Posts Tagged ‘equality’

We encourage everyone to check out this amazing event! Always really fun, interesting and inspiring. FLF members should check their email for a very generous and exciting opportunity to attend for free, courtesy of RH’s own Dean Turnbull.

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A huge thank you to everyone who supported our bake sale and clothing drive yesterday! We raised over $170 for LEAF’s Bertah Wilson Fund, and collected an impressive amount of clothing and products for the Elizabeth Fry Society.

We also got some interesting feedback from our ‘share your thoughts’ posters, which we thought we’d post here in case you didn’t get a chance to have a look in person. Here they are in all their unedited, anonymous glory. On that note, we’d love to keep the discussion going, so please feel free to comment!

Question: In 2010, Justice Himel (Ont SCJ) struck down the living on the avails, bawdy house, and solicitation provisions of the Criminal Code. Does Justice Himel’s decision promote women’s equality?

Your thoughts:

– “This is step 1 – ie., letting these women come to the law for help. Step 2 is putting programs in place to better insure safety and health”

– “It has the potential to promote women’s equality, but without a comprehensive program to address these issues, women’s equality will be stalled”

Question: Women make up 14% of corporate boards in Canada. The EU is considering mandatory quotas for women on corporate boards. If Canada followed the EU’s example, would it promote gender equality?

Your thoughts:

– “No. the % is  much lower in Europe. This is only an issue today, but i believe the problem will be solved organically in very short order as more women hired in the 80s and 90s make it to upper management positions at our major corporations. The corporate elite will probably be unrecognizably diverse within 10 years.”

– “[arrow indicating direct response to previous comment] that’s something of a ridiculous assumption. The diversity of the corporate elite hasn’t changed much in the last one hundred years. There is very little support for an argument it will change radically in the next 10 yrears.”

– “No – even if the women deserved to be there, there would be underlying rumours that they were only there because of quotas. Better to earn it honestly. Time will even it out.”

Question: Quebec’s Bill 94 would refuse reasonable accomodation to niqab-wearing women receiving or providing public services. Does Bill 94 promote gender equality?

Your thoughts:

– “no”

– “I second that”

– “It doesn’t support equality of any kind”

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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court released its judgment in R v D.A.I. LEAF and the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN) jointly intervened in the case. In a majority ruling (the Court split 6 – 3 ), Justice McLachlin clarified that adults with mental disabilities need  not demonstrate an abstract understanding of the obligation to tell the truth to meet the test for testimonial competence.

D.A.I. involves a 23-year old complainant with intellectual disabilities such that her mental age was between 3 and 6 years old. The Crown is alleging that the complainant’s step-father repeatedly sexually assaulted her over a period of four years. The Crown sought to call the complainant to testify, but the trial judge held on a voir dire that the complainant had failed to show that she understood the duty to speak the truth. In a separate voir dire, the trial judge also excluded out-of-court statements made by the complainant to the police and her teacher, holding that the statements were unreliable. Despite the existence of other evidence that raised serious suspicions about the accused’s conduct, the case collapsed and the accused was acquitted. The Ontario Court of Appeal affirmed the acquittal.

The majority decision is a feminist victory that ensures the equality rights of all women. As Joanna Birenbaum, Legal Director of LEAF, stated in a press release on the day of the decision,  “In today’s Supreme Court of Canada decision, Chief Justice McLachlin writing for the majority described sexual assault as “an evil” and acknowledged that women with intellectual and other disabilities are targeted for this offence at alarming rates. The Court confirmed the importance of hearing the voices of women with mental disabilities in court. The Court acknowledged that the testimony of women with mental disabilities is essential to stopping sexual abuse and ensuring that sexual offenders are brought to justice.”

As an aside, the FLF seems to recall the Court splitting in the exact same way in R v J.A. Some interesting sexual assault jurisprudence trivia…

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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 Judicial Council has finished reviewing the extremely controversial remarks made by Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar in his decision in R v Rhodes this past February. Those remarks sparked major protests and much discussion.

 Protesters in Winnipeg carry signs demanding Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar's resignation on Feb. 25.

CBC Manitoba reported today that, as a result of the CJC’s review, Dewar will not face any penalty. However, he has issued an “unequivocal apology” to the victim in Rhodes, and also expressed “regret” for “trauma” caused to those who “have worked directly with past victims.”

In that decision, Dewar said or referred to the following: the complainant and the accused met in “inviting circumstances“; the accused was a “clumsy Don Juan“; he put emphasis on what the complainant was wearing on the night in question; and of course, perhaps his most infamous comment, that “sex was in the air.”

In his apology, he noted his “poor choice of words,” and the CJC found upon completing their review that his comments “were also seen as reflecting negative and outdated gender stereotypes, as casting blame on the victim and showing unacceptable gender bias against women.”

What do we think? Is this enough? Some members of the FLF have been talking, and it seems that a few of us are feeling a little conflicted.

On one hand, there’s the view that having Dewar removed from the bench altogether would have been too harsh of a punishment. On the other, there’s a pretty strong feeling among most of us that this apology, or even the notion of apologizing in general, seems trite. Dayna pointed out that, hopefully, as a result of this process, more judges will seek to educate themselves on gender equality issues.

We all feel good about that potential outcome. But it was also pointed out that it’s virtually impossible to conceive of Dewar as impartial at this point. And while some might argue that impariality itself is an indealized judicial standard that never actually exists, it does seem particularly problematic in this instance. It’s disturbing to remember that, despite any ‘senisitivity training’ he has now had, Dewar embraced these outmoded, sexist ideas and applied them to an actual case as recently as 9 months ago.

Finally, we’re troubled by the apology being presented as a “poor choice of words.” Certainly, the words chosen were unquestionably poor. But what matters more are the beliefs Dewar held that led him to choose those words. Can we take his apology to mean that, had he not used such explicitly sexist and offensive language, we wouldn’t have anything to be upset about? Dayna made the point that “Mainly I worry that when systemic discrimination against sexual assault complainants isn’t as blatant as it was in this case, it passes unacknowledged and women end up losing.”

We would really love to hear what you think about this. Was the apology sufficient? What alternative measures could or should be taken? Let us know!

And don’t forget: the topic of this month’s roundtable will be sexual assault law, and certain aspects of the Rhodes appeal. Stay tuned for more info!

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Eighty-two years ago today, the Person’s case was decided. Have a look at the following message from Manitoba Status of Women to find out more about the history behind this important anniversary (and while it is very significant, keep in mind that legal equality still had a long way to go for many Canadians).


Today, October 18, is a historic day for women in Canada. It marks the 82nd
anniversary of the Person’s Day case, which gave many women in Canada the right
to personhood under the law.

Though it seems impossible today, before 1929 women in Canada were considered “persons in matters of pains and penalties, but (are) not persons in matters of rights
and privileges”.  Even though many women had won the right to vote federally in Canada in 1918, their rights continued to be undermined by the fact that they were not considered “persons” under the British North America Act (BNA Act), which governed Canada at that time.

This law had many implications for Canadian women. For several years, women’s groups across Canada had called for a female Senate appointment.  However, consecutive Prime Ministers refused to make these appointments, claiming that only “qualified persons” were eligible to sit in the Senate under the BNA Act.

In 1927, Emily Murphy, an Alberta magistrate, and four of her friends and
colleagues – Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, Irene Marryat
Parlby and Henrietta Muir Edwards – decided to take action.  They submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of Canada, similar to what we know now as a constitutional challenge. This petition asked the Courts to interpret the BNA Act regarding the personhood status of women.  Canada’s highest court upheld the interpretation that women were not considered persons under the BNA Act.  Undeterred, the group appealed to the final court of appeal at that time, which was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England. They emerged triumphant from the proceedings on October 18, 1929 – the word “persons” in the BNA Act was now interpreted to include both men and women!

As a result of this ruling, the first woman senator, Cairine Wilson, was appointed in 1930. It’s important to note, however, that only some women became persons under 1929 ruling. Many women, including Aboriginal, Asian and other women of colour, remained ineligible because of their race.  It was many years until the rights of these groups of women were fully recognized.

The five women who achieved personhood for Canadian women became known as the “Famous Five”. They set the stage for many constitutional achievements for Canadian
women, such as the equality provisions in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms.  For this reason, each October Canada honours and celebrates the accomplishments of Canadian women in history, and looks towards an even brighter future for equality rights in Canada.

Read more details about the story of the Person’s Case at http://section15.ca/features/ideas/2004/12/22/persons_case/

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The IWD march on Tuesday was fantastic. There was a big, loud and proud crowd marching down Broadway and Memorial – and many shouts and honks of support from vehicles passing by. There were placards demanding justice for missing and murdered Aboriginal women and for Sisters in Spirit. There were signs decrying Harper’s regressive stance on women and equality. There were signs shouting “My miniskirt does not equal consent!” The radical cheerleaders kept the chants going throughout.

To me, it is abundantly clear that these marches are still necessary. IWD is on one hand celebratory. After all, we’ve come a long way and our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers achieved a lot in the last 100 years. Would I be in law school today without all the work they did? But there is still so much to do. One focus should be international, but it seems to go without saying that there is also still much to do here at home. Yet not everyone agrees with me on this front. Check out two Globe & Mail columns that debate the place of Canadian feminism today:



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