Family Status (transl: kids) and Work-Life Balance: The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Weighs In

Here’s some victory news for your Monday morning – Johnstone and Canadian Border Services (August 6,2010).  Link to the decision at the very bottom of this post and press release from PSAC, Ms. Johnstone’s union, below (I’m amused by PSAC’s choice of headline – were they being ironic, or are we going to try to recapture that language?).

The decision makes good reading, since it illustrates the variety of systems which have failed to adjust to Canadian realities in terms of demographics (we need more workers!) and family economics (two incomes are the norm). There’s also an extensive discussion around the employer’s contention that childcare responsibilities are a “choice” unlike , e.g., medical conditions or religious practice (both of which are accommodated by the employer). Experts were called in and their testimony is well worth a look (around employer policies on “work life balance” and the availability of child care).

It's a glamorous life! And does she REALLY iron? Or, as one of my kids asked me the other week, peering up to the high shelf where the iron lives, "what is THAT for?".

I had some of my own questions too – in this case the claimant and her spouse were both border services agents, and there isn’t much discussion of why she is bringing the case (it’s clear that his position was higher up the ranks than hers, and it’s also related to the issue of “returning to work” after giving birth to a child).  But there isn’t much discussion of this kind of discrimination falling mainly on women (although you see it clearly in the expert testimony, and in the discussion of the employer’s attention to the issue).

Anyway, it’s a victory, just a limited one. It’s not a solution to work/life balance.  It’s a way to keep seniority and pensions (which Ms. Johnstone would have lost if she went to the part time work her employer suggested).

One of my favourite parts of the decision was when the CBSA (canadian border services agency) suggested that Ms. Johnstone had not been diligent in seeking childcare arrangements which could accommodate shifting schedules, mandatory overtime, and overnight shifts.  I wish I knew what they meant. Finding childcare to  accommodate any schedule (let alone budget) is not easy.  Perhaps we should  all contact CBSA to find out more about this secret awesome childcare option!   I kind of suspect that it is Stay at Home moms, but they tend to only offer this to their own children….  FYI: Ms. Johnstone’s partner is also a Border Services officer and they indicated they didn’t have a home which could accomodate a “nanny,” nor did they have the money for that option. [See around para 18]

Here’s the PSAC Press Release.

Human Rights Tribunal Defends Family Values

Decision supports freedom of Canadians to be parents without discrimination

OTTAWA, Aug. 6 /CNW Telbec/ – In a groundbreaking decision today, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that employers cannot discriminate against their employees should they choose to become parents. Fiona Johnstone, a Canadian Border Services Officer and a member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, convinced the Tribunal that she was a victim of discrimination based on family status.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) refused to accommodate her request for more regular hours so she could arrange for proper child care. The CBSA told her that the only way that she could care for her kids was to work part time. Fiona Johnstone was unable to obtain child care because she and her husband both worked rotating shift schedules at Pearson International Airport.

The Tribunal found that the conduct of the CBSA was willful and reckless in depriving Mrs. Johnstone of her employment opportunities. The Tribunal ordered the CBSA to pay Mrs. Johnstone for lost wages and pension benefits, as well as damages totaling $35,000.

“This is a victory for all working Canadian parents who want to give their children the care they need and at the same time progress in their careers,” said John Gordon, President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. “Employers have the obligation to find workable solutions on a case-by-case basis so that workers like Fiona Johnstone can balance work and family.”

The Tribunal criticised the CBSA for maintaining systemic policies and practices that deprived Mrs. Johnstone and other similar individuals of employment opportunities due to their family status. As a result, the Tribunal ordered the CBSA to develop a plan to prevent further incidents of discrimination based on family status and develop policies to address family status accommodation requests.

“I am happy and relieved by the decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal,” said Fiona Johnstone. “I can now move on with my career and with raising my family.”

In 2004, Fiona Johnstone filed a complaint against the CBSA arguing that its policy violates the Canadian Human Rights Act by discriminating against her based on her family status. While not every childcare need gives rise to an employer obligation to accommodate, Johnstone argued that her complicated and unpredictable schedule made it impossible to care for her children. She said that the employer had not proven that accommodating her with a more suitable shift would amount to undue hardship.

Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision – click here.

New in Print: Queer Theory: Law, Culture, Empire (Robert Leckey, Kim Brooks eds)

This book collects the papers from a workshop held at McGill in April 2009 called Queer/Empire: Exploring the Reach of Queer Theory and It’s Relationship to Law.  I know I’m not the first to ask how Kim Brooks does it, and I won’t be the last.  Co Editor on this collection is Robert Leckey of McGill, relational theorist, teacher of constitutional and family law, op ed writer, comparative law scholar, click here to see more of his work.  Contributors include Ruthann Robson, Margaret Denike, Ratna Kapur, Leslie Moran, and more.  Click through the cover of the book to order.

It’s got bollywood, judges, polygamy, and scholars from around the globe. Definitely worth a look.

What to Do Next Roundup: A call for papers (J Gender Studies), a Conference on Mothering and Fellowship Applications

This “What to Do Next Roundup” offers three possibilities.  You can send me your conference announcements/CFP’s/Events and I will put them in the next round up.

Call for Papers: Journal of Gender Studies (Feminisms, Sex and the Body)

Deadline: October 1st 2010
The Editors of Journal of Gender Studies welcome contributions for the forthcoming special issue “Feminisms, Sex and the Body,” from a range of (inter-/cross-) disciplinary backgrounds, including literature, popular culture, media, the social sciences, medicine and law.
Feminisms’ positions on issues related to sex and the body have undergone significant changes in recent decades. The embracing of female desire and bodily pleasures during the second wave has diverged into what may be considered an excessive divide between aggressive sexuality on the one hand and self-conscious attempts to deny the body on the other. In the age of fluid gender roles, ‘feminist’ pornography, designer bodies and post-human as well as neo-Darwinian approaches to procreation, this special issue seeks to address the new relationships between feminist thought (historical and contemporary), sexuality and the body. Through this, it also intends to explore and fill the gaps contemporary feminisms have left in the theorising of such relationships.
Potential topics include, but are by no means limited to:
• Sex and text; body and/as text
• Feminisms and visual art/media (i.e. film, photography, painting, etc.)
• Feminisms and fashion
• Homosexuality and same-sex desire
• Celibacy, abstinence and virginity as feminist statements
• Sculpted bodies (i.e. women athletes, plastic surgery, etc.)
Contributions should be between 5,000 and 7,000 words in length.
Please send submissions to by 1st October 2010 marked clearly as ‘FSB Special Issue’. Submission instructions are available on the journal website:

International Conference on Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency

Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI)

May 13-15 2011
Toronto, Canada.
Deadline: October 1st 2010

Grounded in a long history, in which women activists, writers, and feminists focused much effort on strengthening the social, personal, and political power of mothers, current motherhood research and activism makes maternal empowerment one of the major goals of its work. Contemporary examinations and deployments of women’s power as mothers-and mothers’ power as women-seek to grant women greater authority, resources, and status so that they can adequately care for their children while living full and purposeful lives.

The aim of this conference is to explore activism, advocacy, and agency by and on behalf of mothers from a variety of perspectives and in a multitude of contexts.

These include (but are not limited to): the  motherhood movement, community activism and engagement, politics, law, public policy, education, mental and physical health, maternal practice, family,workplace, personal identity, cultural expression, arts, the media and popular culture. We are particularly interested in presenters whose work examines ways in which issues of race, class, nationality, sexuality, age, religion, or ethnicity affect (positively or negatively) the ability of mothers to advocate for and/or achieve authority, agency, respect, and empowerment.
Topics include but not limited to:

the relationship between maternal agency and institutional constraints; personal agency; social agency; intersectionality and maternal agency; maternal agency and social justice; empowerment and family-life responsibilities; maternal agency and legal norms/practices; public policy and the public/private split; neoliberalism and public policy for mothers; healthism and maternal agency; navigating cultural expressions of “good” and “bad” mothering; second and third shift responsibility and agency; online advocacy and empowered mothering; maternal advocacy as theorized or practiced by women of a particular race, class, religion, or culture; empowered caregiving versus non-empowered caregiving; workplace norms and maternal advocacy or agency; motherhood and politics; “having it all” and maternal empowerment; challenging the maternal wall; challenging the “price of motherhood”; pregnancy and maternal agency; empowered mothering and disability; co-parenting and maternal empowerment; social change potential of memoir, narrative, autobiography, or blogging;maternal empowerment through artistic expression, film, music, literature, pop culture, or other arts; maternal agency through ‘experts’ or resistance to them; maternal empowerment by being resistant to or rooted in traditions,histories, or generational knowledges; navigating multiple identities as a mother; motherhood movements; advocacy for new family forms and relations; feminist mothering; queer and/or transgendered mothering; gender equity in home and work place; redefining fathering; othermothering; activism by young and/or low-income mothers; maternal activists’ allies.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Amber Kinser, East Tennessee State University, author of Motherhood and Feminism, editor of Mothering in the Third Wave

D.Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, Boston,University, author of White Feminists and Contemporary Maternity: Purging Matrophobia and co-editor with Sara Hayden of Contemplating Maternity in  an Era of Choices: Explorations Into Discourses of Reproduction.

Andrea O’Reilly, York  University, author of Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Motheringand editor of 21st Century Motherhood: Experience, Identity, Policy, Agency *Other keynotes: TBC


Please send 250 word abstract and 50 word bio to by October 1, 2010. One must a 2011 member of MIRCI to present at this conference.

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Fellowships 2011-2012

Fellowships in the Social Sciences and Humanities

Deadline: October 1st 2010
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is announcing the opening of its 2011-2012 Fellowship competition. The Center awards approximately 20-25 academic year residential fellowships to individuals from any country with outstanding project proposals on national and/orinternational issues. Topics and scholarship should relate to key public policy challenges or provide the historical and/or cultural framework to illuminate policy issues of contemporary importance. Applicants must hold a doctorate or have equivalent professional experience.
Fellows are provided stipends (which include round trip travel), private offices, loan privileges with the Library of Congress, part-time research assistants, and Windows based personal computers.
For more information and application guidelines please contact the Center at:
Tel: 202-691-4170;
Fax: 202-691-4001;
E mail:
You can apply online or download the application from the Centers websiteat Application deadline: October 1, 2010.

Critical Race Feminism goes to War: The States of Race (Sherene Razack, Malinda Smith, Sunera Thobani, eds.

click through to order from

I’ve just finished reading this.   I enjoyed it, although that’s a strange reaction to assert in context of this book.  What I enjoyed was not the bad news that the authors offer (things haven’t changed that much, and the big change – 9/11 – wasn’t particularly positive), but the incisive arguments made by the contributors.  Click the book cover for the book’s page.

You may have seen the current Time Magazine cover story on the women of Afghanistan (August 9, 2010.  The cover reads “What happens if we leave Afghanistan”, and the cover picture is of a woman whose face was mutilated by Taliban troops after she tried to leave the home of her in-laws).  The articles and photo essay concentrate on the position of Afghan women as the US considers “exit strategies”.  The Afghan state may be forced to reconcile with the Taliban if foreign troops leave.   Reading Time after reading Yasmin Jiwani (media representations) and Sunera Thobani (feminist positions on the war) affected my thinking about the “point” of the Time article profoundly.

Time says:

We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground. As lawmakers and citizens begin to sort through the information about the war and make up their minds, our job is to provide context and perspective on one of the most difficult foreign policy issues of our time. What you see in these pictures and our story is…. a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.

There are other interesting pieces in The States of Race.  I’m writing a review for the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, and haven’t finished it yet.  But I’m ready to recommend the book!

Feminism and Legal Theory Project @ Emory Law: Two Upcoming Workshops

These two workshops, “Vulnerability and the Corporation” and “Aging as a Feminist Concern” both look interesting. They are organized by (Martha Fineman’s) Feminism and Legal Theory Project at Emory Law in Atlanta.

Martha Fineman, Director and Founder of the Feminism and Legal Theory Project

The calls for papers are closed in both cases, and the FLT doesn’t have any current calls for papers, but we’ll keep an eye out.  A bit more Martha Fineman news and workshop details after the jump.

The Feminism and Legal Theory project is an important hub for feminist legal scholars.  They organize very interesting workshops which attract a variety of scholars.  Flourishing visitors program too.

Continue reading Feminism and Legal Theory Project @ Emory Law: Two Upcoming Workshops