"Man and Woman"

Last week, Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien was found not guilty of influence peddling. The trial was well-covered by all major Canadian newspapers and national television networks. As Mr. O’Brien had been cleared of all charges, most considered the story over and done.

However, the due diligence of a few reporters have put the story back on the front page of The Globe and Mail. In an article entitled, “Can a busy female politician give reliable evidence? A judge says no,” veteran political reporter Jane Taber sheds a disturbing light on the judge’s verdict.

One of the Crown’s key witnesses was Lisa MacLeod, a 34-year-old politician who also happens to be a wife and mother. The fact that she commutes from her home in Ottawa to work in Toronto and leaves her husband and daughter at home apparently makes her an unreliable witness.

In his ruling, Judge Cunningham said that “the defence was able to demonstrate that there were a number of rather significant things going on in her life when she gave her statement to the police. … ”

“She was commuting regularly to Toronto for her work, leaving her husband and child in Ottawa,” he read in his ruling. He concluded that her evidence was not corroborative of the Crown’s main witness and said, “I must assign it little weight.”

Huh? As Ms. MacLeod stated, “I didn’t know truth had a gender.”

Neither did I.

Besides continuing to entrench false and unhealthy gender stereotypes, this ruling is alarming because it perpetuates the idea that women cannot be both politicians and mothers.

In Canada, women hold 22.1% of the seats in Parliament. In the 2008 federal election, 27.8% of all candidates were women. In a country that considers itself to be quite progressive because of its legalization of gay marriage, multiculturalism and extensive social programs, it seems rather odd that women are still insufficiently represented at federal, provincial and municipal levels of politics.

It is difficult to find good women to run for politics, as the odds are often stacked against them. Judge Cunningham’s ruling isn’t likely to make recruitment any easier.

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