Tag Archives: Windsor

IFLS BOOK CLUB POST #7 [Fathima Cader]

Violence structures our lives, was how I opened my class a few nights ago. An unsettling way to begin a term – unsettling even to me, even as I was saying it.

But such a beginning felt inevitable – especially in a law school setting. To engage in the study of Canadian law must necessarily be to concede – implicitly or otherwise, reluctantly or otherwise –the foundational violence of Canada’s creation. And then there are the other violences that weave through our everyday, the organising and the ranking of our relations to each other along that familiar shopping list of vectors – race, gender, class, ability, status, the many inequities named and unnamed.

So, like Sonia and Hadley, part of what resonated with me in Louise Erdrich’s The Round House was how it engaged with the question of violence. The issue was particularly alive for me because I had (unrelatedly) just read Lee Maracle’s 2014 novel, Celia’s Song and had watched Jeff Barnaby’s 2013 film, Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Each text is unflinching not only in its depiction of the interplay between colonial and sexual violence, but also in its insistence that protagonists engage actively in messy ethics of being violent.

I watched Rhymes for Young Ghouls first. It planted many of the questions that would colour my reading of the novels. I won’t describe the film here in any great deal, because I strongly recommend watching it, but there is a moment in the film when a singularly sympathetic character commits an act of stark and irrevocable violence.

And, as blood dripped down the screen, the theatre in which I watched this film erupted into spontaneous cheers. I can’t begrudge my colleagues their fearsome vindication – my own heart had given a terrible, joyfully angry leap at the scene. The buildup had been so irrepressible and the act so life-saving that to cheer on our mutual friend felt only human.

So I have been thinking since then about the ways that narrative/storytelling can extend to us a different vocabulary from law for thinking about violence, a vocabulary that does not stop at the border of right and wrong, but that instead delves into the murkier question of morality, which of course is the question that animates Joe’s and Basil’s different quests for a difficult justice.

My other preoccupation is borders, which of course serve a critical plot point in Erdrich’s book. I write this piece in Windsor, on the lands of the Caldwell First Nation, an Anishinaabe First Nation that comprises the Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwa peoples. You should also know that Windsor is a border town, and there are specific violences that attend with lying so snug against the Detroit River.

As I begin writing this piece, news breaks out that a possibly armed man has been spotted running across campus. He is pursued by police as he heads for the bridge that separates us from the USA. A weird calm settles inside me, an awful waiting that unravels oilily through my gut as I sit it out in my office. In a stilted conversation that follows, someone says, as though to reassure me, “Windsor has lots of border-runners.”

I have never heard the self-explanatory term before. It is awfully evocative and it gives me pause. In my few months in Windsor, I have already encountered stories of people drowning while trying to cross to asylum.

The Detroit River is a slender, slow-moving strait, concealing deadly powerful currents. You can see the water from the law school. As we wait for news of safety, I can’t help but think of the muddled sea that separates North Africa from Europe, how it is at once passage and death for thousands of migrants every year.

Windsor is a border town, and it seems to me that the border lies in jagged ways on people’s skins here. The border here is neither a neat line, nor the river’s soft bend. Here, the border is an entanglement of knots, ensnaring our stories and our relationships. It lies on our skins like scars. I won’t write here about what I am learning in the sparseness of Windsor’s grocery stores about the impoverishment of domestic colonisation, but I will note that neighbouring Leamington, home seasonally to thousands of migrant farm workers, was also the site of Idle No More actions.

So I am preoccupied as I write this with how a relationship to land, to the land, to a map’s coordinates, affects one’s sense of self – how even as a lone man runs directly towards armed policeman, on this side of the border and then on that, pleading that they shoot him – that not even then is the language of tragedy sufficient.

And this is a lesson that I think was reaffirmed by the small constellation of stories that is these books and film: that violence is not a date stamp on a chronology of events, nor is it an act with a clean beginning and end. I think what I am thinking through is the possibility that violence is its own language. Like any language, perhaps what it provides is not answer or a fact, but a terrain for interpretation, resistance, and resilience. Like any language, perhaps what it equips us with us is tools to seize some dignity from the grip of history’s maws.

I recall here my favourite Round House line: to be afraid of entering the cemetery by night was to fear not the loving ancestors who lay buried there by the gut kick of our history. If the violence of Joe’s history does not end his ancestors’ embrace, if the violence of Joe’s history does not prevent him from loving the many reaches of his family, then is it not possible that the violence of Joe and Cappy’s killing Lark opens up something? And indeed the novel posits that Lark’s death is redemptive, even as Lark’s killing is accounted for, as Dayna suggests, with Joe’s propulsion into adulthood and with Cappy’s death. How does this novel help us reconceptualise what we mean by violence? Could the English language be stretched to allow for a more granular taxonomy for the various forms and causes of violence, thus clarifying our relationship to it? What debt do we owe the violences we commit? I am grateful here for Erdrich’s sharing of the legal concept of wetiko and Hadley’s explication of it.

I am struggling through these vague thoughts with little grace and great need, and, as a settler, with a deep gratitude for stories such as these and the storytellers who share them, who help bring me nearer to a vocabulary that can give me hope, when to speak of violence is to otherwise prompt an irrepressible, everyday horror.  Many thanks also to Sonia for inviting me into this series! And of course, all errors are mine.

 


 

Fathima Cader teaches at the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor. She was called to the Ontario bar in 2014, after completing her articles at Parkdale Community Legal Services, where she  represented clients on a wide range of poverty law issues.  She earned her Juris Doctor at the University of British Columbia, she was awarded the Alexander J. Cohen Memorial Award for legal research and the Marlee G. Kline Essay Award for public interest research. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Toronto. Her legal and research interests lie in the area of state and police abuse of power. Her most recent poem, “The Vulture is a Patient Bird,” appeared in 2014 in Apogee Journal. She is on twitter at @ficader.

Restricting Legal Clinic Services to Exclude men accused of Domestic Violence: Windsor edition

Here’s the Community Legal Aid (Windsor Law student/Legal Aid Ontario funded) Clinic policy that has been provoking “outrage” from the defence bar and others including at least one faculty member.

“We’re very alarmed about this,” said Frank Miller, who heads the Windsor chapter of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

According to Miller, the policy flies in the face of some of the basic tenets of the justice system: presumption of innocence and the right to legal representation.

“The university prides itself on access-to-justice issues, and yet they’re acting in this manner,” Miller said Tuesday.

He described the policy as “generously giving assistance to women in that situation, and denying it to men.”

Asked if he feels there’s a political agenda behind the policy, Miller replied: “I can only speculate. It speaks for itself, I suppose, when one reads what they’ve decided to do.”

Miller said local members of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association plan on meeting Friday to discuss the issue further. “We want to find out what’s driving this.”  Source: http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2012/09/25/sexism-female-favoured-policy-change-at-community-legal-aid-stirs-outrage/

and the twitter-sphere:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/EmirCrowne/status/250778789091606529″]

This is not a new issue for Ontario law schools and clinics (as many commentators have pointed out, similar policies exist at a number of law school clinics – both Osgoode clinics, CLASP and PCLS have policies which date back to the 1980’s).  It is interesting to compare the reaction in Windsor to the one described in Jennie Abell’s 1992 article chronicling the implementation of a similar policy at Ottawa in 1990. Jennie Abell 17 Queen’s L.J. 147 (1992) Women, Violence, & the Criminal Law: It’s the Fundamentals of Being a Lawyer That Are at Stake Here (which unfortunately does not appear to be available open source).  Abell wrote:

…the significant philosophical and political aspects to the issues and the merits of the arguments were marginalized rather than explored. Instead of a “debate”, what emerged was a contest about power and control of the legal profession. and a focus on process rather than the substantive issues and the problematic nature of the underlying assumptions. [at 148]

[this article also covers the issue: Mossman 1994 Gender Equality, Family Law, & Access to Justice.’ Int J L Pol’y & Fam 8: 357 bit.ly/TB41ut

Prof Mossman has suggested I look for the report of the  L.S.U.C. Special Committee to Investigate Complaints against the University of Ottawa Student Legal Aid Society convened on this – if anyone has it in e-form, I would like to be able to post it – let me know!

 

Here is a bit from the Windsor policy document:

In the past several months, a working group composed of CLA, LAW, and Windsor Law School representatives has been meeting to discuss various policy and pedagogical issues related to our clinical law programs.

One of the many issues addressed has been the policies and protocols that ought to be in place regarding domestic violence cases including peace bond cases.

Guiding these discussions was a commitment to ensuring adequate supervision and training of clinic students, a commitment to ensuring that our casework advances the cause of justice and a commitment to improving the student clinical experience.

In the course of its extensive discussions, the working group considered expert opinions and key reports that have addressed this issue, including work that has been done on developing appropriate screening tools for cases involving domestic violence.  The group also conducted a survey of law school clinics across Canada. This survey revealed that there are many other clinics that do not handle domestic violence or peace bond cases.

More on this, I am sure, to come.  These decisions aren’t easy and they require commitment- and it isn’t a burden to have to defend and justify them against questions and concerns about access to justice.   But it is tiring to see people (pretending to be) (being) shocked that there is a politics to service provision and legal aid and criminal justice, and/or making “reverse sexism” arguments as though they are clear debate enders.   I hope the media coverage takes some time to explore this one.  The comments of review counsel (see the Windsor Star article above) question the process, and I suppose that will have to be hashed out along with the substantive choice.