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Women in the Law - How far have we come?

Language has power, especially that used by the Courts. Everyday, I am reminded of how far the legal profession has come in recognizing gender equality. Today's reminder was jarring.

Our gendered quote of the day comes from Anderson v. Bank of British Columbia (1876), 2 Ch. D. 644 (C.A.), at p. 649, a case on the importance of privilege:

The object and meaning of the rule is this: that as, by reason of the complexity and difficulty of our law, litigation can only be properly conducted by professional men, it is absolutely necessary that a man, in order to prosecute his rights or to defend himself from an improper claim, should have recourse to the assistance of professional lawyers, . . . to use a vulgar phrase, that he should be able to make a clean breast of it to the gentleman whom he consults with a view to the prosecution of his claim, or the substantiating of his defence . . . that he should be able to place unrestricted and unbounded confidence in the professional agent, and that the communications he so makes to him should be kept secret, unless with his consent (for it is his privilege, and not the privilege of the confidential agent), that he should be enabled properly to conduct his litigation. [emphasis added]

This quote was most recently cited by Major J. in 1999, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada in Smith v. Jones, [1999] 1 SCR 455, para. 45. Justice Major made no comment regarding the Anderson Court's use of gendered language.

Perhaps we still have a long way to go.

By Katie Black

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