Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post Kerry Young

Submissions deadline to Testify art exhibition – extended

Testify photo

Photos of “Genetikos” and “Paradaxe” by Louise Mandell and Richard Heikkilä-Sawan, courtesy of Kerry Young

The Testify project, a performance and art show celebrating Indigenous laws, has extended its submission deadline. The project is described as follows:

Artists and legal thinkers in conversation with each other to explore Indigenous laws and opportunities for the dynamic expression. Testify creates a space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to dream a way forward which respects and reflects the diversity, strength and hope embodied within Indigenous traditions. Law has been a powerful tool of the colonial project. Law was used to subjugate and attempt to wipe out Indigenous Peoples as distinct Peoples, and prohibit Indigenous ceremonies, governance, laws, and cultural expression.

The new extended deadline for the upcoming submission round is November 30, 2016. For information about how to submit a project, you can read more on their website here: http://www.testifyindigenous.ca/join-testify/

Guest Post Vanisha H. Sukdeo

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

JohnSteinbeckTheGrapesOfWrath
“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.

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.