Passing of Dianne Pothier, VPS Founder, Advisor and legal counsel to CACL
Inclusion Alberta sadly acknowledges the passing of Dianne Pothier, Vulnerable Persons Standard (VPS) Founder and legal counsel to the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD).
To understand the sense of loss and contribution of Dianne please see the acknowledgements below from Michael Bach, Executive Vice-President, CACL and the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University.
“It is with such a profound sense of loss and sadness that I share the news of the sudden and unexpected passing of Dianne Pothier. We have just learned of this news today, and understand she passed peacefully in her sleep. I wish my first message of 2017 could have been cheerier.
Dianne was instrumental in helping to draft the Vulnerable Persons Standard. Catherine Frazee and I reached out to her last January as we started to design the VPS and consider the legal and ethical arguments for robust safeguards. As you will see in the note below from the Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law where Dianne taught for a number of years, she brought a keen mind, brilliant insight and analysis, and prodigious publication. As Canada’s leading disability rights scholar she leaves an immense and invaluable legacy for disability rights legal theory and practice. With those gifts she generously responded to Catherine’s and my request to help us think through how to articulate and advance a legal and constitutional case for robust safeguards for medical assistance in dying. In our first outreach to her she agreed to help us, and then was always available from that moment forward. I could send her a question late at night and would hear back shortly if the answer was straightforward, or a brief note to say she would do the research and get back, often in the wee hours. She spent hours and hours on the phone with us working through arguments, and then drafting background analysis. She travelled with me to Ottawa numerous times, presenting to the Minister’s office, at press conferences we convened, at Parliamentary Committees, and to numerous Senators when she, Catherine and I put a final push on last May. She wrote Op Eds articulating a constitutional analysis to justify robust safeguards and the case for restricting access to end of life situations, and a landmark paper on the constitutionality of our position that has been widely published and circulated in the past months. Most recently, she joined us at the Presidents and EDs/CEOs meeting in Ottawa in early December to talk us through the legal analysis for the intervention in the Julia Lamb case.
I can’t put into words the depth of my gratitude for what she did, and the legacy she has left for our movement; for her completely voluntary contribution to our cause in the past year, and to the decades of her prior contribution. She listened so deeply to our concerns about people with intellectual disabilities in a system for medically-assisted death, and about the consequences of this system for entrenching devaluing perspectives, for putting at such risk the tentative headway we have made in nurturing a culture and ethic of inclusion and belonging. The last pieces she prepared for us on the legal case, helping to craft our factum late into December, I think mark a breakthrough in legal argument in particular about how Charter obligations to equality of historically disadvantaged and vulnerable groups must temper claims of autonomy in medical assistance in dying.
We have lost a passionate, brilliant, caring friend to our movement. I was honoured to get to know her this past year, found her wicked sense of humour a salve on tough days, and found such hope in the legal and social horizons she envisioned. What she crafted for us will stand us in such good stead for many years to come. What a gift indeed.
“To our Law School Community,
It is with sadness that I write to share the news of Dianne Pothier’s death.
Dianne graduated from Dalhousie Law School in 1982 having won almost every academic prize available, including the University Medal in Law. She clerked with Justice R.G. Brian Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada, then served as Senior Advisory Counsel to the Chair of the Canada Labour Relations Board. We are fortunate that she agreed to join the faculty in 1986.
As a faculty member, Dianne made leading contributions in her teaching and research to constitutional law, labour law, and public law. Dianne was famed for her doctrinal precision. She redesigned both public and constitutional law and enhanced their substantive content immeasurably. We are recognized as one of the leading, if not the leading, program in these areas in the country, in no small part due to her efforts.
Dianne built an enviable publication record. To give just one example, her article “Connecting Grounds of Discrimination to Real People’s Real Experiences” has been cited in almost every subsequent article on equality law. She combined compelling personal narrative and incisive legal analysis in ways that elucidate and challenge.
In addition to her contributions to constitutional law, labour law, and public law, Dianne was Canada’s leading legal scholar and activist on disability and the law. Her work on the concepts of equality, the duty to accommodate, and dis-citizenship have been drawn upon by scholars across the country and have had policy resonance in legislatures and courts. Dianne also co-chaired a set of 16 presentations by emerging and established scholars on Critical Disability Theory. Those presentations became the basis for a collection of essays published by UBC Press – one of the first book-length contributions on the subject in Canada.
Dianne was a community activist. She played cornerstone roles with many equality groups, including the DisAbled Women’s Network, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, the Canadian Disability Studies Association, the Equality Panel of the Court Challenges Program of Canada, and the Canadian Association for Community Living.
Retirement provided Dianne with more time for that critical work. She modeled the Weldon tradition: she was active in defending Bill C-14’s limitation to those whose death is reasonably foreseeable, she argued publicly and in writing in favour of the NSBS position on TWU, and she was fiercely committed to the work DLAS and NSLA are undertaking on the Emerald Hall human rights complaint, which is focused on the lack of supportive housing for disabled persons and the right to live in the community on equal terms with others. Ever and always connected to the faculty, last term she taught classes in both the grad seminar and public law and attended almost every faculty seminar and major lecture.
Dianne was recognized with the Frances Fish Women Lawyers’ Achievement Award, the CBA President’s Award, and our Bertha Wilson Honour Society.
I know that many of you will feel our loss of Dianne keenly. In the coming days, there will be opportunities to remember her many contributions and to celebrate her exemplary life.
Weldon Professor of Law
Schulich School of Law