A year later and we are still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, my term as the sitting Hamilton Law Association President for the 2020-2021 is ending and this is my last journal article. We have been through a multitude of different phases of lock down during my year as the President, and so, if nothing else, my claim to fame may be never having attended a live event as the President; unfortunately.
I do have a special pair of impractical Presidential shoes collecting dust and waiting for when that day arrives that I can attend a social event, either as the past president or perhaps even the past past president of the association, depending on the efficiency of the vaccine rollout.
Kidding aside, I have had the opportunity and honour to lead the association through uncertainty in a very complex world. I expect that our next president will also experience similar uncertain times given how quickly our situation evolves weekly and monthly. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that they will get to wear their special President’s shoes (or other sartorial accessory) at least once in persona.
Our staff at the HLA was required to work from home during the last stay at home order by the province. We have proudly been able to keep our members and staff safe with our adherence to pandemic protocols. We have kept our members up to date with notification of any COVID-19 infections in our local courthouses. We have continued to provide quality legal education on relevant and interesting topics. Our members have been able to continue as leaders in our community and for their clients during this pandemic. These are all accomplishments to be proud of.
It was a privilege to hear the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, speak at a Women in the Law Summit in February. She has been and continues to be my favourite Canadian jurist since law school and the event ingrained that even further for me. She labelled the pandemic “The Great Revealer” and after hearing her speak I couldn’t agree more. She talked about how the pandemic has caused doubt for us as the fragile fault lines have been cracked in social structures and hearts. The injustices and inequities that were previously hidden by complacency have been brought to the forefront of our thoughts. She highlighted that these are not new injustices or inequities but rather that we are looking at them with new eyes when building for a different future. She encouraged us to do better and to find ways to make changes and to rectify the wrongs. I hadn’t realized before, but Justice McLachlin, brought to my attention that we are suddenly seeing Women on TV screens; running things, many of the most important jobs such as Chief Medical Officers are women. We see Women caring for others and the strength that they possess despite years of inequitable treatment. She was hopeful that a better society would emerge for both women and men as a result of this crisis. I too am hopeful that both a better society and better legal system will emerge as a result of the pandemic.
At the Women in the Law Summit a statistic provided a basis for discussion; that one in four women considered leaving the workforce as a result of the pandemic also known as the pink recession by some news sources. The statistic comes as no surprise because our homes have become classrooms, child care centres and offices all at one. Is it really just 25% of us? During this pandemic, I considered what leaving a profession to deal with all of one’s other responsibilities would entail. I wondered how many of us could or would balance, working, raising a young child, combined with volunteer positions such as this association’s presidency. Personally and luckily, I have been able to lean on my family for help raising my daughter this year. If they were not here or couldn’t help, I probably would have had to leave the workforce and probably would not have sustained this leadership role; a role that I trained for with many years of sustained volunteerism for the Hamilton Law Association. We can all see that attempting to work within a traditional business day is seemingly impossible if you are also required to support a child’s online schooling or to provide care for the young or old or frail. Many women have expressed feelings of burnout and anger as a result of the emotional overload of responsibilities occasioned by the pandemic. I commiserate. Our dues to the Law Society support the Member Assistance Program, a helpful albeit limited service considering the circumstances. Notwithstanding that, I urge the lawyers of Hamilton to consider change to formal structures along with changes in their hearts and minds to allow all our people to bring their best selves to work and be champions of an inclusive culture at the office.
On Tuesday February 23, I attended a meeting with the other presidents of the South Central Regional along with the Treasurer of the Law Society, Teresa Donnelly to openly discuss the challenges faced by our associations. We have continued to advocate for reinstatement and reduction of further budget cuts for our law library. In Hamilton we are in a unique position as we have no law schools or other law libraries that are accessible by our members, which makes our library even more important to our members’ ability to maintain competency and ultimately the ability of our community to access justice. If you also feel that library funding is important, I urge you to complete the surveys that arrive in your inbox rather than just ignoring them, and also remember this issue at the next Bencher Election.
February is Black History Month in Canada. Black History Month reminds us of the inequity and barriers many continue to face, from anti-Black racism and discrimination to a lack of opportunity and resources. The Law Society hosted an online gathering entitled with panel discussion called “The Future is now”. The program was enlightening and enriched my understanding of the challenges faced by Black licensees along over 3000 other registrants. It helped me gain an understanding of the transformative work that Black Legal Professionals are making to our community. I urge you to watch the recording of this if you missed the live presentation.
During my time as president, our executive director, Rebecca Bentham, has been essential to our Association’s survival. Her guidance, wisdom and ability to act strategically and quickly have truly made things sustainable for our association. Our staff has been fantastic with the changes and keeping on top of the work. The quality and engagement of our continuing legal education is something to truly be proud of as an Association. I also need to thank my amazing Board of Trustees for your prudence, support and insight. The Executive and Trustees have worked very hard this year to ensure the success and sustainability of the Hamilton Law Association during the pandemic. Our board worked as a collective and are truly exceptional minds and volunteers. Thank you to our members for joining and supporting change over the last year. I look forward to that day when we all get to dust off and wear our special shoes. See you then.