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Family law charity helping abuse victims recognized by OBA, LSO

Legal director Pamela Cross’s body of work lauded
|Written By Anita Balakrishnan
Family law charity helping abuse victims recognized by OBA, LSO
Pamela Cross, legal director of Luke's Place, won the LSO’s Laura Legge Award.

Luke’s Place, a non-profit in Ontario’s Durham Region that helps train lawyers to work with clients leaving abusive relationships, was recognized with annual awards from both the Law Society of Ontario and the Ontario Bar Association.

The LSO announced on March 13 that it will hand out its five prizes at its annual awards ceremony on May 22 at Osgoode Hall in Toronto. Pamela Crosslegal director of Luke's Placewon the Laura Legge Award, which recognizes “women lawyers from Ontario who have exemplified leadership within the profession,” the LSO said on its website.

The OBA, which will hand out its award at a reception in Toronto on April 17, announced recipients of seven different awards on March 13. Luke's Place won the OBA Foundation Award for “exceptional contributions to the improvement of the justice system through public legal education, innovative research or other means.” 

Luke’s Place — named for a boy who was killed by his father on a court-allowed unsupervised access visit despite the mother’s opposition — says its mission is “improving the safety and experience of abused women and their children as they proceed through the family law process.”

Cross says the recent recognition of Luke’s Place speaks to an increasing understanding that the family law system is very difficult to manage for women who try to leave abusive relationships.

Women who come to Luke’s Place work with legal support workers, and the non-profit also works with a team of pro bono lawyers who provide help one day a week, says Cross. Luke’s Place also provides an online course for Ontario lawyers to understand the dynamics of family violence, and Cross is working with the Department of Justice to implement a similar course at the national level. There is also a virtual legal clinic at Luke’s Place to connect women to lawyers across the province.

“Although our work started out as direct service for women, increasingly, our work has moved in the direction of supporting and assisting lawyers who want to work with those clients,” says Cross.

In addition to her work at Luke’s Place, the Laura Legge Award also recognizes Cross’ other work, which includes training judges, working with shelters across the country and co-chairing Ontario’s Violence Against Women Roundtable. 

“To me, one of the things that is important in terms of both of these awards is to reflect back on where this work is rooted. The work is rooted in the experiences of women who have been subjected to violence and the women who have had the courage to say, ‘No more, that’s enough. I’m out of here.’ Those women are not only the reason for our work but they are also the inspiration for the work that we do. It can sometimes become tiring doing this work. It can become discouraging. But every time I start to lose my spirit for doing the work . . . I think, ‘You had the courage to leave. You had the courage to and turn to the law, and say I expect the law to give me what I need’ and the least I can do is support those women in the journeys they are making.’”