Posts Tagged ‘roundtable’

On November 2, Dr. Jennifer Schulz joined us to discuss “A Feminist Approach to Torts Law”. Sporting a very fashionable FLF t-shirt, Dr. Schulz encouraged the group of students in attendance to approach the law critically. This is of particular importance in mandatory courses, where many professors will unconsciously teach from a perspective of liberalism, a perspective that treats the law as objective and neutral, even where inequalities are rampant. Although torts law may be presented as fundamentally objective, Dr. Schulz challenged us to think about ways in which torts law can benefit from feminist analysis.

A first and perhaps obvious example is the notion of the “reasonable person”. Professors and students may accept this standard as simple – the standard is simply reasonableness. We may all assume that our perspective on what is reasonable is the same, in reality, the opposite is true. This notion is sharpened when we consider that the “reasonable person” is just the “reasonable man”, the “bloke on the Clapham bus” from England. This standard was changed to reflect modern day political correctness, but has the way it is applied really changed? Feminist scholars have critiqued this approach, and we learned that two lines of thought have emerged in the literature. One approach recommends accepting that men and women do view the world differently and it might be useful to take about care in a positive way, rather than a negative duty to not to harm. The other approach is more radical as it questions the efficacy of relying on objective standards, and calls for focusing on the actual tortious event and how someone with that person’s experiences would react in the circumstances. This approach recognizes that nothing is actually objective, even if we apply that label to the standards we use, and challenges an approach that allows for conflating the reasonable person with a normative standard of behaviour. As the student discussion suggested, taking this kind of subjective approach may be beneficial to balance out the racist, classist and sexist attitudes a person faces as soon as they enter a courtroom.

Dr. Schulz also highlighted the area of damages as another aspect of torts law that can benefit from feminist perspective. The principle of compensation (putting a person back to where they would have been had the tortious event not occurred) can actually perpetuate inequality. A thought-provoking example is that of lost future wages. Because pay inequity remains rampant, the damage awards women receive for lost earnings reflect this economic inequality. Damage awards are therefore structured along discriminatory lines. We learned that, to this day, courts routinely take a percentage off a damage award for contingencies to account for women bearing and raising children. 7 percent is routinely knocked off of the damage awards women receive simply because women shoulder a disproportionate burden for child bearing and rearing in society. 

Another topic in torts that cries out for feminist critique is the treatment of mothers. The case of Dobson v Dobson, where the Supreme Court held that a mother does not owe a duty of care to her fetus, is one example. While this case is heralded as a feminist victory, the result also meant that a mother who gave birth to a disabled son as a result of her negligence was unable to collect insurance money to help her raise her child. The tension in this case is clearly worthy of further discussion. Finally, Dr. Schulz pointed to so-called “wrongful birth” cases and noted that there is judicial reluctance to ever call the birth of a child damages or harm, therefore they don’t want to compensate for these damages or harm. Yet, the burden for child raising falls disproportionately on women, thus this is another very gendered example of not acknowledging women’s damages in the way that men’s would be.

The lunch-hour discussion wrapped up with some very thoughtful comments and questions from students in attendance. Certainly, there is much to consider around the notion of standard of care. Why not utilize a concept of actual care? As Dr. Schulz posited, why do we obsess over compensatory principles to “equalize” a person, when the law could actually care about an individual and seek to help them as much as possible in a given case. I think I can speak for all in attendance in saying that we left the room challenged and encouraged to approach doctrinal law courses with a critical perspective and to ask the difficult questions, beyond facts, ratio and holding: who does this decision benefit? Who is the law really helping? What is the actual result of this? Is it really true that this is neutral?


Dayna Steinfeld is co-chair of the Feminsit Legal Forum.

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Great news– our next roundtable is right around the corner!

It’s happening one week from today– Wednesday, November 2nd — from 12-1pm in room 309. We are delighted to have as our featured guest speaker our very own Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies Dr. Jennifer Schulz. It’s tentatively titled: “A Feminist Approach to Torts Law”. Dr. Schulz’s roundtable last year was super interesting and interactive, and also standing room only– so be sure to come out and be sure to come early!

Dr. Schulz has kindly passed along a short reading for anyone who would like a little primer for her presentation. It’s called “Spaces and Challenges: Feminism in Legal Academia” by Susan B. Boyd (UBC Law) and you can find it here.

(Anyone having trouble with the PDF– seems that one minute it works and the next it doesn’t– , please shoot us an email at flf.robsonhall@gmail.com and we will most happily hook you up!)

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We are so pleased that this roundtable with Dr. Emma Cunliffe (UBC, Law) has been re-scheduled for March 24th from 12 -1 in room 308.

Don’t miss this opportunity to discuss the intersection of evidence law and feminism with an expert in the field. If you’d like to do some thinking in advance of the discussion, Dr. Cunliffe has suggested a short reading: What feminism can teach us about expert evidence. All students are welcome to attend – you do not have to have taken Evidence in order to enjoy and participate in this discussion.

Read more about the roundtable, and Dr. Cunliffe on the post for the originally scheduled discussion:


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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:

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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Happy New Year! We hope everyone had a chance to relax before diving back into classes this term.

The FLF is thrilled to announce that Dr. Emma Cunliffe (UBC Faculty of Law) will be leading a roundtable for us on January 21st from 12 -1 on “What Feminism Can Teach us About Expert Evidence”. This is a great chance for those who have taken evidence to consider some feminist issues around the case law and concepts learned in class. For those who haven’t taken evidence yet, the roundtable is an opportunity to gain a feminist perspective on evidence law. Evidence law is an area where a feminist perspective is extremely important and there’s not a lot of time to delve into these issues in the course itself. So come to the roundtable to learn and discuss!

If you’d like to prepare for the roundtable, Dr. Cunliffe would be grateful if you did a broad reading that will provide a good introduction to the topic. The approach to the roundtable will be flexible and open so that there can be lots of discussion and time for questions. The reading should help spark some thoughts in your mind before the discussion. Click on the link below for the reading.

What feminism can teach us about expert evidence

We are very excited to host Dr. Emma Cunliffe for this roundtable. It is an honour to have her come speak with us.


Dr Emma Cunliffe is an Assistant Professor at the UBC Faculty of Law.  She won the Killam Prize for Teaching Excellence in 2010 and has pioneered the use of problem-based learning in her classes at UBC.  Dr Cunliffe’s research focuses on expert evidence in homicide trials, particularly expert medical evidence.  Her forthcoming book (Murder, Medicine and Motherhood: Hart, 2011) considers the role of sudden infant death syndrome and normative conceptions of motherhood in child homicide prosecutions in the early 21st century.  In her current work, Emma is considering the social and legal context in which 20 parents and caregivers were wrongly accused of murder by Ontario pathologist Charles Smith.  In addition, Emma is conducting the first comprehensive survey of admissibility decisions regarding expert evidence in Canadian courts, in an effort to identify whether some types of expertise are scrutinized more closely than others by judges and lawyers.


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On Thursday Nov. 25, Bev Froese from the Public Interest Law Center ran our final roundtable event for the 2010 calendar year.


Bev’s presentation focused on the 2004 Human Rights Complaint on behalf of women inmates regarding the alleged discrimination based on sex, race and disability at the hands of the Portage Correctional Facility. The case had two main issues. First, women’s unique needs were not being met by the prison facility. Secondly, women were not being treated equal to male prisoners in other Manitoba facilities.


Almost immediately the question arises: What is Equality?   Is it treating everyone the same?? Or treating people differently to reach the same outcome?? Can it be both??


One of the most obvious violations taking place surrounded the need for women to have pre-natal vitamins available to them within the prison. This is a unique need that only women require, so although these vitamins are not offered to any prisoner in Manitoba regardless of their sex it becomes quite clear that the outcome of this decision is one of sexual discrimination.


Portage Correctional also has no ramp or elevator access for disabled individuals to access the facility which is clearly discrimination. There were also issues surrounding the lack of mental disability programming and the ways in which the staff dealt with inmates who suffered from various addictions or mental disabilities. One of the racial discrimination arguments against the facility rested quite heavily on the lack of cultural workers and cultural support being offered to the inmates.


Ultimately a settlement was reached through mediation which allows for the Women’s Program Advisory Committee to improve the short term and keep an eye on the long term goals and needs of the inmates. There will be a new prison facility built in the near future that should address the physical needs of inmates. The agreement also promised to develop specialized programs for women, increase support for aboriginal women and increase the availability of sacred spaces.


The roundtable finished with a short discussion about confronting myths around equality in an effort to normalize the ideas and take substantive equality out of a “special” category and into everyday life.

So how do we draw attention to the special needs of groups of individuals without having the rest of society feel that the group is getting special attention or benefiting unfairly at everyone else’s expense??

Just some food for thought…

*Jocelyn Turnbull is a second-year student at Robson Hall. She spent her summer working for the Manitoba Bar Association.


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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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The FLF is thrilled to announce that our first Feminist Fridays roundtable discussion of the 2010/2011 academic year will be led by Prof. Debra Parkes. The roundtable is titled Feminism and Law: Why and How? It will be held on Tuesday, September 28th from 12 -1 in room 309.

This promises to be a fascinating introductory roundtable, well suited for those who identify as feminists or have studied in the areas of feminism or gender before, as well as those who wish to learn a bit more about feminism. In particular, this roundtable will discuss the interaction between feminism and law – a great start for a group named Feminist Legal Forum!

If you’re looking to mull some questions over before the roundtable, Professor Parkes has provided us with a short book chapter that will be of some help.  “Feminist Legal Studies: a Primer” by Brettel Dawson offers some thought provoking content that will get you thinking about things to discuss or questions to bring up at the roundtable. Find it here: Feminist Legal Primer

The roundtable is a great opportunity to discuss and debate, as well as to interact with fellow students and Faculty members.

More on Prof. Debra Parkes, our discussion facilitator:

Professor Debra Parkes teaches and researches in a variety of areas related to constitutional and human rights law, criminal law, employment and labour law, and penal law and policy. Her scholarly work examines the various ways that rights claims are framed, adjudicated, and reviewed by administrative authorities and courts, as well as the public support (or, in some cases, lack of it) for those rights claims.

Professor Parkes is one of Canada’s leading experts on prisoners’ rights and she currently holds a multi-year grant from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to investigate prisoner complaint systems in Canada and internationally. She is also collaborating with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities on a Community-University Research Alliance grant from the SSHRC, examining legal mechanisms for the enforcement of the human rights of people with disabilities.

Professor Parkes is a member of the Manitoba Bar and a past member of the Ontario Bar. She currently serves as President of the Canadian Law & Society Association, a national association of scholars from many disciplines who are interested in the place of law in social, political, economic and cultural life. During her term as President of the Manitoba Elizabeth Fry Society, Professor Parkes led that organization’s advocacy for women’s equality rights through a Human Rights complaint and mediation. In recognition of her human rights work, Professor Parkes has received the University of Manitoba Outreach Award (2005) and the Manitoba Bar Association Equality Rights Award (2008). She was also nominated for a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in 2008.

See you at the roundtable! Bring your lunch and your hunger for discussion!

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