It was 1970 when Kate Millett wrote the book “Sexual Politics”, a book that would go on to become one of the bibles of the still burgeoning feminist movement. Suffice to say, it has been awhile since the process of recognizing women and their equal contributions to society began in earnest and now is still leading us into the 2020’s decade. All efforts have called for a dynamic reckoning; a need to recognize the goals of “equal pay for equal work”; greater representation in the boardrooms, courtrooms, and political offices of the country. It has reached into the very core of society, demanding fundamental change in the family structure, where sharing of responsibility is absolutely necessary in forming an equal partnership.
Many argue that the “glass ceiling” is still alive and well, despite notable progress and female politicians still wear the term “feminist” as a badge of honour. In this decades long continuum of proposed and achieved change, we have reached a point in this country, where it is now political suicide to suggest or propose anything that could, even in some obscure reference, be termed to be “anti-female”.
One must applaud the majority of changes which are enabling women to assume their rightful place in society –where nothing should be allowed to block them from reaching to the highest levels in whatever chosen endeavour.
The sexual politics of this country, historically, has been multi-layered and arriving in sporadic waves, sometimes taking a step back, only to go forward again. It seems that in all generational movements, not just the women’s movement, all change is pushed, at least at the outset, by the radical fringe which then draw in the reluctant middle majority. The fringe then becomes part of the new centre.
The Gloria Steinem‘s and the Ellen Willis’ of the world are needed to pull, prod, and chastise the non-conformers. Those who cling to past practises and policies are portrayed as “dated” — out of step with the basic tenet that everyone is created equal. The right to vote was an inalienable right, but just a single step to righting centuries of illogical, often inhumane and constricted female lives.
The #MeToo Movement is the latest incarnation or wave in this pantheon of women’s rights and it has in fact served a very real purpose. Reading Ronan Farrow’s recent book, “Catch and Kill” one can not help but be moved and angered by the still prevailing winds of male domination and entitlement that blow through, in this case, the news and entertainment industry. All males should and need to be embarrassed.
The likes of Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein, are the more notable recent American examples, all of whom needed to be pursued, outed and prosecuted. That process has begun in the United States and to a lesser less obvious degree in Canada. One wishes that the RCMP had taken such a hardened and exposing approach to cleaning out the male locker room of the RCMP.
The fact that the RCMP was often a cesspool of male domination was difficult enough to publicly absorb, but the real stain on the RCMP may be the decision to settle the class action suit(s). Thus effectively forever silencing the various allegations; which with little doubt reached the very top of the organization. The circumstances demanded radical surgery on the organization, a cut into the heart of the organization. It would have meant lengthy and costly investigations, but in the end it would have gone a long way in exposing and cleaning up the disease.
Justice was not served by payments of hundreds of millions of dollars, justice was in fact denied or at the very least diverted.
Women were paid to keep quiet about their allegations and all men, innocent or otherwise in this once proud organization were sloppily painted with the same brush. How this determinative action was going to change the “culture” remains undefined— in fact it may be the greatest cover-up ever pulled in Canadian history.
That all being said and despite the many wrongs, one must always be vigilant to the need for fairness, always seek the truth with the goal of ultimate justice. It needs to be recognized that change, or at least legitimate and broad change, takes time. One can not rush cultural change and any change which is patently unfair only sets the movement backwards.
All of which leads to a relatively recent troubling development in the area of sexual offences. To understand the problem you need to understand the current political environment.
The #MeToo Movement has an outer fringe who often take the view that if “she” said it, it is true. They are effectively ignoring that there is a tricky balance. On the one hand one is hearing from brave women talking about the wrongs from past years and only now are women, no doubt emboldened by this movement, have had the confidence to come forward.
The other darker side of the argument is that a wrongful allegation once made, especially in this 21st rush to judgement society could condemn an innocent person to jail. The accused ostracized to the point of being unable to function– their entire lives up-ended. The truism that holds that two wrongs don’t make a right should always be firmly in sight and one must always remember that the fundamental building block of our justice system is the “presumption of innocence”.
The current Liberal government has made over reaction into an art form. No trending cause is too small –if it polls with the right audience, then it needs to be enshrined in policy, regardless of the ultimate damage or outcome. No need for informed study, if it twitters favourably it must be good.
Hence, we now have a discombobulated piece of marihuana legislation and the idea has been born that individual cities should govern the banning of firearms, according to their own city views. These ideas and subsequent legislation gain favour and the head bobbing politicians standing behind the podiums go right along, seemingly undeterred by common sense or any thoughtful opposition. Millennial appeals to voters are good, outcomes the future and someone else’s problem.
The feminist movement, even in radical form, is just one of those causes which according to all the “progressives” can not be questioned. There are other examples like the indigenous, or climate change. No need for study, no need to question, no need for expertise.
In promoting the feminist cause, in their zeal, this government has brought us such things as: a new government department formed around the previous “Status of Women” counsel; “gender-based analysis” for the Federal budget, which among its mentions is that they codified the need for “more women in senior management positions”; Bill C-65 which governed the Federal government workplace, amending the Canada Labour Code focussing on the need to remove harassment and violence from the workplace.
All of this can or may be grudgingly accepted, as it is often difficult to argue against some of the intent of these enactments, however flawed in their application some of it may be.
But where the government overstepped was in the passage of Bill C-51. This was a piece of legislation also introduced by Jody Wilson-Raybould, often a martyr of the fringe, one who had no quibble with interfering with the justice system if it involved her pet causes.
Bill C-51 is an example of the fringe demanding and finding a receptive audience among the Liberals and those #MeToo members who believe that no woman can be deceptive, or less than forthright, about anything that purports to be some form of sexual assault or harassment.
For those who have not followed this Bill (which, it should be added, passed Parliament with All Party support) deals with future conduct for the trial of those accused of sexual offences and was designed primarily to further protect the victim or the accuser.
And if you are in the group of believers in the women’s right to allege and be always believed, than you need to consider the case of Jan Gomeshi. This bill, C-51 was, many have argued, in response to the subsequent total acquittal of Mr. Gomeshi and the fringe feminist public backlash at the results.
During the trial the two primary witnesses had their credibility totally destroyed by the uncovering of emails and text messages which they sent before and after the alleged assaults and rapes. They were confronted with this direct, difficult to deny evidence, by the more than capable lawyer, Marie Heinen. She personally took a great deal of heat from the “I believe accusers” group which included politicians such as Tom Mulcair. Paradoxically, she in her role, should have been heralded as one of the true examples of someone carrying the torch for feminism.
Bill C-51 came on the heals of the Gomeshi trial which pitted the arguments for a fair trial against the argument for the protection of the accuser victim. Bill C-51 passed in December of 2018. Jody Wilson-Raybould heralded it as the “first major update in 20 years”, while others quietly called it quite simply “unconstitutional”. As the bill now begins to be applied throughout the country it seems that the courts are now recognizing it as in fact being “unconstitutional”.
The bill in effect sets up a screening feature which necessitates that all defence records; things such as texts, Facebook entries and other social media, get to be scrutinized ahead of the accuser’s testimony in admissibility hearings. This has the effect of giving an alleged victim a sneak peak at the defence evidence which could have the obvious effect of allowing the Crown, and the accuser, to tailor their evidence in anticipation of that evidence. Effectively warning them in advance of something countering their evidence. It is “reverse disclosure”.
The Saskatchewan and Alberta Superior Courts now have stated that this Act violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights which deals with the right to make full answer and defence, and it also contravenes Section 11 (d), which assures the right to a fair trial.
The Crown, obliging its masters argues that the Act is fair and Section 1 of the Charter allows for reasonable limits that can be justified in a free society.
The defence argues that this is going to lead to “wrongful convictions”.
In Parliamentary hearings groups such as the Womens Legal Education and Action Fund argued that this was “necessary”. Were they arguing the possibility of wrongfully convicting someone was “necessary”?
There is little doubt that this Act and its provisions will wind its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Hopefully, even those Liberal leaning Justices may find that clearly weighting a case in favour of one side over the other, is a little too much bending in this era of professed enlightenment.
After the Ghomesi case, Peter Mansbridge interviewed Marie Heinen, in an interview which Mansbridge entered clearly in support of the leftist fringe on his cue cards. An interview intended to lament and repeat the fringe feminist maxim that all women accusers are right and truthful.
Heinen was forceful and deliberate in her counter-argument. She succintley pointed out that most evidence is circumstantial and thus often goes to credibility. The credibility of all involved; the Crown, the defence, the accused, the accusers, and the police. The central point being that all evidence needs to be tested.
Everyone needs to “get a fair shake”. She points out it is what separates our justice system from that of others and it is indeed what makes this country worth defending.
As to the feminist fringe who rage about the outcomes of any acquittal, she simply states “guaranteed results is not justice”. This is one defence counsel lawyer that every police officer should listen to, along with all of those in the feminist corner. We as a society must always be aware that legitimate progress requires full and honest examination. The price is too high otherwise.
Photo courtesy of gt8073c via Flickr Commons – Some rights Reserved
5 thoughts on “Mixing Gender Politics with Sexual Assault”
I agree completely with your comment: “Justice was not served by payments of hundreds of millions of dollars, justice was in fact denied or at the very least diverted” with reference to the class action lawsuit with the RCMP. As a woman, I also believe that you are correct in stating that the whole concept of “believing the accuser” without a fair process is dangerous.
As a person that conducts workplace investigations, I can tell you first-hand that there have been several cases in which women have complained about sexual harassment and evidence revealed something completely different than what was reported. It was possibly bitterness over a break up, or rejection of some sort, or a perception of a situation being different than what was intended. In the meantime, the person being accused has suffered consequences that have impacted their lives over and above what occurs in the workplace. There are also many situations that are decided on circumstantial evidence and credibility (a different bar than criminal, of course).
Even with a lesser bar required to substantiate an allegations, it is challenging and regardless of the outcome, someone is always unhappy.
It is difficult to navigate the way through these situations and changes in culture, as you indicated, are painfully slow. Education can only take us so far – policies as well. Lip service causes far more harm than good and walking the talk is the only way to really make changes happen – unfortunately that is typically lacking. I have worked in a number of union environments as well and that poses a whole other set of problems when trying to implement change. We all have opinions on these issues – have we gone far enough? Have we gone too far? All I know for certain is that we have a long uphill battle ahead of us and I don’t envy those in the positions of decision-making around these issues.
As usual, great post.
Thanks Kellie for your comments. Very well said in terms of the still current challenges both in the culture and in the system. Thanks again for reading. Pete
Thank you for this interesting and well researched post. I would, however, like to point something out that you seemed to barely mention.
The women who have become part of the RCMP Merlot/Davidson class action lawsuit were denied their access to justice. They were denied their voices and their stories, yet again. They are now being paid hush money in what should realistically become a national inquiry. We are talking about thousands of women who experienced institutionalized harassment, abuse and rapes since 1974 and they are being offered hush money to ‘shut up’.
I would suggest it’s about time to let all of these women stand up in a court of law and tell their stories.
But, that is what the RCMP is afraid of. Hence the hush money.
Thanks for your comments Catherine. You’re right about not having spent much time on the victims in all of this…but I think it is worthy of a blog on its own. It is interesting to note that in the Weinstein case and a couple of others, the victims, although having signed non-disclosure agreements, and having been paid, decided to step forward and go public. All the best and thanks again for reading. Pete
Hi there Catherine
I think Pete did cover this and that was actually what my response spoke to…this was an injustice and he does acknowledge it…no?