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.

RSU Election Debate: Student Safety at Campus Events

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On March 3rd, the Ryerson Students’ Union held its debate for the upcoming election.  Each candidate for the five executive positions was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and make an opening statement, which was followed by questions from the (very small) audience.  If you missed the debate, I encourage you to check out Keith Capstick (@KeithCapstick) and JC Vaughan (@suitnboodt) on Twitter as they both live-tweeted the debate.  It’s crucial that students familiarize themselves with each candidate’s platform as the campaign period is shorter than previous years.  I’m not going to re-cap the entire debate as Keith and JC have already eloquently done so, but I’m going to discuss a response to an audience question that I found deeply troubling.

A member of the audience, who was not affiliated with any candidate or slate, asked VP of Student Life and Events candidates about how they would ensure student safety at campus events.  They gave the example of this year’s Parade and Picnic that featured Drake; many students found the space to be unsafe, both in terms of physical safety and safe space, as well as inaccessible.  Some students were injured during the concert and others did not feel it was safe or accessible to them.  These are serious concerns that should be addressed and student safety should always be a topic in student government elections.

I was very troubled by current VP of Student Life and Events, Harman Singh’s response to this question; he is running for re-election on the Impact Ryerson slate.  His response to concerns about student safety, specific to events such as the Parade and Picnic, was that no one was shot or stabbed.

Why is this so troubling to me?  This response sets the bar so low for student safety that it’s barely off the ground.  This type of response tells students that everything that makes spaces unsafe on campus including racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, harassment, sexual assault, Islamaphobia, anti-Black racism, etc. don’t matter.  It tells students that these issues, which students experience daily, aren’t on the radar of the student union executive.  It also indicates that safe(r) space isn’t even considered when planning events.  With such a diverse student population, this means that the majority of Ryerson students are not of concern for big events.  As long as no one was stabbed or shot, it’s all good?  No, it’s not all good.

This type of response also sets the bar low for physical safety as well.  There were several concerns about the large number of people that would be squeezed into the Lake Devo area that was sectioned off for the concert.  As with most large crowds, there were fights and people were injured, but that doesn’t matter because no one was stabbed, right?  Despite these concerns, Singh said we would have fit more people into that area.

I had no intention of going to this event, but if I had wanted to, it would have been completely inaccessible to me.  As a student with a disability, that many people in such a small space would be dangerous for me.  This would have been compounded by not being able to get out of the crowd as high fences surrounded the entire area.  I have been to previous Parade and Picnics at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and Toronto Islands, and this has never been an issue.

Singh’s answer to this question completely focused on Drake and Ryerson’s reputation to the outside eye.  It doesn’t matter if students feel unsafe at events because Drake came to Ryerson, which is apparently school-transfer worthy, and no one was killed.  This indicates greater concern for what Ryerson looks like from the outside as opposed to how students feel.  Isn’t our student union’s main concern supposed to be its students?

The Ryerson Students’ Union teamed up with the Feminist Collective this past December to host an event on the state of and importance of safe spaces on campus.  If the current Ryerson Students’ Union truly cared about student safety, they would consider this in all aspects of their work, including campus-wide events.  Drake shouldn’t be the RSU’s main priority; its students should be.  What’s the point in having cool events if a majority of students at Ryerson couldn’t access it for a variety of reasons?

I really encourage students, even graduating ones, to look closely at candidates’ and slates’ platforms and vote this coming week.  I’m not non-partisan; I organize a feminist group on campus which is inherently political and I do plan on voting for RU Connected based on my own values.  A lot has happened on our campus in student politics this year but in regards to the topic of this blog. I pose this question; do we really want a student union that doesn’t care about the safety of its students?

 

Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis

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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

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

Honouring with Silence, Shouting for Survivors: Discussing the Trans Day of Remembrance

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Last week, the RSU Trans Collective hosted the event, Honouring with Silence, Shouting for Survivors:  Discussing the Trans Day of Remembrance.  The Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) takes place yearly on November, 20th.  These days are often marked with vigils to honour those taken by transphobic and transmisogynistic violence.  More recently, these events have moved towards honouring those lost by celebrating their lives.

The event was an opportunity to come together for a meal, panel and discussion about what the Trans Day of Remembrance, what it means, what does it do, what does it fail to do.  The panellists included: ki, Rosalyn Forrester and Jasbinda (Jassie) Sekhon.  All of the panellists spoke eloquently and honestly about their experiences with the Trans Day of Remembrance.  While the panellists come from different places and backgrounds, all expressed complex relationships with the Trans Day of Remembrance, and how this event impacts their communities.

A big contention about Trans Day of Remembrance can be brought forward in a single question; what about the other 364 days of the year?  The City of Toronto held a flag raising this year with councillors speaking to the issue of violence against trans people.  Toronto needs to be talking about this violence more than one day a year and make efforts to prevent these deaths.  Toronto being in allyship is more than raising a flag and gathering once a year, it’s actively dismantling and challenging the systems and culture that allow transphobic and transmisogynistic violence to occur and continue.

With that being said, many losses in the trans community are not from blatant transphobic and transmisogynistic physical violence at the hands of another person.  Many of these losses are at the hands of systemic issues those outside the trans community may fail to see on a daily basis.  Transphobia runs in more than just individuals, it runs in the very systems that dictate peoples’ lives.  Transphobia in systems results in unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness, mental health issues, suicide, isolation, etc., all of which kill people.  All of the panellists reiterated the need to honour those who are murdered by systemic issues, not just by individuals.  While these losses to the community occur in different forms, they are lives taken too soon and losses to the community.

Several Trans Day of Remembrance events have moved towards a more celebratory space that focuses on healing.  One of the panellists described Trans Day of Remembrance as a “slit your wrist” type of event, one that is depressing and leaves little hope or healing in a world full of transphobia.  The event also brought up many questions I would encourage my fellow cisgender people to consider when they attend, post or tweet about Trans Day of Remembrance: why do we only talk about trans people when they’re gone?  Why aren’t we celebrating all of the amazing things trans people are doing in the present?  Why are we only centering trans experiences once a year?  Why are we not making changes to prevent these deaths?

It’s time to celebrate, honour, and ally with trans folks for all 365 days of the year, not just one.

Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless

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On November 3rd, hundreds of people gathered at City Hall as part of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless.  The rally was timely as councillors were debating the George Street Redevelopment Plan, which was approved.  George Street is home to Seaton House, which is at the centre of the George Street Redevelopment Plan.  Seaton House is the largest shelter in Toronto that provides a number of services to single men experiencing homelessness.  This “revitalization” plan is a fancy way of saying pushing those who experience homelessness out of the neighbourhood.  It is a piece of a larger plan to push the homeless and poor to the city’s outskirts as gentrification continues to sweep the downtown core.  Its underlying goal is to clean up the downtown area of shelter and support services.

While the George Street Redevelopment Plan is to keep some emergency and long-term care beds, it does not take into account the 200 shelter beds that will be lost in this renovation.  The loss of these beds is part of a bigger shelter crisis in the city of Toronto.  Despite a 2013 promise by the city to keep shelters at 90 percent capacity, several shelters operate beyond capacity and turn folks away due to a lack of beds.  The night before the rally, shelters were operating at 98-99 percent capacity.  This is extremely alarming considering we have not yet reached the winter months.  The crisis is amplified by the closing of shelters and rooming houses across the city including Hope Shelter at College and McCaul.

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The George Street Redevelopment lacks a clear and appropriate plan for those it will be displacing.  The current plan is vague and does not take into account for the complex needs of these men.  The plan follows the current trend of relocating shelters to wards on the outskirts of the city.  This trend includes programs such as Streets to Homes.  The problem with moving shelters to wards on the outskirts of the city is that services and supports that have expertise in homelessness are all located in the downtown core.  Having shelters located downtown allowed people to access the services they need without having to worry about the cost of transportation.  Without these services being readily available, people will fall through the cracks resulting in an increase in police involvement, jail, emergency services, hospitalizations and deaths.

The City of Toronto has said that the beds Seaton House held will go into other wards.  These wards have not been named.  OCAP wrote councillors, inviting them to come to their rally or publicly state that they would have a shelter in their ward.  Not one came forward saying they would support a shelter being built in their ward and none came to the rally, despite it being held during the lunch break.  Even as OCAP and allies took over the second floor rotunda, making lots of voice, no one came out to address the concerns.  Councillors won’t take a shelter in their ward yet voted “yes” to the George Street Redevelopment.  Being unwilling to have a shelter in a ward is discrimination and prejudice.  While this rally was to keep existing services and shelters in the downtown core, OCAP emphasized the need for shelters and services in all wards.

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OCAP’s demands are to keep shelter beds in the neighbourhood.  The Sherbourne and Dundas area has the infrastructure for shelters and services.  Meanwhile, the city is struggling almost 3 years after the Hope Shelter’s properly was sold to find a replacement.  It’s time to stop selling infrastructure for support services to condo developers, especially if the city is unable to find a suitable replacement.  It’s time for the city to step up and make shelter a priority as opposed to giving into neighbours mobilizing against shelters.  Last winter was a deadly one for the City of Toronto’s most vulnerable; with even less shelter beds for this coming winter, even more people will die on our streets.  The decisions made at City Hall have deadly consequences outside its walls; it’s time for councillors to take that reality seriously.

 

The Campus We Walk On: Social Justice Issues at Ryerson

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During Social Justice Week, I attended the Social Justice Walk with Cathy Crowe.  Cathy Crowe is a street nurse, social activist and educator.  She has worked on issues affecting people experiencing homelessness for more than 17 years.  In 2013, Cathy Crowe joined the Ryerson Family (also known as Ramily) as a distinguished visiting practitioner.  I was very excited to see that she would be leading the Social Justice Walk on campus.

We walk on Ryerson’s campus generally 5 days a week for 4 years.  We spend countless hours in lectures, in the library, in the gym, grabbing a coffee and sitting by Lake Devo.  Ryerson campus is a place we feel at home; if you don’t believe me, check out the number people who take their shoes off and kick back in the library.  While we enjoy the comfort of our second home, we may not remember what surrounds us.  The campus we walk on is immersed in and surrounded by social justice issues.  During the Social Justice Week Walk, we visited the area around Lake Devo, the library, the Quad, the Ryerson Student Centre, and Yonge-Dundas Square.  The places we walk on everyday for education are also sites of struggles and victories in the fight for social justice.

What’s In a Name:
If you’re trying to identify a social justice issue at Ryerson, look no further than its name.  Ryerson University was named after Egerton Ryerson; the man whose ideas shaped the modern day education system.  Ryerson believed that education and religion should be separated but he held a very different view on education for Indigenous children.  Ryerson believed that education for Indigenous children should combine education, religion and physical labour.  It was these ideas that contributed to the creation of the residential school system across Canada that operated until 1996.

Cheryl Trudeau, a coordinator with the Aboriginal Education Council, joined us at the Ryerson Statue on Gould Street to discuss Ryerson’s acknowledgement of the history behind the name that is displayed across the downtown core.  Ryerson University both welcomes and respects Aboriginal peoples, committing itself to proactively working with Aboriginal peoples.  As part of the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Plan, Ryerson established the Aboriginal Education Council in 2010.  Its vision is to ensure that the next seven generations of Aboriginal people will have greater opportunities and success in education at Ryerson University. http://www.ryerson.ca/aec/index.html

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The Campus Daycare: More than Cute Kids in the Quad:
Perhaps you’ve seen the adorable children that attend the daycare located near Kerr Hall West.  They can often be seen taking a stroll around the Quad.  On a surface level, we enjoy seeing cute little kids amongst the big ones that attend Ryerson but much deeper is a social justice issue that has become a federal election issue for some parties.

The topic of childcare holds several social justice issues within itself; affordable childcare, the number of childcare spaces available, the availability of licensed and safe childcare spaces, precarious work experienced by Early Childhood Educators, ability for parents to return to work. and many more.  Providing childcare through a market system is not working for children, parents, families or those who works in the childcare sector.  We need a publicly funded system to address the many social justice issues that fall under childcare.  In Canada, only 20 percent of families have access to licensed childcare spaces, and this includes Quebec which has implemented a $7 a day childcare policy.

Ryerson Lifeline Syria:
Following the emergence of a devastating photo of Alan Kurdi, a toddler who drowned fleeing Syria with his family, refugees have become a topic of conversation in our politics, at school, on social media and at our dinner tables.  Outside Heaslip House, we learned about Ryerson Lifeline Syria and how to get involved.

Canada is unique in that citizens can sponsor refugees through their own means.  Lifeline Syria works to match people who want to sponsor refugees with people who are seeking sponsorship.  They act as a matchmaker, connecting these two groups of people.  This has emerged as a response to a complicated private system that has many twists and turns as well as long wait times.  While students may not have the financial means to sponsor a family, they are able to get involved in other ways.  Ryerson Lifeline Syria has several committees that address different issues refugees face.  Students often join committees related to their program of study and provide support as people arrive to Canada.  Interested students can get more information and sign up at: http://www.ryerson.ca/lifelinesyria/about/index.html

The part of our campus that isn’t really our campus but we consider it part of our campus so it’s pretty much ours:
Yonge-Dundas Square; while not technically part of Ryerson’s campus, any student will tell you that this is Ryerson turf.  Yonge-Dundas Square went through huge changes before our time at Ryerson; this revitalization was intended to address financial interests as well as build community.

With the goal of building community, Yonge-Dundas Square should be about people, activism, community and being one with the land we walk on.  Over time, business and private interests have overtook the area and public space.  This can be seen in the presence of private security in Yonge-Dundas Square, whose role is often to remove people experiencing homelessness that do not fit in with the gentrified idea for the space.  Removing those who do not fit in with this idea takes away from what public space is all about; building the surrounding community which includes those who are not housed.

As we stood in Yonge-Dundas Square, connections were made between these levels of security and Bill C-51; the controversial anti-terrorism bill passed by both the Federal Conservative and Liberal parties.  A bill of this nature makes is more difficult to protest and those who do are surveilled much more.  Yonge-Dundas Square has often been a site of protest for several social justice issues.  The increased surveillance of protestors, especially those who are marginalized, demeans the purpose of public space.

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In and Beyond Ryerson:
While the Social Justice Walk focused on social justice issues on campus, these issues extend to our communities outside of Ryerson.  In the past 10 years, the City of Toronto has lost over 1000 shelter beds due gentrification.  Development that has taken place has either been in the form of condos or properties have been left vacant.  The only youth shelter east of the Don Valley closed its doors last week.  Cathy Crowe has been teaching at Ryerson for two years at Ryerson; within that time there have been 3 or 4 homeless deaths on campus.  These on-campus tragedies directly relate to the city and communities that surround Ryerson.  These deaths are 3 or 4 of 700 names that are on the homeless memorial behind the Eaton Centre.  A homeless memorial is held the second Tuesday of every month at 12:00 pm as both a point of remembrance and pushing forward in advocacy on homeless issues.

Pushing Forward:
The Social Justice Week Walk was informative and emotional, but ended with a point of hope.  We need to make Ryerson less silent on both the social justice issues we walk on and those that surround our campus.  We have people at Ryerson who recognize oppression and marginalization both on and off campus; we have potential.

Eat Think Vote: The Politics of Hunger

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On September 23rd, The Good Food Centre and Rye’s Homegrown put on Eat Think Vote:  The Politics of Hunger as part of DisOrientation 2015.  The topic of the event was food security and framing it as an issue for the upcoming federal election.  Despite being one of the wealthiest countries, food insecurity has remained high and stagnant over the past decade.

Michael Kushnir, the Vice President of Services with CESAR, described food as “central to every community on earth” yet 4 million Canadians lack access to sufficient and healthy food.  This includes 1.5 million children who are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  This works out to 1/10 Canadians and 1/6 children being food insecure.  Post secondary students are also disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  In the 2013/2014 school year, 2500 Ryerson students accessed food banks, which have become a staple on university campuses.  With food insecurity being such a prevalent issue in Canada, why has the issue been absent since an election was called?  Eat Think Vote set out to make food insecurity an election issue… as it should be.

The upcoming federal election is being called one of the most important elections, and will greatly affect the path Canada takes and its future.  Eat Think Vote included discussions by two of the candidates running in the Toronto Centre riding on the issue of food insecurity.  While the Conservative and Liberal parties were not in attendance, Linda McQuaig of the NDP party and Colin Biggin of the Green Party shared their personal and party views on food insecurity.  As this is such an important issue to take into consideration when casting your vote in October, here are the platforms on food insecurity presented at Eat Think Vote:

Colin Biggin- Green Party:

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Biggin described how the food many Canadians eat comes from places like California as opposed to the surrounding areas.  While this works for economists, it’s not working for us.  Canada is not as self sustainable as we should be and should strive to be considering the cost of oil and the droughts in areas we get our food from.  Biggin discussed the current situation of farmers in Canada; many are unable to sustain themselves on farming alone, are being pushed out by industrial farms and have no one to carry on their work once they retire.  Biggin’s discussed the Green Party wanting to support younger farmers, small farms as opposed to industrial size and support helping people onto the land such as immigrants.  He noted the Green Party opposes the temporary worker program and would like to see participants in that program be able to immigrate here fully and paid good wages.

Biggin also connected the issues of food insecurity and with other issues in the Green Party’s platform.  He discussed the need for families to be able to afford food.  The Green Party plans to respond to this issue through a number of policies including a guaranteed income which would allow people to afford food.  This would be done through an amalgamation of several social programs and a top up program.

A question from the audience lead to a discussion of Northern, remote and Indigenous communities.  Biggin would like to see food in those communities made more affordable by encouraging more businesses to go into that area (there is currently one) and by subsidizing transportation costs.  Biggin also mentioned that a national school nutrition program is included in the Green Party’s platform.

Linda McQuaig- NDP Party:

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McQuaig began her presentation on food security by describing how striking it is that one of the essential basics to our well-being is invisible as an election issue.  She described her career as an author and journalist, focusing on income inequality, and drew many connections between inequality and food insecurity.

McQuaig showed concern about the increasing inequality in Canada and how food insecurity is a big part of this inequality.  She went on to say that a reliance on food banks is not a secure way to access food and that the quality of food in food banks is not healthy.  She also endorsed a school nutrition program policy as food is key to children’s health and ability to learn.  She went on to discuss how seniors are greatly affected by food insecurity.

McQuaig presented a variety of NDP platform policies that would decrease food insecurity in Canada by addressing inequality.  These policies include putting $400 million dollars towards the Guaranteed Income Supplement which would lift 200 000 seniors out of poverty.  Second, the NDP plans to implement a $15 federal minimum wage which would lift 100 000 people out of poverty.  She claimed this would set a national standard and put pressure on the provinces to raise their minimum wages.  Third, the NDP plans to introduce a national childcare program at a maximum of $15 per day.  This would alleviate poverty in allowing women to work and earn an income as opposed to staying home due to not being able to afford childcare.  The NDP would also create a universal drug program, invest in affordable housing and restore the 36 billion dollars that has been cut from public health care.  The NDP plan to pay for these programs by raising corporate taxes which would result in an extra 7 billion dollars per year.

McQuaig went on to discuss her concerns about the environment.  She believes Canada has been an obstructionist in world talks on climate change and thinks we should be a key player in these talks.  She has concerns about preserving water ways, farmer’s land, fisheries, and feels we need to address the issue of climate change for any type of a sustainable future.

A question from the audience raised the concern of post-secondary students and growing food insecurity in the face of rising tuition fees.  McQuaig and the NDP recognize the problem and would consider earmark funding to provinces specifically for reducing tuition and reducing the student debt burden.  In this discussion, she raised the point of post secondary institutions resorting to private philanthropy in the face of reduced funds resulting in the rich having influence in shaping post-secondary education.

To my fellow post-secondary students, we have a voice and a vote.  Two out of four parties in Toronto came out to a student-led and mostly student-attended event to say that food security should be an election issue and provided policy ideas to decrease food insecurity.  On October 19th, go out and vote!

The G-Word: Gentrification

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Say it with me Toronto folks…gentrification.  That is what is happening in downtown Toronto.  Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into “deteriorating” areas.  While those in favour of gentrification argue that residents who previously lived in these areas will move back, in reality most are displaced.  We’ve seen it in Regent Park; low income and affordable housing is sold to real estate developers who build condos.  How exactly would the former tenants of that area move back if it’s not affordable housing?

Gentrification has been making its way across the entire downtown core with high rise condos going up while affordable housing disappears.  The City of Toronto is about to kick the gentrification project up a notch with its new plan for homeless shelters.  The city plans to open shelters in the suburbs outside of the downtown core.  There is a need for shelters in the suburbs but I think this plan will be used to displace and push those experiencing homelessness out of the downtown core as part of the continuous gentrification process and the “social cleansing” we see before large events.

Why do I think this?  Hope Shelter, which is located at College and McCaul Streets and had 124 beds, is about to close its doors because the building has been sold.  In a system that is already overcrowded and bursting at the seams, even one bed is too many to lose.  The City has been working with the Salvation Army to help find the men who were staying at Hope Shelter a place to stay but cannot say if this location will be downtown.  We keep seeing shelters closing downtown while the City plans to open more in the suburbs.

In a recent Toronto Star article a resident at Hope Shelter, Derek George, discussed how moving shelters to the suburbs would cause hardship for people experiencing homelessness in Toronto.  Many supports and services that people who are homeless access are located downtown.  This includes drops-ins, food banks, meal programs, hospitals and medical services.  Having to stay at a shelter in the suburbs also brings up the issue of transit and its cost.  Staying in a shelter downtown means you can generally walk to access services.  Being in the suburbs would require people who are homeless to take transit to access these services.  This is a huge barrier.

I also think the plan for shelters is a piece of the gentrification puzzle because of the population demographics in the suburbs.  In the Toronto Star article, Liane Regendanz from St. Stephen’s Community House discussed how while there is more poverty in the outer suburbs of Toronto, that poverty are the working-poor as opposed to street-involved homeless populations that we see downtown.  While all wards should have accessible shelters, it seems that a massive influx in suburban shelters is not the service most needed in that area of Toronto.  In this case, shelter beds would be available in the suburbs and people who are homeless would have to travel there to access that service as downtown shelters will be closed or are overcrowded.

This plan is going to remove hundreds of people who are homeless out of the downtown core.  Not only are services located downtown, but this is their community.  Gentrification of such a large area can seem like a slow process so why does this plan for shelters seem so sudden and fast?  Could have something to do with the Pan-Am Games being hosted in Toronto…

Sources Used:
http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/03/29/homeless-fear-toronto-plan-to-open-suburban-shelters.html

Photo: theblinker.com

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