Goderich, Ont. lawyer hopes to inspire women after earning major recognition
Heather Joy Ross hopes award encourages women that they too can have an impact in their community
Huron County lawyer Heather Joy Ross has been recognized with the Law Society Medal, a top recognition given for outstanding service and devotion in the profession by The Law Society of Ontario.
Ross hopes that receiving this award inspires women across the country. In her 30 years in the field, the Goderich, Ont. lawyer was a governor with the Law Society of Upper Canada, where she helped to create a standing committee on Equity and Indigenous Affairs, as well as a Human Rights Monitoring Group.
"I hope that it encourages girls, young women, older women to know that they can be true to themselves and still make an impact in whatever they choose to do," she said.
"If they choose to become lawyers, there is much great good that they can do for their communities and for society."
Ross' path into the profession was anything but common. She was admitted to Western University's law program as a mature student while parenting two children, she said during an interview on CBC's Afternoon Drive.
Two factors prompted Ross to take that leap: her mother's strong social justice conscience and efforts to stop three books from being banned in Huron County in the late 1970s.
At the time, the Catholic Women's League in the town of Kingsbridge, Ont. were on a mission to strike John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Margaret Laurence's The Diviners off of the high school curriculum in Huron County and Ross was one of the women who stepped in to stop it.
"When I had the opportunity to work with our national treasure, Alice Munro, to stop the book banning, that galvanized my social conscience and led me to decide to go to law school as a married mother of two kids," she said.
After graduating, Ross went on to represent women and children fleeing domestic violence while also tackling issues of gender inequality, something that she says at the time was not as prevalent.
"There was a real lack of knowledge around domestic violence and how to represent clients who had suffered abuse and domestic violence. Nobody seemed to be doing that," she recalled. "I decided that it required specialization and study and taking the real care that was needed to, in a way, specialize in that kind of work."
Ross also played an important role encouraging other women in the profession. She launched the South West Region Women's Law Association, a support and advocacy network for female lawyers and law students in southwestern Ontario.
She said her drive and strong sense of justice are what motivated her throughout her long and fruitful career.
"[I] wanted to help people who were vulnerable and who were being treated unfairly or unjustly," she said.
"I believe today, as I did the day I was called to the bar, that the law is a helping profession."
With files from Chris dela Torre