Monday, October 02, 2006

My take on the "feminism meme"

I was tagged by Idealistic Pragmatist in the "5 Things that Feminism has done for me" meme, which has been making its way through the Progressive Bloggers community.

The original impetus for this meme was the proposed elimination of federal funding of Status of Women Canada, which have since been scaled back to a $5 million reduction in funding, as part of the last round of Conservative budget cuts.

Since then, a host of bloggers have covered most of the ground that I might have included in my post, so I'll keep it short. In terms of societal benefits for me, the feminist movement challenged long-established conceptions of gender and sex roles, which was a crucial step in laying the groundwork for the gay and lesbian rights movement. The number of ways in which that latter movement has helped me by challenging homophobia and creating a society in which I could live openly as a gay man are difficult to count.

To go a bit further than that, I think it's important to note that the Status of Women Canada cuts, while definitely worthy of attention, have perhaps overshadowed the impact of another $5 Million cut (in a period of a huge budget surplus). The Conservative budget cuts also led to the elimination of the Court Challenges Program. Since the introduction of the Charter, this program has provided essential funding to groups, many of them with minimal financial resources, to enable them to contest federal and provincial laws which violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For groups like the Little Sisters Bookstore, which challenged Canada Customs restrictions on gay and lesbian material coming across the border, this funding was essential to challenging a repressive state apparatus.

In terms of my research, there have been numerous cases of francophone minority communities and Acadian groups that drew on funding available under the Court Challenges Program to secure full use of their francophone minority education rights guaranteed under section 23 of the Charter. Gay and lesbian groups have used this program to fight for equality rights. This targetted funding, I would argue, was an expression of Canada's commitment to a robust democracy, permitting groups that lacked financial resources the means to secure recognition of rights that were theoretically protected. Cancelling this program will make it easier for governments to maintain regulations and laws which violate the Charter, unless these groups have deep pockets to cover the legal fees associated with a court challenge. Disadvantaged groups of all sorts - women, gays and lesbians, aboriginals, linguistic minorities, visible minority communities, etc. - will have a harder time defending their Charter rights as a result of this cutback.

John Baird questioned the rationale for the Court Challenges program, arguing that the government should not "subsidize lawyers to challenge the government's own laws in court." I would argue that if the government is confident in the substance of its laws, it should make it possible for all groups and individuals to test the validity of its laws, rather than restricting this privilege to the wealthy. Cuts to the Court Challenges Program will have ramifications for the feminist movement as well, which is worth bearing in mind.

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At 10:34 pm, Blogger Interrobang said...

The Tories have been after the Court Challenges programme for a long time -- they did it in once, and Chretien's government revived it.

I think it's a really important programme, and am very angry to see it go.


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