25 years after Touchstones

  • October 16, 2018

“Discrimination is divisive and corrodes the spirit of cooperation and collegiality which is essential to the proper functioning of the profession. Moreover, it does nothing for the profession's image and reputation for it to be seen as discriminating against a major segment of its members.” – Touchstones for Change, 1993

On Oct. 12, the CBA Women Lawyers Forum, along with the OBA WLF, presented a 25th anniversary commemoration of the CBA Gender Equality Task Force Report, Touchstones for Change: Equality, Diversity and Accountability. The event featured two programs, Revisiting Touchstones for Change, and Celebrating 25 Years of Action.

Now known as the Touchstones report, the 1993 document explored discrimination against women and others in the legal profession who didn’t look like the traditional white male role model. The Touchstones task force found barriers to women and racialized individuals at all levels: barriers to entry into law school – and a “poisoned” atmosphere in the schools; barriers to articling positions; as well as barriers to women’s success in private law firms and the judiciary.

Twenty-five years later, as reported in CBA National magazine’s Spring 2018 cover story, the problem of diversity and inclusion is still unresolved. The Women Lawyer’s forum is conducting a survey this fall to study gender differences in compensation at the partner level, and CBA President Ray Adlington has chosen these issues as his personal priority for the year.

The program consisted of two panel discussions, one featuring four members of the original task force who reflected on the report and its legacy. The second, 25 Years of Action, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the OBA’s Women Lawyers Forum with a panel of women lawyers at various stages and types of practice to discuss how the law has developed in terms of women’s rights and equality in the ensuing 25 years.

The CBA Equality Committee was a result of the Touchstones report, which also laid the foundation for projects such as Measuring Diversity in the Profession, collecting self-identification information, and the racial equality task force.

Note: The CBA Touchstone Award, which celebrates an individual or organization for promoting equality in the legal profession, will be awarded next February at the President’s Dinner in Ottawa. Deadline for nominations is Oct. 31.

“It is in the legal profession's own best interests that it become more inclusive. Time and resources are devoted to the practical training of women lawyers and a valuable capital asset is lost when they leave.” – Touchstones for Change, 1993