Supporting Vulnerable Witnesses: The Use of Courthouse Dogs in Witness Accommodation

By: Allison Sharkey

Winston, Kim, and Caber pose with Dana-Lyn Mackenzie, Associate Director of Indigenous Legal Studies.

On February 14, the Indigenous Legal Studies Program, in partnership with the CFLS, welcomed two speakers to Allard Hall to discuss the accommodation of vulnerable witnesses and the role that courthouse dogs play in facilitating access to justice. Winston Sayson (QC) is a senior trial prosecutor at the Surrey Crown Counsel Office of the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Justice, and an alumnus of UBC Law. Kim Gramlich (BA, MA) is the Coordinator of Delta Police Victim Services, where she has worked for 17 years. Also in attendance was Kim’s Accredited Facility Dog, Caber, who works to support victims of crime, vulnerable witnesses, and witnesses with disabilities. Winston and Kim have pioneered and advocated for the use of accredited courthouse dogs in the accommodation of vulnerable witnesses.

Winston spoke to the numerous barriers that victims of crime face in accessing the court; fear of public speaking, fear of backlash, fear of facing the accused, and fear of having to recount traumatic events. Recent developments in the law have contributed to making courts more accessible to certain classes of victims; those under the age of 18, those with physical or mental disabilities, and those who have been the victims of certain types of crime, such as criminal harassment, sex crimes, and spousal violence. These developments include allowing victims to testify behind a screen or by CCTV in a room outside the courthouse, statutory publication bans, exclusion of the public from court rooms, and the use of Accredited Facility Dogs. Pre-recorded witness statements can be used in some cases to avoid the revictimization that may occur when vulnerable witnesses are required to recount traumatic events in court. Winston emphasized the need for continued innovation in the law to facilitate the participation of child victims, disabled victims, and vulnerable victims in courthouse proceedings.

Kim described the role that Delta Police Victim Services (DPVS) plays in supporting victims of crime. She stressed that DPVS is a trauma informed practice, and their services are available 24/7 “from crisis to conclusion.” DPVS offers emotional support and referral, education, crisis intervention, information on investigations, court support services, and long term follow up. Kim’s Accredited Facility Dog, Caber, was the first victim services dog and courthouse dog in Canada. Caber trained with Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) for two and a half years and has the highest level of accreditation possible for any type of assistance dog in the world.

Working with DPVA, Caber assists people who struggle to talk about traumatic events and provides support during testimony in court. In forensic interviews, Caber enhances victim comfort during disclosures and minimizes the negative impact of revisiting victimization. Caber also supports victims during preparation and delivery of victim impact statements. Kim emphasized that canine intervention can have positive physical as well as psychological effects. Interaction with a support dog can lower blood pressure and increase oxytocin production, thus directly combating stress. In closing, Kim affirmed that objectivity and compassion in the criminal justice system do not have to be mutually exclusive and she encouraged the continued development of strategies for improving vulnerable witnesses’ access to justice.

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UBC President Santa Ono Visits the CFLS

By Allison Sharkey and Alison Colpitts

On Tuesday, January 17, UBC President Santa Ono visited the Peter A. Allard School of Law for a tour of its research centres. In addition to visiting the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, the Indigenous Students’ Lounge, and the Centre for Business Law, President Ono stopped by to lend his support to the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies (CFLS). Led by Professor Debra Parkes, Chair in Feminist Legal Studies, students and faculty engaged President Ono in a discussion on a variety of topics, including the Centre’s 20th anniversary, the RISE Women’s Legal Centre, and the social media campaign #LawNeedsFeminismBecause.

Professor Parks began by highlighting the Centre’s high-impact, policy-oriented research and presented President Ono with a sampling of the Centre’s most recent publications. She also drew attention to the CFLS’s community engagement, focusing on the standing speaker series.

Professor Janine Benedet, Associate Dean, Academic Affairs and former Co-Director of the CFLS, next introduced President Ono to the Centre’s new initiative addressing gender inequality, the RISE Women’s Legal Centre. Launched in May as a partnership with West Cost LEAF, the RISE Centre operates to provide free legal services to low-income women, primarily in the area of family law. Professor Benedet then introduced JD candidate Elizabeth Cameron to talk about her recent experience working at RISE. Elizabeth noted how RISE allowed her to put her interest in feminist legal studies into action and mentioned her appreciation of encountering first-hand the gendered issues around access to justice in British Columbia. President Ono showed particular interest in this last point, engaging Elizabeth, Professor Benedet, and Dean Catherine Dauvergne in a discussion around the problems with legal aid funding in BC.

Rochelle Kelava, Student Coordinator of the CFLS, expressed gratitude for President Ono and the UBC Administration’s interest in the Centre, noting the important role that the CFLS plays in many students’ decisions to study law at Allard. Rochelle emphasized that the centre fosters respectful dialogue among students, staff, and faculty on topics that may not be addressed in the JD curriculum.

By the time the visit drew to a close, President Ono had reaffirmed his support for the CFLS, committing to help the Centre as it grows its Speaker Series and fundraising efforts. President Ono also expressed his interest in participating in #LawNeedsFeminismBecause, a nation-wide social media campaign to make space for our experiences and diversity to legal education and the legal profession.

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Introducing Professor Debra Parkes

Welcome, Professor Debra Parkes!

Welcome, Professor Debra Parkes

The CFLS is pleased to introduce Professor Debra Parkes, who has joined the Peter A. Allard School of Law as Chair in Feminist Legal Studies, as of July 1 2016. The Chair plays a leadership role at Allard Hall, as well as nationally and internationally, in fostering feminist research networks, mentoring JD and graduate students, and contributing to feminist scholarship addressing a range of issues. In this role, Debra will continue to build on the remarkable work of Professor Emerita Susan B. Boyd, the first incumbent of the Chair and Director of the Centre from 1997–2012. Professors Janine Benedet and Isabel Grant will continue as Co-Directors of the CFLS until January 1, 2017, at which time Professor Parkes will begin a three-year term as Director.

As a student at UBC Law School in the mid-1990s, Professor Parkes benefitted first-hand from the support of the CFLS. The Centre provided an opportunity to interact with academics, lawyers, and community leaders who were making a difference on feminist issues. In her time in practice following law school, as well as during the past 15 years as an academic, Professor Parkes has lent her expertise to such key feminist legal organizations as (to name only a few):

  • Canadian Journal of Women and the Law (as Editor-in-Chief from 2009-2013)
  • Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
  • National Association of Women and the Law
  • Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba

Professor Parkes’ particular research interests relate to the criminalization and imprisonment of women. She has published widely in this and other areas. She is a regular commentator in the media and contributor to judicial education and continuing legal education seminars. Students will be excited to know that Professor Parkes is looking forward to dropping into the Marlee Kline room regularly for tea and conversation, and that she is delighted to be teaching LAW 307 Women, Law & Social Change in Fall 2016.

The Centre is very much looking forward to this new chapter in Professor Parkes’ capable hands, and would like to extend a very warm welcome to her from our community!

To learn more about Professor Parkes’ background, specific research interests, and what she’s looking forward to at UBC, see here for a Q&A.

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The CFLS Goes to Taiwan

CFLS Co-director Janine Benedet visited Taiwan in April 2016 at the invitation of Professor Chao-ju Chen of National Taiwan University Law School.  Professor Chen is one of Taiwan’s leading feminist legal scholars and a member of the CFLS International Advisory Board and former CFLS Visiting Scholar.  While in Taiwan, Professor Benedet presented two lectures at NTU on rape law and prostitution law reform in Canada.  She then traveled from Taipei to the city of Tainan and repeated her rape law lecture at National Cheng Kung University.  She also participated in roundtables and presentations at three leading NGO’s, the Garden of Hope Foundation, the Awakening Foundation, and the Taiwan Women’s Rescue Foundation.

Janine Benedet visiting the historic neighbourhood of Taipei.

Janine Benedet visiting the historic neighbourhood of Taipei.


Taiwan is grappling with many of the same legal issues as Canada, although there are some key differences.  With regard to sexual assault, Taiwan is currently very interested in reforming age of consent laws, which do not admit of close-in-age exceptions, an issue of concern to Garden of Hope, which focuses on the sexual exploitation of youth.  Adultery remains a criminal offence in Taiwan, something the Awakening Foundation, Taiwan’s oldest feminist organization, is campaigning to change, since the prohibition can be used by abusive men as a tool of coercive control against their spouses.  The Taiwan Women’s Rescue Foundation is currently working to raise awareness of the abuse of Taiwanese so-called “comfort women” as well as to combat the phenomenon of “revenge porn” which is not yet criminalized in Taiwan.  There was also much discussion of the election of Taiwan’s first woman President, and concern that she would not bring a feminist analysis to issues of concern to women.  The visit was an amazing opportunity and we look forward to continued collaboration with feminist legal scholars and activists in Taiwan.

Taiwanese students' temple prayers for good exam results.

Taiwanese students’ temple prayers for good exam results.

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Special Issue – International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy

This special edition of the International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, volume 5(2) entitled “Fighting Feminism: Organized Opposition to Women’s Rights”, is now available.

This issue presents an additional series of papers produced by scholars who participated in the workshop entitled “Men’s Groups: Challenging Feminism”. The workshop, organized by Susan B Boyd, Professor Emerita and then Chair in Feminist Legal Studies at the Allard School of Law, UBC, aimed to bring together feminist scholars from multiple disciplines and multiple national contexts to explore a source of resistance to feminism that has been largely overlooked in scholarly research: the growing number of nationally situated and globally linked organizations acting in the name of men’s rights and interests which contend that men are discriminated against in law, education and government funding, and that feminism is to blame for this.

This volume is a companion to the special issue of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law volume 28(1). For more about that issue, see our recent post.


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