securing better maternity benefits and spousal support, and eliminating the use of myths and stereotypes in sexual assault cases.

“We also know how much remains to be done. And so, we carry on in our vital work to achieve equality for women, girls, trans, and non-binary people across Canada,” she said.

The attendees packed the King Edward Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom to drink, eat tacos, and hear speeches from representatives of various LEAF sponsors, including Delaney Capital Management, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and the Society of United Professionals.

Yolanda McLean, treasurer of the Ontario division of CUPE, celebrated s. 15 of the Charter, which guarantees every person in Canada equality under the law. LEAF’s Evening for Equality fell on the anniversary of s. 15, which came into effect 39 years ago on April 17, 1985.

McLean noted that two-thirds of her union’s membership are women and that LEAF has been a mainstay in the fight against workplace violence, harassment, and other forms of discrimination. She highlighted their successful fight to repeal Bill 124. The proposed legislation limited annual wage increases to one percent for public-sector employees in Ontario. The province repealed the legislation in February after the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed it was unconstitutional.

“LEAF continues to fight in solidarity with our labour partners when governments try to trample on the rights of workers, as the Ontario government did with Bill 124,” said Hrick. “LEAF was proud to intervene at the Court of Appeal alongside so many of the unions here tonight to insist that the right to bargain collectively includes the right to gender equality.

“Through the power of worker-led resistance and legal advocacy, Bill 124 was struck down, and the government was forced to retreat and repeal this draconian piece of legislation,” she said. “This was a huge victory, particularly for women workers.”

Lara Zink is the vice president of client services and development of Delaney Capital Management, which has partnered with LEAF for more than 30 years. In her remarks, she discussed the international impact possible with feminist legal action.

Zink called on attendees to use their voices to celebrate LEAF’s wins and remember that education is the cornerstone of rights protection. She implored those present to spread awareness of pressing legal cases and ensure everyone – including newcomers to Canada – know about the protections they have under s. 15 of the Charter.

In her speech, Hrick emphasized LEAF’s advocacy for reproductive healthcare, the rights of sexual assault survivors, and the equality, dignity, and safety of trans youth amid a wave of anti-trans policies and legislation across North America.

LEAF recently worked with Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights to launch the Abortion Access Tracker, which tallies policies, laws, and regulations that impact abortion access in Canada.

Hrick said LEAF was instrumental in new Criminal Code provisions that allow survivors of sexual assaults to decide whether their name is subject to a publication ban. Noting that the criminal legal system often fails to meet the needs of survivors, she added that LEAF’s Avenues to Justice Project aims to “foster greater access to restorative and transformative justice for sexual violence.”

LEAF is also intervening in court cases challenging provincial school pronoun policies in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.

“In solidarity with trans-led organizations and communities, our work is made that much more important in the face of governments invoking the notwithstanding clause to try to shield blatantly discriminatory laws from Charter scrutiny,” said Hrick.

Allana Harkin was the evening’s host. She is a producer, director, writer, and performer who has ten Emmy nominations for her work on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. She also directed the recent Crave series Nesting. 

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