Category Archives: What we’re thinking/reading/doing (IFLS blog)

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Vicarious Kinks: Prof. Ummni Khan at the IFLS January 23

Friday January 23,  1230 to 2 in FCR (Osgoode Hall 2027)

Vicarious Kinks: S&M in the Sociolegal Imaginary

Prof. Ummni Khan (Carlton) Chair: Professor Kate Sutherland

Jan23UKhanv2blurbProfessor Khan’s book, Vicarious Kinks, examines the ways that regulation and criminalization of SM rests on problematic ideological claims that engage with psychiatry, anti-SM feminism, and pop culture.

In this presentation, Professor Khan will problematize the legal decision and the carceral feminist response to the R v. JA case at the trial and Supreme Court of Canada ([2011] 2 S.C.R. 440; 2008 ONCJ 195).

Drawing on Judith Halberstam’s notion of queer time, and Janet Halley’s notion of the politics of injury, she will demonstrate how male sexual abuse became the master narrative in legal and feminist engagements with the facts, which rendered the possibility of kinky subjectivity, female sexual agency and female culpability unthinkable.


Light refreshments
Please RSVP to LGonsalves@osgoode.yorku.ca

The Round House Book Club [Post #5: Dayna Scott]

I read this book recently for the first time. But I finished it just before Sonia and others decided to do this book club reading of it. So, I had the advantage (disadvantage?) of just taking in the pure horror and joy of the book without the intellectual questions along for the ride. Its such good tale, isn’t it? I haven’t had enough time to digest this book to really contribute at a level that would be interesting substantively to Sonia or Hadley, so I’m going to just throw out two questions that their posts raised for me, and hope that they can stimulate some productive discussion Wednesday.

The most common thing that would overwhelm me every time I put this book down was this: ‘How did she get so far inside the head of a 13-year old boy’? It’s astounding. And then I would think, ‘How the hell do I know what it’s like inside the head of a 13-year old boy?” Nevermind a 13-year-old Anishnabek boy, from a reservation, in North Dakota, 30 years ago? Whose mother has just been violently raped?  I am a white, settler law prof living in Toronto, raising two mixed-race children with another law prof, who is Black with roots in the West Indies. I live a long way away from Joe. In my job, I write about feminist epistemologies and experiential knowledge; I argue that all knowledge is local, and situated, and emerges from place. It is grounded in a material reality. In fact, what I’ve been reading lately about Anishnabeg epistemologies has reinforced these same ideas.  Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair argues that Anishnabeg ideas of “knowing” are “active, experiential, and limited by past knowledge”[1] .….What in the world could make me think I could judge whether Erdrich has this right? I know I can never know if the way she tells it comes close to the truth of what goes through a kid like Joe’s head.  But anyway, I think she nailed it.

(p.s. Sinclair also says those ways of knowing are ‘expandable’.)

My first question:  What if Joe was a daughter?

It’s more of a thought experiment, really. Maybe some of you have already tried this.  I’m sure many of you will have ideas about it.

It was prompted by Sonia’s remark in the first post: “…at times I wondered at the peripheral nature of the women in this book…”, combined with Hadley’s really powerful argument, in her post, that a respectful treatment of the wetiko legal concept is important because it can help to restore dignity to people in Anishinabek communities who are acting on enduring felt obligations.

If Geraldine had a daughter, instead of a son, how would the felt obligations on that child have differed? Maybe not at all. But Sonia is right that in this book we learn a lot about how violence against women affects men. In fact, we learn most of it in the haunting first chapter – the most memorable for me (maybe because Professor Ruth Buchanan, who lent me her copy, handed it over with these words: “Do not start this book on the bus, or in the coffee shop”) . This first chapter manages, right from the start, to convey a sense of building dread in the boy and man picking treelets from the foundation of their house. The small seed that takes in the reader’s mind is one that comes to insist that if ‘Mom should be home by now’, then something must be really wrong. Allowed into Joe’s thoughts, we hear:

“Women don’t realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones. Our pulse is set to theirs, and as always on a weekend afternoon we were waiting for my mother to start us ticking away on the evening.

And so, you see, her absence stopped time”.

If any of the chapters of this book could be told the same as they were, if Joe had been a daughter, I most easily imagine it could be this one. And yet. Erdrich didn’t write, “Mom didn’t realize how much store we set on the regularity of her habits…”. She definitely has Joe putting himself in the “men” category firmly.  Maybe he is doing this himself, because he’s 13. Maybe that’s all we’re supposed to take from this. But my sneaking suspicion is that we actually are supposed to take a cue that Joe and Bazil are going to be in this together, that the complex web of felt obligations that will weigh in on them and change the course of their lives, are related to their gender, somehow. The task of stopping the wetigo, as best as my limited understanding of Anishinabek stories can tell, can be placed on, or taken up by anyone, regardless of gender. I feel like the conversation over cheeseburgers between Geraldine and Joe, where she says that Lark is “eating them” and “must be stopped”, could have taken place between Geraldine and her daughter (in my thought experiment).  But something about the way that Joe, and his gang of friends, approach this problem, at so many places in this book, makes it feel like at a least of part of what falls on him, is a result of his gender. This isn’t just about Joe’s interactions with Sonja. Of course it isn’t a simple story about men avenging women. Or women’s inherent ‘vulnerabilities’, as (other) Sonia has noted.  And Joe clearly can’t accomplish it alone, as Hadley pointed out.

Anyway, I would love to hear any of you muse about the specific ways in which this story would have, might have, differed, if Joe had been a daughter.  We all know it’s very complicated, the ways that gender and violence interact in families. Knowing stories, and being able to imagine other ones, maybe can help.

My second question: Why did Cappy have to Die?

This isn’t as much a thought-experiment, as a real honest question. Probably there is already an accepted and well-known literary explanation for this little piece of cruel and unexpected punishment. I am either too dense to get it, or too blinded by my pure love for Cappy. Bold. Spirited.  Uncompromising. True.

Am I meant to think that this is one of the “human consequences” that will follow Joe forever, as a result of having taken a life? Or, am I meant to think that since Cappy must have been the one that actually killed Lark, Cappy had to die? Am I meant to get a signal that in killing Lark, Joe pedalled fast across the boundary from the free-wheeling days of teenaged summers and straight into cold, hard, ‘adulthood’? Do those of those with fuller understandings and experiences of Indigenous law accept this and think it makes sense?  Does anyone have an interpretation that satisfies them? Maybe that’s the message I’m supposed to get. This justice, all justice, still leaves a deep, gaping wound.

 

[1] Sinclair, Niigaanwewidam James. In Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World Through Stories (edited by Jill Doerfler, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, 2013).

 


 

Prof. Dayna ScottProfessor Dayna Nadine Scott joined Osgoode’s faculty in 2006 after completing a SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship at McGill’s Faculty of Law and a Hauser Global Research Fellowship at NYU. She is cross-appointed with the Faculty of Environmental Studies. Professor Scott’s teaching is in administrative law, environmental law, risk regulation, and international environmental governance. She recently completed a SSHRC-funded research project in partnership with environmental justice activists from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia`s Chemical Valley, which tackled the issue of chronic pollution on an Ontario reserve. The project applied a critical, feminist perspective to the examination of law’s treatment of the “risks” of long-term, low-dose exposures to pollutants.

 

 

THE ROUND HOUSE BOOK CLUB [POST #4: Andrée Boisselle] “Am I like him?”

For this post, I would like to zero in on one of the exchanges I found most compelling in The Round House. It is the one between Joe and Linda, which takes place at Linda’s house shortly after Joe has killed Lark.

The complexity of Linda’s character is at the heart of this exchange: I see her very existence as liminary, or in-between communities. She recognizes that she is a part of the Larks as much as of the Wishkobs. She owes her life and everything she has become both to the Larks’ rejection and to the Wishkobs’ care, generosity and protection. Raised as an Ojibwe, she belongs on the reservation. But she is also repugnant to Joe – and presumably to others within the community – who can’t help but privately be creeped out by her, to see her as abnormal and to periodically wonder about her sanity. On the Larks’ side, their acts and feelings toward her seem to symbolize the monstrosity of colonialism itself: there’s a basic denial of her value as a human being, both at birth and when they seek her out in adulthood to literally use her for their own survival; violence and greed accompanied both by shame and by contriving to escape that shame.

This perspective on Linda informs how I read her exchange with Joe. Her answer to Joe’s question – why did Linden Lark commit those heinous crimes? – seems to describes colonialist hubris itself, and to root it in something missing:

 

I saw the monster in my brother way back in the hospital and it made me deathly ill. I knew that someday he would let it loose. It would lurch out with part of me inside. Yes. I was part of the monster too. I gave and gave, but know what? It was still hungry. Know why? Because no matter how much it ate, it couldn’t get the right thing. There was always something it needed. Something missing in his mother, too. I’ll tell you what it was: me. My powerful spirit. Me! His mother couldn’t face what she did to her baby, but even more: that what she did could not destroy me. Still, Linda brooded, she could call me after telling the doctor to let me die. All those years later. Call me and say, ‘Hello, it’s your mother.’

Linda has saved Linden’s life in the past, and now Joe has killed him. Both Linda and Jow are inextricably bound to the evil that Linden represents, and both are facing up to their responsibility in relation to this evil. Joe realizes that in taking Linden’s life, he has done something that brings him perilously close to Linden. He asks Linda : Am I like him?

 No, she said. This’ll get to you. […] This could wreck you. Don’t let it wreck you, Joe. […] She shrugged. But me, that’s another story. It’s me who is not so different, Joe. It’s me who should have shot him with Albert’s old twelve-gauge.

 We can go right or wrong, or both at once, through either action or inaction… We are all entangled in webs of complicated or fraught relationships, and all carry some responsibility for how those relationships evolve. A powerful message in Louise Erdrich’s story, to me, is that seeing our responsibilities clearly, and facing them, includes trying to heal ourselves and to grow in love and compassion.

 


picture of Andree BoisselleAndrée Boisselle is Assistant Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.  Her research interests are in the areas of indigenous law, comparative and constitutional law, pluralism and postcolonial legal theory.  She is currently completing her doctorate in the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria.  Her doctoral research on Stó:lõ constitutionalism and the Coast Salish legal tradition has been supported by scholarships from the Trudeau Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  Her master’s thesis critically examined the development of the duty to consult First Nations in Canadian law.  It received the Quebec Association of Law Professors Prize in 2008.  Before pursuing graduate studies, she practised litigation in Québec with McCarthy Tétrault LLP and did contractual work with the Supreme Court of Canada.

 

The Round House Book Club [Post #3: Scott Franks]

Marci to Sonia for reaching out and encouraging me to participate in the book club for The Round House. Although I’ve always enjoyed fiction, it’s taken a backseat since I began to take “education” seriously. Thanks to a generous gift card from some friends, I’ve added The Orenda, Monkey Beach, and The Back of the Turtle to my bookshelf, and have had some progress on The Orenda and Monkey Beach since November. I worry that the thick, green tomes embossed with gold-foil lettering might be abandoned soon. I hear they have cases.

I am very grateful to be reintroduced to Erdrich’s writing through such a welcoming book club. I want to explore the question, for whom is The Round House written? I’d like to address a few themes as well, mostly in response to conversations started by Sonia and Hadley.

But before these thoughts, I want to provide a brief, partial history of the more recent activities surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the Federal government’s response thus far. I think that this history is more practical than whatever thoughts I might have about The Round House. It’s not a precise or complete history in any sense. It Starts With Us has written an excellent history of the databases for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Maryanne Pearce’s  PhD dissertation also provides a comprehensive history. However, I hope that my brief timeline brings attention to some of the activities being undertaken by Indigenous communities. I also hope it highlights the faulty “radar”    of political leaders who continue to ignore the issue.

 

Not on Canada’s Radar: Characterising violence towards Aboriginal women as internal to reserves

As Hadley notes, this crisis is often characterised as internal to Aboriginal communities. This characterisation limits a discussion about intergenerational trauma resulting from the 60’s scoop and residential schools, and inaccurately suggests that Aboriginal men are wholly responsible for violence against Aboriginal women. A myopic focus on the Indian Act and reserves also ignores the fact that this crisis is a truly national one.

In response to calls for an inquiry by Rinelle Harper and Aboriginal leaders in Winnipeg, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt bluntly stated in an interview, “Obviously there is a lack of respect for Aboriginal women on reserve, obviously.” Valcourt forgets that inquiries intend to go beyond the obvious. But his language is straightforward: “you know, if the [Aboriginal] guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that’s how they’re treated.” The argument is causal: provisions of the Indian Act create the structures that engender a “lack of respect” among Aboriginal men towards Aboriginal women, which is the cause of violence against Aboriginal women. On this logic a ‘lack of respect’ towards Aboriginal women would be endemic on every single reserve; we know – obviously – that this is not the case. As Betty Anne Lavallée points out in response to Valcourt’s statement, “more than 60 per cent of the missing persons cases and 70 per cent of the murders of Aboriginal women take place in urban centres.” And such a simplistic answer does not tell us anything about how violence against Aboriginal women relates to the racialization of Aboriginal women, the impacts of colonialism and intergenerational trauma on Aboriginal communities, the mass incarceration of Aboriginal men, the connection between violence against Aboriginal women and violence against the land, and the role of non-Aboriginal communities and men in this violence.

 

Over a decade ago, Amnesty International (AI) identified the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada as a national human rights crisis. AI’s Stolen Sisters (2004) report found that violence against Indigenous women occurs in the context of deep-rooted racism and discrimination at all levels of society, including within police forces. In its report No More Stolen Sisters (2009), AI continued to urge for a coordinated and comprehensive national response, but did not recommend a public inquiry. In October, 2014, AI stated that a public inquiry is necessary to “break the government inertia preventing substantive and comprehensive reform and action.”

 

Databases on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: From Sisters in Spirit to It Starts with Us

From 2005 to 2010, the Native Women’s Association of Canada [NWAC] operated a campaign called Sisters in Spirit. Although initially funded by the Liberal government in 2005, its funding continued under the Conservative government until 2010. On May 16th 2007, Conservative MP Joy Smith stated that the Conservative government would commit to funding NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit campaign at $1 million annually until 2010-11. It was one of the first major research and documentation projects to compile information on the approximately 600 murdered and missing Indigenous women. It was an innovative project, which fulfilled community, memorialization, and catalyzing purposes.

 

In 2010, the Conservative government reasoned that existing policing and RCMP services were sufficient, and that the funding would be better allocated to those generic services, rather than to organizations such as NWAC. However, due to delays in funding, the RCMP was unable to effectively coordinate its responses and create a database that incorporated the files of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Some suggested that the Conservative government did not want the creation of a database that specifically drew attention to these cases, especially one which could not be controlled or kept confidential.

 

Aboriginal community-based activism has become more visible in mainstream news. Idle No More played a part in this. But this doesn’t mean that community efforts are recent. Here, I would like to draw attention to some of the recent community activities related to violence against Aboriginal women. On February 14th, 2015 10th annual Strawberry Ceremony will take place at 12:30pm at Police Headquarters, 40 College Street at Bay, Toronto. This is the tenth year that the vigil and ceremony has been organized by No More Silence, in solidarity with similar vigils and marches across Canada.

 

No More Silence manages a community database called It Starts with Us. The database operates in collaboration with the Families of Sisters in Spirit, and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Audrey Huntley has discussed the work of No More Silence and the broader context of violence against Indigenous women in an interview. The database builds on the work of Audrey Huntley, and the late Amber O’Hara. Two other notable researchers are Maryanne Pearce, and the late Loretta Saunders. Maryanne Pearce’s PhD dissertation from the University of Ottawa is essential reading, and has contributed significantly to community databases.  Unfortunately, Loretta Saunders, an Indigenous Inuk woman herself, never had the opportunity to complete her her thesis on missing and murdered Indigenous women. Loretta’s sister Delilah operates a blog on homicide survivor grief and trauma, with plans to launch a website.

Creative works on violence against Indigenous women

The Round House is just one of many creative works touching on the issue of violence against Aboriginal women. Joseph Boyden, author of Through Black Spruce, has recently edited an anthology called Kwe: Standing with Our Sisters, which includes contributions from over 50 contributors including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Gord Downie, Thomas King, Lee Maracle, and Yann Martel. Walking With Our Sisters is a collaborative art project that commemorates the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women through the display of moccasin vamps. Jamie Black’s Red Dress installation has been exhibited at several Canadian universities, which consists of 130 empty, red dresses hanging in common areas. The documentaries Stolen Sisters, Highway of Tears, Finding Dawn, and Building a Highway of Hope provide accessible and compelling narratives for a variety of audiences.  Naomi Klein delivered a speech about the death of Bella Laboucan-Mclean on December 18, 2014 at The Opera House in Toronto, at a special production of the Basement Revue to to raise funds for No More Silence. Blogger Kwe Today’s response provides an important counterpoint to Klein’s speech.

 

Thoughts on The Round House

For whom is The Round House written? I was struck by the absence of settler worldviews in The Round House. The settler and colonial characters – Linden Lark, Father Travis Wozniak, Soren Bjerke, Sonja – have no control over the perspective crafted by Erdrich. Instead, the narrative is driven by the novel’s Ojibwe characters – Joe Coutts, his father Bazil and mother Geraldine, Whitey, Mooshum, Clemence, Randall, Grandma Thunder, Cappy, Zack, Angus and Linda Wishkob – and their relationships with each other on the reservation.

 

I connected with The Round House first as a Métis reader – noting how the author describes the exodus of Métis travelling South to Montana and Minnesota during the Reign of Terror after the fall of Batoche and the hanging of Louis Riel, the Ojibwe welcoming of the Métis and their aptitude for farming, and the later settler-mentality of some Métis towards their Ojibwe hosts and family. As I read this, I thought of the internalization of colonialism and colonial violence within Indigenous communities. I thought about how this story – that of the Métis – related to the story of Nanapush and the Old Buffalo Woman, the near-extinction of the plains buffalo, the establishment of reservations and allotments, the piece-meal cutting up of Indian lands by ravenous land speculators and an all-consuming Federal government. I thought of violence and hunger. I thought of gardening – whether the root you pull will crack your foundation, whether careful patience in planting will ensure a harvest. The Round House is like a patch-work blanket of interconnected stories, of human characters making decisions about how they relate to the world around them and to others, and of the long-term impact of such decisions.

 

The Tribal Court judge Bazil Coutts arranges a decaying casserole to illustrate the body of colonial Indian Law, balancing the sharp knives of tribal court precedent on top in the hope of grounding future tribal sovereignty. Bazil Coutts explains this to his son Joe, and Joe relates it to the story of Nanapush surviving in the remains of Old Buffalo Woman. What happens to an Indigenous lawyer who survives in the remains of a colonial state? What is the relationship between the Indigenous lawyer and his or her Indigenous laws and those of the colonial state? Is the Indigenous lawyer compromised in his or her engagement with Indigenous laws? What happens when Indigenous laws are incorporated into colonial law? Bazil Coutts nearly tests this question when he suggests that successfully arguing Wetiko laws in tribal court could ground future claims for tribal sovereignty (at 227-230). But what happens after you’ve built your foundation on hungry, invasive saplings? Can you tear them out? Or is the careful, patient, infinite pruning essential to the integrity of the foundation – in this way acknowledging the relationship between the saplings and the foundation through conscious activity. Perhaps that’s the point. Not to forget that there will be saplings in the foundation.
I certainly do not have any answers to these questions. I’ve been asking myself these things for over five years, when I first made the decision to consider attending law school and I will likely continue to do so. And this made me think about how important it was for me to be able to work out some of these questions for myself in the narrative of The Round House.


 

 

 

IMG_4449Scott is a second year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He is co-president of the Osgoode Indigenous Students Association, a senior editor with the Osgoode Hall Law Journal, and a student member of the Indigenous Bar Association. Scott has contributed to public legal education projects related to human rights and specific claims, and worked for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General as a summer law student. Scott’s vision is to foster reciprocity between Indigenous and Canadian laws, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, and within traditional Canadian legal education.  He is on twitter: @sjfranks

 

 

Fiona de Londras (Durham) & Rachel Rebouché (Temple) on Transnational Stories in National Abortion Laws

It is increasingly implausible to speak of a purely domestic abortion law, as the legal debates around the world draw on precedents and influences of different national and regional contexts. ”

Looking forward to this talk today (Friday January 9th 2015) on transnational law in abortion jurisprudence with Fiona de Londras (Durham) and Rachel Rebouché (Temple).

Links to some of Fiona de Londras’ papers and posts on abortion:

  • Mairead Enright & Fiona de Londras, “‘Empty Without and Empty Within': the Unworkability of the Eighth Amendment after Savita Halappanavar & Miss Y” (2014) 20 Medico-Legal Journal of Ireland 85.  Pre pub draft available here.
  • Many of these posts at humanrights.ie
  • with Laura Graham. Impossible Floodgates and Unworkable Analogies in the Irish Abortion Debate (2013) 3 (3) Irish Journal of Legal Studies. 

    Some of Rachel Rebouché’s  papers on abortion:

  • Fegan, Eileen V & Rachel Rebouche. “Northern Ireland’s Abortion Law: The Morality of Silence and the Censure of Agency” (2003) 11:3 Feminist Legal Studies 221.
  • “The Limits of Reproductive Rights in Improving Women’s Health” (2011) UF Law Faculty Publications, online: <<<http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/130>> >
  • “Comparative Pragmatism” (2012) UF Law Faculty Publications, online: <http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/261>.
  • with Karen Rothenberg. “Mixed Messages: The Intersection of Prenatal Genetic Testing and Abortion” (2012) UF Law Faculty Publications, online: <<<http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/262>>
  • Challenges for contemporary reproductive rights advocacy: the South African example in Baines, Beverley, Daphne Barak-Erez & Tsvi Kahana, eds. Feminist Constitutionalism: Global Perspectives, 1 edition ed (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012
  •  A Functionalist Approach to Comparative Abortion Law in Cook, Rebecca J. Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective:Cases and Controversies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).
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