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Annie Macdonald Langstaff Workshop: Canada’s First Same-Sex “Lesbian” Sexual Assault Prosecution

Event

1 Oct 2010 12:30
to
14:00
Chancellor Day Hall : 3644 rue Peel Montreal Quebec Canada , H3A 1W9

This presentation by Constance Backhouse, Distinguished University Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.

ABSTRACT

In 1955, Willimae Moore was charged with indecently assaulting a woman with whom she worked in the typing pool of a government office in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories.

Willimae Moore's prosecution appears to have been the first lesbian criminal trial in Canada. The sexual overture, an attempted kiss, was almost laughably trifling in comparison with the sexual acts of men typically accused of indecently assaulting women. However, the apprehensions of the Cold War era played out in unusual ways in the sexually-charged environment of the far north.

Zealously prosecuted, the case resulted in a conviction at trial, but divided the appellate court, which wrestled with the concepts of coercion and consent as they affected sexual assault victims, and how rules shaped for male assailants and female victims should be applied in same-sex situations.

Astonished legal authorities struggled with the definitions of "homosexuality" and "lesbianism," as they sifted through the remarkable testimony of the alleged victim, the accused, and Willimae Moore's illustrious traveling companion, Beatrice Gonzales. The third woman in the triangle, Beatrice Gonazles orchestrated Willimae Moore's defence and jousted with government managers, the RCMP, and lawyers as she insisted upon the innocence of her friend.

The case provides an excellent venue for examining ways in which female sexuality was negotiated in the workplace, the plight of lesbians in Cold War culture, and the role of the state in enforcing female heterosexual conformity through criminal law.

Co-Hosted by  the Patricia Allen Memorial Lecture; the Annie MacDonald Langstaff Workshop Series; and the Sexual Assault Law Seminar.

 

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