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Joanna Birenbaum Lawyer

she / her



Joanna Birenbaum is a litigator with diverse experience, specializing in equality and human rights, professional discipline and regulation, administrative/public law, employment law and sexual assault law. Called to the bar in 1998, Joanna’s practice has included Aboriginal and treaty rights litigation, constitutional test case litigation, and policy development, training and advocacy relating to access to justice for marginalized groups.  

Joanna is a leading lawyer in the area of sexual violence. Her extensive experience in this area includes constitutional litigation, civil sexual assault claims, employment law, human rights and workplace investigations, representing complainants in sexual history applications in criminal sex assault proceedings, and defamation law, including defending malicious prosecution and defamation claims targeting women who have reported sexual violence. Joanna prosecutes for a regulated health college in Ontario. Joanna also advises institutions and employers on sexual violence policies and procedures.

Joanna appears at all levels of Court including the Supreme Court of Canada.  Her most recent Supreme Court advocacy includes:

 Platnick v. Bent (November 2019, decision under reserve)

    • counsel for Barbra Schlifer Clinic
    • Issue: defamation law and interpretation of anti-slapp legislation


  • Fontaine v. Canada 2017 SCC 47
    • counsel for the University of Manitoba, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR))
    • Issue: disposition of the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) claims records under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA)


  • R. v. Quesnelle 2014 SCC 46
    • Counsel for Barbra Schlifer Clinic
    • Issue: Interpretation of criminal code regime to protect the private records of sexual assault complainants


  • R. v. Nur; R. v. Charles
    • Counsel for the Canadian Association for Community Living
    • Issue: Charter challenge to mandatory minimum sentencing.


Joanna is a frequent guest speaker and lecturer.

Joanna was a 2014-2015 McMurtry Clinical Fellow at Osgoode Hall Law School and adjunct faculty at Osgoode (2014-2017), teaching Gender, Equality and the Law and a clinical course in partnership with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. She has lectured and published in the areas of equality rights and violence against women.

Joanna’s forthcoming book, co-authored with Professor Karen Busby, Achieving Fairness:  A Guide to Campus Sexual Violence Complaints, published by Thomson Reuters, will be available on March 10, 2020.

Other recent publications include: Joanna Birenbaum, Kelly Gallagher Mackay, “From Equal Access to Individual Exit:  The Invisibility of Systemic Discrimination in Moore” (2013) 10 JL & Equality 93-112; and Joanna Birenbaum, Isabel Grant, “Taking Threats Seriously:  s.264.1 Threats as a Form of Domestic Violence” (2012) 59 Criminal Law Quarterly 206-236

In addition to her private practice, Joanna is also the Director of Capacity Building for CCLISAR (Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Law Response, www.cclisar.ca).

Ursel Phillips Fellows Hopkinson LLP 555 RICHMOND ST. W., SUITE 1200, TORONTO, ON M5V 3B1
TEL 416.968.3333 FAX 416.968.0325