“Recognition such as this is powerful and revitalizing”: Guthrie speech by Luke’s Place ED Carol Barkwell
It is a tremendous honour to celebrate Pamela Cross today. I can think of no other person who has done more for women’s access to justice in Ontario.
I believe most of you are aware of many of the things Pam does and has done to achieve greater justice for women who have been subjected to violence. Of course, none of us knows all of them because it’s hard to keep up with Pam.
I know Pam from her work with Luke’s Place where she is instrumental in aiding us in fulfilling our mandate, which is to improve the safety and experience of abused women and their children involved in family law processes.
With Luke’s Place
- Pam has conducted research, for example, most recently on family violence screening tools for family law practitioners.
- She leads our law reform work, as she did this past year with the proposed revisions to the Divorce Act.
- She loves to grapple with policy issues, as she did in 2018 when family court filing fees were increased and then retracted as a result of her leadership on this issue
- She educates the public through frequent media interviews.
- She mentors law students.
- She summarizes relevant case law and writes public legal information that we distribute through our websites and resources.
- She delivers trainings to service providers and lawyers throughout the province: In less than two years, Pam trained over 2,500 Legal Aid Ontario staff and lawyers, and she has been the lead trainer of Ontario’s Family Court Support Workers since the start of that very successful program in 2011.
- Pam has spearheaded many of our innovative services at Luke’s Place, including our Family Court and Beyond resource package for women, our pro bono clinic in Durham Region and our Virtual Legal Clinic that serves women in rural and remote communities.
Much of Pam’s work with us has been made possible with funding support from the Law Foundation of Ontario.
And this is just what she does in her role as Legal Director with Luke’s Place. Pam also works with other organizations, including the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), and the Canadian Counsel of Muslim Women, as well as countless other organizations, usually located in rural and northern communities. She is also a frequent speaker at conferences across the country and beyond.
Last March, Pam received the Laura Legge Award from the Law Society for exemplifying leadership as a woman within the profession. When I contacted people to write those letters of support, as was the case soon after for The Guthrie Award, the response was enthusiastic.
Here a few examples of how the people who wrote the support letters to The Law Foundation described Pam:
- She exemplifies the kind of practical and visionary leadership this award was set up to honour
- She works tirelessly in a range of environments with diverse actors
- She always listens, even while she challenges
- A unique blend of legal and analytical skills, community connections and experience, and clear-sighted strategic abilities
- Incredibly passionate and knowledgeable
- A deep thinker who is not afraid to explore hard questions
- A transformative leader in the legal profession
- A beacon in the wilderness
- A trail blazer
- She has a readiness to challenge and be challenged
- Always willing to come all the way to Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario
- Her unwavering and long-time commitment to this issue has provided a touchstone for us and for the women with whom we work
- We owe our expertise on women and family law to Pamela Cross
- She has helped create a fairer, more accessible justice system and indeed, a more just society
- As someone who knew Don Guthrie….I believe he would recognize and celebrate this kind of dedication from a member of the profession
A theme that reoccurred in these letters of support, and one I hear regularly from the Luke’s Place staff team and throughout the women’s and legal sectors, is that Pam is great to work with. She is a collaborator. She inspires and listens. She values and learns from perspectives she doesn’t agree with. She can talk about the hard stuff, she is courageous, and she is deeply compassionate. She always delivers on time and well beyond expectations. She can have a good laugh and she might even feed you. She has a real lust for life.
One of the aspects of Pam’s character that I admire the most is her ability to be authentic and present with any kind of person, whether it’s a woman in crisis or a community worker, an Indigenous leader or a politician, a lawyer or an articling student. When you are with Pam, you feel equal, heard, supported and informed.
I also want to acknowledge the cost of Pam’s dedication to justice and thank her for the sacrifices she makes for this work.
First there are the physical demands. For years she’s travelled the province and the country delivering trainings and keynotes. Her commitment to access to justice means that she will go to Wawa and Sioux Lookout and Renfrew County as willingly as she will go to Toronto.
And then there is the emotional and psychological impact of Pam’s commitment. Women’s stories are often terrible and impossible not to do something about. Hearing about women who endure years of physical and emotional violence because the legal system fails them, because they are afraid of losing their children, of homelessness and living in poverty, afraid of the police or of being forced out of the country. Knowing women and children are killed, or live every day with the threat of being killed by the men who once claimed to love them… Hearing these stories over and over, in one variation or another, and knowing there are so few options for women who turn to legal systems for support, this takes its toll.
I want to thank the Law Foundation of Ontario for acknowledging Pam’s incredible efforts. Recognition such as this is powerful and revitalizing, as is the ongoing commitment of the Foundation to access to justice.
And I want to thank you all for attending this celebration of Pam and what the Guthrie Award stands for. I urge everyone in this room to use your power and your privilege to stand beside her in this fight for women’s access to safety, security and justice.