Reproductive and Sexual Rights

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See podcasts and written summaries from our 2013-14 seminar series.

Sex work laws in India and Canada

CHRR director Prof. Karen Busby and Dr. Sarasu Esther Thomas from the National Law School of India University are comparing sex-work-related laws that have seen drastic changes over the last three years in both countries. 

Sex work by itself was not a crime in either country, though many activities associated with sex work were, such as street solicitation or sharing accommodation and expenses with another sex worker. There are many similarities between the two countries: sex workers come from socially excluded and vulnerable groups, sexual offences have low conviction rates, and sex workers are still vulnerable to arrest for soliciting and other offences.

In Canada, the law changed in 2013, when the Supreme Court of Canada declared unconstitutional various offences in the Criminal Code of Canada relating to prostitution, on the basis that they violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian government was given 12 months to introduce new legislation and passed in 2014 the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which amended the Criminal Code’s provisions related to prostitution. The new legislation, based to some extent on the Swedish/Nordic model, criminalizes the transaction of paying for sex for the first time in Canadian history.

In India, the law took a different trajectory with the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 2013 that defined the offence of trafficking to include cases where women had consented, taking away the agency of women in sex work, who are now seen as victims of crime. Some people are also advocating for implementation of the Nordic model in India, without an understanding of how that would impact the rights of sex workers.

The research will be funded in part by an Institutional Collaborative Research Grant from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. 

Obligation to report adolescent sexual abuse

CHRR director Prof. Karen Busby, as principal investigator, together with law Dean Lorna Turnbull, nursing professors Marie Edwards and Roberta Woodgate and Deputy Children’s Advocate Corey La Berge, received a $25,000 University Collaborative Research Grant in early 2016 for a project on the obligations of health-care and social-service providers to report possible sexual abuse of adolescents.

Missing women and sex work

University of Manitoba women's and gender studies professor Dr. Shawna Ferris is working with academic and community partners to develop two separate but related digital archives. Working titles for these archives are the Missing Women Database and the Sex Work Database. The project aims to create and mobilize, via multiple forms of digital media, knowledge that contests and re-envisions conceptions of violence against certain people as normal. It will build bridges and dialogue between academic and non-academic stakeholder communities using both online and offline tools such as knowledge sharing, employment of new social media, online and "real world" conference participation, and the opportunity to curate digital exhibits together. In doing so, the project will organize community-based records in ways that resonate with and reflect the stated desires of these often marginalized groups. These activist archives are being developed to preserve the voices and work of missing and murdered women's advocates, as well as those of politicized sex workers. The project will mobilize this knowledge by facilitating communication and resource-sharing that usefully expands and enhances work undertaken by these often quite divided groups. We will encourage much-needed critical engagement and information literacy skills, in and outside of the academy, concerning murdered and missing women and sex work.

Ferris and Dr. Kiera Ladner (Political Studies) received $491,877 in 2013 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for a project titled “Anti-violence and marginalized communities: knowledge creation through digital media.”

The Centre for Human Rights Research supported Ferris and sex worker activist Amy Lebovitch to write a book on Street Sex Work and Canadian Cities. 

Influences on Young Muslim Women

Prof. Karen Busby and Sara Mahboob, a doctoral student at McGill University, interviewed 15 key informants in summer 2014 about their perceptions of family and community pressures placed on young Muslim women in Winnipeg when making important life decisions.

Read the preliminary report or a summary and a related newspaper column.

New approaches to assisted human reproduction in Canada

Centre for Human Rights Research director Karen Busby thinks B.C. is on the right track with surrogacy law. See her opinion column and a summary and podcast of her September 2013 seminar about parentage issues.

CJWL cover

Busby co-edited a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law devoted to feminist approaches to assisted human reproduction.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in December 2010 that some aspects of the federal Assisted Human Reproduction Act violated provincial jurisdiction should have re-opened the debate in Canada about what legal regimes should govern the use of reproductive technologies. However, provincial governments have been reluctant to step in and fill the gaps on this controversial issue, while a black market in human eggs, sperm and surrogacy flourishes. Meanwhile, the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency was eliminated in the 2012 federal budget.

The human rights issues involved are complex – and sometimes conflicting. Single women and infertile and same-sex couples want the right to form families, while surrogates and donors need to be protected from exploitation and inadequate medical care in Canada and abroad. Children conceived through assisted human reproduction are claiming their own rights, including to know the identity of all the adults involved in their conception. Meanwhile, some donors claim a right to anonymity and others want parental rights.

Concerned that the law lags far behind science, ethics and rapidly evolving public opinion, 20 leading Canadian legal experts came to Winnipeg Feb 3-4, 2012, for a research roundtable on the regulation of assisted human reproduction. The event was hosted by Robson Hall law Prof. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and Prof. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  from Osgoode Hall. It was sponsored by University of Manitoba’s new Centre for Human Rights Research and the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/Revue femmes et droit, with additional financial assistance from the Legal Research Institute.

Researchers at the Robson Hall roundtable shared preliminary results of research on international surrogacy and on the potential for hundreds of half siblings when sperm donation is not adequately regulated. The group talked about the potential for law reform and the reality that provincial colleges of physicians are plugging the regulatory gap with their own rules, without significant input from many stakeholders beyond clinic owners. Listen to these podcasts of CBC Radio coverage following the event.

A number of seminal – pardon the pun – court cases are brewing in Canada, including some on recognition of the parentage and citizenship of foreign-born children who were conceived using assisted reproduction. Meanwhile, a sperm donor won paternity rights after the child’s mother died.

Researchers who attended the event circulated their most recent research or research ideas in advance of the roundtable.

Sexual assault law

Centre for Human Rights Research academic director Prof. Busby is also a frequent commentator on sexual assault cases before Canadian courts. Every Breath You Take is her analysis of how the courts deal with erotic asphyxiation.

Busby has also analyzed Manitoba's Rhodes case, more infamously known as the "Justice Dewar case" or the "Don Juan case."

Mr Justice Robert Dewar of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench found earlier this year that mitigating factors in sentencing in a major sexual assault included that the complainant provoked the assault because she wore high heels, heavy make-up and a tube top. He found that "sex was in the air" and that the defendant was a "clumsy Don Juan". The defendant and the complainant, a much younger and smaller Aboriginal woman, had known each other for about 20 minutes before the assault occurred. She had rebuffed his sexual advances; picked up a stick to use in self defence; and asked him in the course of the assault if he was going to kill her. She had bruises on her backside and legs as well as cuts from running through the forest half dressed following the assault. Yet even after making these findings and rejecting the defences of consent and mistaken belief in consent, Dewar was obviously of the view that the complainant bore some responsibility for what had happened.

Read Busby's full blog entry about the Rhodes case on the Feminist Legal Forum website.

On April 11, 2012, Busby was a featured speaker at a University of Manitoba forum on gender equality.