Standing up for Social Justice
Written by Kelsey Lovell
It was when her STS Middle School math teacher, Mr. Koning, told her that he envisioned her becoming a judge and fighting for disadvantaged children that Shaun O’Brien '90 discovered her dream.
“I look back on it often and think ‘it’s not that far off actually’,” said Shaun, who is now a lawyer in Toronto focusing on social justice.
“I’ve always been interested in advocating for other people and had a concern for social justice, a concern for vulnerable groups, and a concern for equality,” explained Shaun.
The mother of three children aged 12 and under works on cases that involve human rights violations, often with a workplace and employee-rights focus. Shaun also represents vulnerable populations, such as victims of domestic violence, and pursues and advocates for their rights – sometimes against the government or larger corporate bodies.
Shaun attended STS for Grades 7 to 12, alongside her brother Matthew '89, and sister Tara '87. She went on to Queen’s University for her undergraduate degree and then law school at the University of Toronto, where she graduated in 1998.
“I felt very supported, and encouraged to feel capable and confident, because of my time at STS. In the work we do you need to be able to push forward on something when there’s a barrier,” Shaun said.
Shaun recently brought a challenge against the federal government after legislation to minimize gun control and repeal the long-gun registry. She acted on behalf of women who experienced serious domestic violence because of that type of gun – one of the primary weapons used against woman in spousal homicide, she explained.
Shaun is also currently working on a case appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada involving the voting rights of over a million Canadian citizens currently living abroad. She has been contacted by Canadians around the world sharing how important this issue is to them and how passionately they feel about their country and their right to vote.
“Bringing about change, gaining momentum, and creating a movement is not a straight line. There’s going to be ups and downs, there’s going to be steps forward and steps back so I think it’s a lot of persistence and dedication to working hard and working together,” said Shaun.
This emphasis on team work was instilled during her time at STS and she credits the Outdoor Education (OE) program and close-knit community as fundamental in that. Her experiences on OE trips taught her that getting through challenging situations is easier when you’re together with like-minded people. Shaun remains an avid and active outdoorswoman and gives her children the same opportunities she had by sending them to outdoor camps. “Those are the stories that go on and on. You really remember them and tell others,” she said.