CLA Women’s Committee
Who We Are:
The CLA Women’s Committee was founded in 2013 in response to the recommendations of the CLA’s Working Group on Women in Criminal Law (see Final Report and Recommendations of the Working Group on Women in Criminal Law). The Committee grew out of a recognition that women face unique challenges in the practice of criminal law and that the CLA must take decisive action to retain and support its female members. The Committee promotes and protects the interests of women members of the CLA. It is also committed to ensuring diversity among its own members and the leadership of the CLA generally.
The Committee’s objective is to improve the quality of professional experiences and opportunities available to women criminal defence lawyers through a number of avenues. The committee works to:
- Advocate on behalf of women defence counsel both within the CLA and in the broader legal community;
- Research and promote the retention of women in criminal law;
- Provide mentorship and networking opportunities for women in criminal law; and
- Provide business development support for women in criminal law.
The Committee is co-chaired by the Women’s Vice President (VP) and the Women’s Director, both of whom are members of the CLA’s Executive and Board of Directors, respectively. The Committee is comprised of 14 members, representing several regions across Ontario, including London, Hamilton, Sudbury, Ottawa, Owen Sound and the GTA. Committee members are selected by the Women’s VP and Women’s Director based on applications and are selected to represent the diverse membership of the CLA with a particular focus on regional representation.
The Women’s VP and Director are elected by the female membership of the CLA at the Annual General Meeting. The positions are each held for 2 year terms. The candidates eligible for these two positions rotate based on regional representation so that the two women holding these positions at any given time include one woman from the GTA and one woman from outside the GTA. The current Women’s VP is Apple Newton-Smith and the current Women’s Director is Cassandra DeMelo.
What We Do:
Part of the mandate of the CLA Women’s Committee is to provide social spaces and collegial opportunities where women lawyers can be open about their unique gender- based challenges in the practice of criminal law. As a result, some of the events organized by the Women’s Committee are female-only to encourage fearless candor and discourage the self-censorship that might take place among male peers. Other events, however, are designed to bring together all individuals—male and female—interested in the promotion and retention of women in criminal law.
- Further networking events including possible events with Crown Attorneys and Judges
- Annual Women in Criminal Law Dinner at the CLA Fall Conference.
- Bi-Annual Women in Criminal Law Conference will be held next in 2019. Previously hosted in Ottawa (2015) , London (2016) and Toronto (2017).
- The Women’s Committee is reaching out to other Women in the Law Organizations and Law Schools across Ontario to plan joint event and foster memberships with the CLA at large.
- Awards specifically for women in criminal defence.
- WC informal mentoring opportunities to supplement the CLA mentoring program. This opportunity is open to all CLA female members and runs from April to October. The members of the Women’s Committee are happy to be contacted by any female members to answer discrete questions/advice or provide ongoing support.
What We Have Achieved:
1) The creation and administration of the Women in Criminal Law Conferences:
- The first annual Women in Criminal Law Conference was held in Ottawa in March, 2015. It was attended by 111 participants.
- The second annual Women in Criminal Law Conference was held in London in March, 2016. It was attended by 141 participants.
- These are the first CLA conferences to be held outside Toronto.
- Notable speakers at these conferences have included the Chief Justice Maisoneuve of the Ontario Court of Justice, the LSUC Treasurer Janet Minor, Christie Blatchford, and Marie Henein.
2) The commission of a major study on the retention of women in the criminal defence bar in 2014 [cite report]:
- The specific goal of the study was to “look at whether women are leaving defence practice in greater numbers than men and, if so, to identify why that was the case and what can be done to reverse the trend.”
- This was the first report to provide a systemic look at the data from women in defence practice in Ontario and provided qualitative information about the experience of women in private practice.
- The study obtained its data from focus groups, data from Legal Aid Ontario, data from the Law Society of Upper Canada and a 2015 survey of women members of the CLA.
- The findings of the study revealed a number of systemic issues in the practice of criminal law, including that women experience unique gender-based challenges in the practice of criminal law and that they do appear to be leaving the practice at higher rates than men. Some of the factors causing women to leave practice included low income, long hours, lack of financial support for maternity leave, difficulty with the Legal Aid system and being treated differently than male peers by judges, Crown Attorneys and court staff.
- The final report from the study sets out a number of recommendations for systemic changes to ensure women remain in defence practice. Some of the recommendations included:
- Improving relationships between Crowns/other court staff and defence lawyers and a general shift in the prevailing culture of the court.
- Establishing fixed court end times.
- Providing greater financial support for maternity leave, including a greater commitment from the LSUC to increase funds available to assist lawyers taking maternity leaves.
- Promoting collectives of defence lawyers working together.
- Developing mentoring opportunities for women by women, particularly for those at the early stages of career.
3) Assembled a guide for CLA members taking parental leave:
- Formally launched by the CLA in January 2017.
- Details are available on http://www.criminallawyers.ca/membership/join-us/.
5) Organizes networking events in various cities across the province:
- Events are directed to the promotion and mentorship of women in criminal defence, including joint Crown and defence social events.
- Events have been held in Brampton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Owen Sound and Toronto.
6) The preservation of the PLAP.
If you have any questions or concerns about any of these events, or if you have any other questions, please feel free to contact Cassandra and/or Apple (co-chairs of the Women’s Committee.) Concerns or questions can be kept anonymous if requested.
The following are the 2018/2019 Women in Criminal Law Committee members:
- Cassandra DeMelo, Women’s Director (London)
- Apple Newton-Smith, Women’s Vice President (Toronto)
- Angela Chaisson (Toronto)
- Riali Johannesson (Parry Sound)
- Tonya Kent (Toronto – Recent Call)
- Jennifer Myers (Toronto)
- Maureen Salama (Toronto)
- Megan Schwartzentruber (Toronto)
- Maya Shukairy (Ottawa – Recent Call)
- Bhavandeep Sodhi (Toronto – Recent Call)