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Law professor does marathon of interviews to help Canadians understand Cormier verdict

Grueling schedule of drive-home radio appearances important to share info with Canadians, says Director of CHRR

March 5, 2018 — 

As the Director of the Centre for Human Rights Research and a Professor at the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall Faculty of Law, Karen Busby has taken part in syndicated radio interviews at least 30 times over her nearly 30-year teaching career. This past Friday, February 23 saw Busby roll up her sleeves for another grueling schedule of seven different drive-home appearances for CBC, this time to talk about the death of Tina Fontaine and the not-guilty verdict that arose from the Cormier trial.

A professor of constitutional law with a focus on human rights and equality law, civil procedure and administrative law, Busby is often called upon by local and national media to speak to matters of public concern in those areas. On Friday, CBC drive-home hosts across the country asked Busby variations of the same questions around the Cormier trial verdict and the circumstances leading to Tina Fontaine’s death including, “what went wrong,” “what is the mood [of the community and reactions to the verdict],” “was the verdict unfair,” and “what can the average Canadian do?”

On Friday, her answers to these questions carried the same message for Canadians across the country: “Something is very wrong with a system where a girl who, by all accounts, is doing well comes into the city for a summer holiday and ends up dead in the river a few weeks later,” she said when asked about the marathon of interviews.

“If you are counting on the Canadian Justice System to provide closure and peace, you are quite likely to be disappointed.”

The verdict has left Canadians feeling angry and sad, Busby said, but having gone to hear some of the trial, and seeing that the Crown did not prove its case against Cormier beyond a reasonable doubt with the merely circumstantial evidence it entered, along with the accused’s right to silence, she told radio hosts she was not surprised by the acquittal. “If you are counting on the Canadian Justice System to provide closure and peace,” she explained, “you are quite likely to be disappointed.”

Busby said she answered the last question of what can the average Canadian do by recommending everyone to “Stop blaming Indigenous people for their poor quality of life. Ensure proper funding for child welfare,” and “Learn more about Indigenous issues where you live.” She said she challenged listeners to try naming the treaty governing the land on which they reside and suggested reading a book by an indigenous author. Finally, she proposed trying to figure out who is exploiting children like Tina in prostitution, be it family members, neighbours or co-workers, in hopes that “if demand dries up then supply would also.”

Busby said she feels it is important for academics to step up to the plate and talk to media in order to provide the public with correct information from a legitimate, knowledgeable source, and to educate Canadians in efforts to change mistaken perceptions and overcome barriers and biases.

Though they are academics, Busby said she and other law professors are both teachers and researchers, “So we are knowledgeable and know how to convey ideas,” she added. “While we are also lawyers, most of us don’t appear before courts so we have a certain freedom to be critical.”

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