Making Progress

Today, the Women Lawyers Forum of the Manitoba Bar Association is gathering to honour and celebrate women appointed to the Bench in Manitoba or retiring from the Bench. Celebrating Success is an annual event to acknowledge the contribution these members of the judiciary have made to our profession, and to the cause of gender equality.

The event today recognizes Judge Cynthia Devine and Judge Margaret Wiebe, both appointed to the Provincial Court and Madam Justice Diana Cameron, promoted to the Court of Appeal from the Court of Queen’s Bench.

While it is always a lovely evening, I find myself wishing that the appointment of women lawyers to the Bench would by now have become commonplace, so as not to merit the hosting of an annual reception. And at the same time, I wish the list of those being honoured were longer and more reflective of the diversity of Manitoba population.

In Manitoba, we are progressing toward gender balance on the Bench. A review of the Manitoba Courts website reveals that:

  • In the Court of Appeal, 4 of 9 Justices are women;
  • In the Court of Queen’s Bench, 14 of 42 Justices are women; and
  • In the Provincial Court, 20 of the 44 Judges are women.

The gender balance in Manitoba’s Courts is approaching proportionality with the population level gender distribution, with the exception of the Court of Queen’s Bench where there is still a ways to go.

But twenty years after the Touchstones Report, we still have not achieved equality for women in the legal profession, despite a wide range of efforts and initiatives designed to promote that goal. I wonder when we will arrive; whenever I raise this issue in conversation, I sense a weariness among those who have been working toward gender equality for decades, and concurrently, a lack of engagement with the cause among those more recently called to the Bar.

Indeed we have made progress since 1993, but I cannot yet foresee the end of this conversation. Until that day arrives, I expect I’ll continue to join my colleagues annually to celebrate the success of the remarkable women recently appointed to the Bench.



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