Multiculturalism, human rights topic of lecture

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The increasing challenge of competing rights domestically and abroad was the topic of the recent Michigan State University College of Law Talsky Center lecture conducted on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the law school.

Dr. Karen Mock, one of the foremost Canadian authorities on multicultural/anti-racist education, spoke of the challenges faced by Canadian institutions working with the many diverse populations of Canada, which she described as a "mosaic" compared to the "melting pot" of the United States.

Language is an obvious barrier including the nuanced differences between Canadian and American English thus "my first disclaimer," Mock said, "is I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

She gave the example of a crown attorney (attorney general in the U.S.) who called her claiming that a speaker at a recent seminar had said that the holocaust did not happen. When she called the speaker, she was able to clarify that was not what he said and resolved the conflict.

A challenge Mock encounters in her work with diverse groups are the competing rights faced by those trained in win-lose environment (lawyers) as opposed to those seeking mediation as a method of dispute resolution. "We are looking," she explained, "at the issues that arise when human rights or freedoms of one group collide with those of another culture."

Mock sited a case in Canada where it was proposed to ban woman wearing burqas from taking the citizenship oath, however, Canada has a law requiring reasonable accommodation and recognizes that no one right is more important than another right. Eventually, the woman took the oath and became a Canadian citizen

Canadian courts have not set a clear formula for dealing with competing rights, but have recognized that the specific facts will often determine the outcome of the case and that claims should be approached on a case-by-case basis.

Schools, for example, have difficulty with conflicting behaviors of their diverse population of students.

"The excuses they give for not being accommodating to cultural differences," Mock said, "are: 'it is too hard or we don't have the time or resources to do it, the forms are too hard to change, or talking about the differences is what causes the racisms or other phobias to arise or we don't have enough money to do it.'"

Another example are juries that use their own cultural cues to determine credibility, which might not help when a person from another culture is testifying.

Since competing human rights situations will inevitably arise in the workplaces, housing and schools, Mock recommended that cultural conflicts be addressed and resolved early before they "fester and become entrenched." This approach can avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.

Mock is a certified teacher and educational psychologist. She has been qualified by Canadian courts and human rights tribunals as an expert on hate/bias crime and serves as special advisor and trainer for several police services and legal organizations.

The Lori E. Talsky Center for Human Rights of Women and Children at Michigan State University College of Law was made possible by a generous gift from alumnus Lori Talsky, '96, and her husband, Alan Zekelman, of Bloomfield Hills.

The endowment also established the Alan S. Zekelman Professorship in International Human Rights Law. The holder of the Zekelman Professorship is Professor Susan H. Bitensky who teaches Constitutional Law, Evidence, International Human Rights Law, and Jurisprudence. She will also provide intellectual leadership and program oversight of the Talsky Center.

Talsky graduated summa cum laude from Detroit College of Law, which is now MSU College of Law, in 1996. Zekelman is a successful businessman and philanthropist. A native of Windsor, Ontario, he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Toronto and a Master of Science in Applied Economics from the University of Rochester.

Published: Mon, Oct 29, 2012