By Keith Fraser for The Vancouver Sun
Patricia Mathilda Proudfoot, a trail-blazing judge who carved out a series of firsts as a female jurist in B.C., died on Oct. 9 at age 91.
She was the first woman to be appointed to the Criminal Division of the Provincial Court, the County Court of B.C. and the B.C. Supreme Court, and retired in 2001 at age 73 after serving on the B.C. Court of Appeal, the province’s highest court.
Appeal Court Justice Mary Newbury, a colleague of Proudfoot’s, said Tuesday that her friend was so approachable that she didn’t really have any problems as a “first woman” that she heard about.
“She was given a lot of assistance by the male judges who were on the court, the Supreme Court at that time. It wasn’t as if she had to kind of fight tooth and nail all the way up. She didn’t try to fight. She just did a good job and good fortune came to her.”
Proudfoot herself made the point early in her 30-year career as a judge that men would rightfully be promoted over women if the women in law don’t stay with it.
“It’s a matter of choices, of determination,” she said in a Chatelaine article in June 1977. “You just have to work hard and adopt a positive attitude.”
Born in Saskatchewan and the youngest of 10 children, she moved with her family to Rutland, where the family purchased an orchard.
“She worked her way through school in various capacities, one being as a cashier in a Safeway, and was employed for a time in a steel factory sorting out brass and iron,” said another profile on her in The Advocate in 1974. “This event had a profound effect on her life.”
Proudfoot graduated from the University of B.C. law school in 1952 and set up private practice that lasted until October 1971, when she was appointed to the Provincial Court. She was named to the County Court in 1974, the B.C. Supreme Court in 1977 and the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1989.
“She was a person of not huge intellect perhaps, but of great practicality and humanity,” said Newbury. “She was very interested in family law and kids. As the first woman, on most of the courts, she took an interest in family law in particular and just brought such a measure of practicality and down-to-earthness to her judgment and to her colleagues.”
In 1977 she presided over the trial of 27 Sons of Freedom Doukhobors who were accused of arson and conspiracy to commit arson.
The following year she acted as Commissioner of the Royal Commission on the Incarceration of Female Offenders, an inquiry that looked into allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of male guards with female offenders.
She received an Honorary Doctor of Law from Simon Fraser University in 1975 and from UBC in 1994, and was made a member of the Order of B.C. in June 2007.
A memorial mass for Proudfoot, who is predeceased by her husband, Arthur Proudfoot, is scheduled for Nov. 2 at St. Augustine’s Church in Vancouver.