A conversation on social justice at the Central Library

The Hate Speech, Freedom of Expression, and Transgender Human Rights speaking event by human rights lawyer, Adrienne Smith, was scheduled to take place at the Central library but is now posponed.

Yet, here are their words.

Working for others

Adrienne Smith, human rights lawyer. |

Smith, a Vancouver native, is a fixture in the transgender rights community and has been involved in many important human rights cases within British Columbia. Their cases involve transgender human rights as well as drug policy. Smith settled a Supreme Court Case in BC that guaranteed opiate replacement therapy for prisoners. They also tirelessly argued against mandatory minimum sentences for women, Indigenous people, and drug users.

From a young age, Smith knew that they wanted to be an advocate for others, understanding the importance of this work early on.

“My parents raised me with a strong moral compass,” says Smith, “People further from justice should be supported to move closer to it. Hoarding of anything is wrong, especially wealth and power, and we are strongest when we take collective action. I owe them for instilling me with these values, and I owe the labour movement for training me to turn my principles into action.”

Smith did not choose law right away. They went to the University of Colombia (UBC), earning a English degree before going on to get a Masters in geography. Smith eventually found their way to law school and their calling as a human rights advocate soon became their life’s work.

Rights for all

Smith feels that the recognition of people in the QTIBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indienous people of colour) community has increased, but the way in which the law works for these people is still lagging behind.

“In the area of human rights, it still comes down to an adversarial system where an aggrieved person has to take on the task of enforcing their rights against a party that is usually institutional and more powerful,” says Smith, “There is a real shortage of legal aid and affordable support for people in this area, and this means unrepresented folks have to draft, file, and often appear on their own behalf.”

There is an imbalance of power for marginalized people trying to fight for their own human rights and Smith hopes to change this power balance with every case they take on. Smith tries to take on as many pro-bono cases as they can in order to make sure that everyone has a chance to seek legal counsel.

“I have the rare privilege to be able to avoid cases I don’t feel invest in,” says Smith, “And obviously I foreground cases for transgender people, people who use drugs and prisoners, because their situations are often dire and there is rarely someone else who can help them. I’m also really terrible at saying no, so my pro bono caseload is usually pretty full.”

Keeping an open mind

With the current pandemic situation affecting public gatherings, Smith’s event at the Central Library has been postponed, but they plan to provide the audience with information about laws within Canada when their talk is rescheduled. They would like the audience to keep an open mind in order to understand that Canada still has its fair share of free speech issues.

“The law can be intimidating for lots of people, especially if they didn’t grow up with a lawyer in the family. I want people to understand that free speech is not an unlimited right in Canada. There are some important limitations on expression which are often misrepresented in regular conversation,” says Smith.

Smith has always had a knack for the spoken word and hopes that their public speaking can help people better understand the QTIBIPOC community and the struggles they still face every day. They hope to use thisr platform for good and leave change in their wake.

“I’d like readers to know it is still unusual for transgender people to be able to be out as trans in the world if they want to be,” says Smith, “I have a huge amount of social privilege –
as a documented anglophone white settler, as a lawyer. Not all trans people can do this, especially trans feminine people, and trans people of colour and those doing sex work. As a society we have a lot more work to do.”

For more information, visit vpl.bibliocommons.com/events/