Racialized women in our discussion of retention of women lawyers in criminal defense practice

There’s been a bit of reporting and commentary on this topic lately, kicked off by the release in March 2016 of the Criminal Lawyer’s Association (Ontario)  report, The Retention of Women in the
Private Practice of Criminal Law, prepared by post-doctoral researcher Natasha Madon and Anthony Doob.

Here is a CBC news report following up on the report, quoting Breese Davies, a tireless advocate for female defence lawyers and a VP at the CLA.

An important addition to this discussion is offered over at the (Osgoode student newspaper) Obiter Dicta, by Andrea Anderson, a PhD student and criminal defence lawyer herself.  She writes about female defence attorneys who are Black or Indigenous in her commentary entitled:  The Retention of Women in Private Practice: The challenge is intersectional:

While not an exhaustive list, in my own experiences practicing criminal defence, I have often (too many times to count) been mistaken for the co-accused, the surety to the girlfriend of my male clients and in turn, prohibited from crossing over to sit at the counsel table or looking at the docket sheet from other members of the Bar—all instances that have included non-racialized female counsel. I have listened to male interviewers make inappropriate comments about my body type, questioning whether I am fit to practice criminal defence.

On the same set of issues, see Naomi Sayers (UOttawa law student, her blog is Kwe Today and she tweets as @kwetoday) and Sam Peters (also a U of O JD student, on twitter as @SamPetersTO) in the HuffPo, here:

Perhaps some of the reasons why racialized women are leaving the criminal profession are more complex than what is discussed in the report. Perhaps it is also because we do not get paid the same as white women, let alone white men. What about Black and Indigenous women in criminal law practice? We are often mistaken for the assistant in the courtroom, rather than the lawyer. And the most obvious, racialized lawyers in criminal law practice are often in solo practice. Maybe it is because we are not even hired as much.

Questions about the retention rates amongst women in criminal private practice are really important to ask, as are questions about how Black and indigenous women fare when they are on the Crown side.   The highly gender and  racialised nature of criminal justice in Canada means that these women are uniquely positioned – very differently to other lawyers – when they join the defence bar.  How different is their experience?  I’m glad that one of the results of the CLA report (bravo CLA for commissioning) are the questions that Andrea Anderson, Naomi Sayers and Samantha Peters are asking. Small scale study, anyone?


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