Areas of Expertise

Mary Cornish has expertise in a wide-range of human rights justice and labour market areas. Governments and Institutions both in Canada and internationally have called on her to provide independent expert advice in these areas. Her scholarly writing, lectures and precedent setting cases have also made important contributions to human rights understandings and practice. These areas Include:  

  • human rights protection and reform

  • securing pay and employment equity

  • gender harassment and violence,

  • labour human rights and constitutional law; and

  • access to justice and dispute resolution.

Human Rights Protection and Reform

  • Chaired the 1992 Ontario Human Rights Code Review Task Force. Its report, Achieving Equality which recommended transformative changes to secure human rights was relied on by the Ontario Government as the basis for Ontario’s 2006 legislated human rights reforms.

  • Advised the federal Pay Equity Review Task Force on the domestic and international human rights obligations which should inform the design of a federal pay equity enforcement system. This advice was relied on in the 2004 Task Force Report, Pay Equity: A Fundamental Human Right.

Securing Labour Market Gender Equality

  • Advised the International Labour Organization (ILO) on steps to ensure the right of women to safe work.

  • Acted as a Senior Consultant to the World Bank on trade and gender equality and the legal empowerment of women in labour markets.

Securing Pay and Employment Equity

  • Advised the International Labour Organization (ILO) on ways to enforce ILO standards on equal pay for work of equal value and non discrimination in pay and employment.

  • Advised the New Zealand government and Federal and Yukon governments and on pay and employment equity implementation; and the Swedish government and the European Economic Community on effective pay equity laws.

  • Advised the Ontario Employment Equity Commissioner on effective enforcement of the now repealed Employment Equity Act.

  • Mary’s public service work included her co-founding in 1974 and chairing until 2016 the Equal Pay Coalition- a broad‐based civil society coalition which successfully lobbied for the implementation of Ontario's proactive pay equity laws and argued for systemic measures to end gender pay discrimination. 

Gender Harassment and Violence

  • Litigated early cases in Canada in the 1980’s establishing important principles in the area of sexual harassment.

  • Co-authored 1996 law journal article, “Changing the Workplace Culture- Effective Sexual Harassment Remedies” concerning the importance of addressing the structural gender economic inequalities and power imbalances in workplaces to help prevent gender harassment and violence.  

  • She won for Jane Doe, a woman attacked by a serial rapist, the right to sue the Metropolitan Toronto police force and the recognition that the Charter applies to ensure police forces act in a non‐discriminatory fashion.

Labour, Human Rights  and Constitutional Law  

In her litigation practice over 40 years, Cornish argued many precedent setting cases which established important labour, human rights and constitutional law principles in Canada.  These included:

  • The  1997 SEIU Charter Challenge which restored the pay equity rights of over 100,000 Ontario public sector women and the 2002 CUPE et al Charter Challenge which obtained up to $414 million government funding for these restored rights.

  • She won for the Association of Ontario Midwives an interim 2014 HRTO decision which established important principles with respect to understanding the dynamics of complaints of systemic gender discrimination in compensation and ensuring access to justice for those complaints.

  • She successfully  challenged under the Charter for Ontario Justices of Peace as discrimination on the basis of age an Ontario law which mandated their retirement at age 70.

Access to Justice and Dispute Resolution

  • Chaired the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators Service Equity Committee. Its 1994 report, Towards Service Equity made recommendations to ensure non‐discriminatory access to tribunals and regulatory bodies through service equity plans. This report is the basis for SOAR’s Service Equity Policy.

  • Advised the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the World Bank in Guatemala and Mexico initiatives on innovative dispute resolution mechanisms.

  • Advised the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario on the development of provincial accessibility standards for persons with disabilities.