Red Dress or REDRESS day

Monday, October 5, 2015

By: Prof. Elizabeth Sheehy

In honour of Red Dress or REDRESS day, calling attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women, I am sending this gentle reminder that the Walking With Our Sisters Collaborative Memorial installation at Carleton University’s art gallery continues only until October 16th, when it moves on to another city.

Wakefield feminist artist cj fleury  wrote to me last week, describing her experience of the work:

Hello from cj:

This is an amazing installation that will be on till the middle of October!

You have probably heard about the project already?   The entire effort is volunteer, meaning minimal poster/postering; so I humbly extend this news your way.  There is more info, w/links below....

I had the opportunity to experience the space, one of many folks helping set up. In my first walk through the partially-assembled installation, I could have spent an hour every 3 feet.  It was soooo incredibly moving, and beautiful, majestic, powerful, humble, deep..important, unique..timely!    The work, more than art, is amazing in so many ways.

Through ceremony, the installation becomes a sacred space and it will nothing like I have ever witnessed in any gallery before. 

I wish for you the chance, the time to experience this space...besides the stunning visuals, to see the amazing way the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls have been honoured; to see the pain of loss, abuse and disrespect transformed into a magnificent work of peace, beauty and hope.   

If you are unable to go, a facebook page shares the vision of Walking With Our Sisters.

My partner, my daughter and I visited Walking with Our Sisters, reviewed this week by Peter Hum, yesterday. The minute we walked into the space a wave of grief washed over us. The room is charged with energy, but the protocols in place help to manage the intensity. Drummers and singers were finishing a song as we entered.  Removing one’s shoes, as requested, and walking without them on a cold floor is both grounding and a physical link to the vamps—the upper portion of moccasins that the exhibit is composed of—left unfinished to represent women’s lives cut short, fragments of shoes unable to guard against the cold and rough terrain. An elder was there to smudge us before entering, and we were given small bags of tobacco to hold near our hearts—close enough to smell as you walked though the exhibit.

The vamps were arranged in rows around the perimeter of the room, on one strip of white cloth and a parallel strip of red cloth. Were the two lines meant to represent the Two Row Wampum—the oldest treaty relationship between Indigenous peoples and European settlers? Another display of vamps was in the centre of the room on cloth shaped like a canoe. In the far corner was another display of vamps of children’s shoes—the children who never came home from residential schools. Fresh cedar boughs and small bags of medicines as well as several ceremonial displays punctuated the vamps.

And the vamps: all made by volunteers, many memorialize individual women, with their names, photographs and date of disappearance. Others are designs—crosses, flowers, birds, animals, and abstract designs, embroidered, painted or fashioned of beads, felt, ribbons, pinecones, shells, fur and feathers. With the (incongruous) exception of two identical sets of Ottawa Police Service vamps (using their insignia) each set is individual and unique. Some are exquisitely beautiful, like the delicately beaded robins; some are political, like the set that used a nametag on each, one reading My Name Is and the other reading Who Cares?; and others are playful—one set has felted 3D frogs squatting on the vamps and another uses Superman’s symbol.

Together the 1763 pairs of vamps evoke a collective loss of Indigenous women’s lives and futures. At the same time, this installation captures the dignity of their differences and their individual lives—some very young, others old, from all the regions of this country, speaking many different languages and coming from different peoples, some confirmed dead, others still missing. By holding together both the collective wrong—what unites these women, their disappearances and our neglect—and the respect and care devoted to each woman’s life, the vamps that constitute Walking With Our Sisters remind us that mourning and working for change walk hand-in-hand.

Screening Prospective Jurors for Racial Prejudice

Thursday, October 1, 2015

uOttawa Law's own Prof. Rakhi Ruparelia penned this article in the CBA's National Magazine on screening prospective jurors for racial prejudice.

Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion- Sept. 28th

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The 28th of September was the Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion and the first birthday of “Women Help Women”. This  organization delivers medical abortion drugs to women in countries where abortion is illegal.  This  video celebrates the amazing work of WHW and acknowledges the power of women to control their reproductive autonomy.

Law Related Internship with Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

CML 3171JB: Stage avec l’Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration
Séance d'information (13 octobre 2015 à 17h00 – Brooks 413)
Nouvelle date limite pour les demandes (20 octobre 2015)
Nouvelle bourse de voyage pour les étudiants sélectionnés

Ce stage offre l’occasion de passer 3 semaines pendant la session de janvier à travailler dans une organisation non gouvernementale (située à San Francisco et d’autres endroits), ORAM – “Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration.” ORAM est la seule organisation internationale œuvrant exclusivement pour la promotion des personnes réfugiées fuyant des persécutions basées sur l’orientation sexuelle et l’identité de genre. Veuillez visiter leur site :

Nous vous invitons à participer à cette séance d’information, à rencontrer des étudiants qui ont travaillé en tant que stagiaires avec ORAM, et à leur poser des questions. 

Toutes demandes devraient être envoyées directement à Professeur Jamie Liew à

CML 3171JB: Law Related Internship with Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration

Information Session (October 13, 2015 at 5pm @Brooks 413) 
New Deadline for applications (October 20, 2015)
New travel bursary for selected students of $2000

This internship provides students with the opportunity to spend 3 weeks during January term working on-site (San Francisco and other places) in a non-governmental organization, ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration. ORAM is the leading global advocate for people fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Please visit

Come to the information session and and meet students who have gone on this internship. Ask questions.

Applications should be sent directly to Professor Jamie Liew at

Wearing a Niqab is not Anti-Woman

Read this op-ed  by Uottawa Law's own Prof. Natasha Bakht.

Violence Against Women

Monday, September 28, 2015

By: Professor Elizabeth Sheehy*

“Feminists have this nasty habit of counting bodies and refusing not to notice their gender,” Catharine Mackinnon wrote in 1987.

Along with the family and friends of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam, I mourn these women’s deaths. All were killed within hours of each other on September 22, 2015 in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario. Basil Borutski, their former intimate partner, has been charged with three counts of murder.

There are tragedies upon tragedies here. It is tragic that it takes a mass homicide of women to get the kind of local media and soul-searching that has ensued, while the everyday killing of women—one every six days nationally—marches on with barely a comment. For Indigenous women we seem to need even more blood to pay attention—only a monstrous accumulation of lost lives of girls and women tallying into the hundreds and thousands will make us blink. Even though we are in midst of an election campaign and these most recent killings took place the day after the so-called leaders’ “debate” on women’s issues, which included violence against women as a topic, the candidates have eschewed comment—as noted by Sadiya Ansari here. No leadership to be found here.

It is tragic that media coverage has barely moved beyond the contradictory messages that leave us in stalemate. On the one hand, the same old, tired interviews where members of the community express their surprise and describe Borutski as a nice guy. On the other the headlines that suggest that men like Borutski are “unstoppable”. Are men like Borutski benign individuals who have inexplicably snapped? Or are they raging madmen whose actions are predictable but unpreventable? We are left again without leadership: ought we simply give up—nothing to be done?

It is tragic that this is the first time the criminal charges—first-degree murder—seem commensurate with the actions of the accused. After all, the criminal justice system had years and multiple opportunities to get this right for Borutski. He was convicted of causing property damage, assault police and failure to provide a breath sample. But charges for threatening his ex-wife with death and assaulting her, for assaulting Warmerdam, for criminal harassment of a fifth woman and for assault against a sixth, were all stayed by Crown prosecutors

Yes, the newspapers report that he was convicted of “choking” Kuzyk, but the truth is we have no such crime. Like Bonnie Mooney, whose terrible experience at the hands of her ex-partner and the criminal justice system I describe in my book, Defending Battered Women on Trial: Lessons from the Transcripts it seems he was convicted of simple assault—not attempted murder, assault endangering life, or likely even assault causing bodily harm. The criminal justice system completely failed to appropriately condemn Borutski’s violence or to capture the acute endangerment his victims faced. And without convictions for serious crimes of violence he could not have been designated the “dangerous offender” that he appears to be. Borutski could not have been kept in jail without that determination. No leadership here either.

It is tragic that we are not also mourning the half-lives these women lived in dread, some for decades. They had to engage in a charade of what others take for granted as normal life—working, caring for their children, trying to move on into hopeful lives, all while fearing that their worst nightmare would come true, living in hyper-vigilance and looking over their shoulder. They used monitoring devices and safety plans, and probably healthy doses of denial, every day of their lives. We know that these weren’t the only women whose lives were derailed by Borutski, because at least three other women turned to police for aid. The life of his ex-wife—Mary Ann Borutski—was spared on September 22nd, but her health has not been, as the crippling sequelae of domestic terrorism continue to wreak havoc on her.

We don’t know how many other Ontario women will now re-live the trauma Borutski caused them as they wonder whether they too were on his list. Or how many women, on the run from violent men, whose blood ran cold when they heard this terrible news. We seem prepared to accept such vast human wreckage—and I’m not here even counting the children of the women—and we will not countenance battered women who kill rather than die themselves, if our media is any reflection of public sentiment. Where to turn for leadership, for something we can do?

Feminists are still “counting the bodies”—and we have to if we are to save women’s lives. Only the independent women’s movement has fought shoulder-to-shoulder with women escaping male violence for more than forty years, using the knowledge they have gained to identify factors and patterns that put women at acute risk; bearing witness to women’s suffering and providing counseling and support; accompanying them to police and to court, arguing with police, prosecutors and sometimes even judges; creating and sustaining shelters for them and their kids; helping women plan safe exits and create new lives; and advocating tirelessly for changes to social welfare, family law, social housing, health care, policing, prosecution practices and to the criminal law itself. The first ever 70-country study that evaluated change over four decades has concluded that the most important factor in predicting positive and enduring policy shifts to combat violence against women is feminist mobilization.

We simply cannot stop the Basil Borutskis without looking male violence against women in the eye before women are killed, and only the independent women’s movement can tell us how to do this. There are no shortcuts.

ELIZABETH SHEEHY, LL.B., LL.M., LL.D. (Honoris causa), FRSC, is Vice Dean Research and Shirley Greenberg Chair for Women and the Legal Profession at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. She teaches Criminal Law and Procedure, Sexual Assault Law, and Defending Battered Women on Trial.

International Action Against Gendered Cyberviolence

In this recent report the United Nations states that urgent action is required to combat cyberviolence against women and girls.

Feminist law professor weighs in on the niqab

Friday, September 25, 2015

Read this op-ed by  University of Ottawa Faculty of Law Professor Natasha Bakht on Muslim women's choice to wear the niqab when and where they choose.

Qian Liu: Single Women’s Frozen Eggs Threaten Chinese Communist Party’s “Harmonious Society” Project?

Friday, August 7, 2015

For many women living in China, state and familial pressures mean that procreation is only possible within heterosexual marriage, and before the ripe old age of 27. For a single Chinese woman who has other ideas about bearing children there are very few options. There are even less options if your choice is to use assisted reproductive technologies, such as freezing your eggs. Although this technology is highly demanded by Chinese single women, especially those who are labelled as “leftover” (unmarried women older than 27), the only way to have access to this new reproductive technology would be through the black market or by travelling abroad.

China has long prohibited offering assisted reproductive technologies to single women. This rarely discussed but commonly known policy has now become a hot topic worldwide after a famous 41-year-old Chinese actress and film director, Xu Jinglei, announced that she had traveled to the U.S. in 2013 to freeze her eggs. At long last, the issues of “leftover” women’s reproductive rights are being discussed outside of academic circles.

The state’s response to the Xu Jinglei egg-crisis once again proves that it still uses policies and the media to push women into marriage by reinforcing that marriage is the prerequisite of childbearing. Women are regarded as breeding machines and guardians of family and social stability.

The publicity around Xu Jinglei’s egg retrieval story has caused the Chinese government to be anxious over what other “leftover” women in China might do in light of Xu’s experience. The government has used several state-run media outlets to publish a series of articles aimed at convincing “leftover” women that they should get married and have children rather than store their eggs.

On the one hand, the state-run media emphasizes that the procedures of egg retrieval and storage are far more complicated than what people think they are, and that the success rate is low (less than 30%).One more reason, they assert, is that women should give birth at an early age. For example, Xinhuanet, a prominent news website ran by the predominant Chinese official press agency Xinhua, reported on its website that “the national health and family planning commission suggests that women should get pregnant in their prime child-bearing years, between 24 and 29. Pregnancy at over 35 can be dangerous to both mother and fetus.”  

On the other hand, the state-run media explicitly reaffirmed that it is not possible for a single woman to have access to assisted reproductive technologies in China. China Central Television reported that single women cannot use their frozen eggs to get pregnant because this is at odds with the national population and family planning laws and regulations.

What could possibly motivate the state-run media to intimidate women in this way?  One answer is that single women having complete control over their reproduction threatens the “harmonious society” project and population control system of the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP). If the nation’s “breeding machines” delay their marriages or give birth out of wedlock, the government loses control over its most basic measures for population control. And along the way the long established social control system that considers the traditional nuclear family as the “basic cell” of the societal structure will be threatened. What’s more, the failure of “surplus” men to get married becomes an even bigger concern for a government seeking to maintain the social order. This is because the state assumes that single men without a wife or family to discipline them would be more likely to commit crime or destroy social stability. 

The “harmonious society” project was launched by Hu Jintao, the former president of the People’s Republic of China, to solve social conflicts and ensure social stability. The All China Women’s Federation (the ACWF), which is the world’s largest women’s organization but also the women’s arm of the CCP, has carried out a campaign to build “harmonious families” by advocating the patriarchal cultural understanding of family/marriage and women’s roles as wives and mothers. Rather than challenging patriarchal thoughts that contribute to the phenomenon of “leftover” women, the ACWF emphasizes the importance of monogamous families and reinforces the established gender ideology in the media. What’s more, the ACWF plays an important role in the media campaign of “rescuing” “leftover” women by blaming them as picky, selfish and money-oriented women, and putting forward suggestions on how they can become attractive to men on their website.

At the same time, the desires of single women to give birth are used by the state as tools to push young women into heterosexual marriage at an early age through the prohibition of out-of-wedlock childbearing and exaggerating the dangers of giving birth after their twenties.

I understand the importance of maintaining social stability and dealing with the consequences caused by the One-Child Policy in China. Population control is critical. But China, as a powerful nation, should not impose these responsibilities onto women’s shoulders and take it for granted that every woman should sacrifice their life plans for a certain ideal of the family and the state. 

Qian Liu is a PhD student in the Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Designed by Rachel Gold.