Susan Ursel is a senior partner with the law firm of Ursel Phillips Fellows Hopkinson LLP. An experienced litigator, her work includes both arbitration/trial level and appellate advocacy. Ms Ursel practices in the areas of labour, employment, pay equity, employment equity and human rights law, as well as pensions and benefits law. She has practiced at all court levels including the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as extensively before labour boards, human rights tribunals and arbitration boards.
In 2016 Ms Ursel was named to the Independent Advisory Board for Supreme Court of Canada Justices. This independent and non-partisan advisory board has been created by the Government of Canada to recommend qualified, functionally bilingual candidates who reflect a diversity of backgrounds and experiences for appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Board, led by former prime minister Kim Campbell, provided a list of five possible candidates. Prime Minister Trudeau ultimately chose Justice Malcolm Rowe, who sat on Newfoundland and Labrador's Court of Appeal, as his nominee to the Supreme Court of Canada.
She was a featured lawyer in the recent publication Leading the Way: Canadian Women in the Law by Julie Soloway and Emma Costante of Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP which was released in September 2015. She was honoured as one of fifty trailblazing women in law who have contributed to the profession and Canadian society over the past 100 years.
As labour counsel, Ms Ursel now works primarily with public sector and broader public sector trade unions and associations. Her practice encompasses arbitrations, labour board matters, pay equity, human rights, judicial reviews and appellate litigation.
She was senior counsel to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation in its successful Charter Challenge to Bill 115, an act which imposed collective agreements upon education sector unions in 2012. In April 2016, an Ontario judge found that the provincial government "substantially interfered" with teachers' and other education workers' right to collective bargaining, in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The judge ruled that the actions of Ontario substantially interfered with meaningful collective bargaining.
She has represented the Canadian Bar Association in its intervention in the Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada case in the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Court affirmed the Law Society’s decision to deny accreditation to TWU’s proposed law school on the basis of discrimination against the LGBT community. This case is now being appealed by TWU to the Supreme Court of Canada.
As a labour, employment and human rights lawyer, Ms Ursel was also co-counsel for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) at the Supreme Court of Canada on the landmark Honda v Keays case which dealt with the intersection of human rights and employment law, as well as important issues on the structure of damage awards on termination of employment.
As ground breaking counsel seeking progressive legal change for her clients, she has appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada on such precedent setting Charter cases as Egan and Nesbitt, the first Supreme Court decision to deal with the equality rights of gay men and lesbians; the Trinity Western case which dealt with the issues of LGBT rights and the appropriate training of teachers; and the Chamberlain case, which dealt with the educational rights of children in gay and lesbian families.
More recently, Ms Ursel has represented members of the transsexual/transgender communities, helping to establish essential precedents in such human rights cases as Hogan (dealing with the full availability of public health care for the trans community) and XY v Ontario (dealing with the issue of gender identification on birth certificates). In addition, Ms. Ursel was also one of a team of lawyers who worked on the successful case of "Jane Doe" v. Metropolitan Toronto Police, a challenge to the police practices in Toronto regarding sexual assaults which has brought about systemic and long standing changes in the policing approaches to this form of crime against women.
Her work in the human rights field stretches back more than two decades. She has acted as complainant's counsel in a number of important human rights cases in Ontario, including the Hamilton Gay Pride Day case, the Sims case which dealt with employment rights of gay men and lesbians, and the Thornton case which asserted the employment rights of persons with HIV/AIDS.
In addition to a busy labour and human rights practice, Ms. Ursel is active in the area of pensions and benefits, providing advice and undertaking litigation with respect to pension and benefits issues. She was court appointed counsel to Air Canada union retirees in the 2004 Air Canada Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act proceedings, successfully working to preserve those retirees’ pensions and entitlements. She has also successfully engaged in class action litigation on behalf of pension plan members adversely affected by government reorganizations in the broader public sector. Ms Ursel is currently court appointed counsel to the Essar Steel Algoma Defined Benefit Plans retirees in the ongoing CCAA proceedings.
Ms Ursel is a frequent speaker, teacher and writer on human rights and Charter issues, as well as labour related issues such as pay equity, pensions, and labour rights. As a thought leader in these fields, her work also includes the development of educational seminars and presentations for clients and the profession with respect to such issues as intersectional discrimination, human rights and an aging workforce, mental health and employment rights, and working with diversity and diverse communities on important legal issues.
In November 2016, following her election, Ms Ursel was inducted as a Fellow in the American College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. Election as a Fellow is the highest recognition by one’s colleagues of sustained outstanding performance in the profession, exemplifying integrity, dedication and excellence. The College includes membership drawn from across the United States and Canada.
Professional memberships also include the Ontario Bar Association; the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers; and the Association of Human Rights Lawyers.
Seeking to bring innovation to law and legal services, Ms Ursel has been the founding member or director of many significant initiatives in the profession and the community at large. These include: Founding member, Coalition for the Reform of the Ontario Human Rights Commission; Founding member, the Association of Human Rights Lawyers; Founding Director of the Foundation for Equal Families; Founding member of the Feminist Legal Analysis Committee; Founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Issues and Rights Committee of the Canadian Bar Association: Ontario, now the SOGIC of the Ontario Bar Association; and member of the initial Advisory Committee to the Toronto Board of Education’s (now TDSB) Triangle Program for LGBT students. She is also a past member of the Advisory Committee to the Employment Equity Commissioner, past director and president of the Emily Stowe Shelter for Women, and was the Lobby Chair of the Steering Committee for the Campaign for Equal Families during the historic fight for Bill 167 in Ontario in 1994.
Ms Ursel was recognized for her work on access to justice in the spring of 2016 when she was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Pro Bono Ontario. This prestigious award recognizes her early and continuing efforts to provide access to justice for all Ontarians, among other outstanding achievements.
As part of her commitment to access to justice, Ms. Ursel was also a Founding Director and past member of the Executive of Pro Bono Law Ontario, some fifteen years ago. She has previously been honoured for her contribution to pro bono legal culture by the Canadian Bar Association receiving the Young Lawyer's Pro Bono Service Award in 1998. She is also an inductee in the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives - Builders of Tolerance: Portraits from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives - 2000.
In 2011, Susan Ursel received the Canadian Bar Association's (CBA) 2011 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference (SOGIC) Hero Award. Ms. Ursel received the award in recognition of her contributions in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and two-spirited (LGBTT) communities in Canada.
In 2012, Ms Ursel was a member of the inaugural class of students successfully completing the Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation (http://gradsi.ca), established by the University of Waterloo in partnership with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and in collaboration with the Schulich School of Business, York University. The Diploma is a program affiliated with SiG@Waterloo (Social Innovation Generation at Waterloo).
Currently, Ms Ursel is finalizing work with the multi-disciplinary project Envisioning Global LGBT Rights, an international research project housed at the Centre for Feminist Research, York University, with partnerships in Africa, the Caribbean, India, the Netherlands, the USA and Canada. She is chair of the Canadian component of the African Legal Research Team, which provides legal research support to the overall project.
Susan Ursel received her LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1984. She received an award in civil litigation during the Bar Admission course and was called to the Bar in 1986. Prior to her law degree, Ms Ursel received her Bachelor of Arts with High Honours from the University of Toronto in 1979.
Click here for Susan's CV.