By: Himani Ediriweera
A strong advocate of women’s rights and strengthening the role of women in the legal profession and a partner in the law firm of Symes & Street, Beth Symes is wielding her influence in many ways.
Symes launched a constitutional challenge, arguing her right to claim the use of her nanny as a business expense. She was successful at the trial level, yet in a controversial decision at the Supreme Court of Canada that split on gender lines, the cost of childcare was found to be a personal expense and not deductible from business income.
In 2010, Symes was named a member of the Order of Canada for her contributions as a champion of women’s rights in the legal profession.
A bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada, she is vice chair of the Proceedings Authorization Committee, a member of the Equity Committee and co-chair of the Return to Practice Task Force. Symes is also president of the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice and a recipient of six awards, including the Law Society Medal.
As counsel, Symes’ cases mirror her strong beliefs and expertise in equality rights. She represented Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) before the Supreme Court of Canada in Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. “G,” which involved the medical incarceration of a pregnant aboriginal woman who was sniffing solvents, and also in Dobson v. Dobson where a child was suing his mother for injuries suffered inside the womb.
Symes also acted as co-counsel with the Minority Advocacy and Rights Council (MARC) in R. v. Conway, which involved an inmate who objected to female correctional officers.
As well, Beth Symes represented the Medical Staff Association in the government’s attempt to shut down Women’s College Hospital and was one of the counsel representing a number of persons who challenged the Harris government’s 21.6% cuts to social assistance. She was also counsel for the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) in its challenge to landlords using rent to income ratios to qualify tenants.
In 1988, Symes was appointed as the first chair of the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal. Throughout her career, having sat on 15 boards, she was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Council of Administrative Tribunals (CCAT), a founder of the Conference of Ontario Boards and Agencies (COBA) and is a founding member of the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR). She is also one of the founding members of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) and served on its National Legal Committee. She co-authored “Women and Legal Action” in 1984, a review of public interest litigation in Canada up to the entrenchment of the Charter which established the blueprint for LEAF.
She also co-authored “Juggling: Women, Work and Parenting,” plus has written articles on administrative law and equality issues. She instructed at Osgoode Hall Faculty of Law in Trial Practice, as a team leader in the Intensive Trial Advocacy Program, taught Economic Regulation in the LLM program at Osgoode and taught Constitutional Litigation for the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario.