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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.

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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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The Faculty of Law Distinguished Visitor Lecture presents:
SHIRISH P. CHOTALIA, Q.C. Chairperson, Canadian Human Rights Tribunal
Thursday, Nov. 24
Noon to 1 p.m.
Moot Court Room, Robson Hall, University of Manitoba
Public Event – all welcome to attend


Shirish P. Chotalia, Q.C. was appointed Chairperson of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal effective November 2, 2009.

Ms. Chotalia obtained her Bachelor of Arts in 1983, her Bachelor of Laws in 1986 and her Master of Laws in 1991 from the University of Alberta. She was admitted to the Bar of Alberta in 1987.

Ms. Chotalia practiced with the law firm of Pundit & Chotalia LLP in the areas of immigration, human rights and employment litigation. She successfully litigated many high profile cases. She was a Commissioner with the Alberta Human Rights Commission from 1989 to 1993, an adjudicator with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from 1999 to 2005 and served as an elected Bencher, Law Society of Alberta, from 2008 until her appointment to the Tribunal.
Ms. Chotalia was an instructor at the University of Alberta’s Law Faculty since 1995, intermittently, teaching courses in Human Rights Law as well as Terrorism and the Law, and was also appointed as a Special Advocate in 2008 to address terrorism cases. She has written several books and many articles about human rights law and immigration law. Other professional service included Chair of the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Section, Northern Alberta, and Member, Selection Advisory Board of Canada. Ms. Chotalia speaks several languages including French, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati.

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Lately at the FLF, we’ve been talking a lot about the triumphs and tragedies of being an activist. Luckily, as it turns out, there’s plenty of inspiration out there to keep us going.

Dayna heard this great interview on the Current (CBC Radio1) on Tuesday, and thought to share it. Thanks Dayna! It features American Olympian John Carlos, who in 1968 used the Olympic podium as a political platform. It turned out to be a very controversial move. Check out the interview here, and hear Carlos describe his experiences as an activist in an unexpected forum.

john carlos web.jpg

On a slightly lighter note, I (Eli) have also noticed that inspiration and motivation can come from less… serious sources. Making my breakfast this morning, I enjoyed a dance-party-for-one to the (I think) classic ‘anthem’ None of Your Business by Salt n’ Peppa. I can’t say I’m 100% sure about their intended message, but it did make me think of issues like cross-examining a complainant in sexual assault case on her previous sexual history. Seriously! Anyway, have a feel-good dance party of your own here.

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Many of our readers will be familiar with the well-known sex discrimination case of Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd., [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1252. A Manitoba case, it established that sexual harassment is sex discrimination, and thus illegal in Canada. Further to that, it also recognized the vicarious liability of employers in instances of sexual harassment perpetrated by employees. Finally, it provided a somewhat expansive and flexible definition of sexual harassment. The Supreme Court decision can be found here: http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/1989/1989canlii97/1989canlii97.pdf.

The female complainants in the case, Dianna Janzen and Tracy Govereau, endured degrading and humiliating treatment at the hands of cook Tommy Grammas. The restaurant owner refused to intervene or address the harassment. They were both 21 years old when they filed their complaints with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. They would enter their 28th years before the matter was resolved in the Supreme Court.

Recently, B.C. lawyer and author Stephen Hammond wrote and recorded an interview with Dianna Janzen. She is now 50 years old, and has developed a profound and fascinating persepctive on her experiences as a victim of sexual harassment and a human rights crusader. Nearly 30 years after the incidents that led her to make a complaint, she still perfers not to discuss the details of the abuse. The interview describes the “emotional rollercoaster” Janzen experienced during the years her case was before the courts, noting the dejection she felt following the decision of the Manitoba Court of Appeal (which held that sexual harassment was not sex discrimination). When the Supreme Court finally found in favour of Janzen and Govereau, overturning the Court of Appeal, Janzen said she initially  “didn’t feel anything, actually”. After enduring the extreme stress of not only the harassment, but also the extended legal proceedings, Janzen’s sense of personal vindication took time to develop.

The interview is fascinating. Now the mother of two nearly-full-grown children, Janzen’s relfections on her experiences as a younger woman are measured but profound; she speaks of her transformation from “victim” at 21 to “success” at 50. She now wishes to share what the experience taught her with young people, wanting them to know their rights and feel empowered to stand up for themselves if they face discrimination, based on sex or otherwise.

You can read or listen to the interview here: http://www.stephenhammond.ca/dianna-janzen.php#.

 

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Hello all,

This announcement comes to us from the International Centre for Students. Please take a moment to scroll through some of the very interesting events they have planned for International Development Week. The talk on Wednesday February 9th is actually specifically geared for law students and is scheduled from 12 -1 (with a question period from 1 – 1:30) to accommodate our lunch time.
Hope to see you out and about at some of these events! Please see the attachments for more details.
Visit us in the University Centre from Monday to Wednesday to see the MCIC Global Citizenship Exhibit, to learn about Fair Trade, and to get info on all the events which are taking place throughout International Development Week. Visit the Engineering Atrium to see Engineers Without Border’s lifesize Shanty Town!

Monday February 7th Ethical Consumerism : Conflict Minerals and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
A talk and a film on one of the most pressing crises of our time.
Place : E3-270 Engineering
Time : 2:30 – 4:30
Presentation by Serge Kaptegaine, founder & president of “Hand in Hand for Peace in the Congo”
Film Screening of The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

Tuesday February 8th Indebted Development : The Efficacy of Providing Loans to the Poor
A panel discussion on the profit and perils of microfinance, that most popular solution to the problem of poverty.
Place : Graduate Students Association Lounge (217 University Centre)
Time : 1:30 – 3:00
Moderator : Ian Hudson Panellists : Jerry Buckland – John Serieux – Lubna Yeasmin

Wednesday February 9th Who are the Romani? Dispelling “Gypsy” Fantasy, Revealing Marginalized History
A presentation and discussion on the Romani, their place in contemporary Europe and Canada’s role in their persecution
Place : 307 Tier (Conference Room)
Time : 12:00 – 1:30
Presentation by Ronald Lee, founding member, former executive director and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Roma Community Center (Toronto)
Presentation by Armando Perla, Researcher for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Wednesday February 9th An Evening of Romani Culture
Join us to celebrate the culture and music of the Romani people through film.
Place : Degrees Diner
Time : 7:00 – 9:00
Music by Ronald Lee
Film Screening of Latcho Drom

Thursday February 8th Good Work or Good Times?
Sustaining and Ethical Dialogue on Global Citizenship
Place : Borger Boardroom E2 (Engineering)
Time : 3:00 – 6:00
Limited seating, RSVP to world_wise@umanitoba.ca

Friday February 11th Who’s Who in International Development
A chance to meet international development folk from both on and off-campus organizations. Mingle, learn about local opportunities, and find out how you can get involved.
Place : Engineering Atrium
Time : 5:00 – 7:00

International Development Week Calendar of Events

 

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Interested in international law, human rights, indigenous rights, feminism, rights related to economic, social and cultural rights and/or the right to self-determination or issues of violence and discrimination? Don’t miss this exciting roundtable, held jointly with the Manitoba Aboriginal Law Students’ Association!

On February 10, Céleste McKay will be joining us to discuss “The Human Rights of Indigenous Women.”  The roundtable will be held from 12 -1 in room 308.

We are truly honoured to host such a special guest. Céleste McKay is a Métis woman from Manitoba, with a background in social work and law.  In 2007, Céleste received her LL.M. degree from the University of Ottawa which focused on the international right to health of Indigenous women in Canada.  She has worked in the areas of human rights, policy, research and advocacy work, both nationally and internationally, primarily on behalf of Indigenous women’s organizations. Céleste is a Consultant on Human Rights and International Affairs.
Check out the following website for further info:
http://www.straight.com/article-202639/celeste-mckay-canada-must-work-aboriginal-women-stop-violence

Join us for this opportunity to learn more about Céleste’s international and domestic work promoting the human rights of indigenous women. If you’d like to do some reading and thinking in advance of the discussion, please read pages 14 – 20 and 28 – 33 of  Mairin Iwanka Raya: Indigenous Women Stand Against Violence. A Companion Report to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Women

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