Here is a curious thing that happened in Ontario: the University of Windsor hosts a program called Community Legal Aid. The program is headed by two review counsel, and features a body of 100 to 120 law students who take the cases of those in need of legal assistance. Recently, Community Legal Aid announced that it would no longer take any domestic violence cases–unless the defendant was female:
This astonishing decision, reported by the Windsor Star, has been swiftly condemned by the local legal defence community. But Community Legal Aid isn’t backing down. Camille Cameron, dean of the law school, told the Windsor Star that the students can’t be expected to take on every case that comes to them, and pointed out that similar programs run at other schools don’t take on domestic abuse cases. “We are talking about a student legal aid clinic at a university. We’re not talking about a private law firm, or even a legal aid office,” she told the paper.
David Tanovich, a law professor from the University of Windsor, provided a similar explanation:
Asked why the policy treats women differently than men, Tanovich said there are “systemic issues” in the justice system.
“For example, the woman calls 911, saying ‘My partner has assaulted me.’ The police arrive, and they make credibility assessments that are biased, and they end up charging the woman — not the man.
“That’s a social justice issue that the clinic wants to investigate,” Tanovich said. “We’re a social justice law school. We have a social justice mandate.”
Asked if a “social justice mandate” could be considered a political agenda, Tanovich said: “I guess it depends on what you mean by a political agenda… Violence against women is not a political matter. It’s a reality.”
This is sexism, pure and simple. There is no other rational explanation for this. Far more men are charged with domestic violence than women. The chances that the situation would play out as Tanovich described are small, at least for women. It is more likely that a man calling for help would be arrested because of a biased assessment and end up being charged.
But note Tanovich’s implication: he implies that the women charged with domestic violence are victims rather than abusers.
That is a clear agenda, and an indefensible one. The best excuse Cameron could come up with was, “We are talking about a student legal aid clinic at a university. We’re not talking about a private law firm, or even a legal aid office.”
Fortunately, this decision prompted some outrage from the local legal community:
The recent policy change by the student legal aid clinic — which is run by the University of Windsor’s law school — has stunned and outraged local defence lawyers.
“We’re very alarmed about this,” said Frank Miller, who heads the Windsor chapter of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.
According to Miller, the policy flies in the face of some of the basic tenets of the justice system: presumption of innocence and the right to legal representation.
“The university prides itself on access-to-justice issues, and yet they’re acting in this manner,” Miller said Tuesday.
He described the policy as “generously giving assistance to women in that situation, and denying it to men.”
Asked if he feels there’s a political agenda behind the policy, Miller replied: “I can only speculate. It speaks for itself, I suppose, when one reads what they’ve decided to do.”
It is astonishing, not only for its blatancy, but also because, as Miller noted, it flies in the face of the basic tenets of the justice system. To deny legal representation to half the population, or in this case to the vast majority of people likely to be charged with a domestic violence offense, is pure bigotry.
After the negative response, Cameron decided to stop taking any domestic violence cases:
But after the policy surfaced in the media and controversy ensued, Cameron issued a clarification asserting that the clinics would no longer represent men or women.
“The simplest way to convey this is that CLA will not represent either men or women in court,” she said. According to Cameron, “this was the original decision,” but she noted there was a “caveat” about the “small category” of accused women. “It is clear that this caveat has caused concern and so we have removed it,” she said.
She added the school may “still do that research and it might involve both men and women or other issues about DV cases, but anything done will not include representing them in court.” She said the school would still “try to identify defence counsel who might take such cases on a pro bono basis.”
Cameron explained her poor decision in the Windsor Star, and it appears that she indeed made the decision on the assumption that women accused of domestic violence were actually victims, not abusers.
Of course, the decision had nothing to do with being fair, just covering themselves from the backlash. Tanovich’s comments about the accusations of discrimination made that painfully evident:
Tanovich also takes issue with claims that the original policy discriminated against men.
“Differential treatment is not discriminatory,” he says.
“The legal definition of discrimination is not just differential treatment. It has to be differential treatment that continues historical disadvantage or that’s grounded in stereotypes. So just because you treat groups differently doesn’t mean it’s discrimination. That’s not the definition of equality that the Supreme Court has adopted.”
How pathetic that a law professor does not know the legal definition of discrimination. None of those three links mention anything about differential treatment that continues historical disadvantages or that is grounded in stereotypes. Under the law, one need only show that a person was denied a right or privilege afforded to everyone else simply because of their age, disability, ethnicity, sex, marital status, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
This is what misandry looks like, and this is how it plays out. What makes this situation unique is that the local bar took issue with it, and the folks behind it had to own up to it and change their policy.