Human Rights

Gender-neutral change room for barristers now open at OCA

Canadian PressTHE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — The Law Society of Ontario says a gender-neutral space has now been created at the province’s top court for barristers needing to change into their robes.

The regulator says it has completed the transformation of what was formerly the men’s robing room at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall courthouse so that it can be used by people of all genders.

In a tweet earlier this week, the law society said barristers are asked to change in private stalls located in the washroom area. It says there are also private unisex washroom stalls.

The organization says the women’s robing room has not been altered and remains available for those who do not feel comfortable changing near men.

The renovation was announced in February after Toronto lawyers highlighted the size discrepancy between the women’s space, which holds 12 lockers, and the men’s, which had close to 70.

Lawyer Fay Faraday posted photos of the women’s room on Twitter, prompting lawyer Breanna Needham to launch an online petition calling for a unisex space.

The petition, which described the rooms as “one representative example of the systemic inequality that is pervasive in the legal profession,” drew significant attention in legal circles and received roughly 900 signatures.

“Sometimes, after centuries, change happens quickly,” Faraday wrote on Twitter after the new room was unveiled.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto employment and human rights lawyer Mika Imai says she’s pleased with the law society’s decision.

“I’m glad that the law society finally corrected what should’ve happened a long time ago. I appreciate the lawyers who took a stand on the issue,” says Imai, an associate with Karimjee Law.

“Gender discrimination persists in the legal profession. Sometimes it’s hidden, and other times, like with the locker rooms, it’s out in the open,” she says. “There are definitely bigger issues out there for women — the gender pay gap, childcare, sexual harassment — but it’s important to create a stink about sexism, whatever the form.”

The news was largely hailed online, though a few dissenters suggested the move was creating a new type of inequality.

“Men lose their change room, women keep theirs. That’s equality today. Where do Muslims, Religious Jews, and modest people change?” lawyer Sam Goldstein tweeted.

Lawyers are required to wear black, flowy robes to appear in Superior Court and at the Ontario Court of Appeal (OCA). Wearing them outside the courthouse, however, is generally considered “bad form,” according to the law society.

— with files from AdvocateDaily.com

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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