Monthly Archives: January 2016

Sara Ross

Interview with Professor Suzanne Bouclin, Upcoming LAC Speaker

Bouclin Poster

On February 10th 2016, Professor Suzanne Bouclin of the University of Ottawa will be providing the latest Law.Arts. Culture talk at Osgoode Hall Law School (the announcement post can be found here). In advance of her presentation, we interviewed Prof. Bouclin about her scholarship and methodology.

SR: How do you think the intersection between law and art can reveal aspects of society, groups, or individuals that aren’t otherwise perhaps apparent? 

SB: Popular wisdom says that law is an orderly, objective and cohesive system of rules backed by state sanctions, whereas art, and for my purposes, film is fluid, subjective, consumer-driven form of entertainment that can be subject to law’s regulation (in the form of intellectual property for instance). Another way to think about the relationship between law and film is that they are both socio-cultural processes. Each has its own discursive practices, ideologies, and modes of representation that reflect and refract values and beliefs about issues like: What is community? How do I relate to the other? Who decides what is fair? This latter view takes films seriously as powerful artistic media deeply implicated in our expectations about law and justice. It assumes that moving images and sounds engage us viscerally and therefore differently than text or spoken words and, in that unique register, they can create and / or sustain popular assumptions about law. Thinking about the relationship between law and film in this way calls into question what one considers as legal source or legal knowledge. It puts into sharp relief how law is a meaning-making institution through which we imagine and tell stories about our social world. It destabilizes the often assumed boundaries between ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ ways of knowing.

SR: The abstract for the Law.Arts.Culture talk you will deliver at Osgoode reveals that you will be speaking about Women in Prison movies. What drew you to this particular genre of film and how has this helped shape your scholarship?

SB: My primary focus right now is genre as rule-governed expectations and behaviour, or genre as law. If generic conventions are laws like any other, they are subject to appeals, debates, and new iterations. Genre theory can consequently invite a re-examination of what may at first seem like a static and immutable body of rules. I am exploring genre and genre-making through a body of films which may be called “Women in Prison” (WIP) movies.

I argue that these films can be used to demonstrate how film is a powerful medium for exploring feminist concerns about law and legal institutions. ‘Women in Prison’ movies emerge as popular romantic melodramas and social reform flicks in the early 1930s. In these films, the women’s prison is a space where issues around gender domination – especially the feminization of poverty, the exploitation of women’s work, physical and sexual violence against women – are manifest. ‘Women in Prison’ movies were reconfigured and recast in the 1970s as ‘girls behind bars’ movies geared primarily towards young heterosexual men. While the later instantiation sexualizes punitive cruelty directed at women in ways that may offend feminist viewers, they are nevertheless distinguishable from movies in which the prison is incidental to the plot except insofar as it is the setting of sado/masochist fantasies and desires. While ‘exploitative’ because they feature female nudity in ways that cater primarily to heterosexual male fantasies, I argue that at least one WIPs of the 1970s presents an ‘oppositional gaze’ that recognizes the genres parodic qualities, overt manipulation of sexist stereotypes and leftist politics with a recognition of the possibility – for queer women for instance – of cinematic pleasure and identification.

My presentation is the foundation of one chapter in a book I am currently completing. In it, I hold up five WIP films that compel viewers to question the nature of the prison institution and its function within broader hegemonic legal structures based on gender, race, class, and other forms of domination that both physically and metaphorically circumscribe women’s lives. As one of the few genres that feature almost entirely female casts, with plots that revolve around women’s criminalization, WIP movies are a venue for articulating, interrogating, and re-articulating how women negotiate law.

Other themes that emerge through the metaphor of the prison include the nature of motherhood and domesticity, feminist concerns about sexual assault and sexual domination, (hetero)sexual anxieties about feminist emancipation, resistance in the face of injustice, allegorical condemnation of conservative norms that restrict women’s mobility, feminist critiques of repressive institutions, intersectionality and hierarchies among women, the eroticization of female vengeance, and the revolutionary potential of women’s solidarity across symbolic boundaries of race, class, and sexual orientation etc.

SR: What films on women in prison would you recommend for a first-time viewer interested in this area/field?

SB: Caged (1950) is in my view, not only the most intelligent and provocative WIP film ever made, it is also one of the few Film Noir at the time in which the female character is the protagonist and not reduced to a femme fatale. Caged was nominated for three Academy Awards: best actress (Elenor Parker), best supporting actress (Hope Emerson), and best original screenplay (Virginia Kellogg). Director John Cromwell also did Ann Vickers (which I will be discussing) and was known for creating space for his female stars to transcend typecasting (think about Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage). He was banned from Hollywood by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

I suggest that anyone who is into Orange is the New Black watch Caged then go back to the first ever episode of ONB to see how many of the generic conventions which were established in the film (the ‘shower’ scene and the sadistic guard) are directly referenced in the show. In my book, I explore five films from five different genres (including Caged of course) that I highly recommend to anyone interested in law and film but especially for anyone who is interested in the still under-read genre of WIP movies. So to be continued. But you can get a sample of various expressions of the genre if you watch: Ladies They Talk About (1933), Caged (1950) and ONB (Netflix) in that order.

There are also a number of rich and thought-provoking documentaries about women’s criminalization and women’s incarceration that I would recommend, including Angela Davis: Portrait of a Revolutionary (1972) and P4W: Prison for Women (1981) but my focus remains on fictional representations which are not necessarily intended to provide a realistic image of prison life and may not, as these documentaries do, directly confront issues of colonialism, systemic racism and the overrepresentation of racialized women in prisons. Though, I am of the view that they do challenge these structures of power through allusion, metaphor, and mise-en-scene.

SR: Could you tell us a bit about your research trajectory—how did you come to draw on the critical methodologies of law-and-literature and law-and-film studies?

SB: I have always been passionate about film. In University I took as many film studies electives as I could and in law school I had the great chance to take Professor Rebecca Johnson’s first ever law-and-film course while she was still at the University of New Brunswick. Until that moment, I had only thought of the law-film relation as either one of regulation (intellectual property) or of representation (courtroom dramas). Professor Johnson destabilized my understanding of what law was and had us read Orit Kamir’s work and the organizing frame for the class was cinematic judgement: of women, by women, through the gaze. I still remember conversations we had in that class. It was amazing.

Since then, I have continued to study film and film-making. I lived in Winnipeg for a while and took classes with Professors George Toles and Brenda Austin-Smith and joined a film-making collective. Professor Ann McGillivray, my LLM supervisor, is an internationally respected law-and-literature scholar and she has had a profound impact on my thinking about interdisciplinarity. During my LLM, I developed the genre theory that now informs my book. Ann is also part of the reason why I worked with the late and dearly missed Rod Macdonald for my PhD. She felt that I would refine my thinking about law through his lens of critical legal pluralism. For my PhD, I developed what I call ambidextrous legal methodology, using both my ‘law brain’ and my ‘film brain’ at the same time. I deployed film studies’ lexicon and concepts to imagine law cinematically and I advanced a critical legal pluralist hypothesis to imagine film as law. My starting premise was that making movies can be a way of constituting legal knowledge. Part of my doctoral project was the production of a non-linear film, using interactive, collaborative and web-based technology. When I pitched the idea of making a film for my PhD to Rod Macdonald, he was extremely supportive but told me I could only do it if I were fully committed to making a stand-alone creative work and that the written expression of my research not ‘explain’ the cinematic expression.

SR: Can you tell us a little bit about your Early Researcher Award project?

SB: Last year, I was awarded an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation for a five-year project entitled “Addressing the Access to Justice Crisis for Homeless People: The Potential for New Communications Technologies.”

I am very excited about this new project in which I combine two of my research interests and passions, law-and-film obviously, and access to justice for marginalized groups (homeless and street-involved people in particular). Over five years I will collect empirical data taken from the standpoint of homeless and street-involved people, specifically through interviews with the homeless and through digital storytelling they will create. The narratives I will be exploring will be around their legal needs as they articulate them. My research starts from my direct knowledge that homeless people have insufficient access to justice. I started a free mobile legal service to help address some of street-involved people’s access to justice needs and now I want to explore whether technology can be harnessed to further their access to justice. There is so much buzz around ‘technology’ and ‘access to justice’ right now but I really don’t know whether any of that work resonates with street-involved and homeless people. I want to explore whether new communications technologies can actually facilitate new modes of legal subjectivities for street-involved people (perhaps as judging subjects or as resistant legal actors) or whether the shift towards cyberjustice is just another means by which those who already hold social power reaffirm their authority and will consequently have little positive impact for our most marginalized citizens.

I am optimist about the research because rather than assuming that new media technologies will be a tool for accessing lawyers or formal legal institutions, I am using new media technologies to grapple with the notion of access to justice. A big component of the project is working in collaboration with filmmakers and street-involved people to produce digital stories about homeless people’s legal experiences, expectations and needs. Another will be examining ways that social networking sites can increase street-involved people’s engagement with the law as active agents exercising their rights, rather than as passive people who experience legal regulation on a daily basis.

Jeffery Hewitt Ruth Buchanan

The Treaty Canoe by Alex McKay, Osgoode Hall Law School

Canoe photo

‘Treaty Canoeby Alex McKay

A number of initiatives over the past several years have created opportunities through which members of the Osgoode community have been invited, provoked, and encouraged through film, fiction, performance and visual art, to think differently about the law we study, as we study it. ‘Treaty Canoe’ (by artist Alex McKay shown above as installed in the Osgoode Hall Law School library on January 15, 2016) a performance/sculpture/installation made from cedar, copper wire, birch bark, red-ribbon, glue, and treaties hand-penned onto hand-made linen paper is another such opportunity. As a collection of objects both art and law, tool and text, past and present, ‘Treaty Canoe’ is at once an important recognition of the violence and erasure at the foundation of the colonial project in Canada as well as a invitation to participate in a de-colonial ‘re-writing’ of these histories. Its current installation at Osgoode, at a cross-roads in the center of our bustling academic institution, within the confines of the library, but visible also to all those passing through the atrium, has the potential to operate as more than a symbolic acknowledgement of these histories. With the recently issued Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada has reached an important intersection in its shared history and ongoing relations with Indigenous Peoples. As an artefact that draws on and draws in a diverse array of affective and embodied responses, ‘Treaty Canoe’ is an effective vehicle through which to engage our community in the beginnings of a dialogue about reconciliation.

This post reflects our nascent effort, as legal scholars and paddlers, a white woman and a Cree man, to engage with this piece in this way. As we begin our conversation about Treaty Canoe, we have been reminded of the sort of conversations one might have while paddling — unmediated, reciprocal, and balanced- so as not to overturn the canoe. But we also quickly realize that ‘Treaty Canoe’ speaks powerfully but differently to indigenous and non-indigenous people. It also speaks in different registers for each individual. For some, and at some moments, the canoe is recognizably the iconic Canadian object, both friendly and familiar, invoking pleasant recollections of time spent in Canadian wilderness. For others, as for each of us at other times, the canoe, with the Hudson’s Bay blanket stretched underneath, vividly recalls its use as a vessel of trade, exploration, and war, and the histories of disease and dispossession of indigenous communities that accompanied those uses. For us, this contrast is key to the power of the installation as a provocation to thought in relation to Canada’s national reconciliation project. It speaks to the making of the nation-state in Canada and the simultaneous unmaking of the indigenous nations of this territory that was the violent underbelly of that nation-building exercise.

Other elements in the installation extend its range and resonance. Beside the canoe, at about the same height, sits a megaphone made of curled birch bark with the words Treaty of Niagara, 1764 written on its side in red paint. For Indigenous leaders, the Treaty of Niagara solemnized the relationship with the British Crown, which had also been set out in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The wampum belt presented by the Crown to gathered Indigenous leaders in 1764 was an acknowledgement of this relationship in keeping with Indigenous legal orders. The artist notes that the megaphone is mute—in recognition perhaps, that over the intervening centuries, the voices of Indigenous Peoples have been oppressed and silenced. Could the megaphone also reflect or invite a resurgence of these Indigenous voices and a revitalization of Indigenous legal orders? Perhaps. Behind and above both the canoe and the megaphone, the artist has also placed a blue and white flag, which represents the Two-Row wampum belt (Kahswentha). The location of the flag above these other elements might signal how to approach the installation as a whole. The Kahswentha is comprised of two parallel lines in purple representing Indigenous and non-Indigenous laws, languages and cultures. The white row in-between is reflective of parallel movement together down a shared river – presumably in canoes – separated yet held together by these principles of peace, friendship and mutual respect.

By taking on a form that is both modern and ancient, re-inscribing agreements that have not been honoured, and reminding us of the responsiveness that is a necessary part of any ongoing relationship, ‘Treaty Canoe’ disrupts conventional histories and calls for a new dialogue concerning the place of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s history. It demands our investigation into the writing out of international law that, while centuries old, has not been forgotten. And, it invites us to consider the fluidity of relationships that may float along through time while still maintaining a shape that is at once deeply familiar, necessary and contemporary. In these ways, it presents both a challenge and an opportunity for our community to engage meaningfully with our shared histories as ‘Treaty People.’

Sara Ross

Law.Arts.Culture Talk on February 10, 2016 by Suzanne Bouclin – Reforming Prisons, Reforming Women: Ann Vickers and Abortion Law

Bouclin Poster

University of Ottawa Professor Suzanne Bouclin is providing the latest Law.Arts.Culture lecture on February 10th, 2016 between 12:30 and 2:00pm entitled Reforming Prisons, Reforming Women: Ann Vickers and Abortion Law. Bouclin is one of Canada’s leading experts on women’s legal issues and feminist jurisprudence, as well as one of the country’s most engaging intellectuals focusing on subjects ranging from pop culture to poverty; from homelessness issues to law and film. To attend, you can RSVP at, using the event code BOUCLIN. To abstract for the talk is as follows:

Women in Prison (WIP) movies are a relatively obscure and often under-read body of films. The central theme of this talk is that many of these films provoke us to reconsider whether prisons for women should exist at all. I have argued elsewhere that WIP movies are a site of women’s legal subjectivity and agency and I am currently refining a theory of WIP movies’ generic conventions to further that assertion. The aim of my work is not to establish whether WIP films reveal anything about the actual conditions of incarcerated women. These films vary in their cultural verisimilitude. And while a particular film may hold considerable truth-value, it is often more fictionalized and mediated version of the prison experience that hold the most critical potential.

Thus I suggest an iconological standpoint in relation to WIP movies that takes seriously their potential to leave us feeling unsettled about prisons, about the women who are warehoused in them, and about the crimes with which these women have been accused. I have generated a (non-linear and non-essentialist) taxonomy of WIP films that emerge during three moments in feminist theorizing and activism that can be loosely arranged as the first, second, and third waves. I conclude that this body of films – this genre – is a shifting and complex feminist jurisprudence. Individual films in inter-textual relationship with a broader body of films present women who negotiate formal and informal legal structures that frame and limit their autonomy and agency. Nevertheless, they also present women who refuse to accept ‘law’ that is externally imposed upon them or the legitimacy of the legal actors that enforce it – whether wardens, child and welfare services, medical practitioners.

I examine the dialogical relationship between these representations of women in prison and the manner in which formalized legal institutions and official legal agents label particular women ‘criminals.’ Without doubt, some WIP movies reproduce the gendered operations and assumptions of the criminal law; yet, some do so while also challenging its institutions and apparatuses of power. Moreover, some exemplary WIPs (I highlight one in this talk) offer ways to imagine the violence of state / legal practices and the inhumanity of total institutions to suggest broader gender, race, and class injustices that render particular women more vulnerable to criminalization and incarceration.

The centerpiece of my discussion is the film Ann Vickers. Drawing on the critical methodology of law-and-literature and law-and-film studies, I will engages in a literary and legal analysis of the novel and the film Ann Vickers (1930) and especially how the WIP movies’ generic law gets mapped on to the canonical (written) law. I focus on two modes and sites of law: the formal prohibition of abortion and the informal regulation of film’s content under the Production Code during a period of lax regulation. I will explore substantive legal questions around women’s suffrage and access to safe abortion. I will also grapple with jurisprudential questions around the nature of authority, inter-textual dialogue and precedent that emerge when engaging in inter-textual dialogue (here of a novel and its cinematic representation).

Sara Ross

Polish Government Takes Over State Media

tvp logo

Logo of Poland’s only public broadcaster

In early January Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a law taking the Polish state media out of the hands of independent management and placing it under the direct control of his cabinet. The move, decried by human rights watchdogs and the European Union, was explained by Duda as an effort to ensure the media becomes more “objective”, putting the Treasury Department in charge of making hiring decisions. The law also fired every manager within the country’s public broadcaster Telewizja Polska effective immediately. In response, the Council of Europe’s human rights commission issued call for an immediate meeting on January 13th to discuss the state of the rule of law in the nation of Poland, and potentially issue a recommendation that Poland lose its voting rights in the European Union, though commissioners underplayed this possibility.

The result of the meeting was tepid, and did not result in any changes within the Polish decision-making or media trends. According to Yahoo!, “The minister immediately appointed right-wing politician and journalist, former European Parliament member, Jacek Kurski, to head the state TV. Kurski said he will look to put state TV at the heart of the country’s national values and traditions.” The nation’s private broadcasters remain independent, however Polish journalists and broadcasters have led mass demonstrations in response to the new law, including marches of several thousands denouncing the move as anti-democratic.


Sara Ross

Public Review of the Municipal Heritage Conservation Area By-laws of Sackville, NB


Sackville, NB railway station (Image by Verne Equinox)

Sackville, New Brunswick has opened a period of public comment as it reviews its Municipal Heritage Conservation Area By-laws. The original law, adopted in 2010, designated two areas of the city as heritage areas, and set restrictions on how each area can be zoned or developed in the future. The review period intends to see how these by-laws have affected the area and how they might be adjusted moving forward. According to the Sackville Tribune-Post,

Jamie Burke, senior manager of corporate projects for the town, said a draft document has been drawn up with a number of proposed changes that are hoped will provide clarity as to the role of the heritage officer and the board, as well as clearer language with respect to demolitions, new construction and other emergency repairs, among other suggestions.

The comment period closes this upcoming week, and feedback will be considered by Sackville City Hall in its amendments to the law.

Sara Ross

Final Ruling in Tax Evasion Case Against Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce_&_Gabbana Image by Eva Rinaldi

Image by Eva Rinaldi

Although Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, designers of the fashion label Dolce & Gabbana, were cleared of tax evasion charges in 2014 after their 2010 conviction was successfully appealed to the Supreme Court of Cassation (the nation’s highest court of appeal), this week their co-defendant has now also been cleared. While earlier this month Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld has now met with his own tax evasion investigation, the infamous D&G case has finally come to a close, with Alfonso Dolce (CEO of the fashion label and brother of designer Domenico) being acquitted of tax evasion by the Milan Court of Appeals.

At issue was a sum of money that was being kept in a corporation named Gado Srl, on which the Italian prosecutors alleged 1 billion euros in taxes would have been due if that money had been held by the designers and their label. Despite two lower court rulings that the company had evaded the tax system, the Supreme Court’s ruling found both the designers and Dolce’s brother innocent of all charges. Still, a 2013 ruling on a separate matter remains in force, ordering Dolce and Gabbana to pay 343.3 million euro fine over an accusation that the firm evaded 500 million euros in taxes in 2004 when selling their company to a holding company under their names.

That said, the company has not missed a season during the turmoil, producing their lines each season without disruption. The creative reaction to the final legal victory will be interesting to watch as the next year’s lines are rolled out at the 2016 Milan Fashion Weeks.

Sara Ross

News Piece of Interest: Chess Now Illegal in Saudi Arabia


1283 painting of Knights Templar playing a game of chess by Alphonse le Sage

According to The Guardian, the game of chess has been ruled forbidden by Islam by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, as it has been deemed “a waste of time” and allegedly promotes gambling. Previously banned in Iran during the 1980s, chess has been a controversial game in certain parts of the Muslim world for many years. It is uncertain what this ruling will mean, whether playing chess will be tried as a crime or if it will be relegated to the realm of “minor vices”, such as music, which are frowned upon but not prosecuted. According to the article,

Moves to suppress chess are likely to have come as a surprise to the seventh-century Muslims who conquered Persia and adopted the game before exporting it to Europe. Muslim scholars tend to place chess, a skill-based game, in a different category from games of chance, such as dice, but frown upon it if it distracts a person from performing the five daily prayers. Placing bets under any circumstances is forbidden.

You can read the article in full here:

Sara Ross

Academy Awards 2016 – Best Picture Nods

Oscar logo

This year’s Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture features several films centering on legal issues. In 2015 there were no Best Picture nods to serious legal issues in film apart from Selma, a film that focused on civil rights and political activism. In 2014 the nominations included films that involved legal issues, but none really focused on the law itself.

Among the 2016 nominations we find The Big Short, a film based on a non-fiction book of the same name that dives into the interaction between financial institutions and financial regulators in the lead up to the 2008 stock market crash. We also have Spotlight, which follows the story of Boston Globe reporters as they investigate child sex allegations within the Roman Catholic Diocese–unearthing a rampant problem with sexual assault committed by Boston priests.

There are also an equal number of films on lawlessness that are up for Best Picture this year, from Mad Max and its dystopian future of total anarchy, to The Revenant and its tale of a lawless wilderness and man set out for revenge. Two of the other films feature major crimes at their centre, with Room focusing on the aftermath of a brutal kidnapping and false imprisonment, and Bridge of Spies focusing on prisoner exchanges and the secretive world of Cold War espionage.

As 2016’s nominations are especially thick with legal issues and ramifications in comparison to previous years, it will be interesting to see how these films will fare come Oscar night.

Sara Ross

Saving UK Music Venues through the Agent of Change Principle


Photograph of Westminster by Diliff

The upcoming UK Parliament is tabling a motion to add the “agent of change” principle to the country’s planning legislation. As a primer, Chris Cooke of the Complete Music Update wrote of the agent of change principle and its potential effects that,

[T]he agent of change principle says that if a property developer constructs or converts a building next to a music venue, it must take responsibility for ensuring that the new development can co-exist with said venue, for example, paying for soundproofing if noise may be an issue for the new neighbours. It’s something that already exists in Australia, and is a principle that enjoyed much support during the #VoteForMusic survey of the music community ahead of the General Election earlier this year. The Musicians’ Union has also been lobbying hard for its introduction.

The major proponent of the bill is shadow culture secretary MP Michael Dugher, who has made it his first priority, citing that in the last eight year’s London has lost nearly half of all its live music venues. Part of the problem was a 2013 amendment that allowed disused buildings to be reverted to residences without permit, even if these residences end up being located nearby commercial enterprises that emit evening music or other noise.

The agent of change principle has already been applied by Australian governments to great effect, which has prevented new buildings and residents from moving into neighbourhoods with nightclubs or other music venues and making noise complaints about the previously installed venues. The application of this principle overturned previous laws where the club itself (even if established first) would have been responsible for noise insulation, rather than the onus being placed on the new incoming neighbourhood tenants.

Sara Ross

Francis Forbes Annual Law Lecture at Memorial University

MEmorial university logo

The Memorial University Faculty of Arts in Newfoundland is hosting the inaugural Francis Forbes Annual Law Lecture on January 25, 2016. The address will be provided by Derek Green, the Chief Justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, and is entitled Re-imaging Justice: Finding Local Solutions to the Access Crisis. According to the University, “The lecture series was initiated in 2015 to address legal issues of public concern and to unite Memorial University and the provincial legal community in a venture seeking to examine the public interest.” On the namesake of the lecture, they describe further that,

Francis Forbes was appointed Chief Justice in the Supreme Court of Judicature in Newfoundland in 1816 and was to serve in this position until 1822. Thereafter he served as an adviser in the Colonial Office in London, followed by a distinguished career as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in New South Wales. Forbes was powerfully influential in furthering constitutionalism and the rule of law in Newfoundland. His decisions were fearless in the face of strong executive opposition, challenging and checking the arbitrary use of power by the governor and his subordinates, recognizing the right of residents to own property, and strengthening the position of the Supreme Court as a general appeal court for the colony.

You can read more about the lecture at the university’s website here.