Sylvia Bashevkin’s Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy is a tiny paperback with atrocious type, layout, page imposition, and binding. It’s already falling apart in my hands. (The publisher? Oxford.) The book addresses the issue of the alleged scarcity of women in politics, somewhat overlooking the fact that not everyone agrees women are the ones who need affirmative action. (If I want more people with disabilities in Parliament and you want more women, and we can’t agree to just put more disabled women there, and if your candidate has to lose for mine to win, who carries the day?)

Women, Power, Politics explains how to muzzle the press so more women get elected. A remedy Bashevkin proposes is to “contest media portrayals.”

Contesting media portrayals in a formal way is extremely tricky. First of all, civil liberties in general and freedom of expression in particular are highly valued in Canada, as reflected in the text of the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms….

Second, struggling against biased press coverage is an inherently reactive approach…. [T]here is reason to believe it’s better to be proactive and perhaps celebrate balanced accounts of political women… rather than to give more attention to bad practices in news organizations….

Third, fighting media portrayals in the courts would likely prove costly on a number of levels…. Even with these constraints, there is arguably an educational benefit that would accrue from attempts to hold reporters, editors, and publishers publicly responsible for the stories and images they disseminate.

For “an educational benefit,” read “a useful chill” and “a favourable prior restraint.”

Bashevkin then offers a step-by-step analysis of how to:

  1. File a legal action under the Charter. “To bring the case into the realm of criminal law, litigants would need to prove the use of hateful speech.” But the Criminal Code does not prohibit expression of hatred based on sex, she reports. Bashevkin still suggests going for it, as “gender could be ‘read into’ the criminal law.” She notes the numerous defences to such claims.

  2. File a class-action lawsuit or a complaint “via self-regulatory bodies in the media industry.” “Demonstrating that women candidates… or a combined class of individuals known as female politicians were collectively damaged by unfair media coverage would establish a common-issue foundation for a lawsuit.” She admits that press councils are usually an exercise in futility.

To her credit, Bashevkin does not suggest filing human-rights complaints against journalists, photographers, and illustrators who dare to exercise their constitutional rights in ways that displease her. Nonetheless, she advocates an explicit legal and paralegal program of infringing the free-speech rights she acknowledges and uses herself in her book. The problem of a few or too few women politicians is so serious that the constitutional rights of the entire free press ought to be abridged in order to solve it, Bashevkin essentially argues.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.08.26 12:00. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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