In the wake of the numerous sexual assault allegations against former CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi we are seeing a steady flux of discourse on the topic of gender equality as well as human rights more generally, particularly through the criminal law lens and with respect to the presumption of innocence. This discourse has been prevalent in social media, as well as mainstream news outlets. Most recently, former Liberal cabinet minister Sheila Copps has come forward stating that she was sexually assaulted by another Member of Parliament when she was 28 years old, and that she was advised by police that it would be impossible to get a conviction.
Opinions one way or another aside, as lawyers the silver lining to these recent events is a rather rapid and steady increase in political and social discussion about gender equality and rights, and what seems to have resulted: a socio-political arena that has given potential victims’ voices a higher standing and increased value over and above the ability of that voice to convict or to win a claim for “damages” in a court of law.
As well, we note the common political tones associated with this recent influx of claims, and note that the political arena is one where gendered power undoubtedly continues to be prevalent. Another arena where the intersection of power and rights is particularly well-established is in prison and penitentiaries. Medina Shatz and Doug Perras of Vogel LLP have taken a particular interest in the protection of rights of individuals who find themselves at the losing end of a power struggle, advancing civil claims on behalf of clients who have been sexually assaulted while detained in prison, or when in the care of a government authority or professional in authority in the workplace.
While justice and compensation for victims of these forms of violence is of course of the utmost importance, fallout from the Jian Ghomeshi controversy serves as a reminder that the voices of potential victims of human rights violations are valuable and important irrespective of the end result.