SPINLAW 2011: Canada 2020: The Future of Public Interest Law 

1. Access To Justice

The panel will attempt to illustrate the various ways to fund public interest work. It will bring together individuals who have managed to successfully litigate using different financial models. The panel will consist of Nathalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel at CCLA, Kenn Hale from ACTO and Meryl Zisman Gary, a private practitioner.  2.

Instead of providing our valued speakers with honoraria, SPINLAW shows its appreciation by making a donation on their behalf to an organization that does work consistent with the ideals of the SPINLAW conference. 


In an effort to increase awareness of the opportunities for law school graduates committed to social justice, Public Interest Day is designed to give students access to information on legal aid clinics, community-based associations, non-governmental organizations, government offices, and firms that have made a commitment to public interest work.


Public Interest Day 2013 will take place on Friday March 1, 2013 9:30AM - 12:30PM


Metro Toronto Convention Centre


255 Front Street West, North Building, Room 107


Toronto, ON  M5V 2W6




This event is organized by the Career Services Offices of Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, and the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law.

This year SPINLAW has invited two artists to interpret our conference theme. Both artists will perform their pieces at the conference.

Etenem Oton as “ET the Mime”

Some History
Etenem Oton as ET the Mime is considered one of Canada's best mimes. Whether his show is televised to millions or live to hundreds, he is recognized nationwide as a sensational performer. Cleverly blending lightning wit and fabulous illusion with hilarious interaction, he can make your corporate function or televised production a smashing success. Regardless of the age or ethnicity of your audience, Etenem Oton will provide a refreshing escape from the limited world of speech and catapult you into the endless space of silent illusion.

• Etenem Oton has appeared numerous times on commercials like 'UPS' and films.
• Performed all over the world such places as ITALY
• Has amazed audiences at Roy Thomson Hall, North York Performing Arts Centre, and Kingswood Music Theatre
• Has performed with the skating champion Elvis Stojko, ''Pinball" Mike Clemens of the Toronto Argos, and
• Has opened for the Nylons
• Coaches the Canadian National Figure Skating Team regarding their facial expressions
• As a silver statue he has performed with the Toronto Raptors as Silver Rock on TSN


Jose Antonio Vallejos, aka Black Coffee Poet

Jorge Antonio Vallejos is a mixed race (Mestizo/Chinese/Basque/Arab), Toronto- based poet, essayist, and journalist. 

His writing has appeared in "The Kenyon Review", "Descant", "Crave It", "Colorlines", "Racialicious.com" and other publications.  He is the creator of, and lead writer and vlogger at, blackcoffeepoet.com and the Black Coffee Poet YOUTUBE Channel.  Followers can subscribe to both for FREE!

Jorge loves books, boxing, mixed martial arts, spicy food, traveling, and meeting new readers and writers. 

You can contact Jorge at

To see what Jorge has to say about his experience preparing a poem for SPINLAW 2013, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AhwId0Lgd4

Keynote speaker / McMurtry Fellow: Joe Arvay

Joseph J. Arvay, Q.C holds law degrees from the University of Western Ontario Law School and Harvard Law School. He is called to the Bars of both British Columbia and the Yukon. Mr. Arvay has a busy civil litigation practice but with an emphasis on constitutional and administrative law matters including many aboriginal rights cases. Mr. Arvay has also been counsel on medical malpractice cases, class actions, commercial litigation, intellectual property and defamation cases.

Mr. Arvay has been counsel on a number of landmark constitutional law cases in the Supreme Court of Canada which include Egan and Nesbit: the first Supreme Court of Canada decision which established that sexual orientation is a protected ground of discrimination under the Charter. The Little Sisters litigation which dealt both with the powers of Canada Customs to censor sexual expression and the law of "advanced costs"; the Surrey School Board case which established the right of teachers to use books about same sex families in elementary school; the "Same Sex Marriage" litigation; Health Services which established that collective bargaining is constitutionally protected under freedom of association; Insite which established the right of addicts to supervised injection and most recently the Downtown Eastside SexWorkers case on the issue of public interest standing.

He is the lead counsel on the Carter/Gloria Taylor case in which the B.C. Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to physician assisted dying and which is now workings its way through the appeal courts.

In 2000 Joseph Arvay was the recipient of the Walter S. Tarnopolsky Human Rights Award and described by Madam Justice Michèle Rivet, President, (Canadian Section) International Commission of Jurists as "one of Canada's most tireless civil rights and human rights lawyers [who] has made a exceptional commitment to human rights in this country." He also received the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, "Reg Robson 2005 Award" on March 31, 2005 for his long-standing work in the area of civil liberties. In 2012 he was awarded the BCLA's inaugural Liberty Award for legal advocacy in service of human rights and civil liberties.

Arvay Finlay distinguished itself in the Canadian Legal Lexpert Directory where Joseph Arvay was "The Most Frequently Recommended Practitioner" in the area of Public Law Litigation in both Vancouver and Victoria. Mr. Arvay was, as well, identified as "Consistently Recommended As A Leading Practitioner in British Columbia" in the areas of Aboriginal Law, Class Action Litigation and Corporate/Commercial Litigation. Joseph Arvay has been named as one of the top 100 Best lawyers in Canada in a publication of the same name for the last several years and in 2013 was named Vancouver Lawyer of the Year in Public Law and Administrative Law.

In 2009 Joseph Arvay was awarded the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia Bar Award for his devotion to his clients, his high level of professional commitment and success regarding the rights and liberties of individuals.
In 2010, 2011 and again in 2012 Joseph Arvay was named by Canadian Lawyer Magazine as one of the top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in Canada. In 2012 Vancouver Magazine included him in their 50 Power List. He was profiled by The Walrus Magazine in its October 2012 edition in article entitled "Civil Warrior" where it is claimed that "no one, perhaps, has had more influence on contemporary Canadian life and values."

Mr. Arvay is a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

In 2012 Mr. Arvay was the University of Toronto's Asper Centre For Constitutional Rights Inaugural "Constitutional Litigator in Residence" and the York University, Osgoode Hall Law School's, McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellow.


Keynote speaker / McMurtry Fellow: Fay Faraday

Fay Faraday is a lawyer with an independent social justice practice in Toronto. She represents unions, individuals and civil society in constitutional and appellate litigation, human rights, administrative/public law, labour, and pay equity. She also works collaboratively with community groups and coalitions to provide strategic and policy advice on human rights and constitutional issues.

In her work as a lawyer, she has addressed a wide range of issues relating to equality and fundamental freedoms under the Charter, gender and work, rights of migrant workers, rights of persons with disabilities, race discrimination, employment equity, poverty, income security, and international human rights norms. She has represented clients in constitutional litigation at all levels of court, including numerous cases at the Supreme Court of Canada and Ontario Court of Appeal.

Fay graduated as the gold medalist from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1993 and clerked for Justice Peter Cory at the Supreme Court of Canada.  After 16 years at a leading labour and human rights law firm, where she was a partner, Fay founded her own firm in 2010.

Fay is a Visiting Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School where she holds an inaugural McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellowship.  She teaches courses in ethical lawyering, the Charter and human rights law.

Fay also holds an Innovation Fellowship with the Metcalf Foundation where she is engaged in legal and community-based research addressing the rights of migrant workers.  Her report Made in Canada: How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers’ Insecurity was published in September 2012.

Fay is also the co-author and co-editor of a book on equality rights under the Charter: Making Equality Rights Real (Irwin Law, 2006), the co-author of a book on equality rights under Ontario's Human Rights Code: Enforcing Human Rights in Ontario (Canada Law Book, 2009), and, most recently, co-author and co-editor of a book on labour rights under the Charter: Constitutional Labour Rights in Canada: Farm Workers and the Fraser Case (Irwin Law, 2012). 


Keynote speaker / McMurtry Fellow: Raj Anand  




Raj Anand practises in the areas of human rights, constitutional and administrative law, labour relations, civil litigation, professional negligence and discipline. He is a former Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and presently acts for complainants and respondents in internal investigations and Ontario and federal applications. He has acted as a Board of Inquiry under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Police Services Act, as Co-Chair of the University of Toronto Tribunal and as counsel to a number of administrative tribunals.

Raj has spoken and written on diverse subjects including trial, appellate and administrative advocacy and human rights. He graduated with the Dean's Key in 1978 from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He served in 1986-1987 as a Task Force to the Ontario Government on the Law Concerning Trespass to Publicly-used Property as it Affects Youth and Minorities.

In 1997, Raj was the first recipient of the Advocates' Society Award of Justice. His experience as an adjunct professor includes "The New Administrative Law" in the LL.M. programme at Osgoode Hall Law School and "Diversity and the Legal Profession" at U of T's Faculty of Law. He has acted for a variety of parties in public interest litigation and commissions of inquiry. For seven years he was the Advocates' Society representative on the Equity Advisory Group of the Law Society. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Boards of Directors of two community clinics and Legal Aid Ontario, the Advocates' Society and Pro Bono Law Ontario, and as President of the latter organization and the University of Toronto Law Alumni Council. He is presently a member of the Equality Rights Panel of the Federal Court Challenges Programme.

In 2003, Raj received the Law Society Medal, the highest honour awarded by the governing body of the legal profession in Ontario, and in 2007 and 2011 he was elected by the profession to four-year terms as a bencher of the Law Society. In June 2007, he was awarded Professional Man of the Year by the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. In April 2008, he was appointed by the Province of Ontario as the Founding Chair of its Human Rights Legal Support Centre. In 2010 Raj received the award for Distinguished Career from the South Asian Bar Association.   


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Panelist Biographies

  • A Tale of Two Tests: Assessing Discrimination Under the Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code

           Read panel summary

Kim Bernhardt

Kim Bernhardt is a lawyer who specializes in labour, employment, human rights, administrative, and constitutional law.

From 1993-2001, she worked for the Ontario Nurses' Assn. (ONA), a union that represents 45,000 registered nurses and allied health professionals. She presented ONA’s policy position and represented ONA members before arbitration boards and tribunals including the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal, Employment Equity Commission, and the Ont. Human Rights Commission (OHRC). She has also served on the Public Service Grievance Board and was a part-time appointee to the Human Rights Board of Inquiry. From 1989-92, she lived in the United Arab Emirates and taught business for the Higher Colleges of Technology. From 1978 to 1984 Kim was an Investigation Officer with the OHRC.

Kim has been involved in community and legal organizations concerned with equity, law, education, and social issues; Thistletown Community Services; Ontario Black History Society; Amnesty International; Halton Board of Education, Equity Committee; Urban Alliance on Race Relations; Canadian Association of Black Lawyers; Delos Davis Law Guild; National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund’s (LEAF’s) National Legal Committee (NLC).

Most recently Kim has volunteered at the Money Matters clinic for the Wellspring Cancer Support Foundation.  Kim has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Nathaniel Dett Chorale; the equality effect (a non-profit venture that uses international human rights law to transform the lives of women and girls); and as a member of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario's Procedural Advisory Committee. She serves as the current Law Society of Ontario representative on the Ontario Judicial Council.

Kim has written papers and presented at numerous conferences and events; in particular on employment and human rights issues.

She received her LLM, 1999 from Osgoode Hall, York University in Administrative Law, LLB, 1988 from Osgoode Hall, York University and her BA/Honours 1977 from the University of Toronto.  

Lesli Bisgould

Lesli Bisgould has been a litigator in Ontario since 1992. She began in the field of civil litigation and then spent ten years in her own practice in animal rights law, the only practice of its kind in Canada. She has written and lectured widely on the subject of animal rights and the law and is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, where she instructs a seminar entitled “Introduction to Animals and the Law.” She has argued at every level of court and deputed at every level of government. In recent years, her full-time work has been in the fields of poverty and human rights law. She is currently the barrister at Legal Aid Ontario’s Clinic Resource Office where she assists caseworkers at Ontario’s community legal clinics with their appeals. In recent years, Lesli has been counsel in leading human rights cases including Tranchemontagne.

Aidan Johnson

Aidan Johnson is a Criminal Defence and Constitutional lawyer with a particular interest in human rights law.  His op-eds on law, politics, and culture have appeared on the op-ed pages of the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, and Hamilton Spectator.  Aidan previously worked in corporate law at the Toronto office of the national firm Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG) LLP.  He has also worked in industrial policy in the offices of the CEOs at Magna International (Canada's largest car parts manufacturer) and the Investment Funds Institute of Canada.  Maclean's magazine has named him a young Canadian leader to watch for. 

Aidan studied Economics as a Fulbright scholar at the NYU Leonard N. Stern School of Business.  He completed his B.A. at the University of Toronto, M.A. at the University of Chicago, and two law degrees at McGill Law School as a (Governor General) David L. Johnston Scholar.  As a graduate student, Aidan was selected for the Commonwealth Scholarship for doctoral studies at Oxford University.

Sonia Lawrence

Professor Sonia Lawrence joined Osgoode’s faculty in 2001.  She graduated from the University of Toronto's joint LLB/MSW program, and went on to serve as law clerk to Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada.  With the help of Fulbright and SSHRC Fellowships, she then attended Yale Law School where she focused on constitutional equality issues and welfare administration.  A past member of the Board of Parkdale Community Legal Services, Professor Lawrence has also provided expertise to the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), and the Court Challenges Program.  She is the case comments editor of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law. She is widely published and has spoken at and organized numerous conferences and roundtables.

Her work centers on questions of equality and includes examinations of the Supreme Court of Canada’s equality jurisprudence, the influence of feminism in Canadian law, sentencing regimes for 'drug mules,' diversity on the bench, and section 28 of the Charter.  She has served as Assistant Dean, First Year, and worked on Admissions and Curriculum Reform at Osgoode.  She is the Director of the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies and the chair of the Academic Policy Committee.  She teaches first-year State and Citizen (constitutional and public law) as well as Perspective Option/upper-year seminars including Law, Gender, Equality.  Professor Lawrence runs a blog for the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies, is on Twitter as @OsgoodeIFLS, and also hosts a small Tumblr to post items of possible interest to  students in her State and Citizen class.


  • Gender Expression and Trans Rights in Ontario

           Read panel summary





Cheri DiNovo

Rev Dr. Cheri DiNovo is the Member of Provincial Parliament of Parkdale – High Park. First elected into the Ontario Legislature in a by-election in 2006, she was re-elected in 2007 and 2011. She is currently the Chief Whip of the Ontario NDP and the NDP critic on Community and Social Services as well as Women’s Issues. She was voted Best MPP by NOW Magazine, and the Toronto Sun called her “the new female power in politics”.

Cheri has a long history of activism within the LGBT community, beginning in 1971 when she was the only woman in Canada to sign the historic “We Demand” document, Canada’s first gay rights manifesto. Most recently she sponsored Toby’s Law, which amended the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender expression and gender identity, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize both. She also played a key role in Bill 13 which called for Gay-Straight Alliances GSAs to be allowed in all schools. At the 2012 Pride Parade, Cheri was named Grand Marshal for her role in the passing of both historic bills. In 2012, Cheri was nominated as ‘Hero of theYear’ by Torontoist and as Newsmaker of the Year by Xtra! Canada.

Morgan Page

Morgan M Page is a transfeminist activist, performance + video artist, writer, and Santera in Toronto. She is currently the Trans Community Services Coordinator at the 519 Church Street Community Centre, where she runs programs for marginalized trans adults, trans youth, and trans sex workers. In 2011, Morgan was the recipient of the Youthline’s Outstanding Contribution to Community Empowerment award for her groundbreaking work around trans youth and intimate partner abuse. Her video art has screened around the world, and she speaks and performs in Canada and the United States.

Martine Stonehouse

Martine Stonehouse is the Vice Chair of the Trans Lobby Group. She successfully launched and fought the Human Rights case against the Ministry of Health over the delisting of funding for sex reassignment surgery (SRS) from 1999 to 2006. In 2012, after a 12-year struggle, the Trans Lobby Group was able to get Gender Identity into the Ontario Human Rights Code and bring about changes to the Vital Statistics Act to allow trans individuals to change their documents to reflect their gender without having surgery.

Ms. Stonehouse’s next goals are to support the Federal Gender Identity Bill C-389 and to improve health care needs of trans people in Ontario. She is also a member of CUPE as their Trans Representative on both the Ontario and National Pink Triangle Committees.

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  • Litigating Race: Can the Living Tree Bear Fruit?      

           Read panel summary 




Christa Big Canoe

As a First Nation woman, mother, lawyer and Indigenous feminist, Christa Big Canoe aspires to increase access to justice for Aboriginal people. She has actively participated in First Nation and Aboriginal community throughout her life. Her first legal experience was with the First Nation law firm Nahwegahbow, Corbiere.  Christa was Policy Counsel for Legal Aid Ontario and the lead on the organization's province-wide Aboriginal Justice Strategy prior to becoming Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto’s Legal Advocacy Director. Representing Aboriginal clients to ensure better legal representation for Aboriginal people before the Canadian justice system is an important goal for Christa. She is known as a passionate advocate for First Nation children and women's rights, as well as rights for equal access to education and care.

Avvy Go

Avvy Go is the Clinic Director of Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.  She received her B.A. in economics and management studies from the University of Waterloo, LL.B. from the University of Toronto, and LL.M. from Osgoode Hall Law School. Since her call to the Bar in 1991, she has worked exclusively in the legal clinic system, serving the legal needs of low income individuals and families, the majority of whom are non-English speaking immigrants and refugees.  Immigration, human rights, and employment law are some of the main areas of law that she practices in.   Avvy is one of the recipients of the 2008 City of Toronto’s William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations. She was also the Recipient of 2002 President's Award of the Women's Law Association of Ontario.   In 2012, Avvy received the Lawyer of Distinction Award from the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers.

Between 2001 and 2003, she was a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada.  She was re-elected again in 2006 and served as a bencher until May 2011 during which time she also served as a member of the Human Rights Monitoring Group, the Access to Justice Committee, the Equity and Aboriginal Issues Committee and the Profession Regulations Committee of the Law Society.  Since 2005, she has been a part time adjudicator of the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board.  She received cross appointment to the Health Services Appeal and Review Board in April, 2011.  Between 2009 and 2011, she served on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Justice Education Network.  In February, 2011, Avvy was appointed to the Advisory Council of the Canadian Human Rights Museum and in December, 2011, she was appointed to the Community Council of the Law Commission of Ontario.

Avvy has given numerous lectures and educational seminars in various areas of law including immigration, human rights, and employment law.  She has also published articles in various publications including law journals, law books, community as well as mainstream newspapers dealing with a variety of subject matters such as redress and reparations, constitutional litigation, and other legal and policy issues affecting immigrants and racialized communities. Apart from her legal practice, Avvy spends much time doing community organizing and advocacy work.  She was involved in a number of community organizations such as serving as the Vice-Chair of the Court Challenges Program of Canada, President of the Chinese Canadian National Council (Toronto Chapter) and board member of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.  In 2007, she co-founded the Colour of Poverty Campaign – a campaign to address the increasing racialization of poverty in Ontario.

Richard Miller

Richard Miller is a staff lawyer with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre in Toronto Ontario. He provides legal advice and assistance to individuals regarding matters of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Richard obtained his LLB from the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. While at law school, Richard was actively involved in the Windsor Chapter of the Black Law Students Association of Canada and assisted in initiatives designed to help mobilize the local African Canadian community.  Previously, he was a policy research lawyer with the African Canadian Legal Clinic in Toronto. His work involved legal research, litigation and community advocacy concerning issues of racial discrimination and anti-Black racism, including anti-Black hate crime. Richard also articled and was legal counsel with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. 


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  • Thinking Positve: Does the Charter Promise Socioeconomic Rights?

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Tracy Heffernan

Tracy Heffernan is a lawyer at ACTO (Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario) and Adjunct Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. As a lawyer, Tracy has worked in the areas of immigration and refugee law, workers’ rights, and human rights. Tracy has also taught courses on Community Legal Issues and Housing and Homelessness. More recently, she has focused on housing and human rights at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, including the right to housing in Canada. Ms Heffernan currently holds a Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship from the Law Foundation of Ontario.

Kent Roach

Kent Roach is Professor of Law and Prichard-Wilson Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of Yale, and a former law clerk to Justice Bertha Wilson of the Supreme Court of Canada. Professor Roach has been editor-in-chief of the Criminal Law Quarterly since 1998. In 2002, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Professor Roach served on the research advisory committee for the inquiry into the rendition of Maher Arar and the Ipperwash Inquiry into the killing of Dudley George. He is presently an advisor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools. Professor Roach has represented Aboriginal and civil liberties groups in many interventions before the courts, including Gladue, Wells and Ipeelee on sentencing Aboriginal offenders, Latimer on mandatory minimum sentences, Stillman, Dunedin Construction, and Ward on Charter remedies, Golden on strip searches, Khawaja on the definition of terrorism and Corbiere and Sauve on voting rights. He is involved with the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights. 


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  • Reconciling with the Charter: Section 25 and Aboriginal Peoples' Constitutional Rights

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Michael McClurg

Michael McClurg is a lawyer at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP. He joined OKT as an associate after completing his articles at a civil litigation office. During his articles, Michael worked on a wide range of legal issues, gaining experience in natural resources law, environmental law, planning law, negligence law, and administrative law. Michael received his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School where he completed the Intensive Program in Aboriginal Lands, Resources, and Governments. Through this program, he was placed with the Government of Nunavut’s Legal Services office in Iqaluit, Nunavut, where he conducted research on the Crown’s duty to consult in the context of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board. He was also a member of the 2010 Osgoode Hall Wilson Cup Moot Team.

Prior to attending law school Michael travelled to Coban, Guatemala where he volunteered with a human rights organization working with local Mayan communities. Michael received his undergraduate degree in Political Studies from Trent University. At Trent, he completed a number of courses on Indigenous perspectives on natural resources and the environment. Michael also undertook a major undergraduate research project dealing with the Supreme Court of Canada’s definition of Aboriginal-Crown reconciliation. Michael is a member of the Ontario Bar.

Cathy Guirguis 

Cathy Guirguis is an associate at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP. Cathy advises First Nations on environmental law, human rights issues, administrative and employment law matters. She also works on Aboriginal and treaty rights litigation, including litigating land claims and advising on the duty to consult and accommodate. Cathy joined OKT as an articling student. Her experience at OKT has included assisting with civil litigation and negotiations, and advising First Nations across Canada. She received her LL.B. from Osgoode Hall Law School, and she also has a Masters of Environmental Studies. While at law school, Cathy was a senior editor of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal and she volunteered at Osgoode’s Community Legal Aid Services Program and Downsview Legal Aid Clinic. She has also worked with the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER), working on projects dealing with the duty to consult and accommodate, and indigenous environmental laws. Cathy is a member of the Ontario bar.  


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               Recent Changes to Legal Aid & Refugee and Immigration Law: Charter Implications

Lenny Abramowicz

For over 25 years, Lenny has tirelessly devoted himself to promoting access to justice and equality rights for low-income individuals; defending those who require legal services, those who provide the services and the integrity of legal aid clinics and the Ontario legal aid system itself.

After graduating from McGill Law School, Lenny articled at Toronto’s Parkdale Community Legal Services in 1986, becoming a staff lawyer at Neighbourhood Legal Services (NLS) the following year. This was at a time when the clinic system in Ontario was barely a decade old. Lenny went on to become Director of Legal Services at NLS in 1994, and at the same time served on the boards of various community-based, not-for-profit groups, such as the Industrial Accidents Victims’ Group of Ontario Community Clinics.

In 2000, Lenny accepted a position at the newly created Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario, taking on his current position as Executive Director of that organization in 2001. In this role, and as a member of the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid, Lenny has been a visible and vocal leader in the campaign to preserve and enhance the legal aid system and defend clinics in the face of frequent threats and challenges. He has continually fought to ensure that basic principles of access to justice are not compromised in the name of fiscal restraint. He has published articles on the clinic system, poverty law and not-for-profit governance. Lenny has helped to educate the public and government about the valuable role played by clinics, the enormity of the challenges facing low-income populations in Ontario and the need for additional resources to combat the impact of poverty and social isolation on our society. In doing so, he is not only a legal aid leader, but an inspiration to numerous other lawyers who have followed his example.   

This year our panels are:  

1. A Tale of Two Tests: Assessing Discrimination Under the Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code

               Read speaker bios

Is there a merge ahead? Although the Supreme Court of Canada maintained that the protections offered by the Charter and the Code are substantially different, recent Supreme Court decisions have blurred this distinction. This panel examines the extent to which a harmonization of the two tests is likely,
and what the implications may be for equity-seeking groups, legal practitioners, community activists and students.

Panelists may cover the following topics:

  •     Has either discrimination test adequately addressed issues of Indigenous sovereignty?
  •     What are the notable differences between the Charter and Code discrimination tests?
  •     If this trend does occur, what strategies may be necessary for the protection of individual and group rights?
  •     Are certain groups more vulnerable to this trend than others?
  •     How can law students advance this trend through their academic research?
  •     Might this harmonization have ‘hidden opportunities’ for equity-seeking groups that have been underserved by both tests?

Panel Moderator: Horace Josephs, First Year Student, Osgoode Hall Law School 


2. Gender Expression and Trans Rights in Ontario  

             Read speaker bios

In June 2012, Ontario became the first major jurisdiction in Canada to pass a law integrating gender expression into its human rights code. The new law amends the Ontario Human Rights Code to extend protection from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. The passage of this law marked a major victory for human rights activists, and it is expected that other provinces will follow suit. This panel will discuss the efforts behind the passage of the bill and the role that different stakeholders played in this process.
Panelists may cover the following topics:

  • How was this major victory achieved?
  • What are the next steps for advocacy to advance trans rights in Canada?
  • What are the limits of rights-focused advocacy for social change?

Panel Moderator: Bruce Ryder, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School      


3. Litigating Race in Ontario: Can the Living Tree Bear Fruit? 

             Read speaker bios

For decades, legal scholars have raised concerns about the ability of Canadian equality laws to adequately address racial discrimination in Canada. Very few racial discrimination cases are argued under s.15 of the Charter limiting the Supreme Court of Canada’s ability to provide direction to lower courts and tribunals. At the provincial level, a disturbing trend seems to be occurring in which racial discrimination cases are increasingly subject to judicial review exposing litigants to the possibility of adverse cost awards and decisions made by makers who do are unlikely to have legal backgrounds in anti-discrimination, equality or human rights law. This poses challenging questions for litigators, academics and community activists.

Panelists may cover the following topics:

  •     Why are racial discrimination cases still so difficult to win?
  •     What are the consequences of the few racial discrimination precedents?
  •     In the absence of racial discrimination precedents, what strategies can litigators, policy advisors, community activists and students deploy in order to advance equity?
  •     Can a white bench appropriately deal with racial discrimination?
  •     How can students contribute to research in this area?
  •     Compared to the US, ‘Canadian Racism’ is described as ‘subtle’. If this is an accurate characterisation, how should race discrimination tests be modified to appropriately identify Charter and Code violations?

Panel Moderator: Terry Wong, Second Year Student, Osgoode Hall Law School and President, Asian Law Students of Osgoode   


4. Thinking Positive: Does the Charter Promise Socioeconomic Rights? 

            Read speaker bios

In Gosselin v Québec (Attorney General), Arbour J wrote “this Court has consistently chosen to leave open the possibility of finding certain positive rights to the basic means of subsistence within s. 7. In my view, far from resisting this conclusion, the language and structure of the Charter – and of s. 7 in particular – actually compel it.”

In Gosselin
, Justice Arbour articulated an approach that has grown more forceful in the past decade through cases that have opened the door for recognizing positive socioeconomic rights, such as health care and housing. If we take seriously the rights to equality and to life, liberty, and security of person, the Charter may impose more than a negative obligation of non-interference with individuals’ rights and freedoms. Rather, the government may be constitutionally obliged to ensure its citizens have a basic means of subsistence.

Panelists will focus their discussion on the right to housing, which is currently being argued in the Ontario Superior Court in Tanudjaja et al. v Canada et al.

Panel Moderators: Laura Spaner and Lisa Wilder, Second Year Students, University of Toronto Faculty of Law


5. Reconciling with the Charter: Section 25 and Aboriginal Peoples' Constitutional Rights 

             Read speaker bios

What has the Charter done for Aboriginal peoples in Canada? Has it had the same impact for Aboriginal groups as it has for non-Aboriginal Canadians in terms of advancing individual rights, freedoms, and equality? The panelists will provide an overview of Charter cases that have affected Aboriginal peoples (such as the recent McIvor case that lead to changes in the Indian Act of who is entitled to status) and also engage in a discussion about the interaction between individual rights (as embodied in the Charter) and collective rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the operation of section 25 of the Charter in that context.

Panel Moderator: Glenn Wheeler, Lawyer of Mi’kmaq heritage, Osgoode Alum, LLM Candidate at University of Toronto Faculty of Law 


6. Recent Changes to Legal Aid & Immigration and Refugee Law: Charter Implications 


              Read speaker bios 

Within the last four months, significant and far-reaching changes have been made to both the legal aid certificate system in Ontario, as well as immigration and refugee law. Legal Aid Ontario will no longer provide certificates for claimants appealing negative Refugee Protection Division decisions. Furthermore, decreased Legal Aid funding comes at a time when eligibility tests already rule out many poor people due to outdated income eligibility limits and preclude those from qualifying for certificates unless they face almost certain incarceration. This shift in access to legal representation may result in increased incarceration rates, diminished ability to appeal and increased wait times for those awaiting hearings in detention centres.

Panelists may cover the following topics:

  •     What are the Charter implications for the changes to the Legal Aid system and Immigration and refugee law?
  •     What legal alternatives exist to offset the impact of these changes on the vulnerable individuals who are most affected? 

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SPINLAW has a strong commitment to accessibility. This year, we are able to provide bursaries to conference participants to make our conference as barrier-free as possible. We aim to address four key areas:

1.     Financial need

2.     Greater representation of law schools outside of the Greater Toronto Area

3.     Accommodation of special needs (e.g. childcare, ASL interpretation, etc.)

4.     Increase diversity among conference attendees


If you would like to apply for a bursary in order to attend the SPINLAW conference, please send an application to spinlaw (at) osgoode (dot) yorku (dot) ca.  

Your application should consist of:

1.     Your name and contact information

2.     A short statement regarding what you would use a bursary for, and your interest in attending the conference

3.     A budget detailing your expenses for attending the conference

We will evaluate applications on a first-come, first-served basis. We will give special consideration to group applications for travel cost bursaries, especially where the group is able to have lower per-person costs because they are travelling together (e.g. ride sharing, securing group discounts for bus/train fares). Such groups should prepare one, common application.

Since the conference is being held within the GTA, we will not normally consider applications for travel funding for residents of the GTA. However, we will have TTC tokens available on request at the conference to offset local travel costs.

Our sincere thanks to the Law Foundation of Ontario for granting us the funding that makes these bursaries possible. 





9:00 – 9:30 am


ADR Front Space

9:30 – 10:00 am

Welcoming remarks by Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin 

Opening Plenary - "Back to the Future: evolution and prospects for human rights enforcement under section 15 and human rights codes"

Speaker: Raj Anand, WeirFoulds LLP, Administrative and Human Rights Lawyer

ADR Main Space

10:00 – 11:15 am

Panel Series I

Panel 1: A Tale of Two Tests - Assessing Discrimination Under the Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code 

Room A

Panel 2: Gender Expression and Trans Rights in Ontario 

Room B

11:15 – 11:30 am

Coffee Break

ADR Front Space

11:30 – 12:45 am

Panel Series II

Panel 3: Litigating Race in Ontario: Can the Living Tree Bear Fruit? 

Room A

Panel 4: Thinking Positive - Does the Charter Promise Socioeconomic Rights?

Room B

12:45 – 1:30 pm


Junior Common Room

 1:30 - 1:45pm 

Artistic Presentation: "The Living Tree" - Performed by ET the Mime 


1:45 – 3:00 pm

Keynote Address 

Introduction by U of T Faculty of Law Dean Anthony Duggan 

Speakers: Joseph Arvay, Arvay Finlay Barristers, Constitutional Law, specializing in Charter of Rights and Freedoms 

Fay Faraday, Faraday Law LLP, Constitutional and Human Rights Law 

ADR Main Space

3:00 – 3:15 pm

Coffee Break

ADR Front Space

3:15 – 4:30 pm

Panel Series III

Panel 5: Reconciling with the Charter - Section 25 and Aboriginal Peoples' Constitutional Rights

Room A

Panel 6: Recent Changes to Legal Aid & Immigration and Refugee Law - Charter Implications

Room B

4:30 – 4:40 pm



4:40 – 5:00 pm

Closing Plenary 

Artistic Presentation "Dear SPINLAW" - Written and Performed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos, aka Black Coffee Poet 

Closing Remarks by Osgoode Dean Sossin 

ADR Main Space

5:00 pm – TBC

SPINLAW Closing Reception in celebration of the Osgoode McMurtry Visiting Fellowship Program

Junior Common Room (TBC)



SPINLAW (Student Public Interest Network Legal Action Workshop) is an annual conference organized by students from University of Toronto Faculty of Law and Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, which aims to raise awareness and generate discussion about public interest issues. The conference creates a space for students, local activists and community members to share their experiences and perspectives on current social justice issues.

This year's conference, 30 Years Under the Living Tree: Reflections on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedomswill be held on March 16th, 2013 at Osgoode Hall Law School

Admission to SPINLAW is free. We have a strong commitment to accessibility, and aim to reduce barriers to conference participation as much as possible. Participants can look forward to a breakfast, lunch, and evening reception. Refreshments will be served throughout the day.



The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become a hallmark of Canadian identity. 30 Years Under the Living Tree is inspired by the ‘living tree’ doctrine of constitutional interpretation that warns against limiting the interpretation of the Charter, which could cause rights to become:

frozen in time to the moment of adoption with little or no possibility of growth, development and adjustment to changing societal needs. … If the newly planted "living tree" which is theCharter is to have the possibility of growth and adjustment over time, care must be taken to ensure that historical materials… do not stunt its growth.

Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, 1985 CanLII 81 (SCC), [1985] 2 SCR 486 at para 53.

In 2012, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982and the Ontario Human Rights Code, 1962 celebrated milestone anniversaries. These anniversaries represented an opportunity to critically examine the Charter’s contributions to Canadian society. Throughout that year, academics, legal professionals, community organizers and students reflected on the accomplishments and challenges posed by these significant equality laws. The Charter and the Code have sparked optimism and criticism. Some view these equality laws as critical venues for the protection of the rights of people who have experienced oppression in Canada. Others view them as minimum standards type laws that do not sufficiently promote, protect and enforce human and social rights. This year’s conference draws from these discussions in order to look forward into future decades of Canadian equality law.

Conference Sessions

30 Years Under the Living Tree will focus primarily on the relevance of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Ontario context; in particular its relationship to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Plenary Sessions

During the plenary sessions, Charter experts Raj Anand, Joseph Arvay, and Fay Faraday will provide contrasting perspectives on the critical trends and pressing issues that will shape the next decades of the Charter.

Panel Presentations

Through panel discussions, guest speakers will contextualize the Charter by examining its historical context and critically discussing its future. If Charter interpretation is a living tree, has it grown to shelter and promote the rights of all individuals and groups?

Through focused panel discussions, we will explore the following questions:

·     How does the Charter affect Ontario human rights legislation?

·     Is s.15 an adequate framework for examining different forms of discrimination?

·     To what extent do sections 7 and 15 impose a positive obligation on governments to advance socio-economic rights?

·     How has the recent elimination of the federal Charter Challenges Program influenced access to justice? Can clinical legal education fill this gap?

·     To what extent has the Charter helped or hindered the litigation of racial discrimination cases?


Legal Panel Representatives:


Honouring the Roy McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellows

This year’s SPINLAW will also coincide with the launch of Osgoode Hall Law School’s Roy McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellowship, which welcomes distinguished lawyers and inaugural fellows Joe Arvay, Raj Anand, and Fay Farraday to the Faculty. The McMurtry Fellows will connect Osgoode students, faculty and staff with broader practice networks, insights and expertise. They will help build bridges between the Law School and the community to advance experiential education. Each of these fellows is a guest speaker in our keynote and plenary sessions.  The fellows will be honoured at a reception directly following the SPINLAW conference. All participants are invited to attend, compliments of Osgoode Hall Law School.


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