Born and raised in rural Manitoba, Canada, called to the Bar of Ontario, named a Member of the Order of Canada (1985) in recognition of her co-leadership in the successful campaign for stronger gender equality protections in the Canadian constitution and appointed to the Senate of Canada by Governor General David Johnston on the recommendation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016, Marilou McPhedran is a lawyer and educator who specialized in teaching and developing systemic and sustainable change mechanisms to promote equality and diversity, having co-founded several internationally recognized non-profit Canadian organizations, such as LEAF – the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, which has conducted constitutional equality test cases and interventions for 30-plus years, METRAC – the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, and the Gerstein Crisis Centre for homeless discharged psychiatric patients.
She founded the International Women’s Rights Project in 1998 and the Institute for International Women’s Rights at Global College in 2009 – based on her intergenerational models “evidence-based advocacy” and “lived rights”. When Chief Executive Officer of a Federal Centre of Excellence based at York University, Canada, she directed staff and programs that included a cyber research network on women’s health and rights.
She has developed human rights courses online and in the classroom and has chaired three independent inquiries into the sexual abuse of patients (1991-2015), co-investigated and co-authored applied research, including: the first international study to assess impact of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women in ten countries (1998-2000); What about accountability to the patient? (2001), the National Study on Rural, Remote and Northern Women’s Health in Canada (2001-2003); the textbook, Preventing Sexual Abuse: a Legal Guide for Health Care Professionals (2004); a strategy paper for Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Engendering the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Doctrine (2005); Women’s Constitutional Activism in South Africa and Canada (2009 International Review of Constitutionalism); 28-Helluva Lot to Lose in 27 Days: The Ad Hoc Committee and Women’s Constitutional Activism in the Era of Patriation (2015).
Her authorship includes: the 2006 National Journal of Constitutional Law article, Impact of S.15 equality rights on Canadian society: beacon or laser?; the 2007 Supreme Court Law Review article A Truer Story: Constitutional Trialogue; and the 2014 Michigan State Law Review article, Complements of CEDAW – U.S. foreign policy coherence on women’s human rights and human security.
A pioneer in research and advocacy to promote human rights through systemic reform in law, medicine, education, governance, she chaired the 2006 international Forum on Women’s Activism in Constitutional Reform, held the Ariel F. Sallows Chair in Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in 2007, and was Principal (Dean) of The University of Winnipeg Global College in Manitoba from June 2008 to July 2012, then served as the Human Rights Fellow in the UNFPA Geneva Liaison Office and taught as a Visiting Professor at the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica in 2012-13.
From 2008 to 2019, she was a tenured full professor at the University of Winnipeg. She was the founding director of the Institute for International Women’s Rights at Global College from 2009 to 2016 and the creator / director of the annual ‘Human Rights UniverCity’ summer institute based at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights from 2011 to 2018.