Black History Month Spotlight: Viola Desmond

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As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we shed light on a historic Black Canadian figure. Viola Desmond was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She initially trained to become a teacher but decided to change career paths. She was a successful businesswoman who owned a barbershop and hairdressing salon business in partnership with her husband, Jack Desmond. In the midst of her business’ expansion, Viola left for New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 to pursue a brighter future for her business.

It is in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia where Viola Desmond makes a name for herself as one of the most influential and remarkable people – especially as a woman – during times of segregation between Blacks and Whites. Viola Desmond innocently went to the movie theatres one night in New Glasgow and decided to take a seat in the main floor of the theatre. Unbeknownst to her, this specific theatre had specific tickets for African Canadians – who should be seated in the balcony area – and White Canadians – who may be seated in the main floor of the theatre, where the movie can be better seen. Upon being asked to leave her seat and relocate to the segregated seat she was intended to sit in, she refused. The police were called and Viola Desmond was charged without being advised of her right, ending in her spending the night in jail.

The following morning, she paid the fine of $20 for the alleged crime and was charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia with the difference in tax between a ground floor ticket at the movie theatres and a balcony seat ticket. The difference amounted to approximately one cent.

Desmond courageously decided to fight the charges against her, understanding that the issue was not surrounding around the idea that it was tax evasion, but rather, inherently racist. Viola Desmond took the case to court, where she was able to gain public opinion on the matter both locally in her own community, nationally, and internationally. This issue raised significant awareness on segregation within Canada.

Viola Desmond’s arrest quickly caught the attention of the Black Canadian community. The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) raised money to per her fine and help her to fight against her charges. Carrie best – the founder of Nova Scotia’s first Black owned and operated newspaper, publicized her story in order to truly amplify her message and spread awareness.

As a result of the garnered attention generated by Demond’s case, the government of Nova Scotia had no choice but to eliminate segregation laws. In 1954, the government completed repealed them.

This was quite a significant turning point in the history of segregation within Canada as it revealed and exposed the fact that segregation was still real and alive within Canadian borders. At that time, there was a notion that Canada was the safest place for Black people who are being racially discriminated and segregated internationally to go to. Canada was put on a pedestal for being “free of segregation and racial discrimination,” when in reality, such practices were still very much alive and not eradicated. This event urged the Canadian community – who was expected to be an ally in the Black Civil Rights Movement – to take corrective action and implement more inclusive and culturally-aware laws and policies into legislation. It significantly sparked the wave of Canadian Black Civil Rights movement, urging Canadians to explore, expose, and correct issues surrounding racism and racial discrimination within our own borders.

This event truly catapulted Canada’s policies and legislations towards a more progressive and inclusive direction. The Canadian government began consciously implementing more diverse, multicultural, and inclusive laws in the years to follow that incorporates Black Canadians into Canadian culture as valued members of society. As a result of the corrective action that followed after this event, Canadian people adopted a more culturally aware, inclusive, and diverse ideology about race. The issue of racism was brought to the forefront of social justice issues and light was being shed on racial discrimination as being very much so present in Canadian society, contrary to popular opinion.

This event ignited a very important movement in Canadian society. It sparked the discussion and the need for action towards a society that is built on a foundation of diversity and multiculturalism. Viola Desmond remains an influential historical figure in Canadian history who, despite how little her action back then may have seemed, took an action that is not only significant but extremely powerful.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13

http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/249537

http://canada.metropolis.net/EVENTS/ethnocultural/publications/historical.pdf

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.

RU Sustainable?

If you’re anything like me and you spend most of your time looking out windows and wandering around then perhaps you’ve seen the boards up along Church Street just south of the interior design building. Those boards are sealing off the old parking lot that once occupied that land to allow for the new inhabitant to materialize. Who is this new dweller? It is the newest addition to Ryerson’s building family, the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences building, which is set to break ground this month. Towering 27 storeys above Church Street, this will be the new home and learning commons for some of Ryerson’s existing health science related programs, such as public health, midwifery, nursing, and nutrition (just my luck). The new building will also mean new housing for students, more parking, and new administration offices. Also, keeping with Ryerson’s thirst for innovation the building will be full of sustainability features and be the first building with comprehensive sustainability goals.

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Given that this new health sciences building was an  opportunity for Ryerson to further promote their sustainability efforts they didn’t hold back. The new building is targeting a minimum LEED silver certification, will have a green roof, and the parking won’t just be for traditional cars, there will also be electric car charging stations and over 180 bicycle parking spots. Additionally, a roundtable with Capital Projects & Real Estate (the developers) and the Ryerson community was held in 2013 to share ideas on what long term sustainability goals this building should have. A range of topics, such as waste, lighting, design, energy, and food were discussed and in time we will see what Ryerson has in store for its future students. Don’t get too excited yet though, the opening is not set until Fall 2018. So again if you’re anything like me this building won’t be ready for learning until you’ve graduated (just my luck all over again).

The Campus Facilities and Sustainability department oversees the environmental stewardship efforts that the university employs to ensure that future generations are not hindered by our decisions but aided. Their vision  is that Ryerson will intelligently and continuously pursue opportunities to improve the sustainability on campus, leveraging the contributions of the entire community and serving as a catalyst for broader transformation. The sustainability program that Ryerson promotes was developed by Sustainability Matters which is part of the Campus Facilities and Sustainability department. Sustainability Matters works with the Ryerson community to make it a more environmentally friendly place to work and study. They offer resources, hold events, collaborate, and spread awareness throughout Ryerson to accomplish their goal of helping faculty, administration, and students become more sustainable. Sustainability matters even offers a certificate to campus organizations that want to change their operations. The RU Sustainable Certificate Program provides a framework for planning a group’s sustainability efforts and offers access to the Sustainability Matters support team to aid with goal development and implementation. Overall, Sustainability Matters wants to provide the Ryerson community with resources that help make simple and big sustainability problems resolvable.

With all the work that is being put into this building and all the future thought, has anyone wondered who Daphne Cockwell is? I do. Not only is her name going to be forever installed on a landmark building but her name also graces the School of Nursing. She even has a gallery named after her at the Royal Ontario Museum. Who is Daphne Cockwell? You might think that she was the principle donator to Ryerson for this building, she wasn’t. You may think she was a former student who went on to promote Ryerson, she wasn’t. As it turns out she is a 93 year old woman living in South Africa. Daphne Cockwell worked as a nurse and devoted her life to helping others. She also happens to be the mother of a very powerful Canadian businessman named Jack Cockwell. With 28 million dollars in donations to Ryerson, we certainly have a lot to thank the Cockwell family for, not just a new building. Especially considering the fact that the Cockwell’s never even attended Ryerson, they simply enjoy and agree with how the university is run and what it stands for.

With all the environmental work that is being done by Ryerson and the attention they garner from powerful benefactors, it sometimes makes me wonder how thoughtful I am of the environment. Mother nature is someone who is consistently forgotten in some circles and as a result we are having to fix and restore what was destroyed by our predecessors. I am thankful that Ryerson is taking the initiative to advance the protection of our environment, even if the changes are small and few, they are doing something. We all play a role in the protection of mother nature and we should all want to, after all doesn’t sustainability matter?

No to Bill C-51

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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

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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

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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/

What happened to #AllLivesMatter?

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The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and still continues to be used following the grand jury decisions to not charge any of the police involved in their deaths.  As the internet goes, some were offended by the hashtag and changed the message to #AllLivesMatter.  Yes, all lives do matter but not all lives are under attack and devalued.  This was an attempt to take the focus and conversation away from the issue of race.  Although I disagree with the hashtag, I will take a moment to consider that those tweeting #AllLivesMatter really meant that all lives matter, including the lives of people of colour.  Now let’s look at what has happened since #AllLivesMatter.

This brings us to January 2015… You have probably heard about the deadly attacks that happened in France.  There has been daily coverage, newspapers have had their own sections for it, and cities all over the world have participated in vigils and rallies for the 17 people who died and to condemn violent extremism.  My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones in these senseless acts of violence; please remember that as you continue to read.  We have heard about the attacks in Paris, but what about the 2000 people killed in Nigeria in the same week?

That’s right, two thousand; it was not a typing error.  The extremist group, Boko Haram, killed 2000 people in Nigeria.  Boko Haram is the group responsible for abducting hundreds of girls sparking #BringBackOurGirls along with several other abductions and attacks.  They operate from a similar ideology as those responsible for the attacks in Paris.  Of the 2000 people killed, most were women, children and elderly as they could not run fast enough to escape.

If all lives matter, why haven’t we heard about this?  Why hasn’t the media been reporting on it around the clock?  Why haven’t there been massive rallies and vigils as we have seen following the attacks in France?  As I write this, a vigil is taking place in Nathan Phillips Square to stand in solidarity with France and to remember the people killed during the attacks.  I wonder if the attacks in Nigeria will be mentioned but I am doubtful.

All of the people who screamed #AllLivesMatter around the time of the grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have been pretty quiet about the 2000 people killed in Nigeria.  If all lives matter, why do we pay more attention to the lives of 17 people in France than 2000 people in Nigeria? All of those lives matter but the world’s actions speak otherwise.

This makes me doubt that people meant it when they said all lives matter.  The purpose of #AllLivesMatter was to derail an important conversation about race in order to make white people more comfortable and bring their voices to the forefront.  Its purpose was to erase not only the marginalization of people of colour but the privilege of being white.  If you actually believe all lives matter, including those of people of colour, please read and talk about the attack in Nigeria.

Photo from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/nigerias-forgotten-massacre-2000-slaughtered-by-boko-haram-but-the-west-is-failing-to-help-9970355.html

Toronto, the Reactive

No More Homeless Deaths

In the first week of 2015, two people were found dead on the streets of Toronto.  Both were homeless and sleeping outside in freezing conditions made worse by the wind chill.  Two men, two different location, two lives lost and two nights where the City of Toronto did not open its warming centres despite weather conditions cold enough to kill.  These people died on Toronto’s watch and their deaths were completely preventable.

OCAP and anti-poverty activists went to Mayor John Tory’s office, demanding the warming centres be open immediately despite Toronto Public Health not issuing an extreme cold weather alert.  Tory obliged and asked the City Manager to open the warming centres.  While it’s great the warming centres were opened, this is a reactive action.  We need city officials to be proactive to prevent similar deaths of people who are homeless.

So how can Toronto be proactive in its policies to prevent similar deaths?  First, the warming centres should be open all winter.  There is no day where it is safe to be sleeping on the streets, especially in the winter.  While warming centres are only a band aid solution for issues of poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, etc. they are necessary to keep people safe and alive in our ongoing housing crisis.

At the beginning of January, we learned a lot about the decision making process to open warming centres.  Toronto Public Health is in charge of issuing extreme cold weather alerts which are required to open warming centres.  The temperature must be -15 degrees for this warning to be issued.  City Hall has indicated there is to be some flexibility in this number but this doesn’t seem to have translated into practice.  For example, the night a man was found at Yonge and Dundas, it was -13 degrees with 50 km/hour winds.  These strict and rigid policies are becoming the different between life and death, safe and unsafe for people living on the streets.  The number used to indicate whether or not warming centres should be open needs to change.

We also learned that Toronto Public Health only announces extreme cold weather alerts in the morning.  This means if the temperature drops drastically in the afternoon, below minus 15, warming centres will not be open that evening.  Shortly after Mayor John Tory told the City Manager to open the warming centres, Environment Canada issued an extreme cold weather alert.  Toronto Public Health did not issue an alert for the city because it was late afternoon and they would wait until morning because “the weather could change”.  If anti-poverty activists hadn’t pressured Tory to open the warming centres, they would have remained closed that night despite temperatures being below minus 15.

Toronto needs to be proactive in its warming centre policies, not reactive.  Two people had to die and anti-poverty activists had to fight for the city to open its warming centres.  The first week of 2015 has shown huge and life threatening problems with Toronto’s extreme cold weather policies and when it opens its warming centres.  I think Toronto Public Health has failed in this area and should no longer be responsible for calling extreme cold weather alerts as they cannot seem to adequately do so.

Photo from: OCAP

#BlackLivesMatter

BLM

On November 25th, thousands of Torontonians gathered outside the American Embassy on University Avenue dressed in black.  We were there to protest the grand jury decision to not charge Darren Wilson following the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson.  We were there to say that black lives matter, justice was not served and we want change.  As a white person, I was not there to say that with my voice but with my physical presence.

Organizers appreciated the solidarity of white and non-black people of colour but asked that we refrain from taking up space and being at the center.  They asked that we stand in the back of the group, not speak to media, stand between black folks and the police and step in if we saw a cop harassing any black folks as we are less likely to be arrested.  I understood and agreed with this message from organizers as this is not about me and the voices that need to be heard were those of the black community.

Unfortunately, several white people/ “allies” did not agree with or abide by this request.  They did not understand why they should stand in the back or why they couldn’t talk to the media.  They wanted to be there to support the event and talk about how upset they are about the grand jury decision.  The event was called Black Lives Matter so shouldn’t the focus be on black lives?

I generally don’t use the word ally but for the sake of this article I will.  I think ally implies a fixed identity and status that oversimplifies the process of constantly reflecting and interrogating one’s own privilege and how we take up space.  While there are great allies, some use the term as a disguise to further marginalize and silence groups.  For example, it is okay for me to stand at the front of the event, despite being asked not to, because I am an ally.  I also find that the conversation around allies derails the original conversation.  For example, the conversations after Ferguson were derailed by white peoples’ role as allies.

Those who scream “ally” as an excuse for putting themselves at the center of an issue they should not be at the center of are forgetting one of the key pieces of being an ally.  That piece is asking a community how you can support them, respecting what they say and abiding by the request.  Being an ally, supporting a community or standing with a group, whatever you want to call it, does not give you free reign to do whatever you want.  If you are privileged and disregard what a group has asked you to do because you want to speak, be the center of attention and think you know best, you are simply reproducing oppression… the exact opposite of being an ally.

I am white and was asked to stand at the back and not speak to media.  I was asked to use my physical body to show support as opposed to my voice and that is exactly what I did.  Sure, I have a lot to say about the over policing and brutality in black communities but is it my place?  As a white person, how would I know more about police brutality in black communities than a black person?  I don’t, so why would I talk to media and stand up front?  It’s not my place.  My place is to support this community in the ways in which they ask me to.

Fellow white people, I really encourage you to look at what being an ally/supporting a community actually means and how we, as allies, can reproduce oppression and marginalization in these spaces.

This is a time for white people to stop and listen to the experiences of black people.
Follow #BlackLivesMatter #ICantBreathe #Ferguson #EricGarner #MikeBrown

Photo: Vanessa Sarges

The Rehtaeh Parsons Case: What About Deterrence?

Rehtaeh

In November, sentencing for one of the teens involved in the Rehtaeh Parsons case took place in Halifax.  Photos were taken of Rehtaeh being sexually assaulted at a house party which was later circulated.  She was harassed by peers following the circulation of the photos.  Rehtaeh reported her assault to police but there was no investigation until after her death.  Rehtaeh was taken off life support after a suicide attempt following the relentless harassment from peers.  Following national outrage and media attention, charges have been laid including making and distributing child pornography.

The teen charged with making child pornography plead guilty to this charge.  The teen was sentenced to submit a DNA sample, write an apology to Rehtaeh’s family and it was recommended he attend a course on sexual harassment.  Many, including myself, are not convinced that justice has been served and the punishment did not fit the crime.  Although the teen was under 18 at the time, this is a very lenient sentence for a very serious crime.

This lenient sentence is concerning because sexual assault, rape culture, child pornography, distributing photos and harassment are so pervasive in Canada.  One of the considerations for sentencing is “preventing or deterring the offender or others from committing similar crimes”.  I don’t think this sentence will deter others from committing similar crimes.

This sentence sends the message that you can witness a sexual assault, take photographs which are then circulated leading to the harassment of the victim and ultimately to her death and you’ll just have to apologize.  In my eyes, a court ordered apology would lack sincerity.  With the amount of media attention in this case, it was an opportunity to set a precedent for sentencing in cases like this but our justice system failed to do so.  Nothing about that sentence would make a teen think twice about taking a photo of a sexual assault.

I support rehabilitation and think it should be the main goal in our criminal justice system.  While rehabilitation is extremely important, I still think there needs to be sentencing that will deter others from committing similar crimes.  As of now, we do not have comprehensive sexual education, rape culture still runs rampant in Canada, rape myths still exist and the justice system still re-victimizes survivors of sexual violence.  Canada has not taken sexual assault seriously and our culture does not deter it in any way.

If our culture does not deter and our criminal justice system does not deter, what will?

Sources:
Government of Canada: Department of Justice
http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/just/08.html