A pair of TRU Law students had the moment of a lifetime when they unexpectedly got to shake hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the recent historic federal apology to LGBTQ2 Canadians.
The students were attending a private viewing of the apology in a building adjacent to the House of Commons, where the Prime Minister was addressing members of the LGBTQ “purge” class action suit.
“After the apology, we were waiting around in the hall. My feet were tired, so we went and sat down in some chairs that happened to be near the podium,” explained third-year student Grace McDonell.
Incidentally, McDonell was in Ottawa with fellow student Lauren Coles to intervene in a Supreme Court of Canada case against Trinity Western University’s proposed law school on behalf of the TRU Outlaws student club.
“Out popped Trudeau from behind the stage. He jumped down and started to shake hands with people in the first row – which was where we were. We weren’t necessarily supposed to be there, but it gave us the opportunity to thank him,” she added.
“He proceeded to address those at the reception, repeating the sentiment he shared in the official apology,” described Coles of the PM’s agenda in the private hall.
“I was touched by how much he cared. It was passionate and emotional. Our personal exchange with him meant a lot in the context of the apology.”
McDonell and Coles describe their interaction with the PM and the events that led up to it as serendipitous.
In the weeks leading up to the SCC hearing, McDonell had been contacted by West Vancouver MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (she had previously volunteered for the MP) who wished to set up a call to speak to the students about their perspectives on LGBTQ2 issues.
Goldsmith-Jones was specifically inquiring about their thoughts on the government’s past treatment of the LGBTQ2 community and ideas for moving forward as a nation.
The MP was gathering comments to pass along to her Edmonton counterpart MP Randy Boissonault, special advisor to the PM on LGBTQ2 issues.
“It seemed like Lauren and I were a part of something much larger,” said McDonell, noting that although an official apology was imminent, no date had been announced yet. They sensed the timing of their upcoming trip to Ottawa for the SCC case was not a coincidence.
So the students took the opportunity to check in with the TRU Pride Association and the Kamloops Pride Association, wanting to include broad local feedback for Goldsmith-Jones.
“We then got word that the apology was scheduled for Nov. 28. (two days before the SCC case was scheduled) and that she wanted to introduce us to Randy Boissonault in Ottawa that day. We changed our flights and booked a hotel,” said McDonell.
The pair settled back down in Kamloops for exams following their whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital and say that while it will be months for the SCC decision to come down, they are hopeful. However, they say their biggest takeaways from the entire experience go beyond the case.
“The response we received from our peers, faculty and community was so encouraging. So many of our fellow classmates watched the livestream (of the case). The whole law school seemed to have a stake in it,” said McDonell.
“And watching the young, confident female lawyers who were part of the case was inspiring. It’s about seeing yourself there. It all reminded me that everyone has a place in the legal profession, and at TRU Law,” she added.
As for the future, McDonell and Coles found out just before their trip east that they will each be awarded the Law Foundation of British Columbia’s Public Interest Scholarship, valued at $5,000 apiece. They will officially receive the award at the TRU Law spring awards ceremony.