Prof. Joanne St. Lewis on FEMEN's Bil C-51 protest

Thursday, March 26, 2015



Top 10 Reasons FEMEN protest on C51 is not radical or particularly feminist

It is tempting to ignore the 15 minutes of fame provided to FEMEN’s un/strategic nudity but for the thought that “coverage” of further attempts will always sell papers. Women lawyers, activist and academics opposing C51 who are appearing or seeking to make their voices heard at the hearings are not assisted by a flash of bromides written on naked breasts. This tactic diminishes our voices in the resistance to C51. It is an uncritical privilege to chose to sexualize oneself as part of political speech. Women have resisted being inappropriately sexualized in their workplaces and professional lives. For some of us, Parliament is a space where we wish to be taken seriously - it is where we do our work. Gratuitous sexuality also trivializes the dehumanizing reality of sexualized violence currently affecting many women in Canada.

 Here are my Top 10 reasons why FEMEN’s tactics are far from radical or particularly feminist:

1.     Looking at women's naked breasts is the end not the beginning of conversation in our highly sexualized society. It is naive to think otherwise.

2.      Political debate is not being catalyzed by the shock tactic of partial female nudity.  Canadians have already taken to the streets to protest the anti-terror law. Opposition grows daily.

3.      Exposing women's breasts contradicts the experience of Muslim women activists whose constitutional right to wear the hijab and niqab has been challenged in courtrooms and by our Prime Minister.

4.      FEMEN activists distract from meaningful criticism of C51 by centring attention on their breasts/bodies. The medium (their bodies) cloaks their message (harms of C51).

5.      C51 is not primarily about female agency or sexual freedom creating a further disconnect with the tactic of partial nudity. C51 fundamentally erodes the democratic rights of both Canadian men and women.

6.      C51 reinforces ongoing surveillance and detention faced by environmental, Aboriginal and other activists. Stripping partially nude in a public place is not equivalent in risk, consequence or meaning to the activism that will be targeted by C51.

7.      National security is a highly masculinized debate which needs to be disrupted. However, anchoring a strategy of resistance in female nudity weakens women’s voices.

8.      FEMEN’s activists, while not supermodels or celebrities, emphasize the nakedness of women fitting an erotic stereotype in a manner similar to PETA. Contributing to the pornographic gaze in North American society does not empower women.

9.      FEMEN is entitled to advance a strategy using their bodies as speech. However, sexualizing C51 is not an advance sought by those fighting the anti-terror law.

10.     FEMEN has confused women’s breasts with blackboards and placards. A scrawled missive across naked breasts is distraction not content.

Joanne St. Lewis is a Black feminist law professor teaching in the area of social justice at the University of Ottawa. She is the former Executive Director of LEAF (the Women’s Legal Education & Action Fund).

Prof. Sheehy is a Finalist for the 2015 Canada Prize in Social Science



La professeure Sheehy est finaliste du Canada Prize in the Social Sciences 2015

La Fédération des sciences humaines a annoncé ce mercredi 25 mars que la professeure Elizabeth Sheehy est une des finalistes  du Canada Prize in the Social Sciences 2015 pour son livre intitulé Defending Battered Women on Trial: Lessons from the Transcripts (UBC Press).

Les Prix du Canada sont attribués chaque année aux meilleurs livres savants en sciences humaines et sociales ayant bénéficié du soutien financier du Prix d’auteurs pour l’édition savante (PAES). « Les ouvrages des lauréats apportent une contribution exceptionnelle à la recherche, sont rédigés de façon intéressante et enrichissent la vie sociale, culturelle et intellectuelle du Canada. » 

Les noms des lauréats et lauréates seront annoncés le 22 avril et les quatre prix, chacun d’une valeur de 2 500 $, seront remis dans le cadre d’une cérémonie qui se tiendra le mercredi 29 avril 2015, dans le Salon Bram et Bluma Appel de la Bibliothèque de référence de Toronto.


Toutes nos félicitations à la professeure Sheehy pour cette distinction grandement méritée !




Prof. Sheehy is a Finalist for the 2015 Canada Prize in Social Sciences

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences announced on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 that Professor Elizabeth Sheehy is a finalist for the 2015 Canada Prize in the Social Sciences for her book Defending Battered Women on Trial: Lessons from the Transcripts (UBC Press).

The Canada Prizes are awarded annually for the best scholarly books in the humanities and social sciences that have received funding from the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP).  “The Canada Prizes recognize books that make an exceptional contribution to scholarship, are engagingly written, and enrich the social, cultural and intellectual life of Canada.”

Winners will be announced on April 22 and the awards, each valued at $2,500, will be presented at a ceremony on Wednesday, April 29, at the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library.


Congratulations to Prof. Sheehy on this well-deserved honour!

Defend our Freedom March

Friday, March 13, 2015

Join the march to stop Bill C-51. You'll find details and sign up here.

Canada Violates the Rights of Aboriginal Women and Girls

Monday, March 9, 2015


Canada Violates the Rights of Aboriginal Women and Girls
By: Shelagh Day

The CEDAW Report has been released. You can find the full text posted on the FAFIA website.

The Committee has found Canada in violation of 5 Articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women - Articles 2, 3, 5, 14, and 15. These are the core guarantees of equality in the Convention.

For those of us who have been working on equality rights law for a long time, this decision includes analysis and findings that we have been seeking since section 15 of the Charter was introduced. Our domestic courts have not attained this sophistication yet. . Here are the key features in the CEDAW Report that are crucial to the advancement of women’s human rights.

1) This decision, like the one by from the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), pulls together economic and social rights and civil and political rights. This is extremely important because in women's lives they are so integrally connected. A woman who is poor, racialized and socially marginalized does not enjoy the same protection from the police, or the same ability to participate politically as one who is not. There is no equality before the law without equality in conditions of living. This is just fact.

2) This decision deals with systemic discrimination. That is, it is concerned with Aboriginal women and girls as a group - precisely the sociological phenomenon that Prime Minister Harper says does not exist. It recognizes the systemic discrimination against Aboriginal women and girls as a group in a number of ways - the systemic discrimination involved in Canada's colonial history, in the residential schools policy, in the Indian Act, in social and economic marginalization, in discriminatory police treatment, in discrimination in the justice system through overcriminalization, in discrimination in the child welfare system, in the discrimination inherent in the funneling of Aboriginal women and girls into prostitution. It is highly unusual to have a legal ruling on systemic discrimination that finds that governments are engaged in it, or are failing to address it and therefore perpetuating it.

3) This decision finds that the discrimination that Canada is guilty of lies in failures to act effectively. It has always been easier for courts - and ordinary people - to understand that there is a violation of a law if the government or an individual does something overt. A commission is easier to call a violation of law, than an omission, a failure to provide clean water, or adequate housing, or a justice system that protects Aboriginal women and girls. But it is these failures that cause equality violations the failures to take “all appropriate measures” as Article 3 of the Convention says, to advance the equality of women. That is what the CEDAW Committee has ruled:  Canada violates the right to equality by failing to take the steps necessary to ensure that Aboriginal women and girls enjoy equality, equal protection of the law, and the right to life and security.

Shelagh Day is the Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, and an expert on international human rights law.

Op-Ed on Black History Month

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Read this op-ed by uOttawa law's own Prof. Rakhi Ruparelia.

Op-ed on the Hijab in the Courthouse

Read Prof. Carissima Mathen's op-ed in the Globe.

uOttawa Law Alumni on Hijabs in the Courthouse

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Amna Qureshi, a recent graduate of uOttawa Law published this op-ed in the the Star today, in support of Muslim women who wear the hijab in Canadian court rooms.

Analysis of Canada's proposed new anti terror law

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach provide the third in a series of commentary here.

Canada is Making Queer Refugees “Queue Jumpers”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015















By: Professor Nicole LaViolette

Much has been made of Immigration Minister Chris Alexander‘s recent announcement that Canada will take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in response to the United Nations’ appeal to help resettle Syrian refugees worldwide. The cause is urgent: millions of Syrians who have fled the brutal civil war are languishing in countries that simply do not have the resources to care for them.

So, many Canadians have welcomed the Minister’s announcement, reassured that the federal government has not completely abandoned a commitment to humanitarianism. But many others wonder how the government will meet the increased targets, given its failure to resettle far fewer Syrian refuges in 2014.

Less has been made about the details of Minister Alexander’s announcement, however, and they deserve attention. The Minister’s office has stated that “Canada is focusing on vulnerable individuals and those facing persecution… Our priority is and will continue to be on those who are at risk because they are a religious minority, a sexual minority, or victims of rape.” Hence, the Conservative government is interested in helping only certain sub-groups of Syrian refugees.

The emphasis on sexual minorities should, at first glance, be welcomed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in Canada. For many years now, members of LGBT communities have supported individuals making claims for refugee protection in Canada. Groups have come together to raise funds to privately resettle these refugees. They have appeared before parliamentary committees to advocate for a fair system for sexual minority refugees. This work has been very important: the plight of LGBT refugees has long been disregarded, and as a result, sexual minorities have long been subject to discrimination, homophobia and neglect in the international and national refugee protection systems.

Yet, as a law professor who has devoted much of my scholarly work to researching the persecution of sexual minorities, I am deeply troubled by the prioritizing of LGBT refugees, along with religious minorities, ahead of many other refugees equally in need of protection. Refugee protection is supposed to be granted without discrimination. The UNHCR, the international agency responsible for referring refugees for resettlement, has stated that the selection test must be based on need, in order to help those most at risk. The agency therefore strongly discourages using discriminatory criteria such as family size, age, health status, ethnicity and religion, and presumably, sexual orientation.

Astonishingly, it seems the Conservative government intends to do what it has long denounced in relation to refugee policy: promote “queue jumping.” For years, Conservative politicians have identified this as one of the problems with our refugee system. In 2009, then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney incorrectly stated that “most Mexicans claiming refugee status in Canada are queue jumpers.” Tamil refugee claimants arriving in Canada were similarly branded by Conservative cabinet ministers. Indeed, for many years, the Harper government has justified drastic reforms to our refugee system by claiming the changes would help legitimate refugees, rather than queue-jumpers. So how can the government now justify moving specific groups of refugees to the front of a very long line of desperate people?

I know that Syrian LGBT refugees are already among the most at risk. They face criminal sanctions, social marginalization, and life-threatening violence in their home country. Therefore many will almost certainly be considered extremely vulnerable under a needs-based approach. They do not need to be singled out by Canada as part of a discriminatory resettlement policy. If the number of Syrian refugees to be resettled is increased, and the government seriously improves resettlement processing times and procedures, LGBT refugees will be able to access the protection they need.

For that reason, Canadian LGBT communities must insist that the Conservative government respect its international obligations to provide refugee protection without discrimination. Sexual minorities know only too well the harm caused by discrimination. Queer Canadians should not support doing unto others what has long been done to us.

Nicole LaViolette is a professor of law at the University of Ottawa.

Forcese and Roach Highlight Civil Rights Concerns with New Anti-Terror Bill

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Professor Craig Forcese of the University of Ottawa and Professor Kent Roach of the University of Toronto have launched an innovative new effort to document the civil rights concerns raised by the Government's recently introduced anti-terror bill. Professors Forcese and Roach will write and post a series of position papers about aspects of the bill. Their full work product will eventually appear at http://www.antiterrorlaw.ca/ and will ultimately become a new book by Irwin Law. In the meantime, check out their first paper on the proposed offence of "advocacy or promotion of terrorism" here.
Designed by Rachel Gold.