Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

I don’t know if Samuel Taylor Coleridge knew how accurate his verse from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was when he wrote it. The World Health Organization estimates that everyday billions of people around the world drink water that will kill them because they have no other source. These people are forced to drink contaminated water because there is no safe water. Drinking contaminated water leads to infection and ultimately death from things that we don’t even consider diseases in the minority world, conditions like Diarrhea kill people everyday. The World Health Organization reported that 1.4 million children die from Diarrhea every year. This is why March 22 is World Water Day, to raise awareness about the global issues of unsafe water and lack of access to water. Ryerson Urban Water hosted Walk4Water on Tuesday to raise awareness about the lack of quality water sources and the lack of access to water around the world. The 6Km walk on Tuesday represented the length that women and children in the majority world must walk to reach a water source multiple times a day.

Ryerson Urban Water is a multidisciplinary group from natural and social sciences, engineering, and education that want to advance the understanding and provide solutions for urban water issues using a holistic approach. They work to educate the public, industry, and government on urban water issues through educational programs, community outreach, and training. Additionally, they provide a platform/forum for discussion and exchange of ideas on urban water issues for the general public, scientists, engineers, industry, policy makers, and the different levels of government.

Living in Toronto for my whole life it is hard to imagine having to walk father than my tap for clean, drinkable water. What’s even harder to imagine is that there are people in Canada who don’t have access to clean water. Even though Canada has probably some of the cleanest water in the world and has access to a vast amount of fresh water there are still people living without equal access. Our provinces and territories have a responsibility to provide us with clean water and our cities have the responsibility of treating that water to ensure that it is safe for use. But what happens when you don’t live in a traditional city or town? What happens when you’re isolated on a manmade island and ignored by people around you? Your life slowly deteriorates into the poisonous water that surrounds you.

This is the reality for the Indigenous people of Shoal Lake. On the border of Ontario and Manitoba there is Shoal Lake, this is home to two First Nations communities, Shoal Lake 39 and 40. Almost 100 years ago the City of Winnipeg wanted a clean water source and they came to an agreement with the Province of Ontario to use the water of Shoal Lake. To access this water they built a 135Km aquaduct along with canals to divert muddy water and in doing so turned the land of Shoal Lake 40 into an island. The people of Shoal Lake 40 have been living in isolation on this island ever since, using a barge to access the mainland in summer and walking across the ice in winter. During the spring thaw and the fall freeze the mainland is entirely inaccessible.

The people of Shoal Lake 40 do not have access to clean water. Their island is surrounded by the muddy water that is diverted away from the water that Winnipeg uses. The only way the people of Shoal Lake get clean water is by having community members truck in bottled water from Kenora. This is not only expensive but it is harming the micro and macro-environment. Due to the isolation of Shoal Lake 40 they cannot remove anything from the island, this means that garbage piles up contaminating the land and water. The obvious solution here is to make a water treatment plant that serves Shoal Lake and if this was not an Indigenous community this would have been done decades ago. However, the community of Shoal Lake 40 has been told repeatedly that their population is too small to justify the cost of a water treatment plant. Too small to justify access to clean water, too small to justify access to a healthy life, too small justify life.

In 2000 the community of Shoal Lake 40 was put on a boil water advisory which means that their water was contaminated to the point that it would only be safe to consume if it was boiled first, to kill the bacteria that infests it. Why was it allowed to get to that point and how long were these people drinking contaminated water for? I can’t answer these questions but I presume an uncaring government played a role. A government that prides itself on the work we do around the world, keeping peace and aiding those in need when our own people are dying in isolation. Our people are dying because they don’t have access to medical professionals, they are dying because we are stealing their clean drinking water, they are dying because they fall through the ice trying to access the outside world, and they are dying because we are turning a blind eye. How much longer must the people of Shoal Lake 40 wait for access to clean water?

There is one spot of hope in this whole tale and this is the new Liberal Government. In December of 2015 Justin Trudeau came to an agreement with the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba to build Freedom Road. This is a connecting bridge between Shoal Lake 40 and the rest of the country. No longer will the people of Shoal Lake live in isolation. However, they will continue to live with contaminated water. After almost 100 years of isolation the Indigenous community of Shoal Lake 40 will have unobstructed access to the mainland, but how many more centuries have to pass before they can drink water from their taps as easily as I can, as easily as we all can?

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

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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.

The Secret Life of Milk Bags

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Have you ever wondered what you could do with a milk bag? You know, those multicoloured bags that hold our milk. Well they can also hold a person, that is if you weave above 500 of them together. The School of Early Childhood Studies held an event this past week where I was able to do just that. I came together with other nutrition students and faculty, early childhood education students, and parents and children from the Early Learning Centre to turn old milk bags into mats and mattresses of a different kind.

MILKBAGSunlimited is an organization that works with schools and other institutions and individuals to create bedding and other valuable items out of old milk bags and donates them to people all over the world who need them. Working with donated milk bags that are durable, washable, don’t retain moisture, and will last for up to 25 years is not only economical but it is also environmentally conscious. These milk bags would have regularly ended up in landfills poisoning our earth and now they are providing comfort to someone who may have only a piece of cardboard to sleep on. MILKBAGSunlimited estimates that they have saved 5.7 million milk bags from landfills and created 7200 mats out of them.

MILKBAGSunlimited not only provides mats but they also collect supplies such as wheelchairs, crutches, school materials, toys, and tools and send them all over the world. What I found to be very interesting is that the mats are used as packing material, they serve a dual purpose, to protect and insulate the packing crates and to be used as a mattress at their destination. On top of all this MILKBAGSunlimited provides an opportunity for micro-entrepreneurship. They provide the supplies so that individuals in communities around the world can make their own products and sell them within their countries. This provides an opportunity for people who might otherwise not have the resources or occasion to earn an income. This allows these communities to prosper and the individuals who live there to buy food, clothing, and other necessities.

I was delighted when I heard that there was an opportunity to take some time out of my study schedule to weave together some old milk bags. It sounds strange but it’s actually quite fun and a bit of a workout. What was even more beneficial for me was getting a chance to work with the kids from the Early Learning Centre. I believe that children need a chance to learn new skills and be exposed to different kinds of work. Even though they probably had no idea why we were tying a bunch of milk bags together they got the opportunity to do something new with their hands which is very important. Kids need to see that there are different ways to learn even if they don’t see it that way, these kinds of experiences can be very formative for their brains. Additionally, being able to socialize with people who they don’t know will help them to grow.

After all the mats were finished being woven together I was given one to give away to someone who is experiencing homelessness. I regularly walk home from school and so I was sure I would find someone to give my mat to, but because of the extreme cold I had trouble. However, a few days later I was walking down Yonge Street and saw a man with his dog sitting on the street. Thankfully I had decided to try again to give the mat away that day. When I went up to him, a little nervousness in my step because I know if I were him it would be strange to have some random person come up to me and ask if I wanted some mat they made out of milk bags. After I explained what it was, he decided to keep the mat and he unrolled it and gave it to his dog to sleep on instead of using it for himself.

This whole experience made my heart feel a little lighter, but while I was walking I noticed more and more people experiencing homelessness that could have used my mat which made me sad. I found myself saying “damn I could’ve given it to that person too or that person”. It made me realize just how fortunate I am and it instilled some fear into my heart and mind. I don’t know how people who live on the street handle the stress, I can barely deal with assignments let alone not having a room of my own. I sometimes hear people comment about how disgusting homeless people are and how they are a waste and this rips my heart up because what if that were them? What if they had nowhere to go, would they want to be called disgusting? There are so many factors that lead into homelessness and so many things that come out of it that make it extremely difficult to remove oneself from it. People experiencing homelessness do not deserve to be treated as someone lesser, they are just as important to our world as we are. I feel that sometimes people create a “them and us” attitude when it comes to homelessness when it should really just be us. We are all responsible for homelessness and we can all do something about it. We should not “other” homeless people, they are a part of our society, and they are a part of us.

What it Feels Like for Global Youth

Recently the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Ryerson and Ryerson University International Support hosted a panel discussion on global youth employment. The discussion centred on the difficulties that students and youth from the Global South have when migrating to the Global North. The panel consisted of Dr. Henry Parada, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Ryerson University,
Ana Leticia Ibarra, Research Coordinator, Children and Youth Human Rights Empowerment Project, Christian Bambe, WUSC Scholar, and Thuch James, Founder, ROSS DAILYINC Online Magazine. Dr. Winnie Ng, CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University gave the key note speech in which she discussed the intersectionality of love and power and the systemic racism and colonialism that bars newcomers from the same opportunities as other Canadians, both of which were further developed by the panel.

The panel began by speaking to the difference between the Global North and South and the challenges newcomers face. In the first place access to education is different in other parts of the world. In Canada we all receive and have access to basic education, there are places that don’t allow for that or have the system in place to. It is difficult to become educated in the Global South and therefore difficult to become employed. However, even if you do get an education it may still be difficult to get a job if you migrate to the Global North. This is because education is not transferable in Canada, if you are trained to be a doctor in South Africa you cannot work as a doctor in Canada until you have gone through our education system. These migrant workers are told their education is invalid here and are forced to start over from scratch. Not only is this harmful emotionally but it also sets migrants back and if they do not have a support system in place in Canada it makes it difficult for them to ever realize their professional and personal goals. Additionally, without an economic support system migrants may not be able to get the needed Canadian work or volunteer experience that employers require, let alone pay for their education twice. This is detrimental to migrants and to Canadians as they both lose out on valuable opportunities, Canadians lose the experience and opinions that come from people who learn and live in other countries. However, it is possible to overcome these barriers, past generations of immigrants made lives for themselves here in Canada and new generations will as well, it will be difficult because the system makes it difficult but there is hope.

The difficulties with credential recognition not only have economic impacts on individual but also psychological. Denouncing someone’s credentials sets them behind in their life progression and they may also internalize this, they may begin to feel that they are inadequate or that something is wrong with them when it is the system holding them back not themselves. Individuals may give up due to the distress and the knowledge that so much time will be wasted out of their life and this benefits no one. Additionally, there is a strange anomaly here. In Canada we accept the education of people coming from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom but nowhere else. Why is this? The panel believed it was due to systemic racism. Which seems to make sense because why those four countries and no one else?

The panel then moved on to how employers can aid youth. Simply put employers can help by giving youth the opportunities to develop the practical skills needed. Currently there seems to be a shift towards an individualistic system where potential applicants have to develop practical skills on their own before even applying for a job. Employers no longer want to provide this kind of skill training, youth need to seek it out on their own. Adding on to that if migrant present these but not in a Canadian context they don’t count, they must develop them within Canada. This seems counterintuitive since Canadians who go abroad and learn new skills are welcomed back with job prospects because of this worldly experience but it doesn’t seem to go the other way.

Lastly, the ideas of the “brain drain” and associated “brain waste” that occur in Canada were reflected upon. These were two new concepts to me and two ideas that I found quite saddening. The Global North countries are attractive to youth and workers in other countries and they know this. Global North countries bring in the best students from the Global South and educate them and force them to stay here for a set period of time. This is the “brain drain”. We are taking the educated youth away from their communities where they could be making a large impact and benefiting the lives of the people around them. They could be setting up a system within their own countries to make them better but we keep them here. Along with this, the bright and educated migrants who come to Canada of their own volition are not allowed to work, this is the “brain waste”. We have skilled people coming into our country but they are only allowed to work in the service industry because their experiences are invalid. In all the panel agreed that Canada should look into the idea of return migration. Bringing bright youth to Canada and giving them the opportunity to get an education and then allowing them to return to their country or stay here and develop support systems for future generations to become educated and improve the lives of all.

Soup and Substance: Ryerson’s Campus Climate

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On February 23rd, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s Soup and Substance.  The event discussed campus climate in relation to events both on and off campus, centering the voices and experiences of students.

The panel consisted of 6 students with diverse identities but with the common experience of a hostile and unsafe campus climate at times.  Student groups represented on the panel included: The Trans Collective, Muslim Students’ Association, Indigenous Students’ Association, Feminist Collective and Students Supporting Israel.  There was also a student present who spoke about the experience of having a disability on campus.  Before I go any further, I would like to point out that this selection of student groups did not contribute to a safe space for all students to attend and to participate in the panel.

In my representation of the Feminist Collective, I spoke broadly about the structures of misogyny and sexism, and how those have played out for our members this year.  The events I chose to focus on were the threats against women, feminists and specific departments at the University of Toronto in the fall and the visible emergence of a Men’s Issues group at Ryerson.  I spoke about how these events impacted our collective in general terms with a few specific examples of the harassment we experienced.  While I did not use “I” statements, I’m really glad that fellow panellists did as it demonstrated the ways individual interactions contribute to an unsafe campus climate for students.

In discussions about social justice, both on and off campus, we often discuss the structural nature of individual experiences.  We discuss how addressing racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, etc. at structural and institutional levels will impact individual experiences.  Many solutions to social injustice are based in eradicating these systems of oppression at systemic levels, as they should be, but this panel reminded me that all of these systems live in individuals.  With that being said, one of the ways we can create a safer campus climate is addressing the individual actions of students and faculty.

While the eradication of oppression needs to happen at a systemic level, there are very simple things individuals can do to change students’ experiences of campus climate.  Eradicating systems of oppression are long and hard-fought battles that will continue beyond our time at Ryerson; I commend all student activists who are fighting to address the heart of the matter which is systems of oppressions entwined in institutions.  Ryerson does not have a shortage of these activists, but if we want to see an improvement of student experience, individuals need to do some reflection and change their behaviours.  During the panel, I heard students share heartbreaking stories of their experiences on campus that ultimately reflect the individual choices of students and faculty in how they will interact with students.

Students with service dogs are being told to leave because their dog is scaring people; students without disabilities are taking the accessible seating in lecture halls and when asked to move, claim they got there first; trans students are being harassed for the clothing they wear and are concerned for their safety when they wear what they want; professors are using incorrect pronouns despite being told of the pronouns individual trans students use; students are being spit on and harassed while holding an event on campus; students with disabilities are being told to use the stairs to access the Student Learning Centre; students with disabilities that impact their vision are being told their eyes are scary; women who wear the hijab are being harassed on their way to class.  This is just a few examples.

All of these experiences which impact campus climate and a sense of safety at Ryerson are the result of individual actions.  While micro and macro manifestations of oppression are inherently related, one can change their individual actions.  Everything I described above manifests from the actions of individual people in the Ryerson community and they can change their actions at any time.

While the eradication of systems of oppression at institutional levels and the liberation of peoples affected by those systems is crucial, we can’t wait for widespread change.  Current students are unsafe now and they are impacted daily by the violence I described above.  A partial solution to a safer school climate lives within the individuals who hold privilege and attend/ work at Ryerson.  Those that hold privilege based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, ability, etc., are making this school unsafe through individual actions.  This is violent, unacceptable and we need to do better as a community at Ryerson.

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

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.

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 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.

Sexual Violence on Campus: Arrested and Charged

campus

*trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence*

The year of 2015 was one that reignited the discussion of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses across Canada and the United States.  While activists, students, feminists and scholars have been having these conversations and screaming for acknowledgement of an epidemic happening on our campuses, this topic was thrust into the spotlight this past year.  This happened in a number ways including Ryerson’s new sexual violence policy, the airing of CBC Fifth Estate’s School of Secrets and the Hunting Ground, stories of Jian Ghomeshi’s time in post-secondary education, the filing of Human Rights Complaints against post-secondary institutions including University of British Columbia and York University, Lady Gaga’s “Until it happens to you”, and the continuous hard work of activists to put a spotlight on this issue and demand a response from universities and colleges.

Despite greater public awareness of the epidemic of sexual violence on campus and new policies made by some schools, huge gaps remain in addressing sexual violence on campus.  These gaps put students at risk, re-victimize survivors, push survivors off campuses, deter reporting and are discriminatory based on gender, considering the majority of sexual assault survivors are woman-identified.

A major gap that post-secondary institutions have failed to address is perpetrators of sexual violence on campus, specifically those that are under investigation or have been arrested and charged.

On January 9th, York University Security Services released a security bulletin about an arrest made in a sexual assault case.  A York University student was arrested and charged with sexual assault following reports from two students during the Fall 2015 semester.  The security bulletin gave no information about if this student was still on campus and what actions would be taken to ensure student safety.

PhD student and activist, Mandi Gray contacted York University Security Services for more information about the student and the arrest.  Mandi is in the process of filing a human rights complaint against York University for how they handled an assault by a fellow student and colleague.  The trial beings February 1st: https://www.facebook.com/events/812545115537982/.

The security officer who took Mandi’s call was extremely rude and disrespectful to her and provided no information about whether the student who was arrested would be returning to classes on campus for the Winter 2015 semester.  Her concerns about sexual violence, student safety and a serial rapist being present on campus were dismissed and brushed off by the security guard.  This is how survivors are treated by post-secondary institutions.  Being apart of the York University community, Mandi knows who this student is and he is still on campus.

This student is charged with sexually assaulting two students yet remains on campus.  This means that the two women are starting their Winter 2016 semester knowing the man who assaulted them could be around every corner they turn on campus.  If they are in the same program, they may be in the same classes as him.  If they work for the same department or internship, they may have to share an office with him.  How is this fair to these two students?

Rapists being present on campus habe been an issue that post-secondary institutions are unwilling to address.  One of the common responses is that the perpetrator’s education will be interrupted if they are removed from campus.  Post-secondary institutions are more concerned about a perpetrators’ education than a survivor’s right to safety on campus.  Another common response is that post-secondary institutions allow perpetrators to remain on campus to avoid law suits.  Again, a survivor’s right to safety is overlooked.

If a student perpetrates sexual violence on campus, they are a threat to student safety and should be treated as such.  If a student is arrested and charged for sexual assault, or is under investigation by police or the school, they should not be allowed on campus.  While this would be ideal and the safest solution for survivors and students, post-secondary schools have not responded in this manner.  They have continued to allow perpetrators to attend classes and be present on campus.  If schools are unwilling to remove perpetrators from campus, steps need to be taken to ensure survivor and student safety.  If a student is charged with a violent crime against other students, and is going to be on campus, shouldn’t security be monitoring them?  Survivors are told to utilize security services to ensure their safety on campus following sexual assault, why not have security walk with perpetrators to ensure student safety?  This would protect all students.

If post-secondary schools are concerned about lawsuits from students who are barred from campus, there are ways to address this.  Due to the state of our criminal justice system and rape culture, convictions in sexual assault cases are extremely rare, which could open opportunities for perpetrators to sue colleges and universities for wrongfully suspending them and denying them an education.  A way to address this concern is to place students who have been arrested and charged for sexual violence on home instruction.  They would still be able to take classes but would have to do so online and would not be permitted on campus.

If post-secondary institutions are not going to take the appropriate steps to protect students on their campuses, they need to release the names of those who have been arrested and charged so students can take their own measures to be safe on campus.   Allowing serial perpetrators to freely attend classes and be on campus unnecessarily puts students at risk.  Safety is a right, post-secondary education is privilege; It’s time for post-secondary institutions to value the rights and safety of every student over the privilege of post-secondary education for one.

Sources:

http://security.news.yorku.ca/2016/01/09/security-bulletin-9-january-2016/

Photo from: http://knowyourix.org/campus-dating-violence/