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Posts Tagged ‘Feminism and Law’

Has Alex Chapman been a victim of victim blaming? The author of this comment in the University of Winnipeg’s Uniter seems to think so.

While her view that female victim blaming is “beginning to become taboo”, and that it is always met with “backlash”, may be a tad optimistic for my taste, I think her overall argument is sound and definitely worth considering.

“Allowing such details [victim’s sexual history] to come forward in court and in the media perpetuates the incredibly harmful practice of victim-blaming that has seen such effective social back-lash in recent months.
A failure to hold those same standards for male victims reveals a fundamental flaw in the movement – a hypocrisy that seriously damages the legitimacy of the campaign to stop victim-blaming.”
             (Sandy Klowak, “Men can be victims, too: Victim-blaming discussion shows gender double-standard” in The Uniter (11 October 2012)), online: http://uniter.ca/view/8153)
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This just in! The Manitoban will indeed publish Eli’s letter responding to “For those who are concerned” in their next issue.

Apparently the squeaky wheel does get the grease…

So keep your eyes peeled (the Manitoban publishes Thursday every week), and we’d still really encourage everyone to consider writing in, too!

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Last week, the Manitoban published an editorial by Joshua Van Benthem entitled “For those who are concerned” (read the full article by clicking on the title). In it, Van Benthem argues for the criminalization of late term abortion, saying that once a fetus is “viable” for life outside of the womb, it should be deemed a full legal person, even if it has not yet been born. A woman terminating a pregnancy beyond this point could then be subject to criminal sanction. He goes on to discuss the defeated Bill 312, attempting to establish that the would-have-been committee’s consideration of  “merely the medical facts” and “not legal precedent” would have somehow justified the infringement of women’s human rights he advocates.

Feeling rather concerned myself, I wrote to the Manitoban to express my disagreement with Mr Van Benthem’s views. I was disappointed not only to see that my letter was not featured in this week’s issue, but even more so to see no responses from anyone on the topic. With an issue as controversial as abortion and legal personhood for the unborn, I think it behooves the Manitoban to provide viewpoints on both sides of the issue.

I suppose it’s possible that a response to “For those who are concerned”, either mine or someone else’s, may be published in the future. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I reproduce here the letter I wrote, as I sent it to the Manitoban last Friday. I think it would be great to have others respond to Van Benthem, as well. Have a look at what I wrote and think about what you might add or change, and then send it in! Their email address is : comment@themanitoban.com.

******************************

5 October 2012

Re: “For those who are concerned,” by Joshua Van Benthem

Dear Manitoban,

I wish to respond to Joshua Van Benthem’s editorial in your most recent issue. I found the title “For those who are concerned” to be particularly apt, though likely not in the way that the author intended. I’m concerned, alright. I’m concerned about the human rights of women, and those who seek to limit them.

The author argues that, because some fetuses might be capable of surviving independently outside of the womb prior to the moment of complete birth, that “there should be a line” at some undetermined point in fetal development at which the fetus would be deemed a person, and thus, that aborting it would become a criminal offence. The Parliamentary Committee that would have been created by Motion 312, had it passed, would supposedly have looked at where this “line” ought to be drawn.

I noted that conspicuously absent from the items that would have been addressed by the Committee (as listed by the author) was, “What are the legal impacts and consequences of altering Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of the mother?” Clearly, the reason this query was omitted is that the answer to it will, in all cases, be that the impact on her rights would be unconscionable, and would render the committee’s other queries moot. While the “viability” of a fetus outside of the womb at any given point of its prenatal development will inevitably vary from case to case, the rights of each individual pregnant woman are necessarily invariable at all times during her pregnancy.

Turning our minds for a moment to the practical implications of what the author proposes, the notion that pre-natal “viability” can somehow be definitively determined and codified in law borders on absurdity. For example, is this “viability” with or without medical intervention? A baby can be born several months premature and survive with the help of incubators, intravenous nourishment, and other intensive therapies; would this be sufficient to be considered viable? What about the fact that a fetus with a chromosomal or other abnormality would very likely achieve “viability” much later in its development than would a “normal” fetus; were the author’s proposal to take effect, would this not create an untenable difference in legal treatment based on disability? Further, making this determination would necessarily be based on speculation; presumably the fetus would not be excised from the mother and left lying out in the open to see if it lived without her. Any information as to the physical state of the fetus to bolster the speculation would, of course, have to be gained via an invasion of the mother’s physical person. This only serves to highlight, yet again, the inseparability of a woman and her fetus at all moments until complete birth takes place, regardless of its stage of development.

Any attempt to ascribe independent personhood to the contents of a woman’s womb is a clear abuse of that woman’s physical autonomy and human rights. Canada’s highest court decided this in 1988, and no “medical evidence” can justifiably vary it.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Mitchell

Co-Chair, Feminist Legal Forum

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This just in!

The Ontario Court of Appeal today released its decision in Bedford v Canada, a landmark lower court decision that found that provisions 210 [bawdy house], 212(1)(j) [living on the avails], and 213(1)(c) [communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution] of the Canadian Criminal Code unconstitutionally violate the Charter rights of sex trade workers. The CA has upheld the finding that 210 is unconstitutional, has read in an added element of exploitation to 212(1)(j) and has allowed the appeal of 213(1)(c).

We’d love to hear what you have to say about this – have a look at the complete decision here. It’s a long one, but undoubtedly worth a look-see.

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According to the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Police Department is considering a new set of guidelines that would instruct officers to prioritze sex workers’ safety over enforcing prostitution-related prohibitions. The propsed guidelines were written by Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke, and highlight the historic distrust of law enforcement by sex workers, and a need for officers to show them respect. “Sex work involving consenting adults is not an enforcement priority for the [Vancouver Police Department],” state the guidelines.

It’s interesting to note that the guidelines come in the wake of the Pickton Inquiry, which is investigating why the VPD failed to recognize the ongoing abduction and murder of sex workers by Robert Pickton. Evidence before the inquiry has shown the tendency among officers policing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to not only disregard violent crime against sex workers, but also to personally harass, over-enforce and even to commit assault themselves against sex workers, up to and including the recent past. While the guidelines do seem progressive, considering them in context highlights the fact that they may be more in the realm of damage control than a sincere attempt to protect the phsycial safety and dignityof sex workers. That being said, sex work safety advocates seem to be excited by the prospect of the new guidelines, and it does seem possible that they could lead to positive change.

The guidelines will be considered before the Vancouver Police Board tomorrow, and we look forward to seeing if they are adopted. We’ll keep you posted!

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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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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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