Archive for December, 2011

Now that exams are wrapping up, everyone has more time to enjoy the finer things in life… such as stimulating intellectual discussion on important, difficult issues! Hooray! Take for instance, the following: on December 8th, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the much-talked about R v NS case. Counsel for each side argued whether a complainant in a sexual assault case should be permitted to keep her face covered by niqab during testimony. Here’s a really great article from rabble.ca with two significant Robson Hall connections:law student Maria Kari authored the article, which features snippets of an interview with our very own Professor Karen Busby. It also includes a link to the factum submitted by LEAF, who had intervenor status at the hearing. Check it out! Great food for thought to accompany your turkey, latkes, 5 kilo box of mandarin oranges, etc.

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The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law is a peer-reviewed publication based here at Robson Hall, publishing a wide range of interdisciplinary articles on a wide range of topics (full disclosure: FLF communications director Eli Mitchell is also the student editor of the CJWL). The issue 23(2) is now available online, and features some very interesting subject matter, ranging from the potential criminalization of teenage sexting, to pedagogical reflections on student-teacher research in the BC polygamist community of Bountiful.

CJWL Publisher U of T Press has passed on some additional info for anyone interested in learning more:


Canadian Journal of Women and the Law Volume 23, Number 2, 2011 is now available online.


Founded in 1985, the same year as the equality guarantee of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force, theCanadian Journal of Women and the Law has been publishing ground-breaking, multi-disciplinary scholarship on the impact of law on women’s social, economic and legal status for twenty-five years.

CJWL Online includes an archive of current and previously published articles going back to 2009.

Subscribers to CJWL Online enjoy:

Enhanced features not available in the print version – supplementary information, colour photos, videos, audio files, etc. encouraging further exploration and research.

Early access to the latest issues – Did you know that most online issues are available to subscribers up to two weeks in advance of the print version? Sign up for e-mail alerts and you will know as soon as the latest issue is ready for you to read.

Everything you need at your fingertips – search through current and archived issues from the comfort of your office chair not by digging through book shelves or storage boxes. The easy to use search function allows you to organize results by article summaries, abstracts or citations and bookmark, export, or print a specific page, chapter or article.

For more information about the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law or for submissions information, please contact:

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law
University of Toronto Press­­ – Journals Division
5201 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON Canada M3H 5T8
Tel: (416)667-7810  Fax: (416)667-7881
Email: journals@utpress.utoronto.ca

Website: www.utpjournals.com

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Check out this super-interesting episode of CBC TV’s The Fifth Estate that chronicles their investigation of sexual harassment in the RCMP.

Special thanks to Raelynn for the heads up!

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The Dalhousie Law Students Society has passed a resolution formalizing their opposition to Bill C-10, also known as the Safer Streets and Communities Act. They have declared their solidarity with the Canadian Bar Association, which recently released a 100 page report detailing why they oppose C-10. Dal’s LSS also encourages other law student groups to follow suit. Read all about it here.

Is this something the FLF should get involved with? Or Robson Hall generally? Let us know what you think!


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Below is LEAF’s press release regarding their intervention before the Supreme Court in R v N.S.

December 7, 2011 – Ottawa: On Thursday, December 8, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the appeal of a niqab-wearing sexual assault complainant who was ordered to remove her niqab as a precondition to testifying at the preliminary inquiry of two male family members charged with sexually abusing her as a child.

N.S. is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm her right to testify wearing the niqab.

“Women who have been sexually assaulted should not be shut out of the justice system just because they wear the niqab”, says LEAF Legal Director and co-counsel, Joanna Birenbaum.

“The accused are asking the court to forcibly remove a deeply personal article of religious clothing worn by a sexual assault complainant. This demand must be seen in the context of the discriminatory treatment of women who report sexual assault” Birenbaum explains. “The sexual assault preliminary inquiry has a long history of being used to degrade, humiliate, intimidate and re-victimize sexual assault complainants, to get women to drop sex assault charges or discourage them from reporting sex assault in the first place.”

Susan Chapman, LEAF co-ounsel, says “niqab-wearing women are already a stigmatized racial minority in Canada, subjected to heightened scrutiny and stereotyping. If niqab-wearing women believe that they will be ordered to remove their niqabs if they seek the protection of the Canadian legal system, will they ever report sexual assault? The message will be that these women can be sexually assaulted with impunity. This is clearly unacceptable.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal quashed the lower court order requiring N.S. to remove her niqab, but left open the possibility that N.S. could be ordered to remove her niqab at the preliminary and at trial.

LEAF’s Supreme Court factum argues that the preliminary inquiry judge has no jurisdiction to order the removal of the niqab. LEAF further argues that while the trial judge has jurisdiction to order the removal of the niqab, such an extraordinary order would violate the Charter rights of sexual assault complainants and should rarely, if ever, be made.

“The constitutional rights engaged by an order stripping a sexual complainant of her niqab are profound” says Birenbaum. “These rights include: the right to be free from state-imposed psychological trauma, physical and psychological integrity, equality, and a justice system which operates free of discrimination and prejudice.”

Chapman explains that “mere access to “demeanor evidence”” (which may include the facial expressions of a witness) is “insufficient to justify the intrusive order requested. Put simply, the accused have no constitutional right to demeanor evidence.   Moreover, demeanor evidence has a proven history of subverting the truth-seeking function of the criminal trial, particularly in the sexual assault and cross-racial contexts. Stereotypes and discriminatory assumptions deeply influence judgments of credibility.”

Even the Ontario Court of Appeal recognized the unreliability of demeanor evidence. “The Court of Appeal noted that allowing the complainant to wear her niqab could advance the truth seeking function of the criminal trial” says Chapman, “The Court recognized that a complainant who normally wears the niqab and is unveiled cannot be expected to “be herself” on the stand.”

“LEAF takes no position on the practice of wearing the niqab”, says Birenbaum. “LEAF is very concerned, however, that women who wear the niqab are not excluded from basic democratic institutions.”

LEAF is also concerned that racist and other stereotypes of Muslims not influence the public discussion of this sexual assault complainant’s right to access the justice system and participate in a fair trial.

“Almost all of the focus has been on the impact of the veiled-witness on the rights of the accused. But the disadvantage at trial will almost certainly be experienced by the niqab-wearing woman. In the current political climate in which veiled Muslim women are feared and distrusted, how will the evidence of a niqab-wearing witness be received? A Muslim woman who covers her face in court faces significant prejudices that she is hiding something and cannot be believed.”

LEAF’s Supreme Court of Canada factum in R. v. N.S. is available at:



LEAF’s Backgrounder on R. v. N.S. and Quebec Bill 94 is available at: http://leaf.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/LEAF-Niqab-Backgrounder-May-11-2010.pdf

For more information, please contact:

Joanna Birenbaum

(LEAF Litigation Director/Co-counsel)

(416) 595-7170 ext. 223 (office) – (647) 500-3005 (cell) – j.birenbaum@leaf.ca (e-mail)

Susan Chapman

(LEAF Co-counsel)

(416) 969-3061 (office) – (416) 509-7121 (cell) – schapman@greenchercover.com (email)

LEAF is a national, non profit organization committed to confront all forms of discrimination through legal action, public education, and law reform to achieve equality for women and girls under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For more information, please visit us atwww.leaf.ca

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The FLF also pauses to remember all the women who have died in violence whose names we do not know. Our missing and murdered women. All women who face violence as a daily reality. We remember Montreal, and we honour all those affected by violence. We dream of a day when this violence is truly just a memory. We hope that in some small way, the money we raised for Osborne House with the generous support of the law school will help. Keep taking action. Let’s end violence against women.

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On December 6th, take time to pause and remember. This December 6th will mark 22 years since the Montreal Massacre. The day is memorialized as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

A sunrise memorial will be held in the rotunda at the Manitoba Legislative Building at 8 am. Ms. Francine Pelletier, acclaimed journalist and feminist, will speak about her first hand experience as a journalist in Montreal at the time of the Massacre and her personal connection as a target on the murderer’s hit list. Refreshments will follow the memorial. Contributions of new unwrapped toys for children at the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre are welcome.

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