Last night I attended the third program in the series “Pathways to Power” presented by the Women Lawyers Forum of the OBA. Like the previous two programs, Women in Politics and Women in the Boardroom, it was a very informative and inspiring evening.
The program was chaired by lawyer Ashley Waye of Waye Law and articling student Richa Sandill of Rudner MacDonald LLP. Richa mentioned that the impetus for this program was a comment by a former Minister of Justice who implied that women and visible minorities were not being appointed to the bench because they just "aren't applying”. The WLF thought this would be a good opportunity to inform women on how to apply (*smirk*).
The ever impressive and talented Linda Silver Dranoff was the moderator and she did not shy away from asking the panel challenging questions.
The distinguished panel included The Honourable Susan E. Lang (retired) from the Court of Appeal for Ontario, The Honourable Faye E. McWatt, from the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, and The Honourable Victoria A. Starr, from the Ontario Court of Justice.
A highlight of some of the questions and answers from last night:
- What qualities should you have to be successful on the bench? Justice Starr said that it depends on the area in which you are a judge. As a family law judge, she felt you have to like people, as 90% of being a family law judge is managing people. You also have to be an optimist and be willing to see the good in people. You should have great conflict resolution skills as well, because being a bully doesn’t work. People think that being a judge is about being judgemental but it isn't. Justice McWatt found that “the longer you sit, the less judgemental you get”.
- Are women judges treated differently by the administration or other judges? Justice Lang said that everyone in the court was respectful: “I never had a gender problem that I recognized.” Justice McWatt believes that it doesn’t matter if you are male or female. It all comes down to human dynamics. If she wanted certain cases she would go and ask for them. She doesn’t see a problem with women judges not getting good cases.
- When did you start considering becoming a judge? All three judges said that they started thinking about applying when their peers, mentors, and members of the bench encouraged them.
- Application process: The panel discussed the different processes for applying to the Ontario Court of Justice and to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
- For the Superior Court, Justice McWatt found her references, filled out the application and submitted it. Then a committee sat and decided to recommend her to the federal government who made the ultimate decision. When she applied, the categories used by the committee were “not qualified”, “qualified”, and “highly qualified”. (The third category of “highly qualified” was later abolished by the Conservative government). Jean Chretien was Prime Minister when Justice McWatt applied and he was looking to diversify the bench. The panel was candid and agreed that if you know someone “on the inside” it always helps.
- For Justice Starr the Ontario Court of Justice process was somewhat different. After she filled out the application she was interviewed by 12-14 people made up of judges, lawyers, and the public. She practiced and prepared for this interview extensively.
- Unfortunately, if women are not accepted the first time they apply, they are not reapplying. The panel encouraged women to keep reapplying.
- Justice Lang suggested that women should go online and look at the press releases when judges are appointed to see what the government is looking for in a judge.
- The panelists did not really address the role of politics in judicial appointments. I would think that if you were involved in one political party and an opposing party was in power your chances of being appointed would be greatly reduced. Justice Lang however did suggest that if a woman was interested in becoming a judge she should stay away from being too involved in certain political movements i.e. the ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ movements, etc.
As usual the evening ended with a great networking cocktail party. I always meet such fascinating and accomplished women lawyers at these events and last night was no exception. I was also excited to learn that there will be more “Pathways to Power” programs in the future: Women General and In-House Counsel in the Fall of 2016; Women in Politics (the Ottawa edition) in the Spring of 2017; and Female Founders in Spring 2017. I hope to see some of you at these upcoming events.