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Mental Health: We Have Come a Long Way, But Are We There Yet?

Friday, April 12, 2024

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The state of our mental health affects how we move through life and experience the world every day. It touches not only on our relationship with ourselves, but also with our family, friends, and colleagues.

A significant portion of our society spends most of their day at work. Structural and interpersonal barriers create challenges on the path to mental health in the workplace, which means that despite best efforts, it is not always easy or possible to leave our internal struggles at home. In recent years, there has been increasing discourse and action taken to promote mental health in the workplace, which leads to the question: have we done enough, yet?

Join the Honourable Michelle O’Bonsawin, a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, as she opens up a conversation about mental health in the workplace. Drawing on years of experience as General Counsel for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, she discusses the progress made so far and offers solutions on the pathway forward.

headshot of Hon. Michelle O'Bonsawin

Hon. Michelle O'Bonsawin

Puisne Justice, Supreme Court of Canada

The Honourable Michelle O’Bonsawin is a widely respected member of Canada’s legal community with a distinguished career spanning over 20 years.

Justice O’Bonsawin was appointed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa in 2017. Prior to her appointment, she was General Counsel for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group for eight years. In this role, she developed a thorough understanding of legal issues related to mental health and performed significant research regarding the use of Gladue principles in the forensic mental health system, appearing before various administrative tribunals and levels of courts, including the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Consent and Capacity Board, the Ontario Review Board, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice, and the Ontario Court of Appeal. She began her legal career with the legal services at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was then Counsel with Canada Post, specializing in labour and employment law, human rights, and privacy law.

Justice O’Bonsawin has taught Indigenous law at the University of Ottawa’s Common Law Program and was previously responsible for the Indigenous Relations Program at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. She is a frequent guest speaker on Gladue principles, Indigenous issues, as well as mental health, labour, and privacy law. Justice O’Bonsawin is also the author of various publications such as: Access to Justice and Gladue Reports: We All Have a Role to Play in Lawyer’s Daily (2020); A Principled Approach: Applying Gladue Principles at the Ontario Review Board in the National Judicial Institute Indigenous Law Subject Collection (2018); Canada’s Bill C-14 [NCR] A Knee Jerk Reaction to Sensationalized Not Criminally Responsible Cases in the Canadian Criminal Law Review (2016); Mental Health Checklist: A Guide for Members of the Judiciary (2016).

Justice O’Bonsawin previously served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ottawa, as well as its Executive Committee, and as a Board member for the Aboriginal Legal Services of the University of Ottawa Legal Aid Clinic. She was an observer member of the Membership Committee of Odanak First Nation and a Board member of the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice. She is currently a Partner Judge for Afghanistan Women Judges with the International Association of Women Judges.

Justice O’Bonsawin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Laurentian University, a Bachelor of Law from the University of Ottawa, a Master of Law from Osgoode Hall Law School, and a Doctorate in Law from the University of Ottawa.

Born in Hanmer, Ontario, a small Francophone town near Sudbury, she now resides in Ottawa with her family. A fluently bilingual Franco-Ontarian, Justice O’Bonsawin is an Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation.

She was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on September 1, 2022.

headshot of Atrisha Lewis

Atrisha Lewis

Law Society of Ontario, Bencher, Director, Empire Club of Canada

Atrisha Lewis is a Partner in McCarthy Tétrault’s Litigation Group in Toronto. She has a practice focused on commercial disputes and securities related litigation, professional liability and product liability matters. Atrisha represents clients in the insurance, financial services and technology sectors. Atrisha also assists clients with their most complex and sensitive problems by conducting internal investigations. Atrisha has argued before all levels of Court. In 2019, Atrisha was elected as bencher of the Law Society of Ontario.

Atrisha has consistently demonstrated her commitment to leadership in the legal profession. In 2021, she was recognized with the Globe and Mail’s “Changemakers” award. In 2020, she was awarded the Women in Law Leadership’s “Stronger Together Award” as well as the University of Toronto’s Wilson Prichard award for outstanding contribution to the legal profession. In 2019, she was recognized as one of Lexpert’s Rising Stars: Leading Lawyer Under 40. In 2018, she was recognized as a “Precedent Setter” by Precedent Magazine and was awarded an Arbour Award in recognition of her outstanding volunteer contribution to the University of Toronto. In her role as Bencher of the Law Society of Ontario, Atrisha is the Chair of the Professional Development & Competence Committee. Atrisha is the Ontario representative for the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

Atrisha obtained her JD with honours from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law in 2012. Upon graduation from law school, she was recognized with the Dean’s Key award. She also obtained a Bachelors of Commerce with Great Distinction at McGill University in 2009, where she concentrated in Accounting.