An experienced, tireless advocate for women’s rights and social justice, Joanna Birenbaum is a leading lawyer in the area of sexualized violence and civil sexual assault.
A respected litigator, Joanna’s varied practice includes employment law, professional discipline and regulation, defamation, civil sexual assault and other personal injury claims, constitutional test-case litigation and sexual history and private records applications on behalf of complainants in criminal proceedings. She defends sexual violence survivors and organizations that support them in malicious prosecution and defamation claims. Joanna’s practice has also included Aboriginal and treaty rights litigation and policy development, training and advocacy promoting access to justice for marginalized groups.
Joanna advises institutions and employers on sexual violence policies and procedures and conducts human rights and workplace investigations.
In recognition of her substantial contribution to the legal community, the Women’s Law Association of Ontario presented Joanna with their 2021 President’s Award.
Joanna has appeared at all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada on numerous occasions. Her Supreme Court record includes intervening on behalf of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in cases involving sexual consent, defamation and anti-slapp (strategic lawsuits against public participation) law, and complainant privacy rights. She was counsel to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in its efforts to preserve the history of residential school abuses. As the legal director of LEAF (Legal Education and Action Fund), Joanna appeared before the Supreme Court in constitutional equality rights cases. Joanna’s Supreme Court advocacy also includes interventions on behalf of national disability rights organizations.
Joanna has represented public interest organizations at commissions of inquiry, as counsel for the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control at the Mass Casualty Commission, Nova Scotia (2022/2023).
Joanna has published on sexual violence and other social justice issues. She is co-author of Achieving Fairness: A Guide to Campus Sexual Violence Complaints (Thomson Reuters, 2020). She is a frequent guest speaker and lecturer. She served as a McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellow and an adjunct professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School teaching gender, equality and the law.
In addition to her private practice, Joanna is Director of Capacity Building for the Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Law Response (CCLISAR www.cclisar.ca). Through CCLISAR, Joanna has chaired four independent expert reviews of university sexual violence policies and practices at institutions in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Decisions of Interest
R. v. Kirkpatrick, 2022 SCC 33
- In the latest in a series of Supreme Court appearances representing the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, Joanna helped persuade the court to recognize that there is no consent in law to sex in cases of non-consensual condom resistance or removal (“stealthing”).
- Also on behalf of the Schlifer Clinic, Joanna pushed for the progressive development of anti-slapp legislation, to protect disclosures and reports of sexualized violence and other forms of discrimination and harassment.
Fontaine v. Canada, 2017 SCC 47
- As counsel for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), Joanna argued for the confidential and respectful preservation of claims records of former residential school students, compiled under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement claims adjudication process.
R. v. Nur; R. v. Charles, 2015 SCC 15
- As counsel for the Canadian Association for Community Living, Joanna intervened in a Supreme Court proceeding involving a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge to mandatory minimum sentencing.