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Petition asks why Osgoode Hall’s cramped ‘Lady Barristers’ room has just 12 lockers, but the men get about 70

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At the Ontario Court of Appeal at Osgoode Hall, there are only 12 lockers for female lawyers who must change into their robes before appearing in court.

There are about 70 lockers over on the men’s side, which has a lot more space and was once described in a legal publication as “opulent.”

Osgoode Hall, seen here in a Sept. 18, 2018, file photo.
Osgoode Hall, seen here in a Sept. 18, 2018, file photo.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

“What it says is that ‘We think your numbers will continue to be limited,’” lawyer Lori Anne Thomas said of the cramped quarters in the women’s robing room. “It says ‘We don’t expect growth.’”

Yet numbers from the Law Society of Ontario, the province’s legal regulator, show that the profession is approaching a 50/50 split between male and female lawyers; about 57 per cent of lawyers are men and 43 per cent are women.

With that in mind, a Change.org petition that has already gathered more than 500 signatures is calling on the regulator to do something about the lack of space in the women’s robing room, which as recently as a few weeks ago was referred to as the “Lady Barristers” room on courthouse signs.

“Retire the Lady Barristers robing room in favour of a unisex space where the men’s robing room currently is located that can be accessed and used by all lawyers appearing at the 130 Queen St. W. courthouse.”

A spokesperson for the law society said the regulator is looking into it.

“We appreciate the concerns outlined in the petition about the women’s robing room at Osgoode Hall and we are looking into options,” said spokeswoman Sue Tonkin. “We’ll provide an update as soon as we are able.”

Canadian lawyers are required to wear black robes when appearing in superior courts and courts of appeal, such as at Osgoode Hall, which houses both the Court of Appeal and Divisional Court. The robes typically include a waistcoat and two white tabs worn at the neck.

In a 2018 piece in Canadian Lawyer magazine on the barriers faced by women working in criminal law, the changing room for men at Osgoode Hall is described as something out of an “old-money golf and country club.”

“The male change rooms are opulent and spacious with nearly 70 full-length lockers, benches, several mirrors and a spacious bathroom area. There is also a comfortable lounge section with a sofa and a large wooden table and chairs for writing any last-minute notes before appearing in court,” the piece said.

On the women’s side, there are some small benches and floral-print furniture near the lockers, as well as a sitting room with a small desk and a bathroom.

“When you compare (the men’s side) to the woman’s, the women’s literally looks like leftover furniture from someone’s grandmother,” Thomas said.

The inside the robing room for female lawyers at Osgoode Hall.
The inside the robing room for female lawyers at Osgoode Hall.  (Supplied)

Needham, who said she was encouraged by the law society’s response to her petition, told the Star she’s never had access to a locker due to lack of space.

“We are seeing more and more women in law, even all-female trial teams, so it’s becoming more and more of a problem to fit all of the women in there,” she said. “Although it’s not an intentional exclusion, it’s still a barrier.”

She said that ideally, there would be a communal space for networking and discussions at Osgoode Hall for all lawyers, in addition to private changing areas.

“It’s about more than just the space, it’s about access to informal mentoring, the conversations that go on in these robing rooms,” Needham said. “And our practice should be inclusive for non-binary individuals, LGBTQ lawyers, lawyers of all faiths and backgrounds, and these robing rooms — space issues aside — don’t address that.”

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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