On December 26, 1989 the Toronto Globe and Mail gave a detailed account of a dispute which has arisen in Ontario law schools. Michael Reilly, a student at Osgoode Hall, York University, wrote a letter in November to the student newspaper complaining about the unrelieved feminist content in one of his courses. Students and professors took sides; the next issue of the paper was packed with letters pro and con.
Eventually the Dean of the law school, James McPherson, took the extraordinary step of denouncing Reilly’s letter in a public statement and endorsing a feminist perspective on legal education. “When such concerns arise,” he said, “we feel strongly that an attempt should be made to resolve them in a constructive and non-confrontational manner.” How this could be accomplished he did not make clear; after all, Reilly was contending that a particular law course was being taught in a confrontational manner. At any rate, the student complained that the Dean’s policy statement was “a blatant attempt at censorship.”
As Globe reporter Kirk Makin showed, there is a clash between traditional legal thinking and rock-solid feminism at many other law schools besides Osgoode Hall. The feminists recognize that one means of achieving what they call equality is to change the way in which law is being taught. The ordinary student, on the other hand, wants to learn legal fundamentals without having them coloured, distorted, or replaced by a tendentious ideology. Reilly described himself as simple “the average guy going through law school with complete anonymity who finally got sick and tired of what is going on.” The situation, he said, is dividing men and women on campuses all across the country.
Lisa Fishbayn, speaking for the Women’s Caucus at Osgoode, made no secret of her group’s intentions; they argue that men have supported a belief that the law is objective and neutral and based on abstract ideals of justice, but they maintain that this is not true – the law supports structures of inequality.
Constance Backhouse, a feminist professor at the University of Western Ontario, says, “When you start thinking about women, you think about victims.” She contends that there has been wide-spread sexual discrimination against female faculty members at the university – an allegation which President George Pederson calls a “dramatic overstatement.”
Her fellow law professor Robert Martin says in fact that university authorities have proven too gutless to curb the extreme feminism which has taken hold of Canadian law schools. He accuses the feminists of being “liars, bullies, and charlatans,” and says that what they are doing is a serious threat to what a university is supposed to be about.
Another professor, who evidently considered it prudent to remain anonymous, said that law schools now operate in a climate in which most people are utterly afraid to speak out on feminist issues. Michael Reilly claims that some courses he takes are dominated by ideological diatribes against male influence. He wants to learn what the law is. Constance Backhouse and other viragoes want to turn it into what they think it ought to be.
The law schools are therefore either partly under the influence of entirely dominated by radical feminists. The feminist perspective has got into the courts as well.
How else can one explain the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in the Daigle case that the father of a child should have no say in whether it ought to be aborted or not? In the Morgentaler judgment of January 1988, Madam Justice Bertha Wilson made no secret of her feminist sympathies; she based her claim that abortion is a woman’s right not on Canadian or British legal precedents but on feminist arguments – as though books by Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, and others were to be taken as fundamental statements of principle by the highest court in our land.
The highest court did virtually accept them as basic statements of principle. When Chief justice Dickson wrote that “Forcing a woman by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of security of the person,” he was turning natural law upside down. All through the centuries, the natural thing has been for women to bear the children they have conceived; for them to abort their babies have been regarded as a heinous crime.