Tag Archives: Harassment

Let’s Talk About Changing the System

On Thursday, June 16, three panelists, including our very own Janine Benedet, will explore the fallout from the Jian Ghomeshi verdict and discuss how legal, policing and community systems can better support survivors of sexual assault and violence. The panel discussion will begin at 6:15pm, following the YWCA Annual General Meeting.*

*Only interested in attending the public event? No problem! Feel free to arrive at 5:45 for refreshments.

See the poster for event details. Click here for more information on the panelists and to register!

The Ghomeshi Verdict: What's Next

The Ghomeshi Verdict: What’s Next


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by | May 20, 2016 · 10:40 am

Statement on the Rape Chants at UBC

Statement of the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies on the Rape Chants at UBC

The Centre for Feminist Legal Studies (CFLS) is a research centre at the Faculty of Law, UBC.  Our purpose is to foster research, teaching and collaboration with the women’s movement on matters relating to law and feminism.  Our faculty members research and teach in a wide variety of areas relating to law and sex equality, including sexual violence and the law.

We are outraged that some members of the UBC community encouraged one another to repeat chants that trivialize sexual violence and colonialism.  We are saddened that this behavior was apparently repeated over many years and was considered by those who led these programs to be an enjoyable part of their introduction to university and to one another.

We are encouraged that the UBC administration has pledged to take these events seriously and to consider their implications not only for the programs in which they occurred but also for the entire university.  As an initial contribution to that end, we offer the following analysis and suggestions:

Sexual violence against women and girls is unfortunately commonplace.  While the exact incidence of sexual assault is difficult to measure, a conservative estimate is that at least 1/3 of women will be sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lifetime.  Rates of sexual violence are highest for adolescents and young women.

Reporting rates for sexual assault are low.  Official estimates suggest that no more than 15% of sexual assaults are reported to the police.  When women do report they too often face police who treat them with suspicion and decline to lay charges, or prosecutors who refuse to proceed without corroborating evidence.  These and other systemic barriers mean that less than 1% of sexual assaults will result in a conviction or other legal disposition.

The women’s anti-violence movement has fought for decades for reform at the level of law and policy, but also to expose and counter the rape culture that relies on widespread impunity for sexual violence to normalize and trivialize it.  Specifically, the sexual assault of teenage girls is too often dismissed as “statutory rape,” only a technical crime rather than an act of violence rooted in inequalities of sex and age.  Men charged with such offences continue to argue in their defence that they believed the girls were older, ushering in the same old stereotypes based on young women’s appearance, dress and behavior.  At the same time, girls are eroticized through being classified as “jailbait” or, as in the UBC chants, as “tight.”

The basic principles of Canadian sexual assault law are clear.  Canadian law defines sexual assault as any sexual contact with a person who does not consent to that contact, or who lacks the capacity to consent.  Non-consent is measured according to the state of mind of the victim – if she does not want the sexual touching to take place, there is no consent.  There is no requirement of physical or verbal resistance; passivity is not consent in law.  The defendant must point to a communication of affirmative consent by words or conduct.  Consent must be contemporaneous; it cannot be given in advance.

The law also recognizes that where women lack the capacity to consent, for example through intoxication or disability, the abuse of a position of power, or where they are below a specified age (which varies depending on the age of their partner), this is also a sexual assault.  Sexual assault is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.

We believe that all university students should be given a basic education that includes this information.  Students, and especially student leaders, also need to be reminded that many of the incoming students they “welcome” have already had direct experience with sexual violence.  We believe that students should be encouraged to develop a sexuality based in empathy, respect and non-violence rather than domination, conquest or humiliation.

UBC has a legal obligation to provide students with a learning and living environment that is free from harassment and discrimination.  Rape chants and racist chants are a form of discriminatory harassment.  UBC must:

  • Draw from existing feminist expertise here at UBC, in a variety of disciplines, to understand and respond to sexual violence and sexual harassment;
  • Provide adequate funding and support to those groups and programs already working to combat sexual violence and racism on campus, including SASC;
  • Ask those groups and individuals what they need and where money should be spent;
  • Offer education to all incoming students, as part of orientation, on sexual violence in its legal and social context;
  • Train student leaders on how to offer events that are inclusive and non-discriminatory;
  • Focus on prevention and accountability, not just counseling and victim services; and
  • Recognize that the normalization of sexual violence is endemic and visible, rather than exceptional and hidden.

We appreciate the additional analysis of these events, and in particular of the racist Pocahontas chant, by the First Nations Studies Program and the Institute for Race, Gender and Social Justice and offer this statement in solidarity with their efforts.

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Being a Feminist Lawyer

W. Anita Braha

by Susan Boyd and Camille Israel

W. Anita Braha gave an inspiring talk titled “A Feminist Practice: A Chronicle of Issues Over the Years” about her experiences as a feminist and a human rights lawyer. Her stories showed us that her work on feminist projects as a student gave her experience and contacts that paid off in future opportunities.

Law was not Anita’s first career choice – she told us she used to want to be a comedian, and certainly her sense of humour was evident in her talk. Once she settled on law, though, her clear goal was to be a human rights lawyer. She went to graduate school to pursue a Master’s in Political Science at the University of Toronto, where she was part of a coalition of students and administrators who, after a long struggle, got the university to pass one of the first sexual harassment policies in Canada. Anita then studied law at Osgoode Hall Law School, which in the 1980s could be a hard and hostile environment for feminists and lesbians. While there, she was active in the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), which had a number of caucuses across Canada. In her third year, she undertook a directed research project on the issue of pay equity, meeting feminists who were working in the field, such as Carole Geller of the PayEquity Coalition, with whom she later worked.


After graduating in 1986, Anita articled with the Official Guardian of Ontario (now the Children’s Lawyer), which provided an interdisciplinary environment due to its focus on child protection and mental health. Her principal was Susan Himel, now a judge on the Ontario Superior Court.


In the late 1980s, Anita moved to Vancouver, where, through her involvement with NAWL, she met a number of feminist lawyers, such as Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day, who hired her as a researcher on their important 1989 publication Canadian Charter Equality Rights for Women: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back? She then (re)articled at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and was offered a position despite the fact that they did not normally hire back articling students.


During this time, she was asked to represent the first complainant under the University of Toronto’s sexual harassment policy, who was an engineering student. At issue was whether leering constituted sexual harassment. The defendant, 60-year old chemical engineering professor Richard Hummel, was accused of following and intensely staring at female swimmers at Hart House Pool. The board held that his actions did constitute sexual harassment. The decision was immediately appealed, and the defense hired Morris Manning, a prominent criminal litigator. As co-counsel, Anita retained Kate Hughes, who later represented LEAF in its intervention in Meoirin v. BCGSE, the landmark gender discrimination case. Anita’s client won the appeal, but the decision was not uncontroversial. Maclean’s columnist Barbara Amiel strongly criticized the case as “the utter debasement of the genuinely serious nature of sexual harassment.”

Anita worked on other groundbreaking cases, including a worker’s compensation case that established Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) as a compensable injury. In that case, the victim had been brutally attacked and raped, but had no lasting physical injuries. Anita worked with Vancouver feminist legal consultant Sandra Goundry and an expert witness to show that RTS constituted an injury, and her client received a full disability pension.


Anita started her own law firm with a colleague in 1992, sharing a library and other resources with another small firm. She eventually ended up taking institutional as well as individual clients, and has, somewhat unusually, worked for unions, employers and individuals. She has done policy work as well as litigation and education. She has also collaborated with other lawyers on many files. She was an appointed adviser to the City of Vancouver Women’s Task Force.


Anita’s talk contained many nuggets of wisdom. She told students interested in pursuing a feminist/social justice legal career to follow their passion, and that volunteering with people or organizations doing the kind of work that interested them is a great way to make connections, which could turn into paid opportunities down the line–sometimes in unexpected ways! It is important to help other lawyers and activists and they will reciprocate sooner or later. She said that creativity, persistence, preparation and hard work were crucial in her pursuit of the kind of career she wanted. Most of all, she reminded students to stand by their convictions and principles and to draw strength from them. In her experience, people are drawn to those who have strong core principles, including feminist principles. It is important to speak up and to “stand up and be counted” whenever possible. You may be attacked for your convictions, but others will rally around you. Finally, Anita told us that it is important to be respectful of one’s clients and that she had learned a tremendous amount from her own clients about strength and grace in the face of hardship.


This piece is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in LawFemme Volume 10, Issue 2.

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