Guest Post Vanisha H. Sukdeo

The Grapes of Wrath as a Study into the Limits of Labour Law

“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”

The Grapes of Wrath [1]

This post examines how the law has limitations to the extent that it can combat repression. The law can be used as a tool to help in the fight towards social justice however society and culture more broadly has to be changed in order for true transformation to be actualized. The law does not exist in a vacuum and is often a mirror of society rather than the reverse. The struggle to achieve workers’ rights in The Grapes of Wrath is never actually attained but the reader is left with the impression that the struggle endures and that one day the workers will achieve true justice.

What prompted me to start writing this paper was my own experience. My own work for the past 10 or so years was what I thought of as, “purely legal”. While in law school myself and two other law students were successful in getting Queen’s University certified as a No Sweat campus which means that everything bearing the Queen’s logo is made under fair working conditions. While my Political Science Undergrad did make me aware that not all problems can be shaped into ‘legal problems’ I had great confidence in the ability of the law to shape change. What better way to strengthen the rights of workers than through changes to legislation? It may be trite but whatever the problem, law was the solution. When faced with issues such as sweatshops there does not seem be a clear path towards regulation in the form of legislation so I then started to reflect on what the limits of the law might be. I explore this through examining the novel The Grapes of Wrath which demonstrates that human kindness and generousity will always triumph over cruelty and miserliness.

How to summarize such an American classic? It is difficult to have a new take on such a widely discussed book. In order to provide context one must know that the book takes place in America in the Dust Bowl as the Joad family travels from Oklahoma to California in search of a better life. The book was published in 1939. They set off for California after seeing fliers stating that farmers out west were in need of workers to pick fruit and that the wages were high. When they arrive in California they find that labour is not in demand as there are too many workers for too few jobs. This lack of work leads to workers willing to undercut the wages of other workers. Eventually there is a strike and strikebreakers (a.k.a. scabs) insist that they have to work in order to feed their families.

The Joad family is very sympathetic and endearing which is something that is lost when reading nonfiction about the same topic. Perhaps that is why it may be easier to stick with nonfiction and keep a safe distance (alienate one’s self) from the story itself. Focus on the plot not the characters. Professor Mark Weisberg at Queen’s challenged us as first year law students to think about the person behind the story. It may be the case that it is too emotionally draining to consider those behind the cases as it overly-humanizes the case, if that is possible. So looking at the law through fiction may bring up emotions that the law sets out to strip away. However, emotions are an unavoidable element of the courtroom.

The main point that I will leave with is that alienation as described by Marx cannot be solved by driving up wages and having better working conditions. In the novel the main characters, the Joad family, start to realize that the true divide between management and workers is the inability of management to see the workers as people and not just numbers. “The Swiss novelist Max Frisch remarked at the time, ‘We imported workers and got men instead.’”[2] This encapsulates the dilemma of management – how to distance one’s self enough from workers to command respect yet not too distant as to be seen as inhumane.

Vanisha H. Sukdeo is a PhD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School

[1] John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), at 249.

[2] Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), at 208.

Sara Ross

Dance Review: World Premiere of Natasha Bakht’s 786

Bakht photo

Natasha Bakht, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

University of Ottawa Law Professor and Indian contemporary dancer and choreographer Natasha Bakht performed the world premiere of her dance piece 786 on Thursday, October 6, 2016 and Friday, October 7, 2016 in Toronto at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. 786 was commissioned by Fall for Dance North and performed as part of their 2016 festival offerings.

As the program describes, “786 is the total value of the letters in the Islamic phrase ‘Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim’, which is commonly translated as, ‘In the name of God, most gracious, most compassionate’. This is a phrase that some Muslims will often say before beginning a significant endeavour. This piece explores the sacred in the everyday. It strives to shift people’s misconceptions about Muslims, highlighting the positive aspects of this stigmatized community (communities really) including their artistic and creative sides.”

I was fortunate to be able to attend Bakht’s performance last Friday and was transported by the fluidity and precision of her movement and the potency of her expressive choreography set to a beautiful score played live on stage. It can be challenging for a solo performer to effectively fill a large stage space (such as the one at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) with movement. Bakht not only accomplished this with her own performance, but also established an interaction with the musicians on stage that allowed their performance to also fill the visual and auditory space with her on stage. When performing as a soloist to an audience of over 3000, every fiber of a performer’s physical, emotional, and cognitive self must be fully engaged in order to establish a connection that speaks to the audience, and Bakht effectively established this connection. The importance of this in the context of the Fall for Dance North festival is that one of the festival’s primary objectives is to reach out and establish new dance audiences through exposure to an eclectic and carefully curated offering of short dance pieces performed over a three-day period, made accessible through affordable ticket prices, free workshops, and artist talks.

On a more personal note, as a legal academic/dancer/choreographer myself, I’m interested in how the different worlds and languages of law and legal academia, and art, and dance specifically, interact, reflect, overlap, and diverge from each other. These two worlds can be logistically and cognitively difficult to balance on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, but also extremely rewarding, especially when they complement each other so well—as exhibited by 786, and Bakht’s work in general. As Bakht’s contributions in the sphere of legal academia reach into issues of women’s equality, religious freedom, law and culture, and minority rights, her contribution to the world of dance and art with 786 is a compelling complement to her academic work and an example of the synergy that can exist between the languages of law and dance.

Sara Ross

What is Literary Property? – A Lecture from Gary Wihl

Wihl poster

Washington University Professor Gary Wihl will be providing a lecture entitled “What is Literary Property? The Stowe v. Thomas Case of 1853″ on October 17th, 2016 between 2:30pm and 4:00pm. The lecture will be held in Ignat Kaneff Building, Room 2028 at Osgoode Hall Law School. An excerpt of the lecture’s abstract reads as follows:

This presentation examines a pivotal case in the development of US copyright law. Stowe unsuccessfully sued Thomas, for his unauthorized publication of a German translation of her hugely popular novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The legal literature about this case concerns ambiguities between federal statutory law and the states’ common law definitions of property as applied to a creative work. Although she lost the case, her efforts, along with those of authors like Mark Twain, ultimately succeeded in pressing the courts to grant more and more control to authors as owners of what has now become known as “intellectual property.”

To attend, make sure you RSVP in advance here:

Guest Post Kerry Young

Dr. Cindy Blackstock featured in Alanis Obomsawin’s latest documentary film, We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice

Cindy Blackstock

Professor Cindy Blackstock in 2014 (courtesy of the United Church)

On 21 October 2016, Dr. Cindy Blackstock will be one of the keynote speakers at the Re-Imagining Child Welfare Systems in Canada Symposium taking place at Osgoode Hall Law School.

As a former film producer and a current law student I am very interested in exploring the ways in which law and film can intersect. Alanis Obomsawin’s latest documentary film, “We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice” offers a rare glimpse inside of the legal process as we follow Dr. Blackstock as she fights for equality for children living on reserve in Canada. I believe that this film succeeds as both a visual teaching of legal procedure and as a compelling narrative about social injustice.

The film was shot from 2010 to 2016. The case was heard at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from February 2013 to October 2014. This hearing was the long awaited result of a complaint filed by Regional Chief Lawrence Joseph, of the Assembly of First Nations, and Dr. Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, against Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) in February 2007. The “inequitable levels of child welfare funding provided to First Nations children and families on reserve” through the Canadian government’s First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS) formed the basis of the complaint.

It took 9 long years, and numerous appeals, before the Tribunal finally heard testimony and in January 2016, they found that “[INAC]’s design, management and control of the FNCFS Program, along with its corresponding funding formulas and the other related provincial/territorial agreements have resulted in denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves.”

The opening and closing scenes of the film are made up of footage of Dr. Blackstock speaking to the tribunal and to the press. These scenes serve the film well. They present not only her powerful oratorical skills; they also show her passion for this cause and her unwillingness to back down from the very long and drawn out process. Her fight for the equality of the rights for children on reserve is our way into the narrative; her journey is our journey.

The 84-year-old Indigenous filmmaker told the audience at the screening I attended that she comes from a long line of storytellers, maybe 11,000 years of story telling. This is a filmmaker who gently weaves her narrative between footage of courtroom procedure and personal stories resulting in an outstanding example of “showing” that which the tribunal testimony is “telling.”

In early foreshadowing we see Dr. Blackstock outside of the Federal Court of Appeal, explaining to children who are supporting this cause, that they might hear the word prejudicial and that the court might want to exclude testimony about residential schools. Later in the film we are shown that this testimony has been allowed and in a particularly emotional scene we see a Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation speak about his experience in residential school. We are also transported to Pictou Landing in Nova Scotia, where we meet a family, Jeremy Meawasige, a First Nation teenager with multiple disabilities, and his mother, Maurina Beadle, who had to fight to be recognized under Jordan’s Principle.

Alanis Obomsawin is currently working on 2 more films, one of which is a follow up to this tribunal decision. In the question and answer period that followed the screening in Toronto Obomsawin said, “We’ve won. But what have we won?” Her next film hopes to answer that question.

We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice will screen in October at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Watch for it playing near you.

Click Here to Watch the Trailer (courtesy of the National Film Board)

NFB We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice

Kerry Young is a second year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Sara Ross

Suits is Toronto


On a recent walk through Downsview Park, connected to the final stop on the subway line between Toronto proper an York University, I came across a series of studios filming various projects. The new show Designated Survivor featuring Canadian Kiefer Sutherland was being filmed, with US plated cars out front, which was exciting enough. But on the door of the studio, the sign indicating usage also read that Season 5 of Suits was in the process of filming in the same space.

Recently the National Post wrote an article about just how much of Suits is “recognizably Toronto”, despite the show “taking place” in New York City. An excerpt of the piece reads as follows:

Harvey is always talking about representing Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley – it’s only a matter of time before, I don’t know, Dougie Gilmour wanders into his office. Sarah Rafferty, the actress who plays Donna, is already a model for Holt Renfrew, for Peterborough’s sake. Was it with a knowing wink, then, that when Jessica ambushed Edward Darby on a business trip, he wryly asked, “Jessica, what brings you to Toronto?” We’re all like, “The elevator.”

For a fun read, check out the full article here:

Sara Ross

LAC Event: “Dirty Hands and Resilient Legal Gestures – Regulating the Handshake in Pandemic Culture”

ATT1-Dirty Hands - Web

The Law.Arts.Culture lecture series is holding its first event of the year this October 19th! Canada Research Professor Sheryl N. Hamilton of Carleton University will be addressing the York and Osgoode community, providing her presentation “Dirty Hands and Resilient Legal Gestures: Regulating the Handshake in Pandemic Culture” between 12:30 and 2:00pm in Room 2027 of the Ignat Kaneff Building. Lunch will be provided although you are asked to RSVP at the event portal here: The event description includes the following:

In an historical moment where we are repeatedly told by both purveyors of health information and popular culture alike that our hands are dirty and in need of constant cleansing (lest we infect ourselves and others), what happens to common forms of hand-to-hand touch that have long held legal consequence? In this talk, Sheryl Hamilton locates the end-of-game handshake in team sports and the greeting/parting handshake in business etiquette within a broader social context of the troubling of touch within pandemic culture. The handshake is productively theorized she posit, as simultaneously: an embodied ritual, a form of intimate touch, and a legal gesture. She frames the handshake, not only as a complex, quotidian legal ritual, but also as an increasingly volatile mode of handwork in contemporary life. Not surprisingly, in both business and sports the handshake has recently garnered formal and informal regulatory attention. Embodied alternatives are often posed, including fist bumps and touch through the second skin of clothing, among others. Yet, the representation, circulation, and contestation of these other ways of touching highlight an ongoing clash of values between a normative, haptic-legal order and the current cultural imperative to hygiene.

I hope to see everyone there!

Sara Ross

Call for Papers: Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities – 20th Annual Conference

Law Culture and Humanities logo

The call for papers has come out for the 20th annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities. This upcoming edition will be held from March 31st to April 1st, 2017 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Applications are due by October 28th, 2016, with details of submission to follow in the coming months. The Association has provided the following about their upcoming event:

History, Memory and Law; Law and Literature; Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism; Speech, Silence, and the Language of Law; Judgment, Justice, and Law; Beyond Identity; The Idea of Practice in Legal Thought; Metaphor and Meaning; Representing Legality in Film and Mass Media; Anarchy, Liberty and Law; What is Excellence in Interpretation?; Ethics, Religion, and Law; Moral Obligation and Legal Life; The Post-Colonial in Literary and Legal Study; Processes and Possibilities in Interdisciplinary Law Teaching.

We urge those interested in attending to consider submitting complete panels, and we hope to encourage a variety of formats-roundtables, sessions at which everyone reads the papers in advance, sessions in which commentators respond to a single paper. We invite proposals for session in which the focus is on pedagogy or methodology, for author-meets-readers sessions organized around important books in the field, or for sessions in which participants focus on performance (theatrical, filmic, musical, poetic).

You can read more about the conference (and check out the ASLCH’s new website) here.

Sara Ross

Call for papers: Art in Law in Art Conference


A call for papers has gone out for the upcoming Art in Law in Art Conference, to be held in the Perth Cultural Precinct at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. The conference will be held between July 4-6, 2017, with two main streams: “Art in Law” and “Law in Art”. The submission deadline is December 4, 2016, and is open to individuals from both the Arts and the Law, including scholars and practitioners. The event has issued the following description:

Art in Law in Art is an interdisciplinary Conference investigating the broad themes of how law sees visual art, and how visual art sees law. The Conference will be an exciting mix of different perspectives from international experts on the art-law nexus, as scholars, practitioners and artists come together and exchange ideas.

You can view the full call for papers here.

Thanks to Vanisha Sukdeo for sending this our way!

Sara Ross

Call for Papers: 2017 Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association

LSA logo

It’s that time of year again! Conference applications are upon us, and the LSA has released its call for papers for the upcoming 2017 edition of its annual conference – held this year in Mexico City. This meeting will be held in conjunction with the Canadian Law and Society Association, merging their meetings this upcoming June, so remember to keep in mind which association you would like to apply through. The Socio-Legal Studies Association and the Japanese Association of the Sociology of Law will also be co-hosting the meeting as well, which will be held between June 20th and 23rd, at the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel & Towers. The deadline for submissions is October 18th, 2016, on this year’s conference theme of Walls, Borders, and Bridges: Law and Society in an Inter-Connected World. Remember to check out the various CRNs as well before choosing how to submit.

To learn more about the conference, you can view their website here.

Sara Ross

Book News: The Modes of Human Rights Literature: Towards a Culture without Borders

Galchinsky book

Georgia State University English Professor Michael Galchinsky has published his newest work The Modes of Human Rights Literature: Towards a Culture without Borders, released earlier this month. According to publisher Palgrave Macmillan, the author,

[A]rgues that human rights literature both helps the persecuted to cope with their trauma and serves as the foundation for a cosmopolitan ethos of universal civility—a culture without borders. Michael Galchinsky maintains that, no matter how many treaties there are, a rights-respecting world will not truly exist until people everywhere can imagine it.

 You can read more about the book at the publisher’s website here.