Catherine McKenzie’s defence of basic rights and freedoms recognized with CBA’s Volunteer in Profile Award

  • May 07, 2020

Catherine McKenzie of the IMK firm in Montreal is the 2020 recipient of the Volunteer in Profile Award for her pro bono work in defence of fundamental rights and freedoms.

McKenzie was chosen by the Access to Justice Subcommittee, which recognizes CBA members for outstanding pro bono activities.

“Mtre. McKenzie is one of those members of the Bar who makes lawyers proud of being part of this profession. It is thanks to people like her that the Bar is a vital institution in our society for the preservation of our basic rights and freedoms,” wrote Azim Hussain, Of Counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright, who nominated McKenzie for the award.

“In a political and social climate where dissent is increasingly stigmatized, Mtre McKenzie has bravely stood up for those who are powerless against the majoritarian impulse to run roughshod over the minority. She represents the best of our tradition of fearless and independent advocacy guided by Canadian values of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Hussain highlighted two matters for which McKenzie deserves recognition: the 2018 ruling of the Québec Court of Appeal in El-Alloul v. P.G. du Québec, and the legal campaign against Bill 21 in Quebec, An Act respecting the laicity of the State.

In the El-Alloul matter, the litigant appeared before the Court of Quebec in 2015 to recover her impounded car and was denied a hearing because she wears a religious head-covering. More than three years later, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that her fundamental rights were violated. Hussain wrote that McKenzie’s work ethic and commitment to obtain justice “showed me her unflinching and principled devotion to basic constitutional rights and freedoms.”

McKenzie was also the first litigator to file an action against Quebec’s Bill 21 as soon as the bill was passed in June 2019.

In February 2020, the CBA passed a resolution at its Annual General Meeting to affirm its commitment to religious equality in the legal profession, and to denounce government laws or policies that deny opportunies within the legal profession on the basis of religion.

McKenzie was called to the Quebec bar in 2000. She practices primarily in the areas of constitutional law, employment and class actions. She is a co-lecturer at McGill University, where she teaches Trial Advocacy.