National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Monday, December 1, 2014

Today is National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

FAFIA recently launched this campaign to help fight violence against Aboriginal women.

Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) launches Campaign of Solidarity with Aboriginal Women

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Monday December 1, 2014 at 10am PST/1pm EST the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) will officially launch our Campaign of Solidarity with Aboriginal Women at

About the Campaign:

In early 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will release reports on their investigations into the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.

FAFIA and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) requested formal investigations by the CEDAW Committee and the IACHR. The violence against Canada’s Aboriginal women and girls is a human rights crisis for the country, and FAFIA and NWAC believe that scrutiny by international experts will help to increase respect for the human rights of women and girls.

The investigations are the first inquiries by international human rights bodies into violations of the human rights of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. We invite you to learn more about FAFIA’s Campaign of Solidarity with Aboriginal Women and to help spread the word about the human rights of Aboriginal women and girls.

What You Can Do Today:


Refugee Hub at uOttawa Law

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Our amazing students, faculty and staff have launched a website for the Refugee Hub, where law, activism and academics come together to support refugees in Canada and worldwide. Well done!

Two New op-eds by Feminist Law Professors

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Two op-eds on important legal issues have been penned by Prof. Jennifer Bond of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, and by Prof. Gillian Calder of the University of Victoria Faculty of Law.

Fabulous to see feminist voices in the media!

Food Security in Canada

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Food Bank Canada released a report today showing that food bank use has increased in Canada in the past year. Groups who are disproportionately forced to use food banks include First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, immigrants and refugees and single adults who live alone and rely on social assistance to supplement low employment incomes.

New Paper on TWU Accreditation

Friday, October 31, 2014

Lawyer Angela Chaisson and Professors Jena McGill and Angela Cameron recently posted this paper on SSRN. They outline legal arguments against the accreditation of Trinity Western University because of TWU's discriminatory Covenant.

Ticket Defence Program is back

Friday, October 17, 2014

La professeure Suzanne Bouclin a relancé le Programme de défense des contraventions (Ticket Defence Program) au printemps 2014, suite à un hiatus de 5 ans, à l’Université d’Ottawa. Le programme de défense des contraventions est une organisation communautaire engagée à fournir des renseignements juridiques et des services juridiques de base aux personnes itinérantes d’Ottawa. L’objectif principal consiste à contester l’application de lois qui sont injustes à l’égard de cette partie de la population, déjà vulnérable. Il s’agit d’offrir à ces personnes une représentation devant les tribunaux provinciaux. Le programme fonctionne, le plus possible, sur le modèle de réduction des méfaits.  Il veille à ce que tous les spécialistes du droit, qui vont rencontrer des personnes à clinique, reçoivent une formation sur les approches à adopter avec ces personnes. Par exemple, les étudiantEs en droit ont reçu une formation sur les approches qui prennent en compte les traumatismes (« trauma informed approaches »), offerte par l’un des partenaires du programme.  Finalement, le programme opère comme une clinique communautaire, au sein de laquelle collaborent des étudiantEs en droit, des avocatEs et des partenaires du milieu communautaire. Suivez le programme de défense de contravention sur Twitter @TDPOttawa.  Pour en savoir davantage, consultez aussi la recherche de la professeure Bouclin sur le TDP :

Support research into Ovarian Cancer

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Sunday September 7, 2014, a group from the uOttawa Faculty of Law will participate in the Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope, to raise money for research into Ovarian Cancer. A key focus of the research is on early detection, which is a crucial element in fighting the disease.

 Our team is walking for Nicole LaViolette who is a wonderful friend and colleague. She is very well known for her work on sexual minorities in immigration and refugee law, and her contributions were recently recognized with the Lambda Foundation Award for Excellence in Gay and Lesbian Studies. As a professor in our Programme de common law en français, she has been a staunch supporter of access to justice for francophone minorities outside of Quebec. Her recent book, L’essentiel du droit de la famille dans les provinces de common law au Canada, builds on this long-standing commitment.

 Our team, Équipe Common Law, raised over $18,000 for ovarian cancer research last year. We hope to do as well this year, and would appreciate your support!

Defending Battered Women on Trial: An Interview with Professor Elizabeth Sheehy

Saturday, July 19, 2014

To mark the release of the paperback edition of Professor Elizabeth Sheehy’s new book, Defending Battered Women on Trial: Lessons from the Transcripts, we present this interview. Professor Sheehy is a full professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and currently holds the Shirley Greenberg Chair for Women and the Legal Profession.

Copies of Professor Sheehy’s book can be purchased here:

B4E: Why did you decide to write a book for a more general audience about the experiences of battered women on trial?

Professor Sheehy: I’ve been working on this issue for many, many years, and I’d come to the conclusion that there is a lack of public knowledge about the reality of battered women’s lives. There is a fair amount of prejudice in the media and in popular culture, and I thought it was important for the public to get some insight into the trials of battered women; to have a sense of what the evidence was for and against the woman’s case, who the witnesses were, and what the human costs are for battered women to go on trial. I thought the best way to do that was to rely on the actual words of the transcript. I took inspiration from Constance Backhouse’s Carnal Crimes book. She wrote Carnal Crimes in a way that was accessible to the educated reader. I recall a beautiful review of her book written by Janice Kennedy in the Ottawa Citizen that made me think, I want to write a book like that!

B4E: What made you decide to profile these individual women?

Professor Sheehy: I used a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to purchase as many transcripts as I could. I had to aim wide because there are cases in which battered women have evidence supporting self-defence but it isn’t actually argued. Some transcripts didn’t go anywhere, but a number of transcripts were very rich. I then had to choose among them. I wanted to choose cases where there were additional sources that I could use to enrich the story. There were some cases where I couldn’t find anything else about the woman’s story – it wasn’t in the newspapers, there were no reported decisions, so I didn’t have a lot to add to develop the depth or complexity of the story.
I also wanted to portray a range of outcomes. I portrayed women who were convicted of murder, women who were acquitted, and women who were convicted of manslaughter.  I also tried to be representative, in particular when it came to the Aboriginal women’s trials. Five of the eleven women I profiled are Aboriginal women, and that’s pretty close to the numerical representation of Aboriginal women as they occurred in my files.

B4E: You speak quite a bit in your book about the particular vulnerability of Aboriginal women.

Professor Sheehy: I was surprised to find that approximately 40 per cent of my cases involved Aboriginal women who had killed. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Aboriginal women are about ten times more likely to be the victims of intimate femicide than non-Aboriginal women. They also experience very high rates of intimate partner violence, as well as stranger violence. In other words, it shouldn’t be surprising that they are more likely to be in the life or death situation of kill or be killed.
I had to think about why Aboriginal women are so vulnerable to male violence, and what particular challenges they face in the criminal justice system. There is some legal history in one of the chapters about how Canadian law is implicated in producing the acute vulnerability of Aboriginal women to male violence, but I also talk about the failure of the criminal justice system to respond to Aboriginal women’s needs, in terms of when they report violence, when they ask for shelter, when they ask for police response, and when they ask for emergency response. We have a very poor record of assisting Aboriginal women in dealing with male violence. There’s a phrase Kim Pate uses, which is that we basically deputize them to defend themselves. There’s something quite cruel about bringing the full force of the criminal law down on Aboriginal women when they have been basically forced to deal with male violence without assistance.

One of the particular challenges Aboriginal women face is finding lawyers who aren’t simply going to plead them guilty. They need access to lawyers who are committed and able to see the applicability of battered woman syndrome evidence or other forms of expert testimony. They need to assist the woman in portraying her vulnerability and her situation to a jury. A number of the Aboriginal women I profiled had criminal records. This makes it more difficult for the lawyer to put the woman on the witness stand in her own defence, so that’s another particular challenge. There are also communication and other cultural barriers. Aboriginal women often have difficulty communicating effectively with white juries, for example, so we also have an issue with the under-representation of Aboriginal peoples in our jury system, and in our courtrooms.

Another thing that happens again and again is that Aboriginal women are portrayed by the Crown as not “real” battered women. That’s a very pernicious pattern that I saw. It’s interesting because in all of these cases there’s actually a great deal of evidence about the woman’s experience of being victimized. The prosecutor is arguing that she’s not a “real” battered woman because she fought back, or because she was mouthy, or because she was assertive. That’s unfair and prejudicial to Aboriginal women. There are files where prosecutors made similar arguments about non-Aboriginal women, but over and over again it’s made with respect to Aboriginal women. What’s particularly problematic about this is that, in almost all of the files, Aboriginal women killed in the course of an ongoing conflict. They are not the ones who kill men who are asleep or passed out.

B4E: The Supreme Court’s decision in Lavallee has had a significant impact on the law of self-defence. Do you think that women get the benefit of what seemed to be the promise of Lavallee?

Professor Sheehy: To my surprise, my research led me to many more acquittals than I knew existed. I found 20 acquittals. There were several other cases where the prosecutor either withdrew the charges or decided not to go ahead with charges at all. That’s one positive impact of Lavallee.
The main impact, though, seems to have been to facilitate guilty pleas to manslaughter. What’s troubling about that is that the woman’s self-defence claims aren’t aired. A manslaughter verdict is still a conviction. It still leads to a criminal record, and the woman is at risk of imprisonment. There are so many negative consequences for women who serve a jail term, but for battered women in particular, it is an excessively harsh punishment to be sent to prison. The woman has already survived captivity, and she is now being placed in a male, authoritarian prison system, strip searched, and separated from her children.

My data tell me that murder convictions after trial are very rare for battered women. In fact, there’s no reasonable prospect of conviction in these cases. If there’s good evidence that the woman was battered, jurors are not going to return a guilty verdict on a charge of murder. They might convict the woman of manslaughter, but they won’t convict her of murder. And that’s the basis for the recommendation I made that Crown prosecutors should charge battered women who kill with manslaughter.     

B4E: What would you say to advocates who are fighting for women to have meaningful access to self-defence?

Professor Sheehy: Women seem to be at very high risk of confessing, and of being tricked into confessing by police, so it’s important for defence lawyers to get to the police station as soon as possible and to work toward securing their release. If you think about it, you’re talking about a woman who has been battered by a male power figure. She is now in the hands of several male police officers after a homicide. She is very vulnerable to their authority, but also to their sympathy, and police officers often play the sympathy card with battered women. So advocates have to be aware that the dynamics are acute for battered women in police custody, and there’s a real need to do whatever they can to protect them from police interrogation.

Defence lawyers would also do well to connect with advocates who work with battered women. A murder trial is a long haul, and a battered woman is unlikely to be able to get through it without the support of a battered women’s shelter or feminist advocates on the front lines. These advocates can also assist defence lawyers in seeing or hearing evidence that they hadn’t perceived or been able to draw out from the woman. Obviously the lawyer is still in charge of the file and has to make important decisions, but collaborating with advocates who work with battered women would assist those lawyers quite a bit, and assist the woman get to get through a trial rather than plead out to manslaughter.

I also think that defence lawyers need to push the boundaries of self-defence as a defence, and using the Charter, including s 15, to do so. Defence lawyers are going to have to challenge the mandatory minimums, because for battered women convicted of manslaughter with a firearm, for example, there’s now a mandatory minimum sentence of four years. They also need to think about the evidentiary issues. When judges make rulings excluding potential witnesses, as I’ve seen them do, defence lawyers need to have equality-based arguments ready and a way to incorporate Lavallee’s principles into evidentiary rulings. They need to explain why it’s necessary to hear from a witness to give the woman the full benefit of Lavallee, or to give her equal protection of the law of self-defence.

B4E: What recommendations would you make for reforming the law of self-defence and the way that violence against women is approached in Canada?

Professor Sheehy: As I say in my book, I think our law of self-defence is pretty fair, and the new law of self-defence is even broader than the law I was using to analyze these transcripts. I think the main challenges really lie in process and in access to justice. Battered women need access to legal aid when they are charged with abusing their male partners. Battered women accumulate criminal records by fighting back against their abusers. Then when they’re on trial for murder, they have a criminal record. I don’t think any province in the country provides legal aid for minor domestic assaults by a battered accused where it’s unlikely that she will go to jail. I think it should be a priority of the criminal justice system to give battered women legal aid, so that they don’t have to plead guilty, so that we do hear their self-defence arguments, so that that woman doesn’t get a criminal record, and so that batterers aren’t further empowered.

We also need to do more to prevent battered women’s deaths. We’ve done a lot for men, in the sense that we’ve reduced the numbers of men who are killed by their female partners to approximately one per month. We know that women’s shelters have gone a long way toward reducing men’s deaths. If you give women an escape, you give them safety, and they’ve got an alternative to killing to escape. What we haven’t done as well is reduce the number of women’s deaths nearly as effectively. We have several provinces with domestic violence death committees, but they don’t have a mandate to implement their recommendations and no one has to respond to their recommendations. That’s an issue that needs to be looked at – how can we use the knowledge we are gaining about intimate femicide to prevent more deaths?

We also need better prosecutorial practices and guidelines. The Attorney General should have policies that tell prosecutors to charge at the level of manslaughter for abused women. There should be some restraints on the kinds of arguments that prosecutors are able to make. They shouldn’t be allowed to argue that a woman who has been abused is not a “real” battered woman. Being a battered woman is not a moral claim; it’s a factual one. 

B4E: Thank you!

Reproductive Justice New Brunswick is calling for support.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reproductive Justice NB has begun an effort to lease the existing Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton. The collective is in discussion with the building’s owners to enter into a lease agreement and further explore options to encourage family practitioners who support a person’s right to full reproductive services, including the right to abortion. The estimate cost of the lease agreement is $100,000.

While securing a lease agreement is a bandaid solution and does not automatically mean New Brunswickers will have improved abortion access, it does give the people of New Brunswick a fighting chance to access their rights under the Charter of Rights and the Canada Health Act.

Please consider helping Reproductive Justice New Brunswick reach this important goal.

You can donate here. 

Every donation, however large or small, is one step closer to ensuring reproductive choice in New Brunswick. Unless this oppressive regulation is overturned, New Brunswickers will not have equal access to abortion services. If Reproductive Justice NB is unable to raise the full $100,000, all money raised will go towards renewed efforts to overturn the Medical Services Payment Act.

Cuts to refugee health care struck down by the Federal Court

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Federal Court today struck down cuts to health care for refugees awaiting determination on Canadian soil. You can find the full decision at the bottom of this article from CBC noting that the Federal government will appeal the decision.

Uottawa's own refugee hub, featuring students, staff and faculty, have played a vital role in advocating for adequate health care for refugees in Canada. Congratulations on your win!

Women on the Bench

Friday, June 20, 2014

Professors Cairns-Way, Dodek and Mathen published this op-ed in the Globe today in response to these outrageous comments by Justice Minister Peter McKay earlier this week.

Bravo colleagues.

British Columbia revisits the decision to accredit Trinity Western University.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Members of the BC Law Society voted yesterday in favour of a motion that directs the Benchers of their Law Society to reverse an earlier decision accrediting Trinity Western University.

Trinity Western University (‘TWU’) is an evangelical Christian institution in Langley, British Columbia. TWU requires all faculty, staff and students to sign a “Community Covenant” promising to inter alia “abstain from sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Faculty, staff and students who violate the Covenant risk disciplinary measures, including expulsion and termination of employment.

A letter regarding abortion access in PEI

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie is an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Prince Edward Island.
If you would like to sign this letter please contact Dr. MacQuarrie at

May 21, 2014

 Premier Robert W.J. Ghiz

Minister Doug W. Currie

Dear Premier Ghiz and Minister Currie,

In R.v Morgentaler (1988) the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that access to abortion is fundamental to women’s right to health and to health care. This right is protected by sections 2 (freedom of conscience) and 7 (protection of life, liberty and security) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Dr. Wedge, the Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Leadership Team for Health PEI, recognizes this: when he was the Executive Director of Medical Affairs for Health PEI he said that “[t]he Supreme Court has said that access to legal abortions is a medically necessary service.  So you can’t legislate against it, because the Supreme Court would just strike it down… If someone has the skills to provide a medically necessary service, then what basis would you have to deny it?” 

Yet despite women’s clear and constitutionally protected entitlement to accessible reproductive health care services, the Province of Prince Edward Island has failed over the course of many years to provide access to pregnancy termination in the province. 
Until recently, the public justification for this failure has been the claim there are no physicians willing and able to provide the service in the province.  For example, Health PEI has stated that there is no regulatory or legal impediment to the provision of abortions in PEI hospitals.  The implication here is that no abortions are provided in PEI because no physicians are willing to provide them.  Further, Richard Wedge has been quoted by CBC News saying “If a physician applied for privileges to do abortions on PEI and they had the skills, the training necessary to do it, then they could get privileges for that on PEI.”  The implication here is that no abortions are provided in PEI because no off-island physicians are willing to provide them.

These claims are problematic for several reasons.  First, there are at least three physicians willing to provide pregnancy terminations in PEI. The problem is that they cannot simply offer to provide pregnancy terminations and then begin to do so. They need hospital privileges and access to the hospital resources (e.g., space, staff, equipment, supplies, lab services, diagnostic imaging services).  Further, it is important to note that efforts to address these barriers appear to be stalled within Health PEI.  A proposal has been developed for the establishment of a Termination of Pregnancy Service in PEI and has been approved within the hospital where it would reside and put before  the PEI Medical Advisory Committee.  However, it has not been moved forward by that Committee.

More recently, a second justification has been offered for the failure to provide access to pregnancy termination in the Province: “Due to Prince Edward Island’s size and population, it is not possible to provide every medical procedure within our province.” This claim is also problematic. As mentioned above, a project proposal has been made to the PEI Medical Advisory Committee for the establishment of a Termination of Pregnancy Service.  The business case for this proposal demonstrates that the implementation of the service would be cost-positive for the province.  The province currently pays $148,088 per year for off-island services and the proposal would have actual expected costs of $110,825.

We therefore ask, on what basis is the project proposal for a Termination of Pregnancy Service not being approved?  On what basis is the province of PEI continuing to refuse to provide the women of PEI with access to a medically necessary service that it is their constitutionally protected right to access?

The current situation places the lives of the women and girls of Prince Edward Island at serious risk. Yet this can be remedied – especially in light of the fact that there are physicians willing to provide abortions and that there is a proposal for a Termination of Pregnancy Service already before the PEI Medical Advisory Committee.  The current situation represents an egregious violation of women’s constitutionally protected rights to fundamental healthcare, something enjoyed by all Canadians. It must be remedied. 

We call on Health PEI to implement immediately a Termination of Pregnancy Service and, thereby, to protect and promote women’s health and to respect their Charter protected rights to freedom of conscience, liberty, security of the person and equality

Blog by Professor Chidi Oguamanam on Nigeria's Missing Girls

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dr. Chidi Oguamanam of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law has penned this highly informative opinion piece on the political and social background that lead to the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria.

Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression (CJFE) has just released its Fifth Annual Review of free Expression in Canada – 2013-2014. The Review makes for interesting reading. In addition to featuring a report card on freedom of expression across Canada, the Review’s articles include pieces on the impact of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations, failed whistleblower protection, the muzzling of federal scientists, stalled anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario, and Nova Scotia’s new cyberbullying legislation. The Review also documents serious problems with transparency, record keeping, and access to government information.

The Review offers a crisp, well-written and concise overview of a broad range of issues impacting on freedom of expression in Canada. It makes for a thought-provoking (and rather troubling) read

Ontario and Nova Scotia both say 'no' to discriminatory Covenant

Friday, April 25, 2014

Yesterday the Law Society of Upper Canada voted against accrediting Trinity Western University's proposed law school. Today the Nova Scotia Barrister's Society voted not to accredit Trinity Western until they remove the requirement that students, faculty and staff sign a Community Covenant that discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Two good days for equality.

Researchers and advocates take note: Open data is coming to Ontario

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ontario government recently committed to an open government strategy. As part of this strategy, it is taking steps to make some of its government data sets “open”. “Open” in this context means that the data will be made publicly available, in a re-usable format (no pesky pdfs), at no charge, and under an open licence (no limits on reuse of the data).  Open data has obvious benefits over “closed” data. For those who use government data in their research and advocacy work, having key data sets made open means that it will no longer be necessary to request this data under access to information laws, with the attendant costs and delays. The re-usable format of the data will also make it much easier to analyze, plot, or map the data, or to combine it with other relevant data sets. Of course, governments are not permitted to release confidential or personal information as open data, so not all government information can or will be made available in this way.

As part of their strategy, the Ontario government has launched a web site which allows the public to “vote” for the data sets they would like to see opened. 

Champions of the open data movement have tended to be developers who are keen to gain access to government data in order to build useful apps. This is a fine thing, but it does mean that interest in open data may be skewed towards the kind of data that has obvious popular or commercial applications. If you are a researcher or a member of an advocacy group that seeks other kinds of data – whether it is related to health, housing, correctional services, employment, poverty, and so on – this is the opportunity to vote for this type of data to be made open.
Designed by Rachel Gold.