Monthly Archives: December 2015

Setting the Bar high

Last weekend, in the cold shadow of an anniversary of the dangers that exist because men scapegoat women, I did a quick google search for a story that hit the news in November. I was hoping for an update on what would become of Alberta provincial court judge Robin Camp, who asked a sexual assault victim why she didn’t keep her knees together.

Yes, even though it is 2015, some men still blame women for everything that happens to them.

Justice Robin Camp’s comments during the trial insinuated that proof of self-defense was necessary. His comments insinuated that proof of refusal (as opposed to consent) was the deciding factor. His comments make it clear that he doesn’t recognize neither the physical or psychological power imbalance between the victim and the assailant as factors. His comments make it clear he prefers to recognise a man’s right to claim he wasn’t adequately deterred, rather his responsibility to get consent. His comments perpetuate the outdated and dangerous narrative that it is a woman’s responsibility to justify her existence in a man’s world, and if things go wrong it is the woman’s fault. His comments reveal an attitude that is morally repugnant, and one that has been firmly disavowed by Canadian lawmakers.

Sexual assault hinges on one, and only one, thing. Consent. That’s it. Attempts to fight, actions taken to mitigate consequences, tactics used to deter potential assailants … all of these are utterly irrelevant and suggesting that they are is not only morally repugnant, they are legally inadmissible in a court of law. Why? Because the law recognises that the absence of any of those things is not a signal of consent, it is a signal of compliance. Compliance and consent are not synonyms, one does not infer the other. Consent must be given freely without fear, manipulation, coercion or threat.

Herein lies the problem with Justice Camp’s handling of a sexual assault trial. As a judge, he is the manifestation of Canadian law. It is his job to understand, interpret, and apply laws in keeping with the letter, the spirit and the intent of our social conscience. Judges must both demonstrate a thorough understanding of, and an unwavering willingness to correctly apply the law. A judge must embody justice.

Not only is it obvious that Justice Robin Camp’s world view is inconsistent with the Canadian social conscience, it is evident that in this case he erred in law. The defendant defends. The victim must only prove the crime happened, not that the crime could not have been prevented. Sex without consent is a crime. Sex without a struggle is not consent. These are not just vague ideas we bring up when bad things happen, they are concepts written into the law.

I understand this Justice Camp has been removed from all cases indefinitely and is expected to take gender sensitivity counselling. That sounds good.

But I think the ultimate outcome will have to be his permanent removal from the bench, because he has at best demonstrated an inability to understand the legal definition of consent, and at worst demonstrated a clear unwillingness to apply that legal definition. In Canada appeals are granted on errors of law. The fact that an appeal was granted indicates that the court of appeal also recognises that this judge erred in his interpretation and/or application of Canadian law. But that doesn’t go far enough. The system needs to recognise that he errs in attitude, and that his attitude makes him unable to embody the law. He can take remedial courses that could fill in knowledge gaps. At best it will teach him to avoid voicing his outdated and unacceptable views, but it won’t eliminate them.

I don’t know how the Canadian Judicial Council can overlook the magnitude of moral and legal error in this case when they are so directly conflict with proper application of Canadian law, and with the human dignity of half of Canada’s population.

Canada needs leaders to stand for the values we have written into our laws. We need leaders to spread and nurture the attitudes and ideas that underpin our laws or those attitudes have no hope of ever being universally adopted. We’ve made the legal progress, we lag behind in cultural progress. We need those at the forefront of our pursuit of justice and fairness to lead, not to lag. It is not enough for the court of appeal heard this case and do a better job of applying the law. We need to be sure we do right, right form the start. Removing Justice Camp from the bench is about setting the bar high for our justice and social leaders. If we can’t get justice in the courtroom, we will never get justice in the streets.

In light of the sheer magnitude of the progressive awakening in Canada this past year; the political tables upturned, the gender balance calibrated, the reconciliations untaken and the compassion renewed, what better way to keep the progress rolling than start the new year by making one more firm commitment to progressive Canadian values, and show Justice Camp and his outdated ideas to the door? If people ask us why we can say, because it’s 2016.

 

 

 

 

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Alberta will progress

I never fail to wonder why, but for whatever reason people seek out my opinion, particularly with regard to politics. Before elections I’ll never fail to get messages from friends asking me to help them decide how to vote (FYI give my take on issues, but never tell them what they should do). I also get the same sort of messages any time something political hits the fan.

Just the other day I got a message asking my take on Bill 6. In case you missed it, Alberta is in the throws of bill 6 hysteria. We messaged back and forth briefly and had a constructive, productive conversation, but this is my take on the situation in full now that the bill has passed.

O.M.G. won’t somebody think about the farmers?

Let me start by saying , I support the bill. I think it is shameful that by exempting agricultural sector employers we have deprived farm workers of the basic legal protections other workers have had for so long. It is not adequate or fair to leave safety and labour standards up an individual employers in any industry. These exemptions come at the expense of labour, and transferring any part of the cost from the business owner to labour is unacceptable.

I don’t buy into the ‘farming isn’t a business, it’s a way of life’ thing. If you run a family grocery store, a family bakery, or have family partners in a real estate firm, you have to follow OH&S laws and pay into workers compensation for employees. Maybe you chose farming, maybe you want to follow in family footsteps, maybe you even feel it is a calling, but that’s not special. Lots of people carefully choose their careers, lots of people follow in the footsteps of a parent, many people feel their careers are a calling. Take our Premier, for example. She’s not a labour lawyer by accident, her father definitely passed a passion for her current profession on to her. You farm because you can make a living at it. If you are still farming and are not making a living then that’s a whole other problem and it has nothing to do with anything that our provincial government can control, for good or bad.

What do I think happened to cause the bill 6 furor?

First of all, this new NDP government is not the 44 year old comfortable conservatives. They are keeners; keeners denied power for a long time that finally find themselves with the influence to make their vision of the world a reality. They have been storing up this strongly held belief that we can do better for a very long time. They believe in this bill. So much. To NDP supporters the bill is obviously needed, and obviously the right thing to do. After all, it’s safety and protection for working people, right? What can possible be objectionable about that? No doubt that passion and conviction at least partly blinded the new government to how much they should have communicated with people outside their NDP bubble. No doubt that they could very easily have underestimated the virulence of opposition they would encounter. To me, it feels like they messed up on the environmental scan. I understand that weakness. Personally I still find myself aghast when I come across people whose views are in direct conflict with mine, because I too live in a bubble of like minded people and that bubble lulls me into the comfortable illusion that my views because are the norm. I think this happened. I hope that they learn from it.

Secondly, you have to realize that this communicating with the whole province is new to the NDP – I don’t mean the desire to communicate with the whole province or the knowledge that communication to the whole province is a good thing is new. I mean the mechanics of actually communicating with so many different demographics effectively.  I mean the nuts and bolts of knowing where the stakeholders are, who they are, how they access information, how they prefer to be communicated with, who they prefer to talk to and what they want to know. These mechanics are the responsibility of the bureaucracy. It is the bureaucracy that is supposed to communicate the government’s decisions, and it’s the bureaucracy that is supposed to advise the government on who their target audience is and how to best reach that target audience. This is why the GoA has a public affairs bureau, and this is why every ministry has a communications department. Now, possibly the NDP didn’t go to the bureaucrats soon enough, maybe the communication broke down there. I honestly don’t know that. However, it is absolutely the bureaucracy’s job to ensure that the people of Alberta understand the rules that the government makes, how the rules apply to them. There may well be dropped threads in the NDP caucus communications department (which is really small by the way) but there are most definitely also a couple dropped threads in the public service. There’s a good chance that the real communication breakdown occurred way before anything went public when something went awry in the bureaucratic machinery that is supposed to keep government working for Albertans. See my earlier comment about the environmental scan.

Thirdly, there is some unacceptable hyperbole and histrionics going on about this bill. Mostly because the WRP needs to grow the hell up. I think probably there are some larger agribusinesses fanning the flames too, letting the smaller farmer be their foot soldiers. True, the communication ball was dropped, and farmers aren’t sure what the parameters of the bill are, but the hysteria is out of proportion. It’s a bald faced lie to blame this whole fiasco on lack of consultation. This is not the first time Alberta has tried to pull it’s agricultural sector into the modern world of labour rights and safety standards. Why did the farmers freak out last time? I am willing to bet it’s the same reason they are freaking out this time. They don’t want change, they don’t want to have to follow rules, and man, oh man, it sure is beginning to look to me like they just don’t care about anyone but themselves. It sounds like they want Alberta to leave every other business owner in Alberta to follow the rules and protect their workers, and let the farm workers remain at the mercy of luck. It comes across as pretty heartless. The farmers are losing my empathy.

Lastly, this bill needed to pass. This bill is necessary. This bill is the right thing to do. Part of living in an organized society means we all have to agree to follow the same rules because consistent treatment of all people throughout society is a necessary ingredient to peaceful society. Bill 6 brings in minimum standards for farm workers. The current minimum is zero, and that is not acceptable. The WRP is stirring up the pot of people who don’t support the NDP to begin with so they are predisposed to dislike everything the NDP does. It’s also a group that felt mistreated at the hands of the governments past and have, as a result, a general distrust of government. It’s easy politic points for them. Don’t forget, there was an uproar when Stelmach tried to bring in similar legislation. This isn’t anti-NDP, it’s anti-government. The fact that they are protesting the NDP is just a boon to the WRP and their right wing supporters.

Am I empathetic toward the farmers right now? No, I’m really not. I am totally on board that they should be communicated with and consulted. However, they need to pull back and look at the bigger picture. They are not being persecuted, they are being brought in line with the reality in every other province in Canada. Wailing and crying about the death of the family farm and holding placards that use the word genocide to reference this bill is offensive. Basically, when I see media covering the bill 6 protests in my minds eye it equates to a bunch of French peasants attacking a downed hot air balloon with pitch forks. Rabid anger fueled by irrational fear, and not much else.

That’s what I think.

To summarize: The do-gooders tried to do good, but forgot to include the dubious, and the shit disturbers stepped in and disturbed some dubious shit.