Please join us Thursday, June 10th for the Annual Awards Gala (Virtual)!

Women's Law Association of Ontario invites you to join us as we celebrate five inspiring women, and their hard work and dedication,

Women's Law Association of Ontario invites you to join us as we celebrate five inspiring women, and their hard work and dedication, Thursday, June 10th at 6 PM. Please feel free to forward this email to anyone you feel might be interested in attending.

WLAO will be hosting a virtual Award Gala to recognize our esteemed 2021 Award recipients. We are honoured to be presenting awards to:

President's Award recipient, Joanna Birenbaum;

General Counsel Chapter Award recipient, Hilda Wong;

Aird & Berlis LLP Equality Award recipient, Natalie Zhang;

The Honourable Sandra Chapnik Women-In-Law Award recipient, Amanda Welton-Hagen; and,

Torkin Manes LLP Trailblazer Award recipient, Madeleine Gottesman.

We are delighted and pleased to have the support of The Honourable Chief Justice George Strathy, The Honourable Doug Downey, and the Treasurer of the Law Society, Teresa Donnelly, who will each be offering their greetings during our presentation.

After the presentation there will be an opportunity to e-meet our award winners. We will also have a live chat session during the program so you can make comments about our amazing award winners!

We have a "Pay as you Can" registration portal in support of our program. Any donation is appreciated but not necessary to attend.
You must register to receive event login details. This event is open to all who would like to attend. There will be an opportunity after the presentation to e-meet all of our Award winners via Zoom at approximately 7PM.

Closed Captioning will be provided.

Please visit our Event Page to register or click here.


Sponsored by:





The Women’s Law Association of Ontario is proud to announce that the 2021 recipient of the President’s Award is Joanna Birenbaum.


Joanna is one of Canada’s leading lawyers in the areas of women’s equality and sexual violence, including civil sexual assault claims, employment law, human rights and workplace investigations, representing complainants in sexual history and records applications in criminal sexual assault proceedings, and defamation law.


Current leading cases in which Joanna is counsel include anti-SLAPP applications in Ontario and B.C. to protect survivors of sexual violence from retaliatory lawsuits in defamation and malicious prosecution, and a systemic equality rights Charter claim against the London Police Services Board for discriminatory investigations of sexual assault.


Joanna also represented the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the archive established to preserve the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s records, in its efforts to preserve the records and history of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.
Joanna has lectured and published in the areas of violence against women and women’s equality rights; her most recent publication is a book, co-authored with Professor Karen Busby, Achieving Fairness: A Guide to Campus Sexual Violence Complaints, published by Thomson Reuters (2020).


Congratulations, Joanna! We thank you for your service in helping women attain equality and justice.
Please join us at the virtual WLAO Annual Awards Gala to celebrate Joanna Birenbaum and hear her message to the profession.


2021 General Counsel Chapter Award Winner - Hilda Wong.

Hilda is the Senior Vice President and General Counsel for First National Financial LP and oversees all aspects of First National’s legal affairs including formation of legal policy and strategy, compliance and regulatory matters, board and governance matters, contract negotiation and documentation. She is also First National’s Chief Privacy Officer and Chief Anti Money Laundering Officer.

Prior to joining First National in 2007, Ms. Wong was a partner with the national law firm of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP and an associate with the law firms of Smith, Lyons LLP and Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Ms. Wong holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Toronto and has been in practice since 1993. Ms. Wong also serves as a director on the boards of The Barbara Schlifer Commemorative Clinic and the Women General Counsel Canada Network and is a co-founder of the National GC Network.

Please join us at the virtual WLAO Annual Awards Gala on June 10, 2021 to celebrate Joanna Birenbaum, Hilda Wong, and our student award winners.

Congratulations to our Student Award Winners and thank you to the individuals and firms who have supported these awards:
The Honourable Sandra Chapnik Women-in-Law Award
Amanda Welton-Hagen
Windsor University
Faculty of Law
The Aird & Berlis LLP
Equality Award
Ningjing (Natalie) Zhang
Queen’s University
Faculty of Law
The Torkin Manes LLP
Trailblazer Award
Madeleine Gottesman
University of Toronto
Faculty of Law

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Practice Direction Concerning Public and Media Remote Observation of Oral Hearings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

January 25th, 2021, the Court of Appeal for Ontario posted a new COVID-related practice direction.

This practice direction is titled “Practice Direction Concerning Public and Media Remote Observation of Oral Hearings During the COVID-19 Pandemic”. The English version of the practice direction can be found here https://www.ontariocourts.ca/coa/en/notices/covid-19/practice-direction-observer-access.pdf ; the French version can be found here  https://www.ontariocourts.ca/coa/fr/notices/covid-19/practice-direction-observer-access.pdf .

The practice direction explains that, unless there is a legal provision or a court order that requires a hearing to be held in camera, members of the public and the media may observe hearings remotely by connecting to the hearing by Zoom or by telephone. The practice direction also explains that those who wish to observe a hearing, so long as it is not in camera, may obtain the Zoom connection information from the parties or their counsel or from the Office of the Registrar.

Finally, the practice direction explains that the Court of Appeal has revised and renamed its counsel slip. It is now called “Counsel Slip and Hearing Information Form”. The English version of the Counsel Slip and Hearing Information Form can be found here https://www.ontariocourts.ca/coa/en/notices/covid-19/ochome.htm ; the French version can be found here . https://www.ontariocourts.ca/coa/fr/notices/covid-19/ochome.htm.  This new form asks questions about privacy and publication concerns. It will be required in single judge motions filed on or after Feb. 1, 2021. It will be required in panel motions and appeals heard on or after Feb. 8, 2021.


WLAO Members Appointed to Order of Ontario

TORONTO — Today, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and Chancellor of the Order of Ontario, announced 47 new appointments to the Order of Ontario, the province's highest honour, for 2019 and 2020. The Order of Ontario honours individuals whose exceptional achievements have left a lasting legacy in the province, in Canada, and beyond. Members of the Order of Ontario come from all walks of life, represent diverse fields of endeavour, and have played an important role in shaping the province.  

The WLAO 2020 and 2019 Member Appointees to the Order of Ontario are:

  • Hon. Karen Weiler (2020)
  • Linda Silver Dranoff (2019)

"As Chancellor of the Order of Ontario, it is with great pride that I congratulate the 2019 and 2020 Order of Ontario appointees," said Her Honour, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. "The announcement on January 1 is special. New Year's Day is a day for reflection, rejuvenation, and re-setting of goals and priorities. We have seen the best of Ontarians this year, and many of these new appointees are being honoured for a lifetime of service to this province, laying the groundwork of resilience and community that each one of us was called to act upon in this historic global pandemic. Let these appointees inspire you and encourage you to honour those around you by nominating them to be recognized by the province. We have much to be proud of."

"The Ontario government is proud to recognize and congratulate the 2019 and 2020 Order of Ontario appointees," said Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. "These exceptional individuals inspire us and represent the very best of our great province. I ask all Ontarians to join me in honouring them and celebrating their accomplishments."

The Lieutenant Governor will bestow the honour upon the newest appointees during an investiture ceremony at Queen's Park, at a point in time in the future, when the Chief Medical Officer of Health deems gatherings possible once again in the province.   

Jennifer Gold

Legal Aid Ontario welcomes Jennifer Gold to Board of Directors

Published: December 2020

On behalf of Legal Aid Ontario, I’m pleased to welcome Jennifer Gold to the Board of LAO. Jennifer brings a wealth of experience, particularly in her practice of Family Law and Mediation with Wood Gold LLP, and as President of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario. We are all looking forward to having Jennifer work with the Board as we work to promote access to justice for low‑income Ontarians.

– Charles Harnick, Chair, Legal Aid Ontario

calling all shoppers and local vendors! Image for event

WLAO Virtual Holiday Gift Guide Event

Do you need inspiration for your holiday gift list this year? Are you looking for unique, one of a kind, locally sourced holiday gifts? Shop the Gift Guide!
Thanks to all of our Vendors and participants in the 1st WLAO Virtual Gift Guide Event. We had a fantastic turnout and we encourage everyone to take advantage of the amazing deals being offered by our Vendors. Most deals end on December 9th (though several go well past this date) so be sure to utilize the Vendor Gift Guide you were sent upon registration.
Not able to attend? Are you looking for unique, one of a kind, locally sourced holiday gifts? Not to worry – contact wlao@cogeco.ca. If you register a donation below, we will automatically send you the Gift Guide as well!

WLAO is helping you give the gift that keeps on giving this season – support to our local Vendors, and support to local families through Red Door Family Shelter.

The WLAO Holiday Gift Guide will help you find the perfect locally sourced holiday gifts; fantastic offers, first-look items, and opportunities to participate in the 2020 Trends!
Come shop with us and help your favourite retailers flourish through the holidays! We have a rich and diverse array of online “Holiday Gift Guide” offerings featuring local Ontario women and diversity based businesses. Check out our vendors below:

Our Charity

In support of keeping families in a warm, safe place this winter, we have set-up a “Pay-as-you-can” registration system with a portion of proceeds going to The Red Door Family Shelters, so be generous if you can! Red Door has a selection of merchandise (some branded) and fantastic services available for purchase to donate to a needy family in their Gifts to Empower collection.

Our Speakers

Thanks to Alison Boudreau who filled in for Marie Fraser to speak about “Shop Local”.   Shop Local Ontario was founded in April 2020 as a response to the economic hardship experienced by small Ontario Businesses resulting from COVID-19. Shop Local started as an online farmer’s market, but has grown to a place where small businesses can thrive, and customers can easily support local production.
Our “Sustainability” expert, Danielle Reid, MSc, imparted some very interesting information about the state of the sustainability strategy started by Longo’s which is based on three key elements: environmental stewardship, responsible sourcing and healthy, happy people. A synopsis of Danielle’s talk will be available shortly.
Thanks again to participants and vendors for making our venture such a great success!

Donate today!

President's Award 2017

Celebrating our 2020 Award Recipients! - Virtual Presentation

Welcome to our 2020 Virtual Awards Gala Presentation!

Please click on the image below to be redirected to our Presentation portal.

The Presentation originally aired on Thursday, August 6th

Congratulations again to our award recipients:

2020 WLAO President’s Award
Dr. Signa Daum Shanks, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School
Member of Law Society of Ontario

2020 WLAO General Counsel Chapter Award
Cheryl Foy, Secretary and General Counsel, Ontario Tech University

2020 Aird & Berlis Equality Award
Maryam Hassan, Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University

2020 Honourable Sandra Chapnik Women-in-Law Award
Sabih Ottawa, University of Windsor Faculty of Law

2020 Torkin Manes LLP Trailblazer Award
Beth Burnstein, Queen’s University Faculty of Law

Thank you to our Annual Awards Sponsors:

The Honourable Sandra Chapnik, Aird & Berlis LLP and Torkin Manes LLP.

And we would like to express our appreciation to The Law Society of Ontario, Julie Williams with PrettyInPictures.ca
and Aspen Films for their support, as well as to everyone who contributed to our event.

If you would still like to make a donation to our Annual Awards program fund, please do so below. We appreciate your support!

Pay as You Can - 2020 Virtual Awards Gala

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Select a one-time voluntary donation amount in support of our program.

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If you are able to do so, WLAO appreciates your support of our 2020 Virtual Awards Gala. Any funds collected will be applied directly to the program. Thank you!


Teresa Donnelly elected as Treasurer of Law Society of Ontario

TORONTO, June 26, 2020 /CNW/ - The Law Society of Ontario's governing board today elected Teresa Donnelly as Treasurer. The Treasurer is the top-elected official of the Law Society, which regulates Ontario's lawyers and paralegals in the public interest.

 "I am extremely pleased and honoured to be elected to this leadership role and to work with the Board to move Law Society regulatory policies forward," said Treasurer Donnelly. "I look forward to working with benchers, stakeholders and fellow licensees to enhance the reputation of the professions and the administration of justice in order to serve the public well."

Treasurer Donnelly was elected as a bencher in 2015 and 2019. She has served as Chair of the Audit & Finance Committee, Chair of the Human Rights Monitoring Group (Equity) and Chair of the Program Review Task Force. She also served on numerous other Law Society committees, task forces and working groups. She is on the faculty of the National Criminal Law Program, Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

Treasurer Donnelly has dedicated her career to providing access to justice for victims of domestic and sexual violence – the majority of whom are women and children. As the West Region Sexual Violence Crown, she is one of seven prosecutors in the province dedicated to enhancing the quality of sexual violence prosecutions and the victim's experience in the criminal justice system.

Her community work focuses on contributing to the lives of children, families, the elderly and people with developmental disabilities.

Treasurer Donnelly is a member of the Huron Law Association, the Ontario Association of Senior Crown Attorneys, the Advocates Society, the Women's Law of Ontario Association and the Southwest Region Women's Law Association.

In 2018, the Sexual Violence Advisory Group that she was a member of, won the Excelsior Award for Innovation and Transformation. In 2014, she was named the Most Inspiring Women in Huron and in 2012, she received the Deputy's Award for Excellence in the Aftermath of the Goderich Tornado. She has received several other awards and honours from the Ministry of the Attorney General during her career.

She was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1991 after receiving an LLB from the University of Toronto (1989). She also holds a B.A. (Hons) from McGill University (1986).

The Law Society regulates lawyers and paralegals in Ontario in the public interest. The Law Society has a mandate to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario and act in a timely, open and efficient manner.

SOURCE The Law Society of Ontario

For further information: Media contact: Jennifer Wing, Senior Communications Advisor, External Relations and Communications, at 647-309-9984 or jwing@lso.ca. Follow us on LinkedIn,Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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WLAO Members included in 8 Women Appointees to Ontario Superior Court of Justice

WLAO is very proud to announce that Board Director Audrey Ramsay has been appointed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice along with fellow member Gina Papageorgiou and former member Susan Vella. Congratulations!

Today it was released that an unprecedented 8 women, and only women, have been appointed this session to the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. The formal press release is below.

Government of Canada announces judicial appointments in the province of Ontario
From: Department of Justice Canada

News release
May 22, 2020 – Ottawa, Ontario – Department of Justice Canada

The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, today announced the following appointments under the judicial application process established in 2016. This process emphasizes transparency, merit, and diversity, and will continue to ensure the appointment of jurists who meet the highest standards of excellence and integrity.

Pamela M. Krause, a sole practitioner in Barrie, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, Family Court Branch. Madam Justice Kraus replaces Mr. Justice C.F. Graham (Barrie), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective July 19, 2019.

Susan Vella, counsel at Rochon Genova LLP in Toronto, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. Madam Justice Vella replaces Mr. Justice M.F. Brown (Toronto), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective September 1, 2019.

Eugenia (Gina) Papageorgiou, a sole practitioner in Toronto, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. Madam Justice Papageorgiou replaces Madam Justice C.J. Horkins (Toronto), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective January 17, 2020.

Audrey P. C. Ramsay, counsel at Blouin Dunn LLP in Toronto, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. Madam Justice Ramsay replaces Mr. Justice G. Czutrin (Toronto), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective January 30, 2020.

Narissa Somji, counsel at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in Ottawa, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. Madam Justice Somji replaces Mr. Justice J.E. McNamara (Ottawa), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective December 30, 2019.

Jana Steele, partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in Toronto, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. Madam Justice Steele replaces Madam Justice N. Spies (Toronto), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective February 25, 2020.

Catriona Verner, associate at Lockyer Campbell Posner LLP in Toronto, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. Madam Justice Verner replaces Mr. Justice A. Sosna (Oshawa), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective October 18, 2019.

Renu J. Mandhane, Chief Commissioner at the Ontario Human Rights Commission in Toronto, is appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. Madam Justice Mandhane replaces Mr. Justice P.A. Daley (Brampton), who elected to become a supernumerary judge effective January 31, 2020.

Justice Pamela M. Krause received her LL.B. from the University of Windsor in 1986 and was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1988. In 2008, Justice Krause received her LL.M. from Osgoode Hall Law School.

Following her call to the bar, Madam Justice Krause practised civil litigation and family law in Windsor, Ontario, until 1997. She then became legal counsel at the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton-Wentworth. In February 2000, she became senior legal counsel and manager of legal services at the Children’s Aid Society of Simcoe County, where she remained until 2010. Justice Krause then returned to private practice, specializing in the area of family law, including child protection law. She was a member of the personal rights panel for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and a panel member for the Family Responsibility Office, and she participated in the family duty counsel panel. Justice Krause was also a part-time lawyer member of the Consent and Capacity Board.

Justice Krause has taken an active part in her legal community, most recently as President of the Simcoe County Family Law Lawyers’ Association and Communications Director of the Simcoe County Law Association. She was a Dispute Resolution Officer in Barrie and the lawyer liaison for that program. Justice Krause believes strongly in engaging with the community and has volunteered on various boards and committees. She served as a member of the board of governors for Georgian College for six years.

In her spare time, Justice Krause travels on her motorcycle and scuba dives with her husband, Reg.

Justice Susan Vella was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1988. She has worked in a range of private practice settings, commencing her legal career at Blake, Cassels and Graydon and later moving to Goodman and Carr LLP, where she became a partner. She has been at Rochon Genova LLP as senior counsel since 2007.

Madam Justice Vella is a pioneer in the field of civil sexual assault. Her practice also focussed on Indigenous issues, public law, and, earlier in her career, commercial litigation. She has acted as trial and appellate counsel at all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. She received the Advocates’ Society Award of Justice in 2008 and the Law Society Medal in 2009. Justice Vella’s career has reflected her commitment to public service and legal education. She served as Commission Counsel to the Ipperwash Inquiry, as initial Lead Commission Counsel to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), and as a member of Ontario’s Civil Rules Committee. She is the author of numerous articles and chapters and also co-author of the text, Civil Liability for Sexual Abuse and Violence in Canada (2000).

In the community, Justice Vella served on various boards, including as a board member and then chair of VIVA! Singers of Toronto, an inner city youth choir.

Justice Vella and her long-time partner, Elizabeth, reside in Toronto and are the proud parents of David.

Justice Eugenia Papageorgiou was born and raised in Toronto by Macedonian/Greek parents, within a wonderful community of immigrants. It was her lifelong dream to become a lawyer, and her family and community supported and encouraged her in all things.

Madam Justice Papageorgiou was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1991, practised litigation at Stikeman Elliott LLP and then at McCarthy Tetrault LLP, where she became a partner. Her passion for social justice led her to the not-for-profit sector. Since 2006, she has been counsel to the Class Proceedings Committee of the Law Foundation of Ontario, which facilitates access to justice for the people of Ontario. She has been a Deputy Judge of Small Claims Court since 2009. Her commitment to the legal profession and wish to improve equity, diversity and inclusion led her to become involved with the Law Society of Ontario (LSO), where she has been a bencher since 2015.

Justice Papageorgiou is currently an adjudicator with the LSO and Vice-Chair of the Hearing and Appeal Panel. She also sits on multiple LSO committees, including the Equity and Indigenous Advisory Committee (EIAC) and the Professional Development and Competence Committee. She is a former vice-chair of the Access to Justice Committee and the EIAC, vice-chair and treasurer of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and president of the board of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic.

Justice Papageorgiou is married to a wonderful husband, Stephen, and is blessed with two daughters, Julie and Lisa, and a golden doodle, Lucy, who are the light of her life.

Justice Audrey P. C. Ramsay was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada at the age of 10. She received an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and French from Wilfrid Laurier University and an LL.B. from the University of Ottawa. Called to the bar in 1995, she has worked both in house and in private practice, focusing on insurance defence, including property and casualty law, professional negligence, commercial law, and automobile insurance.

Madam Justice Ramsay joined Blouin Dunn LLP in 2015. She has served on the Civil Rules Committee and on the boards of the Ontario Bar Association, Canadian Defence Lawyers, and the Women’s Law Association of Ontario. She has chaired the Canadian Bar Association Sections Subcommittee, the OBA Civil Litigation Section, the OBA Insurance Law Section, as well as the Financial Services Commission of Ontario Counsel Forum. She has developed numerous professional development programs and is a frequent speaker, and she was one of the architects of the OBA’s Anatomy of a Trial advocacy program.

As Chair of NourishHOPE, Justice Ramsay helped to raise funds to benefit the work of the International Justice Mission Canada, rescuing individuals from modern day slavery and raising awareness of human trafficking.

Justice Ramsay is the 2020 recipient of the OBA Distinguished Service Award. She was inducted into the University of Ottawa Common Law Honour Society in 2018 and received the Lexpert Zenith Award in 2017, as well as the Linda Adlam Manning Award in 2010 from the OBA for volunteerism.

Justice Narissa Somji was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to parents of South Asian origin and immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. She earned a B.A. from McGill University in 1989, an LL.B. from the University of Ottawa in 1994, and an LL.M specializing in criminal law from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2009. She was admitted to the Bar of Ontario in 1996.

Madam Justice Somji started her career as a Crown counsel in Whitehorse, Yukon, where she prosecuted Criminal Code offences and helped launch restorative justice initiatives in Indigenous communities. She returned to Ottawa in 2004 to review wrongful conviction applications on behalf of the Minister of Justice. In 2008, she joined the Department of Justice Competition Bureau legal services unit, where she provided legal advice on mergers, civil and criminal matters under the Competition Act. In 2012, Justice Somji joined the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and specialized in the prosecution of Competition Act offences, regulatory offences, and economic crimes. She has conducted prosecutions in Ontario, Quebec, the Yukon, and Nunavut.

Throughout her life, Justice Somji has been an active volunteer and educator. She taught English in the Congo, instructed criminology students at Yukon College, and mentored students attending the University of Ottawa Law School. She has volunteered with community programs within the Ismaili Muslim community, the Chelsea Nordiq Cross Country Ski Club, and, more recently, the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa.

Justice Somji resides in Ottawa with her spouse, Toby Sanger, and their two children.

Justice Jana Steele was born in Toronto and raised in Georgetown, Ontario, graduating from Georgetown District High School. She completed her Commerce degree at Queen’s University, and her legal studies at Western University in London, Ontario, where she was also president of the Student Legal Society and a recipient of the Dean Ivan C. Rand Award.

After her call to the bar in 1997, Madam Justice Steele worked at Stikeman Elliott LLP and was a partner at Goodmans LLP and, most recently, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. She started as a taxation associate at Stikemans and later transitioned to trusts, estates, and the growing and important area of pensions law while at Goodmans. Prior to her appointment, Justice Steele was an industry-leading practitioner at Oslers, with experience in all aspects of pensions law, including plan design, administration, governance, restructuring and insolvency, and complex transactional work.

Justice Steele has chaired the pensions and benefits executive for the Ontario Bar Association and the Steering Committee for the International Pension & Employee Benefits Lawyers Association. She was also a member of the legal advisory committee to the former pension regulator, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, for many years.

Justice Steele and her husband, who is also a lawyer, have a wonderful teenage daughter and an energetic two-year-old son to keep them young. She is an avid reader, and keeps active swimming, walking and biking.

Justice Catriona Verner was born in Kingston and lived in a variety of places throughout her youth, including New Zealand, Japan and Europe. She returned to Kingston to complete an undergraduate degree in Commerce.

While working on her degree, Madam Justice Verner started volunteering with the John Howard Society. Through her work with those serving life sentences at Kingston Penitentiary, she developed an interest in criminal law and turned her focus to legal studies. She graduated from Queen’s Law School in 1999 and began a practice in criminal defence work. She completed articles at what was then known as Hicks Block Adams LLP and continued as an associate specializing in criminal appeals until she left the firm in 2016. Since then she has been practising with Lockyer Campbell Posner LLP, where her work has been almost exclusively at the Court of Appeal for Ontario and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Justice Verner has spoken at conferences, published several papers, lectured at multiple law schools, and been asked to appear at the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of the Ontario criminal defence bar as an intervenor for the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

Justice Verner, her husband, Corbin Cawkell, and their six-year-old daughter are active members of the Republic of Rathnelly community in Toronto.

Justice Renu J. Mandhane received her J.D. from the University of Toronto, articled at Torys LLP, and was admitted to the Law Society of Ontario in 2002. She received her LL.M. from New York University in 2003, publishing her thesis in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law.

Madam Justice Mandhane practised criminal law with with Diane Oleskiw (now Justice Oleskiw of the Ontario Court of Justice) from 2003 to 2008. She advocated for the rights of women as accused persons, complainants in sexual assault matters, and prisoners. She led the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program from 2009 to 2015. As an adjunct professor, she mentored students, educated judges through the National Judicial Institute, and made presentations at the United Nations. She appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in Chevron v Yaiguaje and Ezokola v Canada.

Justice Mandhane was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2015. She appeared before parliamentary standing committees and led public inquiries into discrimination in policing, education and child welfare. Under her leadership, the OHRC obtained an order from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario requiring Ontario to prohibit segregation for prisoners with mental health disabilities. Ms. Mandhane’s work has been recognized by the International Commission of Jurists, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, Excellence Canada, Canadian Lawyer Magazine, and Desi Magazine. In 2018, she was gifted an eagle feather in recognition of her efforts to advance Indigenous reconciliation.

Justice Mandhane was born and raised in Calgary by Indian immigrant parents. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

Quick facts
At the Superior Court level, more than 380 judges have been appointed since November 2015. These exceptional jurists represent the diversity that strengthens Canada. Of these judges, more than half are women, and appointments reflect an increased representation of visible minorities, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S, and those who self-identify as having a disability.

The Government of Canada is committed to promoting access to justice for all Canadians. To improve outcomes for Canadian families, Budget 2018 provides funding of $77.2 million over four years to support the expansion of unified family courts, beginning in 2019-2020. This investment in the family justice system will create 39 new judicial positions in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

In addition, Budget 2018 provides funding for a further seven judicial positions in Saskatchewan and Ontario, at a cost of $17.1 million over five years.

Federal judicial appointments are made by the Governor General, acting on the advice of the federal Cabinet and recommendations from the Minister of Justice.

The Judicial Advisory Committees across Canada play a key role in evaluating judicial applications. There are 17 Judicial Advisory Committees, with each province and territory represented.

Significant reforms to the role and structure of the Judicial Advisory Committees, aimed at enhancing the independence and transparency of the process, were announced on October 20, 2016.

For more information, media may contact:

Rachel Rappaport
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Justice

Media Relations
Department of Justice Canada


Covid-19 Message

Following the recommendations and advice of public health officials and the need to practice social distancing to stop the spread of Covid-19, all WLAO in-person events have been postponed until further notice.
We encourage our members to check and follow Canada and Ontario Public Health websites for updates, advice and tips on how to protect yourself and your loved ones.
To encourage virtual engagement and promote overall health and well-being, we are working on programming that we can deliver virtually to support our members and community during this difficult time.
We will set a new date for our in-person “Benched” program once we are able to resume in-person events.
Please watch the website and social media feeds for updates and upcoming virtual events.
Be well and be safe!
Jacquie Stevens

February 27, 2020 - Ontario Heritage Trust Plaque Unveiling in Honour of 100th Year of WLAO

Founded in 1919, the WLAO has influenced policymakers, worked to dismantle discrimination and enhanced equality through the law.

“Through their extraordinary work over the last 100 years, the Women’s Law Association of Ontario has done the difficult but important work of ensuring that the law works for all of us, through fighting for equality, calling for reforms and working to eliminate discrimination in all its forms,” said Harvey McCue, Chair of the Ontario Heritage Trust. “The Trust is pleased to recognize the WLAO’s work with this provincial plaque and looks forward to many more years of leadership from the Women’s Law Association of Ontario.”

Jacquelyn Stevens, President of the WLAO added, “The Women’s Law Association of Ontario is honoured to receive a provincial plaque celebrating our 100 years. WLAO has an impressive and rich history of leaders in the legal profession. Our members have provided support, guidance and encouragement to hundreds of women at all stages of their legal careers. I, and the 60 presidents before me, take great pride in the accomplishments of our members and our efforts to empower women in the legal profession by providing a collective voice to advocate for equality, diversity and change. WLAO is ready for the next 100 years – always celebrating the past and looking toward the future.”

The plaque reads as follows:

Women’s Law Association of Ontario

Founded in 1919, the Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO) was the first organization to work actively to create a place for women at Osgoode Hall. With membership open to law students, lawyers and judges, the non-profit organization advances issues relevant to women in law through networking, educational and social events. Strengthened by the women’s rights movement, the WLAO’s first 100 years marked Canada’s first female lawyer being called to the bar, the first female leader of the regulator of the provincial bar, and the appointment of Canada’s first female Supreme Court of Canada judge. The WLAO’s campaigns influenced legislators, policy-makers, lawyers and judges to dismantle discrimination and enhance equality through law. Through advocacy, it fought employment and pay equity, criminal justice reform, and an end to gendered violence, racism, disability discrimination, homophobia and transphobia. The WLAO continues to empower women in the legal profession by providing a collective voice, and advocating for equality, diversity and change.

Quick facts

  • The provincial plaque is permanently installed in the South Gardens at Osgoode Hall, Toronto, Ontario.
  • The plaque text is available in both English and French.
  • The Ontario Heritage Trust has unveiled 51 plaques explicitly marking the contributions of women to the heritage of Ontario.
  • Since 1956, 1,285 of the Trust’s iconic provincial plaques have been unveiled, commemorating provincially significant people, places and events in Ontario’s history.

Learn more


For more information about the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Provincial Plaque Program, contact Edward Dodd at 416-325-5074 or Edward.Dodd@heritagetrust.on.ca.

For more information about the Women’s Law Association of Ontario, contact the WLAO at 416-410-7267 or wlao@cogeco.ca.

About the Ontario Heritage Trust

The Ontario Heritage Trust (the Trust) is an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. The Trust identifies, protects, promotes and conserves Ontario’s heritage. The Trust conserves provincially significant cultural and natural heritage, interprets Ontario’s history, educates Ontarians of its importance in our society and celebrates the province’s diversity. The Trust envisions an Ontario where the places, landscapes, traditions and stories that embody our heritage are reflected, valued and conserved for future generations.

1:00 pm

19th Annual Deb Snead Memorial Golf Event - August 22, 2022

February 27, 2020 - Ontario Heritage Trust Plaque Unveiling in Honour of 100th Year of WLAO
Special Events
6:00 pm

Town Hall Mentoring Event - September 13, 2022

February 27, 2020 - Ontario Heritage Trust Plaque Unveiling in Honour of 100th Year of WLAO


Women’s Law Association of Ontario
1 Toronto Street, Suite 900
Toronto, ON M5C 2V6



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