Friday, 14 August 2009

Where was the sexism?

Much has been made over the decision Justice Douglas Cunningham in the trial of Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien. Has the fracas been over the story of influence peddling/croynism/political seediness that pervades Ottawa? Nope.

The discussions is, is Justice Douglas Cunningham sexist?

It's all about a line in the judgment: (section 63)

there were a number of rather significant things going on in her life when she gave her statement to police in early May 2007. She was commuting regularly to Toronto for her work, leaving her husband and child in Ottawa. As well, in March 2007, her father was diagnosed with cancer.

This is the part that is oft quoted as offensive and sexist. And I would submit that they have cause. But the target may be way off. The whole statement reads:

The defence was able to demonstrate that there were a number of rather significant things going on in her life when she gave her statement to police in early May 2007. She was commuting regularly to Toronto for her work, leaving her husband and child in Ottawa. As well, in March 2007, her father was diagnosed with cancer.

In short, this issue of "ditzy woman too busy to know what was going on" issue was presented as part of the trial. The defence lawyer was instrumental in starting this line of inquiry.

A second issue is, were these all of the "number of rather significant things" shown? Or was the judge summarizing? Was he summarizing a series of factors that were entered into the record, but are not all mentioned in the judgment.

But even if these two factors where the only "number of things going on" then what we need to know is this: Did the prosecution object to this line of questioning? If so, was it overruled and did the judge give reason?

If not, well then potentially we have 3 sexists. The defence lawyer for thinking this was a valid line of argument, the prosecution for not objecting, and the judge for thinking its a valid factor.

Either way, we are not dealing with an individual. More than one official at the trial was party to this lie of reasoning.

As I commented at Calgary Grit's, this then means we have to review all court judgments across the board to find if this particular factor is only ever brought up as a means to discredit a female witness.

Is this a systemic issue? Probably. Gender biases are a real issue and I would not discredit the notion that females are prejudiced against as witnesses. But that then means there is a larger problem. And I think that is what we truly need to determine. Are women regularly discredited as witnesses because they are perceived as "scatter brained"? Or, is this a regular line of reasoning used against males and females alike?

The answer to that question is central to this whole issue.

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