BOOK REVIEW- Fairly Equal: Lawyering the Feminist Revolution
Linda Silver Dranoff
Fairly Equal: Lawyering the Feminist Revolution is a recently published memoir of a renowned Toronto lawyer, activist, and former magazine legal columnist, Linda Silver Dranoff.
Silver Dranoff’s book resonates with the reader on two levels: as a personal memoir of a woman lawyer in a male dominated world, and as a historic account of the era of second wave feminism in Canada, marked by the revolution of women’s rights under the law.
Early on, Silver Dranoff describes a childhood in which she was unaware of the subordinate status of women in society. Her “coming of age” included her university experience of joining women students protesting during (then) Senator John F. Kennedy’s Hart House debate to change the men-only status of Hart House.
Silver Dranoff then addresses the legal and political efforts of women in Canadian history who struggled to be recognized as “persons”, a status achieved in 1929. The book shares the writer’s personal journey which involved her separation, divorce and single parenting, before becoming a lawyer. Her legal career was characterized by the pursuit of social justice and legal reform with respect to such issues as pay and employment equity, domestic violence, the property rights of women, and spousal support. She was an outspoken advocate who pushed for amendments in family law, abortion rights and the need for childcare facilities, among many issues.
The inequalities in family law were brought to the forefront by the historic Murdoch case. That case, appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, involved the issue of property rights of spouses upon ending a marriage. Using the contextual framework of this case, the book details the push for a review of the law by the Ontario Law Reform Commission, the mounting public pressure and political manoeuvring behind the scenes, and the role played by the media – a perfect storm which eventually led to a change in the law.
In the chapter entitled Championing Fairness, Ms. Silver Dranoff describes practising law with two objectives: to obtain just results for clients and to create precedents to help others in the same circumstances.
Ms. Silver Dranoff provides an interesting account of the emergence of Canada’s Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1967. She recounts how women organizations came together in Ottawa with one voice, leading Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to act on pressing issues. The Royal Commission issued a ground breaking report on the status of women, resulting in the creation of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. Ms. Silver Dranoff was a member of this council for a considerable time, and describes how the council addressed issues such as women’s employment, amending the Ontario Human Rights Code to include sexual harassment in the workplace, the availability of the legislative system of property division to widows and widowers, and exposing domestic violence. She reflects upon the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling with respect to “battered women’s syndrome”, the amendment of the Criminal Code enacting the “rape shield” law, and the significance of equality rights established in Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In a chapter on challenging inequality in family law, Silver Dranoff shares her experience challenging the Family Law Reform Act at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Leatherdale case. The central issue was women’s property rights, and the reader learns of the role played by the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, and subsequent lobbying for equal property sharing laws, spousal support, support enforcement issues and matrimonial home related issues. Finally, the cumulative efforts came to fruition when the Family Law Act came into effect in 1986, with these legal rights being recognized as the law.
Silver Dranoff’s contributions to the evolution of family law in Ontario have been recognized by numerous awards, including being admitted into the Order of Canada in 2014.
To paraphrase the words of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, development can be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Ms. Silver Dranoff’s book describes the remarkable changes resulting from the Canadian women’s liberation movement and its pursuit of equality and fairness for women, removing barriers and ensuring access to justice.
Many have struggled to achieve these changes. The author entrusts the future to readers to ensure these positive changes will be maintained.
Written by: Archana Medhekar, B.Sc., LL.M., AFCC-O Newsletter Committee