Women in Criminal Justice

On March 11th, SFU had the pleasure of having three guests from different areas of the criminal justice system join us for a night of Q&A. It was a night where students from different faculties were allowed to come and ask questions about their careers, struggles and opinions on current issues.

The guest speakers were Janice Walton, an environmental lawyer with a diverse background who proves that it is never too late to do what you want. After doing many other things, at age 39, she decided her true passion was being a lawyer and in 1991, she achieved that. Our next guest was Caitlin Grisack, a coordinator for the youth restorative justice program for the Burnaby RCMP detachment who strongly believes that RJ is new and emerging. Her job consists of working with youth, victim-services, and crisis intervention. The third guest was Barb Bluscke, a member of the Vancouver police department since 1991—she was one of two female officers working the downtown eastside in the 90’s, the first female captain of the VPD boat team, first female motorcyclist reconstructionist and helped write the Quarantine Act for Vancouver ports.

There were many questions that night but here are some of the few audience members asked these ladies. The Q&A started off with a student asking whether any of our guest speakers had faced any obstacles as women and what they did to overcome them. Janice mentioned that she had been very fortunate to have not faced many obstacles but she did state she faced challenges. Some of these challenges she faced were more of her career being demanding in the first years. She mentioned that she faced more pressure pre-law, mostly in her engineering career. She did not face much during her law career because she was older and so were her children, which reduced the pressure. Janice added on by saying that although law can be a man’s world, the makeup in law is about 50/50 in law and there are choices in which direction you want to go with in law.

Caitlin also discussed that because she works in Restorative Justice, which is usually woman-dominated field, it has been inclusive and respectful and so she has not faced many obstacles. She continued to mention that although men from institutions can surround her, it has not been an obstacle. Barb on the other hand, mentions that women in policing have had a long road and that there were situations that were sexist. She mentions that many of her female colleagues could not handle it and quit policing. There were some males who believed that their female partners should just “sit in the car, shut up and not touch anything". She states that this has changed, women are now at the same level as men, all that matters is that you can protect each other. She stated that you always have to prove yourself, prove you can do the job, regardless of gender. She adds on that if someone does make a sexist remark, to draw a line and if you do not allow them to cross it, they will not.

Question two focused on the current issue of Bill C-51, they did not have much to say on the topic because they still had to do some more research on the topic but Barb summarized in nicely by saying “the way things are done need to be changed”. I think we can all agree that a lot of things need to be changed!

The third question a student asked was whether they had faced any sexual harassment. Janice began with stating that in the 1980's sexism existed in her first field of engineering. She stated that women were usually office staff not part of the project. She added by stating that sexual harassment was both covert and overt. She believes that things have changed in our time, that this type of behaviour is no longer tolerated and likes to think that all professions abide by that. Caitlin began with mentioning that she has worked six years in the detachment and that sometimes the media has a big role with how things are shown. She clarifies that she has been lucky to be in an environment that communicates and receives training on how to be respectful towards one another. Barb continued to just add on to her previous statement about not letting them cross the line and that things have changed since from when she started. She stated that about 24% of Vancouver police officers are now women and that it was really high compared to other places, so it shows that things are changing. Their experiences were eye opening, especially from Janice and Barb who were basically firsts in their fields to show us how much has actually changed from when they started to now. It gives us hope that things will continue to change for women in all areas.

The fourth question for the guest speakers focused around whether they faced any obstacles getting to their careers. Janice started off the conversation by stating that when she first started it was hard because it was difficult finding a job because there was a lack of environmental law firms. She proudly mentioned that she went out and made it happen for herself. She did face pressure because you had to work really hard in order to make partner, there were targets you had to accomplish but she provided us with a solid piece of advice by saying that we have to make it happen for ourselves, that we should take the chance because there will always be obstacles. As for Caitlin, she stated that when she started Restorative Justice was just an emerging field, so she was able to gain lots of experience as it RJ also grew. She added on that she was able to apply her work into her life and life into work because RJ focuses on self-care, so that made it easier for her. Like Janice, Caitlin mentioned that you have to put yourself out there and self-promote. Barb answered her question by discussing that she never finished her undergraduate degree and that she had a lot of grunt jobs, which taught her how to cope. She then provided us with advice that "education is never a waste" and that you can always change what you do with your life because it will not be wasted. She then shared a story about her experience in the DTES. She stated that we should take jobs that teach us to cope because what she saw was difficult.

She mentioned that in the DTES, there are two types of people: the predator and the prey. She said that the DTES was never like that from the stories that she heard from people she met. It was overwhelming for her to see that happening--people being victimized and targeted by these predators. She then criticized that the "four pillar" system was not helping anyone, especially those with mental health issues. She concluded with saying that she loves her job (even if it can be hard) because it provides variety, it keeps her busy and that she has done things we could not even imagine--of course, she also mentioned she loved her pay cheque (and so did Janice!).

The final question of the night consisted of an audience member asking our guests, if they could change one thing, what would it be? The guest speakers asked "just one?, which shows that there is probably a lot of things that they wish they could change. Caitlin started the conversation with wanting to move away from punishment and take a new approach to punishment. I assume she meant more of a restorative justice approach. She added on that as a society, we should take more chances and lose our fear. Barb said she would change political correctness, she said life is hard and basically, we should be able to face them and not be naive about it. Janice ended the discussion with her change being that the political system should be balanced--by that she meant that there should be more women involved in politics.

Overall, it was a great night with great people, guest lecturers and free food. Janice, Caitlin and Barb taught us very powerful things that allow us to succeed. They taught us through their experiences that there is still a lot to change in the world but we can do it, if we educate ourselves, live our lives and stand up for ourselves. They are successful because of those things. Janice always knew what she wanted to do but worked in other areas before she got to her goal of being a lawyer. Caitlin started off wanting to be a sommelier, then was a history major and finally found her way into criminology, crime analysis and dabbled with the idea of law, but now is the coordinator for youth RJ and loves it. Barb wanted to be a physiotherapist (because of her bad knee), she then considered the army because she knew she wanted to defend rights, which then led her into policing. These ladies are examples of how life can take us in different directions and if you work really hard, you can get to where you really want to be or do something you did not expect and love it.

#Law #SFU #Experience #WomeninCJS #Canada

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