by Rick Salutin, Thursday, March 4, 1999
Toronto lawyer Eddie Greenspan wrote a column on Tuesday in the National Post about the exchange between Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé of the Supreme Court of Canada and Justice John McClung of Alberta’s Court of Appeal. McClung had upheld the acquittal of a man for sexual assault, partly due to what the victim wore, the fact she was an unwed mother, etc. The Supreme Court reversed him and L’Heureux-Dubé wrote an opinion saying “myths and stereotypes” like those McClung mentioned shouldn’t count in law. McClung wrote a whiny letter to the editor of the Post, and so on.
Here are words Greenspan used to describe what L’Heureux-Dubé did to McClung: “publicly humiliate, heap scorn, ridicule . . . cause enormous pain . . . say mean, gratuitous and terrible things . . . vicious . . . terrible lack of judgment . . . hurtful and thoroughly unnecessary . . . bullying and coercing . . . astounding insensitivity and an inability to conceive of any concepts outside her own terms . . . she is not a very nice person.” The piece was headed, “Judges have no right to be bullies.” But tell me, have you ever heard a series of phrases more bullying than the above?
Since Greenspan gave no specifics or quotes, I scoured L’Heureux-Dubé’s opinion, expecting what you’d expect. I could find nothing like a “graceless slide into personal invective,” the phrase McClung used about L’Heureux-Dubé in his letter. Instead I found her pretty dry and academic, applying “myths and stereotypes” to the case as a sociological concept and no references to McClung as, in Greenspan’s paraphrase, “the male chauvinist pig of the century, chief yahoo . . . stupid, ignorant, ultimate sexist, male jerk.” I’d say McClung’s complaint may be with Greenspan.
Greenspan went on, still no specifics, to what he sees as the core of the problem: feminism. Here’s an excerpt from just one paragraph: ” . . . the feminist influence has amounted to intimidation, posing a potential danger to the independence of the judiciary . . . attempt to use the Canadian Judicial Council as an agent of the women’s movement . . . against judges whose remarks do not accord with the feminist world view. Feminists have entrenched their ideology in the Supreme Court . . . a judicial embracing of the feminist perspective . . . the feminists and their fellow travellers have created . . . a repressive and authoritarian world.. . . The feminist perspective has hijacked the Supreme Court . . . feminists want to throw off the bench anyone who disagrees.. . .” If you italicized the uses of feminism, there’d be little left except prepositions. Greenspan says Justice Charles Gonthier, who signed L’Heureux-Dubé’s opinion, is “equally culpable.” But I still wonder if Greenspan would have hit the same tone had the opinion been written by the guy. Bullying has its rules, just like a courtroom.
Greenspan was not alone at the Post. Lorne Gunter wrote that “yet again, the Supreme Court has swallowed whole feminist definitions.” An editorial noted “the Court’s radical feminism.” The worst McClung got was a charge that he “violated judicial etiquette” and showed “a lack of manners.” There’s a whupping for the judge. There was scant sympathy for L’Heureux-Dubé who, said the editorial, “abused her position to launch a sanctimonious attack” and nary a word or thought for the ridicule, scorn, etc. McClung had heaped — using Greenspan’s terms — on the teenage victim of assault. Why the asymmetry of compassion between judge and victim? She’s no bullying Supreme Court feminist. Why is no feeling left for her?
Why “feminists” get up the nose of the people at the National Post worse than any other group of power-crazed victims is a mystery. One Post poll found that “25 per cent of Canadians believe feminist lobby groups hold too much power.” (An odd description. You could have said 75 per cent don’t think so.) But another Post poll found us “divided over how much power homosexual advocacy groups should have.” And a previous poll found over a third think native groups are too powerful.
So you could say the Post is fixated on relatively powerless outsider groups taking over. The only group they haven’t polled on is the powerful. I mean it. I’m waiting for a National Post/COMPAS poll that asks: Do the rich have too much power? Or even: Do the powerful have too much power? I think most people would know exactly what that question means.
Yet even among the vigilant obsessions held at the National Post, feminism stands out. What’s odd is, I don’t think you even need to bring it into this story. This is about fairness, justice, and not being stupid. You don’t have to be a feminist, however you define the term, to object to McClung’s statements. Call it humanism if you can’t think of another label. At any rate the Post never defines what it means by feminism, or radical feminism. If the case is about feminism at all, it’s in the most moderate sense: a call for equal, fair treatment of women, unprejudiced by “myths and stereotypes.” Believe me, that’s not radical feminism.
When a case so basically straightforward and non-ideological provokes a reply as hysterical as Greenspan’s — and I use the word with all the baggage it’s acquired since Freud — you have a right to ask what else is going on. Could it have to do with protecting myths and stereotypes? Nations have gone to war for as much, and still do.