Idle No More

Friday, December 21, 2012

Check out this post by Professor Dayna Scott on the Idle No More movement.

Much more to come on Blogging for Equality on this topic.

Show your solidarity with Indigenous people everywhere, but especially on this territory we call Canada.

Wearing a Niqab in the Courtroom

The NS decision came down from the Supreme Court of Canada this week.

The Institute for Feminist Legal Studies at Osgoode Hall has a good roundup of commentary on the case.

You'll also find here a CBC interview with Ottawa U's very own Professor Natasha Bakht. The portion on wearing a niqab while a witness in a trial begins at 11:52.

WHY WE SHOULD ACTUALLY READ THE ROYAL COMMISSION REPORT OF THE MISSING WOMEN

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

 WHY WE SHOULD ACTUALLY READ
THE ROYAL COMMISSION REPORT OF THE MISSING WOMEN


Professor Michelle Flaherty is a faculty member at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, French Common Law.

On December 17, 2012, Commissioner Wally Oppal released his final report in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.   It is a wide-ranging and almost 1500 page document.  The issues it considers range from details of the lives of many of the missing and murdered women, the Crown’s tragic decision to stay charges against serial killer Robert Pickton in 1997 (four years before a later arrest lead to convictions), and what Commissioner Oppal calls “critical police failures”.  

The families of victims of Robert Pickton were among the strongest voices calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered women. But the Inquiry goes beyond Pickton’s victims and considers all women missing from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side whose disappearances were or could have been reported and who were not later found alive or whose death has not been attributed to natural causes.  There are 67 women identified in the report, many of whom were aboriginal and all of whom were poor, vulnerable, and disenfranchised.  As the report points out, the disappearance and murder of women from the Downtown East Side of Vancouver is part of a much larger and systemic problem.  The UN estimates that there are 134 million women “missing” worldwide.

The report’s length, its detail, and its wide-ranging scope make it a daunting read.  Yet it tells a very important story, one that begins with a thoughtful and respectful account of the lives of the missing and murdered women: we hear about one women’s words of goodbye as she tucked in her small children for the last time, another whose friend described in her loving and joyful terms,  and a third who left hospital shortly after given birth to a baby, never to be seen or heard from again.  The report humanizes the women’s experience and makes it so clear that missing and murdered women are individuals worthy of dignity and respect, but whom society has so tragically failed. 

As is typical with media reports on Commission Inquiry findings, however, he initial coverage touches only the surface of the evidence considered and the recommendations made.  By the time pundits and others have read and digested the magnitude of such a report, the busy news cycle has generally moved on to other matters. 

Typically, commissions such as this one are struck to consider issues that touch on systemic problems and raise broader social concerns.  Our society devotes considerable resources to conducting these inquiries because the issues they investigate are of larger social importance.  Somehow, though, this seems to get lost in the speed of the news cycle and many of the findings and recommendations never really reach a larger audience.  Commissioners like Justice Opal (and Justice Major in the Air India Report) find themselves urging people to actually read their reports. 

The missing women report, in particular, touches on a number of recurring themes, including serious failures in policing (consider the Air India Inquiry, the Inquiry on the death of Robert Dziekanski, the Cornwall Public Inquiry, Inquiry into Policing in British Columbia).  Like many other commissions before it (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Inquiry Into Matters Relating to the Death of Neil Stonechild, the Ipperwash Inquiry), it relates to our inability to meet the needs of our aboriginal people.  Many of the recommendations in commission reports follow a similarly recurring theme: often they are never acted upon.   

Why should we take the time to actually read this lengthy report?  As the Commission report aptly put it:

It is important to recognize the role that our collective complacency, of public and political indifference played in contributing to the abandonment of this group of women. In his opening remarks at the hearing, Grand Chief Ed John referred to Supreme Court of Canada Judge, Madam Justice Abella’s reminder that history, and particularly World War II, has taught us that indifference permits injustice. She summarizes these teachings into three lessons:


1.    Indifference is injustice’s incubator;
2.        It’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for; and
3.        We must never forget how the world looks to those who are vulnerable.

As I sat up late last night reading the first few hundred pages of the report, I had difficulty putting it down.  It is highly readable and it tells a compelling story, one that deserves to be read. 


The Report is available online.

Les droits de la fin de vie devant les tribunaux

Monday, December 10, 2012

Les droits de la fin de vie devant les tribunaux
Lauren Barney
Dans le monde juridique, les questions d’ordre médical sont soulevées quotidiennement. Ce sont souvent des débats hautement médiatisés et controversés. En 1993, les Canadiens et Canadiennesse sont penchés sur une telle question lorsque Sue Rodriguez s’est rendue jusqu'à la Cour suprême du Canada. Mme Rodriguez, une femme atteinte de scléroselatérale amyotrophique, revendiquait le droit à une mort digne – elle voulait se suicider avec l’assistance d’un médecin. Le suicide assisté est un acte criminel en vertu de l'art. 241(b) du Code criminel. À l’époque, la Cour suprême du Canada a rejeté la demande de Mme Rodriguez dans une décision majoritaire (5-4). En fin de compte, elle s’est suicidée avec l’aide d’un médecin anonyme en 1994.
De nos jours, le débat sur les droits de fin de vie suscite un grand engouement. Tout récemment, une femme en Colombie-Britannique, Gloria Taylor, également atteinte de sclérose latérale amyotrophique, et la British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, ont intenté une poursuite contre le Procureur général du Canda en argumentant que les dispositions du Code criminelprohibant le suicide assisté sont anticonstitutionnelles. La Cour suprême de la Colombie-Britannique a émis un jugement en faveur de Mme Taylor et la B.C. Civil Liberties Association. Mme la juge Lynn Smith a rendu sa décision de 395 pages en juin 2012(Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2012 BCSC 886). Elle a conclu que les articles du Code criminelprohibant le suicide assistéétaientanticonstitutionnels. Elle a accordé au Parlement un an pour modifier la législation. De plus, elle a accordé une exemption constitutionnelle à Mme Taylor pour qu’elle puisse se suicider avec l’assistance d’un médecin.
Le Procureur général du Canada a porté la décision en appel. En août 2012, la Cour d’appel de la Colombie-Britannique a accordé l’exemption constitutionnelle à Mme Taylor de nouveau (Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2012 BCCA 336). Madame Taylor est décédée soudainement le 4 octobre 2012 d’une infection. Elle est décédée paisiblement et entourée de sa famille. Les autres plaignants dans la cause, notamment Lee Carter et Hollis Johnson, continueront la lutte pour le droit à une mort digne.Il est fort probable que cette cause parvienne à la Cour suprême du Canada dans les mois à venir. Est-ce que le Canada est prêt pour des modifications législatives dans ce domaine?
Touchant un nombre croissant d'individus, le droit à une mort digne est une question aussi importante parce qu'elle s'intéresse àl'un de nos droits fondamentaux, notre autodétermination. En ce sens, la décriminalisation du suicide assisté se rattache aux revendications féministes. L'idée que l'État puisse imposer des limites sur les choix relatifs à nos propres corps est une manifestation de son paternalisme. En 1993, Sue Rodriguez a articulé le noeud du débat lorsqu'elle a dit : « à qui appartient ce corps? ». Si une personne compétente et informée décide qu'elle veut se suicider, l'État ne devrait pas s'ingérer dans ses affaires. Ceux qui luttent contre la décriminalisationargumentent que si l'État permet le suicide assisté, elle met en péril les membres les plus vulnérables de la société, soit :les personnes aînées, malades, et handicapées. Ils expriment que les médecins et les mandataires de ces individus auront le pouvoir de mettre fin à une vie sans consentement.Bien que ces préoccupations proviennent d'un désir de protéger les membres vulnérables de la société, elles sont erronées.
Si le suicide assisté est décriminalisé, il faudrait instaurer des mesures de réglementation. Ce n'est pas un concept complètement étranger. Quelques pays occidentaux tels que les Pays-Bas, le Luxembourg et trois États américains (Oregon, Washington et Motana), ont décriminalisé le suicide assisté et ont instauré des règlements pour garantir la sécurité des individus vulnérables.
Quelques notes à part :
Le gouvernement Harper s'est prononcé contre la décision de la juge Taylor dans l'affaire Carter v Canada (Attorney General). Pour voir le commentaire du ministre de la Justice Rob Nicholson sur la position du gouvernement Harper, voir l’hyperlien ci-dessous : http://www.justice.gc.ca/fra/nouv-news/cp-nr/2012/doc_32783.html.
Toujours sur la question des droits de fin de vie, l'affaire Brian Cuthbertson et al. c. Hassan Rasoulisera présentée devant la Cour suprême du Canada le 10 décembre 2012. L'affaire Rasouliporte sur le droit des médecins de retirer les traitements de maintien de vie lorsque le patient est dans le coma. La question litigieuse est à savoir si les demandeurs, les médecins de M. Rasouli, doivent avoir la permission du mandataire spécial de ce dernier pour cesser les traitements de maintien de vie. Comme toujours, les audiences à la Cour suprême du Canada sont ouvertes au public (http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/case-dossier/cms-sgd/hear-aud-fra.aspx?ya=2012&ses=01&sr=Search).

Putting the Increase in UofO Law School Enrolment in (a little) Context

Thursday, December 6, 2012

By Professor David Wiseman, the joint co-ordinator of the Social Justice Caucus at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.


Over the past year, as debate over the future of articling and lawyer licensing in Ontario has raged, attention has repeatedly been drawn to increases in enrolment at the UofO Faculty of Law.  For the most part, the increase in enrolment is cited in order to explicitly or implicitly admonishUofO for having significantly contributed to the so-called articling crisis.  This has recently prompted an online intervention from my Dean at UofO, Bruce Feldthusen, and a corresponding barrage of critical online comments.  The basic statistic cited is that UofO enrolment increased by 126% over the 15 years or so from 1997 to 2011.  There is clearly a feeling that this was done too unilaterally and without adequate consideration for the impact on the profession as a whole.  Since law firms were not able or willing to hire all of this increased number of graduates, the increase in enrolment, so the argument goes, is unjustifiable.  Sometimes this becomes an argument that UofO should cut back its enrolment; other times it just seems to be part of a blame-game.  As someone concerned as much about our access to justice crisis as about our articling crisis – and trying to find ways to address both at the same time – I think this discussion is getting us off-track.  But even if it isn’t off-track exactly, the admonishments seem pretty half-baked, especially when we think about this from an access to justice perspective.  Let me explain.

I am a new-ish prof. at UofO and so don't know the context or details of the relevant decisions and so can't say to what extent the admonishments arejustified.  But if they are justified, I don’t think it can simply be because of the combination of the bare facts being cited.  Even if we ignore the other sources of increases in demand for articling positions over the relevant period (from foreign-trained lawyers and grads of foreign law schools), relying on one statistic of an enrolment increase, combined with the fact that the increased number of graduates are not being fully absorbed by the market, seems to me to be a bit too acontextual, even if all we are going to consider is statistics.  In other words, shouldn't we at least be trying to put these enrolment statistics in statistical context ...?  If you think so too, read on. (With apologies if these numbers have already been explored and I was asleep at my twitter!)

I confess to not being good at math, or statistics (did I mention I’m a lawyer …), but perhaps others will agree that, if the underlying question is whether there was any justification to increase law school enrolment, two factors to consider might be increases in the general population of Ontario and in university enrolment more generally.  Increases in general population growth might suggest that the general demand for legal services would also be increasing, in absolute terms, and growth in general university enrolment might suggest that demand for law school places might also increase in absolute terms.  If law school enrolment remained absolutely constant, it would soon be relatively out of whack, from both directions.  So, what are those statistics?

Well, as people are falling over themselves to point out, law school enrolment increased by 279 places from 1997 to 2012, which was about a 25% growth (and UofO accounted for upwards of 70% of that).  Over the same period, Ontario's population grew from around 11 million to around 13.5 million, an increase of around 22%.  Meanwhile, general university enrolment in Canada had already grown over 20% between 1997 and 2003 and has kept growing since (with the biggest growth in Ontario, although at this moment I can't locate the exact numbers).

So, over 20% growth rate in all categories.  Without wanting to be too provocative, if this means that the relativities are pretty much being preserved, perhaps this suggests that the question ought not to be 'why did UofO do this?' but, rather, 'why didn't anyone else?'

And before someone (re-)says that the reason not to do it was that the market wasn't willing to hire the extra graduates -- sorry, I don't find that persuasive ... as our knowledge of unmet legal needs and lack of access to justice shows, demand for legal services has long out-stripped the capacity or willingness of the market for legal services.  Of course, public and charitable programs like legal aid and pro bono lawyering have also proven inadequate to meet the legal needs of those who don’t have the money to afford a lawyer, but the very existence of these programs shows that we have never equated the need for legal services with the scope of the legal services market.  It seems to me that there is more than enough unmet need for legal services to absorb the increased numbers of law school graduates.  The challenge lies in persuading governments and the legal profession to find a way to connect the supply to the demand. 

Designed by Rachel Gold.