JANUARY 22, 1999

Law profs to speak on human rights and family conflict

Disputes and conflicts between family members, while still frequently considered private matters, have long been the territory of lawyers and courts. It's the language surrounding the resolution of these cases that has changed, says UVic law professor Hester Lessard.

She will discuss an increasing tendency to frame family conflicts in the context of human rights in "The Family, Fundamental Rights, and Constitutional Values" on

Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the 1996 Classroom Building, room C103. This provost's UVic faculty series presentation is free and open to the public, although seating is limited.

"In custody cases, instead of parents arguing that denial of access is unfair, they're arguing that a fundamental issue of human rights is at stake," says Lessard. "Family court judges used to make decisions based on what they considered to be in the best interests of the child. Now they must consider the human rights implications as well."

Lessard says the entrenchment of the Canadian Charter of Rights in 1982 marked the beginning of a shift into the language of rights on a wide range of social and political issues, including those concerning familial relationships. Her presentation will examine how judges are responding to demands from litigants to describe familial issues in terms of fundamental constitutional values. She'll discuss what their judgments say about the way in which concepts of the family fit within judicial notions of the Canadian constitutional order, and the extent to which these views resonate with larger structural changes and broader concerns about social and economic policy.

Lessard notes that the convergence of family and constitutional law does not present a unified picture. In some areas, the charter is being used to challenge traditional notions of the family and to pluralize and democratize the family. In other areas, the charter is being invoked to reinforce conservative family values and conceptions of family relationships.

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