WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, May 20

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

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In solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Women in Toronto Politics stands in strong solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM TO) and the global Black Lives Matter movement. Our team, which includes Black women and allies, are angry at the systemic violence and exclusion that is killing Black people in our city. We are inspired by and grateful to the courageous organizers leading this movement for turning that violence and exclusion into love and inclusion, and centring women, queer, trans and non-binary voices in this movement.

We share BLM TO’s vision for a world that doesn’t justify the murder of Andrew Loku. A world where Alex Wettlaufer isn’t killed while holding a phone. A world that asks questions about the death of Sumaya Dalmar. A world that sees a pattern of authorities using excessive force against Black community members and calls it what it is: racism, often intersecting with other forces such as ableism, classism or transphobia.

We demand a system that uses de-escalation methods with people in crisis. A system that recognizes its responsibility and accountability to all people, instead of insisting it has performed due diligence or that it does not owe us further explanation. We demand a system that places no limits on what kind of Black lives matter, what spaces Black lives can occupy, or how Black lives can exist in our systems. We demand a system that does not compromise dignity, equality, or human rights with practices like carding; and we demand a system that prioritizes community,humanity, and accountability over protecting those in power from the criminal consequences of their actions. We believe in a system that doesn’t intrude and intimidate, doesn’t conduct immigration raids, and doesn’t inflict violence.

BLM TO is fighting for Black people’s right to live free of systemic racism and violence, while bravely opening dialogues for so many other marginalized groups. In two weeks, the movement has helped mobilize community action to reinstate Afrofest, and compelled Toronto City Council to investigate transparency and fairness amongst Toronto Police and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). It has fostered deep solidarity and community amongst people in Toronto, across Canada, and around the world.

BLM TO’s bravery has created an important opportunity to address our city’s racism problem and for all of us to recognize the city’s institutionalized anti-Black racism in particular. The motion City Council passed to review how police services are provided in Toronto and how SIU investigations deal with people from racialized communities is important. But as BLM TO has highlighted, there is so much more work to be done.

Women in Toronto Politics implores people in Toronto to publicly support BLM TO’s demands. Reach out to City Councillors to demand the names of officers who killed Andrew Loku and Alex Wettlaufer. Call on Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory to be accountable to BLM TO organizers and all Black Torontonians – meet with them, listen to them, involve them in decision-making. Condemn Toronto Police’s violence against BLM TO members and supporters at #BLMTOtentcity. Hold City Council accountable throughout their review of police services and SIU investigations, so we can ensure the review centres families of those killed by police violence and addresses anti-Black racism in meaningful ways. Finally, stay vigilant, self-critical and vocal about anti-Black racism in our day-to-day lives – at work, on public transit, at the grocery store, or around the dinner table. Our solidarity is needed to ensure that Black Lives Matter to institutions and people in all corners of the city.

“Municipal politics has never been my thing”

By: Emily Harris

Municipal politics has never been “my thing”.

I’ve always been more interested in the causes and consequences of national and global political and socio-economic trends, especially as they affect women. I really didn’t think that I could be bothered to consider upcoming municipal budget approvals, or any such minor developments in how my city is managed. They didn’t seem important or relevant to my experience [insert condescending joke about Millennials and global citizenship here]. The good news is that I’ve begun to see the light, and WiTOpoli is guiding my way.

Over a few months, I learned more about the group and saw the opportunity to join them at an event co-hosted by Be the Vote. I told a few friends at work about it, one of whom hadn’t voted in a Canadian election in a number of years, and we all attended together. It was a great introduction to what WiTOpoli is all about, and included a challenge to get someone new to vote (which I promptly decided should be that same friend – and it worked!).

My biggest inspirational WiTOpoli moment, however, happened just a few weeks ago. I noticed that they were hosting a Municipal Budget night at the Centre for Social Innovation.  I took a look at the information that was going to be presented, and realized that I had zero clue about how these budgetary processes work. I had to go!

Claire McWatt was the host of the event which also featured Executive Director of Sistering Pat O’Connell. The entire evening was such a great example of how the folks at WiTOpoli really get it – from including childcare options at the venue of their events to using inclusive and respectful language throughout their communications. It was also a very informative evening for me, as I can know understand and explain the differences between capital and operating budgets, how to reconcile municipal politicians’ statements with the action they are able to take, and how seemingly small, bureaucratic decisions can have a huge impact on women in vulnerable circumstances in our city. It was also interesting to hear the questions from the other women and men who attended (albeit sometimes I was frustrated to hear how many women began their comments by apologizing or saying “This might be a stupid question, but…” – but group power structures and the socialization of women is the topic for another post!).

In short, the evening was inspiring and a little humbling, too. I realized that I needed to learn more about municipal systems, power balances between and amongst citizens, and the influence of local people on the building of their own community.

Soon after the event, I saw a tweet that encouraged attendees to send an email to their city councillor. WiTOPoli provided a template to send which stressed the importance of providing adequate budget for the development of low-barrier shelters for women. Gotta love the ease of this tool! I saw it as an opportunity to go from education to action, and used the template (along with the website provided to identify who my councillor actually was!) to send the email.

I really didn’t think much would come of it after that. In the past, I had fired off many different form emails to federal politicians and signed tons of petitions without getting anything in return. So wasn’t I surprised when I saw a reply a few hours later from my councillor’s office! Not only had my councillor read the email, he wanted to have a phone call with me to discuss the issues I referenced.  I soon sent an email back to confirm that I would have a chat with him, but I had no idea what to expect! Luckily, Steph was kind enough to send me some pointers about how to go forward (thanks again, Steph!).

At this point, it’s really important for me to also reflect on the fact that I’ve been privileged enough to partake in these experiences. Important factors like having the money to travel by TTC to events, speaking the same language as my councillor, and having the luxury of time in the middle of the day to take a phone call all contributed to this experience for me. I am very aware that is not a feasible way for everyone to engage in our political system, and there are strong, structural barriers that exclude many voices and opinions from participating full in the civic process. This is not acceptable and must be changed.

All in all, the call with my councillor went very well.  I referenced some of striking facts and figures that I had highlighted from various websites, and periodically noted many of the most important statistics. It felt like an honest conversation, as opposed to a staged or scripted affair, where I was able to openly talk about my neighbourhood and the issues I see in my city (I think the operative word here is ownership). My councillor acknowledged the fact that we have problems, and put forward a few budget-related suggestions about how to improve. There was also space to continue the conversation, and my councillor urged me to get in touch with him again to share my thoughts in the future.

Thank you to WiTOpoli for helping me to expand my horizons. You are truly an inspirational group that is doing such good work for the women in our city. I’ll see you again soon.

#elxn42: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By: Krista Robinson

If you weren’t one of the 3.6 million to cast your ballot in the advance polls (yay! civic engagement!), on Monday you will need to decide who you want to run this country. Among the myriad of issues circulating your mind – from childcare to immigration, the economy to the environment -. the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls should be a key issue in #elxn42.

By now, most Canadians are aware of the gap that exists and persists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Canada. According to a 2015 UN report, Indigenous women and girls face the risk of a violent death at a rate five times higher than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Between 1980-2012 there have been 1,200 documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. These statistics do not include cases which are undocumented, which may be a significant number. According to last year’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “…the police have failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings and disappearances, extreme forms of violence, and have failed to diligently and promptly investigate these acts.” As of November 2013, 105 women remain missing under suspicious circumstances.

A national inquiry has yet to be filed under Canada’s current Conservative government. Moreover, a recent report revealed that many indigenous communities don’t have access to clean water.

Daily VICE sat down with two of our federal party leaders this month for town hall-style interviews at Toronto’s Great Hall. First Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, followed by the Official Opposition leader of the NDP, Tom Mulcair. The issue of MMIW came up multiple times. Host Patrick McGuire, head of content at VICE Canada told the audience that Harper had formally declined their request to participate in an interview. Just today, a last-minute interview with Green Party leader Elizabeth May was posted, albeit it quite a bit shorter than the other two.

Here’s an overview of what all your federal parties have to say about Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and other promises they’ve discussed on Aboriginal issues.

CONSERVATIVE: Stephen Harper

Incumbent PM Stephen Harper opposes a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. However, the Conservative government has allocated $248.5 million over five years to fund the Indigenous labour market, and has pledged $170 million over the next four years for the reconstruction of housing in reserves. If re-elected, an additional $500 million would be used to fund the renovation of Indigenous schools.

In a recent interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, Prime Minister Harper said, “… it isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest,” when asked about a public inquiry into MMIW.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Harper defended his government’s record on Indigenous affairs in the House of Commons.

LIBERAL: Justin Trudeau

The Liberals have pledged to immediately implement all 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), along with launching a national, public inquiry. They would remove the 2 per cent funding cap on Indigenous programs and invest $2.6 billion in funding for education.

In his interview with VICE, Liberal Party leader Trudeau said, “We need a national, public inquiry into the tragedy that are the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. We need to get justice for the victims, we need healing for the families, and we need to ensure that as a society, as a country, that we stop this on-going tragedy. The fact is, you’ll hear from people who say, ‘Well, we already know what the problem is, we don’t need an inquiry to figure that out.’ Well, that’s almost worse. If people think they already know what the problem is, then why haven’t they fixed it? Maybe we need an inquiry to give the political will to people to follow up on.”

NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Tom Mulcair

Within the first 100 days of forming government, the NDP has pledged to launch a national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women. They would consider implementing the 94 recommendations from the TRC.

In Mulcair’s interview with VICE, he stated, “There’s no issue on which I’ve held more meetings, or spent more time, since becoming leader of the official opposition than those involving our First peoples, our First Nations, Inuit and Metis. The core of the NDP approach is to have a new era in our relations with our First peoples, creating a nation-to-nation approach. That is something we’re going to do at the cabinet level, making sure that every decision of our government respects treaty rights, inherent rights and Canada’s international obligations. It’s unbelievable that in the country in the world with the greatest quantity of fresh, renewable water, our First peoples still don’t have access to clean drinking water.”

Mulcair admitted that despite immediate action, the entire process of equipping all Indigenous communities with clean drinking water and raising the standard of living would take a “maximum of 7-8 years.”

GREEN: Elizabeth May

The Green Party would launch inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women immediately. Leader Elizabeth May would also restore the Kelowna Accord, in turn committing $5.1 billion to Canada’s Indigenous peoples. According to May, the residential school system represents “an attempt at cultural genocide” against our Indigenous peoples that is unacceptable. The Green Party would commit to a “true nation-to-nation dialogue” to prioritize First Nations, Inuit and Metis language and culture.

In an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network earlier this week, May commented on the national inquiry she would implement, “We don’t want to make this an inquiry into the people we’ve lost, we need to stop the violence now and encourage the protection of all women and girls in this country. There’s no greater scandal than the persistent, inadequate conditions of housing, of water, of healthcare, of education of First Nations, Inuit and Metis Canadians.”

As a Young Woman of Colour, Here’s Why I’ve Been Told Not to Run For Office.

By: Aliya Bhatia

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to tell my late grandfather about my interest in politics. An eternal optimist, we spoke to great lengths about what exactly I was interested in, the political landscape of Canada, and planned my future campaigns in jest. But it was a humorous remark he made that I couldn’t get out of my head—could I get elected in Canada as a young, single, woman of colour?

Last week,  WiTOpoli started the #countrywewant campaign to counter the hateful rhetoric that has characterized so much of this election cycle.The campaign was inspired by WiTOpoli Equity Lead Farah Mawani’s experience with Islamophobia while shopping at the Eaton CentreThese experiences have become all too common. The #countrywewant campaign is a manifestation of what racialized women want across the country: change.

As a serial campaign volunteer and former campaign staffer, I’ve repeatedly been told not to work in politics.

**

I’ve lived in Canada, albeit on and off, since 2001. But it was only when I found myself unemployed and bored, during the summer of May 2014, that I decided to volunteer for a candidate in Toronto Centre. Blame it on Marisa Tomei’s glamour and sartorial choices in Ides of March for turning me into a political hack. I contacted a friend who was working on an Ontario Provincial Campaign. Volunteering and then being hired to work as a full-time handler was an eye-opening experience. All of a sudden, POLI 101 became tangible and real.

I ended up working 12 hour days with an amazing, young campaign team.  I spoke to thousands of residents, from disenfranchised voters in Regent Park and St. James Town to affluent  residents in Rosedale and King East. It was during this campaign that I became painfully acquainted with the phrase “I’m not racist but.” Voters of all ages, gender identities, backgrounds, and political interests were quick to disclose that they were not in fact prejudicial, despite the hurtful language they used. They were oh-so-tolerating of people of colour, but you know, that one little thing. These were the folks who were supposedly “colourblind”. In one instance, I watched one of these voters point out a poll station clerk who was “obviously non-Canadian”.

Maybe it was my sleep-deprived daze, but all these experiences began to blur together. During one canvassing experience, a King East condo resident looked at me and asked me questions as if I didn’t belong, despite the fact that I was standing beside the candidate. It was his let-me-be-clear attitude, which I had grown so accustomed to on the campaign trail, that expressed a certain incredulity that a young Indian woman was working on a provincial campaign.

These experiences became quaint stories I told over drinks to friends to prove that I was involved. Those I-have-it-worse-humble-brag stories that one tells their friends to demonstrate how engaged one is. Maybe it didn’t matter  though. I was lucky to be a well-dressed campaign aide, learning new things, and I knew I was significantly more privileged than many of the residents who visited our office on a daily basis. I had no right to say anything. And even if I did, who would listen?

A story I don’t tell so often, however, is how one night, as I was walking to the bus stop after a particularly long day at work, I was pulled into an alley and solicited. An interesting thing about wearing a politician’s campaign button on your lapel proudly is that many people start a conversation with you. This could be the start of a “how to make friends in a new city” story (I do suggest signing up to volunteer on your local campaign if you are looking for like-minded individuals), but this particular man was not one of these like-minded individuals. He walked up to me and pointed at my button, and I, perhaps naively, asked him whether he had visited our office.

This man did not want to talk about politics with me. And once that became abundantly clear, I ran.

**

These are just some of the ways women, young women, and women of colour are repeatedly reminded that they don’t belong. That they aren’t equal to men. That their voices don’t matter in our ‘democracy’.

These experiences, ranging from micro-agressions to out-right hateful and bigoted responses, is what women face everyday and deters them from running for office. In addition to financial and accessibility barriers, women are often socialized to see their role in the private sphere, or working behind the scenes, and not in the public eye.

But what about the women who do decide to run? We have seen inspiring women run for public office, only to receive a barrage of hate in returns. Last year, we had two young Muslim women who ran for office. Both Munira Abukar and Ausma Malik, had their signs vandalized with Islamophobic slurs. When Olivia Chow, a respected local politician, ran for Mayor last year, she was the recipient of everything from outright hatred, blatant sexism claiming that she was running on the coat-tails of her late husband Jack Layton, and everyday xenophobic remarks on her accent and presentation skills, even in the press coverage endorsing her.

It seems that Toronto voters have become desensitized to hate-fuelled politics.  Our former mayor had to apologize for racist and sexist and remarks made publicly. Many have expressed concerns about how legislation such as Bill C-51 and Bill S-7 can be used to target marginalized communities. When our leaders support such bigotry, it gives the public license to do the same.

Judging women politicians and campaign aides for their looks has become par for the course. Male politicians never receive comments, and much less their male aides. Trust me, I’ve worked with them too. On a daily basis, I received “Does your blue [piece of clothing] mean you’re a Tory” or “Your dress makes you look pregnant.” God, I shouldn’t have eaten that last doughnut.

**

In this Federal Election alone, despite women being celebrated for running they are the confronted with blatant misogyny that goes largely unnoticed.  Conservative candidate Valerie Assouline had her signs vandalized with sexist graffiti, and another sign had a used condom tacked onto it. These acts that recall Shauna Hunt’s workplace harassment å la FHRITP, are a reminder to women day in and day out that they do not belong. Furthermore, the fact that the discussion that surrounding FHRITP was more concerned about whether it was right to publicly shame the perpetrators, once again reminds women that there is more to say around male dignity and integrity than respect for women and their safety.

These are not isolated incidents. These are incidents that women face every day and more so when they seek to enter public service. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who offers the only female perspective amongst the Big Four Candidates, referred to the House of Commons as the most “male-dominated” environment she has ever worked at.

When everyday misogyny is hard enough to deal with, I completely understand why a women of colour would want to keep her sanity in tact instead of pasting a smile on her face as she answers yet another misogynistic question about their looks. Or thanking the voter when they say that the female candidate looks “Great, for an Indian lady,” or shaking hands with a voter who on their own time, advocates for more barriers to the immigration process. I have all the respect in the world for women who do run, and who spend their time constantly questioning and challenging bigotry, but when it comes to me, it’ll definitely be a a hard pill to swallow.

Lyndsay Macdonald on Child Care & #elxn42

By: Krista Robinson

The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada advocates for a national child care system, supported and funded by both the provincial/territorial and federal governments. Earlier this year, with the support of many Canadian organizations, they started the Vote Child Care 2015 campaign to call on the next federal government to make high-quality, affordable childcare a priority, and accessible to all. Following up on last week’s post on #elxn42 and child care, we spoke to Lyndsay Macdonald, National Coordinator for the CCAAC, about what our next federal leader needs to do to implement an effective child care system.

Q: What was your role in beginning the Vote Child Care 2015 campaign?

A: Planning for the VCC 2015 campaign began last November during the Child Care 2020 conference in Winnipeg where over 600 delegates gathered to discuss the current state of early childhood education and child care (ECEC) in Canada. A focus of that conference was a move from research to action, in which we brainstormed what we wanted in a national campaign and how the various “players” would collaborate and contribute to an election campaign for child care. My primary duties were to organize a steering committee to work closely on the campaign, to form a larger reference group with the broader ECEC sector and to hire a campaign organizer to help us pull it off. The VCC campaign works with just about anyone who wants to get involved and our local organizers across Canada have reached out to school board trustees, city councillors and other stakeholders/community leaders to join us in our call for a national child care program.

Q: What is the biggest problem with Canada’s child care system? And how does this impact Canadians of all backgrounds, beliefs and socio-economic levels?

A: Carolyn Ferns and Jane Beach discuss how “a deeply entrenched neoliberal approach to social policy at the federal level and in many provinces has left child care twisting in the wind. And we have seen the total absence of the federal government from child care.” Perhaps the first step to correcting this major issue is for the federal and provincial/territorial governments to recognize ECEC as a public good and to fund it and plan for it accordingly – this requires a serious commitment from all levels of government in Canada. In 2004/05 the federal government introduced plans to develop a national child care program. The federal government and provincial and territorial governments worked to sign bilateral agreements which included substantial public funding, policy commitments and common principles such as quality, universally inclusive, accessible and child care programs that are developmentally focused (known as the QUAD principles). In 2006, Harper announced that the government would abandon those agreements and that it would instead introduce the Universal Child Care Benefit of $100 dollars a month per child 0-6 years of age (recently expanded to $160/month for children 0-6 and $60/month for children 7-17). I personally believe that it comes down to political will and also how Canadians value care work and the essential role that it plays in our society. The current patchwork of early childhood education and child care services impacts all Canadians – whether or not we have children of our own. Of course the lack of affordable quality child care impacts some groups more, parents of children with disabilities or special needs can face immense hardships in trying to find suitable child care to meet their child’s needs. Indigenous communities have limited access to early childhood education and family resource programs that support the cultural teachings and practices of the community with programs that foster the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual development of children.

Q: What do the federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal levels of government need to do, cooperatively, to implement ECEC by 2020?

A: If we look at the provinces and territories across Canada we can observe that many have taken significant steps towards improving the ECEC sector. To us in the child care movement we believe that this is the most opportune time to have the federal government come to the table ready to work with provincial and territorial governments to support a comprehensive national program. The federal government needs to make a commitment to Canada’s children and families to build a national child care program anchored by a comprehensive policy framework, long-term sustained funding, benchmarks, and evaluation. This needs to happen in cooperation with provincial/territorial levels of government who then need to work out comprehensive provincial policy to support local levels of government to grow and sustain child care systems. It requires careful policy planning that pulls in experts in the field including researchers, academics, parents and early childhood educators who have real on the ground experience of the essential elements that make quality child care programs work. What we have seen is that 3 of the 4 major political parties have released child care platforms this election, each one with promises to support Canadian families with better child care. We are optimistic and we believe that the VCC2015 campaign has been successful in keeping child care on the political agenda and on the minds of voters.

Standing up for the country we want

Illustration by Terra Loire Gillespie

Illustration by Terra Loire Gillespie

Election season is an important time to ask yourself, “What kind of country do I want?” Amid increasingly dangerous rhetoric and policy restricting Muslim women’s right to wear the niqab, and other Islamophobic legislation such as Bill C-51 and Bill S-7, Women in Toronto Politics feels clearer than ever about the country we want.

The country we want celebrates freedom of choice about how we adorn our bodies and express our faith.

The country we want sees clearly that coercion is coercion, whether we are coercing women into or out of certain items of clothing.

The country we want recognizes that patriarchy has been part of the Canadian story for centuries and is not the exclusive province of “new stock” Canadians. The white settlers of Turtle Island used (and still use) violence against Indigenous women as a key tool in the project of colonization – regardless of whether this fact is “on the radar” of our political leaders.

The country we want values and supports the leadership of Muslim women like Zunera Ishaq in the Canadian intersectional feminist movement.

The country we want has party leaders who all vehemently, unequivocally reject Islamophobic, racist, and otherwise bigoted statements and policies.

The country we want eschews racist vote-pandering that cynically claims to be in women’s best interest. The country we want actually centres women’s voices, safety and freedom in policy-making.

The country we want offers affordable child-care and housing for all, welcomes refugees, listens to the call for action to halt the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, puts an end to violence against racialized women inflicted by police and border services, stops selling guns to men who have a history of violence against women, understands the role of accurate and comprehensive census data in formulating inclusive social policy, and champions free (and shame-free) access to physical and mental health care for people of all genders.

The country we want believes that women know what is best for them and listens when they tell us what that is.

The country we want is within reach. It burns brightly within our hearts and yours. It grows whenever we listen with an open mind to those with life experiences different from ours, and make a genuine effort to understand. It flourishes when we share what we have learned with our family, co-workers, friends and other loved ones – whether it’s on social media or over the dinner table. Join the conversation on Twitter to help build the #countrywewant.