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Corruption to be purged from Barbados

The Government of Barbados is on a mission to ‘purge’ the country from the ‘stain of corruption’ in all instances that it may be occurring.

Attorney General Dale Marshall, joined the Prime Minister, Mia Mottley on Sunday as she addressed the from her official residence, Ilaro Court and explained that while the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was in opposition, they were not totally aware of the levels of corruption in the island by the then ruling Government.

He explained that it was only now that they were in power that they had made various ‘startling’ discoveries and were meticulously gathering information to clean up the messes made.

“It was difficult for us to make a clear assessment being in opposition at that time… We’ve gone through file after file and have found a number of startling things.” He said.

This address to the nation of Barbados was not the first time that the now ruling party had leveled accusations towards the now out of power Democratic Labour Party (DLP) who lost the 2018 May elections by a landslide.

Read about why Barbados must vet foreign institutions more deeply here

In fact Marshall, had revealed that just three months after going into office, they had uncovered several instances of corrupt practices on a seeming daily basis, including those made by the Central Government, by state-owned enterprises, by Ministers and that all of the decisions pointed towards personal gain being a motive.

The Attorney General (AG) told reporters at that time that government would be reviewing the books of two statutory corporations who he believed played in creating the ‘stain of corruption’ within the island, but that the process would be slow and ‘painstaking’ since they were looking over a decade of government and political activity.

On Sunday the AG highlighted a case where a million dollar invoice was settled in one day, which fell on the eve of the general election and asserted that the previous administration had lost many millions of dollars because of corruption.

“In many instances, contracts were awarded without any tender… There was another glaring set of circumstances and it related to the matter of exorbitant professional fees and legal fees which could not be justified by any reasonable measure…” He said.

“It was clear to us that this was all part and parcel of a whole attitude where Government was there not to benefit large numbers of Barbadians, but a chosen few.” He continued.

In light of this, Marshall said that there was a variety of efforts being utilized to address this issue, including allowing people to provide whistle blowing information, where they can come forward, speak to the authorities and even admit their ‘ part in the misdeeds and hopefully be able to purge themselves from the stain of corruption.”

Prime Minister Mia Motley reinforced her administration’s position on the issue by also urging Barbadians to play their part in ridding the island of the corruption cancer.

“We will need to be disciplined, we will need to engage in sacrifice… because corruption is a cancer that literally takes away money and resources, that takes away from spend on those people who actually need it.” She said.

Woman of the Week: Ashlee Froese

I had a meeting with a woman who I would call a true trailblazer, founding  partner of Froese Law, Ashlee Froese.  She is confident, and tenacious, after having worked for the past 3 years  to have the fashion industry recognized as a cultural industry. Ashlee  is also a published author on branding and fashion laws and a frequent guest speaker at law schools, universities and cultural institutions. She speaks publicly on current leading brands and matters within fashion law, and recently had a chat with CBC about the push for fashion industry funding.

Ashlee told me that she wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age. She focused on it during high school and her undergraduate years.

The word ‘trailblazer’ first came to me when she told me about her focus on fashion law:

“There was no concept of ‘fashion law’ as a practice area in Canada. Given that I already had many years’ practical experience at the boutique law firm, coupled with years of official legal training, I felt that I was in a position to educate the fashion industry on legal issues that impact it.”

Ashlee admitted that, despite her determination and drive, she has met ongoing challenges while practicing law. The industry is very male-dominated with  countless “Legally Blond” jokes directed her way. She views these as less of a challenge, but rather  “irrelevant background noise.”

When Froese was first starting out, an older woman partner told her to cut her hair, dye it brown and avoid wearing heels – to make herself as male as possible. She told me this perplexed her, because, as she put it “being the most authentic form of yourself, is what frees you to succeed.”

Now that Ashlee owns her own firm, she is keen to “flip the script” and insists that “You can be feminine. You can wear what you want. You can be your own authentic self- not a role-playing version of yourself.” She now mentors young lawyers at her firm every Friday afternoon and frequently speaks at law school association panels.

I asked Ashlee if there was a woman leader she admired. and she named Margaret Thatcher saying, “I grew up knowing that an iron fist and a velvet glove is necessary to get the job done… and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female…it just matters that you are a leader.”

Ashlee Froese, like many other women around the globe, understands that change is happening in the workplace, and when it comes to gender discrimination. The #MeToo campaign is a movement and a revolution that has unified women worldwide.

Speaking openly on the matter, she said ”I would be shocked if a woman doesn’t have a #MeToo story to share.  The severity of the instances may not all be devastating or shocking…but I can’t imagine that a woman has led a life where they haven’t at least once been intimidated, discounted, underestimated or sexualized because they are a woman.”

I asked Ashlee to share her #Metoo moment, and here is what she said:

“I was working at a Bay Street firm,” Ashlee begins,  then explaining that it was a casual Friday in the office and she was wearing skinny jeans and a blazer. “The managing partner entered into my office and pushed all my papers off my desk onto the floor. He then proceeded to say that he bet I wouldn’t be able to pick the paper off the floor because my jeans were too tight.”

He was obviously trying to establish his dominance and diminish her while doing it. Ashlee felt bothered because she knew that he wouldn’t have done it to a male employee. While it demeaned her to pick the papers up off the floor, she also realized that it made her strong. Pride wouldn’t limit her.

Ashlee even mentioned that a super power she wants most is to be sure that everyone makes “reasonable well thought out decisions that weigh both sides of the argument,” showing that her values rest most on truth, fairness and equality.

Not afraid to tell it like it is, to be herself, work hard and stick to her vision, Ashlee both encourages and inspires others to do the same through mentoring and guest speaking at various events and continuing to work hard as a founder of her own firm.

The one line that stayed most with me after my conversation with Ashlee was ” …if you do fail, fail fast, learn from it and recover.” She is the type of woman who isn’t afraid to fail and learn from that failure. A True Trailblazer.

To connect with Ashlee Froese and her firm, visit www.froeselaw.com

Quebec passes bill prohibiting the niqab while using public services

Wednesday, Quebec’s National Assembly passed a law that will prohibit women from wearing the niqab while using public services.

Bill 62, ironically called the religious neutrality bill, bans public service workers, as well as people seeking government services, from wearing this any face-covering garb such as the niqab or the burka. This ban also extends to using public transportation.

It should also be noted that those who voted against the bill did so because they didn’t think it went far enough. They wanted to extend the ban to include people of authority, like judges and police officers.

To be incredibly clear: if a woman choses to wear the niqab for religious reasons, she will no longer be allowed to work as a teacher, doctor, or government agent. She will also not be able to use any of the services provided by these people and will not be able to take the bus to get there if she finds someone sympathetic to her beliefs.

The bill carefully avoids using the terms niqab or burka, and specifically says people must have their “face uncovered”, and claims this includes people who wear masks to protest. However, there are very few instances where a face would be covered and it is easy to deduce what population is being targeted by this law.

People can apply for an “exemption” to the rule; however the bill also specifies the religious accommodation “is consistent with the right for equality between women and men”, which would most likely rule out the niqab. The bill also says that “the accommodation must be reasonable in that it must not impose undue hardship with regard to, among other considerations, the rights of others, public health and safety, the effects on the proper operation of the body, and the costs involved.” This makes exemptions extremely subjective and difficult to receive.

The best part of the bill is the little disclosure at the end that says: “The measures introduced in this Act must not be interpreted as affecting the emblematic and toponymic elements of Québec’s cultural heritage, in particular its religious cultural heritage, that testify to its history.”

Honestly, if I was a politician in Quebec, I wouldn’t want this bill affecting the history or culture of my province either. It paints an absolutely despicable picture similar to other fascist countries.

I’m not a big fan of the niqab. Most women aren’t. But, I would never force a woman who chooses to wear one to remove it. I would also never prevent a woman from taking the bus or from picking up her child at school because of what she is wearing. This is not a security issue or a communications issue. This is racism in its simplest form. This is a group of people afraid of someone who dresses a bit differently. The law does not encourage “religious neutrality” as the government claims. It doesn’t prevent people from wearing a cross or a yarmulke on the bus or at the doctor’s office. It directly attacks one religion over others.

Personally, I’m hoping someone brings this bill to the Supreme Court. Quebec politicians should be ashamed at the blatant discrimination they just enacted in to law.

This is not my Canada. Is it yours?

The law is affective immediately.

Senate approves transgender rights bill with majority

Thursday afternoon, the Senate approved a piece of legislation that amended the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include transgender Canadians. This means that gender identity and gender expression is on “list of prohibited grounds of discrimination” and therefore protected against hate propaganda.

 

The bill also amends the sentencing principles section of the Criminal Code, making it possible for a person’s identity or expression to be considered an aggravated circumstance by a judge during sentences.

Most importantly, gender identity and gender expression are now identifiable groups under Canadian law! This is an incredible accomplishment and brings Canada one step closer towards becoming a truly equal, fair, tolerant, and inclusive society.

The only disappointment was that it took this long to get Bill C-16 to pass. This request to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code has been proposed and tabled numerous times over the last decade. Bill C-16 was presented to the House of Commons a little over a year ago and was delayed at the Senate due to debate surrounding free speech.

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, called the bill a celebration of inclusion and diversity, “bringing us one step closer to strengthening laws against discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crime based on gender identity and gender expression.”

“Trans and gender diverse persons must be granted equal status in Canadian society, and this Bill makes that status explicit in Canadian law,” she said in a statement.

The bill passed by a vote of 67 to 11 and now needs Royal Assent before it is considered a law.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberal government plans on introducing legislation that would erase past convictions against Canadians charged with crimes related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. He also said the government is planning on apologizing to the LGBT community by the end of this year for past discriminatory legislation and policies.

Woman of the Week: Marni Dicker, VP Infrastructure Ontario

Marni Dicker truly believes women can have it all, even if they work in a male-dominated industry like infrastructure.

The bulk of Dicker’s career has been in “a man’s world, with a hard hat on and steel toe boots.” A self-described “energizer-bunny”, she works full-time for Infrastructure Ontario (IO), chairs Women Build with Habitat for Humanity, is a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, is a mentor for the Women’s Executive Network, an executive sponsor of Women IO, and chair of IO Gives Back. All the while, she makes time to go to every single one of her sons’ football games.

“You don’t have to be ashamed to be a mother,” she says. “I almost over do it because I’m trying to lead by example. I have a young team with little kids. I want them to know it’s okay to go to your kid’s play at 11 a.m., because you don’t get those days back, and I get a better productivity from my team. Nothing is suffering. Work is getting done and family appreciates it.”

As Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker has a wide portfolio. She oversees six different departments — legal, procurement, strategy, communications, record management, and insurance — all the while being responsible for corporate governance. Essentially, there isn’t a file Dicker isn’t involved in.

Infrastructure Ontario is responsible for all major construction projects in the province, including the Eglinton Crosstown, which is part of a 12-plus billion dollar transit plan for the region. “That was my deal and transaction, putting the deal into market, procuring a partner who would be ultimately delivering the project.” she said.

The other big project she was involved in was the venues for the Pan Am Games, including the athletes village, which is currently being converted into a multiuse community.  For Dicker, the most exciting part of her work with the Pan Am Games was that they weren’t just creating a venue for a singular event; they were actually making a difference in people’s lives. “We aren’t only building infrastructure, we are building communities.”

Before joining the ranks at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker spent 16 years with the SNC-Lavalin. She was recommended by a friend, and despite the fact that she didn’t know anything about engineering, construction, or real estate at the time, SNC-Lavalin recognized her capabilities and hired her anyway. They said they wanted someone smart and eager to learn — and that was Dicker in a nutshell.

She thrived in that environment, embracing every challenge. Twenty years later, she is one of the leading experts in infrastructure development and corporate counsel, something she would have been unable to claim if she hadn’t taken the extreme risk to leave her job in litigation for something completely out of her comfort zone.

Dicker’s heart and passion for the industry is revealed when she speaks of this difficult transition. She went from being a litigation lawyer to a businesswoman, but every new step has given her skills that make her incredibly successful in her field. As she says, she uses her legal training to provide excellent business leadership.

This dedication to the field  is noticeable when she speaks. She talks a mile-a-minute, exuding excitement over seemingly-small details of a project. You can tell she thrives under pressure and doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Dicker is very aware of how male-dominated her industry is, but acknowledges it’s changing, albeit slowly. “What I think we need is more examples of women who have been successful in those fields and we women need to actively mentor young women and take them under our wings to show them the ropes, because if we don’t they will be left behind.”

And that’s what Dicker is trying to do with Women IO and the Women’s Executive Network. She wants to be a mentor for other women seeking senior leadership and guidance. Some of the big topics during networking sessions include work-life balance and how to grow your career.

“We need to go out and show them [women] that working in the infrastructure world is no different than the female-dominated industry of nursing. If they see more women in the industry, it will incite them to joint the ranks of architecture or project finance.”

Dicker’s biggest strength is her ability to do it all, something she says is only possible “because I’m crazy.” She is one of those people who goes to the gym at 5:30 a.m., works hard throughout the day, and then still finds time to give back to the community. “I’m not happy sitting down, because I feel like I have so much to do and I have so much to offer, whether it’s personal to my family, professionally in the workplace, or in a volunteer capacity. It’s really gratifying to me.”

Dicker admits that this industry has made her a stronger person, but counters that it doesn’t mean you have to give up your femininity. And that’s something she hopes all women can begin to understand.

Last year, Dicker was recognized as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women.

Woman of the week: Camille Labchuk

“I felt compelled to get into animal law. My advice to women is don’t accept being marginalized, you have every right to be there and your opinion and insight are valuable. Just go for it,” says CEO of her own law firm and Animal Justice lawyer, Camille Labchuk.

From her mother’s place in P.E.I on vacation, Camille Labchuk looks relaxed, yet professional in a comfortable rustic room in her hometown in the Maritimes. This setting is a nice vacation spot for the passionate, but humble, animal rights lawyers who is making big waves in Toronto.

Labchuk is currently the executive director of Animal Justice, a not-for-profit legislative fund dedicated to advocating for the humane treatment of animals. As a lawyer, Labchuk defends advocates and animals in the court of law, and contributes to campaigns that seek further protection for animals.

Animal Justice focuses heavily on putting pressure on the farming industry. Labchuk says there is strong public outrage when a dog or cat is abused, but when it comes to farm animals, law enforcement often fails to act.

“In June 2014, Chilliwack cattle sales in B.C., which is the largest dairy farm in the country, were investigated, and undercover footage came out from Mercy for Animals that showed workers kicking, punching, and beating cows with metal pipes,” said Labchuk.

“The BCSPCA recommended charges against the workers and the company — and that was over 18 months ago. Law enforcement still has not laid any charges and the crown has not done anything about the case yet. There is inertia on the part of law enforcement on the part of animals.”

Labchuk first became interested in animal rights when she was nine years old after witnessing the seal hunt on T.V. Her mother was a significant influence on her interest in environmentalism, and helped her pursue her goals in animal activism. “My mom was a single mother and an environmental activist. She single-handedly took on the pesticide industry in PEI. She was very active when I was growing up and I had a role model from a very young age that taught me a woman can do whatever she wants and can accomplish a lot.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Labchuk was uncertain what path to take, but decided to become involved with the Green Party in her home province, P.E.I.

“I got involved in the Green Party with Elizabeth May in 2004 because my mom was running in the election,” said Labchuk. “Elizabeth decided to run for leadership of the Green Party and I became the only staffer on her campaign. Luckily, she won and she asked me to join her in Ottawa.”

Labchuk moved to Ottawa and worked closely with May for two years before running for the Green Party herself in 2006. At this time, she used her vacations to volunteer for the Humane Society International. She helped to document and expose the cruelty of the seal hunt in remote areas of the Maritimes with Rebecca Aldworth, one of Canada’s first animal rights activists.

Elizabeth May was a strong female influence in the young activist’s life and taught her about how much power being a lawyer can have in politics.  “I really saw how much her law degree helped her every single day, whether it was reading drafts or responding to issues of the day,” said Labchuk. “It was useful for her. I realized there were very few people doing animal law in Canada and maybe that could be me.”

Labchuk worked for the Humane Society International in a communications role for a year before starting law school at the University of Toronto in 2009, where she had the chance to meet Lesli Bisgould, one of Canada’s first animal rights lawyers. Bisgould was another mentor for Labchuk and inspired her to pursue her passion in animal law.

Labchuk was given her first articling opportunity while attending a Toronto Vegetarian food festival in 2011. James Silver, a criminal lawyer and vegan, was present for a presentation Labchuk made about animal rights advocacy. “I met them afterwards and James offered me a job to article for him the following year. Now my advice to younger lawyers is to never miss a vegetarian food festival. You never know what job you may get out of it.”

In 2014, Labchuk opened her own law firm to supplement her income while still volunteering with Animal Justice. Her firm’s focus is on animal rights law, but she does take on the occasional unrelated case.

Recently though, Labchuk has gotten on Animal Justice’s payroll and is playing a larger part in it’s operations. She says the not-for-profit is getting more resources and gaining notoriety every year. For Labchuk, it’s not the opening of her own firm that’s her biggest success — it’s her work with Animal Justice.  “I’m excited about where Animal Justice is going in the future because at this point, I think the sky is the limit,” she said.

In Sept. 2015, Labchuk and other lawyers at Animal Justice went to the Supreme Court to intervene in a law about bestiality. “ It was a defence to water down the definition of bestiality to allow sexual acts that were non-penetrative in nature. We sought intervener’s status. The court did allow us to argue that case on behalf of animals. That was momentous and exciting.” In January 2015, Labchuk also got the charges dropped against six activists that were arrested for protesting outside of the St. Helen’s meat Packer’s in November 2014.

Currently, Labchuk is living in Cambridge while her spouse completes a journalism fellowship at Harvard University. She is taking supplemental American animal law classes and rubbing shoulders with big-name animal rights lawyers in the country. She looks forward to her return to Toronto to continue the good fight for animal rights.

“We are chipping away at this paradigm that allows us to exploit animals in such horrible ways,” said Labchuk. “More people then ever are aware, and these issues are mainstream now. I know someday, we are going to win.”