National Post

Thursday, March 04, 1999

Women's group turns tables on L'heureux-Dube

Shawn Ohler
National Post

John Ulan, National Post / Steve Ewanchuk shakes fist at photographer outside Edmonton home.

A national women's group has demanded Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube be fired for the "demeaning personal invective" she levelled at a top Alberta judge.

REAL Women of Canada, which claims a coast-to-coast membership of 55,000, filed a formal complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council yesterday, asking it to recommend Judge L'Heureux-Dube be dismissed.

Last week, the Supreme Court judge belittled Appeal Court of Alberta Justice John McClung in the high court's ruling on the so-called "no means no" sexual assault case involving Steve Ewanchuk.

The Alberta jurist, who had acquitted Ewanchuk, fired back twice in the National Post, once in a letter to the editor that related Quebec's growing male suicide rate with Judge L'Heureux-Dube's personal convictions. He has since apologized.

While several groups and individuals, including Alexa McDonough, the NDP leader, have filed complaints with the council about Judge McClung, REAL Women's complaint is the first against Judge L'Heureux-Dube.

"She particularly named Judge McClung and tore him to pieces in a very humiliating and demeaning way. You may disagree with him, but it is your duty as a Supreme Court judge to treat him with dignity and respect," said Gwen Landolt, REAL Women's founder and vice-president.

"She has used her position to humiliate a judge who dared to disagree with her personal opinion, and she should therefore be removed."

In the Supreme Court ruling, Judge L'Heureux-Dube criticized Judge McClung's description of Ewanchuk's 17-year-old victim, particularly that the young woman wasn't wearing "a bonnet and crinolines" when she entered Ewanchuk's trailer for a job interview. She said Judge McClung's language "perpetuates archaic myths and stereotypes" about sexual assaults, and "ignores the law."

Mrs. Landolt said the passage, and several others of similar tenor, will "damn Judge McClung eternally" in legal history.

"You can understand his indignation. Maybe you don't condone what he did, but you can understand how helpless and humiliated he was," she said.

Mrs. Landolt, a practicing lawyer since the 1960s, branded Judge L'Heureux-Dube as a feminist out of step with ordinary Canadians.

"The whole purpose and majesty of the law is that the final court, at least, is to be open to different perspectives," she said.

"But she has totally and utterly failed in that. We shouldn't have to pay the salary of a radical feminist who sits on the bench and uses her position to promote her own personal agenda."

Supreme Court Justice Charles Gonthier also signed Judge L'Heureux-Dube's opinion, but REAL Women has no quarrel with him, Mrs. Landolt said.

"We have pretty well accepted that he is in the feminist camp, but he is more even-handed. And he did not write the decision. That is the difference. He just sort of tagged along saying, 'Yeah, yeah, she's right.'"

The judicial council can recommend to Parliament that judges be removed from the bench. That has happened only once before, when Quebec Superior Court Judge Jean Bienvenue was investigated in 1996 for remarks he made about women and the Holocaust during a woman's murder trial. Judge Bienvenue resigned three days after the recommendation was made.

Related Sites

R. v. Ewanchuk
The Supreme Court decision handed down in the "no means no" sexual assault case.

Jurist Canada
The leading judicial website.

R.E.A.L Women Canada
Another entrant into the fray.

Copyright Southam Inc.