Lisa and mom Eleanor, in a photo taken this past June, enjoying ‘the best frites’ in the national capital region. (Supplied photo)
By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
OTTAWA and WELLAND – I thought I might get away with something like ‘Lisa Addario is in her Ottawa office, basking in the limelight of receiving a major award from the Canadian Bar Association (CBA).’ But then, after speaking with her by telephone, I realized Lisa Addario isn’t the basking type.
Still, there is the warm glow of the weekend just past, a weekend when family and friends watched as she was presented the Touchstone Award in recognition of her trailblazing work advancing human rights particularly in the workplace.
Addario, senior counsel with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, received the award Saturday during the CBA Mid-Winter Meeting. Several other awards were also presented.
She is the daughter of Eleanor, who was present at the ceremony, and the late Frank Addario.
Her children Amos, 21 and Rosa, 19 were there as were her two brothers.
CENTENNIAL SECONDARY SCHOOL GRAD
In her hometown for which she retains enduring fondness, Addario, 54, attended St. Kevin Catholic elementary school and Centennial Secondary School from where she graduated in 1979. She then went to University of Western Ontario, London and after that Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto.
While in high school, she knew she wanted to become a lawyer. The 1979 edition of Centennial’s yearbook provides, among other things, a quote about her career choice alongside her photo.
She is still working on the bilingual part, she added in the phone conversation.
I asked Addario: Why law? Her reason was noble, not grandiose: Because to her, law was a vehicle for working for social justice, she said.
She has been with PSAC since 2003. It has about 180,000 members, 110,000 of them federal government employees. Before that were other career stops including: Crown Attorney prosecuting health and safety violations for the Province of Ontario, National Association of Women and the Law and National Associations Active in Criminal Justice.
TIES THAT BIND
Roots and family matter to Addario, who is one of six siblings.
Her father, a long-time educator, was principal of Welland High and Vocational School from 1964-1969 and then a superintendent with the Niagara South Board of Education until his retirement. He passed in February, 2014, aged 92.
“He was a dedicated educator and a priority was seeing his children get a post-secondary education,” Addario recalled, adding how she wished he could have been there Saturday, how it would have been “so gratifying” for him to see this honor bestowed by her peers.
A bona fide Welland girl, Addario returns home on occasion to be with her mother. In the fall she was here for two months while she took leave from work to take part in then-MP Malcolm Allen’s re-election campaign.
‘A WARMTH TO WELLAND’
“When I came to Welland in the fall, I was reminded how comfortable I felt with the people. I was delighted to discover that there is still a warmth to Welland like nowhere else. It is so nice, and I mean that.” A few moments later she added: “I always look for an excuse to come to Welland.”
There are three lawyers in this family: Addario and her two brothers, Frank and Martin. Martin was present for Saturday’s awards ceremony, he “escorted my mother”, Addario said. Frank arrived a little later.
Minutes after our phone conversation, I called Eleanor who was in her Welland home.
She was honored to have been in Ottawa and very, very proud of her daughter and her achievements, and how she had missed her husband’s presence but carried him in her heart, she said. Ever the consummate mom, she made sure to reference Frank’s and Martin’s attendance and how important it was for two brothers to be there in support of “their sister.”
Then she added: “We just don’t know what this wonderful little girl will do next.”
‘COMMITMENT TO EQUALITY RIGHTS’
What is the significance of Lisa Addario’s life’s work to date? The Canadian Bar Association issued a press release that explained why she was chosen for the Touchstone Award, and parts should be cited so it is known here in the community from which she hails.
In it, Mark L. Berlin, chair of the CBA’s Equality Committee says: “Lisa Addario’s work with PSAC to advance gender equality and the rights of persons with disabilities on a national basis has had a widespread and lasting impact on the state of human rights in the workplace.
“Lisa Addario’s efforts in litigating important equality issues, her work with the International Labour Organization, and her participation in the human rights certification program at Osgoode Hall are further examples of her commitment to equality rights in this country.”
Addario is described as a trailblazer in advancing human rights. The news release says she has increased education and awareness around disability, family status, sexual violence and sexual harassment in the workplace at PSAC and in the broader labour movement.
“She is best known for her efforts in Johnstone v. Canada Border Services Agency, a landmark case on the accommodation of family obligations in the workplace. She successfully highlighted the real difficulties faced by workers seeking to find childcare that fits with difficult work schedules.”
So I asked Addario how she felt about being the 2016 Touchstone Award recipient. She was “extremely honored” by the recognition given her, particularly in view of previous recipients of this award and their respective contributions to the law.
But above that, Addario views her selection as acknowledgement and endorsement of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s priorities for advancing equality and justice in the workplace and its other social justice causes. And that’s Lisa Addario, definitely not one for basking in the limelight of personal accomplishment.
(SNAPSHOT appears on the blog from time to time.)