Tag Archives: Canada

A New Era of Canadian Sex Work: Interview With Lowell

22 Jun

Last year, Canada passed Bill C-36, a bill that governs sex work. This new law came about after Canada’s previous prostitution laws were struck down in 2013 as being unconstitutional, and the government had only one year to either leave the laws off the books or else create new ones. They chose to go with the latter option, and based their new bill on the so-called Swedish model of prostitution laws. These laws mainly criminalize the buying of sex but not the selling of it, meaning that johns would face the harshest consequences.

In theory, these laws are supposed to protect sex workers and decrease the threat of trafficking and “sexual exploitation”. In practice, they mean that sex workers are able to sell something that no one is legally allowed to buy. These laws also have the end goal of eradicating prostitution, which is not a great solution considering that there are many sex workers who love what they do and feel empowered by it. It’s hard not to feel that while Bill C-36 promises to help people, it will actually be hurting them.

Vice recently released A New Era of Canadian Sex Work, a short documentary hosted by Canadian musician Lowell. Lowell is a particularly good fit for this role, since she worked as a stripper before releasing her first album. She’s also smart, incisive, and thoughtful as she navigates what these new laws mean for sex workers. She approaches the issue from several different angles, first talking to Conservative MP Joy Smith, one of the politicians responsible for pushing through Bill C-36. She then talks to several different women involved in the sex industry, as well as Chester Brown, the author of Paying For It, subtitled a “comic strip memoir of being a john.” Finally, she travels to Nevada to see how the regulated, legal sex work compares to what we have in Canada. The documentary is short, clocking in at just under 35 minutes, but it packs a lot in and is one hundred percent worth watching.

I recently had the chance to talk Lowell, and here’s what she had to say about making the film:

Anne: So how did this happen? Did Vice approach you about making this doc, or did you approach them, or what?

Lowell: Vice approached me to host a documentary in general, and asked me to pick somethign I was interested in. I chose to do the bill because it felt like a really good opportunity to tell my story and our story.

Anne: There’s a really tense moment near the beginning where Joy Smith pretty much looks you in the face and calls you a victim. Like, when you called sex work one of the oldest professions, she immediately jumped in and said it was one of the oldest oppressions. What did it feel like to have her say that to you?

Lowell: First of all, I was like, how do you have this perfect turn of phrase ready? How long did it take her to come up with “one of the oldest oppressions”? That’s really great marketing, I wish I was that quick.

I guess I’m empathetic to the way she feels. I understand where she’s coming from. But if I were not so confident, I would feel like she was taking away everything that i’ve gained back and everything that i’ve been empowered by. Mostly, I wanted to make her understand why what she’s saying is so terrible.

Anne: What do you think motivates people like her?

Lowell:  I think there are ulterior motives that have nothing to do with speaking for women. I want to believe that she believes her personal feminism is good for women, but I also think there are a lot of rich, white Christian people with power trying to step into the lives of people who don’t have those privileges. And they do all this without identifying any of the social reasons why people might do sex work. Saving people who don’t want to be saved doesn’t work. You can’t indoctrinate your own brand of morals into people who don’t want them.

Anne: How do the new laws impact people buying sex?

Lowell: When they’re caught, they have to go to “john school,” where they’re taught that sex workers are exploited victims. Really, the whole program is based around women being victims. Which is nothing new.

Anne: Yeah, there was a part where you talked to a woman who had been arrested a couple of years ago under the old laws and sent to a similar program for sex workers.

Lowell: These programs teach you sex work is wrong, that you’re a dirty person for what you do, and you must hate yourself. And not only that, but there’s no acknowledgment of sexuality or gender – they’re very one size fits all, all women have uteruses, that kind of thing. Which makes them especially awful for anyone who falls outside their ideas of what women who do sex work are like.

Anne: I really loved that one of the women you spoke to was a trans woman. Was it important for you to be inclusive?

Lowell: It’s an inclusive topic. When it comes to transgender women, women of colour, those are the people affected the most by the law. These women are often not able to work in strip clubs, which in my experience function as a safe place where people can solicit sex. But strip clubs are more likely to hire white, blond [cis] girls, meaning that people who don’t fit into these categories end up being forced to work on the street. The result is that these laws – which are especially unsafe for people working on the street – end up targeting certain races, poverty levels, genders.

Anne: Tell me a bit about the place that you visited in Nevada, and how that was different from how we treat sex work in Canada. 

Lowell: They call the place I visited a “sex resort,” because you can stay there over night. Contrasting with Canada, it was so much better. It’s clearly a safer way to deal with sex work. I saw women there who had been victimized in the past but wanted to continue doing sex work – they were taught how to empower themselves and given the means to do it safely. That’s huge.

But the thing is, when you talk about legalization, it’s complex. You still have people who are running things and it’s still selective and can alienate certain groups. Decriminalization is for sure the safest way to approach sex work, but it doesn’t solve everything.

Anne: When you talked to Joy Smith, she said that only two percent of people doing sex work feel empowered about it. What do you think of that number?

Lowell: I think it must be nice to be a politician and just make up statistics to prove whatever you want. 

The truth is that we don’t have those numbers. We don’t have concrete numbers about how many sex workers are abused, and part of it is that there are lots of barriers to reporting abuse. 

Anne: What about numbers that reflect, like, job satisfaction among sex workers? Like, how many of them actually feel good about what they do?

Lowell: I don’t even think anyone’s ever asked. If we had that data, then we wouldn’t be able to use victim porn as a way to get people to vote for things.

Anne: How do you think we can make sure that all voices are heard in this conversation? I know that one of the biggest concerns about being pro-sex work is that it ignore the people who have been legitimately hurt by trafficking or abuse. How do we make sure those people aren’t being erased?

Lowell: I personally think to make it easier for the average person comprehend by putting an emphasis on the actual rape laws work – how police approach rape, how they approach assault, and trafficking. We need to train the police to work better with survivors.

Blending sex work and brutality together to make it seem like we’re ignoring people who are being abused, but people who are empowered aren’t taking anything from people who have been victimized. Laws like Bill C-36 make it seem like you have to choose who you want to support – the victims, or the people out in the streets who like their work. But you don’t get to choose who has human rights. Everyone has rights. It’s the government’s job to treat every person equally when it comes to safety and their rights.

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Suicidal Student Kicked Out Of Dorm Because He Might Negatively Impact Other Students

10 Feb

TW: talk of suicide

Imagine this: a student living in a university residence contacts his Residence Life don. He has fallen and injured himself, and there is blood everywhere. He is afraid he might die. He needs help.

Surely in this scenario the don would seek immediate assistance for the student. They would bring him to a clinic or perhaps a hospital. Once the student had recovered, they would welcome him back to residence – maybe even put up a banner or throw a little party.

Certainly the student would not be asked to leave the residence.

Yet recently when a similar situation happened at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, the student in question, Blake Robert, was told to pack his bags and get out.

The difference is that in the real-life version of this story, Robert wasn’t physically sick or injured. Instead, he was depressed and struggling with suicidal ideation. After reaching out to his Residence Life don, Robert was told that he could no longer remain in student housing because he was “a threat” to other students. He was told that if he were to die on campus, it would have a “negative impact on the psychological well-being of other students in residence.”

As he put it so succinctly in his article for Acadia’s student newspaper, Robert was basically being told to go die somewhere else.

Normally I don’t like to compare physical ailments with mental health issues, mostly because I feel like doing so often validates the exact position that it’s trying to deconstruct – namely, that we still live in a society that considers physical injuries or illnesses to somehow be more real and more worthy of time and attention than mental illness. I don’t want people to accept my mental health struggles because they’re pretending it’s the same as me having diabetes – I want folks to accept that I’m struggling with something that is scary and occasionally makes me want to die and is in fact nothing like diabetes. However, in this case I think examining an institution’s reaction to a mental health crisis versus how it would likely react to a different type of health crisis is fair; doing so shows the clear stigma and lack of understanding that still persist when it comes to mental illness.

The bald facts are that had Robert contacted his Residence Life don about a broken leg or the stomach flu or a bout of pneumonia, he would have been given prompt medical attention and no one would have breathed a word about him leaving student housing. Instead, the don spoke to him in person, set up an appointment for him with student counselling, and then two days later was part of a team of people telling Robert that he needed to leave because he wasn’t “safe” in residence. Apparently the best way to ensure someone’s safety is to remove them from their support network without any plan or offers of assistance. No wonder Robert felt as if he was being sent off campus to die; he was basically being told that the university wanted him to go to a place where he was no longer their problem.

At no point did anyone take Robert to the university health clinic or the hospital.

At no point was he given the chance to advocate for himself.

Instead, Robert was subjected to a disciplinary meeting where he was told that he might perhaps be allowed back into residence in September, if he was healthy enough. He was told that the Residence Life manager’s word was final; there was no chance for appeal. The Residence Life manager said to Robert that Residence Life dons are essentially like “landlords” and can’t be expected to care for students with mental health issues. Of course, this completely ignores the fact that an actual landlord wouldn’t be able to evict a tenant because of mental illness.

Says Robert:

“… Had I actually broken clearly expressed rules, or otherwise willingly threatened the safety of other students, I would have been afforded due process through Non-Academic Judicial, perhaps involving the RCMP. But suffering from a life-threatening mental illness is apparently seen as such an egregious crime and so dangerous that Student Services’ executive director, in charge of counselling, accessibility services, Residence Life, etc., found it acceptable that I was promptly ejected from campus without warning.

Just let that sink in – a student accused of committing a crime would likely have found themselves in a safer position than Robert did.

A student with pretty much any type of physical illness would have been offered some kind of care.

Instead, Robert was treated as if he was worse than a criminal.

Imagine being in a place that is so dark and frightening that you are sure the only way out is to die. Imagine being in that place and allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to share how you feel with someone else. Now imagine that this person’s response is to tell you to get the hell out before you scare anyone. Imagine that, unlike Robert, you don’t have parents who live less than an hour away and can come pick you up. Where do you go? What do you do? And more to the point how is any of this supposed to alleviate what you’re feeling?

Sadly, Robert’s case is not uncommon – a similar story came out of Yale last year, and the psychiatrist Robert later saw at a local hospital said that universities often deal with suicidal students in this way. This is the lived reality for people living with mental illness – you’re sick, you’re so fucking sick that you might die, but don’t you dare tell anyone about it. Even the people who are supposed to help you are just as likely to hurt you.

I am so angry right now. I am angry and sad that this shit is still happening and huge institutions like universities are getting away with it.

This is why people don’t disclose mental illness. This is why people don’t ask for help. This is why people suffer and sometimes die without ever saying a word. This. This. This.

Where the hell are Bell Let’s Talk and “end the stigma” all that other feel-good bullshit when stuff like this happens?

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CANADA: LAND OF MISANDRY? NOT ANYMORE

28 Jul

I think that we can all agree that the main problem with Canadian history is that men are just way too underrepresented. Take our money, for example. I mean, the queen is on all of our coins! What kind of misandry is this? Sure the five dollar bill boasts our old pal Wilfred Laurier, and the ten dollar bill shows everyone’s favourite confederation-loving racist Sir John A. Macdonald, and the fifty dollar bill has séance-holder and dog enthusiast William Lyon Mackenzie King and yeah, fine, the hundred dollar bill is devoted to Nova Scotia’s good ole boy Sir Robert Borden, but I mean, come on. Queen Elizabeth II graces all of our coins and our twenty dollar bill. Every time you open your wallet it’s just ladies ladies everywhere and nary a dick in sight*.

If you’re not seeing the feminist conspiracy that’s clearly at play here, then you must have taken the blue pill and I hope your happy living in your fantasy world where you think women aren’t angling for world domination. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be out here fighting the good fight for all those poor, ignored white men of history.

Thankfully, those of us with even just an ounce of good sense can count ourselves lucky to have Lord and Saviour of Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper on our side. I mean, here’s a guy whose political party is fighting for rights of oppressed white dudes everywhere. After his disappointing failure to ban abortion in our fair country – though fear not, beloved reader, he’s doing his best to make accessing abortions as difficult as possible! – he has now set his sights on a new and very worthy enterprise: getting all the ladies off of our money.

Obviously it would be silly to start by taking the queen off of our money. For one thing, she’ll be dead soon and then it’s kings ahoy for at least the next century. For another, if Harper did that he wouldn’t be invited to any more royal garden parties, and if there is one thing Stephen Harper loves, it’s garden parties. Full of white people. Who speak English. Preferably with a refined accent. He’s also a big fan of those little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

With that in mind, Harper began his de-ladyfying of the Canadian currency back in 2012 by removing the Famous Five and an image of the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award from the fifty dollar bill. The Famous Five, for you lucky few not in the know – how nice it must be to live in ignorance of Canada’s deplorably lady-infested past! – were Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Edwards, the five women foolish enough to ask if the word “persons” in Section 24 of the British North America Act included female persons. Which of course was a trick question because we all know that there’s no such thing as a female person – just male persons and hysterical, irrational women.

Thérèse Casgrain, bless her unreasonable little female heart, came a bit later than the Famous Five and was one of those pesky suffragettes. You know, those women who thought that female-persons (OXYMORON) should be allowed to have a say in who was running the country. As if men weren’t capable of making that decision by themselves! She also went on to do many unfeminine things such as being made an Officer of the Order of Canada and becoming a senator. No wonder so many fatherless teenagers are getting pregnant and shooting innocent white people.

Pierre Trudeau, noted socialist and French-speaking person, created the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award in 1982 as a way of honouring Canadians who deserve recognition for doing things for free (which is the opposite of capitalism). Note that Trudeau and Casgrain are both from Québec – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that fact, but with mention that you can totally anagram “separatism” into “parasites m” (the M is for Murder All The Anglophones). I think it’s pretty clear to everyone here that this award was all some sort of front for the FLQ, who are probably bombing your staunch anglo mailbox as we speak.

Thankfully for all of us true, red-blooded (BUT WHITE-SKINNED, AMIRITE FOLKS?) Canadians, it has recently come to light that Stephen Harper put a stop to all those Thérèse Casgrain shenanigans back in 2010. In lieu of that stinky french commie award, he created a Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award to be awarded instead, with a picture of the prime minister’s banner on it. I MEAN IS THAT CANADIAN OR WHAT. BEAVERS AND MAPLE LEAFS FUCK YEAH. I’M GONNA GO DO A LINE OF TIMBITS TO CELEBRATE.

I would suggest that all of us loyal (white) Canadians should kneel by our bed and offer a prayer of thanks to Jesus (also white) that we live in this wonderful country that works so hard to erase the memory of any and all women who might ever have done anything of note.

Thank you, Stephen Harper. Thank you.

Amen.

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*Not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas, but as far as I know QEII has a very royal vagina and all of the men on Canadian money were happily be-penised.

 

An Open Letter To Tom McLaughlin And Joshua Sealy-Harrington

15 Apr

We need to talk about your recent article in the Globe and Mail.

Specifically, we need to talk about the fact that you have cast yourselves as allies and yet are doing far more to hurt the causes that you claim to believe in than you are doing to help them.

First of all, let’s get a few things straight here:

1 You are not being silenced – and the fact that you try to claim that in a column published in a nationally syndicated newspaper is sort of sublimely ridiculous

2. Not everyone’s perspective can “positively contribute” – for instance, I do not think that the KKK’s perspective can “positively contribute” to discussions on race, nor do I think that the Westboro Baptist Church’s perspective can “positively contribute” to discussions on sexuality

3. You are being bad allies

That being said, I want to ask who, exactly, you imagine to be the target reader for your piece. Is it your hope that anti-oppression activists, specifically those who are marginalized, will read what you’ve written and realize how wrong their approach has been? Because if that’s the case, then unfortunately you’ve missed the mark by quite a bit. On the other hand, if the group you are writing for is one made up of privileged people who feel distressed by what they perceive to be deliberate silencing and disenfranchisement, then congratulations, you’ve succeeded! If your goal was to confirm what privileged people everywhere have long suspected – namely, that “equality” means that their voices should always be heard on par with everyone else’s, even though their voices have long dominated nearly all forms of discourse – then you’ve done a great job. If what you were trying to do was make sure that the oppressive status quo – you know, the one that so many of us are trying to tear down – is maintained, well, mission accomplished. You only need to read the comments on your article to know that you’ve done exactly that.

I also want to ask you how, exactly, you consider yourselves to be allies to any kind of social justice cause when your main message is that oppressed groups need to make room for the voices of traditionally oppressive groups. You write about this dynamic as if the opinions of the privileged aren’t already culturally dominant, and as if privileged groups don’t already have an excess of places to spout off about their beliefs. I mean, look at the platform you’ve been given – an enormously popular newspaper with a huge reach. And yet you have the gall to worry that your voices aren’t being heard? Because I promise you that your voices are being heard.

And yes, sometimes your opinions will be discounted because of your identity – because you know what? In the context of social justice, lived experience trumps everything else every time. When you are speaking, you are not speaking from a place of knowing or understanding, and that means that your arguments, no matter how well-crafted, do not count for as much as the arguments of someone who has experienced oppression and marginalization firsthand. Oh, and by the way, comparing an oncologist who has never had cancer to a male doctor treating a female patient is probably one of the worst pieces of rhetoric I’ve ever read. Cancer is a disease; being a woman is not. An oncologist may someday develop cancer; chances are good that a doctor who lives as a man will not experience life as a woman. People who have cancer are not marginalized by a pervasive oppressive force that systematically silences and discredits them; people who identify as women have lived with that force their entire lives.

You say:

The use of terms such as “mansplaining” (and its racial counterpart, “whitesplaining”) can cause disengagement. These labels are sometimes used to dismiss arguments when men and white people simply disagree. But if a man or white person makes a poor argument, why not just refute it? 

And somehow you don’t seem to understand that marginalized people spend so much time coming up with intelligent responses to poor arguments. In fact, sometimes it feels like that’s all we do. If I were to reply to every bad piece of logic that came my way with a lengthy and intelligent response, that is literally the only thing I would be doing, all day every day. And you know what? If I were to do that, the vast, vast majority of what I had to say would fall on deaf ears. It is both impossible and just plain not worth it to engage every person who says something problematic and thoughtfully explain to them why they are wrong.

It’s not worth it, and it’s also just plain not my job.

If you really want to be good allies, then you need to understand that your job is to amplify the voices of marginalized people. Your work here isn’t to tell traditionally oppressed groups that they need to be more open to the opinions of privileged folks like yourselves – and by the way, this isn’t exactly a new or radical message, though I get the feeling that you think it is. As an ally,  your work is in educating yourself and maintain your engagement. Your work is to help educate other privileged folk. Your work is to get to the back of the room and sit down and let someone else take the stage for a hot second. That is what an ally is supposed to do. That is what you should have used your platform to do. Instead, you used it to castigate already oppressed groups for not participating in activism in the way you think they should

And for the record, being sweet and nice and engaging has never done much for social justice activists. Making room for the thoughts and opinions of oppressive groups has never gained us anything. Women weren’t granted the right to vote because they valued the opinions of the men who didn’t think they had the mental capacity to participate in democracy – they won the right to vote by fighting for their beliefs, by being imprisoned for them and sometimes even dying for them. Their refusal to engage misogynists did not stifle progress – in fact, it hastened it. The sad truth is that it’s only when privileged groups realize that their voices can no longer fully dominate the discourse that we begin to see real change. Otherwise, if marginalized people continue to “make room” for the privileged, if they continue to stroke their egos and promise them that their thoughts are valued – in part because too much time is spent licking the master’s boots to actually get anything done, and also because if privileged voices are given free reign in a discussion about marginalizing forces, then they will almost always take over. Because that’s how privilege works.

Look, I get it. You’re both young guys, and maybe this is your first taste of not having your opinion automatically valued simply because of who you are. And I’m sure that the backlash to your article has not been a nice experience – no one, especially not someone who believes that they are an ally – wants to believe that they are hurting or oppressing other people. But you are being hurtful and oppressive, and until you sit back and listen to what we’re trying to tell you, you will continue to be so.

Also I truly believe that someday you will be deeply embarrassed by this tweet:

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Woman Files Sexual Harassment Complaint, Is Suspended From Work For Five Days

10 Mar

Trigger warning for talk of sexual assault

If a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace, then she must have done something to cause it.

At least, that’s the message being put forth by the Toronto’s parks and recreation department, where late last month a woman was suspended from work for five days after accusing a male co-worker of unzipping his pants and rubbing his penis against her in the lunchroom.

Susan Rose was responding to a comment made by her colleague John Maynard with, “I will punch you in the dick.” Maynard then became, in her words, “aggressive,” saying, “Do you want to punch me in the dick?” while unzipping his pants and walking towards her. Rose turned away from him and grabbed onto another colleague’s arm, but felt Maynard pressing his body up against hers. She then heard a third colleague tell Maynard to wash his hands, which he did, finishing by wiping his hands dry on Rose’s back.

Rose filed a report on the incident, and an internal investigation found that there was “some merit” to Rose’s claims (the main contention seems to be over whether or not the accused actually pulled out his penis – since Rose was turned away from him, she cannot reliably say whether or not that part occurred). In a February 28th decision letter sent to Rose, parks general supervisor Jim McKay said that the claims of workplace harassment against Maynard had “been addressed,” though he didn’t mention whether any disciplinary action had been taken. In the same letter, Rose was told that her own comment – “I will punch you in the dick,” which she says was a joke typical of their workplace environment – was “inappropriate” and “in violation of the City of Toronto’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment Policy.”

The letter then went on to say, “The city aims to create a climate of understanding and mutual respect. All employees are responsible for respecting the dignity and rights of their co-workers.”

The letter also says, ““By your own account, you regularly participated in banter and inappropriate workplace behaviour with Mr. Maynard.”

Rose was suspended for five days beginning on February 28th and will be required to take a course in human rights, anti-harrassment and discrimination.

I’m not going to argue that what Rose said was appropriate – obviously it wasn’t, a fact that she admitted in an interview with the Toronto Star. However can we just talk for a hot second about the fact that she was suspended for harassment and violation of human rights while Maynard seems to have gotten off scot-free? Can we take a moment to think about how absolutely fucked up that is?

Let’s review the facts here: a woman is made visibly uncomfortable by the sexual actions of a co-worker, she files a report about the incident, and she is basically told that she is at fault for having said, in jest, that she was going to punch him in the dick. Like saying “dick” is some kind of magic spell that charms penises right out of the pants that contain them. Like Maynard can’t be faulted at all for whipping his junk out, because she made a joke about his dick. Like making a joke inappropriate for the workplace is somehow on equal footing with physical act of pressing your genitals up against someone.

Suspending Rose and forcing her to take an anti-harassment course are the equivalent of saying, “she was asking for it.”

Telling Rose that she regularly engaged in “inappropriate” banter with Maynard is the equivalent of saying, “his actions are the predictable end result of all the sexual jokes both of you have engaged in.”

The decision not to suspend Maynard is the equivalent of saying, “boys will be boys and, honestly, what did you expect?”

How do we even live in a world where a woman reports an incident of sexual harassment and is then punished because her workplace decided that it was all her fault? Jesus Christ.

If you’ve ever needed proof of rape culture, if you’ve ever needed proof that we live in a society that downplays sexual vioelence while regularly shaming and blaming victims of sex crimes, well, here it is.

Still not convinced? The comments on The Star’s coverage of the story are even more enlightening:

‘She got what she deserved. She wants to be one of the boys when it suits her. Her comments caused this who situation to occur and now she cries foul.’

‘She wants him to be punished for things she did also.’

‘ … it was she who started it by threatening to assault his private parts.’

‘sounds like she was a willing participant in antics that got out of hand’

‘Sorry, but I don’t quite believe her side of the story. She lost me when she got into the standard dialogue of being traumatized, degraded, him being violent, etc. Assault? Please. She won’t be bullied? Give me a break. Why do I get the idea that she’s a problem employee?’

‘Why is everybody getting so uptight about anything remotely connected to sex? How long before society can shed its phony Victorian attitude.’

These are the kinds of things that victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault are used to hearing: you must have done something to deserve this, you started it, you wanted it, you liked it. I don’t believe you. It doesn’t sound that bad. It sounds like you’re the one with the problem. This is what you get for daring to be a girl who wants to be “just one of the boys.” This is what you get. This is what you get. This is what you get.

No. This isn’t what anyone “gets.” Sexual harassment is not the natural consequence of telling an off-colour joke. Sexual assault is not just a regrettable thing that happens when a woman spends too much time in the company of men. No one else has the right to tell a victim how they should or shouldn’t feel about being assaulted.

And people wonder why more victims of sexual assault don’t come forward.

Susan Rose

Susan Rose

Rape Culture at the University of Ottawa

28 Feb

On February 10th, Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, was sent screenshots of a chat that had taken place earlier in the month between two student federation board members and several other students who are either elected to or participate in various faculty associations. The chat had taken place during the student federation elections, and all five men involved were members of a campaign opposing Roy’s (Roy has been president of the student federation since May 2013, and was re-elected this month). The conversation was about Roy, and the portion she was given contained graphic sexual descriptions about what the men wanted to do to her, including a rape joke that could, potentially, be taken as a rape threat.

Below are the screenshots. The participants are as follows:

Bart Tremblay: a non-elected student involved with the association for the Arts faculty

Alexandre Giroux: On the board of directors of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, and VP Social for the Science Student Association

Alex Larochelle: VP Social for the Criminology Student Association

Pat Marquis: VP Social of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa

Michel Fournier-Simard: VP Social for the Political Science and International developement Association

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Bart Tremblay: Let me tell you something right now: the “tri-fluvienne” [nickname for someone from Trois-Rivières, Québec] president will suck me off in her office chair and after I will fuck her in the ass on Pat [Marquis]’s desk

Alexandre Giroux: Tri-fluvienne? Who’s that?

Alex Larochelle: PJ I believe?

Bart Tremblay: Anne-Marie Roy, you dipshits, she comes from Trois-Rivières

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Alexandre Giroux: What? No. What a shit-eater. She says that she comes from somewhere in Ontario.

Alex Larochelle: Fuck yeah Anne Marie Roy

Bart Tremblay: She told me Trois-Rivières

Alexandre Giroux: Haha shiiit

Alex Larochelle: Someone punish her with their shaft

Alexandre Giroux: Well Christ, if you fuck Anne Marie I will definitely buy you a beer

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Alex Larochelle: Hahah, I’d buy you a beer too

Bart Tremblay: Lol

Alexandre Giroux: BAHAHA

Pat Marquis: I’ll get a 24 for Bart if he does it

Bart Tremblay: [Thumbs up symbol]

Bart Tremblay: Yeeee

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Michel Fournier-Simard: Dude she has chlamydia. And she told francophone students that she was from Trois-Rivières but she moved to Southern Ontario when she was five years old. It’s a super political strategy.

Alex Larochelle: Hahaha I heard she has syphilis

Alexandre Giroux: Well look hahhahahah

Alex Larochelle: But those get treated bro lol. Someone told Pat and I when we were in Boston. It’s such bull shit hahaha.

Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with their shaft. This is the type of thing that’s said about women in positions of power – not a critique of their policies, but a threat of sexual violence. Not a comment on how they do their job, but graphic fantasies about how they should be sexually degraded. Nothing about their intelligence or capability, just a string of jokes about how riddled with venereal disease they are. This is misogyny, pure and simple. This is slut-shaming. This is rape culture.

Can you imagine anything like this ever being said about a male leader? Try to picture, for a moment, a female candidate saying that her opponent is going to eat her out, or that she’s going to “punish” him with her vagina. Sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? And yet, this is the kind of thing that women are subjected to all the time; the truth is that no matter how far we might think we’ve come, no matter how many female CEOs there might be, the belief that women are little more than a collection of fuck-holes persists. Oh sure, people might pay lip-service to the fact that women are equal to men in intelligence, talent, and capability, but at the end of the day we can’t escape the fact that a woman is still viewed as being less than a person. Because that conversation right there? That is not how you talk about a person.

What’s even worse is that events like these are nearly always downplayed. It’s just a joke, people say. They would never have said that if they’d thought you would hear it. In fact, three of the five men involved in the conversation are considering legal action against Roy on the grounds that it was a private conversation that should not have been made public. That’s right. They want to pursue legal action against her because she publicly called them out for making rape jokes about her. This is the fucked up culture we live in.

To make things even worse, these men are all in a position of leadership at the University of Ottawa. These are the people that the students look up to, that they use as a sort of moral compass to navigate university life. If these men face no consequences for their actions – indeed, if they are able to press charges against Roy for publicly addressing their comments – what are the students going to learn from this? They’ll learn that rape is a joke, that women can be terrorized into silence, and that it’s useless, maybe even dangerous, to speak up. Are these the lessons that we want our student leaders to be instilling in the heads of seventeen and eighteen year old kids?

Since this incident was first brought to light, Pat Marquis, the VP Social for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, has been in discussions with Roy about the accountability measures he can take for his role in this conversation. It is their hope that these measures can be a public conversation between Roy and Marquis, and could serve as a learning opportunity for the student body. Alex Larochelle has also contacted Roy and tentatively mentioned participating in this conversation as well. As for Bart Tremblay, Alexandre Giroux and Michel Fournier-Simard, they are continuing to attempt to pursue legal action against Roy.

I reached Roy this afternoon for a statement, and she had this to say:

“It’s definitely concerning because these are individuals who are responsible for putting on social events, many of which involve alcohol, and they are also responsible for the safety of membership at these events. On a personal level I feel that this is very misogynistic, I feel that this is a reaction that these men are having because I’m a woman in a position of leadership. My concerns on this are twofold: first, the issue of student safety in general, and second, that women are not going to feel safe running for positions of leadership on campus.”

I think she pretty much hits the nail on the head with that assessment.

ETA: comments are now closed on this post

The Incarceration of Avery Edison

11 Feb

Here in Canada, we tend to think of ourselves as claiming a sort of moral high ground when it comes to social justice issues. We think of ourselves as liberated, fair, and anti-oppression; we look down on other countries for their medieval legislature, patting ourselves on the back for being so good, so forward-thinking, so tolerant. And then, every once in a while, an event occurs that proves just how awful and backwards we really are.

On Monday morning, 25 year old British comedian Avery Edison tried to enter Canada through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, hoping to visit her partner and pick up a few of the possessions she had left behind after moving home to England. Knowing that she had previously overstayed her student visa, she travelled on a non-refundable return ticket and brought with her a copy of her London lease – unfortunately, this was not good enough. She was denied entry and detained by Canadian immigration officials, a fact which she admitted was her own fault:

It was while she was being interviewed by an Immigrations Canada officer that things started to go from being unfortunately inconvenient to nightmarish. Edison, who is trans* and whose passport lists her gender as female, noticed that the officer kept switching between masculine and feminine pronouns when discussing her over the phone. She then overheard him say that he had “one male for pickup” [emphasis my own]. She was told that she would be placed in a solitary cell due to her status as a pre-operative male-to-female, a fact that didn’t exactly thrill her but which she found unsurprising.

She asked if she could go home to England, but was told that was not a possibility.

She then had to submit to an examination by a nurse to determine where she would be sent. It was decided that because of her male genitalia, she would have to go to Maplehurst Correctional Complex, an all-male facility. This, in spite of the fact that her passport lists her as female. This, in spite of the fact that there is a trans* unit at the nearby Vanier Centre for Women. This, in spite of the fact of the high rate of violence against trans* folks in the general population, let alone the prison population.

Fuck.

And this is where I lose it. I mean, really lose it. I lose everything – my mind, my temper, my faith in humanity. What the fuck kind of government do we have in this country? How can a so-called progressive population stand the fact that we still have people in charge who think that you can tell someone’s gender based on a physical examination? How can anyone, anyone think that it’s all right to put a person in such a potentially harmful, violent situation? How is this happening in Canada, in this day and age, with all of our so-called tolerant and liberal values?

Before you start to roll your eyes at all of this, before you make any proclamations that start out with, “well, of course I’m sympathetic, but -,” imagine how humiliating it would be to be constantly questioned about your professed gender, even though you have official government documentation to back you up. Imagine how horrific it would be to be asked to submit to a physical exam to have your gender, which you have already disclosed and which is written on your passport, determined. Imagine how frightening it would be to be sent to a facility where you stand a high chance of suffering physical, emotional, verbal and, of course, sexual abuse.

Now imagine if that fear was something that you lived with, on one level or another, every day of your life. You would have to live your life always walking on a knife’s edge, never sure just how much information you can relay to any given person – information that cisgender people would give out without thinking twice. You would spend your days hoping that people can view you as who you are, but are never surprised when they call you by the wrong name or the wrong pronoun. You would have to answer all of the same questions, personal, prying, awful questions, over and over and over, because people just don’t want to get it. All of this because you committed the great and horrible crime of having a gender that does not align with the genitalia you were given.

Edison is currently being held at Maplehurst, and will be there until at least Monday. Her partner, Romy Sugden, has been able to visit her, and reports that the guards have continued to misgender her. According to Sugden, one staff member, after being corrected repeatedly on Edison’s gender, said, “I don’t care, she’s a man to me.” A friend of Edison’s took a picture of this staff member in order to file a report, but was forced to delete the picture.

You would think that all of this would be illegal here in progressive Canada, but it’s not. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission,

Transgendered people may be placed with those of the sex with which they do not identify.

Take a moment to re-read that, and really let it sink it. Transgender [not transgendered – the law doesn’t even bother to get the term right] people may be placed with those of the sex with which they do not identify. This is government-speak for we do not give a shit about your professed gender, our only interest is in punishing you whatever way possible. This is very, very fucked up.

This has to change. Action has to be taken, not just for Avery Edison’s sake, but for the sake of all trans* prisoners and detainees. The personal indignity is too high and the threat of violence is too great for us to be able to look the other way. This is something that has to happen now.

If you are in Toronto, there will be a rally held here on Saturday, February 15th. You can find the details here.

Other things you can do:

– You can call Goran Vragovic, the Canadian Border Services Agency Director General, at 905 803 5590 and request Avery Edison’s release

– You can send support to NDP members, including NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Peggy Nash, who are working to help Edison in particular and to change the discriminatory laws in general.

– You can check out the #freeavery hashtag on twitter

– You can share this post, or any other post about Avery Edison, and let everyone know what’s happening

– You can do anything within your power to make this a more visible issue

Because this issue is really, really important.

You can find all of Edison’s and her partner’s tweets here about everything that has happened so far.

avery.edison

UPDATE: Edison’s partner just announced that she will be transferred to a women’s prison, either tonight or tomorrow:

However, the hearing is set for tomorrow and Edison is still in need of a lawyer:

Sources are now confirming that Edison was moved to the Vanier Centre for Women.

I will keep you updated on the situation, and let you know how and where donations can be made.

UPDATE II:

Avery is going home!