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Prize presented for profs’ promotion of fairness and equality

Photos: Courtesy of Martha Jackman and Nicole LaViolette

Two University of Ottawa law professors have been recognized by the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) for their work promoting equality in the legal field.

Nicole LaViolette was awarded the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference (SOGIC) Hero award for her work fighting for the rights of LGBTQ+ refugees, and for the equality of LGBTQ+ communities as whole.

Martha Jackman was awarded the Touchstone Award for her contributions to equality in the legal profession, and for her work to alleviate poverty.

LaViolette’s journey to becoming a SOGIC Hero began on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant for a Member of Parliament, which eventually led her to enrol in law school.

“I was curious how international treaties that protected persecuted people could exclude sexual minorities. I discovered that it was really lawyers who were starting to present these asylum claims in Canada,” said LaViolette.

“When I received the prize, I was particularly pleased… because my first heroes were the refugee lawyers who were pushing for refugee protection for sexual minorities,” she said.

LaViolette has helped design an innovative training program for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to improve their ability to work with LGBTQ+ refugee claimants. She also served as an academic expert for the UNHCR during their drafting of the guidelines related to claims to refugee status based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Recently LaViolette has taken an interest in the Canadian government’s refugee selection program, hoping to see more LGBTQ+ individuals abroad find a home in Canada.

Jackman realized at a young age the realities of injustice when a high school colleague had his life turned upside down when he was forced to drop out of school to help support his family.

“(Your merit) is not simply a product of how hard you work or how smart you are. It is often a product of all the environmental factors,” said Jackman. “Your circumstances have a big impact.”

Jackman won the annual equality award because of her work with the National Association of Women and the Law and the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues, according to Mark Berlin, the chair of the CBA’s equality committee, in a press release.

She has also held various positions in the Faculty of Law over the years, and appears regularly in front of law reform bodies and parliamentary committees. She is the academic director of a research project called Reconceiving Human Rights’ Practice.

For students to make change in social justice in our community, Jackman said they really need to be engaged in Canadian politics.

“Change occurs at all kinds of levels, but change doesn’t occur in the courts if there isn’t change in the political level,” said Jackman. “And change won’t occur at the political level if young people aren’t engaged.”