More than 70,000 eviction lawyers in Ontario are working on behalf of tenants, and that includes a lot of women.
Now the city is asking for help with the gender gap, and it wants a few more.
A new online petition is calling on the province to grant full gender parity in the profession, as well as providing funding to hire more women to represent tenants.
“I think we need to be doing more,” said lawyer Mary Ann Mehta.
“We are so much further behind than our male counterparts.
We need to do something.
We have a long way to go.”
The petition is seeking the province and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to grant gender parity to all eviction lawyers, with gender-specific guidelines for the position.
It also calls on the city to offer a full gender equity fund, and to hire an additional female lawyer to represent the same number of tenants as the current representation team.
Mehta said there are many women who represent people in crisis, but they have very limited access to funding.
“There are a lot more women who are in the legal profession who are not represented by a male lawyer,” she said.
The city says it’s looking for an extra woman to represent 2,000 tenants in Toronto, and a few months ago the province announced a $2 million gender-inclusive funding commitment for new lawyers.
The city also announced a pilot project for a “female-only” legal aid team, which will be used to offer legal assistance to people in a crisis who are male.
Mehtas said the province needs to start giving women the same opportunity as men.
It also wants to create a national gender equity program, and have a quota system for lawyers to represent men and women in the same roles.
Currently, a woman can represent a single tenant in a case, but a woman cannot represent more than one person at a time.
An example of a tenant in crisis who needs legal help is a woman who needs to move out of a rental property, because she is having an emotional breakdown, said Mehtas.
She said that is an example of how many people in this situation may not be represented by the same legal team.
The petition also asks the province, the Ontario human rights tribunal and the provincial government to establish a Gender-inclusivity Council, and for the province’s director of housing, MaryAnn Mihailovici, to create an office to advise the province on gender equity issues.
“This is not an easy issue to tackle, and I hope that this will be a catalyst for a change in policy and policy-making,” said Mehtar.
In addition to a gender-blind system, the city’s petition also calls for a gender equity budget, which would fund a new legal team to represent female tenants.
The mayor of Toronto said she’s looking forward to the discussion, but has some reservations about the petition’s recommendations.
“It is absolutely a challenge to have a team of lawyers and a team that is fully women-included,” said Mayor John Tory.
“The challenge is, if you want to get this done, you have to be inclusive of everyone.”
The city has made gender-neutral housing one of its priorities in the past, and has recently introduced a new policy that aims to make housing more inclusive for all tenants.
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