Monday, July 16

Celebrating Feminism: Feminist pioneer shaped Alberta law

Prominent members of Edmonton's Ukrainian and legal communities, feminist pioneers of the 1960s and '70s, human- rights campaigners and left- wing activists gathered yesterday for the funeral of a woman who changed the legal and social landscape of Alberta.

Halyna Chomiak Freeland also helped shape the legal code of modern-day Ukraine, her parents' homeland.

Born in 1946 in a displaced persons camp in Germany, Freeland became one of only seven women who earned law degrees from the University of Alberta in 1970 and the only one who brought her infant daughter to class - convention be damned.

In the early stages of her career, she practised in Peace River country and soon became involved with native issues while flying in and out of aboriginal communities.

In Edmonton, married to lawyer Donald Freeland, she practised criminal as well as family law. They had two daughters before divorcing.

As a single mother, Freeland helped found the Hromada (Community) Housing Co-op in Edmonton.

She lived there with her daughters for a number of years.

In 1979, Freeland played a pivotal role in lobbying the Alberta legislature to pass the Matrimonial Property Act, after a farm wife was denied a share of the family farm in a divorce. Under the laws at the time, the woman's homemaking and domestic duties were deemed to have contributed nothing to the value of the property. The new act changed that.

She was also a founder of a feminist book store and an activist in the New Democratic Party.
From 1981 to 1987, Freeland taught courses on Feminist Theory and Women and the Law at the University of Alberta.
From 1990 to 1992, she pursued a master's degree in Slavic and Eastern European Studies at the University of Alberta. In 1992, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk asked her to oversee an organization that would set up a legal structure to support his country's new democracy and market economy.
Last September, Freeland was diagnosed with cancer. She died on July 6 in New York City with her family at her side.

LINK: Obituary

People still talk about about Halyna Chomiak Freeland -- "the little communist" and the bane of middle-class, Anglo conservative males -- and how she mentored young feminists or plotted to change the world.

Strong opinions and beliefs were discussed at rowdy, high-energy meetings, often conducted in Ms. Freeland's home amidst piles of food and drink and marked by argument, good-natured barbs, laughter and song.

"Some of us were anarchists," recalls local writer Myrna Kostash. "Some were poets, some were potheads -- all trying to build an alternative community in an alternative way."

In 1988, she campaigned as the federal NDP candidate in the Strathcona riding, but by party standards she was far out on the left wing. In 1992, she won another nomination but it was taken away by the NDP's national headquarters, which said the constituency hadn't waited for party guidelines promoting the nomination of women.

Ms. Freeland's leftist leanings were a matter of controversy and jest for years. When the Law Society of Alberta celebrated its centenary, Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Jack Watson wrote an essay that described the attitude of prosecutors to "this very unusual person."

1 comment:

Alberta Senator said...

I knew Halyna in law school. She was every bit as feisty and committed to social justice as they say. I shall always remember her fondly as one of Alberta's outstanding leaders.