Justice Cynthia Petersen receives 2021 H.R.S. Ryan Law Alumni Award at Queen's Law

Petersen won Law Society Medal for LGBTQ2S+ rights work, was inducted to Canada’s Queer Hall of Fame

Justice Cynthia Petersen receives 2021 H.R.S. Ryan Law Alumni Award at Queen's Law
Cynthia Petersen | Image credit: Queen’s University Faculty of Law’s website

The Dean’s Council awards committee at Queen’s University Faculty of Law has named Cynthia Petersen, judge at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, as this year’s recipient of the H.R.S. Ryan Law Alumni Award of Distinction.

Petersen’s fellow Queen’s Law graduates are recognizing her for her overall distinction in the legal profession, said a news release. Petersen, who received her law degree in 1989, was a student activist for equality on issues of race, gender and sexual orientation and co-founder of a group for gay and lesbian students. She earned her LLM from Harvard University in 1990.

As a law faculty member at Ottawa University, Petersen’s scholarly work on systemic racism in the jury selection process was cited by Ontario court decisions and sparked changes in the criminal justice system. She has also taught labour law at the University of Toronto and has guest-lectured at other law schools.

Prior to her appointment to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Brampton in 2017, Petersen was a partner at Goldblatt Partners LLP in Toronto, where she focused her practice on labour law, human rights law and Charter litigation for over two decades.

Petersen has been involved in landmark Charter cases that have assisted in shaping the country’s equality jurisprudence, including acting for the intervener Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere in Egan v. Canada, 1995 CanLII 98 (SCC), [1995] 2 SCR 513.

“It was rewarding to see that the work I was doing with others – it was always a coalition effort – was actually changing the social and legal landscape in Canada,” Petersen said in an interview posted by the Canadian Bar Association in 2017. “There was a decade and a half of public interest litigation on behalf of the broader LGBT communities, the result of which had a direct impact on the evolution of Canadian law.”

For the Law Society of Ontario, Petersen has held educational seminars and has served as discrimination and harassment counsel, in which role she investigated high-profile workplace complaints and offered dispute resolution services to parties involved in complaints regarding the conduct of lawyers and paralegals.

In 2011, Petersen received a Law Society Medal for her work to advance LGBTQ2S+ rights and was inducted to Canada’s Queer Hall of Fame. She is known for her efforts to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including by leading anti-homophobia workshops for the National Judicial Institute.

Petersen was born and grew up in a bilingual home in Châteauguay, Quebec.

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