Assisted Human Reproduction in Canada: a call to action

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Supreme Court of Canada, in its decision on the Assisted Human Reproduction Act released late last year, increased the potential for serious harm to women and children. In its decision, the Court struck down important provisions of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which attempted to regulate the use of reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization across the country. Asked to rule on the defensibility of the federal government’s intervention, the court decided that provincial jurisdiction over health care rendered the Act invalid.

We have a problem with that. Reproductive technology treatments are applied primarily to the bodies of women, even where they are being used to overcome male factor infertility. And the Supreme Court’s decision will almost certainly have a negative impact on both women using these technologies and on the children they bear.

The ruling has left an enormous gap in the regulation of reproductive technologies and left the door open for potential abuse. For example, the federal government can no longer standardize practices across the country, such as limit the number of embryos that can be implanted into a woman’s uterus. Yet the health risks to women and children arising from the implantation of multiple embryos are well-recognized. Indeed, a panel of experts commissioned by the Ontario government recently confirmed the severity of these, citing pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, anemia and premature labour as threats to the pregnant woman, and low birth weight and prematurity as risks to any resulting children.

Further, the Court’s ruling means that the federal government can no longer create an information registry for sperm and egg donors and the children conceived from donated materials. Such a registry is vital to ensuring that these children receive important genetic health information about their biological heritage. Family medical history is fundamental to the treatment of illness and disease: awareness of what diseases affected your genetic relatives influences prevention and therapeutic strategies for everything from heart disease and diabetes to breast cancer and arthritis. Unfortunately, the national registry contemplated in the Act, which would have ensured that children receive not only this information, but also personal data about the donor, was struck down.

The majority of the Supreme Court who wrote the decision have left vital aspects of the regulation of these technologies to provincial governments. This is deeply unfortunate. After the 1993 Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies, it took more than a decade for protective legislation to be passed into law. The Court's decision almost certainly means that if and when replacement legislation is enacted at the provincial level, it will be a patchwork approach. Women and children in different provinces will be subject to different rules and will receive varying levels of protection. Indeed, some provinces may choose not to regulate the use of these technologies at all. Each province may set different requirements for the collection and disclosure of information. In one jurisdiction, a donor-conceived child may receive extensive information from her biological progenitor, while children born in identical circumstances elsewhere in Canada, may receive little or no information.

We understand and respect the principles of federalism and the division of powers between levels of government. However, at the end of the day, our federal government must bear responsibility for ensuring that it’s able to regulate and set national standards for important moral, ethical and public health issues.

The majority of the Supreme Court of Canada has weakened Canada’s ability to do this, and in doing so, has placed the health and safety of women and children using reproductive technologies in jeopardy. To date, Quebec is the only province who has enacted legislation in this are. We implore other provincial governments to respond as well. We urge them to regulate the use of reproductive technologies, and to co-ordinate their efforts to ensure consistency across Canada; the lives of Canadian women and their children are at stake.

Vanessa Gruben and Angela Cameron are both Professors at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

October 4th: Official launch of the Women's Legal Mentorship Program

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Breakfast at 7:45 am to 9:15 am

12-110 Desmarais Hall located at 55 Laurier Avenue East

Guest speaker Mary Dawson, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, will be reflecting on the changes throughout the last 40 to 50 years for women practicing law. Ms. Dawson has had a long and distinguished career in public service, and we are thrilled to have her with us as we launch our program.

Seating is limited and WLMP participating in the Peer Mentorship program are given preference in seating. Any lawyers interested in attending please RSVP for this event by emailing by September 29th.

Here is the poster for the event.

Wangari Maathai

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

At the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, we have often explored the close links between our various areas of specialty, including feminism, environmental law, and social justice. Very few have embodied the connections between these three areas as fully and effectively as Wangari Maathai, who sadly passed away on September 26th, 2011. The first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004, Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which sought to achieve environmental sustainability but also to empower women and achieve democracy and social justice, in part through the planting of 30 million trees. The Nobel committee recognized her “"for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace".

Her death leaves a great void, but hopefully her inspiration will guide others, including our feminist, social justice and environmental law students, to fill it by continuing this kind of work.

Heather McLeod-Kilmurray is a Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

Access to Justice, Breakdance, Copyright, and Why You Should Read This Blog

Friday, September 23, 2011

There is a legal matter of serious concern to street dancers from the Bronx, Queens and Harlem, a matter which has received little (if any) attention from lawyers, policy-makers, or mainstream media.

To explain the issue, I need to first give you a little bit of background about street dance and the street dance scene. Street dance involves “free-styling” – making up steps as one goes along, rather than performing sequences that were choreographed and rehearsed. Street dancers often develop their own personal style, and become known for their signature moves. While the steps and sequences are improvised, the underlying dance techniques tend to fall into an existing dance form – popping, locking, waving, voguing, waacking etc. – or some combination of existing dance forms. These dance forms started out as social dances, but have taken on a commercial character as well: dance “battles” attract individual street dancers and dance crews from quite a ways away who pay a relatively small entrance fee in exchange for the chance to win significant prize money. Others buy tickets to watch the event.

It is becoming increasingly common for attendees to illicitly record the improvised performances, which is against the rules of these events. Rumour has it (and I have not yet been able to find any actual evidence supporting or refuting the claims) that there is high demand for these videos among foreign pop stars, whose choreographers copy the moves and incorporate them into choreography for live performances and music videos. New York street dancers get upset about this for a number of reasons: (1) they feel the moves are their moves and no one else should be able to use them without their permission; (2) since the presumed purchasers of the videos don’t always have the proper training in the underlying dance forms, they might do the moves incorrectly; and (3) if any money is made off of these recordings, they believe that they should get a cut.

These facts are interesting to analyze from a number of perspectives. From intellectual property: Can someone actually hold copyright in a dance step or is it analogous to words, which are excluded from copyrightability because they are the building blocks for all writing? Access to justice is another concern: Street dancers on the whole don’t have the means to hire a lawyer. Even if they did, many feel that the legal system isn’t in place to help them. They are more likely to resort to “self-help” remedies.

You can probably guess why this issue is not getting attention among lawyers, policymakers or mainstream journalists: because they don’t really spend much time talking to street dancers. So what’s the moral of the story? You should read this blog. For those of you interested in feminist/equality issues, or in hearing women’s perspectives on a broad range of issues, it’s obvious why: you will read reflections from a large number of smart, thoughtful scholars discussing a vast array of important topics. For those of you who don’t consider these to be specific personal (or professional) interests: learning about issues and perspectives other than those to which you naturally gravitate carries a significant risk of exposing you to problems you weren’t aware of or angles you hadn’t explored. That’s a pretty exciting possibility.

Madelaine Saginur is the Executive Director of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.
Designed by Rachel Gold.