Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2014 (915 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Are Canadians engaged in a deep conversation about the judgments women face if their sexual violation becomes public? Do we see how they risk being disbelieved, fired, ostracized, declared complicit or unfit, subjected to unimaginable scrutiny, and cut off from their supports?
The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) inquiry set to resume this month on whether Manitoba Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas is "incapacitated or disabled from the due execution of the office of judge" will test the depth of this conversation.
Let's be clear about one thing. Douglas faces removal from the bench because she was a victim of sexual violation. Her late husband, lawyer Jack King, posted sexual images of her on the Internet in 2003 without her consent. He then showed them to a client, Alex Chapman, and suggested to Chapman that he pretend to break into their home and rape Douglas while King watched. Chapman refused and instead sought advice about taking action against King. Douglas only found out about the images and her husband's grotesque fantasy after Chapman's new lawyer contacted the law firm where King and Douglas then practiced. King quickly negotiated a financial settlement with Chapman, including promises of non-disclosure and destruction of all images. King left practice for a year and sought alcoholism treatment.
Two years later, Douglas became a judge. In 2010, Chapman took this lurid story and the images, which he had not destroyed, to the media. He complained to the CJC, alleging that Douglas must have known about her husband's plan. The photos reappeared online. Douglas faced a sexual harassment charge when the original CJC inquiry started in 2012, but that charge was dropped because not a shred of evidence supported her complicity. The original inquiry panel resigned amid allegations of bias for permitting hostile questioning of King and the managing partner at King and Douglas's former law firm.
Douglas still faces three allegations before the new inquiry: public confidence in the justice system could be undermined if sexual images of a judge are online; she should have disclosed on her application to become a judge all the details of her victimization and she gave an incorrect reply to a question during the initial investigation.
It will soon be a criminal offence to distribute intimate images in Canada without consent. Those who distribute such images are usually motivated by misogyny or revenge. But, as actor Jennifer Lawrence has stated, even merely curious viewers commit an assault each time they look at such images. We know all too well the devastating consequences, including suicide, for women and girls once such images start circulating. The threat of job loss should not be added to this list.
Women rarely discuss their experience of sexual violence with anyone, let alone disclose it on a job application. In spite of 30 years of feminist activism and law reform, women are still disbelieved and scrutinized. They risk stigmatization as poor sports, man haters, blue ballers, damaged goods and liars. Douglas truthfully responded "no" to the question, "Is there anything in your past or present which could reflect negatively on yourself or the judiciary, and which should be disclosed?" A "yes" response would have been an acknowledgement that she was somehow responsible for her husband's conduct or that a sexually violated women is unfit, because of that violation, for an important public office.
Manitoba Court of Appeal Justice Martin Freedman testified before the first inquiry that members of the committee vetting applications already knew about the scandal, had discussed it and disclosed it in their recommendation. Apparently, they did not think the images or Douglas's failure to disclose the events should disqualify her.
It is hard to imagine the ordeal Douglas has faced in the last four years. She sought professional help after the story broke to deal with the trauma of her husband's betrayal, Chapman's vengeful actions, professional ostracism and public scrutiny. She and her doctors may face cross-examination on her mental health to explain why she faltered when answering a question about a personal diary entry. (Yes, the CJC investigators had her personal diary.) Douglas corrected her answer the next day. If the inquiry proceeds with this charge, Douglas risks having her medical history also become gossip-mill fodder.
The CJC inquiry vividly demonstrates the risks sexually violated women face. Will those who sit in judgment of her change the conversation?
Karen Busby is a law professor and director of the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba.