I am optimistic, though the United Nations has declared violence against women a global pandemic, that we are poised to make significant advances in our endeavour to prevent and end violence against women and girls in all its forms.
I am hopeful, because the overwhelming support we continue to receive tells me a shift is coming. Not only did we have record attendance at our 22nd Annual Tribute, we exceeded our fundraising goal, making this year’s event our most successful to date. The funds raised during this signature event are invested back into the services the Clinic provides to support the nearly 4,000 women who come to us each year wanting to rebuild lives free from violence. Students are joining us in record numbers: volunteering, interning and articling at the Clinic–these women represent a future less tolerant of violence. They are determined to achieve equality not just for women’s human rights formally, but for their own equal power and social standing.
This year’s Ghomeshi trial afforded feminists an opportunity to expose the truth about sexual assault and the ways that the law is not only buttressed by myths, but also serves to perpetuate them. The Clinic was a level-headed and reasoned voice that challenged stereotypes and discrimination, and successfully advocated for reform in many areas of law, thus shifting how we, as a society, respond to these crimes. The statistical reality of this crime paints a clear picture: the status quo created conditions that approached impunity.
While the Ghomeshi trial was taking place, so was one that received far less immediate attention–that of a York University PHD candidate who was convicted in July of raping fellow doctoral student, Mandi Gray. In delivering his verdict, Justice Martin Zuker stated the need to dispel the myths of rape once and for all . Similarly, in a recent decision by the Alberta Court , Justice Topolniski gave a clear argument for a stricter interpretation of the Canadian precedents on sexual assault, while overturning a lower court’s acquittal in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl.
The Clinic continues to expand on its services, with the introduction of an https://www.schliferclinic.com/legal-services/ pilot program supported by the Ministry of the Attorney General to provide free, confidential legal advice to survivors of sexual assault. Through the Barbra Schlifer Clinic, people who identify as women and people with non-binary gender identity, who are survivors of sexual assault living in Toronto, can receive legal advice over the phone or in person, to help make an informed decision about what next steps to take. For more information, visit https://www.schliferclinic.com/legal-services/.
On another note, the Clinic is entering a period of renewal, but with the mixed feelings left by bidding farewell to Mary Lou Fassel, who has retired from the Clinic as its Director of Legal Services. Mary Lou joined the Barbra Schlifer Clinic as the Clinic’s first Legal Director and was instrumental in the development of the Clinic’s comprehensive legal services for women who experience many different forms of violence.
Mary Lou is widely respected by bar and bench and leaves behind a tangible reflection of her values in the Clinic she was instrumental in shaping. I would like to personally thank Mary Lou for her many years of service, and celebrate her commitment to ending violence against women. And while we will miss her immeasurably, she has done more than her fair share for advancing the right of women to live lives free from violence. We wish her a full and restful retirement. More information is coming soon about how you can celebrate her contribution with us.
In turn, I would like to welcome our new Legal Director, Deepa Mattoo. Deepa brings to the Clinic invaluable experience defending the rights of women in both legal and public policy contexts, as well as an energy and enthusiasm for a fully intersectional approach to women’s rights. She will–without a doubt–inject a renewed sense of purpose for the work we do within the legal department and the entire Clinic.