Patricia Paradis Honoured For Helping Canadians Know Their Human Rights

Her work earns a Women in Law Leadership Award

Staff Writer - 28 May 2019

Patricia Paradis, '88 LLB, '83 MEd, executive director of the Centre for Constitutional Studies and a sessional instructor in the Faculty of Law, has received a top award from her peers for a career focused on human rights.

Paradis received a WILL (Women in Law Leadership) Award for Leadership in the Community, in November, 2018.

During 30 years as a lawyer, Paradis has been devoted to issues of equality, diversity and law reform, and also to legal education and scholarship. At the Centre and as a past national chairperson of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, she has helped illuminate and correct concerns affecting Indigenous Peoples, women, access to justice and constitutional law.

Among her many career highlights, she was counsel for LEAF in the Aryan Nations inquiry. LEAF argued that when the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nations held an "Aryan Fest" in 1990, where they burned a cross, displayed a swastika and chanted White Power slogans, they were discriminating on the basis of race, religious beliefs, colour, ancestry and gender because those forms of expression caused harm to target groups - and that those targets included women.

"It was significant because (LEAF) thought that if they could convince the courts that this type of expression caused harm, it would be much easier to make the same arguments in relation to pornography - that it is a form of expression that harms women," says Paradis. "Largely as a result of LEAF's work, the test for pornography was subsequently changed in another case."

Leading the Centre since 2010, Paradis has expanded Canadians' understanding of how the Charter affects them, through easily accessible publications, conferences and public outreach.

Some of the most popular initiatives she created include the U-School Constitution Workshop, in which University of Alberta Faculty of Law students teach Grade 6 pupils about the Constitution and the division of powers. For adults, Paradis launched the Downtown Charter Series, at which UAlberta law professors and others deliver free noon-hour explanations of sections of the Charter at Enterprise Square. The Centre has also organized Canada-wide conferences on issues such as Senate reform, and the possibilities and hurdles of a constitutional future built on mutual respect for Indigenous and non-Indigenous laws.

"Constitutions are there to serve as checks and balances on absolute power," says Paradis. "They structure our government and our democracy. So it's important to me that people understand how they work, that they know we do have the right to protest and to free speech, for example. It's critical to our democracy, to the effective functioning of our government, that we have an informed citizenry and electorate." The WILL Awards are presented annually by the Association of Women Lawyers and The Counsel Network to recognize the contributions of Alberta's female lawyers.