Tory MP Stephen Woodworth attacks reproductive Rights

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tory MP Stephen Woodworth  introduced a motion in the House of Commons yesterday which threatens women's reproductive autonomy. Woodworth urged the House to revisit the legal definition of when life begins, opening the door to regressive, anti- choice debates and action.

Professor Carissima Mathen comments in '4 questions about federal prison closures'

Monday, April 23, 2012

Further to our previous post regarding the closure of the Kingston Penitentiary, see the University of Ottawa's Professor Mathen commenting on the practical and policy implcations of the closure.

Call for papers on Feminist Approaches to Assisted Human Reproduction

Following Centre for Human Rights Research successful workshop on Assisted Human Reproduction  in February which was generously supported by the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/ Revue Femmes et Droit, the CJWL/RFD has issued a call for papers on the topic of “Feminist Approaches to Assisted Human Reproduction in Canada after the Supreme Court of Canada Reference”. The call is attached; note that papers are due by September 1, 2012.  Proposed themes for the issue include the following:

1. Prohibition or Regulation? What are the justifications for retaining criminal prohibitions against payments for surrogacy, egg and sperm donations and embryo transfers? What are the regulatory alternatives and under what circumstances, if any, are these models acceptable?

2.  AHR Governance.  What is and what should the AHR Board and the Agency be doing? What resources is it consuming? What is its mandate after the AHRA Reference?

3. International Implications. What do we know about "reproductive tourism"? What are the possible types of regulation for international surrogacy arrangements and other AHRTs?

4. Who is a parent? What are the family law implications of AHR? Do the kin relationships arising from AR compel us to rethink the construal of kin in contemporary family law, or can these new families be accommodated within the current framework or as exceptions to it?

Guest editors for this special issue are Karen Busby and Susan Drummond—please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.  Please pass this note onto anyone who might be interested in contributing. For more information about the journal’s submission policy, please check out: http://www.utpjournals.com/Canadian-Journal-of-Women-and-the-Law.html 

GLBTQI Protest Signs

Friday, April 20, 2012

In anticipation of the Guardian's weekend magazine dedicated to the rights of GLBTQI people, they have posted some of the most funny and apt protest signs of the year.

Kingston Penitentiary to Close

Thursday, April 19, 2012

CBC News reports that as part of their criminal justice reform package the Conservatives will close the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario.

Aboriginal women at the Inter-American Commission speaking to Canada's human rights violations

Thematic Briefing at the Inter-American Commission

Watch representatives from the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action brief the Organisation of American States on the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in British Columbia, Canada.

Federal Court decision on First Nations child Welfare

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Today the Federal Court released a decision instructing the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to hear the case regarding underfunding of First Nations child protection on reserve.

Read the response of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society here.

Diversity and new federally appointed judges

The Globe and Mail this morning reports that the vast majority of new federally appointed judges are not racialised.

But see this speech by Chief Justice Beverly Mclachlin noting the diversity of Canadians, and the role of diversity in judging.

Prominent gay activist killed in Halifax

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Globe and Mail is reporting the beating death of Raymond Taavel, one of Halifax's foremost activists for GLBTQI rights.

Gun Control is a Feminist Issue

News from the Coalition for Gun Control

With the ink barely dry on Bill C-19 and the court battle over its constitutionality barely begun, the Conservatives and the gun lobby are already speaking openly of their plans to further weaken gun control in Canada. This time, however, they plan on doing it away from the public scrutiny of the House of Commons but in secret at a little known committee.

Conservative MPs Rob Anders and Gary Breitkreuz, long-time vocal opponents to Canada's gun control laws, are members of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations and have recently started pushing the Committee to review important, established gun control provisions. In a recent news article, MP Anders and MP Breitkreuz spoke of their plans and the ultimate goal to repeal all gun control provisions passed under the Firearms Act in 1995.

Few Canadians realize that many important gun control provisions that are crucial to public safety were not part of the text of Bill itself, but part of its regulations. It is these provisions that the Conservatives now have in their sight. They include:

•Safe-storage rules for firearms

•Licencing of gun owners and screening procedure for risk factors of violence and suicide

•Requirements to transport restricted and prohibited firearms

•Classification of firearms

•Firearms marking, a requirement under our international obligations that helps trace weapons flows, prevent the diversion of legal guns to the illegal market and combat illegal trade.

MP Breitkreuz said he wants gun licences to have a 10-year or lifetime validity, rather than the 5-year validity currently in place. We renew driver's licenses, health cards, passports and even dog licenses regularly to ensure that information is kept up to date. Maintaining current information about firearm owners is critical to maintaining public safety.

MP Breitkreuz also said that many of the changes he will advocate were included in his failed Private Member's Bill in 2009. What the article fails to mention is that many of the licence and transport changes in that Bill also applied to restricted and prohibited weapons, including handguns.

Also quoted in the article is the Canadian Sports Shooting Association Executive Director Tony Bernardo, a member of Minister Toews's advisory committee on firearms who said that he thinks the entire Firearms Act should be thrown out and rewritten. While women's associations and front line service providers were not invited to testify at the Senate Committee hearings into C-19, Mr. Bernardo used his testimony there to rail against the spousal notification part of the licence process, saying that "the state has no business in the bedrooms of Canadians" and that spouses and ex-spouses should not be notified or given the opportunity to object before someone obtains their gun licence.

Screening gun owners for risk factors associated with violence and suicide, regular renewals of firearm licenses, spousal notification and reference check ensure that the information on record in the gun registry - name, address, etc. - is accurate, and helps keep guns out of the hands of individuals who represent a threat to themselves or others.

Letter to a nascent abolitionist law student

Monday, April 16, 2012





Dear Amanda,*

Thanks for coming to my talk on the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Bedford. After the talk, in those rushed moments as we were vacating the room, you said this to me (I’m putting it in quotes, but I’m actually paraphrasing a bit): “I agree with everything you are saying about ending men’s demand for prostitution, but I have trouble speaking out against those who want to totally decriminalize it. I am frustrated that I don’t have a pithy response to their claims about women choosing prostitution. Can you help me?” At the time, I offered you a few suggestions. But since yours is the question I get more than any other, I thought I would try a written response. I think you really have to unpack the assumptions underlying this question for yourself to feel confident answering it. Here is what I have learned.

Choice is not a factor that on its own supports decriminalization of anything, prostitution included. The claim that someone chooses to do something is not a reason to decriminalize it. Generally speaking, bank robbers choose to rob banks and con men choose to bilk investors, and we don’t see that as a reason to decriminalize robbery and fraud. Quite the opposite, in fact. Claims that women choose prostitution in large numbers actually provide support to the constitutionality of legal regimes that would criminalize women (alone, or along with their male buyers.)Here is why: Canadian constitutional law is pretty clear that the earning of income through a particular commercial activity is not constitutionally protected. The Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously confirmed that again in Bedford. If that is all prostitution is, a chosen method of earning income, then the s. 7 claims about security of the person disappear if prostitution is criminalized outright. The claimants can simply be told that prostitution is illegal and they should choose something else. In fact, the government could choose to criminalize only the prostitute and not her customer, as is the case in many countries, and there would be no s. 7 argument. This is the difference between an argument based on choice and one based on inequality, which differentiates between women and the men who prostitute them. That observation brings me to my second point:

Choice is not the same thing as equality, nor does it equate to the absence of harm. I am guessing that those who rely on choice as a sort of trump card mean to suggest that prostitution is somehow harmless or natural or beneficial if the woman“chooses” it (based on some definition of choice that is seldom identified with precision, beyond an age of consent.) Or maybe they mean the fact that she remains in prostitution means she has decided the benefits outweigh the costs, and we ought to leave it at that. (This argument of course, presupposes that she has real supports available to exit. That support is virtually absent in Canada, even in big cities, and is generally left to overburdened transition houses.)We do not have to valorize the choice of a wife to stay with her abusive husband or the choice of a woman to become a fifteenth celestial wife, however carefully calculated by her,in order to stand in solidarity with her as a woman deserving of substantive equality. We can recognize the ways in which her life is socially situated without labeling her in any particular way, or denying anything about her as a human being.We can call the choices facing her unfair. In what other area of public policy do we make law by interrogating each woman’s personal and sexual history to decide if she was asking for it? Oh wait, we did that with rape law and it wasn’t to women’s advantage there, either.

Men choose to buy women in prostitution and this is the choice that deserves scrutiny.This cannot be said often enough. Refuse to engage further in discussions about choice until the choosers agree to talk about the men first. Men make that choice to buy women in prostitution. Legalization fuels normalization, and so does the ideal of the choosing woman, who is thought to make tons of money which she apparently spends equally on luxury condos and higher education.Remember that women in prostitution are paid to say they like it, and I mean that literally. In reality, the supply of prostitutes is constructed to meet the male demand. If not enough Canadian women “choose” prostitution, they are trafficked from other countries where poverty is more acute. Prostitution chooses women because men choose prostitution. When a woman says she took the boss’ offer to sleep with him as a way to get ahead, I don’t worry about whether her choice was “real.” I label his choice sexual harassment and recognize that his actions contribute to the inequality of all women. I support laws that target his behaviour, not hers.

Go on the offensive.
The people who make this argument rarely have to explain it. Are they saying that most women in prostitution “choose” it? If not, why would we make law and policy for this minority, who have other options? How do they define “choice”? When does this choice occur? Is it continuous? How will they evaluate it? Why is choice, based on their definition, the relevant factor, rather than inequality? Do they understand that individual choice is a classically liberal paradigm? How do they respond to anti-oppression criticisms of that liberal paradigm, or its use to further neo-liberalism? In other words, put them on the defensive rather than letting them lob half-baked clichés at you.If you get this far, in my experience they will become uncomfortable and start talking about “harm reduction.” Point out that demand reduction is harm reduction and ask if they’ll commit to that with you.

Maybe, Amanda, you just wanted a one-liner you could use and walk away. I’m not so good at one-liners (or walking away), but depending on your audience, here goes: “I find your invocation of choice very neo-liberal” or “I think your use of choice opens the door to punishing women – I reject that trap.” or maybe “Anti-discrimination laws aren’t based on the liberal idea of individual choice – they’re meant to resist it. I’m shocked you’re repudiating that.” Whatever you say, don’t be embarrassed or apologetic or cowed. You have a voice. And so long as I have breath in my body, I’ll be there, right next to you.

*The student’s name has been changed to protect anonymity.



Janine Benedet is a Professor at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law.

Feminist Professor Janine Benedet on the Bedford decision

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently struck down a number of Criminal Code provisions which deal with prostitution. You can read the Bedford decision here.

Feminist Professor Janine Benedet of the UBC Faculty of Law had recently published an op-ed on the Bedford decision.

Trayvon Martin, Race and Gender

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

See Mary C. Curtis on the intersecting struggles to end sexism and racism at feminist news.

Law Students Don Hoodies in Demonstration Against Racial Profiling

Monday, April 2, 2012



University of Ottawa Faculty of Law students donned hoodies on Friday, March 30, 2012 to raise awareness about racial profiling in honour of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed black male student who was shot and killed on February 26 in Stanford, Florida by a neighbourhood watch captain.
The symbolic demonstration was one of many that took place in law schools across Canada and the United States, including Osgoode Hall Law School, McGill Faculty of Law, Yale Law School and Harvard Law School.
Designed by Rachel Gold.