Tag Archives: public/private

Private Murder, Public Pressure

Private Murder, Public Pressure

by Terrine Friday (Osgoode SJD program)

Is homicide a private matter?

The RCMP called  the Sept. 10 killing of Shirley Parkinson a “private matter,” and refused to release information about the manner of her death, although they have evidence that her husband killed her before taking his own life.

According to reports, Parkinson, 56, was killed by her husband Donald, 60, before he took his own life on the couple’s farm near Unity, Saskatchewan last month. The victim was a “well-known public health nurse” who worked with women and children in her community.

The RCMP did not, initially, release the fact that Shirley Parkinson was murdered – apparently to respect the family’s wishes. Saskatchewan journalists are now calling on the RCMP to release pertinent information about their investigation.

At first glance this raises the issue of how to balance the public interest and the family’s wish for privacy.  There may be some other reason why the RCMP would prefer to keep the case files closed to the public or why the wishes of the next of kin should be respected in this case.  But  the RCMP’s use of the Privacy Act to keep all specifics from the public, and their suggestion that the family context of this killing rendered it “private” are highly problematic.  My own research considers the complicated questions raised in access to information disputes, and focuses on the use of exceptions provided in the legislation to keep data out of the hands of journalists, researchers and the public.

Information about the homicide/suicide in Unity could serve to break the relative silence about domestic abuse, especially amongst older adults.   A 2007 clinical study by Sonia Salari, an expert on population aging and social interaction, reveals “[l]ater life intimate partner homicide suicide (IPHS) represents the most severe form of domestic partner abuse and usually results in at least two deaths.” The study shows 96 percent of perpetrators are men and suicide was the primary intent in 74 percent of cases analyzed.   A troubling finding is that any history of domestic violence was known to others in only 14 percent of cases. This research, as much as other arguments about transparency, accountability and the salience of the public private divide should lead us to question whether privacy is really the right approach to domestic abuse amongst the aging – or any other sector of society.

Grad students with guest post ideas related to their projects should get in touch with Sonia Lawrence, Osgoode Rm 3026

Jotwell: Grant reviews Fournier, McDougall & Dekker "Dishonour, Provocation and Culture: Through the Beholder’s Eye?"

Isabel Grant (UBC Law) reviews Pascale Fournier (Ottawa Civil Law Section), Pascal McDougall & Anna R. Dekker, Dishonour, Provocation and Culture: Through the Beholder’s Eye?, 16(2) Can. Crim. L. Rev. 161 (2012), here.

In their thought-provoking work Dishonour, Provocation and Culture: Through the Beholder’s Eye?, Pascale Fournier, Pascal McDougall and Anna R. Dekker use a unique blend of historical, cross-cultural and empirical analysis to reveal the connections between so-called “honour killings” and intimate femicides where the defence of provocation is invoked.  While “honour killings” typically involve “non-Western” defendants, and concerns about gender equality are more explicit, intimate femicides raise similar equality concerns which are often unrecognized and concealed.  The authors acknowledge that there are differences between our typical conception of honour killings and the spousal homicides in which provocation is raised by Western defendants.  For example, traditional honour killings invoke the idea of public honour, whereas in the provoked intimate femicides, “the locus of honour has shifted from the traditional extended family to the individual man” (178).line drawing of an eye

 

Mayanthi Fernando at Osgoode on Regulating Intimacy – Religion, Sex and Secular Cunning

Fernando-WebAnthropologist Mayanthi Fernando from UC Santa Cruz gave a very interesting and very well attended talk as part of the Law Religion and Social Thought symposium today (check the website later for the tape, if you missed the talk).

The paper explored tensions in the way that liberal republican France situates and interrogates Muslim women in terms of their religion and their sexuality – both areas typically placed by liberal thought into the “private” arena.  I’m worried about doing it justice so will say only that it will be forthcoming in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2014 (speaking of, have a look at the set of things forthcoming from Signs in 2013! Set aside some time).

Fernando’s work focuses on the situation of Muslim women in France –“Exceptional Citizens: Secular Muslim Women and the Politics of Difference in France.” Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale 17:3 (2009), pp. 379-392 is perhaps a decently representative choice.  While not focused on law, law takes on a particular significance in her work, perhaps because it is a state forum where attitudes are on display and both demands and claims are made.  In her talk today, she began with two cases to illustrate the tension she sees – first, a marriage annulment involving a Muslim couple (here is a Reuters report) and second, a discrimination claim brought by a Muslim woman told to remove her niqab whilst in the public areas of (ifI recall correctly was) an inn. Fernando focused on how Muslim women in France – particularly but not only those who wear the headscarf or niqab –  are faced (!)  the relatively contradictory demand and compulsion to talk about intimate, “private” aspects of their lives in order to justify themselves as members of the French public, referring to Foucault’s idea  of “incitement to discourse” which can serve a regulatory and categorizing function.

As a scholar working in what is now an interdisciplinary space, Fernando’s work is cited in articles appearing in legal journals and by scholars attached to law schools.  See, for instance:

To ask that we pay greater attention to context, and in particular, to power and material effects, resonates with the work of such scholars as sociologist Dicle Kog˘acıog˘ lu and anthropologists Lila Abu-Lughod
and Mayanthi Fernando, who have all recently argued that particular gendered discourses about Muslim women divert attention from where it should instead be placed: institutional politics (Kog˘acıog˘ lu); history and politics (Abu-Lughod); and structural root causes of social and economic problems (Fernando). While the cases these scholars examine are varied (honor crimes in Turkey, u.s. discourse about women in Afghanistan, and
“secular Muslim women” in France), all point to how gendered discourses about the oppression faced by Muslim women function transnationally to fuel a general vision of Islam as synonymous with the oppression of women,
which absolutely ignores fundamental issues at work.