Judy Da Silva: “The bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up”


Judy Da Silva is the environmental health coordinator for the Grassy Narrows First Nation, also known as the Asabiinyashkosiwagong Nitam-Anishinaabeg, in northern Ontario. Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, a mother, grandmother, and activist. Her story is the story of contemporary Grassy Narrows, a tale of industrial violence followed by State brutality with a stream throughout of community activism, organizing and hope.

In 1962, the year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, Reed Paper, in Dryden, Ontario, began dumping untreated mercury waste into the Wabigoon River. By 1970, the mill had dumped more than 9,000 kilograms, or close to 10 tons (US), of untreated mercury into the waters. Just downstream lay Grassy Narrows, an Ojibwa community that had been on the Wabigoon and English Rivers for centuries. For centuries, they had relied on fishing as a food source and a cultural and economic base. For centuries, the people of Grassy Narrows had prospered. Then the mercury came, the fish turned to poison, and the mercury levels of the Grassy Narrows First Nation population hit astronomical heights. Members of the community recognized early on that they were suffering new and catastrophic symptoms.

Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, and so she was born in that fateful year, 1962. In an interview this week, Judy Da Silva noted: “I have mercury poisoning. It affects me physically. I’m like the age of the mercury poisoning. I was in my mother’s womb when the poison was being poured into the river … It’s like a slow degenerative form of dying … My mom is still alive and she says they roamed the land freely. They fished, they hunted, they lived off the land. They hardly went to the store. They were very independent economically and socially. Now, it’s like our hands have been severed.”

Since the 1970s, a team of Japanese scientists has been studying and documenting the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. Others have as well. The contamination is considered “a prominent example” by scholars, activists, and just plain folk. And since the 1970s, the Canadian government and the provincial government of Ontario have done absolutely nothing to clean up the river. This week a new report said that the river can be and should be cleaned up. Ontario has a new regime, which seems to be more committed to the rights of indigenous populations, and to the need to address the centuries long violence committed against indigenous people. Will the new provincial government clean up the river?

Thursday, over a thousand people, led by Grassy Narrows teenagers, marched through Toronto, demanding justice. Judy Da Silva was among them, having returned from Geneva where she made a case before the United Nations, arguing Canada had violated the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s right to access to clean water. Back in Toronto, Da Silva is of two minds. On one hand, “We are not valuable enough to be considered. We, as Indigenous people, are expendable. And that’s why the poison is allowed to be still in the river. Money is more important than us.” On the other hand, “I always gotta be hopeful. I can’t be a victim. I gotta be a powerful person.”

In the end, “the bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up.” Judy Da Silva joined the women, elders, teenagers, and everyone in the Grassy Narrows First Nation to say: “No more fancy words, no more studies”. They say NO to the murderous racist devaluation of their lives. They say the time is NOW.

(Photo Credit: Legal Defense Fund for Judy Da Silva)

Ghomeshi’s trial: Men are complicated, women are liars

Humans are complicated beings; they can surprise, anger, disappoint, amaze or frustrate you by what they do and how they react. That is a common and acceptable narrative when one refers to “men”. The narrative changes and complexity is viewed differently when women are the subject of the talk.

In my years of working with perpetrators and survivors of domestic and sexual violence, I have witnessed many women who have felt compelled to ‘be nice’ to their perpetrator. Many often apologize, authorize contact and seek to get back with him. This reaction to trauma is the result of a ‘social conditioning’ that most women are taught from an early age, which they have internalized to be deferential, fix problems, and avoid conflict at all costs. It leads them to second guessing and undervaluing their own experiences with a question hovering over their heads most of the time: “Maybe I’m overreacting?”

If a woman’s reaction to trauma is anything less than “perfect” behaviour deemed suitable for a victim, people are inclined to dismiss it. And when we realize women’s passivity in dealing with trauma and having difficulty with confrontation, we get frustrated and turn on them. We ask them: Why did you stay in touch? How bad could it have possibly been?

So for Lucy DeCouture, the only one of the three women who was publicly named in the trial of Jian Ghomeshi – the former CBC host who was acquitted of one charge of choking to overcome resistance and four charges of sexual assault related to three women, on the basis of ‘inconsistencies’ and ‘deception’- everything came back to one big question: Why did she keep in touch with Jian?

Sometimes, in the moment, says Jaclyn Friedman, “It’s less painful to convince ourselves that we made a poor decision and shouldn’t blame whoever did it because we don’t want to internalize the violation. You then reach for the niceness training as a way to express this denial. Especially as a woman, blaming yourself is really familiar. That script is super handy.” One can see this pattern in DeCoutere’s testimony when she told the packed Toronto courtroom: “As I say this now, it’s outrageous that I stayed and did not leave but that was my reaction.” Later in an interview she said that after giving her testimony she felt like she had to “go up to every person in the world and apologize for ruining the case.”

Among other troubling aspects, the trial of Jian Ghomeshi exposed a double standard, that deep down we have all been taught that a complicated man is a just a complex human being, but a complicated woman is a liar. We need to draw on our innate understanding that no one can be a perfect victim, people are complex, trauma is complicated and reactions to it differ from person to person in different circumstances and should not be scrutinized from outside.

Carissima Mathen, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa, says that the frustration and outrage spawned by the judge’s decision is understandable: “Sexual assault law has been stained by sexist myths, unsupportable evidentiary rules, and skepticism of women’s basic truthfulness. Owing largely to the efforts of feminist advocates, Canadian law has formally shed itself of many of those deficiencies. Yet, translating rules into effective enforcement has proved damnably difficult.” However, some have concluded that the judge was left with no choice but to acquit Ghomeshi as a result of the damaging cross-examination of the complainants.

It should be highlighted that in his verdict, Judge Horkins said that while the evidence in the case raises a reasonable doubt, it is not the same as deciding in any positive way that these events never happened. It is also equally important to keep in mind that during the trial Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Heinen, did not ask his accusers the single most important question that was at the centre of this trial: whether Ghomeshi actually assaulted them.

 

(Photo Credit: Kenny Mason / News 1130)

Kinew James? Maureen Mandijarra? Just more Aboriginal women’s deaths in custody

Kinew James

Kinew James and Maureen Mandijarra were two Aboriginal women who went into custody and never came out. They are part of the Commonwealth of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. Canada killed Kinew James; Australia killed Maureen Mandijarra. And the abuse of these two women doesn’t end with their death. Kinew James died in January 2013, and her inquest is finally going to take place in April 2016. Maureen Mandijarra died in custody in 2012, and her inquest is only now taking place. The State honors Aboriginal women with brutality.

Kinew James was a “troubled” young woman. She entered prison at 18, sentenced to six years. That doubled to twelve, thanks to “misbehavior” and to her deteriorating mental health. Subsequent years were a blur of self harm and attempted suicide; frequent relocation as one institution after another failed to help her; and long and frequent periods of solitary confinement.

But she was improving. Kinew James succeeded in graduating from high school while in prison, and, at the age of 35, was looking forward to getting out and moving on. On Saturday, January 19, 2013, Kinew James talked with her mother, and all seemed well. By evening, she was complaining of pains. That night, moaning and crying, she pressed the distress button … five times. The guards ignored her pleas, and are reported to have turned off or muted her alarm. After an hour, a nurse finally went in, and found Kinew James unresponsive. The nurse then waited 12 to 15 minutes to declare a medical emergency.

James died in the hospital, but she was killed long before the ambulance took her away.

Maureen Mandijarra was arrested for public drinking on the evening of November 29, 2012. She died in police custody the next day. Mandijarra was 44 years old. The police brought her in and dumped her on the floor in a police cell. She lay there perfectly still for at least six hours. She never moved, and no one, other than a cellmate, noticed, because no one ever checked. Over three years later, the inquest is now taking place. It’s taken so long because provincial and local police dragged their feet for years, and never provided any reports until recently.

Kinew James’ and Maureen Mandijarra’s stories are not the same story. What is the same narrative is that of State abuse of Aboriginal women. Like the United States, Canada and Australia have invested heavily in the devaluation of Aboriginal women’s bodies and lives. The rising rates of incarceration married to the plummeting budgets for assistance say as much. So do the women’s corpses, decade after decade, year after year. For Aboriginal women, the histories and lived experiences of colonial occupation and violence not only continue to this day. They are intensifying. Since the 1990s, the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia has skyrocketed, through one Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody after another.

State practices and policies generally criminalize mental illness, alcohol abuse, and poverty; and add additional punishments if the subjects at hand are women. For Aboriginal women who live with mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency, poverty, the sentence is death.

(Photo Credit: CBC News

Canada must stop sending Aboriginal women to prison!

Canada is addicted to the incarceration of Aboriginal peoples, and in particular Aboriginal women. According to a recent report by Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, for the first time ever, more than 25% of inmates in Canadian federal prisons are Aboriginal: “In federal corrections, 25.4 per cent of the incarcerated population are now of aboriginal ancestry.” Sapers describes the number as “quite shocking.” No one is shocked. None of this is new.

Nationally, 3723 of the 14624 prisoners are Aboriginal, but that doesn’t tell the real picture. In the Prairie provinces, 48.62% of prisoners are Aboriginal, and in the Pacific provinces, 31.09% of prisoners are Aboriginal.

For women, the situation is predictably worse. Of 683 women prisoners, 248 are Aboriginal. Over 36% of women prisoners are Aboriginal.

None of this is new. The State need to cage Aboriginal women is longstanding and publically acknowledged. Study after study, book after book has said as much. The State has tinkered with criminal codes, settled with individual prisoners, given lip service to the ongoing ravages of colonialism. All the while, the State continues to disappear Aboriginal women and girls into prisons where they are routinely tortured.

The line of incarceration of Aboriginal people, from 1996 to 2016, is one of almost unbroken ascendance. Thirty years ago, Aboriginal people comprised 10% of Canada’s Federal prisoners. Then the numbers began rising and never stopped: 1996-1997,14.6%; 1997-1998,15.7%; 1998-1999, 16.9%; 1999-2000, 17%; 2000-2001, 17%; 2001-2002, 17.6%; 2002-2003, 18.3%; 2003-2004, 18.5%; 2004-2005, 18.2%; 2005-2006, 18.7%; 2006-2007, 19.6%; 2007-2008, 19.6%; 2008-2009, 19.7%; 2009-2010, 20.6%; 2010-2011,21.5%; 2011-2012, 22%: 2012-2013, 23%; 2013-2014, 22.8%; 2014-2015, 24.4%; 2015-16, 25.4%.

Year by year by year, the State has stolen Aboriginal women’s lives. Aboriginal women are “over-represented” in Federal prisons as they are in maximum security and in solitary confinement. Aboriginal women are the citizens of over-representative democracy. It’s time, it’s way past time, to end the carnage. Canada must stop sending Aboriginal women to prison!

 

(Image Credit: Flat Out)

Canada’s meager response to the current refugee crisis

Palestinians pay tribute to to Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi

Palestinians pay tribute to to Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi

“The true measure of the moral level of a society is how it treats the most vulnerable people,” –Noam Chomsky

As the woefully unprepared Europe struggles to handle the overwhelming influx of migrants who have endured perilous crossings arriving at its borders, Canada’s response has been terribly disappointing for a country that is proud of its record of compassion.

A week ago, the photograph of the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach, which woke up the world to the refugee crisis, also awakened the Canadian election campaigns. While the Canadian public ‘decisively and suddenly’ wants the government to start accepting more refugees, Canada’s federal leaders are still contemplating what Ottawa can do to help. The conservative Ottawa dithers, as Harper tries to approach this issue with the same unsentimental approach he brings to governing. As he stated in 2006, “My strengths are not spin or passion, you know that.”

The Liberal and NDP leaders who have also recognized this issue as a game changer in the upcoming October elections are trying to offer few specifics on how Canada could contribute as they still haven’t formulated any solid strategy.

Harper states that he has a target of settling 10,000 Syrian migrants over the next three years and 23,000 Iraqis by the end of this year. However, while pressing the necessity of ‘taking the military fight to Islamic militants responsible for the carnage’ to deal with the root of the problem, Harper said “We have plans to do more, but I would say repeatedly that as we are doing more, we can’t lose sight of the fact that refugee resettlement alone cannot, in any part of the world, solve this problem.”

Harper is concerned about security issues that could follow accepting refugees from the world’s current epicenter of ethno-religious violence. He suggests that these refugees require proper screening. But proper screening takes time and is a long bureaucratic process. As the NDP leader Mulclair said on Tuesday: “You shouldn’t have people in this desperate situation falling into a bureaucratic trap, where they’re being asked to produce identity papers as if you had time to renew your driver’s license when you were walking across the desert with your family”. He suggested that officials should be sent to the refugees in the camps and the Canadian military could help bring the refugees to Canada.

Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, has pledged to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees if the party wins in October and has pushed the Liberals into the middle ground suggesting that Canada needs to keep in mind the importance of training the Iraqi fighters to stand up against ISIS, along with helping to ease the suffering of refugees. “We have a federal government right now that thinks military action is the only solution to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East,” Trudeau said in Vancouver. “And we have an opposition party that takes the opposite extreme position that there is never a military role to play in solving challenges like the crisis in the Middle East.”

Recently it came to light that Aylan Kurdi’s family’s refugee application had been rejected in June by the Canadian Immigration Department, which allegedly drove the family to attempt their fatal voyage to Europe. Canada’s immigration minister, Chris Alexander, suspended his re-election campaign to investigate why the Kurdi family’s refugee application was rejected. Alexander claimed that “Canada has one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world”, saying that “the government was planning to accept 23,000 Iraqi refugees and 11,300 Syrians”.

In the wake of elections, the refugee crisis can become yet another rhetorical device to win the electorate, and then be shelved in the forgotten land of election promises. It is up to the public to remind the Canadian government of its moral responsibility following the election and pressure it to live up to its international image of an inclusive, peaceful, and immigrant-friendly society.

 

 

(Photo Credit: aboutpathankot.com)

In Canada two Mexican women workers win a victory for women workers everywhere!

Since 1973, Canada has run the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or TFWP. Initially designed to bring in `high-skilled’ and specialized workers, in 2002 it was revised in order to bring in “low-skilled” workers who now make up the overwhelming majority of TFWP workers. Eight years ago, two Mexican sisters took on the injustice of the TFWP and, last week, won a landmark victory for women workers everywhere.

In August 2007, two sisters, now known as O.P.T. and M.P.T., left Mexico to work in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. They were employed by Presteve Foods Ltd, in Ontario, owned at the time by Jose Pratás. At the time Pratás was 74. O.P.T. is now 36 years old, and her sister is 30.

According to both sisters, Pratás immediately started making explicit sexual advances towards O.P.T. and then demanded sex. Whenever O.P.T offered resistance, Pratás would threaten to send her back to Mexico. This was no idle threat. Under the TFWP, “temporary workers” are attached to their employers. In the Spring of 2008, O.P.T. fled Presteve, moved to Windsor for a bit, and then returned to Mexico.

In the Spring of 2009, the CAW-Canada union, now called Unifor, filed a brief with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, on behalf of 39 Thai and Mexican women workers employed at Presteve. Then things moved both quickly and slowly. Pratás was charged with 23 criminal charges of sexual assault and five counts of common assault, all involving women “temporary foreign workers”. In March 2010, Pratás pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and received a conditional sentence and some probation.

Ultimately, of the original 39 claimants, only O.P.T. and M.P.T. were left to challenge the power of Presteve Foods, Jose Pratás and the entire Temporary Food Works Program.

Last Wednesday, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario handed down its decision and awarded O.P.T. a record $165,000 as compensation for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect”. The Tribunal also awarded M.P.T. $55,000. Pratás and Presteve Foods, now owned by Pratás’s son, must pay the two sisters $220,000 for having created a “sexually poisoned work environment”.

After the hearing, O.P.T. said, “I want to tell all women that are in a similar situation, that they should not be silent and that there is justice and they should not just accept mistreatment or humiliation. We must not stay silent. [As a migrant] one feels that she or he has to stay there [in the workplace] and there is nowhere to go or no one to talk to. Under the temporary foreign worker program, the boss has all the power – over your money, house, status, everything. They have you tied to their will. It has been 8 years to obtain justice but 8 years and justice is finally here today.

If we don’t do what they say, they have the power to deport. We are obligated to work. Not as people, but as slaves. We endure wage theft, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and our bodies are injured because of the stress of the work. They push and push us. How can you say that we are free when in practice we have no right to leave?

“But how can we leave, if we cannot work for another employer. They harm us, and then they send us home. There is racism underlying their treatment of us. How is this allowed in Canada? That happened to me eight years ago, and the system is still the same. Treat us with dignity. Not as animals. But as human beings who merit respect.

Even when we have been humiliated and mistreated, we have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.”

Canada created a system in which workers were tied, handcuffed, to their employers, in which workers were forced into almost complete dependence on employers. Employers then sought women workers, whom, by law, they are allowed to pay less for the same work as male workers in the program. Women in the caregivers’ program suffer the same violence.

O.P.T’s and M.P.T.’s victory is a victory for women workers across Canada and around the world, as they struggle with the violence of `national economic growth.’ We have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.

 

(Photo Credit: thestar.com)

Black women prisoners still haunt International Women’s Day

Around the world, women of color, Black women, Aboriginal women languish in solitary confinement. Many die there. Their numbers grow incrementally by the day. BobbyLee Worm, an Aboriginal woman prisoner in Canada, refused to become another abject statistic of prison morbidity and mortality.

In 2006, BobbyLee Worm, 19 years old, entered Edmonton Institution for Women. Shortly after, she was moved to Fraser Valley Institution. The Fraser Valley Institution described itself as “a multi-level facility for women … Programs focus on the particular needs of women offenders, including Aboriginal inmates and those with psychological problems or learning disabilities.”

One of these particular programs was called Management Protocol. Established in 2005, Management Protocol was “a special program for handling women prisoners who have been involved in a major violent incident or threat of incident while in the system.” By 2011 seven women prisoners had been on Management Protocol. All seven were Aboriginal women.

Management Protocol was indefinite and unregulated solitary confinement. Twenty- three hours a day for as long as the prison deemed `adequate’ and `necessary.’ How did one leave Management Protocol? One earned one’s way out. To this day, how one earned an exit visa remains a mystery.

BobbyLee Worm entered prison June 7, 2006. She was a first time offender, sentenced to six years, four months. She spent more than three and a half years in solitary confinement: 23 hours a day in a cell 10 by 8 feet, with no meaningful human contact. For months on end. She was 19 years old.

With the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, or BCCLA, BobbyLee Worm sued the State for violation of her constitutional rights. Two days after the lawsuit was filed, BobbyLee Worm was removed from Management Protocol. Soon after, the Correctional Service of Canada, or CSC, announced it would shut down the Management Protocol program. In May 2013, BobbyLee Worm and the Canadian prison state settled the suit out of court. According to all reports, BobbyLee Worm was pleased with settlement.

This is a story of State investments and of women’s resistance and refusal. Who was BobbyLee Worm? According to her former attorney, “She was a teenage runaway living on the street, she was addicted to drugs, she was a survivor of serious childhood abuse and trauma and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and from depression. She had never had the opportunity to have any sort of trauma or abuse counselling, which she desperately needed. And the response of corrections was to subject BobbyLee to one of the harshest and most psychologically damaging punitive measures that they have available to them. And I think BobbyLee’s story is, sadly, not atypical. This happens to hundreds of prisoners across the country every day.”

This happens to hundreds of prisoners across the country every day, and in particular to Aboriginal women and girls.

What was the Management Protocol? For the CSC, it was a major commitment: “When the protocol was designed in 2003, experts advised the CSC that it was illegal. CSC leadership implemented it anyway. In 2008, the Office of the Correctional Investigator recommended that the program be rescinded, and CSC’s own review agreed that the protocol was dysfunctional. But it was only when the BCCLA filed suit that the CSC cancelled it … The law that allowed the management protocol remains on the books.”

The CSC wanted Management Protocol … badly. It wanted cages for young Aboriginal women, especially those desperately in need. Aboriginal women, Black women, women of color who live with that kind of desperate need are told they owe a debt to society, and prison is not enough. They must go into the hole, they must be tortured.

After the settlement was announced, BobbyLee Worm explained, “There were times when I lost all hope. Solitary confinement does one thing. It breaks a person’s will to live. Being locked up like that you feel like you’re losing your mind. The only contact with another human is through a food slot. Days turn into nights and into days and you don’t know if you’ll ever get out.” Debra Worm, BobbyLee’s mother, commented, “As a mother, that’s the worst feeling in the world to know your child is being broken apart but not being able to do anything to save her.”

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada recently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the laws governing solitary confinement. Sunday, March 8, 2015, is International Women’s Day. In 2011, Black women prisoners haunted International Women’s Day. In 2015, they still do. And next year?

 

(Image Credit: Erin Marie Konsmo, Media Arts Justice and Projects Coordinator, Native Youth Sexual Health Network)

In Canada, Native women disappear, bodies never counted!

In 2008, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, two young indigenous women, disappeared in the Maniwaki area in Quebec. Their wallets and clothes were found but not their bodies. Despite claims to the contrary, the indigenous and Quebecois authorities took very little action to find them. Meanwhile, at the same time in the same area, the resources to find a young white runaway boy addicted to video game were easily gathered with Microsoft offering $50 000. There were no such resources available for two young indigenous women.

Last July, James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, released a report that exposed the “unresolved” issues at the basis of the socio economic gap between the non-indigenous and indigenous populations in Canada. Among these issues lies the increasingly precarious situation of Native women and their high vulnerability to sexual violence and murder. The report denounces the lack of “effective actions to address the problem of missing indigenous women and girls.” The report also points out the current issues of treaty negotiations as the indigenous land has become the target of non-indigenous mining and dam building.

About 2 000 indigenous young women have disappeared or been killed between 1980 and 2012 in Canada in the authorities’ indifference. The bodies of 90% of them have been found; still the code of silence prevails. It would be as if 55 000 women in France had disappeared or been murdered and the State did absolutely nothing. According to French journalist Emmanuelle Walter, that would not be tolerated. In her recent book, she describes Canada’s policy toward missing and murdered indigenous women as femicide.

Walter’s investigation took her back into the history of conquest and destruction of the Amerindian communities. She notes that the European patriarchal misogyny has contaminated Native men. Indian laws dictated by the colonizers affected the status of indigenous women. Moreover, the politics of assimilation that the Canadian government implemented in the 19th century were politics of elimination. In Canada, like in the United States, boarding schools were in charge of removing the indigenous culture with extreme violence, including sexual violence. It is estimated that 150 000 indigenous children were boarded in these schools during 150 years. This colonial past is not resolved and allows this indifference to the fate of indigenous women and girls.

In her book Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith established the correlation between land conquest and sexual violence as a genocidal instrument. With the ongoing conquest of underground lands in Canada by energy and mining special interests, Smith’s argument that “sexual violence is a tool by which certain peoples become marked as inherently “rapable” is most important to remember.

When Stephen Harper became the prime minister of Canada in 2006, he immediately abolished social programs for indigenous people. Then, his C45 Law project to modify the environmental laws that protected the indigenous land and populations was introduced. The same government downplayed the attacks on indigenous women, treating them as isolated crimes. These connections must be recognized to allow a better understanding of the situation of indigenous people in Canada and elsewhere. Indigenous people are fighting on every front.

Indigenous women don’t want to be the victims and live in fear. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has organized actions to expose this femicide. After the murder of another young indigenous woman last summer, indigenous women defied the Prime Minister Harper with a series of photos of women holding a sign that says “Am I next?”

They demand a nationwide inquiry with financial means attached to it and in consultation with indigenous women. But, as Michelle Audette from NWAC underlined, “The government refused the visit of the UN Rapporteur. Do you think it is going to receive our demands?”

That is why the organizing and actions to break the code of silence and recognize this femicide are not weakening and must be made visible.

(Photo Credit: Humber News)

No crime, no trial, indefinite detention: Happy birthday Glory Anawa

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” We have traveled far, and quickly, from such notions of childhood, tenderness, and caring. Instead, we now have prison camouflaged as `detention’, and hell powder puffed as “indefinite detention.” Indefinite detention is not indefinite. It’s eternal damnation, and we, not the children, are the damned.

Glory Anawa fled Cameroon after a threat of Female Genital Mutilation. She sought refuge. Now she sits in a Canadian immigration detention center with little to no hope of seeing anything like freedom ever again.

Anawa’s story is long and complicated, and yet quite simple. At the age of 23 and pregnant, Glory Anawa was sent to Yarl’s Wood, where she remained until she was 8 months and 2 weeks pregnant. Then she was released … for a matter of weeks, after which it was back to Yarl’s Wood for the young mother and her 6-week-old daughter, Tracy. From there, things went downhill, as they had for other mothers and daughters in Yarl’s Wood. Finally, Glory Anawa and daughter Tracy were released.

In February 2013, Glory Anawa, pregnant, sought refuge in Canada. She was immediately taken into custody. In August 2013, Glory gave birth to her son, Alpha Ochigbo. Since birth, Alpha, a Canadian citizen, has been with his mother in prison. The authorities have tried to deport Glory, but Cameroon won’t provide papers. So, Glory Anawa is stuck, because Canada does not have a limit on how long it can detain immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers, or refugees. Glory is not stuck. She has been firmly planted by Canada into a new rung of hell, that of the women who seek asylum, refuge, or help. Welcome to the neoliberal world order.

I don’t even have words to express how I feel. It makes me speechless. I’ve been robbed of my life,” says Glory Anawa. Suffering beyond expression followed by silence followed by a total and global theft that results in death-in-life. Around the world, this is the formula for those who seek asylum, generally, and for women in particular. Canada adds the twist of indefinite detention. Glory Anawa is one of 145 migrants in Canada who are under indefinite detention. Why? Why hold anyone indefinitely? Why hold those who have committed no crime indefinitely? Why hold those who have never been tried indefinitely?

Today, December 15, 2014, is Glory Anawa’s 29th birthday. She should not be condemned to indefinite anything. No one should. And we should not be condemned for eternity for the crime of looking the other way. Tear down more than the walls. Tear down the processes, tear down the consciousness that allows us to think it’s right to condemn women, children, men, all who seek haven from a life of pain and suffering.

 

(Photo Credit: TheMainlander.com)

Jamila Bibi and the high price of compassion

On Tuesday, September 16, Jamila Bibi was deported from Canada to Pakistan. The story is straightforward, and then again it’s not. Jamila Bibi is 65 years old. In 2007, Bibi fled her home. She says she was accused, falsely, of adultery. If convicted, Jamila Bibi could face death by stoning. Bibi went to Canada and applied for asylum.

In 2009, her asylum case was heard. Negar Azmudeh, who presided over the case, concluded that Jamila Bibi was a credible witness, that there was ample evidence that she had been unjustly accused of adultery, and that if convicted she would face death by stoning. However, Azmudeh reasoned that since Jamila Bibi’s husband had not filed for divorce, she was not only still married but under the protection of her husband. It was her husband’s uncle who had filed the adultery charges. And so Jamila Bibi was denied asylum. She did not have enough money for a lawyer, and so did not immediately appeal the decision.

Three months after the 2009 hearing, Bibi’s husband filed for and received a divorce. That action did not change the decision. Bibi has been working in Saskatoon as a cook. She reported dutifully every week. She made friends, some very dear, such as her employer Sahana Yeasmin.

In 2012, Bibi had enough money set aside to approach a lawyer, who immediately appealed the case. Again, Bibi reported every week. Two weeks ago, on her regular visit, she was informed she was to be deported. She was immediately taken into custody. Less than a week later, she was deported to Pakistan. According to Sahana Yeasmin, Bibi, now in Pakistan, fears for her life and is in hiding. Yeasmin reports that Bibi is thankful for the support and remains hopeful that she will be able to return to Canada and to her life in Saskatoon.

Jamila Bibi’s story, up to now, is painful and terrible, but Canada’s story, in many ways, is far worse. How is it that an adjudicator can say that despite credible and ample evidence, a woman accused of adultery is safe because her husband has not divorced her? How is that no one applied compassionate grounds to keep Jamila Bibi in Canada? Where exactly is the intersection of the rule of law and the exercise of compassion, in particular in asylum cases? Surely, these are the exceptional cases that test and prove the rule.

As Nida Shahzeb wrote, “What evidence are they talking about? Did they expect Jamila Bibi to pull some strings even though they know she does not come from privilege back in her village? Or do they expect her accusers to now shower her with petals at the airport? What makes this action of the Canadian government different from the numerous acts of brutality in Pakistan? Is Canada to be held accountable if Jamila Bibi is killed in Pakistan, a country which has a continuing history of honour killings?”

Why did Canada ship Jamila Bibi back to Pakistan, perhaps to a slow and painful death? Because she wasn’t worth keeping. As a woman, a woman of color, an older woman, a woman worker of meager means, she simply didn’t have enough value for the State to be bothered. In the global asylum and refugee marketplace, the price of compassion for such women has become prohibitively high.

 

(Photo Credit: cbc.ca)