“As sure as the earth is 6,000 years old and tomatoes are poisonous, we will be reverting to the old sex-ed curriculum this fall, while we research what the Dead Sea scrolls have to say on the subject.” By @paulmakingway via @outandabouter: https://t.co/t54nBsscHn pic.twitter.com/nSVE0nDXyH
— Tabatha Southey (@TabathaSouthey) July 12, 2018
To make a long story short, Ontario’s new premier is making good on his promise to scrap the sex ed curriculum we’re currently using in Ontario….leaving us to fall back on the 1998 version of the curriculum…which was pre smart phones and snapchat let alone important legal changes – doesn’t talk about gender diversity or sexual diversity – and doesn’t use the word consent. So:
Here’s sex educator Nadine Thornhill’s @NadineThornhill plan to put the content of the new – now old – curriculum into a set of videos on her youtube channel.
Also, all the thank yous to everyone who’s supported #SaveSexEd project. The series will launch in September on my YouTube channel. You can help by subscribing to my channel and asking folks you know to do the same! https://t.co/s9j9ukJm0j
— Nadine Thornhill (@NadineThornhill) July 11, 2018
One of the first questions I had to confront when I started practising criminal defence law was whether or not I would defend cases of sexual assault and sexual abuse where the complainants are women or children. (Zilla Jones, Winnipeg Criminal Defence lawyer)
The Ghomeshi trial and outcome provoked a very broad national conversation on a range of topics, many asking about how law, lawyers and the justice system deal with claims of sexual assault. Comments, arguments, suggestions have appeared in the form of tweets, facebook comments, blog posts and in more traditional media (and in the comments on those articles). In time we should also be reading peer reviewed academic articles. In reading what i could of all this output (including, idiot that I am, some of the comment sections). I saw calls for forcing defendants to testify in criminal trials, and I saw calls for charging some or all of the complainants in this case with perjury (both, for me, seem out of the question, so I offer them as indications of opposite ends of the spectrum). I also saw anguish, anxiety and anger (for a selection, a limited selection, of @osgoodeifls tweets to post verdict commentary, some of which clearly take a position contrary to what you will read below, click here). My main wish for feminist conversations about what this case means is that we can engage in conversations about feminist advocacy and goals that remain nuanced and thoughtful, even across some differences. We all need to determine where we stand, to revisit and critically reexamine our positions, this is a lifelong process. I particularly want feminist law students to be able to access a range of feminist positions. After reading her brief and thoughtful post about Ghomeshi and criminal defence work via Facebook, I asked Winnipeg lawyer Zilla Jones if she wanted to write something for broader consumption and despite a ferociously busy schedule, she graciously agreed. Zilla's words follow, and her bio (more than just bare facts) is at the bottom of the page. - sonia.
One of the first questions I had to confront when I started practising criminal defence law was whether or not I would defend cases of sexual assault and sexual abuse where the complainants are women or children. For many female defence counsel, this has deeply personal implications. Given the prevalence of sexual assault, female defence counsel are just as likely as any other women to have been sexually assaulted themselves, to have witnessed a sexual assault, or to have helped friends or family through the aftermath of a sexual assault. I always wondered about those drunken post-exam parties in law school and whether any of my fellow students ever forgot what they had just written on the topic of consent.
I have been questioned by my own friends and family members before as to how I can defend sexual assault cases, but in the aftermath of the Ghomeshi trial, the conversation has gone national and people across the country are questioning the reasoning of any female defence counsel who defend in cases of sexual assault. While I am happy to see so many people engaging with the justice system, some troubling ideas seem to be a common discussion topic: we should develop special sexual assault courts that force the accused to testify, or we should consider lowering the standard of reasonable doubt in sexual assault cases, or we should re-consider how witness testimony is assessed in light of the trauma experienced by victims and not allow defence to cross-examine on the details of a sexual assault offence or the events surrounding it, or that Mr Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, was unethical or unfair in how she defended this case.
In a criminal trial, the person who should always be front of mind is the one with the most at stake, and that is, without exception, the accused. People who say that that high-profile accused such as O.J. Simpson or Jian Ghomeshi are “powerful” are misguided. No matter who the accused is, once they are the subject of a criminal investigation, the full might of the state is against them, which pales against the influence of any defence lawyer they can pay. The state has police officers, investigators, detectives, probation or parole officers, Crown attorneys and all the supports in their offices, all dedicated to imprisoning the accused and/or subjecting him or her to other conditions such as fines and strict probation conditions, and marking them with a permanent criminal record. The accused has one person to counter this. If wealthy accused are getting “designer defences”, they are getting the defence every accused deserves and we should expand access to such representation, not lessen it.
Because of the serious consequences of criminal convictions, which may include, besides imprisonment, job loss, damage to reputation and stigmatization and the loss of friends and family, we have developed a justice system that has as its foundation and its primary function the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Lowering the burden of proof to assist victims should not take precedence over the need to prevent wrongful convictions. Something terrible may have happened to the complainant, but the accused faces prison, and we must never make it easier to imprison people.
The reaction to the Ghomeshi verdict that I find to be the most strange is that of some people who are otherwise progressive thinkers, who are critical of police violence, the overuse of incarceration to address social problems and the abuses to prisoners through things such as lengthy remand times and extended periods of solitary confinement. When such a person expresses disappointment that Mr Ghomeshi was not convicted and states that they would like to see more convictions entered in cases of sexual abuse, I wonder how they do not see the contradiction in supporting the idea that more people be incarcerated and that they are agreeing that incarceration is the appropriate way to deal with the larger social issue of sexual assault and the treatment of women and children. In the case of inmates facing sex-related charges, they are often subjected to violence in the institution and/or have to be placed in administrative segregation, or solitary confinement to protect them from such violence. In general, there is little evidence that the threat of incarceration changes behaviours, prevents offending or serves any rehabilitative purpose in most cases.
My experience has shown me there is a problem with the assumption that the only “victim” is the person sitting in the courtroom testifying against the accused. “Victims” and “offenders” do not fit into such neat boxes. Many of the accused I represent have also been victims of crime. In fact, many of them have scars attributable to the state that is now prosecuting them: they were physically and/or sexually abused while wards of the state, or after “aging” out of care and being consigned to the streets, or they have endured generations of dysfunction after their forebears were abused in residential schools. Some have been beaten or raped by police or by guards or other inmates while in the care of the state. When an accused person says that a police officer or prison guard beat or raped them, the courts don’t “believe the survivor” – they demand proof and allow the officers in question to defend themselves, often deferring to their authority and denials that the offence occurred, if the matter even gets that far. Many accused do not report such things for the exact reasons other sexual assault survivors don’t – they think they won’t be believed or worry that what they were doing at the time or their criminal records will be held against them or that the repercussions will be worse than the original offence.
I fully agree that courts don’t always respond to the social context of the witnesses before them, but this includes the accused or witnesses for the accused. An accused in a criminal case who complains that they were not afforded their legal rights or were racially profiled or otherwise discriminated against will likely need to use the Charter, and on a Charter application, the accused has the burden of proof against the might of the state, and police officers who are often considered credible just for being police officers.
I once represented a suspected gang member on a home invasion, and the Crown called his co-accused to testify against him. The co-accused was serving a sentence and was terrified of being attacked by inmates for being a “rat.” Because he was not cooperating, the Crown applied successfully to cross-examine him as an adverse witness and absolutely savaged this young man far beyond what was necessary to show he was being untruthful, throwing his personal tragedies in his face and so on, with all my objections being overruled. Several lawyers from the Crown’s office came especially to watch this young Aboriginal man be humiliated in a courtroom full of white eyes. Later when I commented to the Crown that he had gone further than he needed to, he blamed my client for exercising his right to a trial and said “he could have just plead out” and “that’s what you get when you’re in a gang.”
A young Aboriginal woman I represented told me that she, a previous survivor of sexual assault, was at a party when one of her friends said that a man had raped her in the bedroom and was trying to leave. Several women grabbed him and attacked him with kitchen utensils. She was charged with aggravated assault for helping them hold him down. When I tried to negotiate her bail, I was harangued about how she should have called the police to assist her friend. The Crown expressed skepticism that her own assault had happened, since she hadn’t called police about it either.
I have seen witnesses dragged to court under subpoena to testify against gang members, helping to secure convictions, and then taken back to the streets with no protection, and seemingly no concern about that because “that’s the life they signed up for.” I, as defence counsel, am usually the one expressing the most concern for these people, even though they contributed to my client potentially receiving a penitentiary term. I have even had witnesses I cross-examined call and ask me to be their lawyer the next time they morph from victim to accused. Or I have had to turn down cases because the complainant is someone I previously represented.
I have seen accused who testify subjected to Crown cross-examination that uses terminology they cannot possibly understand as a person with FASD, or that totally discounts why it is a problem when a police officer with a tall, thin Black suspect performs a “spot check” on a short, muscular Black suspect, or why someone living in a rough area of town would scratch the labels off their prescription drugs so as not to be jumped for them, rather than to traffick them. Sometimes, the refusal to believe their testimony gets them convicted, possibly wrongfully (even with the allowances that are supposed to be made for the testimony of accused persons.) Any changes to the assessment of witness testimony must take into account fairness to the accused.
Most of the people I represent don’t look like the complainants in Ghomeshi – white, educated, mature women, with at least Ms DeCoutere seeming to belong to the middle class. I don’t look like those women either; I am always aware that I look more like the majority of my clients than the majority of the judges I appear in front of. As a feminist, I am concerned that the greatest injustice in the justice system is that, even with the principles of the presumption of innocence and the requirement that the Crown prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, we are still witnessing the mass incarceration of indigenous and Black people, the mentally ill and the poor, the non-citizens and the wards of the state, often on minor offences. This mass incarceration seems to so often go unchallenged although it does so little to prevent or deter crime or to rehabilitate offenders. While the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual assault, and the response of the justice system to such harm, is an important issue to address, we must not lose sight of the other inequalities in the justice system.
We also need to be careful when discussing the performance of Ms Henein, Jian Ghomeshi’s lawyer. She’s a woman of colour, an immigrant, excelling in a field which is still male-dominated and difficult for women to navigate. I don’t recall ever seeing a female defence lawyer get this kind of attention and this is fantastic for the profession. Some of the language used to describe her has been troubling, and highlights how women of colour are sometimes assumed to be tough and impervious to hurt (a legacy dating back to slavery) or not “real women.”
Some of the critique of defence counsel assumes that we do not do our part to challenge rape myths or reduce sexual assault. But most people only see what happens in court and not what happens in the lawyer’s office. I always discuss consent with people accused of sexual assault, as I recognize that most of them are in my office, innocent or not, because they don’t understand consent. Even if they are acquitted or the charges are dropped, we discuss consent “so there won’t be a next time.” Where there seems to be a strong case for the Crown, I discuss with them that if they plead guilty rather than going to trial, they get credit for sparing the woman the ordeal of coming to court. And where there is to be a trial, I meticulously plan my cross-examinations to avoid rape myths and my usual strategy is to be “nice” to the witness while exposing any potential flaws in her testimony. Sometimes, a witness’ testimony falls apart and sometimes she stands her ground and her testimony remains solid. In both cases, I have zealously advocated for my client and a just result is reached.
Sometimes, an accused will insist on testifying against my advice to explain why they “didn’t do it.” If they do, it usually becomes apparent to the court that they don’t understand consent and don’t respect women. If the complainant’s testimony is solid, they get convicted. I suppose that this is why some are upset that Ghomeshi didn’t testify. However, the right of silence for the accused is another fundamental principle. Given what I have said about the difficulties that many accused have explaining their life circumstances to the courts, it is often the safest course of action for an accused to remain silent and make the Crown prove its case. If we allow the violation of a centuries-old principle and force persons accused of sexual assault to testify, how long will it be before the state starts forcing other accused to do the same, including accused from poor or marginalized communities?
Finally, the times that we have to cross-examine a sexual assault complainant only make up a few incidents in the working life of most female defence attorneys, and it doesn’t make sense to define us and our professional choices by these moments, while obscuring others that might be equally, or more, relevant. Many of us are not particularly overjoyed at the task of cross-examining a woman who says something horrible happened to her and that she is traumatized by it, but we do our job and try not to make it more unpleasant or uncomfortable than it inherently is, while also making sure we provide our client with a full defence and explore all avenues open to us to challenge credibility. We also defend the poor, the marginalized, the racially profiled, the mentally ill, and the unfairly accused (some of whom, of course, are also sexual assault defendants.) We cross-examine police officers about their use of force or the assumptions they make about people. And of course we can and do support sexual assault survivors and advocate for them in different contexts outside of the courtroom. Or when those survivors become the accused a year or two or three later, or already are the accused, we are there for them.
Zilla Jones practices criminal defence and human rights/poverty law in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She graduated from the University of Manitoba Robson Hall school of law in 2011 and has her own law firm, Jones Law Office. She has appeared at all levels of court in Manitoba and a number of administrative tribunals. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and Association des juristes d'expression française du Manitoba and is the President of the Equality Issues section of the Manitoba Bar Association. She also sits on the boards of the John Howard Society of Manitoba and the Manitoba Theatre for Young People. As an African-Canadian immigrant woman, she is very interested in issues of critical race theory and post-colonial theory and their application to the law. Zilla is the mother of two young sons who participate in sports and music. She is one of the instructors and founders of ANANSI, a performing arts group for children of Caribbean and African descent. Her undergraduate degree is in vocal performance and she still sings opera and jazz as time allows. Her other passion is literature, and she is currently working on her first novel. Some of her favourite authors are Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith and Isabel Allende. She recently read Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese and is now reading Birdie by Tracy Lindberg. She loves to travel and to visit her extended family scattered across the world. Her role models are her mother, her grandmother, her aunt Marion O'Callaghan, an anti-racism activist, writer and former UNESCO Director of Social Programmes. She also admires Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelba Marquez Greene, who lost her daughter in the Sandy Hook Massacre and lives each day with incredible grace and strength while advocating for gun control and greater social inclusion, and Marie Henein.
In her powerful talk earlier this month about R v Barton and the death of Cindy Gladue, Professor Emma Cunliffe discussed the lack of cultural competency and respect for Indigenous lives shown by the lawyers involved in the case. She was later asked a question about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action regarding legal education. In her answer, she mentioned a recent blog post she had written on the subject, found here.
The blog she was talking about is called ReconciliationSyllabus. It was started by UVic law professors Gillian Calder and Rebecca Johnson last summer as “an invitation to law professors across Canada to gather together ideas about resources and pedagogies to support recommendation #28 of the TRC Calls to Action: the call for us to rethink both what and how we teach in our schools.” Here is a story about the blog’s origin.
The TRC Calls to Action that speak most directly to legal education read as follows:
- We call upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal– Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
- We call upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and antiracism.
Since the blog’s launch, Professor Cunliffe and several other Canadian law professors (many of a known feminist bent) have taken up the invitation to reflect on the TRC’s recommendations. Check it out here, if you haven’t already: https://reconciliationsyllabus.wordpress.com/about/.
Here are some further thoughts about the Calls to Action
from UVic Dean Jeremy Webber:
from Professors Gillian Calder and Rebecca Johnson:
from Professor Lisa Kerr:
Professor Cunliffe’s talk, and the question about the TRC serves as an important reminder not to let this conversation die. Only by carrying the momentum forward can the TRC’s Calls be lifted off the page and into action. Seems like we have a lot of work to do.
This is a bit of a must read (*i am not describing my own post as a must read! i mean, the work and stories i’m linking to!), and apologies for the ways that I have made it a series of links. Here’s the short story: Judge makes comments repeatedly throughout a sexual assault trial indicating ignorance of and outright hostility to Canadian law of sexual assault, and “rape shield” provisions. Acquittal overturned on appeal but without many reasons. Fabulous law profs write op eds and file official complaint with Canadian Judicial Council. Within days the Court (!the Court) on which the judge now sits promises he won’t be sitting on any sexual assault cases, indicates that he’ll take gender sensitivity training at his own expense, and quotes the judge’s own apology. Investigation ongoing.
Interesting parallels and differences here with the saga around complaints about the language used by Alberta Court of Appeal Justice McClung in Ewanchuk (which i will not rehash here, but you can get a flavour from Backhouse, Constance B., The Chilly Climate for Women Judges: Reflections on the Backlash from the Ewanchuk Case (2003). Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 15:1 (2003) 167-93. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2283981).
timeline of recent events
late additions in green: i think that these things are worth adding to the timeline. See “merit”.
2011: Charges laid in the sexual assault at issue in R. v. Wagar.
December 2013: Premier Redford is cleared after an ethics panel reviews the awarding of a tobacco litigation contract that could be worth millions in fees, to her ex-spouse’s law firm, Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes of Alberta. Prior to his elevation, from 2008-12, Judge Camp was managing partner of this law firm.
2014: first trial in R. v. Wagar
June 26, 2015: Judge Camp becomes Justice Camp of the Federal Court, approximately one month before the election campaign begins for the October 19, 2015 Federal Elections.
- October 27, 2015 Alberta Court of Appeal allows appeal from the trial decision: http://canlii.ca/t/gls9m Accused will now face new trial.
- November 2. 2015. Jennifer Koshan of UCalgary Law blogs on the case that gave rise to the complaint. She links to the Crown factum on appeal, but because of a publication ban, you won’t have access to transcripts.
“Judge Camp commenced his judgment by notifying the accused that he was being acquitted, and went on to deliver a lecture to the accused:
The law and the way that people approach sexual activity has changed in the last 30 years. I want you to tell your friends, your male friends, that they have to be far more gentle with women. They have to be far more patient. And they have to be very careful. To protect themselves, they have to be very careful.
The law in Canada today is that you have to be very sure before you engage in any form of sexual activity with a woman. Not just sex, not just oral sex, not even just touching of a personal part of a girl’s body, but just touching at all. You’ve got to be very sure that the girl wants you to do it. Please tell your friends so that they don’t upset women and so that they don’t get into trouble… (Appeal Record, at p 427).
This passage sets the tone for Judge Camp’s reasons for decision: women (or “girls”) are blameworthy, not to be trusted, and men must be protected from them.”
- November 3
Alice Woolley of UCalgaryLaw regarding what the legal system should do in such cases, also on the Calgary Faculty Blog (ABlawg).
I argue that legal decisions go from being wrong to wrongful when they demonstrate both disrespect for the law and a failure of empathy in regards to the persons who appeared before the court. In my opinion, Judge Camp’s decision falls within this category; it demonstrates both disrespect for the law governing sexual assault and a pervasive inability to understand or even account for the perspective of the complainant…..
One response to a wrongful decision is censure of the judge by a higher court. That did not happen here. The Court of Appeal’s reasons, while clear and unequivocal in overturning Judge Camp’s decision, are also temperate and measured. They do not criticize the trial judge himself, or suggest that his decision had crossed from the wrong to the wrongful…..
A judge who merely disrespects the law acts very badly. And a judge who lacks empathy does so as well. But it is the judge who does both, who disregards the law and the people who appear before him or who are affected by his judgments, who acts wrongfully, and whose judgments properly warrant anger and disgust.
- November 6. op ed (the date is confusingly listed) Globe & Mail, written by Dal’s Elaine Craig and Assoc. Dean Woolley (interestingly, in this G&M article, the ED of the CJC seems to be saying that he used his power to initiate an inquiry after reading that op-ed – thus claiming that the official eleven page complaint filed by the four law professors was apparently not the genesis of the investigation – rather, the op-ed that two of them wrote and had published in the Globe worked on its own).
- November 9, 2015, official filing of an 11page complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council about Justice Camp’s conduct, by professors Woolley and Koshan of the University of Calgary law school, along with Profs Jocelyn Downie and Craig of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie.
- Also on November 9, 2015, the story starts to diverge a bit from what you might have expected, given Ewanchuk. The Federal Court issued a statement saying in part:
” no new cases will be assigned to Justice Camp that involve issues of sexual conduct or any matter that would raise comparable issues. As well, Justice Camp has agreed to recuse himself from any such cases currently assigned to him”.
- Justice Camp, through the court, offered an apology (in some newspaper articles, it sounds like these were two separate news releases, but in fact, there is just one):
My sincere apology goes out, in the first place, to the young woman who was the complainant in the matter. I also apologize to the women who experience feelings of anger, frustration and despair at hearing of these events.
- Later in the day, still November 9, Alice Woolley again, here, on the apology:
Woolley suggests Camp still doesn’t get it. “Given one of the issues here is his unwillingness to apply the law, I am concerned about the extent to which the statement frames this as an issue of gender sensitivity. His apology is directed toward women, but the fair administration of justice is a concern for every Canadian.”
As a slight aside (although I’m sure this will be asked by more people soon), here’s blogger and Ontario lawyer Lee Akazaki on November 10th (today) asking why the Court is issuing such a statement in the first place (I’m not sure if this is unprecedented, but it sure feels that way). See here.
I’ve just come back from a workshop in the UK about appointing judges and diversity on the Bench. I also spoke a bit about Lori Douglas’ case – reading the hard work of these amazing Canadian Feminist legal academics in bringing this situation into the open makes me wonder again why on earth we keep getting asked about merit versus diversity when it should be quite clear that we haven’t quite got a handle on merit yet…. (so, last note, from 2013 in the Harvard Business Review the gender focused article, Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. Justice Camp seems to have practiced business law prior to his elevation to the Bench by the Provincial government of Alison Redford
mond (last name corrected thanks to Eric Adams, who gently pointed out my error, without any reference to ignorant Ontarians or anything!) Camp’s apology is in fairly stark contrast to his language in the transcript, as revealed in the Crown factum. That’s some good and speedy sensitivity training.
Angela P. Harris will be known to most readers of this blog. Now at UC Davis School of Law, she’s been at the forefront of critical race and critical legal scholarship for a long time now. She’s one of the editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012, Utah State UP) (there is a transcribed interview, here, where she discusses the book, it’s reception, and the impact of increased corporatization of universities).
In this talk, she explores the connections between mindfulness (she teaches a course called “Mindfulness and Professional Identity: Becoming a Lawyer While Keeping Your Values Intact”) and critical race scholarship, illustrating the ways in which she sees the two as intimately connected. The talk isn’t an easy one – she details violence and challenges our responses to it. Harris also spotlights the work of many Black female artists in the accompanying slides. Take the time to have a look.