She’s flown over Zimbabwe’s 108-metre Victoria Falls in a fragile ultralight. At age 56, she still back-packs regularly around the world in her boots, sleeping in hostels; no plush hotels for this lawyer.
By nature, Leslie Belloc-Pinder has long craved adventure, challenge, experience and learning. She’s explored Vietnam, one of her favorite countries, from north to south. She’s been to Africa and throughout South and Central America. Last year, she took her 80-year-old mother to Belize, where they snorkeled together.
Exploration and challenge are also hallmarks of Belloc-Pinder’s legal career. That recently reached a new pinnacle when she was elected president of the Law Society of Saskatchewan at Convocation on Dec. 6. Gerald Tegart joins Belloc-Pinder as vice president for the 2019 term. She takes over as president from Craig Zawada.
In her third decade with the Saskatoon firm Hnatyshyn-Gough, where she’s a partner, Belloc-Pinder has long worked to address social justice issues through litigation since soon after graduating in 1984 at age 22 from College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan. “I was always really drawn to litigation. That is where my skills were.”
In the early years after Canada’s Charter of Rights of Rights and Freedoms was entrenched in the Constitution in 1982, Belloc-Pinder used those litigation skills as Saskatchewan’s board member for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund. She began assisting LEAF on cases and legal arguments — “trying to put a little flesh on the bone,” as Belloc-Pinder puts it. That compelled Canada’s Supreme Court to define how the Charter would ultimately protect Canadians and chip away at social inequalities.
Those included, among many others, Goertz v. Gordon. In that 1996 case, Saskatchewan mother Janet Gordon obtained a court order allowing her to relocate with her daughter to Australia to follow her former husband who was taking a new job there. He wanted his daughter with him, but he challenged the order allowing Gordon to also relocate to Australia. At the Supreme Court, LEAF argued that, under the Charter, custodial rights must be consistent with women’s equality guarantees and consider the impact divorce has on women and children. The Supreme Court ruled that since the courts previously ruled it was in the best interest of the child to stay with her mother, Gordon did have the right to relocate to Australia.
With LEAF, recalls Belloc-Pinder, “there were all kinds of cases where we tried to explore opportunities for the courts and society to understand how the Charter, especially the equality provisions, can affect people’s daily lives.” She adds, “I am really interested in the connection between the rule of law or the legal process and how we can improve society and move it along a continuum.”
Belloc-Pinder’s practice was largely focused on family law and civil litigation until her appointment as an adjudicator with the Indian Residential Schools Independent Assessment process. From 2009 to 2016, she travelled across the country, meeting with hundreds of survivors to assess their claims of sexual and physical abuse suffered as children when they were forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools.
It was “heavy, heavy,” work, recalls Belloc-Pinder. Adjudicators had to take precautions not to be vicariously traumatized themselves by the ugliness of what survivors told them. But “even as it was happening,” she adds, “I felt this was so profoundly important and historic. These were people I had the greatest privilege to meet.” She was reassured to see many complainants walk out lighter from her arbitration interviews than they were before unburdening to her.
Belloc-Pinder has been a bencher with the Law Society of Saskatchewan since 2015. Leaving his role as president, Zawada praises Belloc-Pinder’s ability to get people to work together. “Law societies work with many stakeholders and must co-ordinate the public interest with members who have no shortage of ideas on every issue. One of Leslie’s strengths is eliciting participation from all quarters so that everyone knows their voices are heard.”
There is plenty for the LSS to tackle, says Belloc-Pinder, gratified to see many more women and younger lawyers elected to her society as benchers in December. “We have a shiny new strategic plan, and we need to operationalize that.” The challenges for all legal regulators across the country, she contends, are the issues new technologies such as artificial intelligence pose for the legal profession while at the same time being useful tools that can improve ways to deliver legal services.
The LSS, for instance, recently published guidelines for members around cloud computing after getting many questions from lawyers wanting to run paperless offices but worried about how to properly store data. “When we went looking around for information on what other law societies were doing, we found a real void. We felt this was an opportunity for us to take the lead on problems,” says Belloc-Pinder, adding she believes Saskatchewan’s law society is the first in Canada to issue such guidelines.