On March 11th, 2016, the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (“West Coast LEAF”) held its annual Equality Breakfast for the 29th time in its history. This is one of Vancouver’s largest legal gatherings, drawing more than 700 attendees to the Hotel Vancouver ballroom for breakfast and a keynote address honouring International Women’s Day.
As West Coast LEAF’s largest single fundraiser (raising around $90,000 in recent years), the proceeds are critical to the organisation’s ability to fulfill its mandate, namely to address gender equality in the law, through litigation, law reform and public legal education. Recently, West Coast LEAF has also established a women’s legal clinic, in partnership with the Allard School of Law at UBC. This exciting new initiative provides representation to individual women and conducts research that will support test case litigation in the future.
This year, Mackoff & Company had a special connection to the event through my involvement in the organisation. I chaired the Equality Breakfast Committee which organizes the event, and I have been a board member of West Coast LEAF since 2012. My involvement with the organisation goes farther back still, as prior to being on the board, I worked with the organisation interning as a policy analyst, and was a workshop facilitator for many years before that as well. Through this work, I have studied the disproportionate gendered impacts that facially neutral legislation can have when analysed through a gendered lens. I have also seen firsthand how workshops help attendees break down stereotypes that contribute to sexual violence and sexual harassment.
It is no small feat to chair such a large and beloved fundraiser, but doing so in the same week that I started my role with Mackoff & Co made it even more daunting! Luckily for me, the firm is a great supporter of equality in the law, and encouraged all the lawyers to attend.
This year’s keynote speakers were Illana Landsberg-Lewis and Michele Landsberg. Ms. Landsberg-Lewis is the executive director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation (whose namesake was in attendance for the event as well). She began her career as a labour lawyer, and went on to work with UN Women on many global projects. She was joined on stage by her mother, Michele Landsberg, a renowned journalist who was one of the first national journalists to bring a feminist analysis to her writing. In a break from the norm, the mother-daughter speakers answered questions in a facilitated “fireside chat” with CBC journalist, Erica Johnson. It was a thought-provoking discussion which covered the recent Ghomeshi trial, raising children in a gendered world, Canada’s role in the international gender equality movement, and the US Presidential elections. The takeaway from Illana Landsberg-Lewis’ comments appeared to be that no one social justice issue can be divorced from the global movement for progressive change. Michele Landsberg, offering a somewhat different perspective from the point of view of her generation, focused on the dynamics of the feminist movement, and emphasised the need to be self-reflexive in our everyday lives; not to perpetuate stereotypes and to remain inclusive in our approaches.
It proved to be yet another inspiring breakfast discussion, and a successful fundraising effort for the women’s legal organisation. In that way, the 2016 West Coast LEAF Equality Breakfast was again a perfect way for the legal community to come together to honour International Women’s Day.