Tag Archives: representation

Representation on Conference Panels: gentle pressure

Let’s start a[nother] conversation about representation on conference panels

my general thought is, who are the allies to whom we might suggest a policy of light or heavier pressure on conference organizers to get women on panels before you will agree to participate?  I know two people with such policies and I’m sure there are more.  Very junior academics and lawyers probably aren’t the folks who can take up this policy – but who might? Why not ask? After my tweets at the Federation of Asian Canadian lawyers (see below), I ran into a (the?) person who had seen them, has a policy, and is raising the issue in organizations he works with.

The thing is that once you are asked to be on panels, you

a. get better at it and

b. get asked to be on more

Feet in the door matter hugely, in other words.  Other justifications can be found in the links below.  Naturally, gender is not the only issue, so there are ways that women can be active participants with their own policies too, rather than simply “locked out”.

Here is info about the Gendered Conference Campaign from Feminist Philosophers.  Here and here you can find articles about the issue in tech. Here a man describes some of the challenges of operationalizing a hard pledge.


At  FACL [Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers] w  lawschool classmates & students i have taught from 2002 to last thursday. Lots of great women here. Binders full, possibly.
This particular panel at  FACL FedAsian CdnLawyers on public service =all men. But all racialised & 3  osgoode grads incl @jagmeetNDP
Hi  FACL – @GeraldChanRSCH is fab & <3 panel on Asian Canadian Litigators but  wherearetheAsianwomen? Yr VP Rebecca Huang wld be perfect!
[a few days later]
so i know some expert  lawyers &  lawprofs who try to avoid sitting on panels w/o any  women … I bet more out there @blberger @agarwalr
Broadening the representation on all kinds of expert panels requires those who ARE invited to suggest others & insist on representation.
see similar calls in tech & academic philosophy. How much resistance will these allies face in our  academic and  professional spaces?



PS: i have no qualms about people assuming this “quota” is a reason someone is on a panel.  I have plenty of reasons for dismissing this as a concern, including:

  • if people do a good job. who cares
  • if they don’t, there are plenty of men in that category too and one goal is that women should be able to be as prominently mediocre as men in this profession
  • invitations to be on panels are not distributed evenly nor does anyone pretend they are handed out by a meritocratic system.  There are all kinds of reasons why they are handed out.  Most are no more defensible – or less defensible – than a policy which prioritizes representation.

here is a problem I think i have encountered;

getting asked to be on too many things (two birds/one stone issue?) and allowing it to take up my time and set my agenda.


Women, the Constitution & the Senate: via LEAF

embattled conservative senator pamela wallin

This is about more than just Pamela Wallin’s taxi expenses!  Canada’s LEAF (Women’s Legal Education  & Action Fund) requested intervention in the upcoming (November 13-15_) Senate Reference (see Maclean’s mag background information here) but they report that the compressed timelines due to the fast tracking of this reference led to LEAF needing to request late filing, a request which was denied by LeBel J. on 2013-06-14.

Here is a link to LEAF’s memorandum of argument in the intervention request, and here is a little snippet:

4. Inclusion and equality, including equality of women and men, are fundamental principles of our democracy. 

5. Given these fundamental organizing principles, Canadian women have an expectation that electoral and appointment processes will include appropriate measures based on current knowledge and analysis to ensure equality of access and result. Such processes must promote the substantive equality of Charter rights-holders, recognizing the importance of reflecting the diversity of Canadian society and achieving overall gender balance in the composition of the Senate. Senate reform must avoid processes that will result in the underrepresentation of women and minority groups. 

6. LEAF seeks to intervene in this reference in order to assert the necessity of taking the rights of women and minority groups into account in all constitutional processes and changes touching upon Canada’s democratic institutions given the important role they fulfill with respect to law and public policy. 

This is from LEAF’s  Open Letter to the First Ministers of Canada which demands that women be consulted on Senate Reform:

The outcome of this Referencewill affect the manner in which Senators are chosen in the future. Any new selection and/or election processes must address the historic underrepresentation of women, minorities and Aboriginal peoples in Parliament. Over almost a century from women’s first right to hold office, and almost half a century from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, women do not yet even approach gender parity by population, let alone attaining, as a matter of course, the level of participation historically accorded to men. (2)

The undersigned do not take a position with respect to the division of powers aspects of the Reference, nor do we take a position on the preferred route to reform of the Senate.  We rather urge that all governments ensure that whatever process is undertaken, the mistakes of past constitutional amendment processes will not be repeated.  Any such process must take into account the established principles of constitutional law.  Women in Canada and other Charter rights-holders have a right to be included in any Senate reform process and any Senate reform process must promote substantive equality for women and minority groups.

h/t Mary Jane Mossman

Question du jour: Race & judicial appointment (and again, where are the ♀?)

We all possess a certain image of a judge. He is old, male, and wears pinstriped trousers. ….He is respected and revered. His word is, literally and figuratively, the law, eternal, majestic. Even those of us who do not fit naturally into the traditional image tend to grow into it. The truth cannot be avoided. We judges like the old image. We cling to it. And why not? It brings comfort, the comfort of knowing one is right, at least pending the verdict of a higher court, although most of us learned to rationalize that as well. It brings security, the security of knowing what to do and when to do it. And it brings gratification, the gratification of knowing we are important and appreciated.  Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin P.C., “The Role of Judges in Modern Society” (The Fourth Worldwide Common Law Judiciary Conference, Vancouver, 5 May 2001)

She doesn’t mention it, but did anyone picture a judge that wasn’t white?

Almost every day that we are in court, we see the lack of minority representation staring back at us. (Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers statement in response to Globe and Mail story about race and appointments to the Federal bench)

Kirk Makin, Globe and Mail reporter, really did us a favour with his carefully researched piece which found that of the last 100 appointments to the federal bench, 98 were white.

That’s disappointing although not, I should say, surprising, really.  The government doesn’t keep any statistics on racialization amongst the pool or the appointments, so Makin had to sleuth it out himself.  A few years ago, I wrote a piece on this and submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada because I thought they must have the stats and be too humiliated to post them.  But my FOI produced “no records” (more on what I wrote and link below).  Naïveté is one of my more charming traits, I hope.  And, of course, keeping no information is one way to stonewall claims of discrimination.

The Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers issued a statement last week, a nice long one, which I recommend reading here.  Prepared by Paul Jonathan Saguil (Osgoode 07) and Immanuel Lanzaderas (Queens 09), two Directors of the organization, it demands a more transparent process, inter alia.

Yet neither Makin’s piece nor the FACL piece do anything with gender.  Gender appears in the G&M piece only as a comparative anlalysis not as an intersectional one:

“One Superior Court judge, who is a member of a minority community, said governments simply can’t claim the pool of candidates is too shallow. “The same thing could have been said about women lawyers, but that didn’t stop a push that greatly increased the number of women judges at all levels of the courts – including the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said.

Wait,  how did that happen? If we’re really concerned about one, and we’re concerned about the other, why are they on totally separate tracks? See here for IFLS posts with intersectionality in them.   I don’t doubt that many of the people who care about one do truly care about the other and there are reasons that they get split.

  • For one, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada does keep gender statistics.   These show overall that when supernumary judges are counted, we are at about 32% women. But the numbers vary wildly across provinces and between Courts of Appeal, Superior Courts and Family Courts (the NWT court of appeal has four judges, 1 supernumary, and 4 women, for instance, whereas Saskatchewan CA has 3 women out of 11 total).
  • Secondly, as the quote above suggests, in Canada the profession admitted white women in significant numbers before it opened up to visible minorities in the same numbers.  But does no one want to talk about intersectionality here? It isn’t a new concept. It is true, as in other areas of research into the legal profession that when even the numbers of racialized minorities are so tiny, the intersectional group is so small that no real conclusions can be drawn (see for instance, parts of the LSUC’s report on gender, race and remuneration, IFLS post here).  Doesn’t anyone even want to make twofer jokes?
  • Finally (and you can read more about this in my article below if you want), why stop at race and gender? These aren’t at the top of some cosmic list.  There are other salient identity characteristics in this kind of inegalitarian society, such as disability, sexual orientation, religion, class – and these all present their own serious challenges to measurement, recruitment and defining what it is we need and expect from our bench.

The paper I wrote is available on SSRN, here. You can also find me ranting quoted here about the crisis of legitimacy created by the “wildly” unrepresentative upper echelons of the administration of justice.  The paper focused on the question of whether the judiciary needs to be “diverse” or “representative” to have institutional judicial independence.  Here’s the opening:

In the Canadian context, judicial independence – the “cornerstone of democracy” – is described as dependent on a wide variety of conditions, including judicial remuneration, court budgets, the discipline of judges, politics and the appointments process, but these do not usually include a diverse judiciary. There is also a significant, but almost completely separate, Canadian literature about diversity on the bench. Why the separation?

Part of the reason is that judicial independence (like any concept worth its salt) is not particularly well defined. Attempts at definition are often cabined by jurisdiction or limited to the world of theory. Furthermore, judicial independence is not a “goal in itself,” but rather a means to impartiality and legitimacy, so that links between diversity and legitimacy and impartiality might not explicitly mention judicial independence despite a clear connection. Another possible reason for the paucity of direct considerations of the topic may be the sense that we believe we have established institutional level judicial independence in this country. Thus even the government is prepared to accept that the bench ought to be diverse, and many will recognize the problem of a bench that lacks diversity – but we cannot recognize it as a judicial independence problem. Most of the commentary about judicial independence consists of the argument that a given change or group of changes (usually changes initiated by government) is harming judicial independence. Linking diversity on the bench to judicial independence, on the other hand, would suggest that we have not truly had judicial independence in the past, since historically it has been undeniably a homogenous bench – at least in terms of race, ethnicity and gender. The context of many judicial independence controversies means that arguments for judicial independence are often – read simply – arguments against interference with existing practice. Demand for a diverse bench, in contrast, usually consists of requests for a break with past practice. Establishing the link between judicial independence and diversity on the bench brings in new questions and opens new areas for research and policy making.

In part I of this paper I begin to sketch an answer to the question, “can a homogenous bench be an independent bench?”, focusing on democratic legitimacy, public confidence and the idea of structural impartiality. In part II, I suggest that ‘diversity’ cannot cure the problems that have been identified, and that legitimacy and public confidence require some attention to the courts as representative institutions. I then attempt to sort through the complications arising from this suggestion, and defend the notion of a representative bench from some of the main critiques. Part III briefly describes two systems of judicial appointment in Canada, and the different approaches they take to the question of diversity and representation. Finally, I conclude by describing basic research questions which arise from this exploration, and accepting the limitations of calls for a ‘reflective’ bench.

Even pointing the two people who read to the end to my own work feels odd, so let me at least say that I also feel like someone might read this and roll their eyes, thinking that I’m trying to make a case in my own service.  That’s ridiculous, isn’t it, that I’m fretting about that? But I think that it speaks to one of the real challenges of the idea of “representation”.  Anyway,  for the record no, never.  Reasons too numerous to recount.