Event preview: Hands Off Syria

On Tuesday, April 11th, at 5:00pm, Stop War Coalition – Vancouver Coalition for Justice and Peace will gather in front of the US Consulate, on the traditional, unceded, occupied territories of the səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations to host an emergency rally denouncing the US bombing of Syria as well as Canada’s “full support” to Trump’s open-ended escalation. See here for the Facebook event.

Since its onset, the conflict in Syria has been marked with its utter devastation – several hundred thousand have been killed, millions more have been displaced, and massive destruction has been wreaked upon the homes and schools and infrastructure of the nation. The war in Syria by nature is a proxy war, with the US and other powers playing a critical role in funding groups friendly to their interests, ensuring the continued destabilization of Syria. Now, just as peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition forces are underway in Geneva, the war has reached a new critical juncture. After years of bombing Syria, the US has finally openly and unilaterally attacked the Syrian government, with complete disregard for the national sovereignty of Syria, for any international law, or for the consequences of its actions.

Those who support the US attack on Syria have short memories. Remember the US invasion of Iraq, the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration, and the utter havoc that was wreaked upon that nation., Even today Iraq remains dangerously unstable. Iraq still suffers from the devastating loss of life, loss of infrastructure, and introduction of fierce sectarianism that the American invasion brought upon it.

Remember the US attack on Libya. Even today Libya remains in the grips of an unending civil war, and just like Iraq, Libya remains devastated because of US actions in the region.

Remember how the US shamelessly used chemical weapons and napalm in Vietnam, in Korea, how the radioactive uranium dumped by the US army even today poisons the landscape of Iraq – and now, after causing untold death and pain around the world with its use of weapons of mass destruction, the US would claim to be the champion of the innocent against the use of chemical weapons?

And remember Trump, how Trump openly endorsed the reckless use of nuclear weapons against America’s enemies, how Trump openly called for the murder of the families of those he called terrorists, how Trump turned away the refugees of the Syrian war, calling them all terrorists, and now it is Trump that would be the man to protect the innocents suffering in the conflict in Syria?

There is no place in the world that the US has intervened where it can be said that it has brought a better future. There is no single country where the US has intervened for any reason other than to protect its own interests. There is no reason any of us should support US intervention in any part of the world.

The anti-war movement has been stagnant in recent years, and it is time we revived it. There is no better time but now. There is no more appropriate moment. It is time for all anti-war activists to stand up, and say no to war, no to war in Syria, no to war in any other nation.

We demand the US keep its hands off Syria. We demand that Canada keep its hands off Syria. We denounce the US bombing of Syria, we denounce Canada’s full support of the US bombing, and we denounce imperialist intervention in any part of the world.

Come join us and bring your signs and your drums and your voices! Come join us at the US consulate at 1075 West Pender St., at 5:00pm, at April 11th, and say NO to war in Syria.

HANDS OFF SYRIA!

This article was also published on Rebel Youth.

Groups that have currently endorsed the rally:

  • Fraser Valley Peace Council
  • The UBC Social Justice Centre
  • The Young Communist League – Vancouver
  • Coalition Against Bigotry – Pacific
  • Siraat
  • Plan Peace
  • International Socialists Vancouver
  • Frente Para La Defensa Hugo Chavez
  • Occupy Vancouver
  • The Talon UBC
  • Socialist.ca
  • CODIR
  • Canada Palestine Association
  • ILPS Canada
  • Migrante BC
  • Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights
  • Solidaridad con Ayotzinapa Vancouver
  • Canada-Cuba Friendship Association (CCFA)
  • Alliance Against Displacement

BDS court case verdict and the surrounding campus politics

On Thursday March 30th, 2017, BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven delivered his ruling regarding the BDS court case against the AMS, dismissing the petition brought forward by UBC Commerce student Logan Presch. The litigation attempted to prevent the AMS from proceeding with a referendum, which was put forward by the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), involving the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The referendum was originally scheduled for a March 6th to 10th poll during the general elections  when the voter turnout was 11,219. This would have made it easier for the BDS referendum to meet the quorum set out in AMS bylaw 4.4 (b), which requires it to be supported by 8% of the active student body before it is adopted. However, it was delayed due to the litigation and is now an online vote from April 3rd to 6th.

On Monday March 27th, the court case resumed after being adjourned by Justice Margot L. Fleming on March 8th. Justice Frits E. Verhoeven took over the hearing for Justice Fleming. Retired CUPE lawyer, Paul Tetrault, was granted right of audience by Justice Verhoeven and joined the case as an agent for SPHR president Jordan Buffie. Lawyer Howard A. Mickelson, representing Presch, spent most of the day on Monday laying out his argument against the AMS decision to proceed with a referendum regarding the Proposed Question:

Do you support your student union (AMS) in boycotting products and divesting from companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians?

Mickelson revealed on Tuesday during the rebuttal that he is doing the work pro bono and told the Talon that the issue “is a matter of public interest.” He recalled visiting Israel recently, talking to people about the legality of the settlements in the West Bank and the bulldozing of houses, and he concluded that the situation is “a very complicated and nuanced problem.” Mickelson stated that his goal is to move the conversation “to a less polarized place” and claimed that “the BDS referendum and the nature of the question (with reference to war crimes) is a polarizing form of debate.” The Talon also reached out to Tetrault following the verdict and he commented that the “the settlements in the West Bank are totally illegal” as ruled by the International Court of Justice in 2005. Furthermore, he proclaimed that the BDS movement is a tool for advocates of Palestinian human rights to take action and insisted that “you cannot have dialogue between two unequal forces. Mr. Mickelson is… claiming that we are just talking about two equal forces here, not an occupied people and an occupier.” He gave an analogy:

Imagine if the reverse were true that somehow Palestinians were occupying this land that belonged to Jews and they were setting up Palestinian-only settlements and putting the Jewish people into small villages and not allowing them to move. How would the world react to that and how would Mr. Mickelson react to that?

Mickelson decided to abandon his first submission that the BDS referendum violated Section 2(e) of the AMS Constitution which is to “promote unity and goodwill amongst its members” by creating a “toxic and divisive” environment on campus, calling the submission “extremely controversial”. The Talon reached him by phone in Hawaii after the verdict and questioned him about that decision. He stated that this argument was a “hot potato” and that it was not “fair to put it in the court’s hands with such a limited period of time.” Tetrault responded to this reasoning by stating that “he dropped [the first submission] because the courts basically indicated to him that it was an impossible argument to make.” He stated that Mickelson’s original argument attempted to assert that any decision or debate on campus that led to divisiveness was contrary to the AMS constitution. Tetrault proclaimed that if that was the case “you could never have any issue debated that would cause controversy, division or vigorous debate. That is clearly ludicrous and clearly contrary to the whole notion of the university itself. There was never any merit to the argument.”

Two of the affidavits that the petitioner had originally relied upon to argue this claim were filed by Hillel employees, including Executive Director Rabbi Philip L. Bregman and Program Director Sam Heller. The Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Ezra S. Shanken, has previously congratulated Heller for his “leadership” on an anti-BDS campaign. Hillels at campuses all over the world often disseminate Israeli hasbara (propaganda) and talking points, and have taken a central role in opposing BDS on campuses. The Talon reached out to Rabbi Bregman for a comment but did not receive a reply.

Nevertheless, in Justice Verhoeven’s ruling, he dismissed the relevance of the affidavits that claim the BDS referendum has created a “toxic environment” on campus, stating “they are not directly relevant to the issues before the court.” Mickelson instead decided to rely on his second and third assertions, namely that the referendum contravened AMS Bylaws and Code. He attempted to include some of the evidence from his first argument to persuade the judge to invalidate the AMS’s decision to proceed with the referendum based on some irregularity.

He argued that the AMS Bylaw 4.2 has an implicit requirement that the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ must be meaningful and contested that the Proposed Question was ambiguous thus not capable of being answered “yes” or “no” violating the bylaw that states:

The text of the referendum shall be drafted to ensure that the question is capable of being answered “yes” or “no” and if in the opinion of Council a petition for a referendum does not meet this requirement, Council shall forthwith refer the referendum to the Court to prepare a clear and unambiguous question.

On Thursday March 30th, Justice Verhoeven rejected this proposition in his ruling. He quoted AMS President Ava Nasiri’s affidavit where she states that the Student Council “is of the opinion that the Proposed Question is capable of being answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’”. Additionally, the opinion of the legal counsel in 2015 was that the same referendum question was not ambiguous.

Justice Verhoeven proclaimed that “the AMS Bylaws and Code allow for the society to be used as a vehicle for political expression.” He referenced past referendums that have dealt with other world affairs, including one in 1967 involving the Vietnam War, another in 1952 dealing with abortion, and one in 1987 which addressed a movement to boycott companies associated with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Furthermore, Justice Verhoeven stated that “an AMS referendum may form part of the robust and vigorous political debate that is often seen on university campuses.”

The case law relied upon by the petitioner to argue the violation of AMS Bylaw 4.2 dealt with zoning and money bylaws that the judge ruled are substantially different in nature from the case at hand. The judge also rejected that the word “meaningful” should be read into Bylaw 4.2 as Mickelson had argued. The judge noted that the bylaw does not prohibit a vague and ambiguous question from passing and acknowledged that this may lead to some issues as to how the AMS should implement a successful referendum. But after citing some case law referring to bylaw structure, Justice Verhoeven ruled that it is not the court’s job to “fill gaps or improve upon” a Society’s bylaws.

Furthermore, the judge agreed with the petitioner that the Proposed Question is a “loaded one”, which is intended to lead to a particular answer. The question states that Israel commits war crimes, conducts illegal occupation, and oppresses Palestinians, and that some companies support these policies. The judge noted that the question compels a person of conscience to vote ‘yes’ and makes one who votes ‘no’ feel as if they are supporting “war crimes, illegal occupation and oppression.”

Justice Verhoeven then recognized the controversial nature of the Proposed Question may lead to strife on campus and that it is the duty of the AMS to ensure the “safety and security” of students, as well as the promotion of “respectful debate.”

He ruled that the AMS did not violate its bylaws by allowing this referendum question to move forward.

The second argument that the petitioner relied upon was that the AMS violated Code of Procedure IV Article 4.2 (c) which requires a referendum question to state that it will cause the student society to break a contract with a service provider. Justice Verhoeven rejected this argument as well. He cited Buffie’s assertion that the AMS will not be required to break a contract if the referendum is successful.  He stated that the question was broadly drafted to allow the student society a range of possible actions and to catalyze discussions about future AMS purchasing decisions. Furthermore, AMS President Nasiri’s affidavit stated the position of Council that the Proposed Question “does not require the AMS to break any current contracts.”

Therefore, Justice Verhoeven ruled that the AMS did not contravene its Code of Procedure.

The Petitioner’s order to halt the referendum relied on sections 104 and 105 of the BC Societies Act. An injunctive relief was sought concerning 104 (1) (a), but the judge ruled that that section does not apply in these circumstances. He stated that it was not necessary for him to decide whether or not the AMS or its president was considered a person under this section of the Societies act, as Mickelson had contended.

Justice Verhoeven quoted a previous case, Sarjit Singh Gill v. Khalsa Diwan Society which states “The court is always reluctant to interfere in the internal affairs of any corporate body. The respondent society should be left to govern itself in a democratic fashion and make its own decisions, including what may be seen by some of its members to be mistakes.” He emphasized the relevance of that comment and stated that “an order of the court could be seen as interfering with the free and democratic process of the Alma Mater Society and could be seen as intruding into political issues or taking sides. A great deal of caution is required on the part of the court.” However, he mentioned that, if illegalities were present, the court would have had the jurisdiction to intervene. Justice Verhoeven then dismissed the petition.

Tetrault reacted positively to the court verdict and stated that “the courts basically rejected the attempt by the pro-Israeli forces on the UBC campus to shut down [the] debate… [The verdict] was a very good decision for free speech, student union independence and I think it will discourage people from going to court to decide political issues.”

Rabbi Bregman responded to the ruling by telling The Canadian Jewish News that he was “disappointed” and claimed that “we really won the battles, because the judge didn’t disagree with any of our arguments… So we go forward fighting this nefarious referendum aimed at marginalizing and demonizing not only Israel but by extension, those who support Israel.” UBC law student Eric Webster contested this assertion by telling the Talon “the judge thoroughly rejected all of their arguments. I acted as agent for Eviatar Bach in the case and I heard the judgement,” he proclaimed. “The idea that the judge didn’t disagree with their arguments is not only patently false, it is contrary to common sense. If you lose a lawsuit, the judge disagreed with you.”

SPHR issued this statement following the court verdict:

SPHR is delighted with the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the petition against the AMS. We are pleased to see the Court taking the position that the AMS did not violate their bylaws regarding our proposed referendum question. The question, as determined in 2015, is clear, unambiguous, and factual. The judge affirmed the importance of the democratic functioning of the AMS, and that the courts must hesitate to intervene. This is an important precedent for BDS campus campaigns. The Court did not allow ideological opposition to stifle free debate. We were initially disappointed that the AMS did not take a position regarding the claim that the question creates a “toxic and divisive environment”. This argument was however dismissed by the petitioner, who decided to continue arguing solely on procedural grounds. The judge’s permission of SPHR and a student as additional parties allowed to clarify that, far from being mutually exclusive with dialogue, the referendum helps to promote serious and engaged discussion of an important political issue. Unfortunately, these legal proceedings have delayed the referendum past the general elections, which means it is imperative UBC students vote, and vote well. VOTE YES on April 3rd-7th.

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Remember to vote online at https://amsvoting.as.it.ubc.ca/, from April 3 to April 7, and to vote well: Vote YES to BDS, for Freedom, Justice and Equality!

 

A Palestinian’s response to Koby Michaels’ Op-ed

Dear Koby Michaels,

I’m writing this open letter to inform you and those who have read your article that your intentions behind writing it was not that of genuine fear, but of an ideological impetus to preserve your privilege.

You benefit as a colonizer of unceded Coast Salish territory, and also Palestinian land if you make use of Israel’s Law of Return, which allows for automatic citizenship for Jews. Your qualms about your safety on walking around campus during a fair democratic BDS referendum is unfounded, and frankly, offensive to those who genuinely feel unsafe.

The article you’ve presented is a strawman argument, made to paint BDS in an anti-Semitic, hateful light to the benefit of the colonially charged ideology embodied by the “No” campaign. It seems you did not bother to even go through the BDS website, or you willfully ignored it. Either way, I’ll go through what BDS aims to achieve through peaceful boycott and financial pressures.

First, “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall”. I fail to see how that makes you – a Jewish Canadian – feel unsafe on campus. Aggressive Israeli expansion into sovereign Palestinian lands, as per the Oslo accords, is a direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which underlines the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every State in the area can live in security.”. It should concern you that people’s rights are being infringed upon, rather than the boycott of companies who explicitly profit from said people’s suffering.

Second, “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”. Again, I fail to see how that makes you – a Jewish Canadian – feel unsafe on campus. There are over fifty discriminatory laws in Israel between Arab and Jewish citizens. That is a fact. The fact that fighting inequality is seen as a threat upon your safety on a multicultural liberal campus speaks loudly to your privilege.

Third, “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194”. 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their indigenous homeland and made refugees by colonial forces in 1948, the year Israel was established as a state. That number has now risen to over 7 million, including both refugees and internally displaced people. Generations have been born into and have seen nothing but refugee camps. They have no place to call home, with their ancestral land denied to them. They are treated as human fodder. It is simply unethical to deny these people the right of return, the right to the homes that were forcibly taken from them. Again, to see this as a threat to your safety speaks volumes.

I write this to you as a Palestinian student attending UBC. I have submitted this anonymously in fear of my safety. As to not be turned away at the borders of my ancestral home land when visiting family for my online activism as has occurred to numerous Palestinian activists. I fear for my safety to support my people’s struggle for equal rights. BDS is our way of doing that in a peaceful manner. To deem that threatening to your safety on campus is to spit in the face of not only Palestinians, but all oppressed minorities seeking peaceful self determination.

Your grievances have no factual basis. I have no sympathy for your crocodile tears.

A Palestinian at UBC.  

I would like to thank the Talon for publishing my article. I would like to note that this article was originally intended for The Ubyssey as it was a response to an article on there, however The Ubyssey did not deem my request for anonymity as “urgent” enough to grant it. I hope free speech will prevail and all opinions can be expressed freely without fear for personal safety.

Event preview: Evening of sharing stories and experiences written by Canadian immigrant women

On Tuesday, April 4th, from 7 PM – 8:30 PM, nine Canadian immigrant women will share how pieces of their personal history have brought them closer to, or farther from, the feeling of belonging. Three hundred chairs have been set out for newcomers to Canada in the Alice MacKay Room on the Lower Level of the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch, as way of launching new anthology Wherever I Find Myself (Caitlin Press 2017).

Some examples of these true stories include:

  • a woman takes on the complex and often baffling nuances of the English language
  • a Ugandan refugee and her family settle in Canada only to find their father is forever changed
  • a Filipino woman recalls her fear when her parents are forced to leave them alone in a dangerous situation
  • a woman from Burma re-discovers her history and culture in spite of being told that “there is no room for the past in this bright new world”

These are the portraits of women attempting to navigate unfamiliar landscapes, and their desire to be accepted despite differences in accent, sexuality, skin colour, or taste in food. Readers at the book launch include Sarah Munawar, Jianna Faner, NikNaz K., Esmeralda Cabral, Onjana Yawnghwe, Jasmine Sealy, Abeer Yusuf, Gina Roitman, and editor Miriam Matejova.

This event is free, open to the public, fully accessible, and includes free childminding services during the program — storytime by a children’s librarian. Copies of Wherever I Find Myself will be available for sale though purchase is not necessary for entry. More information is available at caitlin-press.com, by emailing michaeld@caitlin-press.com, or by phoning 604-831-7024. Here is the Facebook event.

About Caitlin Press

Caitlin Press publishes culturally significant books, including fiction, non-fiction (both historical and creative), and poetry. Occasionally we will produce a children’s or young adult title. Wherever I Find Myself is the third in a series of anthologies by and about Canadian women. Caitlin Press reflects the diverse cultures, histories and concerns of BC, bridging the gap between the urban and the rural. Caitlin also remains committed to its feminist origins by publishing bold works by and about BC women for a local and national readership. 

About Miriam Matejova (editor)

Miriam Matejova is a writer and researcher, currently pursuing a PhD in Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Originally from Bratislava, Slovakia, Miriam has moved to Canada as a young adult in pursuit of higher education. Although Canada has been her home for over a decade now, Slovakia has stayed in her heart as well as in her creative writing. Her work has appeared in The Globe and MailHer CircleThe Inconsequential and several travel magazines. Her story “Proti Komu” (“Against Whom”) has been published in a Slovak anthology of award-winning fiction. She is also one of the contributors to Caitlin Press’ This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone.

Standing up for Human Decency

In June 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel began its occupation of the West Bank. Less than six months later, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242. Resolution 242 invoked the foundational legal principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

Almost 50 years later, the occupation grinds on. Most Palestinians living in the West Bank have spent their entire lives under the jackboot of Israeli military oppression. Not only has Israel’s brutal occupation endured for half a century, but throughout that time, Israel has forcibly confiscated more and more occupied territory to make way for Jewish-only settlements.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled (with the concurrence of the United States judge) that Israel’s settlements violate article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49 states “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

The international community has repeatedly condemned Israel’s settlements. The most recent example is U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted in December 2016 by a vote of 14-0. Resolution 2334 “reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” Consistently with Resolution 2334, Canada’s government acknowledges on its Global Affairs website that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitute a “serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

On February 6, 2017, Israel’s Knesset responded to Security Council Resolution 2334 with an act of supreme chutzpah: it passed a ‘Settlement Regulation’ Law which purported to legalize retroactively dozens of settlements that were illegal under Israeli law..

Israel’s violations of international law are by no means limited to its ever-expanding settlements and its endless occupation. Internationally renowned human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, have long documented Israel’s torture – including the torture of children, its use of collective punishment (another violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention), its indefinite detention without due process of peaceful Palestinian dissenters, and its ‘extrajudicial assassinations’ (a euphemism for murder).

How has Israel gotten away with these crimes for so long? The answer is simple enough: a law that is never enforced is a dead letter. Although the international community has repeatedly condemned Israel’s human rights abuses, Western governments have shielded Israel from any meaningful sanctions, and have accorded to it a privileged status. Indeed, in 2016, the Obama administration granted Israel, a wealthy state possessing the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, the largest military aid package in United States history.

In response to Israeli impunity during decades of lawlessness, over 170 Palestinian citizens’ organizations have called for the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions, or “BDS”. The BDS movement is a peaceful, anti-racist movement modelled on the boycott movement that helped to bring an end to South African apartheid. Yet Western governments, anxious to perpetuate Israel’s impunity, have sought to demonize the BDS movement. Recently, Conservative and Liberal MPs and MPPs voted to condemn the BDS movement in Canada’s Parliament and Ontario’s legislature.

But Canadians aren’t buying it. This year, a new poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates shows that 78% of those who expressed an opinion believe that a boycott is a reasonable measure to ensure Israel’s respect for international law. Sixty-six percent of those who expressed an opinion said that Canadian government sanctions on Israel would also be a reasonable deterrence measure. The EKOS poll showed that most Canadians oppose Parliament’s condemnation of the boycott movement, while only 26% support it.

It is in this context that the UBC chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) has brought forward a referendum asking UBC students whether they support a boycott by the Alma Mater Society of “companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians.” The referendum was to be held in March 2017, but has been delayed until early April due to relentless efforts by opponents of BDS to prevent a vote from even occurring.

In 2015, an identical question received far more yes than no votes from UBC students, but the total yes votes fell slightly short of the threshold for a quorum. It thus seems clear that BDS opponents at UBC fear that they cannot win the debate with SPHR, and are therefore doing all that they can to prevent UBC students from exercising their democratic rights.

Some BDS opponents claim that BDS is ‘about hate’, and they falsely conflate the state of Israel with all Jews, asserting that boycotting companies that are complicit in violations of Palestinian human rights is tantamount to persecution of the Jewish people.

But this claim conveniently ignores that that the boycott movement does not target the Jewish people, and never has. On the contrary, it targets – peacefully – human rights violators. Indeed, the BDS movement is supported by many Jewish intellectuals, and by rapidly growing Jewish organizations that advocate for Palestinian rights, including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, and Jewish Voice for Peace. More and more, members of the Jewish community declare that the government of Israel does not speak for them, and that its inhumane oppression of the Palestinian people is an affront to Jewish values.

Indeed, Israel’s regime of occupation and dispossession is an affront to our most basic sense of human decency. By supporting a boycott of those who profit from that regime, UBC students would do nothing more – and nothing less – than stand up for human decency.

How 4chan Radicalizes White Men Online

Content warning: racism, misogyny, animal cruelty

4chan is an imageboard where users post anonymously. It’s a simple premise, but within that ephemerality they’ve still made their mark on the web. They’ve been known to pull off stunts ranging from leaking celebrity nudes to calling in bomb threats, and from stealing jokes on Reddit to lighting kittens on fire. While its reputation precedes it, 4chan has a well earned spot in internet canon as a dangerous website for radical (predominantly white) young men.

I first started going on 4chan when I was thirteen years old. I fit every aspect of the cliche – skinny, geeky, white, asocial. I even had a fedora, for chrissakes. But that’s not really what that website is about – it’s about community. 4chan was like a catch-all for anyone who didn’t fit in. Or at least, anyone who didn’t fit in like they wanted to.

You begin to empathize with disgusting people. You’ll read the posts of men who are extremely sexually frustrated, who think the entire female gender is out to get them. You’ll read countless infographics, with phony divorce statistics to definitively prove that women just want ‘our’ money. You’ll see screencaps of Reddit posts about men getting cuckolded, willingly or not, to somehow confirm a general distrust of women and inspire disgust with weak, liberal men.

These faceless, angry radicals have now become your community. Put yourself in their position. Picture yourself as a young man who has no place in the ‘real’ world. You probably have no strong male role model. You probably have grown up in the apex of the internet age. You’re probably a bit of a nihilist already. It’s an easy choice.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. The kind of stuff they post there is disgusting – beyond horrific. I watched a live pig get its head cut off with a chainsaw. I’ve seen a guy break one of his ribs to suck his own dick. People will casually post ‘jailbait’ (questionably aged girls) in lewd poses just to get a response.

I have no way of confirming this, but I believe that these images exist as a way to mentally break you down and make you more willing to accept outrageous claims.

Why?

They call it ‘the red pill’ or the ‘slippery slope’. This is the process of indoctrination that 4chan unleashes on people. It starts small, with a general distrust of women. It escalates into a jealousy of ‘Brads’ and ‘Tyrones,’ (jocks, and their more racially charged counterparts) anyone who is potentially more virile than you, and who can steal your mate.

The complexity of these beliefs only grows. The refugee crisis? It’s actually a ploy executed by top government officials to Islamize the west. Diversity in Hollywood? Celebration of the end of the white race. Mainstream media? Liberal bias, don’t even read it, it’s bought and sold. Interracial porn? That teaches people to have interracial relationships. Less white children means the end of the white race. Disagree with something? You’re a cuck, a jew, or a ‘rapefugee’.

While this sounds a bit more like Alex Jones than Adolf Hitler, do not be fooled. It’s a comprehensive political ideology that’s being forged underneath the surface of the web. These are the types of people who idolize murderers like Elliot Rodgers or Dylan Klebold. In response to a post about the twin tragedies of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, one commenter replied: ‘two nukes not enough.’ And now these same people are being emboldened and validated in their terroristic beliefs.

The only thing that snapped me out of it was my own vaguely liberal sensitivities. I was reading the Wikipedia article of Richard Spencer and clicked through to one of his influences. ‘An American Neo-Nazi,’ it read. All I could do was nervously laugh. This was where these ideas came from? From Nazism? Any type of morbid curiosity I had faded away – I suddenly realized that even being intrigued by this type of thought was a tacit endorsement.

It turns out that nothing was safe from their toxic beliefs. Stefan Molyneux interviews Nazis. The Radix Journal (Richard Spencer’s website) is littered with fascist references. Even neutral actors like Joe Rogan give white supremacists such as Milo Yiannopoulos a platform.

The simple truth is that young, white men are being radicalized online. It’s everywhere. It’s subversive. It’s real.

I felt that I should acknowledge what happened in some way, so I wrote this. It might not end the crisis of hatred surrounding the globe, but I thought it might help. If you know someone who’s spending too much time online, looking at fake news, sharing racist memes, talk to them. We need to reach out to these fragile people and get them out of a cycle of hate. The editors here at the Talon have recommended lifeafterhate.org, which, after visiting, I can recommend as well. It might be an uphill battle, talking to someone who spends all night on a website like 4chan. You probably have someone like me in your circle of friends right now, teetering on the edge.

Inside the BDS court case against the AMS

On Monday March 6, 2017, Toronto-based lawyer Alexi Wood appeared in the BC Supreme Court to defend the Alma Mater Society (AMS) against a lawsuit brought forth by a UBC Commerce student, Logan Presch. The litigation involved the proposed Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) referendum question that was put to the AMS by the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) after receiving over 1000 signatures of endorsement from the university student body meeting the requirement of bylaw #4(1). The same referendum question was used in the 2015 referendum:

Do you support your student union (AMS) in boycotting products and divesting from companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians?

Vancouver-based lawyer Howard A. Mickelson, representing Presch, argued that the BDS referendum question breached AMS bylaws by being ambiguous,  making it incapable of being answered with a “yes” or “no”, and that it could cause a contract to be broken with an AMS service provider. He also asserted that the question created a “toxic and divisive” environment on campus, contending that it violated Section 2(e) of the AMS constitution which seeks to “promote unity and goodwill amongst its members.”

The AMS defense contested two of the claims by highlighting that the Council had previously ruled that the BDS referendum question could be answered with a “yes” or “no” and that no contracts would be broken if the referendum passed. However, the AMS decided not to take a position regarding the complainant’s argument that the question violated the AMS constitution. Because the AMS did not plan to challenge this claim instead leaving the decision to judicial discretion a third party intervened.

Hours before the court case on Monday March 6th, 2017, a UBC law student, representing Jewish UBC student Eviatar Bach, submitted an application for third party status. They had affidavits signed by Diana Ralph of Independent Jewish Voices and Bach himself, who was born in Israel, disputing the previously uncontested claim that the BDS referendum violated the constitution by creating a hostile environment on campus. In his affidavit, Bach supports the proposed BDS referendum question and states that neither he nor his Jewish friends or acquaintances have “experienced any anti-Semitism or discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or national origin from the members of SPHR, nor from supporters of the Proposed Question.” Furthermore, he describes his relationship with members of SPHR, some of whom are his friends, as respectful.

On Monday morning Bach, the law student and former SPHR member Ali Ben waited in the lobby of the BC Supreme Court for the case to proceed. Asked about the implications and importance of this court case, Bach stated that “we’re hoping that the defendants win which would mean that the referendum can go through. This is an important freedom of speech issue. It’s right for students to have this as a referendum in a democratic institution such as the Alma Mater Society. If the defendants lose, this would set a very worrying precedent. . . for other student associations and other universities regarding BDS.” Ben voiced dismay about the Palestinian struggle by proclaiming “It is strange that we need to fight for basic human rights in 2017; the right to water, the right to movement.” AMS lawyer, Alexi Wood, declined to answer any questions.

If the third party had not intervened, the claim that the referendum question violated the constitution would have been left uncontested. In court, Madam Justice Margot L. Fleming found it irritating that the AMS defense was not taking a position regarding whether the question violated the constitution or not.  She underscored the importance of the information that the third party presented contesting this claim.

In court, Mickelson cited the recent rash of bomb threats to Jewish community centres across Canada and the United States in conjunction with his argument that anti-Semitic acts are increased in an environment where criticism of Israel is present, such as BDS referendums on campuses. When asked later about the relevance of including the bomb threats with his argument, Mickelson told the Talon that, as a result of BDS referendums, “some people on campus use that opportunity or get stirred up by that question and they misdirect the anti-Israeli views that are being promoted and they conflate that to being anti-Semitic views.” Furthermore, he claimed that there are some people who use criticism of Israel “as a cover for a different agenda.” He referred to a number of Jewish students on campus who are concerned that the BDS referendum will create a hostile environment. Regarding the inclusion of the bomb threats within the argument, SPHR agent Paul Tetrault told the Talon that it was “irrelevant and inflammatory” for Mickelson “to bring up something that has nothing to do with UBC.”

Ben questioned Presch’s financial ability to bring forward the petition by asking “How can a student afford to sue the AMS and afford the legal fees for an expedited hearing? And if a lawyer is doing this on a pro bono basis, what is his interest? Why is a professional lawyer meddling in student affairs? Who is benefiting from all of this?” When asked, Mickelson refused to disclose whether he was working on a pro bono basis.

The court case proceeded through Tuesday March 7th and Wednesday March 8th. On Wednesday, Judge Fleming decided to adjourn the hearing until March 27th and 28th to give time for SPHR to join the proceedings since they were not initially legally notified by the AMS or Mickelson about the litigation. Asked about this, Mickelson agreed with Judge Fleming’s decision stating that “one of the proponents who was putting this referendum forward should have been given notice.”

SPHR has agreed to join the case and former CUPE lawyer, Paul Tetrault, will be aiding their defense on a pro bono basis. Judge Fleming will not be presiding over the next phase of the case so it is unclear at this point who will be hearing the petition.

Mickelson said he and his client would like to see SPHR and Hillel, the Jewish community centre on campus, organize a joint symposium to debate the Israeli and Palestinian issue. Tetrault thought that this proposal was disingenuous since “you do not promote debate by going to court and trying to essentially outlaw one position in that debate.” Furthermore, he stated that “the pro-Israel forces on campus are concerned about the strength of the BDS movement and instead of waging their own campaign they have decided to go to court to exclude one side of the discussion.”

The trial has delayed the BDS referendum vote, which was originally slated to be on the AMS general election ballot March 6th through 10th. The question is now scheduled for an online referendum vote on April 3 to 7 pending the verdict. Similar referendums have been taking place on other campuses across the country and in February of 2016, students at McGill voted to support the BDS movement. SPHR encourages students who want to show their support to attend the next court hearing at the BC Supreme Court on Monday, March 27 at 10am in Vancouver.

 

All-Gender Washrooms: A Trans* Issue and Beyond

Content warning: Transphobia

None of the authors of this post are transgender or gender-variant. For that reason, we are cognizant of the privilege we have to advocate for transgender rights as allies who do not face the repercussions that transgender, or gender-variant people continue to face today. Many transgender and gender-variant people have advocated for revisions to the structure of bathrooms, and for that reason, we write this op-ed in solidarity.  We also recognize that all of us are settler students on the unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Prior to colonialism, indigenous conceptualizations about gender and sexuality were thought of differently. The existence of two-spirit people, which offered a different understanding about gender and sexuality from contemporary Western ideas, makes our discussion about transphobia a reconciliation issue, too.  

Do we have separate male and female washrooms at home? While this might seem like a redundant question to cisgender people, or those who have a gender identity that corresponds with their sex assigned at birth, the topic of gendered washrooms is a highly pertinent matter to trans* and gender non-binary people. Most individuals take using public washrooms for granted on a daily basis. However, for many trans* individuals, using gender bathrooms can be a daunting experience when they are interpreted as being in the ‘wrong washroom’. In 2011, the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust conducted a study that found school washrooms were an unsafe environment for 79% of transgender students.  Moreover, the debate surrounding transgender and gender non-binary individuals using washrooms is not just confined to schools; rather, it is a highly contested focal point of public policy.

The debate surrounding transgender people and washrooms made headlines on March 8th, 2017 when the Texas Senate passed a bill criminalizing transgender people for using washrooms that do not correspond to the biological sex on their birth certificate. Republican Senator Lois Kolkhorst, a key proponent of the bill, stated that this policy is not about transgender people but about “deterring sexual predators”. However, she simultaneously states that “the god I believe in . . . said there was man and woman,” which seems to interfere with her support of gender-neutral washrooms. Before we comment further, let us note that one of the authors of this text is a self-identified Christian; the purpose of this text is not to discuss the origin of gender fluidity, though this is a worthy topic of conversation. Instead, we are exposing the disconnect between her arguments. Is this bill about sexual predators or about the origin of sexuality according to religious texts? We argue that religion should hold no qualms with meeting the needs of others through single stall all-gender washrooms, whereas sexual harassment – an issue of real concern – can occur in any venue at any time.

In fact, we would argue that religion invites its adherents to welcome all people at all times, whenever possible. And, since we all have gender neutral washrooms in our homes, why don’t we have them in public washrooms? That being said, we raise the following questions and, in response, make policy recommendations:

First, is criminalizing transgender people for using the washroom based on the ‘privacy and protection of people’ an excuse to discriminate? To address such a concern, we feel the need to emphasize there is no evidence or empirically sound research that suggests transgender people are disproportionately sexual predators. In fact, similar rhetoric was employed against gay men when homosexuality was publicly stigmatized. (See the infamous ‘psychologist’ Dr. Paul Cameron who spread such nonsense.) Our concern is that this stereotypical logic fails to acknowledge that transgender people are in fact more likely to face harassment and violence in washrooms than cisgender individuals. To demonstrate this, survey data from the United States found that 70% of transgender people have faced harassment in public washrooms, while a similar 2013 American study on 6450 transgender and gender non-conforming respondents, the largest study presently conducted on transgender discrimination, found that 78% of transgender people experienced harassment, 35% experienced physical assault, and 12% have been sexually assaulted.  The study further locates washrooms as a prevalent environment in which these events occurred.  

These alarming statistics demonstrate the urgency of addressing the safety of transgender individuals at an institutional level, which can be solved, in part, through the consistent and intentional implementation of all-gender washrooms. When did washrooms begin to be institutionally segregated by sex in the public, one may ask? After all, could all-gender washrooms be more than just a trans* issue?

The washrooms that many cisgender people take for granted, ourselves included, are in fact the remains of an 1887 Massachusetts law that later expanded across other states requiring public washrooms to be segregated between men and women.  One might assume that the creation of these washrooms was ‘logically’ about the biological difference between cisgender men and women, but this was not the case. According to Professor Terry Kogan, who teaches law at the University of Utah, as women were entering the workforce, stereotypes about women being ‘weaker’ and more ‘fragile’ led to the development of multiple gender-segregated spaces including separate reading rooms for women in public libraries, separate seating areas in train cars (towards the back so their ‘fragile’ bodies would not be damaged in the case of an accident), and of course, bathrooms. So as views around women have shifted, and we no longer encounter libraries or trains separate for women, why are bathrooms still segregated?

Before we begin to make policy recommendations, it is essential to acknowledge the arguments for keeping washrooms separate between men and women:

  1. Male sexual predators lurking in washrooms
  2. The importance of privacy
  3. The costs to tax-payers of changing to all-gender washrooms

For the first line of reasoning to be valid, there must be evidence that male sexual predators ‘disguise’ themselves as women. A lack thereof makes the first point problematic.  That being said, articles like “5 Times ‘Transgender’ Men Abused Women and Children In Bathrooms” suggest cisgender heterosexual men have used all-gender washroom policies on a handful of occasions for harassing and spying on women. By prohibiting transgender people from using the washroom under the fear of permitting sexual predators ‘disguised as women’, laws like the one recently passed in Texas do nothing to solve the issue of misogyny and abuse on an institutional level. Rather, this should be addressed through education on masculinity, and by imposing penalties on those who harass or spy in washrooms instead of placing the burden of the problem on transgender individuals.

The second critique of all-gender washrooms is that they violate privacy, arguing that all-gender washrooms eliminate the privacy between men and women if they may freely intermingle in a shared space. Our solution to this concern are single-stalled toilets or urinals with locked doors, which guarantee privacy for all those who wish to use them. The only shared space would be sinks.

Finally, the third criticism of all-gender washrooms, that of costing public tax-payers money, is an argument that could equally have been made towards the rights of people with disabilities requiring accessible washrooms. Would someone argue that building wheelchair ramps, accessible sidewalks, or the installation of braille in elevators are a ‘waste’ of public tax-payers’ money? We think not. See this article from a transgender man who also uses a wheelchair.

Despite these three common arguments against all-gender washrooms, policy changes towards transgender rights, including washrooms, have already unfolded on a municipal, provincial, and currently, federal, level. We support these policies, while we also believe that institutions must ensure that the needs of all individuals are met – including transgender individuals.

In 2014, the Vancouver School Board amended their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities policy to protect transgender students by providing access to the washroom and change room that corresponds with their gender identity. The most important amendments to the policy included having students addressed by preferred name and pronoun, alongside having at least one all-gender washroom at all Vancouver schools and worksites. Perhaps one of the most convincing arguments to support the policy was made by Fiona Chen, a Taiwanese immigrant mother who defended her trans son’s right to safely use washrooms:

For a long time, my child had very dry lips, and I didn’t know why…He would not drink any water at school to avoid using the washrooms….I strongly believe in the urgency in passing this policy. I…believe these policies will provide a safer learning environment for my child and other kids.

As Chen argues, guaranteeing trans* students with a safe place to use washrooms is not merely about respect for trans* rights, but also a health concern if her son refused to drink water out of fear from harassment in washrooms.

On a similar note, in July of 2016, updates to British Columbia’s Human Rights Code also entrenched transgender human rights by adding “gender identity or expression” to the code. Currently, Bill C-16, which would add “gender identity and gender expression” to the federal human rights code, is being considered.

Importantly, as of March 17, 2017, Vancouver’s City Hall changed the signage of their washrooms to indicate an all-gender washroom:

“Everyone has the right to safe and inclusive washroom facilities. This change is another step forward towards ensuring equality and inclusion for all,” says City Manager Sadhu Johnston. “This updated signage aims to help trans*, gender variant and two-spirit individuals feel safer accessing the washroom facility they most identify with.”

This move by Vancouver’s City Hall is a component of a more expansive policy passed by City Council in July 2016 aimed at expanding all-gender washrooms across the city.

Now, how are all-gender washrooms relevant to UBC? We propose that UBC should consider this matter with increasing attention: all buildings should have at least one single-stalled all-gender washroom. In the long-term goal, we propose that UBC should reconfigure gender-segregated washrooms into all-gender washrooms. We understand that this recommendation includes logistical, economic, and architectural discussion. However, this does not diminish the importance of the goal for the student community – both trans* and cisgender students.

Last December, UBC amended their Discrimination and Harassment policy to explicitly reference “gender identity” and “gender expression” under the interpretation of discrimination based on “sex”. This slight, but crucial, change to UBC’s policy signifies a growing interest to accommodate the needs of trans* people. According to CJ Rowe, the former Director of UBC Access and Diversity, “some of the challenges faced by transgender individuals…include difficulties in changing personal information on the UBC Service Centre, using washrooms safely, and using changing rooms in the gym.”

Rowe’s comments are convincing to the argument that UBC should take the responsibility to protect trans* rights. As some readers may be familiar with, on November 19, 2016, UBC’s Dr. Mary Bryson, Senior Associate Dean of Administration, Faculty Affairs & Innovation and Professor, Department of Language and Literacy Education, Faculty of Education, debated Dr. Jordan Peterson, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, over whether or not  “gender identity and gender expression” should be added to the federal Canadian human rights code. The hateful transphobic backlash Dr. Bryson received as a gender non-binary individual who uses the pronoun “they”, signifies the need for protecting trans* rights. Having all-gender washrooms is only one right step forward to further the rights of trans* people.

With all that being said, if all-gender washrooms are still a daunting thought to you at this point of the article, we would playfully ask you to reflect on the following question: do you like eating at Cactus Club English Bay, studying at Starbucks, or sipping a latté JJ Bean Coffee? Beyond the tasty food and caffeinated delights, you likely didn’t realize that all of these venues have all-gender washrooms. There’s a good chance you used one without realizing it!

On a final note, to any single mothers or fathers reading this, if you’ve ever felt uncomfortable bringing your young child of the opposite gender into the public washroom you use, consider all-gender washrooms as the solution.

After all, food courts are not segregated by gender, classrooms are not segregated by gender, so why are bathrooms segregated by gender? UBC, we believe that it’s time to take leadership, to advance the rights of transgender students, faculty, and staff, and to invest in all-gender washrooms. For a link on where existing all-gender washrooms on UBC’s Vancouver campus are available, please visit this link.

Open letter against transmisogyny and anti-sex work rhetoric in Vancouver

In the spirit of anti-hate and a truly intersectional politics, we the undersigned express our solidarity with trans women and sex workers by denouncing discourses and practices that engender a culture of discrimination towards trans women and sex workers, prevent their access to health and social services, and otherwise expose trans women and sex workers to harm. In the wake of a protest and open letter by sex workers, trans women, people of colour, queers, and people in solidarity with them that demanded changes to the structure and content of a local space opened by individuals with a history of transphobic and anti-sex worker practices, we have witnessed widespread and targeted expressions of transmisogyny and anti-sex worker rhetoric.

In light of this, many of our energies have been diverted into a campaign against individual protesters, instead of much needed conversation around the high rates of discrimination, violence, and harassment that is caused to trans women, and how the criminalization of sex workers, clients and third parties in the sex industry contravene sex workers’ rights to safety and self-determination.

Thus:

  • We advocate for actions and initiatives that centre and are led by trans women and sex workers. We commit to creating broader public understanding of the harmful consequences of transmisogyny and anti-sex worker sentiments. We support the rights of trans women and sex workers to resist spaces and organizations that are unsafe to them. We value their voices and testimonies.
  • We strongly condemn a radical feminism that perpetuates violence on women’s bodies through the discrimination of trans women and sex workers. People who gaslight, exclude, misgender, and troll trans women and sex workers are not feminists in our eyes, but bigots. Projects that welcome support from these groups and their hate-lobbying leaders endanger the lives of sex workers and trans women.
  • We denounce hypocritical and opportunistic uses of the term inclusivity. Genuinely inclusive initiatives must demonstrate accountability and actively give power back to marginalized people. We will not be misled by fraudulent claims while transmisogyny and sex worker phobia proliferate unchecked.
  • We recognize that transmisogyny and sex worker phobia are inextricable from the same systems that uphold settler-colonial violence, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, ableism, and homophobia.

As a result of toxic ideologies, trans women and sex workers have been outed, attacked, and denied rightful access to housing, safe spaces, and social services. We will not stand idle while their lives and safety continue to be put at risk.

SIGNATORIES

Please email swtw.openletter@gmail.com to add your name or your organization’s name to this letter.

ORGANIZATIONS

221A
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC)
Access Gallery
Arsenal Pulp Press
Artspeak
Alliance Against Displacement
All Our Bodies Zine
Babe Bang
Black Lives Matter—Vancouver BC
The Capilano Review
The Consent Crew
DDOOGG
Denim Vest
Diversity: Arts Music & Entertainment
Erotica Electronica
Fillip
FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work
Gays Against Gentrification
grunt gallery
The Independent Marxist Coalition
Kenora Pride
The Khyber Centre for the Arts
Killjoy QTBIPOC Collective
Leftover Crafts
LIVE Biennale of Performance Art Society
The Mainlander
The Naked Truth
New Forms Media Society
Open Relationship
Or Gallery
Other Sights for Artist Projects
Out on the Shelves LGBTQ2IA+ Library
PACE Society
The Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres (PAARC)
Period at UBC
Pleasure + Protest, Sometimes Simultaneously!
Poetry is Dead Magazine
The Pride Collective at UBC
Progressive Librarians Guild at UBC
Publik Secrets Artist Collective
Queer Animal Qllective
Queer ASL
Radical Access Mapping Project
Radical Spirits
Red Gate Arts Society
Rent Cheque
REVERB: A Queer Reading Series
Room Magazine
Spartacus Books
Selectors’ Records
Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG)
Subversive Music
SWAN Vancouver Society
The Talon UBC
The Toast Collective
Trembling Void Studios
UBC Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC)
Unit/Pitt Projects
The Vancouver Dyke March and Festival Society
Vancouver Status of Women
VIVO Media Arts Centre
The Volcano
WePress Community Art Space
Western Front

INDIVIDUALS

Allison Fernie
Danielle St-Amour, Executive Director, Art Metropole
Jayce Salloum
Jenn Matsui De Roo, Registered Clinical Counsellor
Joelle Barron
Kaurwn Bliss
k.ho, Photographer
Magnolia Pauker
Luey Mcquaid
Jodii Grono
Frances Mahon, Barrister and Solicitor
Brixton Driedger
Emily Guerrero, Librarian
Jasper Lastoria
Olivia Toews
Ada Wolters
Vilayvanh Sengsouvanh
Nikki Zawadzki
Emily von Euw, Author
Lois Klassen
John Brennan
Sierra Skye Gemma
Christy Brookes
Keri Korteling
Claire Forsyth, Librarian
Mya Hardman
Sasha Bondartchouk
Lorraine Kecker, Parksville, BC
Roz Maclean
Taylor Cmajdalka
Vida Beyer
Jonathan McPhedran Waitzer
Alyssa Dusevic
Alex Dasein
Natalie Bocking
Alison Bosley
Brenna Bezanson
Casey Stepaniuk, Librarian
Esther Shannon
Courtney Bea
Dot Grossman
Sasha Wiley-Shaw, Poet & Activist
Alexis Rensing
Marlo Turner Ritchie, Consultant
le thi huong ly
Suzanne McCray
Kyla James
Hannah Guinan, Artistic Director, The Khyber Centre for the Arts
Marisa Kriangwiwat Holmes
Mathieu Youdan
Lucinda Murray, MLIS Candidate
Kristine Andersen, Vancouver BC
Cameron Lee
Trina Ricketts
Stormy Allen, Portland, Oregon, USA
Shilo St. Cyr, SASC Manager
Amber Louie, Registered Clinical Counsellor
Alicia Nauta
Eyvan Collins
Marilou Dumas-Babin
Jen Weih
Leigh Matthews, Writer
Darrah Teitel
Vanessa Fernando, Registered Social Worker
Kate Cawker
Deanna Saunders
Deann Louise C. Nardo
Susan Steudel
Anna White
Paul Gluska
Velvet Steele
Andrei Mihailiuk
Joseph McGuire
Bridget Brown
Raven Salander
Helena Palmqvist De Felice
Tuesday Andrich
Heather Mclean, Glasgow UK
Joslyn Nerdahl

An Open Critique of Sophie Gregoire Trudeau

Dear Mrs. Trudeau,

By now, the reality of your Women’s Day Instagram post, where you showcase your husband’s activism, has reached hundreds of thousands of people, and the backlash has been swift and brutal. It is not my intention to approach this with anger, or contempt; but rather with this letter I attempt to educate you on the power of your words and the impact of the statement you have made. As we both claim to be feminists this discussion should be unbiased, and I do hope that if you read this, you take this as the educative, well-meaning discussion I am presenting it as.

Feminism, at its core, should be an intersectional1, interdisciplinary2 movement to clear the path of mutuality for all genders, races, religions, etc. Your statement, as well-meaning as it was, is problematic on several levels, and these are issues I want to bring to your attention with this statement. These points are: your statement’s undermining of the purpose of Woman’s Day; your lack of trans-inclusive language; and the assumption that every female-identifying person has close relationships with male-identifying people.

First of all – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is, for the most part, attempting to improve the issue of mutuality3 (albeit in a way that alienates women of colour and First Nations women especially, partly through his support of environmentally and socially destructive trade deals) in Canadian politics. His acknowledgement of the patriarchy (as it pertains to white, able bodied women) is refreshing, as is your stance on the body image pressures female-identifying people are bombarded with on a daily basis. I understand that you meant to showcase how appreciative you are of your partner’s understanding of gender inequality – but Women’s Day was not the time to draw attention to that appreciation. International Women’s Day was started in the early 1900’s to empower female-identifying people, to remind us that we do not need a male-identifying person in our lives to be able to live live to the fullest, to succeed in anything we wish to do; and indeed, to feel romantically fulfilled. I ask you to perhaps understand a little more that your words, although not purposefully causing harm, drew attention away from women-identifying people on a day when we were supposed to be celebrating them. A romantic partner is wonderful to have, but not a constant in everyone’s life, and in choosing to showcase your husband, you also alienated the platonic and non-sexual bonds that could have been honoured, as they are just as important as to personal well-being as a life partner. “Take a picture holding hands with your male ally”, you say; I say, do that another day. I ask that next year, you draw your inspiration from one of the female-identifying person in your life, and put forth how they inspire, support, and further your life. For this day is about drawing attention to them.

I would next like to draw attention to the trans-exclusionary, and/or binary-perpetuating language. To “draw attention to the men and boys” in our lives excludes those who may identify as something other than society would like them to. It alienates those who choose not to partake in the social construct of gender, and it perpetuates the binary of “female vs. male”, instead of breaking it down. It is important to get more male-identifying people to understand and further the feminist movement; however, it is even more important that we do not rely on the white gender binary to achieve that goal. “Feminism is for everyone” and your lack of intersectionality distances you from those you are trying to empower; and with the sheer amount of power you hold as a global political figure, that is a travesty, at best.

Thirdly, and finally, I would like to draw attention to your problematic assumption that every activist has “male” allies. Many of us have wonderful male-identifying allies that we would like to discuss the furthering of mutuality with; and many of us do not. For whatever reason, be it abuse, the loss of those friends and allies, or a lack of appropriate ally-ship – putting importance on the gender identity of a feminist ally is problematic, and that should not take a great deal of explaining to truly understand. Allies can take many shapes and forms, and the only way to widen the net of allies is to stop putting criteria on them that is out of their control; ie race, gender, age, and ethnicity.

So to conclude, Mrs. Trudeau – your feminism is needed in the world due to your power and sphere of influence; however it is now teetering dangerously close to the abyss of White Feminism. I urge you to take this opportunity to self-reflect and self-educate, and perhaps do some reading, if you have not done already. Some personal favourite of mine include:

bell hooks: Ain’t I a woman?: Black women and feminism

                    Outlaw culture: resisting representations

Chandra Mohanty: “Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity”

Judith Butler: “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” (1988)

Audre Lorde: Sister Outsider

Angela Davis: Women, Race and Class

Every activist makes mistakes at some point in their career as self-identifying feminist. I know I have, and I know many others who have too. I urge you to look at this, Mrs. Trudeau, and self-reflect. Even though one should take time every day to support and appreciate the women-identifying people in your life, as only appreciating them one day out of the year is, in and of itself, an act of violence; if you take one day and only one day in the next few years to focus on a woman in your life, make it Women’s Day. Your husband can step aside for the day. As a feminist, I’m sure he would be happy to.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Lauryn Collins [UBC English Lit Major, GRSJ Minor, and Apprentice Social Activist]