Image of Deepa at OBA Award Ceremony

June 1, 2023

Deepa Mattoo, OBA Conference Centre

Good evening, everyone.

Today marks the beginning of Pride, and I am so proud of the Clinic’s commitment to supporting trans and gender-diverse communities. Happy Pride to all.

It is an honour to stand before you as this year’s recipient of OBA’s Award of Excellence in The Promotion of Women And Gender Diverse People’s Equality.

I would like to thank Alena Thouin and Janet Mosher for considering my work and nominating me for this prestigious award. I would also like to thank the selection committee for agreeing with them – I am deeply humbled and honoured.

Over the years of my professional journey – I am grateful to be in a position that allowed me to collaborate and work with like-minded people from a broad spectrum of disciplines. The common thread that binds us is our single-minded determination to do our bit to make the world better. Together, we balance the scales, identify gaps that allow those disadvantaged by circumstance to slip through, and seal them. We expect more from our governing bodies and demand it on behalf of those whose voices are too quiet to be heard.

I want to briefly situate the Clinic for those who might be less familiar with our work. The Clinic was founded because of gender-based violence. On April 11, 1980, our namesake was sexually assaulted and murdered in the stairwell of her Toronto apartment building. She had been out celebrating her call to the Ontario Bar. In response, Barbra’s friends and fellow lawyers turned their outrage and devastation into action. They established the Clinic in her memory – to do the work Barbra had intended to do herself.

Since 1985, the Clinic has become an indispensable part of the community. The Clinic assists over 10,000 women and gender-diverse folx each year. We offer free, trauma-informed legal, counselling and interpretation services and work with some of the most marginalized women and gender-diverse people through our numerous special projects that were conceived to address visible gaps in service provision. that involve research and innovative service design related to gender justice, migrant rights, criminalization of survivors, and gender-based violence in the community and workplace. In addition to its direct service and outreach work, the Clinic tackles a roster of policy initiatives central to our mission. We provide expert advice to government bodies and community organizations.

The Clinic relies on direct funding from the various levels of government, foundations, and the support of donors. The Clinic’s core is supported through long-standing partnerships with legal and corporate communities. Here is my shameless plug – you can check out our current fundraising campaign Spirit of Schlifer, and other donation opportunities on the Clinic’s website.

Throughout my tenure as the Clinic’s ED, I have had the pleasure of overseeing, contributing to and offering leadership toward many exciting projects – recently

  •  I have supported delivering public legal education and professional development programs on legal issues related to GBV experienced by women and gender-diverse folx. I have been directly involved in designing risk assessment tools for determining risk and safety planning for survivors.
  • Consulting broadly with the government on criminal, family and immigration law, proposed legislation and policies and participating in numerous multi-sector committees, coalitions and consultation groups consisting of government representatives, professionals from the legal profession, social service providers and academics.
  • Participating in developing the roadmap to establish a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence and Violence against Women, for which I co-chaired the working group on legal and justice systems. As a coalition, we thoughtfully contributed to the 100 recommendations for policy actions within a feminist, intersectional framework to provide Canada with a ready roadmap for the plan.
  • Collaborating with Osgoode Law School and as a co-director with Professor Janet Mosher, the Clinic offers a feminist advocacy clinical program to address the need for high-quality legal representation of women-identified survivors of gender-based violence and facilitate students’ understanding of the specialized knowledge, skills, and value base required for such representation.
  • Being a leader in COVID meant that, like many of you, I witnessed the direct impact of the pandemic on marginalized and racialized communities of survivors, co-workers, and the community at large. In response, the Clinic is currently working on a gender equity project called SheCovery, which focuses on the inequitable hardship endured by women during the pandemic. SheCovery is a 3-year initiative to advance a more inclusive and feminist recovery through systemic change. Our focus is on barriers to gender equality identified throughout the pandemic but by survivors of gender-based violence from underrepresented communities at risk of being left behind as part of a national economic recovery.

As women, we know that we are natural-born leaders, and when given a chance to turn the tables on inequality, inequity, and injustice, we will not just turn them but flip them.

I do my work with a village of like-minded feminist colleagues, lawyers, co-workers, friends, and board members. I share this award with all of them who are champions and deserve recognition. There is a team of incredible people who comprise the Clinic. Our frontline staff in our legal, counselling, interpretation and executive office teams are incredibly committed to the often heavily emotional work with clients.

Likewise, there is a team of people who are responsible for the operations, administration, fundraising, and advocacy work undertaken daily. Collectively, they make my work possible, and in spirit, I share every award received with them, some of whom are in the audience this evening. I thank them for their support, leadership, and conviction. Lastly, I also thank my partner and my daughter for being champions of the work I do and for their love and support.

As much as this award belongs to me, it is shared by us all.

Thank you.

Deepa Mattoo