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Controversial “unconscious consent” case given context

by Shari Graydon

Last week’s controversial decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of protecting unconscious women from sexual assault begged for additional context and analysis. The salacious facts of the case (including the apparently agreed-to asphyxiation, the nature of the assault, and the subsequent relationship breakdown of the couple involved) have fueled simplistic and predictable commentary dismissing the woman’s complaint and raising the specious spectre of a slippery slope that will endanger men who kiss their sleeping wives.

But University of Ottawa professor, Elizabeth Sheehy knows the case well, having intervened at the Supreme Court on behalf of LEAF. On Friday when the decision was released, she was quick to translate the evidently compelling arguments she offered in court into accessible newspaper commentary.

As a result, her analysis is now enlightening readers of three daily newspapers: The Vancouver Sun, The Halifax Chronicle Herald, and La Presse.

This case is a classic illustration of the importance of ensuring women’s perspectives are heard. As Ms. Sheehy points out in her analysis, the Supreme Court’s decision reflects a gender split, with three male judges dissenting from the majority, which included all four of the female judges, as well as two of their male colleagues. If women’s realities weren’t represented by the presence of Justices Beverley McLachlin, Rosalie Abella, Louise Charron and Marie Deschamps, the outcome might have been different.