All posts by dana phillips

IFLS Meet and Greet: Sept 13 @ 4:30

The IFLS will kick off the academic year with a meet and greet on Wednesday September 13 at 4:30 in our shared space at Osgoode -Rm 3067. All are welcome to attend. Come mingle with the feminist community at Osgoode and hear about the many things the IFLS has in store for 2017/18. Refreshments will be served.

The meet and greet will run until 5:30, at which point there will be an informal meeting of the IFLS Book Club (see this previous post).

See you there!



IFLS Book Club 2017/18

close up of book with open pages The IFLS Book Club is gearing up for another year of reading adventures, and hoping to recruit some new folks to come along for the ride. For those who are intrigued by the book club but unsure of what’s involved, below is a primer in Q & A format.

We will also be having an informal meeting following the IFLS meet & greet (more on that soon) on Wednesday September 13 at Osgoode, Room 3067The IFLS function will start at 4:30pm, and the book club portion will commence at 5:30pm following the general meet & greet. If you are considering joining the book club, this is a great opportunity to find out more about who we are and what we do. We’ll introduce ourselves and talk about directions and possible activities for the book club in the coming year, book selections, scheduling issues, etc. There’s no book assigned for this meeting, to make it as low-pressure as possible. We hope to see you there, and would encourage you to invite others who might be interested.

IFLS Bookclub Primer

The IFLS Bookclub is an Osgoode-based group of feminist legal scholars who meet once a month to discuss a book.

What’s this bookclub all about?
The point of the IFLS Bookclub is to build a community of people to engage in thoughtful, friendly discussion, to connect with other booklovers at Osgoode, and give you a chance (and excuse) to take a break from other pressures.

Sounds great – how can I join?
Email us at and we’ll be in touch.

I’m not actively engaged in explicitly feminist research, and/or I’m not affiliated with the IFLS – can I still join?
Of course! What our members have in common is an interest in the law, and an engagement with feminist ideas. We have different levels of legal education and experience, and not everyone is engaged in research at all, let alone feminist research. JD students, graduate students, faculty, staff, visiting scholars and anyone else with any kind of Osgoode affiliation is welcome to join.

I’m not a woman – can I still join?
Of course!

I’m not a big reader – can I still join?
Of course! If you’re only going to read one non-work book in a month, why not make it ours? Our discussion doesn’t require a degree in literary criticism, or a firm grounding in anything theoretical or canonical.

We aim to meet once a month during the academic year, and once or twice over the summer. We poll the group to select dates and times that work for as many people as possible.

Where do you meet?
It varies. Sometimes we meet at Osgoode in the IFLS/Nathanson Centre (room 3067). Sometimes we meet downtown at a pub or café (when we met at Famous Last Words they created a Monkey Beach cocktail just for us to celebrate the book we were discussing). Sometimes we meet at a member’s home. Usually we all meet in person, but occasionally a member or guest will join via Skype. We set meeting locations and times after soliciting feedback from the group about what works best for everyone’s schedule.

Will there be snacks?
Yes! And they’re delicious. We take turns bringing them (unless of course we’re meeting at a pub/café, which generally have their own snacks available).

Do you only read ‘feminist’ books?
No. We consider ourselves to be a club of feminists reading books, rather than a club reading feminist books. However, our feminist orientation means that we try to choose books written by female, Indigenous, racialized, LGBTQ, disabled or otherwise marginalized authors. We like to choose books our members might not otherwise have read. Sometimes we’ll make an exception to this general rule – like reading The Stepford Wives and watching the Disney film adaptation for our Halloween special. A list of books we’ve read in the past is attached.

We generally don’t read nonfiction (this is not a club of feminists reading academic books) but may choose a nonfiction book from time to time. We read books from all forms (novels, short stories, graphic novels, poetry) and all genres.

How do you choose which books to read?
In the past, we’ve chosen as a group on a month-to-month basis, but we’ve found that doesn’t always give us enough time to finish reading. For this year, we’ll solicit suggestions, and then set a list for the term, so you can plan your reading.

If you have a suggestion, please send it to

What if I’m a Bookclub member but I didn’t have time to read the book this month?
No worries – please still come along! Our discussion, while at least nominally focused on our chosen book, is wide-ranging, and you will no doubt have much to contribute even if you didn’t get to finish (or start) the book. We’re not setting homework, and there will be no exam on the book. We do try to select less heavy reads (poetry, graphic novels, etc) during the busiest parts of term so that Bookclub remains a treat and not a burden even in demanding times.

Do I have to come to every meeting?
Of course not! We understand that things come up, and that not every member will be able to make it to every session. However, we encourage members to try to participate throughout the year, and not just for a single session.

What with work/research/study/family/etc there are many demands on my time – why should I join?
Does taking a couple of hours a month to sit with some friends and discuss books, law, current events and anything else you feel like over tea & cookies or wine & cheese sound good? Then please join.

IFLS Book Club – Past Reads

2016-2017 Session

  1. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine – Alexandra Kleeman
  2. The Stepford Wives – Ira Levine (and the 2004 movie)
  3. North End Love Songs – Katherena Vermette
  4. Tell: Stories of a Girlhood – Soraya Peerbaye
  5. Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
  6. The Unquiet Dead – Ausma Zehanat Khan
  7. Difficult Women – Roxanne Gay

 2015-2016 Session

  1. Birdie – Tracey Lindberg
  2. Islands of Postcolonial Love – Leanne Simpson
  3. Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories for Social Justice Movements – Adrienne Maree Brown, Walidah Imarisha
  4. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir – Liz Prince

IFLS Book Club, 2016/17

Last year, the IFLS revived a feminist book club tradition at Osgoode. The group will continue this year, and we would like to invite those interested in taking part for the year to join. All are welcome, regardless of whether your research interests align with the IFLS. We try to meet about once a month to discuss a book, graphic novel, poetry anthology or some other form of the written word, from a feminist perspective. There are usually treats!  If you’re interested or have any questions, please send an email to Dana at Looking forward to seeing faces old and new as the school year starts up again.

April 12 @ York: Dr. Alexa DeGagne on Changing Relationships between Police and LGB, Trans and Queer People

The Protected, the Targeted, the Criminalized:
Changing Relationships between Canadian Police Organizations, and LGB, Trans and Queer People

Talk by Alexa DeGagne, 2015-16 Visiting Scholar in Sexuality Studies

event poster - info included in body of post
Tuesday, April 12th, 2016, 3:00-4:30pm 
519 Kaneff Tower, York University
Introduced by Dr. Amar Wahab, Coordinator, Sexuality Studies
This presentation examines the history of the relationship between LGB, trans and queer people, and police organizations in Canada in order to consider why and how the recent rapprochement between certain heteronormal LGB Canadian and different police organizations has excluded already marginalized and overly criminalized LGB, trans and queer people, and has at the same time galvanized intersectional social activism among populations that are disproportionately targeted, abused and criminalized by police and the legal justice system.
Dr. Alexa DeGagne is an Assistant Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies at Athabasca University. Her research, teaching and community engagement are focused on gender-based and sexuality-based social justice movements and activisms in Canada and the United States.
Co-Sponsored by: Department of Anthropology.
Light refreshments served. RSVP to
*Please note that this seminar counts towards GFWS seminar requirements*

The Ghomeshi Verdict: A Few Thoughts

On Thursday, Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty on four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking. For many, the verdict came as no surprise.

You can read the full decision here.

As PhD student Tamera Burnett discussed in a previous post, the case has served as an opportunity for feminists to highlight the ongoing failures of our legal system when it comes to sexual assault.

Unfortunately, the message does not always get across. For those not already well-versed in the multiple barriers faced by complainants in sexual assault trials, feminists who decry the intense scrutiny of complainant behaviour, brutalizing tactics of defence lawyers, and rape myths that continue to pervade decisions like this one just under the surface, are easily dismissed as raging social media mobsters for whom “Ghomeshi is damned well guilty, and this reasonable doubt stuff is just slippery legalese.” 

The line between standing up for survivors and reversing the presumption of innocence can seem perilously thin. We should be wary of the temptation to gloss over the question of evidence too easily, or take a judge’s words out of context, even in the heat of justified anger. The verdict in this particular case was not wrong; to convict on the evidence as it stood probably would have been.

But in the words of  Amanda Dale: “The institutional shadow cast by the false stereotypes about claimants is in no way equivalent in influence to the raw call to believe sexual assault survivors coming from outside the courtroom.”

That the evidence didn’t stand up in court does not mean that the many brave women who came forward were collectively lying about their experiences of violence with Ghomeshi. Justice Horkins himself recognized in his decision (problematic as it was, more on that below), that a finding of not guilty does not mean that the events described did not happen – a reality all too common in cases of sexual assault. Here lies the problem. Here is the good reason we have to be angry: the total disconnect between the law and women’s actual lives.

I attended the final day of the Ghomeshi trial as well as another sexual assault trial taking place around the same time at Old City Hall. Around that time, I had two particularly heated exchanges with defence lawyers, one right inside the overflow courtroom where we heard the closing submissions in the Ghomeshi trial. For those lawyers, and others quoted in the media, this case is about credibility and the presumption of innocence, full stop.

I get that. But what about the reality of sexual violence in thousands of women’s lives? What about the vast majority of cases that never make it to court because women don’t feel they have the financial, emotional, social or legal resources to come forward? What about the financial, emotional and social consequences for those who do go stick it out through a trial in which every detail of their personal lives is publicly scrutinized, only for a judge to find that their stories don’t measure up?

When I raised these issues with the lawyers I spoke to, they basically just shrugged.

While the verdict may have been right, as Professor Brenda Cossman and many others have pointed out,  Justice Horkins’ reasons perpetuate skeptical and distrusting attitudes towards sexual assault complainants, giving them yet one more reason not to bother coming forward in the first place. 

On the one hand, this judge, like the other  I observed in Mandy Gray’s sexual assault trial, clearly recognized that sexual stereotyping could get them into trouble. They would need to look no further than the fate of Judge Camp following his rape-myth riddled 2014 decision in R v Wagar.

I suppose that is something. The problem is that the analysis stops there. As Professor Julie MacFarlane notes,  once lip service is paid to the hard-learned dangers of rape myths, the myths keep right on doing their work under a thinly veiled cover. 

If Justice Horkins claims that “[c]ourts must guard against applying false stereotypes concerning the expected conduct of complainants”, then why does he repeatedly rebuke the complainants for not recognizing the relevance of this conduct? And why is he so confident in concluding that the complainants’ behaviour is “odd” and “out of harmony” with the alleged assault.

If it is “entirely natural” for survivors to become involved in advocacy work, then why does he feel comfortable speculating that such work might give a witness the motive to lie.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the condescending suggestion, after meticulously listing all of the shortcomings of the complainants’ testimony, that being a witness in a criminal trial is “really quite simple: tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  Unfortunately, for many women who experience sexual violence, the truth isn’t actually that simple.

The troubling thing about this case is not the presumption of innocence absent a high standard of proof. It is the failure to see anything beyond it.

-Dana Phillips