Hester Lessard

Hester Lessard


* Professor at the University of Victoria School of Law
* Teaches classes in “Feminist Legal Theory” and “Equality, Human Rights, and Social Justice”

Hester Lessard is a professor at the University of Victoria School of Law in British Columbia, Canada. The former editor of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, she received her Bachelor of Laws degree from Dalhousie University and her Master of Laws from Columbia University. She spent two years as associate-at-law at Columbia University and one year as a legal consultant for the Canada Labour Relations Board.

According to the University of Victoria website, Lessard’s research interests include “feminist critiques of constitutional rights, the role of rights under neo liberalism, the treatment of family law issues under the Charter, campus sexual harassment policies, human rights and women-only spaces, and the turn to constitutional and human rights discourses by social movements seeking progressive social change.”

The product of Lessard’s research is no less political. In 1998, along with several other leading Canadian feminists, she worked on a study of society’s resistance to feminist endeavors to shape law and society. The investigators held that “in order to develop new strategies in law and policy, feminists must first address the question of how the privileged are able to render invisible the structural inequality of most Canadian women and deconstruct the views of men and women who represent feminism as the enemy of freedom.” Axiomatic to this view is the belief that women are systematically oppressed.

Lessard’s publication record focuses heavily on feminist issues. Her law journal articles include “Relationship, Particularity, and Change: Reflections on R.v. Morgentaler and Feminist Approaches to Liberty” (McGill Law Journal); and “The Empire of the Lone Mother: Parental Rights, Child Welfare Law and State Restructuring” (Osgoode Hall Law Journal). Book reviews she has written include commentaries on Law as a Gendering Practice; Abortion, Conscience and Democracy; and Feminist Legal Theory.

Lessard currently has two works in progress: “Academic Equity, Anti-Harassment Policies, and Backlash”; and “The Culture of Gender: A Study of Equality Challenges to Women-Only Spaces.”

Professor Lessard teaches courses titled “Constitutional Law”; “Law, Legislation and Policy”; “Equality, Human Rights and Social Justice”; “Feminist Legal Theories”; and “Legal Process.”

On the UV website, “Feminist Legal Theories” is described as follows: “This seminar explores critiques of law and legal reasoning from several feminist perspectives. Topics which are examined include feminist critiques of liberal legal theory, anti-racist feminism and legal analysis, feminist epistemologies and legal reasoning, and feminist theories regarding women’s relationships to law and to the state.” The syllabus for this class reveals that its instruction is founded upon the premise that women – particularly minorities – face constant social discrimination and oppression. The course examines “exclusion and silencing, in particular with regard to women of color, lesbian women, and women who do not share many of the social and class privileges that typify those at the forefront of feminist legal activism.” An advocate of big government, Lessard also makes clear her displeasure regarding “the cuts to social welfare programs and the impact on poor women.”

Adds Lessard, “[In this class] we will start with a chapter on radical feminist challenges to liberalism. Radical feminism has been dominant in both the activist and academic realms. Most of you will be familiar with the basic claims of radical feminism. The point . . . is to start thinking about how radical feminist frameworks intersect with law and law-based strategies for social change.”

The syllabus of “Equality, Human Rights, and Social Justice” indicates that this course examines “struggles by equity-seeking groups and individuals for social justice in Canada.” Among these are “anti-racist struggles, the disability rights movement, women’s demands for sexual equality, the anti-poverty movement and the role of human rights law in responding to discrimination against transgendered persons.”

On RateMyProfessors.com, a website that allows students to evaluate their professors, Lessard receives mediocre ratings. Of a maximum of 5 points, she scores 2.8 in average helpfulness, 2.2 in average clarity, and 2.5 overall.

In 2003, Lessard expressed disagreement with the ruling in a case that was tried in the Canada Supreme Court, where a father of triplets – Darrell Wayne Trociuk – had successfully challenged a law that gave mothers “ultimate control over acknowledgement of paternity on birth registrations and, as a consequence, over the surnaming of children”; in other words, the decision had struck a blow for fathers’ rights. Trociuk was not married to the mother of the children in question. In a November 2003 lecture, Lessard took the position that this ruling was a lamentable manifestation of societal biases in favor of male-female partnerships: “The Trociuk decision is a disheartening endorsement of formal conceptions of equality and of ‘biological’ conceptions of parenthood which naturalize an explicitly heterosexual and implicitly gendered familial unit. . . . [V]ital statistics law not only reflects the gendered, heterosexist and class dimensions of the state encapsulated in the neo-liberal privatization agenda but also, at particular historical junctures, has manifested its racial and colonialist dimensions as well.”

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