by Ryan Howes
On November 2, 2017, the Asper Centre hosted its inaugural Alumni Network event, a “5 in 5” panel in which five alumni each had five minutes to discuss an interesting advocacy case or initiative that they have worked on in their respective practices. Breese Davies, the Asper Centre’s 2017 Constitutional Litigator-in-Residence moderated, introduced each speaker and kept time. The presentations highlighted the diverse and impactful work in constitutional litigation and advocacy that Asper Centre alumni engage in, often in collaboration with the Asper Centre.
An interesting theme that emerged from the discussions was the importance of narrative in legal advocacy. Facts are persuasive, but narratives are compelling. Narratives communicate the human dimension that exists behind the facts. Complimenting a strong body of supportive facts within a narrative that conveys the experiences of real people effected by the target issue supports effective advocacy.
Louis Century (JD/MGA ’13), an associate at Goldblatt Parners LLP, presented on being co-counsel for the Asper Centre as intervener in the Frank et al v Canada (Canadian non-resident voter) case at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). This case concerns the constitutionality of a law that bars expats from voting if they have been outside the country for 5 or more years. The law was upheld at the court of appeals. The appellate judge argued that, in order to qualify for voting, a citizen must have a stake in the society. Expats are therefore ineligible. There are no grounds for this in the constitution. Louis worked in collaboration with Asper Centre affiliate faculty to submit a factum, which addressed this “social contract” justification and promoted expats’ right to vote. The government has introduced a bill to amend this Act, so the SCC hearing was postponed to mid-2018. No legislative progress is yet evident.
Aria Laskin (JD ’14), an associate at Torys LLP, presented on her work with the Asper Centre and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program on behalf of detained children in Canada’s immigration facilities. Hundreds of immigrant children have been detained. A challenge that Aria faced in advocating for this cause was identifying different forms of advocacy beyond traditional litigation to work towards the ultimate goal: reducing and ending the immigration detention of children. In addition to litigation, Aria worked on public advocacy initiatives in order to raise awareness of the issue. This has had positive results. Fewer children are being detained today, and they are no longer being placed in solitary confinement.
Jennifer Luong (JD ’13), presented on her work at the Ministry of the Attorney General Constitutional Law Branch, where she acted as respondents’ counsel in the Grand et al v Ontario case. Jennifer represented the government in the challenge by families to the discriminatory consequences of the Children’s Law Reform Act. This Act identified a child’s parents as their natural parents, burdening non-traditional families with additional legal processes and costs in order to demonstrate parenthood over their child. The Grand case challenged the Act on these grounds. As a result, Ontario made remedial amendments to the Children’s Law Reform Act with the All Families Are Equal Act.
Marcus McCann (JD ’14), an associate at Symes Street & Millard LLP, presented on being co-counsel for an intervener in the upcoming Trinity Western University case at the SCC. He discussed the case in the context of two pertinent precedents, Loyola v Quebec and Doré v Barreau du Québec, arguing that the SCC’s decision in the Trinity Western University case will refine how these past rulings apply. For instance, Marcus predicted that the SCC’s decision might constrain Doré because in this instance there is a competing rights claim. Although the Trinity Western University case raises many interesting questions, Marcus argued that the SCC might limit the scope of its ruling and leave unaddressed such questions as whether corporations as legal persons are entitled to s. 2(a) rights.
Megan Savard (JD ’09), partner at Addario Law Group LLP, presented on her advocacy work surrounding criminal liability under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, for which she has collaborated with Asper Centre clinic students in drafting submissions to government. The Act is vague in describing the criminal acts it identifies, which presents difficulties for persons working in assisted reproduction and surrogates. Megan’s presentation was a story of persistence and unexpected continuity following failure. She is currently in stage three of her legal advocacy, the first two stages having not resulted in the kind of government action she was advocating for. But she persists. Megan’s advocacy uses stories demonstrating the free agency of women who serve as surrogates to challenge policymakers’ fears that women will be exploited for purposes of reproduction. She also challenges arguments grounded in sanctity of the body.
In addition to Asper Centre alumni, some current Asper Centre clinic students and student working group members attended the event. As a first year law student, it was both eye-opening and inspiring for me to see the relationship that former students maintain with the Asper Centre and that making such an impact is possible so soon after graduating from law school.
Ryant Howes is the current work-study student at the Asper Centre and is also a first yer JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law.