In April, a controversy exploded at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law because of an article I submitted to its law school paper, Inter Pares.
As a result, the faculty pulled all the papers from the shelves, entire classes were spent discussing the article, and the dean of the law school, Bruce Feldthusen, wrote an open letter to the school condemning the article as an “incitement to rape.”
Some professors even encouraged students to lobby firms against hiring the editors of the Pares.
The article is a satirical stab at the idea that being “in law” is a male’s greatest asset in attracting women.
Although I denounced using this method to attract women as “daft,” feminist groups at Ottawa U misinterpreted my message; and perceived the contrary. They also reacted to the article’s tone and other material in the article they found offensive — it was, admittedly, uncouth.
However, that same article was published at my home school’s newspaper, The Caveat Lector of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, where it was received in good humour.
Upon hearing of the uproar to the East, our dean and former associate dean, Brent Cotter and Dwight Newman respectively, read the article and decided its content was permitted by the freedom of expression afforded by Canadian law.
I then sought a third opinion from a faculty member at Osgoode Hall with freedom of expression experience — who also found nothing wrong.
So what fueled Ottawa U’s outrage? Is the U of S faculty without the “sophisticated understanding of violence against women” as dean Feldthusen implied in the Ottawa Citizen? Does the blast radius of the outrage and censorship accurately reflect the proportion of students supporting it? Or did the minority simply overreact and get the leverage it needed because those with influence agreed?
Whatever the case, what happened is an interesting elucidation of the disparity in political stances between Canadian law school students.
This is especially paradoxical given that all lawyers are branded with the same one-dimensional profile: that of a self-interested, dishonest, uppity clod. But this ostensibly doesn’t resonate with the truth; the exact same stimulus produced laughter in the Midwest but birthed an angry mob in the East.
It would seem that the degree of difference among us as a profession is just as gaping as the difference between us and other professions.
I was in Ottawa in May and June and had the opportunity to distill some truth from a group from Ottawa U law students.
The group’s consensus was: although the article’s type of humour did not appeal to everyone, most students disagreed with any type of censorship.
One student even expressed embarrassment about the event. A few actually enjoyed the episode, stating that “it was an exciting two weeks.”
But perhaps that group was just another non-representative minority.
To delve even deeper, I met a few leaders of the protest against me.
The meeting was amicable, and one revealed to me that Jane Doe, of the widely studied torts case, Doe v. Metropolitan Toronto (Municipality) Commissioners of Police had just visited the law school. That case involves a woman who was used as bait by the Toronto police to apprehend a rapist in her area. One forerunner of my protest offered that the more irascible groups may have been primed by this visit, and without it “the whole thing probably wouldn’t have been as big as it turned out.”
In any event, the occurrence shows the varying degrees of complexity among Canadian law students. This comes as a refreshing retort to stereotypes against law students and lawyers.
It also shows that despite what bastions of rationality we try to be, topics that hit close to home will pit our personal identities against the law those very identities are bound to defend.
David Samuel is currently a third-year law student at the University of Saskatchewan and is editor-in-chief of the Caveat Lector. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.