National Post

Friday, March 12, 1999

Women's group divided by judicial squabble
National council of women: Calgary chapter objects to complaint against McClung

Shawn Ohler
National Post

Fred Chartrand, The Canadian Press / Judge L'Heureux-Dube

The public squabble between Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube and a senior Alberta judge has profoundly divided a prominent national women's group.

The Ottawa-based National Council of Women of Canada was attacked yesterday by its Calgary chapter, which hammered the organization's national president for her "knee-jerk response" in supporting Judge L'Heureux-Dube.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court judge criticized Appeal Court of Alberta Justice John McClung in the high court's ruling in the Steve Ewanchuk sexual assault case. The Alberta jurist, who had acquitted Ewanchuk, fired back twice in the National Post, once in a letter to the editor that linked Quebec's growing male suicide rate with Judge L'Heureux-Dube's personal convictions. He has since apologized.

Elizabeth Hutchinson, president of the national council, filed a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council against Judge McClung, deeming his National Post letter "unconscionable."

But Peggy Anderson, the president of the council's Calgary group, said the national executive had no right to do so without first consulting its affiliate chapters.

"This is a personal response from the executive. Where did they get the mandate to complain? They certainly didn't talk to us," said Mrs. Anderson, who sent a critical letter yesterday to Ms. Hutchinson.

"It was an inappropriate and egregious response."

Further proof of the sister groups' discord came yesterday when the Calgary chapter filed a complaint to the judicial council against Judge L'Heureux-Dube.

"We think her remarks were an attempt to intimidate Justice McClung and they were improper," said Mrs. Anderson.

"She has repeatedly relied on her feminist ideology since she has been on the bench, and because of that we think she should be removed."

Marianne Wilkinson, the national council's administrative vice-president, said the Calgary complaint was out of line.

"Under our policies, [Ms. Hutchinson] had every right to send the letter that she did and the Calgary group had no right to do what they did. No local councils can speak out on national issues," Ms. Wilkinson said.

Ms. Wilkinson insisted council's quarrel is only with the Calgary chapter, which she said "has its own agenda sometimes."

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."

Judge McClung has told the National Post he wrote his infamous letter to the editor to prod Justice L'Heureux-Dube for her "consistent anti-male response" in her judgments.

Mrs. Anderson said she does not condone the letter, but feels the matter was closed when Judge McClung offered his abject apology.

"I think he reacted hastily and in anger and I think a man of his age and experience should have known enough to let it cool off," she said.

"Having said that, he also apologized and she has not accepted his apology, at least not publicly, and that's unforgivable."

The group REAL Women has also filed a formal complaint against Judge L'Heureux-Dube. Several groups and individuals, including Alexa McDonough, the NDP leader, have filed complaints against Judge McClung.

Copyright Southam Inc.