But what is the truth?

Lying is a part of being a human. We lie all the time for different reasons. We lie to each other and to ourselves. Does that mean it’s ok to lie? In certain situations lying can be beneficial and in others it can lead to destruction. Knowing that humans have the ability and motive to lie, does that mean we shouldn’t trust each other?

Recently, Jian Ghomeshi, former radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was put on trial for four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking for which he was acquitted because it was found that the accusers were lying. The judge believed that the complainants were being “deceptive and manipulative” with their evidence and therefore could no longer be a trusted source of the truth. The court no longer had sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of the complainants and thus was left with a reasonable doubt. That closed the trial on Jian Ghomeshi and at the same time transformed these women from victims into perpetrators, and into liars. However, what if these women really did feel that they were victims of sexual assault? Will this trial change the way we see sexual assault victims?

The Centre for Women and Trans People at Ryerson hosted a crafternoon in support of survivors of sexual assault on the same day that the Ghomeshi trial ended. This event was to show that regardless of this trial we should believe survivors of sexual assault. This is also why the Centre has a survivor support line (416-260-0100) and offers services and supplies for safe sex and a safe space for women and trans people.

Sexual Assault can be a difficult issue in court because it can sometimes rely on “he said, she said” evidence, this is why victims often feel they will not be believed, they feel like they don’t have proof. This is also why there are few sexual assault convictions, without witnesses or physical evidence a court can have difficulty convicting. This is also why it is important to tell survivors you believe them and to support them because if no one says anything nothing can be done to stop it and more people will be victimized. The Department of Justice notes that sexual assault is among the crimes that are the least likely to be reported and in 1999 found that 78% of sexual assault cases were not reported to police in Canada. Additionally, sexual assault incidents are generally reported well after the fact and this can be due to various reasons. The 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization found that incidents were not reported by victims because: they were dealt with in another way, deemed not important enough, or that they did not want to involve the police. Some victims believe that the police cannot or will not help them when they have been sexually assaulted and others fear revenge from their assailant.

Another serious issue that comes out of sexual assault is that victims often do not seek out help or support. Fear and shame are built into sexual assault and the victims want privacy as a result. This is detrimental to their health and to the health of society because again if the police or anyone doesn’t know, then we can’t do anything about it. This is another reason to give support and to believe someone when they confide in you. It is very difficult to relive the memories and to share them and to have someone brush them off or not believe you is devastating. There is another part to this however, the victim usually knows their offender. In 2000, 80% of sexual assault cases were committed by someone who was known to the victim. Almost 30% of the offenders were family members of their victims and 10% were friends. This makes the situation even worse for the victim because the relationship they hold with the accused may hold them back from reporting the crime. It also puts them at risk for a repeat assault and damages their mental health as they must to continue to live their life with the offender and in silence.

I have written a lot about supporting survivors in this column and so I would like to give some ways to do that. If someone tells you that they have experienced sexual violence the best thing to do is listen, hear what they are saying and give them the space to say it. You want them to feel that they are not alone and that you believe them, we all have the right to be and feel safe. Do not push for information because it is their story to tell and they will give what they want to and they may not even remember all of it. Shock and fear can cause our memories to be repressed and for them to lose order making it difficult for someone to recall. Also, offer support services. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres has a list of different kinds of support services in Ontario that are available to everyone. Additionally, it is important to understand that we all have common beliefs about sexual violence some of which are myths. Doing research on sexual violence can be useful regardless of whether you know someone who was assaulted or not. The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres is a useful resource for this kind of research and has a list of common sexual violence myths.

Sexual violence is horrific. It has been a part of human culture for some time and unfortunately will probably continue to be, just like lying. However, when it comes to lying and sexual violence do we really know what the truth is? If there are no witnesses and no physical evidence how do we know who is telling the truth and what it really is? Someone can say something happened but what if they lied? Lying about sexual assault is not common in Canada, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. These kinds of questions and statements are why victims of sexual assault do not speak out, they fear that they will not be believed. Our justice system works by keeping people innocent until proven guilty, but when you are the victim of sexual assault you are also treated like the guilty party and can unjustly be turned from victim into liar.

Rally and March Against Sexism, Racism and Islamophobia in the Workplace

rally

On March 1st, students, faculty and community members met in the Student Learning Centre for a rally and march against sexism, racism and Islamophobia in the workplace.  The event was put on by the Sam Gindin Chair, the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, CESAR, the Jack Layton Chair and the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  The event was in response to recent incidents within Ryerson and the Ryerson Students’ Union, including the firing of Gilary Massa, who was on maternity leave.

The event began with a rally in the Student Learning Centre, with close to one hundred people gathered in the lobby.  Anne-Marie Singh, from the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, spoke first drawing parallels between the outdoor climate of wintry weather and the climate women experience.  She commented that “it’s not just chilly outside; it’s chilly in courtrooms, our work spaces, our offices…”  Singh cited racialized women on maternity leave being restructured out of their jobs as an example of this chilly climate at Ryerson.  She also discussed Indigenous faculty being questioned about their credentials and racialized staff being harassed with impunity at Ryerson.  Singh also spoke to those who hold privilege on this campus stating that, “if fighting racism seems racist, if equity feels like oppression, check your privilege”.  She also called out the Ryerson Students’ Union for needing to check their privilege if they think the firing of Gilary Massa was fair.

Massa also spoke at the event and was joined by the lawyer representing her for the Ontario Human Rights Complaint against the Ryerson Students’ Union and its current executives.  Massa described what happened to her as putting the rights of working women back 20 or 30 years; she didn’t think it was possible to be fired while on maternity leave and neither did most people she has spoken to following her termination.  She also discussed the business decision made by the Ryerson Students’ Union as anti-woman and anti-worker, and asked what kind of message this send to students and women who are entering the workforce and want to start a family.  Massa’s lawyer, Saron Beresellasi, thanked the Massa family for their decision to obtain council and fight this as well as encouraged people to pay attention to the case in hopes it will serve as a public education example for the RSU and others.

Awo Abokor, from the Ryerson Feminist Collective spoke about being frustrated by the lack of support for women, especially women of colour, in the workplace at Ryerson.  She went on to say there is no justice in the decision made that lead to Massa being fired and that intersections of class, race and gender were at play here.  Abokor sent a clear message to the entire Ryerson community: “if you don’t know what equity is, learn it”.  She described the firing of Massa as taking multiple steps back and not something that the RSU can simply apologize and move on from.

Social Work Professor, Akua Benjamin described her pride for Ryerson but was disappointed the school had not taken a stand.  Ryerson University has been quiet on the issue, but Benjamin urged the school to take a stand as this is not just something between Massa and the RSU.  She also urged people to stand in solidarity for change beyond coming out the rally; this issue is ongoing and women are continuously suffering from racism on this campus.  Benjamin described the decision to fire Massa as not in the best interest of Ryerson and not what Ryerson stands for.  Benjamin ended by speaking about Massa’s baby, who was present for the rally, and calling them a “social justice baby”.

Pascale Diverlus, from the United Black Student’s at Ryerson and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, described seeing first hand of what it’s like to be a Black woman on Ryerson’s campus and the terrifying culture that is being created.  Diverlus expressed concern for future students and the community as the RSU is currently not a place of equity; Massa was the only Black full-time worker at the RSU.  “Black lives matter, Black women matter, Black Muslim women matter, Black families matter”.

Following the rally, we marched to the Student Campus Centre, which houses the offices of the Ryerson Students’ Union.  We gathered on the third floor of the building, outside the executive team’s offices.  Winnie Ng and Janet Rodriguez lead the crowd in a number of chants; none of the executive members came out to address the crowd.

This rally can’t be the end; we need more action beyond March 1st.  Ng encouraged the crowd to write letters to the Ryerson Students’ Union and to bring this issue to the attention of Ryerson administration.  The injustice in the decision to fire Massa is clear to anyone with a basic understanding of human rights and equity, but this is not an isolated incident.  It’s a clear and blatant action that is representative of what racialized women experience in the workplace daily.  The workplace in general is a chilly place for racialized women across this country, but we have an opportunity to start changing that at Ryerson.

Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis

Francis

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we focus the spotlight on another strong Black Canadian female figure. Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and came from parents who hailed from Cuba (her father) and Antigua (her mother). She had strong roots in the church, being brought up and raised surrounded by strong religious influences, especially due to the fact that her father was the archpriest of the African Orthodox Church.

Mayann Elizabeth grew up in a diverse neighbourhood of Nova Scotia, yet, despite the apparent diversity of her community, there were still quite prominent issues of racial discrimination and inequality occurring in various communities surrounding her. Mayann was made aware at quite a young age of the segregation and racial disparities that were occurring in her community, and in communities across the country. She knew that she wanted to be a part of the social justice movements that would work to abolish racial segregation and discrimination on Canada, and was compelled to do her part to affect change in some way. So Maryann pursued higher education at St. Mary’s University, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following her undergraduate education, she took a job for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Shortly after her experience with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, she moved to the United States, where she lived for 16 years. In those 16 years, Maryann was able to earn her Master of Arts degree, in 1984, with a specialization in Public Administration from New York University. She used her Masters degree to build a career with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues, issues that influence the quality of people’s lives, and issues that seek to be rectified through public bodies. This was in strong part due to her upbringing in an unstable racial climate in Nova Scotia, where racial segregation and discrimination were very real realities with which she experienced.

After 16 years in the United States, returned back to Canada and settled in the province of Ontario. There, she worked as an assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Women’s Directorate. Shortly after, she became the Director of the same organization. After her experience with the Ontario Women’s Directorate, she decided to return to her roots and pursue her career with the Nova Scotia human Right Commission. There, she became to Chief Executive Officer.

Mayann’s work to bring about social justice and equality within society was widely recognized both nationally and internationally. She received the Harry Jerome Award from the Black Business and Professional Association, the Multicultural Education Council of Nova Scotia Award, and the Golden Jubilee Medla. Furthermore, she is the first woman ombudsman, black or white, of Nova Scotia. She moved on to become the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 2006. She is also the first Black Nova Scotian, man or woman, and the second Black Canadian to hold this position.

Her extensive experience in various senior public service positions is in large part due to her experience with racism and segregation. As a Black woman during a time where segregation was the everyday reality for all people in the United States and in Canada, Mayann Elizabeth knew first-hand what it was like to be discriminated and judged for reasons beyond control. She understood what social injustice and inequality felt like from a victim’s point of view. These horrible experiences inspired Maryann to live a life of public advocacy; live a life and build a career built on the principles of social justice and equality. To this day, she remains a largely influential and historical figure of Canadian history through her work in affecting change with regards to racial discrimination, segregation, and racial inequality.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=17

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/mayann-elizabeth-francis/

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningcb/2009/10/mayann-francis.html

Pack the Court: No Silence on Sexual Violence

Supporters, including Mandi, outside Old City Hall during the Ghomeshi trial.

On February 1st, young feminists descended on Old City Hall in various shades of pink clothing and lipstick to attend a sexual assault trial.  We weren’t there for the Ghomeshi trial; we were there for the Ururyar trial.  We were there to support our friend and fellow activist, Mandi Gray, as she testified against Mustafa Ururyar.

The first three days of the trial were filled with rape myth-based motions, blatant victim blaming and parallels being drawn between what was happening one floor below in the Ghomeshi trial and what we saw in the courtroom we sat in.  Following three days, half of which Mandi was on the stand under cross-examination, the trial as put off until April to review new evidence.  After watching Mandi testify, she is no doubt the toughest person I know; the defense lawyer in this case has attacked her character and self esteem throughout the entire cross-examination.

Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star was present and covered what has happened in the trial thus far:
http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/02/07/the-sex-assault-trial-one-floor-above-ghomeshi-porter.html

Porter wrote, “there was a line up outside this courtroom too- not of journalists though.  Most of the crowd in the small domestic violence court were young feminists, here to support their friend, Mandi Gray”.  I want to talk about who that group was, including Mandi, and why we were there.

The line up outside of the courtroom where Mandi was testifying was made up of people from across Toronto; there were students from York, University of Toronto and Ryerson.  On all three days, there were between 30 and 40 people in the court room.  We were there to support Mandi and wore pink to show our solidarity.  I’ve had a number of people ask me why we were there and do we really think it makes a difference?  My answer is yes and no.

Why yes?  Apparently supporting a sexual assault survivor is a radical thing to do, both in our criminal justice system and generally.  With the Ghomeshi trial, the amount of victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the media, online and at dinner tables has increased substantially.  The media filed a motion in court to publish a photo of a sexual assault survivor in a bikini, need I say more?  The rape myths present in the criminal justice system continue to be blatant, especially during cross-examinations.  To come out and support a survivor who is testifying sends a clear message that we believe them.

In a world where over 50 women can accuse one man of sexual assault and we don’t believe them, believing women becomes viewed as radical.  In a world where survivors are not believed and face a criminal justice system that re-victimizes them, wouldn’t it be nice to have 40 people or even just one person in your corner?  The Crown and Judge aren’t in survivors’ corners; they aren’t there to make sure the survivor isn’t re-victimized on the stand.  We were there to be in Mandi’s corner.

Why no?  Our presence isn’t going to sway a ruling.  We were there because we all know that the system is broken and has always been broken.  We are all well-versed in the issue of sexual violence and know the criminal justice system does not protect survivors or convict perpetrators.  While we hold some hope that Ghomeshi and Ururyar will be found guilty, we know this is a long shot.  There’s been a lot of media focus on Ghomeshi’s lawyer and how the survivors were not prepared to testify, but these issues are much bigger than one individual case; this is an entire system that is ineffective in addressing sexual violence as a crime.

Our presence won’t sway a ruling and these rulings won’t sway us.  We know that a “not guilty” verdict does not mean violence didn’t occur.  These verdicts have no bearing on whether or not violence occurred; they have bearing on the criminal justice system’s ability to properly apply criminal law to sexual assault.  In court rooms filled with rape myths, victim-blaming, slut-shaming and a focus on literally everything but the violence in question, the answer is no, the criminal justice system is not in a position to determine if violence has occurred.

No matter what the judges in these cases rule, the response to these verdicts is going to be loud.  We won’t be going home and accepting that the criminal justice system has done its job.  The people who have been standing outside with signs aren’t going away.  Those of us sitting in Old City Hall are all advocates in a variety of ways; we are documentary film makers, members of Silence is Violence-York, placement students at VAW organizations, members of Silence is Violence- U of T and the Ryerson Feminist Collective, and individuals who want to see a world without violence.

We made a Facebook event to support Mandi.  We have sat in the court room laughing, sighing and making side comments throughout the trial, knowing the judge could kick us out (he didn’t).  Mandi has kept her head up despite the amount of attacks on her self-esteem and character, and will return to testify in April.  She is also bringing forward a Human Rights Complaint in how York University handles sexual assault.  We are unapologetic in believing survivors and we will be back at Old City Hall in April.

“Guilty” or “Not Guilty”, we aren’t going to be silent about sexual violence.

The Terrorist Among Us

It seems Canadians have something to fear- terror. More specifically we need to fear the terrorists who live among us. This is what the previous Conservative Federal Government believed and acted to change. This is why Bill C-51 was created and acted into law as the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015. However, as skeptical and intelligent Canadians we need to ask why and read carefully into what this Act really means for our “protection”. This is exactly what I did at the most recent discussion hosted by Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression. James Turk, the director of the centre, invited John Ralston Saul and Monia Mazigh to discuss what Bill C-51 means for our freedom of expression and civilities. John Ralston Saul is an award winning essayist and novelist and the President Emeritus of PEN International, which is a non-political organization that promotes literature and freedom of expression. Monia Mazigh is a novelist and activist who campaigned for her husband’s, Maher Arar, release from unlawful captivity and torture in Syria. Mazigh is the National Coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), which is a national coalition of Canadian civil society organizations that was established in the aftermath of the September, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. ICLMG works to defend the civil liberties and human rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, federal and provincial laws, and international human rights instruments.

Bill C-51 is a complex and long bill to digest. It is a worrisome Act and based on the discussion I heard will affect how we act within Canadian society. There have been many problems cited about this Act, mostly the lack of clarity in its definitions of what terrorism is and its vague wording in general. This may lead to wrongful interpretations of the law and dangerous and unlawful measures. Beyond that there are specific problems that have been brought up about the Act and its implications on Canadians’ freedoms.

John Ralston Saul spoke on the idea that this Act will affect our freedom of expression. The Act states that promoting or encouraging others to carry out terrorist acts is a criminal offense. Even if the terrorist act never happens the person who is thought to be promoting it will be arrested and charged as a terrorist. The definition of what a terrorist act is is not given, it is simply stated as “terrorism offences in general” which is far from clear and will lead to differing and wrongful interpretations of the law. This affects our freedom of speech because the way we share our opinion is now regulated. I can no longer go on my Facebook account and say that “I think the Indigenous people of Canada should set up a highway blockade to stop logging companies from destroying their land” because what if that is a terrorist act, am I encouraging violence? Ralston Saul felt that one of the main purposes of this part of the Act was to get Canadians to self-censor. To make us reconsider what we say and how we say it because we do not know what an act of terrorism is and considering the punishment is 5 years in jail it probably isn’t worth pushing the envelope.

Continuing with the idea of censorship, the Act now allows for the destruction of terrorist propaganda and the arrest of the producer. Again the definition of terrorist propaganda is vague and unclear, “the writing, sign, visible representation or audio recording that advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general”. This is censorship and an attack on freedom of speech for the same reason given above. We do not really know what qualifies as a terrorist act and therefore terrorist propaganda.

Mazigh spoke about the three major problems she has found within the Act. Firstly, like Ralston Saul, Mazigh believes that this Act is altering our freedom of expression and that the wording is unclear and broad on purpose. Mazigh thinks that the Act is going after more than just terrorism because we already have laws that make terrorism illegal, so why do we need a new act? Mazigh feels that this Act will stop people from becoming activists and advocates because everything is very fuzzy, we could be branded a terrorist so we shouldn’t speak out against social and political issues.

Secondly, under this new Act the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is granted new powers. CSIS was created to collect information and monitor the population for suspected criminal activity. CSIS is not a police force, they are not allowed to arrest or lay charges, they merely investigate and collect information. Now CSIS is allowed to disrupt terrorist activity, which means they can interfere with travel plans, bank transactions, and go into your home among other things on the suspicion of terrorism. They are also allowed to take measures that breach your rights and freedoms if given permission by a judge. These powers could easily be abused given the lack of sufficient oversight of CSIS. CSIS is being allowed to step into the boots of the police force when their original intention was never such. CSIS also has the ability to disrupt websites and social media accounts that they suspect to be promoting terrorism, again touching on our freedom of expression.

Lastly, Mazigh commented on the changes to the no-fly list in Canada. The Act reinforces and strengthens the Passenger Protection Program by updating the no-fly list. This is a list of people who are not allowed to board planes within Canada. Being on the list means that not only can you not fly but also you are arrested at the airport, you are not informed as to why or when you are put on the list and you are never removed from it nor can you fight it. A reason for the no-fly list has yet to be stated by the government and the new Act makes it easier for people to be put on to it. This idea was originally taken from the United States, however in the United States you can be removed from the no-fly list. The level of secrecy regarding this list is worrisome, why are we not allowed to know the reason we were put on the list and why are we not allowed to defend ourselves and be removed? What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 also has some other little bits of terror built into it that were not discussed fully. One being that now our information will be shared among government departments if we are deemed to be a threat to national security. This means that Health Canada will share our personal health information with Canada Revenue and Border Services if we are deemed a threat, why is this necessary? There are 17 government departments that will now share our personal information among each other, not to mention CSIS and the police. These agencies do not all have watchdogs to make sure their powers are not being abused and on top of that the examples that are given for “threat to national security” are vague. This means that this law can target a broad selection of people, not just the terrorists who walk among us.

Another part of the Act is that police have the power to preventatively arrest more people without a warrant. Police are now allowed to arrest people without a warrant on the suspicion that they may commit a terrorist act, before the wording of the criminal code was that the person will commit an act of terrorism. Additionally, the police can arrest someone without a warrant if it is likely to prevent a terrorist act instead of necessary to prevent a terrorist act. These simple word changes make a big difference regarding police power and the interpretation of the law.

Terrorism is a scary thing. I think that we are all afraid of the idea of terrorists here in our own city, in the place we call home. However, we cannot brand everyone a terrorist. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 is written as though we are all criminals that need to be controlled, instead of everyone is generally a law-abiding citizen and about 5% of them are criminals. This Act is about fear and control. Do we all really need this level of control and suspicion? Additionally, this Act may hurt Canada’s activists and advocates in its pursuit of terror. There are issues that still need to be protested and advocated for, are all those people terrorists now? Am I a terrorist because I do not agree with everything that is written in this Act and I suggest people go to the street to protest it? Maybe I am.

The Power of Student Journalism

RSJ

Ryerson University has one of the best journalism programs, with many graduates going on to work for large publications such as the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.  With such an incredible program, it comes as no surprise that our campus has two school newspapers: The Eyeopener and The Ryersonian.  Student newspapers offer journalism students an amazing opportunity to write features, conduct interviews, and be an editor, practice photography, report on events and everything that goes with the operations of a newspaper.

While student newspapers are an excellent source of learning, this learning cannot come at the expense of the subjects of their stories.  There have been a few incidents lately that have raised some red flags as they have gone beyond students simply learning how to be journalists and waded into the territory of having serious and negative impacts on peoples’ lives.  As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

I’m all for student learning; as a social work student, I complete two placements where I’m able to learn social work skills necessary for my career.  I appreciate having a space to try things out, make mistakes and be able to try again.  I have and will continue to make mistakes throughout my placement and career.  This is why I can appreciate the position students working and writing for student newspapers are in; we are all students and everyone is learning.  I become less understanding of this when mistakes are made that are based in pure insensitivity and carelessness.

This type of mistake occurred during the coverage of the Ghomeshi trial this week.  When I arrived on campus the afternoon the trial began, I learned that one of the school newspapers had tweeted the names of the victims whose names are under a publication ban.  While this is a mistake by a student who is learning, this could have serious and negative consequences for those women.  There’s a publication ban in place for a reason and tweeting their names is an invasion of their right to privacy and anonymity in the public’s eye during a sexual assault trial.  I don’t know the legalities of breaking a publication ban but I’m assuming there are consequences.  While these students may say “oops”, delete the tweet, take it as a lesson learned and carry on, that tweet could impact those women in negative ways.  Our student media may have just disclosed the sexual violence someone has experienced to a family member, friend, colleague, boss, neighbour, etc.  This is further complicated in that Ghomeshi yields a lot of power due to his celebrity which means a high profile trial.  Consequences from that tweet could reach far and wide in that persons’ life; this cannot simply be treated as a beginners’ mistake.

This semester, I experienced a student error that could potentially have serious and negative impacts.  I was recently interviewed for a story on unpaid internships by one of the student newspapers.  I discussed my experiences of having a disability and completing a lot of unpaid placement hours; when asked what my disability was, I disclosed I have a brain injury as I did not want it to be misconstrued or misrepresented.  I’m not sure what happened between my interview and the publication of the article but the newspaper printed that I have mental health issues.  How would I disclose this in an interview if that is not a lived experience I have?  Fortunately, the newspaper edited the online version and printed a correction but that’s a pretty big mistake.  Considering the stigma attached to mental health issues and that my experiences were presented as representative of students with lived experience, I’m extremely lucky I have not had any negative consequences thus far.  I was extremely concerned considering I have been very vocal about men’s rights and issues groups which often discredit feminist and women’s voices by claiming they are “mentally ill”.  These types of mistakes cannot be brushed off as expected errors in learning; they need to be addressed and there needs to be some accountability.  While the Editor of the newspaper apologized several times, I still have not heard from the reporter who interviewed me and wrote the article.

This year, I’ve had a lot more interactions with campus media as I began co-organizing the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  We have been interviewed on a number of topics including our initial solidarity with U of T event, the men’s issues group at Ryerson, meninists, body hair, self-love for racialized and immigrant women, our Take Back the Campus event, masculinity, the RSU, etc.  I’ve had some really great experiences with student journalists at Ryerson; great interviews, great questions and discussion, well-written articles and no one has spelt my name wrong yet.  Student journalists have been very respectful about my safety concerns regarding some of the issues I have been interviewed about and have waited after events to interview me when I would be most comfortable.  I’m still friends with Dylan Freeman-Grist, who wrote the amazing first article about the Ryerson Feminist Collective when we formed in September.  A student journalist I recently met even helped me with this blog, which I really appreciate.

Student newspapers have made errors that could have negative impacts and this needs to be addressed but I also want to talk about the student journalists who are doing amazing work.  This is who should be recognized for their work and contributions to campus life.  The students working at both campus newspapers work very hard at their jobs (I hear they are on campus until 2:30 am some days) while taking full course loads, working outside jobs and still managing to have a social life.  The stories are always interesting and they are always reporting on current student news.  The work of these journalists should be recognized and highlighted for other students to learn from to avoid mistakes that could potentially be harmful.

While mistakes in student learning are inevitable, errors that can be extremely harmful need to be addressed.  This can be done by having those who make mistakes take accountability for them and also having a good understanding of the power student journalists hold.  What you write could change someone’s life and I think this is an important lesson to take into any field, including journalism.

Another Side of Domestic Violence

In discussions of violence against women, specifically domestic violence, there are themes that arise from peoples’ stories.  These themes include; domestic violence within an intimate partner relationship, domestic violence as a reason for divorce, custody battles, involvement of police and the criminal justice system, decisions about leaving, children taken into the care of child welfare agencies, ex spouses and partners, the experiences of young children, etc.  My experience sits on another side of domestic violence; one that is not part of the common narrative.  My experience and position within this issue is one that likely would have been addressed by law enforcement if it took place within an intimate partner relationship.

This is something I have avoided writing about and I have never talked about it publicly.  If I have written about violence against women or domestic violence, I have never included myself in relation to the topic as I have done with others such as disability.  This was deliberate as I did not want to share this widely and did not want to violate my mother’s right to privacy as our stories are intertwined.  Now that this blog has become involved in my experiences of domestic violence, as well as receiving my mother’s permission and blessing, it’s time to write about this topic and include my own experience.

There are currently seven Facebook accounts I have blocked; they were all created by or used by the same person with the intention to find me.  These seven accounts have been created and blocked over an 8 year period with the last one being blocked this week.  This person has shown up at my previous home numerous times, followed me to events he knew I would be attending and continues to make social media accounts to contact me.

This sounds like the definition of harassment, right?  This is the kind of harassment that would make a person a great candidate for a “no-contact” order.  I have no such order, nor have I ever had my own “no-contact” order to prevent this harassment.  When I was 15, I was included in a “no-contact” order for my mother at her request; I was tagged on to hers because I was underage.  That order has long since expired and while my mother has a new one, I do not.  With all of the laws about harassment, domestic violence, etc. it may seem shocking that I don’t.  The reason I don’t is because this person is my parent.

I am well aware of how law enforcement treats survivors of domestic violence in intimate partner relationships, but domestic violence involving an adult-child seems to be another ball game that lacks any rules.  Law enforcement viewed his harassing behaviour to be in relation to my mother but did not consider that he was also looking for me.  It was also considered to be loving gestures of a great parent.  The incident that lead to my mother getting a new no-contact order happened to take place on a day I was visiting Toronto for Discover Ryerson.  Even if I was there, I don’t think I would have been granted a no-contact order.

While I have had some good experiences with police around this issue, some woman-identified police officers have issued him a “warning”, the general response to this issue has been to make excuses for him.  Most recently, a person who takes police-related calls defended him and said maybe he thought I had changed my mind about speaking to him.  8 years, 7 blocked Facebook accounts, avoiding him and his family, reporting harassment… I send real mixed signals in this area of my life, no wonder he is confused [sarcasm].  If this had been my ex-partner, would the response have been the same?

I have done everything right in the eyes of harassment law; I have responded to relay my wishes not to have contact with him and detail that I will contact police if it continues, I have ignored further attempts to engage in conversation, I have contacted police promptly when this happens and I save copies of the messages.  I have done what I have been told to do and I’m still left with no legal assistance to deal with this harassment.

How did my job with this blog become involved in my experience of domestic violence?  I hadn’t heard from him in 2 years until I wrote a blog about disability and absenteeism.  I received a message shortly after it was published from a man saying that his daughter was experiencing similar problems at McMaster University.  It’s not unusual for people I don’t know to message me about my blog posts so I didn’t think anything of it, but I never got around to responding.  I’m really glad I didn’t engage in conversation because this was a fake account made by him to contact me.  I only found out because my birthday fell shortly after and he messaged me, outing himself as the person behind the account.  Another account that I assume is fake has contacted me since and I assume these will be the first of many.

As of now, I’m continuing to block the Facebook accounts but will not be contacting police anymore.  I’m extremely concerned by the lack of response from the law and police to deal with this issue as there’s adult-children out there whose experiences of this type of domestic violence are much worse than mine.  I’m extremely fortunate that he doesn’t know where I live in Toronto and doesn’t have my phone number.  We need to move beyond the idea that children should talk to their parents no matter what because they are family.  We also need to move beyond the idea that we may change our minds; some of us may and some of us won’t.  This should not be a reason to deny us the tools to ensure our safety.

I wanted to write this blog for two reasons:

First, I wanted to share another side of domestic violence that isn’t always talked about and hope it reaches others with the same experience- I see you.

Second, since this blog has obviously been found; again, stop trying to contact me.

No to Bill C-51

billc51

The federal Conservative government has put forth anti-terrorism legislation in the form of Bill C-51.  Despite having enough laws to combat terrorism, it is an election year and the federal Conservatives are going to fear monger and pass unnecessary legislation until the election in the fall.  Another noteworthy unnecessary legislation is the proposed “life sentence with no parole” that was announced recently, but this blog post will focus on Bill C-51.  Critics of the anti-terrorism legislation have called the bill racist and raised concerns about the vague definition of “terrorism”.  This definition revolves around the idea of undermining Canada’s security; challenging and speaking out against a government could potentially be seen as undermining Canada’s security.

The vagueness of the definition is making critics wonder who and what actions could be considered terrorism.  The vague definition of terrorism can result in the broad use of this bill to silence those who do not agree with the government in power.  Any act of civil disobedience, including protests and rallies, could be interpreted as terrorism under the new law.

At the International Women’s Day March in Toronto, one of the speakers at the rally commented that she could be arrested after her speech under Bill C-51 because she was speaking against the Harper government.  Due to how vague the definition of terrorism is and how broadly Bill C-51 could be applied, all 5000 of us who participated in the International Woman’s Day March could have been arrested and charged.  It might sound ridiculous, but this is the reality of vague and wide-sweeping legislation.  This is certainly a reality of a government in power that does not particularly like to be questioned, is overtly racist and cuts funding for charities that seek social change.

Who else could be considered a terrorist and in violation of this legislation?  Indigenous peoples constantly have to advocate for their most basic human rights in this country.  If Indigenous peoples protest the expansion of a corporation on their land that will ultimately contaminate their water, are they terrorists under this law? The government may swing this as Indigenous peoples threatening the economic security of Canada as that company would be making the government money.  Anti-poverty activists speak out against all levels of governments constantly about the policies that affect those who are homeless and living below the poverty line.  Bill C-51 revolves around the “security of Canada”.  Whose security are they talking about?  If it is the security of the government and the corporations and wealthy people they bow down to, wanting policies and money to address inequality could be seen as the threatening of security.

There was recently a day of action to reject and protest Bill C-51 across Canada.  Would all of those people be in violation of this law?  Thomas Mulclair has recently opposed this bill, what about him?  I recently wrote a blog about the federal government being guilty of criminal negligence causing the deaths of missing and murdered Indigenous women.  Does that blog mean I’m in violation of this law?  What about this blog?

Bill C-51 will trample the rights we have as Canadians and groups who are already considered “enemies” of the Harper government will be further scrutinized and face criminal penalties just for wanting basic human rights.  Say no to Bill C-51.

Photo from: The Globe and Mail

 

MMIW: Criminal Negligence Causing Death

mmiw1

Section 219 (1) of the Criminal Code states that “everyone is criminally negligent who a) in doing anything or, b) in omitting to do anything that is his duty to, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons”.  Section 220 of the Criminal Code states that, “every person who by criminal negligence causes death to another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable”.  In regards to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the Government of Canada is guilty of criminal negligence causing death.

On February 26th, amidst the national roundtable that took place on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, a study was released detailing the lack of action taken by the Government of Canada over the past two decades.  Researchers with the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women reviewed 58 reports on violence against Indigenous women and girls.  The documents reviewed included government studies, reports by international human rights bodies, and published research of Indigenous women’s organizations.  Over 700 recommendations were made by these reports yet only a few of these recommendations have ever been fully implemented.

These recommendations were made to reduce the violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls.  Their purpose was to address the high numbers of Indigenous women that are murdered and missing in Canada.  Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs asked, “How many Indigenous women and girls would have been found or would still be alive if governments had acted on more of these recommendations?”  I think a lot of us are asking the same question.

By not implementing any of the recommendations, the Government of Canada has been criminally negligent, as defined by the Criminal Code.  A government has a responsibility to protect its citizens and failing to act on recommendations to reduce violence against Indigenous women shows a reckless disregard for the lives of others.  The Government of Canada is fully aware of number of Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing.  They are aware these numbers continue to rise and that not addressing the issue would result in more Indigenous women being murdered.  Therefore, the Government of Canada has been criminally negligent and that negligence has caused death.

This study further shows why a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women is needed in Canada.  A government who has refused to implement over 700 recommendations and then has the audacity to claim these reports as reasons for why we do not need an inquiry has no business defining the problem, claiming to not play a role in the problem and certainly does not possess a viable solution for the problem.
Sources Used:
http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/02/26/national-roundtable-on-missing-murdered-aboriginal-women-a-beginning.html

http://www.leaf.ca/legal-strategy-coalition-on-mmiw/

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/page-113.html

Photo from: Amnesty International Canada

UOttawa Hockey: The lawsuit is ruining your reputation

uottawa

In early January, members of the University of Ottawa men’s hockey team filed a class-action lawsuit against the school and its president.  The lawsuit follows the suspension of the team while the school investigated a sexual assault involving members of the team.  Two players have been charged with sexual assault and the former coach was fired following the investigation.  22 players are asking for six million dollars in damages following the suspension of the team.

The players feel their reputations have been tarnished and have suffered from being publicly identified as members of the team; they are hesitant to be named in the lawsuit.  The players filing the lawsuit claim they have suffered anxiety and stress as a result of the suspension that will continue into the 2015-2016 season.

UOttawa Hockey Players; it’s not the university ruining you reputation at this point in time, it’s you.  There are several ways you could repair the reputation you believe has been damaged and it’s not by filing a 6 million dollar lawsuit.  This lawsuit implies that your “right” to play hockey is more important than ensuring a proper sexual assault investigation.  It also implies you don’t understand the severity of sexual assault and have given little thought to the victim of this crime.

You’ve experienced stress and anxiety?  Imagine what the student who was assaulted by your team mates is feeling.  Why are you entitled to damages more than she is?  If she had filed a lawsuit against your former team mates for damages, I doubt she would receive anything.  Unfortunately, I think you might win your lawsuit.  Does that seem fair to you?   She’s going to have to testify against your former team mates; during that testimony she will have to relive the assault while her sex life, personal life and character are picked apart by a defence attorney.  The justice system is not friendly to sexual assault survivors.  I don’t think your suffering from not being able to play hockey and being identified as a member of the team comes close to what she has experienced.

There is a really simple way to repair your reputation and that is to speak up.  I haven’t heard of a single hockey player publicly condemn what their team mates are alleged to have done or show their support for the student who was assaulted.  If you are so adamant that you are not apart of rape culture on your team, talk about it.  That’s how you regain a good reputation for your hockey team in the public eye.

This lawsuit isn’t going to fix the damages you feel have been done to your reputation, it’s going to make your reputation so much worse.

Sources:
http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/01/13/university-of-ottawa-hockey-players-plan-lawsuit-over-sex-assault-allegations-suspensions/