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Marilou McPhedran is a Canadian feminist lawyer, consultant and activist. Born and raised in Neepawa, Manitoba, McPhedran attended the University of Winnipeg from 1969 to 1972, where she was president of the University of Winnipeg Student Association. She then attended the University of Toronto in 1972-1973, graduating with a BA in 1973. That same year, she enrolled at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School and graduated with a LL.B. in 1976. In 1992, McPhedran was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Winnipeg. She completed a LL.M. degree in Comparative Constitutional Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in 2004. After completing her LL.B., McPhedran worked as counsel and human rights consultant for the Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped from 1979 to 1981. During this period, she assisted with the Justin Clarke case and helped to organize the first National Conference on Law and the Handicapped. From 1981 to 1985, she was employed as health advocate and counsel for the City of Toronto, where she served as member of the Metro Toronto Task Force on Public Violence against Women and Children and as a coordinator of the Action Task Force on Discharged Psychiatric Patients. In 1981 and 1982, McPhedran was a volunteer member of and counsel to the Ad Hoc Committee of Canadian Women on the Constitution, a group that successfully drafted a gender equality clause for the Canadian Constitution of Rights and Freedoms.
McPhedran's other volunteer and activist work included serving as co-founder of the Charter of Rights Education Fund in 1982-1983 and co-founder of the Women's Legal Education Action Fund (LEAF) in 1985, for which she also served as chair of LEAF Foundation and chair of the LEAF's National Board of Directors. In 1984, she co-founded and later served as chair of the Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children (METRAC), the first non-government organization in Canada dedicated to research and advocacy to counter violence against women and children. McPhedran was a founding board member and manager of the Gerstein Centre in 1989, an organization helping discharged psychiatric patients. From 1990 to 1991, McPhedran served as chair of the College of Physician and Surgeons' Independent Task Force on Sexual Abuse of Patients and, in 2000, she chaired a second task force on the same subject. She also worked as interim director of the Canadian Women's Foundation in 1990. Starting in 1988, McPhedran offered strategic counsel and legal consultancy under the name Law, Systems and Advocacy. Working as a consultant in the area of women's health, McPhedran held the position of corporate director of the City of Toronto's Healthy City office from 1991 to 1994 and for Women's College Hospital's Health Partnerships program from 1994 to 1996. She then served as a consultant for Friends of Women's College Hospital, Liberty Health, and Homewood Health Care between 1996 and 1998. From 2001 to 2003, McPhedran was executive coordinator of the National Network on Environments and Women's Health at York University.
In 1998, McPhedran became the founding director of the International Women's Rights Project (IWRP), located respectively at the Centre for Refugee Studies and the Centre for Feminist Research at York University. Her association with IWRP continued as co-director from 2003 to 2007, lasting through its 2003 relocation to the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria. She was employed in 2004 as an international consultant for Cowater International, hired to conduct a study and prepare a final report about the work of the Asian Development Bank's RETA 6008: Gender and Governance Issues in Local Government project. From 2003 to 2005, McPhedran was a volunteer member of the Program Advisory Committee of the Canadian Firearms Program. In addition to her volunteer and consultancy work, McPhedran has also worked as a writer and educator. Based on her experiences chairing task forces on the sexual abuse of patients and other advocacy work, McPhedran co-authored a textbook with Wendy Sutton titled "Preventing sexual abuse of patients : a legal guide for health professionals." She also served two terms, in 1994 and 2000, as Planner-in-Residence at the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo, where, in 2000, she taught a course titled "Building healthy communities : local to global human rights." Made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1985 for her work with the Ad Hoc Committee on the Constitution, McPhedran was also awarded a Canada 125 Medal for community service in 1992 and the Woman of the Year award from the B'nai Brith in 1993. She was the Women's Law Association of Ontario's Woman of the Year in 1997. In 2002, she was awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal, and she received the Governor General's Persons Case Medal in 2003. In January 2007, McPhedran became the Ariel F. Sallows Chair in Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan. From November 2007 to July 2008, she was the Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. McPhedran is currently the principal of the Global College at the University of Winnipeg.