As a lawyer, I obviously have a pecuniary interest in seeing something like Alex Hutchinson’s proposal for universal legal care come to fruition (“The People’s Court,” September). However, I must point out a problem with the analogy between legal care and health care upon which he rests his argument: while medicare has at its core some objective concept of “being healthy,” there is no equivalent concept of “being legally healthy.” It is probably impossible to determine objectively when one would need law to solve the problems of one’s relationship to others in society. Hutchinson’s examples of the underprovision of legal services serve to illustrate that there are some situations where law ought to be intervening, but they do not prove that all disputes in society ought to be resolved by law, nor that all disputes in society ought to be resolved by law whenever people want them to be. When should law intervene? That is a very tricky question, and while there may be such a thing as underprovision, there is certainly also such a thing as overprovision, and without any objective criteria for what legal services are necessary, Hutchinson’s proposal would most likely lead in that direction.
I wholeheartedly agree with Alex Hutchinson’s argument for increased access to legal care in this country, but his analysis would be improved by a better understanding of the impact that existing problems and proposed solutions have on women in particular.
According to a report produced by the Nova Scotia Coalition of Justice for Women, in many criminal jurisdictions only those who face jail time will ultimately get a defence lawyer from legal aid, and since women tend to be first-time, non-violent offenders, they are much more likely than men to be triaged out of legal aid. They are also likely to simply plead guilty because they lack the resources to fight, or don’t want to jeopardize their ability to support their children by risking a more severe sentence. These convictions can have long-term effects on women’s earning ability, parenting, self-esteem, and health.
When it comes to family law, the article recommends greater emphasis on non-adversarial approaches, but this requires participants who are capable of good-faith negotiation. Unfortunately, family court’s dirty little secret is that a large proportion of cases involve woman abuse (I am aware of several women who have been advised by their lawyers to keep abuse to themselves because judges have been known to assume such allegations are false or irrelevant). These cases are not good candidates for mediation, because abusers don’t tend to compromise well. I have been involved in several evaluations of court-connected mediation in family law, and many women said the most troubling experience was having to bargain with an abuser for support and safety when what they really needed was a lawyer. (Note, too, that cases that drag on and on with multiple actions for variations are a hallmark of cases involving abuse.)
What is needed is not a second-tier system for those whose issues are deemed less important, but rather access to salaried lawyers with limited caseloads, and expertise in what is often the main issue: women’s poverty and victimization.
Mark Czarnecki embodies the conservatism so dear to the creationists he opposes with his caricatured dismissal of “postmodern French philosophers” in “The Other Darwin” (September). Post-modernism, if we can speak of such a monolith, has never been about “extreme subjectivism,” as Czarnecki asserts. Rather, thinkers such as Jacques Derrida show us that claims to truth are usually made by those in power and supported by entrenched institu-tions. Instead of accepting common truths (e.g., “democracy,” “patriotism,” “multiculturalism”) at face value, Derrida compels us to question and reinterpret them at every turn, lest they ossify into dogma.
Such a vision of truth as open-ended process unconditionally invites marginalized ideas, no matter how controversial, into the debate, and requires us to condemn any institution or government that would suppress such creative and intellectual freedom. It is unfortunate that Czarnecki does not recognize the obvious affinities between postmodern philosophy and evolutionary science, both of which unseat transcendent authority in the name of perpetual and meaningful negotiation between living beings.
Recently, I described myself as a hermit living in a cave filled with people. I have never found commonality with others. Like Ros Blackburn, one of Denis Seguin’s sources in “The Anti-Socialite” (September), I am incapable of jest. But as the fates would have it, every time I speak the truth, people can’t stop laughing. Here I am talking, eyes as focused as lasers on a point two feet ahead, and the crowd gathers around me in anticipation of another hilarious tale of misunderstanding.
It took me seven years to figure out that my partner was trying to relate to me. The evening I identified that my difficulty might be due to autism was the first time I felt I wasn’t hitting my head on a wall. My partner immediately thanked me for acknowledging the suffering caused by my social incompetence, then rejected my diagnosis. So maybe it’s Asperger’s. I do relate to Ros. I love numbers and logic, and have a passion for ideas rather than people.But even if I never understand the humour in the truth I am telling, the relief I see in people’s eyes when I share with them what is happening (reminding myself to make eye contact) makes me feel productive.
Games of the Olympi–aid
Katharine Dunn’s “Sink or Swim” (September), on Canada’s apparent lack of drive to win, win, win at the Olympics, made me sad. As if the planet weren’t already sinking under the weight of our status-conscious population. I stood outside a local health club recently and watched several powerful fellows pedalling away on stationary bikes, and wondered if any of them would come home with me and help me build a fence or get a local elder’s wood in for the winter. And then I thought of the Olympics — the thousands of tons of fossil fuels and millions of calories expended to win, win, win. What if all this energy and drive were, every four years, put toward shoring up rivers, planting trees, removing land mines, or repairing hospitals? Would people cheer? I’d give it a “10,” but then I’m a spoilsport.
Roberts Creek, BC
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