Archive for October, 2010

The first debate of the 2010 Winnipeg mayoral campaign, largely a contest between incumbent Sam Katz and his main challenger, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, was aired on CJOB radio and so I tuned in to a station I normally try to avoid, eager to hear Judy take Sam to task. But the most memorable exchange turned out to be unexpected. At one point when Judy was criticizing some point or other of Sam’s, he said in a sarcastic voice “Thanks, mom.”
My hackles immediately went up. This struck me as an extremely sexist comment – highlighting not only Judy’s gender, but also trying to portray her as an old, nagging crone and he as the youthful rebel (this in front of an audience of students at Red River College.) Yet apparently the Winnipeg Sun thinks it is much ado about nothing – just as it also thinks a comment made towards Judy when she was a Member of Parliament that she “can’t balance her chequebook” was a comment on her individual abilities and not sexist at all.
The “thanks, Mom” incident shows that politics is still perilous for women, critically under-represented in the field. Women are scrutinized for appearance, personal life and family ties in ways that men rarely are. I am no fan of Sarah Palin, but I recall that when her campaign for Vice-President was first announced, her youngest son was about five months old and diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, and several commentators questioned her ability to campaign and be a good mother to such a young child with special needs. A new father would be unlikely to be subject to such criticism.
Here in Canada, we have seen the harsh treatment meted out by Stephen Harper to Helena Guergis apparently for nothing more than the sins of her husband. Again, I am no Guergis or Conservative supporter, but it is highly unfair that she was banned from the party completely while Maxime Bernier, for example, was himself reckless with state secrets and is still part of the party. Over the years, we have been subjected to numerous commentary on the attractiveness of the younger women in Parliament such as Ruby Dhalla, Rona Ambrose and Guergis, sometimes to the exclusion of their actual accomplishments.
Then there was the recent episode where Vic Toews called upon Nikki Ashton to vote to scrap the long-gun registry by telling her to “vote like her father did”, and then completely denied any sexist intent to this comment, which totally denied Nikki her own autonomy and conscience, implying that as Daddy’s little girl, she should do as he says.
What would be the effect if Judy had said “Thanks, Dad” to Sam Katz? I doubt it would carry the same negative connotations as “Thanks, Mom.” While our culture generally reveres and respects motherhood, in that context, “Thanks, Mom” means she was nagging. “Thanks, Dad” on the other hand would likely be taken to mean that Sam was wiser and knew best – that he was looking out for our interests and protecting us, just as Steve Ashton, according to Vic Toews, knows what is best for his daughter Nikki, who should just listen to him. It would also degrade Judy herself and place her as a little girl, naïve and uninformed as compared to him.
Judy has been a strong voice for womens’ rights as well as for social justice in general, and she deserves better than being caricatured in this way. Sam on the other hand has shown his sexist ways before – when Cindy Klassen and the rest of the Olympic speed-skating team were honoured at an event in Market Square, he made some silly comment about feeling good with all these good-looking women gathered around him. Let’s say no to sexism in our municipal politics on October 26th!

*Zilla Maria Jones is a third year student at Robson Hall. She works as a research student for Dr. Heckman and will be articling at the Public Interest Law Centre. Zilla is a passionate advocate for a number of important social justice issues.

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Today’s roundtable discussion with Dr Jennifer Schulz, “girls club? Feminism in Law School and in Legal Practice,” was well attended and proved to be quite the hot topic. Discussion and debate were lively, constructive and engaging. Dr Schulz began by speaking briefly about her research interest in how female lawyers are depicted in popular cultural, past and present. Widely known films and TV shows served as stimulating catalysts for discussion: Can Ally McBeal really be considered a feminist show? What does Legally Blonde tell us about women, femininity and the law? Dr Schulz shared some thoughts on a short lived David E. Kelly legal drama, girls club (yes, the official title is indeed uncapitalized, and also served as the inspiration for the name of the roundtable), her writings about which have been published in the book  Lawyers in Your Living Room!: Law on Television (M. Amismow, ed.).  Though girls club’s entire run consisted of only two episodes, Dr Schulz was able to identify certain prominent stereotypes of female lawyers highlighted by the show: a female lawyer may fill the role of either incompetent or bitch, with few or no viable alternatives; and that a success in the career of a female lawyer will necessarily be dispelled by some other personal shortcoming or failure.

There was a general sense throughout the group present at girls club? that we were collectively familiar with these stereotypes not only in fictional depictions of the legal world, but also in our own experiences at school and work. While it was mentioned on more than one occasion that these movie and TV depictions are not necessarily realistic in many respects, the issues identified certainly seemed to have resonance with our real world experiences. As various participants in the discussion shared personal (or near-personal) stories of encountering discrimination, one was left with the feeling that the issues are not only very much alive but also unfortunately pervasive. However,  the girls club? roundtable did not end on this frankly dismaying note; instead, at the suggestion of Dr Schulz, it came to a close with a brainstorming session about what we can do when faced with sexism, anti-feminism or any other form of discrimination in the course of our legal lives. Ideas about collective action and reliance on institutional supports were well received, and undoubtedly deserve further exploration.

* Eli Mitchell is a first year student at Robson Hall. She comes to law school via a philosophy degree at the University of Winnipeg. Her favourite 90’s pop star is Amanda Marshall.

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Notice of upcoming event – note that there is a student price for tickets!

The MBA Women Lawyers’ Forum Proudly Presents





An evening of live entertainment hosted by Justice Brenda Keyser, featuring the talents of:

  • Nalini Reddy & Tracey Pniwosky (Department of Justice)
  • Melissa Burkett (Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson LLP)
  • Joan Schmidt (Public Prosecution Services of Canada)
  • Hayley Main (Thompson, Dorfman, Sweatman LLP) and
  • Not Quite the Supremes (Judges of Manitoba)

Wednesday, October 27

6:30 – 9:30 pm

The Academy – Osborne & Stradbrook

Appetizers by the Academy, Cash bar

Tickets: $30 MBA members, $40 non-members, $25 students

RSVP before October 25th to the Manitoba Bar Association (t) 204-927-1211 or (e) sections@cba-mb.ca

*including, but not limited to women!

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Announcement for a rally taking place tomorrow:

The Rainbow Resource Centre will be hosting a rally to raise awareness
around the impact of homophobic bullying. In the past few weeks, several
students have committed suicide as a result of homophobic bullying. As a
community, we need to say that this is not acceptable and send a message
of hope to queer youth in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, North America and
around the world. It gets …better and there is hope.
The a rally will take place on the front steps of the Legislative
Building on Wednesday October 20th from 5-7 PM.
Tell everyone you know. Bring everyone you know and stand with us
against homophobic bullying.
There is an initiative started by a Canadian student named Brittany
McMillan from British Columbia on Facebook called Spirit Day asking
folks to wear purple on October 20th in remembrance of the youth that
have suicided due to homophobic bullying.
october-20th-2010-we-will> )
In conjunction with this effort we ask you all to consider wearing
purple to the rally.
We would also like you to check out the “It Gets Better” project created
by Dan Savage and his partner, please watch this moving video and to
learn more about the project visit the link on youtube,

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Due to some scheduling conflicts, both the day and room of the girls club? roundtable with Prof. Schulz have been changed.

The roundtable will now be held on October 25th (Monday) from 12 -1 in room 308 (Not 309 as previously thought)!

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McNally Robinson Booksellers,
The University of Manitoba Faculty of Law
University of BC Press
Kim Brooks
Justice Bertha Wilson:
One Woman’s Difference

Tuesday October 26, 7:00 pm
Grant Park in the Atrium
Bertha Wilson’s appointment as the first female justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1982 capped off a career of firsts. Wilson had been the first woman lawyer and partner at a prominent Toronto law firm and the first woman appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Her death in 2007 has, in turn, provoked reflection on her contributions to law and the legal profession and the question, what difference do women judges make?
Justice Bertha Wilson examines Wilson’s career from a wide range of feminist perspectives. The book is a portrait of a complex woman and highlights her contributions to the Canadian legal landscape and addresses many of the issues that she grappled with in her life and career.
Kim Brooks is the Dean at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. Contributors Dr. Lorna Turnbull and Professor Debra Parkes are Law Professors at the University of Manitoba and they will also be in attendance.
This event is presented by the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba in association with LEAF Manitoba, a branch of Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund Inc., and WISE (Working in Support of Equality) Endowment Fund; and The Centre for Human Rights Research Initiative (CHRR).

McNally Robinson Booksellers Grant Park
1120 Grant Ave.
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3M 2A6

Phone 204-475-0483
(Toll Free 1-800561-1833)

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The FLF is excited to announce our second roundtable of the year, “girls club? Feminism in Law School and in Legal Practice”, facilitated by Dr. Jennifer Schulz.

The roundtable will be held on Monday, October 25th from 12 -1 in room 308. Dr. Schulz has done some fascinating work on women, law, mediation and television, and this promises to be an extremely interesting and engaging roundtable discussion. The title of the roundtable and the suggested reading is based on a short-lived television show about 3 female junior lawyers, called girls club.

Dr. Schulz has suggested a short chapter as reading for the roundtable for attendees looking to get some context.  If you’re looking for some thought provoking reading prior to the roundtable, find it here: Jennifer L. Schulz, “girls club does not Exist”  in M. Asimow, ed., Lawyers in Your Living Room!  Law on Television, (Chicago:  ABA Press, 2009) at 243-251.

Dr. Jennifer L. Schulz is Associate Dean (Research & Graduate Studies) and an Assistant Professor at Robson Hall. Dr. Schulz teaches and researches in the areas of negotiation and mediation, law & film and torts.  Dr. Schulz specialises in dispute resolution.  Previously, Dr. Schulz was an invited research fellow at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, and the Associate Director of the LL.M. in ADR program at Osgoode Hall Law School.  Dr. Schulz is the recipient of a SSHRC grant, has won a “Professor of the Year” Award, is a practicing mediator, and is currently researching the depiction of conflict resolvers in popular culture media.

We are really looking forward to what promises to be a fascinating discussion and hope to see you all there!

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The title for the first FLF roundtable discussion, “Feminism and Law: Why and How”, lays the topics out pretty clearly. Timing constraints and the inherent fluidity of these kinds of discussions led to more of a “Why and Where” focus, but I think the “How” part flows pretty organically from that. 
In a nutshell, Professor Parkes identified two “Whys” behind feminist critical engagement with the legal system. First, it is important to recognize and identify the biases that are inherent in a system that purports to be objective and neutral. The legitimacy of the legal system rests on these claims, but that does not mean that we should take their truth for granted. The example was given of the ubiquitous “reasonable person” test. Up until very recently, the legal decision-makers in the common law world were overwhelmingly–if not exclusively–white men. Feminism points out and criticizes the tendency across disciplines to treat the white male perspective as “neutral” or “default”, and this critique is no less true in the legal sphere. When we associate one specific social group with a particular mode of thought (i.e. neutrality) we give that group privileged access to it, while also marginalizing or outright silencing viewpoints that may be different but no less valid. Part of the feminist project is to draw attention to and correct these unaddressed biases.
The other “Why” engages law at a more practical level. Law as a form of social organizing force has the power (some power, at any rate) to redress the inequalities identified by the kinds of theoretical excursions mentioned above. Because we live in a society that is ostensibly concerned with equality, the law is at least sympathetic to feminist arguments some of the time, and those arguments can and should be advanced by lawyers with a feminist bent. On the other side of the same coin, we must be vigilant and vigorously oppose political attempts at retrenchment that inevitably arise. 
Moving on to the “Where” discussion that came up, the answer is pretty obvious, but it’s one of those things that may be right in front of you so often that you just forget it’s there. Anyone who has been a wide-eyed First Year knows the feeling that you get after a few weeks or months of classes. Your blinders have been removed and you see that law is everywhere. From the large-scale transactions that make modern life possible, to the interpersonal relationships that make it worthwhile, almost everything we do engages the legal system explicitly or implicitly. And, if law is everywhere, then at least parts of it are going to engage gendered norms that are open to feminist critique.
Professor Parkes came to the discussion with a long list of disciplines and subdisciplines where feminist thought is applicable. We didn’t cover nearly everything, so here are some highlights.
Family Law, of course, came up early. Issues relating to the division of labour within a relationship and the division of property upon marriage breakdown may fail to fully acknowledge the unpaid contributions of a partner (usually female). On the custody and access front, the cultural connection between womanhood and mothering means that there is a strong bias in favour of giving custody to mothers. Related to this is how we approach the question of parental leave; until fairly recently the expectation was that there would be a long maternal leave and that was it. 
Turning to the law of Torts, the issue of limitation periods and their impact on sexual assault or child sexual abuse claims was raised. In Criminal Law we still struggle to balance the right of an accused to full answer and defence with the idea that a victim of a crime such as sexual assault should be able to access the criminal justice system without being unduly revictimized in the trial process. Contract Law, with its focus on agency and autonomy, benefits from a feminist understanding of power relationships. The example given related to surrogacy. Perhaps surprisingly though, the research that has been done in that area shows that, despite concerns of manipulation, coercion, and exploitation, for the most part, the women who agree to be surrogates do so freely and willingly. Nevertheless, the exploration of the question may not have happened at all were it not for that initial feminist question.
This, then, brings us to “How”. Though the point was never explicitly made, everything up to now points in a clear direction, to a fairly simple (conceptually) process: discuss, investigate, act. Groups like the Feminist Legal Forum exist with more or less these exact objectives in mind. We know what to do. Let’s do it.
*Reuben Kellen is a 3rd year student with an interest in any area of law that gives him a chance to hold forth. Having spent time working at the Law Society of Manitoba since the summer after 1st year, he’s seen the best and worst the legal profession has to offer.

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A contingent of FLF members marched in the annual Take Back the Night rally. This year’s theme was “Shine a Light”, focusing on violence against women which takes place in the street, but also that which happens under the cover of darkness and behind closed doors.

Here’s our night of social action in pictures, accompanied with the cheers we shouted along with the Radical Cheerleaders!

We have the power, We have the might, The streets are ours, Take Back the Night!

Say it once, Say it again, No excuse for, Violent men

Women’s bodies, Women’s lives, We will not be Terrorized

Sexist! Rapist! Anti-gay! Don’t you take our night away!

Whatever we wear, Wherever we go, Yes means yes, And no means no!

Old, young, black and white, Everyone Take Back the Night!

Take Back the Night! The time is here!

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