- Using Film in the Classroom: The Call and the Responses / Le cinéma dans la salle de classe : L’appel et les réponses
To complement our special issue on feminism, law, and film, we called for short submissions from feminist colleagues telling stories about the ways in which they have used film in the law school classroom. It is so rare that we share with each other the innovative pedagogies that we use on a daily basis, so this is a way to have at our fingertips a catalogue of moments in which teaching law has been enhanced through the use of film.
Afin de compléter le numéro sur le féminisme, le droit et le cinéma, nous avons sollicité de courts textes de collègues féministes qui utilisent des films dans leur enseignement. Il est très rare que nous ayons l’occasion de partager entre nous des innovations pédagogiques. Nous vous proposons donc ce catalogue de films qui vous permettra d’améliorer vos enseignements du droit.
Responses / Les Réponses
Elizabeth Adjin-Tettey and Freya Kodar, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
In the last few decades, the trespass torts, with their recognition of the importance of personal autonomy, bodily integrity, self-determination, and dignity, have become important tools for providing justice to survivors of systemic disadvantage, discrimination, and harm.1 Thus, one of the more rewarding and difficult sections of our torts course focuses on using the trespass torts to protect individual autonomy and dignity. After learning about the general principles of the trespass torts, especially the law’s requirement that there be consent to any form of bodily interference, we look more particularly [End Page 197] at medical battery, sexual wrongdoing, and unlawful sterilization by state officials.
One of the sterilization cases that we discuss is Muir v. Alberta, a case brought by Leilani Muir against the government of Alberta for battery and false imprisonment for confining her to the Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives from 1955, when she was ten years old, until 1965, and for sterilizing her without her knowledge or consent at the age of fourteen.2 We use a number of pedagogical tools to look at this case. We read both “the case”—excerpts from the decision regarding Muir’s claim and the quantum of damages for the confinement and battery3—and Gerald Robertson’s expert witness report to the court on the eugenics movement and its influence on the province’s Sexual Sterilization Act.4
Simply reading texts that describe experiences and realities, particularly written from places of privilege such as the Bench and academia, “risks distancing . . . readers from the issues and thereby failing to engender empathy for the marginalized.”5 In line with the growing use of film as text and the power of images on audiences, we resort to another text, the documentary film The Sterilization of Leilani Muir.6 The viewing experience is an intimate one as we ask students to watch the film on their own or in small groups in the library’s viewing room. This is partly to allow them to deal with emotions that tend to arise from seeing the documentary for the first time.
The documentary and expert report provide important historical and social background about the broader context of Muir’s confinement and sterilization. Namely, that it was rooted in the eugenics movement, whose proponents believed that the human race could be “improved” by controlling who could reproduce. This belief underpinned the sterilization legislation enacted in both Alberta and British Columbia to prevent people with “undesirable” characteristics from procreating to ensure they did not pass on their “disabilities” to future generations.7 The legislation and sterilization of persons perceived to be living with disabilities persisted notwithstanding the existence of scientific evidence at that time that the “undesirable” characteristics were not hereditary. Such a perspective was clearly a project in social engineering to create the “perfect” human race and society and a...