From the back cover: "Historically Canadians have considered themselves to be more or less free of racial prejudice. Although this perception has been...moreFrom the back cover: "Historically Canadians have considered themselves to be more or less free of racial prejudice. Although this perception has been challenged in recent years, it has not been completely dispelled. In Colour-Coded, Constance Backhouse illustrated the tenacious hold that white supremacy has on our legal system int he first half of this century, and underscores the damaging legacy of inequality that continues today.
Backhouse presents detailed narratives of six court cases, each giving evidence of blatant racism created and enforced through law. The cases focus on Aboriginal, Inuit, Chinese-Canadian, and African-Canada individuals, taking us from the criminal prosecution of traditional Aboriginal dance to the trial of members of the 'Ku Klux Klan of Kanada'. From thousands of possibilities, Backhouse has selected studies that constitute central moments in the legal history of racism in Canada. Her selection also considers a wide range of legal forums, including administrative rulings by municipal councils, criminal trials before police magistrates, and criminal and civil cases heard by the highest courts in the provinces and by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The extensive and detailed documentation presented here leaves no doubt that the Canadian legal system played a dominant role in creating and preserving racial discrimination. A central message of this book is that racism is deeply embedded in Canadian history despite Canada’s reputation as a raceless society."
From the forward: "In Color-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950, she maintains the same high standards as she continues to break new historiographical ground. Shifting her interest from gender to race, and maintaining her case-study approach, her mission in Colour-Coded is to capture the role played by the law in sharing the definition of race and shoring up racial repression and stereotypes. Professor Backhouse weaves a spell-binding storyline in her depiction of a series of court cases that focus on Aboriginal, Inuit, Chinese-Canadian, and African-Canadian individuals. From the criminal prosecution of traditional Aboriginal dance, to the trial of members of the 'Ku Klux Klan of Kanada,' Backhouse demonstrates the deep and abiding legacy of racism that suffused Canadian legal structures and society."
From the introduction: "One of the shortcomings of Petticoats & Prejudice is its failure to interrogate fully how gender relates to race in historical terms. In an effort to prevent this from happening again, I commenced my research by attempting to compile and analyse all the racialized cases and statues in Canada that arose between 1900 and 1950. Almost immediately it became abundantly clear that 'race’'is a complex and variable historical construct. The recognition that racism is perpetuated through institutionalized and systemic practices thar then through the indosyncratic behaviours of isolated individuals is fundamental to the accurate assessment of Canadian racial history.”
Don't let the size of this book put you off it's you're looking for a more relaxed read. While it's true it's 485 pages, only 281 of them are the core text. The next 200 pages are Backhouse's extensive notes, bibliography, and index. She also created and put on the internet a supplementary text. From here you can read the 490 pages of detailed notes that she was, I assume, persuaded to cut from the full text.
Backhouse examines six legal cases from the first half of the twentieth century that emphasize the racialized nature of the Canadian legal system, despite attempts to make race invisible within the legal system. (Backhouse calls this a "raceless" system - scare quotes intentional.) As in her previous work on 19th century legal cases, Backhouse’s goal is to show how a mostly-white all male judicial system and entirely white parliamentary system could claim to be "raceless" while at the same time making decisions about people based on race. As with the women Backhouse talked about in Petticoats & Prejudice, a marginalized group is having decisions made for them by people who are not part of that group.
In this work, however, there is much more emphasis on the agency of racialized people in the majority of the law cases examined. In every case save the first one (a Supreme Court decision about who counted as "Indian" under the Indian Act), racialized people fought against the legal system’s racial bias, finding white lawyers to act as their representatives in court. While they lost in the majority of cases, there were instances where fighting back within the court system was effective in alleviating some aspects of racial discrimination.
As with P&P, the work is a series of case studies, with background legal information to make the landscape clear. In addition, Backhouse makes clear (implicitly, and then explicitly in the penultimate chapter) that class background was an important aspect of challenging the legal system. All of the men and women who bring suits are able to afford a lawyer, and are described by members of their communities as being 'respectable' and worthy citizens. Without their respectability, it is likely that the protagonists of Backhouse’s case studies would not have thought to use the legal system to their advantage.
In Re Indians, Backhouse examines the argument between the Quebec government and the Federal government about whether Eskimos were considered Indians or a separate race in order to determine which section of the BNA Act their financial care would fall under. As is made clear, racial definitions were both ever-shifting and difficult to make, with experts disagreeing throughout the 19th and 20th century about what race was. [See "Mismeasure of Man" for further discussion of this.] She also shows who was considered an expert and who was not - on this important question, not a single Indian or Eskimo was asked their opinions on the matter. Ultimately, Eskimos were declared Indian by the judges of the Supreme Court, thus leaving their financial needs under the purview of the Federal government.
In the second case, in which an Aboriginal man (Wanduta) was charged with participating in an illegal grass dance, Backhouse shows how prominent white men who had also broken the laws about grass dances were unafraid, knowing that the laws would not touch them. She also effectively shows how different members of the same First Nation could have different views on white society, on tradition, and on the interference of the white government without making either "side" out to be the villain or hero. In this case, Wanduta spent several months in jail, while the Department of Indian Affairs declined to even examine the case until only a few weeks before his scheduled jail time was complete, much to the disgust of his white legal team.
In the third case, Sero v Gault Backhouse shows the history of First Nations landclaims, demonstrating again both how people could stand up and fight for their rights and yet not be fully supported by their communities in doing so. This case ultimately rested on the question of whether or not the judiciary agreed that the Six Nations were subjects of the British Crown, or their own independent Nation. The judiciary decided they were subjects, despite centuries of treaties that indicated otherwise.
Backhouse also examines Saskatchewan's White Women’s Labour Law, the only law that explicitly used race as a determining factor - the alleged concerns about women’s protection were explicitly about white women (without a definition of what a “white” woman was), with no equal concern about the working lives of racialized women. This is the first case Backhouse discusses in which the participants named racism as part of the issue under discussion, and in which the judges involved in the case agreed with this assessment. While Yee Clun was able to argue in court that he should be allowed to open a business with a license to employ white women, the Saskatchewan legislature later changed the law to prevent this and allow Regina to overturn Yee Clun's license if they so chose.
Another case looked at the KKK in Canada (and includes a short history of KKK’s activities), and again addressed the complicated question of how we determine a person's race - were the victims of the KKK’s behaviour in this case “Black” or were they, as they claimed, “Indian”? Ultimately the answer to this question did not matter to the court, for the victim of the crime was determined to be the white woman who the KKK had menaced in order to prevent her marriage to a non-white man. While the court ultimately upheld that the KKK had behaved illegally, it was because they had worn masks, not because they were threatening people over interracial marriage. (Of note here is the extended discussion about the ridiculing of the KKK by those opposed and whether or not this is an effective deterrent to hate groups. Backhouse falls firmly on the side of "no".)
The final case is about Viola Desmond being removed from a theatre in New Glasgow, NS, after requesting a downstairs ticket and being refused. She was charged and convicted of tax-fraud, and ultimately appealed. This is the section that unpacks the issue of class as well as race, discussing how, as a middle-class Black woman in Nova Scotia, Desmond would have expected a certain type of treatment that she did not receive. This in turn led to her to consider a legal case about her mistreatment, which unfortunately was unsuccessful.
Part of Backhouse's goal is to make clear that while we can dither back and forth about whether or not "race" is actually a thing and what that thing is defined by, racism is a very real force in Canadian history. She explains the reasons that she chose the various cases because of their importance in highlighting the legal landscape, both in whose voices were heard and whose were believed. The research that supports the narratives proves that the Canadian legal system played a principal and dominant role in creating and preserving racial discrimination.
Backhouse explores the complexities of even defining race. In each case she shows how various definitions were used to determine whether or not someone was, for example, "Indian" for the the purposes of various laws being enforced, such as the paying out of dividends or the purchase of alcohol. "The multiplicity of legislative formulae, consistent between governments and over time, is reflective of the difficulties. What is remarkable is the readiness of authorities to use the law to draw racial boundaries to concretize distinction and to create a hierarchy of racial designation... The ambiguity and instability of race becomes undeniably apparent when one traces its path through history."
She also makes clear that she rejects the idea that we cannot talk about racism and racial discrimination in the past because "that's just how people were back then." Backhouse shows how people from all races, including white people, resisted racism and were able to call out certain races of people were systemically discriminated against because of their race. She makes clear in each of her cases as well that we can't just assign one reaction to white supremacy to entire groups or non-white races. In each of the cases she shows how parts of the community supported the protagonist while other parts didn't, and while Backhouse does appear to support her protagonists, she does this without demonizing the people who disagreed.
As with Petticoats & Prejudice, this is a very readable book. I finished it off in about 6 hours of straight reading, and was disappointed when I got to the end. Backhouse has a very engaging writing style, and although you get a lot of information out of her books, it almost doesn't feel that way because of what a good storyteller she is. I also appreciate that it's a very geographical diverse book: while the cases focused on come from particular areas, the background information and further discussion encompasses the majority of Canada, including Nunavut. (I don't remember any mention of Newfoundland and the other Territories, though.) (less)
From the back cover: "Euphemia Rabbitt, who courageously resisted a vicious rape attempt, and Clara Brett Martin, the first woman admitted to the bar i...moreFrom the back cover: "Euphemia Rabbitt, who courageously resisted a vicious rape attempt, and Clara Brett Martin, the first woman admitted to the bar in the British Empire, were widely admired in their own time. But Ellen Rogers, a prostitute who believed that all women should be protected by law from sexual assault and was viciously maligned for her ideas, and Nellie Armstrong, whose attempt to wrest her young children from her estranged and violent husband went down to defeat, were independently minded women hidden, until now, from historical records.
Each of these women’s stories lends a new meaning and dimension to the word "heroism". Petticoats & Prejudice explores the legal status of women in nineteenth-century Canada by examining the cases of these and other individual women who were sept up into the legal process as litigants, accused criminals or witnesses."
From the Introduction:
"Over the past decade, Professor Constance Backhouse of the Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario, has been publishing pioneering articles on the place of women in nineteenth-century Canadian society as reflected in law and legal institutions. These articles, which cover a wide range of topics, deal with numerous cases, both Canadian and foreign, through both legal and historical analysis. By contrast, each chapter of Petticoats and Prejudice highlights only a few of the more significant cases in each subject area. The resulting work, the first comprehensive book in the field of Canadian women’s legal history, is marvellously readable. Covering issues such as marriage, divorce, separation, child custody, seduction, rape, infanticide, abortion, prostitution, and labour law, the book also addresses the battle for women’s admission to the practice of law. In doing so, it makes an outstanding contribution for our understanding of a range of critical issues in nineteenth-century Canadian history. Petticoats and Prejudice is a pioneering effort that will be read with pleasure and profit by all."
Reading Backhouse's book made clear to me both the groundbreaking nature of her research and how far Canadian women's history has come since its initial publication. This is a book I would describe as descriptive rather than analytic, but the sheer breadth of Backhouse's research and the important issues she highlights is impressive. As well, we needed this sort of foundation before more recent works such as Carter's The Importance of Being Monogamous could be written.
This work discusses the patriarchal and colonialist aspects of both the law and and the legal profession’s treatment of women. It primarily focuses on European women (a point that Backhouse acknowledges), although there are some key cases involving aboriginal women and as well. Backhouse demonstrates how the legal system, the parliamentary officials, and legal officers were prejudiced against women, treating them as property of either their fathers or their husbands. Backhouse uses cases of individual women in order to highlight overall legal trends. For example, by tracing the legal reactions to mixed-race marriages between white men & aboriginal women, we can see how both fur traders and the courts viewed aboriginal peoples. As aboriginal allies declined in value, so too did mixed-race marriages, making it easier to end them. (Again, a point explored in more depth by Carter.) She also discusses how marriage laws were a way of controlling & assimilating Aboriginal peoples in general, but also a means of controlling children - parental laws were upheld consistently in Quebec in cases of secret marriages between people below the age of consent.
In discussing the various types of legal remedies that were available to women in Canada, Backhouse shows how daughters were treated as property of their fathers, particularly in seduction cases where their fathers could bring suit as to their loss of their labour: women could not bring their own suits because they didn't own their own labour. She also makes clear the issues of urbanization and rural/urban divide: practices like "bundling" (where young men and women would spend the night together doing everything but having sex... or maybe they did have sex) were acceptable in rural areas but city courts and juries were disturbed by them.
Backhouse also shows the influence of maternal feminism on the legal and political attitudes towards women (showing how maternal feminism was mostly a class-based experience) - pushing the idea of the angel in the household, women’s superior moral roles, etc. A lot of laws were specifically aimed at women under 21 in order to protect them from men. There wasn’t a push to give women equality, but to make men treat women nicer. Middle-class social reformers were less concerned with what working class women and their families wanted (see: criminalization of seduction versus allowing families to sue) and more concerned with Moral Reform. There was a big concern about allowing women to be mothers - for example, the concerns about shopgirls and the damage they underwent in the working world that could prevent them from having children. However, this was limited by class and race: the fears were for the reproductive capacity of the white Anglo-Saxon race (and presumably Protestant and from Northern Europe). Backhouse shows how urbanization and concerns about women’s reproductive health (and their subsequent ability to properly mother their children, ensuring they would grow up to be religious and educated) rose in tandem.
Backhouse emphasizes that the laws designed to protect women and under which women were convicted and imprisoned were all designed and enforced by men. Women found every stage of their lives touched by the long arm of the law, from courtship through marriage, from consensual sexual encounters to forcible ones, throughout all aspects of fertility and reproduction, through marital breakdown, separation, divorce, and child custody, and in the field of waged and entrepreneurial work. She also traces changes in the status of motherhood and childhood seen over the course of the century, particularly in child custody cases.
This book is still an interesting and important read despite its age, and I would recommend it to both historians and interested lay-people alike. It's very readable, telling stories in order to demonstrate the legal and social principles that Backhouse is discussing/(less)
"Sarah Carter provides a detailed analysis of marriage as a diverse social institution in 19th c. Western Canada. She charts the ascen...moreFrom back cover:
"Sarah Carter provides a detailed analysis of marriage as a diverse social institution in 19th c. Western Canada. She charts the ascendancy of Christian, lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage as an instrument to shape and institutionalize the gender order as the foundation of this new region of the nation. It took great effort to impose the monogamous model of marriage on a varied population of Aboriginal people and newcomers such as the Mormons, each with their own definitions of marriage, including polygamy and flexible attitudes toward divorce. The work concludes with an explanation of the negative consequences for women, particularly Aboriginal women, that arose as a result of the imposition of monogamous marriage."
Sarah Carter's aim is to discuss the government of Canada’s attempts to impose monogamous marriages (one man/one woman) on both settlers and aboriginal peoples in the western provinces. While she discusses Doukhobors and Hutterites and (at greater length) Mormons, the primary focus in on the colonization of Aboriginal peoples (specifically Plains Indians), including Métis. She describes various means of resistance, particularly the use of marriage/betrothal to keep young girls out of residential schools - used by both Aboriginal Peoples and Ukrainians as a way of keeping control over their families.
Carter argues convincingly that the attempts (of varying success) to impose British ideas of monogamy on the Canadian west was part of the overall British Empire project - she not only demonstrates how this was important in "taming" the west, but also how similar tactics were used in other British colonies. Part of the colonization project included forcing Aboriginal peoples into approved Christian marriages because it enforced morality on white men (who could thus no longer have non-sanctioned relationships with Aboriginal women... in theory), and it limited the number of people the government became responsible for under various treaty obligations ("legitimate" children and "honorable" wives as defined by the British/Canadian state). As the West was seen as such an untamed, wild place that needed white women in order to tame it, the push for the patriarchal family structure became a way of keeping the west under control (particularly after the Riel Rebellions.) The marriage encouraged by political, legal, and religious leaders was that of one man/one woman for a lifetime, and was seen as vital to the future stability and prosperity of the new region. Carter argues that control of marriage is fundamental to the nation, as it designs the architecture of private life, facilitates the government grasp on the populace, and is a vehicle through which the apparatus of the state can shape the gender order.
James Snell argues that widespread anxiety about monogamous marriage, the nuclear family and the home (cornerstones of social order) were disintegrating in the wake of industrialization, rural depopulation, and urbanization. These issues were more prevalent in Eastern Canada than Western Canada; Western Canada was undergoing colonization, an uncertain & dubious exercise. While they were huge profits from natural resources, this lacked stability. Immigrant families were the building block of the economy and of social order. There were wide-spread fears about the First Nations people outnumbering Europeans. The proliferation of single men in the Canadian west constituted a challenge to the monogamous ideal and of family farms as the cornerstone of society The arrival of white women led to the end of the undomesticated masculine era when white men experienced freedom, daring-do, and fun, but also social turmoil, chaos, and violence. Through the exclusion of most women from homestead rights, the abolition of dower rights, and the erosion by judicial interpretation of the dower laws that women fought to have introduced in the prairie provinces, the west was deliberately carved out as a "manly space". Carter argues that her study demonstrates that the imposition of the monogamous model of marriage should be understood as a critical component in this process.
Social stability, at the heart of which was gender roles, was critical to economic development. A region with two instances of organized rebellion and the children/descendants of mixed marriage was viewed as unstable. There were no funds for a military force to occupy the region, discourage resistance, and keep out Americans. Instead an army of family homesteaders were the main unit of social order. Part of the push to end interracial marriages included creating powerfully negative images of Aboriginal women as destructive towards the moral health of the non-Aboriginal community, women who thus needed to be controlled.
The monogamous model was not ancient, entrenched or widely accepted as the only option. It had to be methodically made the only option. A variety of methods were employed to make it the only model, all designed to reform, police, or undermine marital non-conformists. While the west seemed a place to go to escape the confined of marriage laws, this was not happening in practice. Government, churches, laws, and community pressure all worked for conformity. Those with the deepest investments in the creation of the new capitalist and agricultural order in the Canadian west were the most critical of the position of women and of marriage in Aboriginal societies.
The new reserve regime may have encouraged men to claim more wives than they actually had. It also created conditions that led to parents promising or betrothing their children in marriage at an early age, sometimes to men with wives already, in order to keep them out of residential and industrial schools. (which of course led to more moral panic about young girls being married so young.) The efforts to eradicate the evils of polygamy were part of a transnational agenda pursued by missionaries and colonial authorities. The difficulties in administering marriages and divorces were characterized by voluminous correspondence and consternation, doubt over what constituted a legitimate marriage, and a confusing hodgepodge of legal decisions and departmental rules and regulations. While it was the case that government and legal officials recognized the validity of marriage according to Aboriginal laws, these marriages had to be permanent, exclusive, and voluntary, all of which resulted in a profound misunderstanding of the complexity and flexibility of Aboriginal marriage law. This policy resulted in significant upheaval and had some disastrous consequences. Indian agents found themselves embroiled in the most personal affairs of the families they administered. They dispensed advice on marriage, intervened to prevent couples from separating, brought back “runaway” wives, directed the annuities of husbands to deserted wives, broke up second marriages they considered illegitimate, and became embroiled in disputes with missionaries as to what were legitimate marriages. DIA officials and school principals gave and denied permission for couples to marry and they also indulged in matchmaking. They determined what did and did not constitute a family unit, which children were legitimate and which were not. They also determined if a widow was of good moral character, or whether or not she was indeed a bona fide widow in case of inheritance.
Yet despite this concerted intervention, they were limited in their ability to impose the monogamous model of marriage. Aboriginal laws persisted, people protested the intervention in their domestic affairs, and they continued to make their own choices for themselves and their children.
Some DIA authorities, missionaries, and members of the NWMP wondered if a means of separation or divorce could be devised, aside from the legal route widely acknowledged to be an impossibility. It was recognized by many of those who worked directly in these communities that the practice of not permitting or recognizing Aboriginal divorce was undermining the department’s own goal of established stable families. Under the pre-reserve regime there was no immorality attached to such marriages. Under the new regime couples regarded themselves as legally married but they were stigmatized as immoral and their children viewed as illegitimate.
Sources include newspapers, personal diaries, reports of Indian agents, fur traders, NWMP officers, oral interviews from the 1930s, law cases (particularly bigamy cases), and Parliamentary debates.
One thing I noticed throughout this book is that Carter clearly wants to be concentrating on the impact of the changing law on Aboriginal people, particularly women, but feels in some way obligated to include other religious and ethnic "minorities" in the discussion. While I acknowledge that this adds some important points to the work, I found myself frustrated at the tiny glimpses into these people compared to the more in depth discussion of Plains Indians. What we end up with is good and interesting, but in light of what I've read in other books about Doukhobors, Hutterites, and Ukrainians and their experiences of assimilation (or lack thereof) in the Canadian West, I was hoping for more points of comparison. As well, there was some side discussion on Mormons in Canada, but not nearly enough for my tastes. It's not the focus on Aboriginal peoples that bothers me, it's the feeling that she had to shoe-horn in these other groups for some reason.
It's been a while since I read this book, so I can't say one way or the other if it's a good layman's book. I *suspect* it is, but I'd have to re-read it to really say for sure. If nothing else, check it out for the continual fear of the evil influence of the US. I found this so amusing.(less)
This history book focuses on the activities of Jewish people in the needle trade between 1900 and 1939. It includes an ethnic, gender, and class-based...moreThis history book focuses on the activities of Jewish people in the needle trade between 1900 and 1939. It includes an ethnic, gender, and class-based analysis of the labour movement in Toronto, with a particular focus on Communism's influence.
Frager highlights effectively the reasons why Jewish women had low participation rates in the general labour movement, the Jewish-specific labour movement, and the general feminist movement in Canada. In particular she brings attention to how the middle-class Anglo-Celtic maternal feminism would be unappealing to working class Jewish women who were not subject to the ideas of "lady-like behaviour" and "the cult of true womanhood" that were its primary focus.
Frager also highlights the gender divide within the needle trade in particular. Women were considered unskilled labourers as most women knew how to sew: striking workers could be easily replaced with other "unskilled" workers. (This mirrors similar experiences in "unskilled" labourer jobs held by men. "Unskilled" work was the most similar to work men and boys would have done on the farm.) As such, more skilled jobs - and higher paying ones - were held by men. As such, men might not strike over labour issues most affecting women. One notable exception is when male garment workers were going to have addition sewing jobs without additional pay, but at the expense of their "sister" workers. Frager describes this as male self-interest coinciding with female labour needs, and both men and women went out on strike.
I did not find this as engaging a work as I would have liked. Frager divides her discussions up thematically, and although I understand her decision to do so, I don't think the end product was effective. Even within the same chapter, the narrative traveled back and forth in time, and it was difficult to see cause-and-effect, particularly with strike actions. As well, there was a great deal of repetition and reminders of specific events. Other authors (most notably Laurel Thatcher Ulrich) have been able to lay out arguments both thematically and chronologically very effectively, and this work suffers because of that lack.
On the other hand, I did enjoy Frager's pointed highlighting of issues regarding how feminism has historically been less effective in engaging with working-class and "ethnic" issues. Feminism in Canada had a Christian foundation, which made it alienating (and alienated from) non-Christian women in particular.
Frager does dedicate a full chapter to highlighting the experiences and life stories of several female Jewish labour activists. I enjoyed this, but would have liked to see a similar chapter dedicated to highlighting male Jewish labour activists as well. This may seem like a boorish "but what about the men", but my concern is that many male activists are discussed throughout the work, but their life stories are difficult to pin together. Interweaving women throughout the work and including a chapter on male activists would have been more effective on both fronts.
Regardless, I found this book interesting as a labour history, and could see much application to my own interest in disability-focused history. (less)