Written by Helena Kaufman
Frances Margaret Gordon was a good ESL teacher when she began her working life in Montreal. Soon, however, she was swept up in the developments and opportunities that characterized her times. She changed herMontreal.career and even the cities she lived in. All the while she followed the great heart she had for social services and social justice but knew her goals would come together once she also put her mind to law.
“The term social justice had not yet been formed, and the way into the work I wanted to do in developing social policy was through the practice of criminal law,” says Gordon. “In this particular arena we see most clearly what our society values, whether it be crimes against the person or property.”
Her personal road map took Gordon to all corners of Canada and the territories as well as round the world. From her home family home in Medicine Hat, Alberta, where she credits her parent’s subtle direction and discussions with her two sisters for opening all possibilities to Montreal to pursue an education degree, Gordon landed at the University of Calgary Law School. There she left oil country concerns to her classmates and chose to pursue work in human rights in Vancouver.
To date, Frances Gordon’s professional profile lists her as criminal and environmental law prosecutor; international criminal law and policy consultant; human rights tribunal chair and adjudicator; senior manager in the provincial criminal justice system; teacher and trainer; barrister and solicitor and member of the British Columbia Bar in good standing. Gordon has never lost sight of her passion for social justice and for bridging the gaps for people and between countries. This drive found expression in every aspect of her studies and then work.
Her sense of adventure and boundless curiosity carried her through it all. “I am most alive dealing with social issues and engaging with others,” says Gordon. Her contribution was further encouraged after a talk given by the first woman on the Supreme Court. Madame Justice Bertha Wilson spoke of the divergent and convergent thoughts women bring to their work. “It was about our individual contributions. How men are both similar and different in their thinking,” says Gordon of the ground breaking ideas entering circulation.”
“There’s been a revolution in the past 15-20 years in the area I began in – dealing with sexual crimes. The law now considers sociology, psychology, and support for people, private rooms for vulnerable witnesses. This is all new and very useful in helping people share and deal with the details that affect them.” Frances interpreted this as a need to address other conditions in the court, and the world aside from the strict facts. She was destined to take her particular disciplines to the world stage. “The times also brought interesting social movement and they encouraged the opening up of foreign policy.”
Like most Canadians, she was inspired by Lester Pearson, Canada’s first Prime Minister to impact international law and peace initiatives. Later she contributed professionally based on the hand Lloyd Axworthy had in establishing an international criminal court by engaging and pushing other countries. Under Axworthy, Canada sought more funding and a higher profile and encouraged bi-lateral aid.
Of all the feathers in Gordon’s cap, she is most interested in talking about her participation in bringing the Rome Statute into reality. “108 countries ratified the Rome Statute. Their signature affirmed a revolutionary situation. It meant they gave up a bit of sovereignty to a group situation pursuing justice. Actions are monitored and cases not proceeding properly could be taken away to be handled by others. Reparations were considered.”