Gendered Dissent: A workshop

Gendered Dissent, Democracy and the Law:

A workshop on the gendered face of Canada’s crackdown on dissent May 12-13, 2014  
Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Ontario

presented by the Gender & Dissent Working Group of the Dissent, Democracy & the Law Research Network and the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies 

The Workshop

Organized and hosted by Osgoode doctoral students Estair van Wagner and Charis Kamphuis, this two-day workshop will bring a small and diverse group of legal scholars and advocates together in Toronto to theorize, and respond to, the challenges faced by advocates and civil society organizations and individuals working on issues of gender equality in Canada and Quebec.  In many cases, these challenges stem from governmental use of legal and extralegal measures that undermine the capacity of individuals, civil society organizations and institutions to participate in public debate on key policy issues at the local, provincial or federal level.

See the call for submissions here.


UPDATED Workshop Agenda


Maps and Directions to Osgoode


MAP OF YORK UNIVERSITY:  Osgoode is #32 on this map. The paid parking we recommend is #84 – relatively easy to access Osgoode from this spot.

York University’s address is 4700 Keele Street, Toronto. Please use the Map of York above to direct yourself to the law school once at York. There are no buildings at 4700 Keele Street – it is the main road entry to the campus.

Please expect that you will need to show the driver a map of the location of the law school. See above for link to map.
Taking a taxi from Pearson International Airport to York University will cost approximately $40.
Taking a taxi from Downtown to Osgoode will cost around $45, but could be more depending on traffic. We recommend arranging a share.

General directions to York University available here. You may also need the printable map of York (see above). Osgoode is #32 on this map. The paid parking we recommend is #84 – relatively easy to access Osgoode from this spot.

Public Transit
If you are taking public transit from downtown, you will need to take the Yonge-University-Spadina line to Downsview Station (currently the end of the line), and transfer (no transfer needed) to the 196 York Rocket bus. The map of York University (link above) indicates where the bus stops are and also the location of Osgoode (#32). More detailed public transit information for the City of Toronto is available through the Toronto Transit Commission website here.  TTC Trip planner here.


Estair van Wagner, Osgoode Hall Law School

Charis Kemphuis,. Osgoode Hall Law School



Concerns about the increasing constriction of legal and political space for civil society organizations in Canada resonate with global discussions about the restriction of dissent and other efforts to control public dialogue about government policy and action. While the nature of the state-civil society relationship is a site for ongoing debate, the freedom to critique and oppose government decisions and positions is an essential element of ensuring healthy democratic institutions and practices, including the protection of fundamental human rights.


In Canada, a combination of legal and policy measures have functioned to reduce the legal, financial and political space available to civil society organizations, particularly those whose work and public positions differ from those of the government. A number of specific methods employed by the federal government to restrict dissent have been identified through preliminary research by the Voices-Voix Documentation Project: the threat or revocation of charitable status, defunding, harassment/privacy violation, withholding information, interference with independent institutions, surveillance, and vilification/smearing.  In some cases, rhetorical vilification has carried implicit or even explicit overtones of criminalization.[1] Media reports have pointed to the Voices-Voix research in highlighting the federal government’s attack on dissent.[2] Further theoretical inquiry into the impact of such tactics on democratic institutions and practices, at all levels of government, is an essential component of understanding the relationship between dissent and democracy.


Research undertaken to date indicates that women and gendered-focused civil society organizations attempting to critically discuss government policy decisions are the target of legal and extralegal measures that undermine their capacity to participate in public debate and dissent on important policy issues. In particular, it appears that these practices have impacted those working on gender and socio-economic equality. While the application of these measures to women and groups working on gender issues appears to be part of a broader shift in the relationship between the state and civil society, a close examination of the gender-based features of this shift has the potential to bring specific nuance and insight into the political nature of this shift. The Gendered Dissent, Democracy and the Lawworkshop will be a focused examination aimed at documenting and theorizing gender and dissent in Canada. We also acknowledge that this focus has limitations, particularly with respect to how one draws the boundaries between ‘gender’ issues and other civil society issues. As such, we encourage debate on both the substantive issues articulated here, as well as the very terms of their articulation.



[1] The Voices-Voix civil society coalition was formed in 2010 in response to concerns about the restriction of political space for civil society organizations. The Documentation Project aims to research and record specific cases: Since September 2013, the Dissent, Democracy & the Law Editorial Board has undertaken to conduct peer-reviewed research that advances the digital publication of the Documentation Project. A description of the Board and its members can be found here:

[2] For example, see Linda Diebel’s November 2013, “Meanness is a way of life in Ottawa” in the Toronto Star:


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