Legal scholar and educator inspired people to work together over varied career

Patricia Paradis will receive an Alumni Honour Award on October 25

Carmen Rojas - 19 October 2023

Looking back over her impressive career, Patricia Paradis (’75 BA, ’76 Dip(Ed), ’83 MEd, ’88 LLB) pauses for a few moments to reflect on what brings her the most pride. 

There are, after all, many diverse chapters to consider – from her early years in education to her subsequent pivot to law, where she focused on human rights, gender equality and constitutional matters. 

It's not a single role or event that stands out the most, she finally says, but rather a common thread that runs through everything she has done over the years.

“Overall, it’s the joy of creating opportunities for people to learn, and work together.”

Her remarkable ability to do just that – whether in the classroom, as a mediator, through her community work or at the helm of the Centre for Constitutional Studies – has earned her many accolades, most recently as the recipient of a 2023 U of A Alumni Honour Award.

Early days in education

Born and raised in the small French-Canadian community of St. Paul, Alberta, Paradis first came to the U of A in the 1970s to earn a BA in French and philosophy through Faculté (now Campus) Saint-Jean, followed by a teaching diploma from the Faculty of Education. 

After two years teaching French and English, Paradis returned to campus to complete a master of education degree in instructional design. This led to a job with the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Manpower (as it was known at the time) and then to a position producing educational television for the Access Network. 

Pursuing new passions

After three years, however, Paradis found herself drawn in a new direction. She enrolled in law school at Dalhousie University, transferring after the first year to complete her LLB at the U of A in 1988.

Setting out on her new path, Paradis was eager to get involved with human rights and gender equality issues. An opportunity arose in 1991 when she was approached by the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) to sit on a human rights tribunal for the Aryan Nations inquiry. 

As counsel for LEAF, Paradis argued that an “Aryan Fest” held in Provost, Alberta – where participants wore KKK robes, burned crosses and yelled white power slogans – was not freedom of expression but harmful and discriminatory behaviour directed at marginalized groups. 

The board ruled that there are reasonable limits on free speech that harms marginalized groups, especially women and children. The decision was instrumental in paving the way for the Supreme Court’s ruling that pornography, as a form of expression, harms women and children.

Paradis highlights this experience as a significant event in her life, and one that helped solidify her involvement in the human rights area. It also led her to become heavily involved with LEAF, eventually serving as the organization’s first Western Canadian national chair and earning their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. 

Returning to the U of A

As a result of her work with LEAF, Paradis was asked to join the Faculty of Law as a sessional instructor to teach Human Rights Law in Canada. She went on to teach the course for 23 years, earning three nominations for Excellence in Teaching Awards.

“I loved the students,” Paradis said of returning to her roots as an educator. “It was possible to engage in some interesting discussions about topical issues that were often highly contentious. I loved seeing them grow and deepen their understanding of different points of view on specific human rights issues.” 

During this time, Paradis ran a mediation practice for a decade, dealing with municipal, professional, civil claims and other disputes. She then decided to try her hand at becoming executive director of the Centre for Constitutional Studies (CCS) after serving on the CCS board for three years. She held this position for 12 years, until her retirement last year. 

As director of CCS, she focused on academic pursuits, helping the centre develop its reputation as a respected hub for constitutional research in Canada, as well as on public outreach and education.

On the scholarly side, as a French Canadian Paradis was able to develop relationships with Quebec scholars and give CCS a truly national reach for its publications and events – including a landmark conference that brought together patriation’s key players from 1982 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Constitution. 

On the educational side, Paradis spearheaded initiatives such as the U-School Constitution Workshops for Grade 6 students and the Downtown Charter Series where law professors delivered free noon-hour talks to the general public. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she seized the opportunity to reach new audiences through webinars to help people understand their Charter rights. 

“I came away from the experience running the Centre just being so amazed – absolutely in awe of Canada’s rich history, and of the need to educate Canadians about it,” she says. 

‘A tremendous gift’

Paradis, who remains active on a few boards as she “learns to retire,” says being recognized by her alma mater with an Alumni Honour Award is a huge honour. 

“I’ve been able to use so much of what I’ve learned,” she says. “At the end of the day, where I ended up – where I could actually meld my law, education and also my mediation skills – was a wonderful way to end a career.” 

“I’m extremely grateful to have had the experiences I’ve had, “she adds. “ I really do think the education I received at the University of Alberta is a tremendous gift.”