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Is lack of legal aid funding for trans-rights complaints really the problem? Really?

The Martin Luther King of Trans Rights, Jessica Yaniv

The legal community, like every community, has a diverse range of opinions on important issues. Some of those opinions are good, some bad, and some unbelievably stupid. In the November issue of Canadian Lawyer Magazine we were all treated to an opinion that falls into this last category.

In an article that has already aged very badly (link below) Adrienne Smith, identified as a Vancouver lawyer and “transgender human rights advocate”, asserts that the problem with the human rights tribunal’s decision in the Jessica Yaniv complaint against numerous waxing salons primarily operated by East Indian women was a “step backward” and highlights the need for free legal services for trans-rights warriors in human rights tribunals.


Smith says the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal had a recent record of wins for the trans community. “This case really overturns that process. And I think it does so because the applicant didn’t have the benefit of counsel, which highlights the whole problem of Legal Aid funding for human rights matters in British Columbia and arguably across the country,” they say.

That’s a lot of bullshit to inhale at one time so let’s take it point by point.

To start, Yaniv was found by the human rights tribunal member to have brought her complaints in bad faith and at least partly due to racial bigotry (Decision, para. 125). Full decision:

Ms. Yaniv has a grievance against certain ethnic and cultural groups in the lower mainland of BC which she perceives are failing to assimilate effectively into what she considers “Canadian” culture. These complaints are one way in which she is attempting to make this point and punish members of these groups.

Second, it doesn’t matter how good your lawyer is if your intention is to bring a baseless case and you are motivated by racial animus. You’re going to lose. And you should lose.

Third, there’s nothing noble about attempting to use the human rights system to punish people because they won’t wax your scrotum. Martin Luther King wanted equal access to schools and housing. He wasn’t asking anyone to wax his — and I’ll be respectful here — brows, or shine his shoes. He understood that big social change required earnestness and determination. Equating Yaniv with some kind of trans social warrior is unmitigated nonsense.

Fourth, there’s no “chill” on “trans human rights litigation” as a result of this decision, as claimed by Smith. What’s the proof of this? How about the fact that Yaniv has now filed a new complaint and is starting this whole process over again.

Adrienne Smith is, I’m sure, a wonderful person and an incredible lawyer. Okay, actually I don’t know either of those things. But based upon the opinions expressed by Smith in Canadian Lawyer, I can only assume that Smith (I’m just going to go with “Smith” because I’m not up to date on the latest pronoun protocol) is so blinded by ideological passion that Smith can’t think about this like a lawyer and see that Smith’s opinion does no credit to Smith, or trans rights, or human rights, or anything else. We’re all human beings, and hopefully as human beings — and hopefully logical thinkers — we can step outside our ideological bubble and call the balls and strikes as we see them. And yes, I think there’s a pun in there somewhere.

As I’ve said before, if we want a human rights tribunal that actually functions, we have to call out abusers of the system like Yaniv. She (he/ her / them / it / nous / vous / ils / elles / ons) is not the hill trans activists should die on. Unthinking support for anyone who pretends to stand for your cause is not really support. It’s tribalism. Activists like Smith should be the first ones to condemn the abuse of the human rights process, not point to a spurious claim and say that the claimant lost because taxpayers should fund the legal fees of these sorts of racially-motivated vendettas. If you want to be a social justice warrior, that’s your business. But you don’t have a right to do it on my dime, or anyone else’s.


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