by Megan Bond
19 June 2012
In rural Saskatchewan in 1989, a young woman’s life was dramatically altered as scenes of the Montreal Massacre played out on the news. It was that moment that would stay with Kerri Froc for the rest of her life, driving her to go into law and fight for women’s rights. “It made a huge impact on me. I really did experience it like a punch in the gut. It was something that was shocking, but when I thought about it more I really identified with those women. To me, it all locked into place that this was something that happened to them just because they were women. It wasn’t just individual men doing these things. It was a systemic problem, a problem in society that allows these kinds of acts to occur. I felt that I had to do something about this. I have to seek justice for women.”
Froc’s ambition saw her through law school, a master’s degree, and continues to motivate her through her Ph.D. program at Queen’s. In 1997 she was called to the bar and was a practicing lawyer for many years before delving back into the world of academia in 2005. What caused such a change? During her time as a practicing lawyer, Froc became increasingly aware of the systemic barriers women face in accessing justice. After seeing the same cases continually repeating, she decided that she wanted to examine the law at a more macro level, to see how it is working, how to make it better, so that fundamental changes can be made. “I wanted to get a birds-eye-view of the law. I had a sense that the law wasn’t working for women but I really wanted to drill down to see why that was.”
Froc’s determination lead her to focus her Ph.D. research on Section 28 in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equal rights to men and women and was instituted only after a group of strong-willed women negotiated for its place in Canada’s constitution.
“Even people who are interested in women’s rights don’t know a lot about it,” Froc explains. “The court’s really haven’t taken Section 28 seriously. They don’t know what to do with it. Perhaps more concerning, they’ve cited it in cases that really aren’t good for women.”Studying at Queen’s was a natural decision because it led Froc to her supervisor, Beverly Baines, one of the only constitutional scholars in the country who has examined Section 28, and was consulted during the negotiation after 1300 women marched on Ottawa in 1981, demanding stronger sexual equality guarantees in the Charter. Baines has been an invaluable resource for accessing the people and documents related to Froc’s research. Support has also come to Froc in the form of a study group that meets regularly throughout the year to share ideas and compare notes about progress. “The faculty of law is a really nurturing environment for graduate students. It’s a close-knit community there, and I’m really benefitting and flourishing from the support there.”
Flourishing is an understatement. This past spring, Froc received not one, but two prestigious scholarships as a result of the research, volunteer work, and contributions she has made in regards to law reform and women’s constitutional rights. “The Vanier Canada Scholarship is awarded to people who have the potential for going out and influencing their own area of research and also the larger society,” explains Froc.
The Trudeau Foundation Scholarship was also awarded to Froc and will allow her to travel to conferences, interview women involved in drafting Section 28, share ideas with other scholars, and to be mentored by many highly influential professionals and academics. “I’m really hoping that the Trudeau will allow me to get on the cutting edge of theories from other disciplines and to incorporate that into my own work. The Trudeau Foundation wants us to develop a community of scholars where we can exchange things and to also have mentors, people who have developed and are involved in public policy and can open doors for you.”
Those doors are already ajar for Froc, who devotes a great deal of time and energy to supporting litigation for women’s equality, freedom of expression, liberty and security of the person. As an active volunteer for Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), Froc ensures that the organization has appropriate theoretical scholarship to support its work.
And her work does not end there. Froc also works for the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), helping lawyers lobby for legal change, write submissions, and facilitate meetings with government. She is also working on a guide to help law firms conduct surveys on diversity in their workplace.
“I really want my work to be practical. It does seem sometimes that there are problems that are really intractable. You have to look at this as a long-term project. Nothing’s going to change overnight but it always does change. It might move back and forth. There might be progress and then regression again, but there’s always change that’s possible in the law.”
With scholars like Froc, change is possible. In addition to her own research and work at LEAF and CBA, Froc is scheduled to teach Equality Rights and the Charter for Queen’s faculty of law for the second time in the upcoming academic year. “It’s really important for me to influence the next generations of lawyers that are going to be making these kinds of arguments, for them to have this kind of sensibility about the law, to have the vision, and know what they could do.”
Even with all her accomplishments, Froc remains humble. Her determination is palpable, stemming from a deep emotional experience that has propelled her forward in the fight for equality and women’s rights. She has a great deal of admiration for the women pioneers who drafted Section 28 of the Charter. However, Froc’s efforts to make change may see her become a pioneer in her own right.
For more information on Section 28 and Kerri Froc: