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Karen Busby - University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, MB, CA

Karen Busby

Professor of Law & Director, Centre for Human Rights Research | University of Manitoba

Winnipeg, MB, CANADA

Karen Busby teaches Constitutional Law, Gender and the Law, Human Rights and Administrative Law



Karen Busby Publication Karen Busby Publication




Visionary Conversations: Refugees - Are We Getting It Right? Visionary Conversations: Apocalypse or Utopia? Consent in BDSM relations




Karen Busby has been with the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba since 1988. Recipient of the University of Manitoba’s highest teaching award in 2015 (the Saunderson Award for Teaching Excellence), she teaches Constitutional Law, Gender and the Law, Human Rights and Administrative Law. She does about 40 media interviews a year on topics related to law and sex (gendered violence, sexuality, sexual orientation, assisted human reproduction, sex work, sexual expression), religious rights, and Aboriginal Rights. Her current research projects include: consent and BDSM; influences on young Muslim women; health care providers obligations to report suspected child abuse; a comparison of sex work laws in Canada and India; and the human right to water, especially in First Nations communities.

Industry Expertise (4)


Writing and Editing


Legal Services

Areas of Expertise (7)

Constitutional Law

Human Rights

Sexual Violence

Assisted Human Reproduction

Sex Work and Prostitution Law

Religious Discrimination

Sexual Orientation

Education (2)

University of Manitoba: J.D., Law 1981

Columbia University: LL.M., Law 1988

Affiliations (2)

  • Law Society of Manitoba : Member
  • Canadian Bar Association

Media Appearances (9)

Seeing Justice Done: Sexual Violence Policies at Canadian Universities

Canadian Lawyer  online


Laws and policies governing inter-personal and group-based sexual violence, misconduct and harassment at many universities and colleges across Canada not only prevent participants from seeing whether justice is done, they also prohibit open inquiry and impede learning. Disturbingly, the trend is toward even less disclosure about findings and outcomes.

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Duelling Approaches to Sex Work

Winnipeg Free Press  print


TWO important Winnipeg agencies may be at odds over how to approach the harm of sex work. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority issued a position statement last week calling for decriminalization of sex work between consenting adults as a necessary step to promote the health and human rights of sex workers. This statement echoes the position taken by major public health organizations, including the World Health Organization and the Canadian Public Health Association. The Winnipeg Police Service, meanwhile, noted in its quarterly report to the Winnipeg Police Board this week the number of people involved in street solicitation has dropped significantly in recent years. But the report goes on to state the Internet has expanded the size of the sex industry and created a whole new class of workers involved through indoor work: those who initiate sexual-service transactions online. The report implies more police resources are needed to keep up with the more technologically savvy sex industry.

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As Ghomeshi trial begins, experts warn historical sexual assault convictions hard to secure

CTV News  online


It's not that Canadian sexual assault laws are lacking, said one law professor, noting that on paper, they are among the best in the world. "There are two problems with Canadian sexual assault law -- one is proof beyond a reasonable doubt and that's not going to change," said University of Manitoba law professor Karen Busby. "The other problem is continuing reluctance of some judges to resist the law reform efforts made in the 90s."

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Flight seating spurs dispute over religious beliefs & civil rights

CBC/Radio-Canada  online


It's been a long time since travelling by air was a glamorous way to go. We're pretty well become used to removing the shoes at security check ins... and the ever-shrinking seat sizes in Economy. But now some women, especially on flights to and from Israel, are encountering what they say is an unacceptable aviation irritation. They're being asked to switch seats by some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to a woman who are not their wives.

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Prejudice in the court

Winnipeg Free Press  online


What explains Quebec Judge Eliana Marengo's decision last week to refuse to hear Rania El-Alloul's case on the ground that the headscarf worn by this Muslim woman was not "suitable" attire in a courtroom? El-Alloul was trying to get her car back after her son was stopped driving it when his licence was suspended. Marengo's decision cannot be justified on the ground that courts are purely secular institutions that must eschew all religious symbolism.

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Avoid international surrogacy, says expert in wake of B.C. couple's fight for twins

CBC News  online


Greg and Elaine Smith of Maple Ridge, B.C., are facing mounting medical bills and a complicated bureaucratic system after their their twins were born prematurely by surrogate in Mexico. University of Manitoba law professor Karen Busby says international surrogacy is a complicated process, and one she doesn't recommend.

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The cool, not cool in BDSM activity

Winnipeg Free Press  online


The recent firing of Jian Ghomeshi by the CBC has raised the question of whether Canadians who practice consensual bondage, domination and sado-masochism (BDSM) have reason to fear criminal prosecution for sexual or physical assault. I've read through court cases in which BDSM formed an allegation of assault, and find these fears unfounded. What is interesting, however, is some of the allegations against Ghomeshi have involved choking. In consensual BDSM, strangulation is a no-go zone for good reason, and this is something jurists should understand as well.

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Human rights museum watering down Canada's violations, professor fears

CBC Manitoba  online


A University of Manitoba professor says she fears the Canadian Museum for Human Rights may be watering down the government's role as a rights violator and exaggerating its status as a champion of human rights. Law professor Karen Busby points to a number of changes in the wording of museum planning documents between 2012 and 2013. She outlines her research in a chapter of a book to be published early next year.

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Keeping up with international treaties

Canadian Lawyer  online


Unless you are a keen observer of international human rights, you probably don’t know that earlier this month a United Nations expert committee issued its periodic review on Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. By acceding to this and other treaties, our governments accept the obligation to implement the provisions of the treaties and to report every five years on their progress. But, in reality, treaties are unlikely to be implemented without an informed and engaged bar.

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Research Grants (8)

Sex Work Laws in India and Canada: A Comparative Analysis

CI, Shastri Institutional Collaborative Research Grant (SICRG) $12,000

notice received in January 2016

Reconciling Health-care Providers’ Obligation to Report Abuse With the Rights of Adolescents Who Have Had Sex

PI, University Collaborative Research Program $25000


Making Big Decisions: Influences on Young Muslim Women in Canada

PI, University of Manitoba Legal Research Institute $8,000


Gendered Violence and Violations

PI, UM/SSHRC Travel Grant $1,500


International Association of Genocide Scholars Conference

CI, SSHRC Connections Grant $25,000


Right to clean water in First Nations communities

CI, NSERC CREATE $1.65 million


The Right to Clean Water in First Nations: The Most Precious Gift

PI, SSHRC Partnership Development Grant $200,000


Celebrating First Nations and Metis Research Partnerships

PRE/SSHRC $12,722


Articles (6)

"Providing Essential Services of Reasonable Quality to All Canadians": Understanding Section 36(1)(c) of the Constitution Act, 1982 (working title)

Review of Constitutional Studies/Revue d'études constitutionelles 191-212


All Manner of Wickedness Abounds: Reconciling Religious Rights and Queer Rights"

Human Rights: Political and Legal Dimensions (University of Toronto Press)

Gord Digiaco. 2016

One little, too little: Counting Canada's indigenous people for improved health reporting

Social Science & Medicine

2015 The way state governments, worldwide, count or do not count Indigenous peoples has contributed to inconsistent reporting of Indigenous health statistics. To address unreliable reporting in Canada, we reviewed laws on Indian status and the development of a national Indian Registration System (IRS) to track Indian status and eligibility. With this information as a guide, we linked the IRS to the Manitoba provincial health registry systems and were able to identify individuals with Indian status for health reporting. To improve reporting, we identified individuals often missed in this type of linkage. For instance, we identified children and adult children who were eligible for Indian status but not yet registered. Equally as important, we identified individuals not eligible for Indian status but have Indian heritage and/or represent potential individual Indian status eligibility cases before the courts to right a historic form of identity sex discrimination that has made them invisible in Canadian society and health reporting. A familial kinship approach was used to identify Indian children and adult children typically missed when a strict legal entitlement criteria is used for data linkage. Our reflective socio-legal data linkage approach expanded the number of Indian peoples for health reporting purposes and demonstrated a feasible, inclusive way to report on the health of Indians in Canada.

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The human rights to water and sanitation in courts worldwide: a selection of national, regional, and international case law


2014 The consequences of a lack of safe water and sanitation for human health and dignity are severe. Millions of lives and livelihoods are disturbed by a lack of access to water and sanitation, and people are forced to risk their health and wellbeing by resorting to unsafe sources and facilities.

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Of Surrogate Mother Born: Parentage Determinations in Canada and Elsewhere

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law

2013 This article examines statutory regimes and judicial decisions in Canada on parentage and citizenship for children born to surrogate mothers and compares these laws with those of other countries, especially Britain and Australia. Provincial parentage laws (with the notable exception of Québec) and federal law and policy on citizenship favour an expedited process requiring minimal, if any, judicial or administrative oversight on issues related to exploitation such as free and informed consent or financial arrangements. In contrast, British and Australian processes are more inquisitive, expensive, inflexible, and time consuming. Complicated post-birth parentage and citizenship laws do little to protect women against exploitation because, after the birth, surrogate mothers are almost never reluctant to hand over children to intended parents. As long as a genetic link is established between an intended parent and the child, concerns about child trafficking should also be assuaged. Once a child is born, and absent the rare case where disputes arise between the surrogate mother and the intended parents or where there is no genetic link between the child and an intended parent, it will almost always be in that child’s best interests to establish the child’s parentage and citizenship quickly and with certainty.

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Every Breath You Take: Erotic Asphyxiation, Vengeful Wives and Other Enduring Myths in Spousal Assault Prosecutions

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/Revue Femmes et droit

Pages 328-358. 2012