Sunday, October 28, 2007

Talking About Jail With A Four Year-Old

As L has begun to transition from questions exclusively about the world in front of his nose to moderately more sophisticated ones, I have had to wrestle with the problem of how to talk about the world in ways that a four year-old will understand. The trickiest part of this, I have found, is dealing with the surprising strength of the pull towards replies that are quick, simple, and (depending on which angle you wish to object from) politically inane, harmful and dishonest. I think I've done okay in resisting this pull, but it has been a bit of a surprise and more than a bit disconcerting to feel how close certain things that I don't agree with at all manage to get to the tip of my tongue.

Take the other night. I was giving L his bath. We were talking about nothing in particular and he came out with one of those delightfully random interjections that kids his age are prone to just because it happens to occur to them: "M. [a kid in his JK class] said the food in jail is really bad."

I conceded that it was my understanding that this was often the case, and questioned gently to find out how and why this observation came to be shared. I didn't get very far on that front, but it quickly became clear that L didn't know what a jail was, and he wanted to.

Well. I had a few seconds to come with a way to answer this.

I am ashamed that even if its passage across my mind was solely as a route to the "not a chance" pile, it still occurred to me that one way to answer it would be, "It's the place where they put grown-ups who do really bad things so they don't do anything else bad." That's the sort of answer I would've gotten at that age, I think, with perhaps the focus on "bad men" rather than "bad" acts.

This response is simple to say, easy to understand, and provides a straightforward framework to handle any follow-up questions it might inspire. It is also a complete and utter surrender to the way "jail" as a social institution gets sold to those of us who generally have the privilege not to have to have anything to do with it, rather than a good reflection of what "jail" actually is and how it functions in the world. Making that statement would be me doing my bit to reproduce undisturbed white middle-classness in L, with all its attendant blindnesses about its own privileges and its foundation in violence directed at Others. Which I know I'm doing anyway in a million ways I don't notice, but that doesn't mean I have to cooperate when I do notice.

So if I don't want to do that, what exactly is an appropriate goal to shoot for in formulating a better reply? It most definitely is not appropriate, or remotely realistic, to expect to enforce a direct reproduction of one's own views in one's offspring. I'm surprised at how many people seem to think this is possible, let alone desirable. I mean, people just do not work like that. When we take in information, from direct experience or mediated, it is always an active process -- there is a dynamic interaction between the new information and who and what we already are to create new meaning, even when the source is a very trusted one. Trying to browbeat a child's knowledge-creation processes into a direct, linear acceptance of everything a parent says is abuse, plain and simple. Personally (and especially given how many completely silly things I know I've said in my time) I think my role as being quite the opposite: to encourage L in taking an active and critical engagement with knowledge-making, i.e. thinking about things for himself. That is one important thing to consider in framing a response to a question like this.

Accuracy and honesty are also important goals. Accuracy is fairly self-explanatory, though honesty tends to be trickier, I think -- not only does honesty involve not conveying deliberate falsehood, it also involves refusing the temptation to be dishonest by omission and just sidestep tricky questions, as well as as the temptation to pretend neutrality or objectivity under the banner of "let him make up his own mind when he's old enough." It is not some simplistic choice between dictating opinions and pretending not to have them. I think it is our responsibility to answer questions as honestly and completely as we can, with our best understanding to date of whatever is being asked about, and admitting that we too are on a journey of figuring things out that will never be complete, that we get things wrong, and that sometimes we just don't know.


After three or four seconds of casting around for an approach, I decided to start with what I knew about the nascent theory of the state incubating within him: "So remember a few weeks ago when there were all of these orange signs with your buddy D.'s dad's name on them? And how we talked about how all the grown-ups in Ontario were getting a say in who gets to decide certain things about how Ontario works? And D.'s dad wanted to be one of those people?"

I went on to talk about how that something -- couldn't figure out an easy way to make the state vs. government distinction in the moment, so I let it slide for the time being -- that runs things can lock up grown-ups up and keep them in a building and not let them out. That's "jail." I went on to talk about how there were people who ended up there who did some pretty bad things, but that a lot of the reasons why certain people got locked up instead of other people, and why people were locked up at all instead of solving problems in other ways, had more to do with -- well, I kind of faltered when trying to find a way to express in fouryearoldese the idea that it happens to ensure that those who are dominant in the context of existing social relations maintain that dominance, but I think I conveyed the idea that there is something fishy that goes on, and it sure isn't centrally about protecting good people from bad people. I pointed out that how likely you are to get locked up has a lot to do with how much money you have and what you look like. I emphasized how badly people get treated in jail. I asserted that though lots of people see it differently, I think that the less that jail is used to respond to problems, the better, and that I think we should be busy figuring out how to do things in ways that would let us have no jails at all, though I admitted we didn't know quite what we would do in that case with the relatively small proportion of currently jailed people who hurt people really badly. At some point he spontaneously volunteered that the kids of people in jail must really miss them. Seeking to head off undue worry, I let him know that I was unlikely to end up there, but I also let him know I had spent two brief periods in jail before (26 and 3 hours, respectively) to try and chip away at the way that "jail" functions to construct people as "good" and "bad" in the typical white middle-class discourse he will eventually come across.

Anyone who has had a conversation with a four year-old will recognize that it was all a good deal less linear than presented, and he interjected and questioned a fair bit too. And I am not deluded enough to fail to appreciate that parts of it probably sounded to him like the "Mwah mwah mwahmwah" of the adults' voices in the old Charlie Brown animated cartoons. Even so, it was doing what little I could -- and I really do think parents have less power over such things than most accredited parenting "experts" and most parents themselves seem to think -- to unsettle a little bit the idea of "jail" and perhaps plant some seeds of wariness about all the harmful, mystifying nonsense that he is bound to encounter associated with and in part constructed by that idea.

Any one such answer is a tiny drop in the overall ocean of ideas and discourse and material influences that shape any particular human being, so one's performance in any individual instance of answering a question about the world from a little one should be evaluated after the fact in a very gentle way, I think.

Nonetheless, why, in general, are critical answers to such questions not more common, not easier?

As I have observed before, parenting is not the discrete sphere of life that it often gets portrayed as in a lot of how many people talk and write about it. We are not going to be able to come up in three seconds with good, critical answers to questions that we have never thought of critically for ourselves, so as in so many other situations, one of the most important parts of parenting well is investing effort to figure stuff out for ourselves first.

A second factor is that it is easy to be too concerned about saying things that your kid won't completely understand. I think that's a mistake. I mean, a genuine translation is crucial, because an answer that is technically complete but functionally communicates nothing is a waste of breath and will probably be pretty alienating. Still, working hard to avoid sacrificing honesty or completeness to any great extent because "Oh they won't understand" is also crucial, because I think that simplification in the name of being "age appropriate" is a big way in which the ideologies that inform our "common sense" get passed along even by people who might be more critical of those ideologies in other contexts. And speaking personally, I was given plenty of opportunity as a kid to listen in on and be addressed by lots of things I didn't really understand yet (albeit not generally politically critical things), and I think that was a good thing for me. It gave me a chance to practice puzzling things out, and it helped me get comfortable with having the feeling of not understanding while not being overwhelmed by it, which I think has been useful later in life.

More significantly, I think perhaps it is an indication of not taking the questions of children as seriously as they deserve. It is too easy to fall into treating them as interruptions to be managed. Sometimes it just isn't practical to answer well or fully in the moment, of course -- the traffic is bad, dinner is burning, the baby is crying, whatever. Sometimes, though, parents just refuse to treat questions from children as important, refuse to recognize that they are not annoyances, not pointless, but real efforts to figure out the world and how to live in it. This refusal is probably related to the more generalized disrespecting of the agency of youth and children in our culture. It would be easy enough (again, at least for those of us with the privilege not to be forced by circumstances to deal with the concept in the regular course of life) and probably pretty common to laugh off a four year-old's question about jail with "oh, you don't need to know about a nasty thing like that" or "don't worry your pretty little head over it" rather than treat it seriously and recognize that, like an adult, they wouldn't ask if they didn't want to know. Even if the details of any one answer are not retained, the general shape of what it can mean to think critically and explore the world conveyed by such answers over the course of years can be an important piece of parental modelling. (Which is an important way to think about it: as modelling our own journeys to understand, rather than dictating Truth from on high.) And how their questioning gets treated by us will definitely make an impression, and have an impact on their practice around questioning things in the future.

And finally, I think it is because it really is a difficult thing to do. Saying something that manages to actually communicate successfully to someone so early in their journey of figuring the world out while being honest and somewhat substantive, and avoiding dictating or preaching by keeping your language grounded and careful and admitting your own ignorance and limitations, is a pretty tricky thing. But it's actually kind of a fun challenge. And it can be useful too -- after all, what better way to force ourselves to sharpen our own thinking about the world?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quote: The Market

The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what-works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources. The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is -- without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset -- intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged, and widespread suffering of conscious beings.

-- Iaim M. Banks

And this ignoring what a system based on perpetual growth does to the natural systems it pillages unsustainably for raw materials...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Review: Long Way From Home

[Myrna Kostash. Long Way From Home: The Story of the Sixties Generation in Canada. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1980.]

It might just be that in my self-directed, semi-random adventure through book length writings chronicling Canada's history from below, I have missed it, but it is my impression that very little has been written on the period between 1956 (more or less) and 1968 (more or less). The former year is one logical endpoint for histories of the Communist left in this country, and those that talk about the CCF might end a few years earlier (with the decisive CCF defeat of the CPC for control of the labour movement) or a few years later (with the official affiliation of the CCF with the Canadian Labour Congress to form the NDP). A lot of the New Left stuff -- there is much less than you might expect from any portion of that era, unfortunately -- does not seem to start until 1968 or even a few years after that. I remember reading a couple of books on the history of the NDP, which must have covered some of this era, but I don't think they talked much about social movements. There was also another one on the efforts to pass human rights legislation in Canada, but that ended its story at about 1960 or so.

A big reason for all of this, I suspect, is that not much was happening. Not nothing, certainly -- there's never nothing -- but whatever movement stuff was going on was on a much smaller scale than in that inevitable point of Canadian comparison, the United States, where there was a movement of nation-shaking magnitude whose progress and transmutations quite naturally connected 1954 with 1963 with 1966 and beyond. In Canada, the precursors of the uprisings of women, indigenous people, students, African Canadians, queers, and so on that came to public attention in the late '60s and early '70s were just not so visible. Most books focusing on the history of that particular cycle of struggle in Canada, at least in my experience to date, are really more about the '70s than they are about the '60s, even though most of us would colloquially refer to that cycle as "the sixties."

Long Way From Home is, of course, an exception to this -- the only exception I have yet encountered. In English Canada, the lineage of the organizations that would become the youth-based New Left, whether organized around the identity "student" or around the identity "woman", began in organizing against nuclear weapons. Towards the end of the '50s, the government of John Diefenbaker agreed to contribute a bit of cash towards the defense of the continent from the evil Russkies by buying a weapons system called the Bomarc Missile, which was meant to target any nuclear-armed Commie bombers that might decide to mount a surprise attack by flying over the North Pole. Though Dief later claimed he was not aware of this fact at the time, the system they committed to buying could only be armed with nuclear warheads, even though Canada had not yet decided whether to arm itself with atomic weapons. There was division within cabinet on this question and some fairly significant organizing, including by a group that called itself the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which later morphed into the Sudent Union for Peace Action, a kind of Canadian version of Studetns for a Democratic Society that self-destructed rather earlier than its U.S. counterpart but which nurtured radicals that went on to do other important and interesting things. Though none of my interview participants were central organizers in these campaigns, three or four were involved as participants in anti-Bomarc activity, and many more were involved in later New Left stuff that can trace some lineage to such things. Kostash's discussion of the student peace activism of the early '60s flows quite naturally into her analysis of the more general student organizing around many different questions later in the decade.

Her discussion of the youth culture of the '60s was also fascinating. The combination of her obvious passion for the counterculture with her keen political critique of it was insightful, and the pain that combination has caused her was palpable. It was not a rigorous history, exactly, but more of a rich description of scenes and places and people, of feels and sensibilities. It was notable how many features of the counterculture of that era which were new and distinct and rebellious against previous ways of doing things live on in quiet ways as common expectations within niches organized around the identity "activist" today. This is true of many ideals about what it means to lead a good life, though I have the sense that such things are more optional and not quite as powerfully normative for young progressive and radical people today as they were in 1969. It is also true of features of the standard political ways of work in activist contexts today -- things that Kostash characterizes as innovations of the "sixties generation" but which many of its most dedicated participants were critically rethinking by the '80s, like consensus decision-making and deep suspicion of structures. Despite that critical reflection by the first generation that widely embraced them in the service of social change in Canada, many of them are pretty matter-of-course in movement spaces today. Not quite sure how that happened or what it means. I also enjoyed her efforts to show both the massive influence of the counterculture south of the border as well as the specificities of its Canadian incarnation.

Her chapters on the uprisings of indigenous peoples and women, respectively, in the late '60s were good to see though not the strongest parts of the book. The former had a few interesting case studies in how the federal government coopted radical sentiment -- actually a theme that recurs throughout the book, and one we need to pay attention to -- but felt very partial and fragmentary and not as self-aware as it could have been of its incompleteness and very limited access to the political ground from which the indigenous uprising was occurring. Kostash herself was active in the women's movement and the feel that chapter creates is more consonant with my sense of the bigger picture of what was going on in those contexts, but it has the misfortune of being read today in light of the many works that have been published in the meantime which had the leisure to paint more factually detailed pictures of this particular strand of post '68 movement activity.

Its chapters on both English Canadian and Quebecois nationalisms were useful, particularly since I have read relatively little about either of them in this era. The discussion of English Canadian nationalism is not nearly as critical as I would like, and does not engage with the indigenous anti-colonial or related but not identical anti-racist critiques of such nationalism as a historically central tool for organizing white supremacy in northern North America. Still, I think the book's sympathetic treatment of it has given me a better sense of some of the reasons why left nationalism has such a grip on significant sectors of the anglo left in this country. This insight makes me a little more understanding of how people have arrived at this position, though it gives me no greater sympathy for the stubbornness of the resistance commonly displayed to thinking about it at all critically in the present. (It occurs to me that some sort of critical history of left nationalism in this country might be something to add to my long and unrealistic brainstorming list around the question of 'what next' for my own writing once the movement history stuff is finally complete -- I remember reading about debates within the Communist Party in the '20s that sounded like they had very similar forms, if somewhat different vocabularies, to debates Kostash describes within New Left circles in the late '60s on this topic.) And my knowledge of the francophone left in Canada in that era has been almost nonexistent, despite the fact that it was often more radical and numerically larger than its anglophone counterpart, so I was very grateful for this partial introduction.

This was a lovely book to read because of its passion. For purely selfish and utilitarian reasons I would've appreciated more detail in some areas, and while I am very supportive of its open embrace of the inevitable situatedness and incompleteness of history, I still put the book down feeling, "This is not enough." This is not the author's fault -- she wrote the book she wanted to write, and refused to take on the pretenses of academic historians about what is possible and what is politically appropriate. Rather, it is a consequence of the fact that the rest of the dozen passionate, partial, critical books on Canadian history from below from 1960 to 1970 that should exist, do not. (And if they do exist and I just don't know about them, leave a comment or email me!! :) )

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sudbury Coverage of Actions Against Secret Trials in Canada

Here is a decent article from the front page of Monday's Sudbury Star on the local action that was part of the National Day of Action Against Secret Trials in Canada:

'It's such a fundamental violation of rights'; Protest calls attention to secret trials under Canada's anti-terror law
by Sudbury Star staff, October 22, 2007.

If Canadians knew the details of how their government is using unconstitutional legislation to treat immigrants, they wouldn't stand for it, activists protested during the weekend in Sudbury and cities across the country.

"It's an issue that needs more attention because so many people are not aware of the secret trials process, the way the government can arrest and detain people without due process. That's something that should be of concern across Canada," said Scott Neigh, a member of Sudbury Against War and Occupation.

About a dozen members of the local peace group demonstrated Saturday afternoon outside the Sudbury Courthouse, in tandem with similar rallies held across Canada.

"It's a problem that needs more sustained attention," Neigh said of the government's use of the Anti-Terrorism Act and its so-called security certificates to detain immigrants suspected of terrorism-related activity.

"There is such a lack of due process ... it's such a fundamental violation of rights," he said.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously, in February of this year, that the use of security certificates to detain suspects and keep sensitive information from the public violates the Charter of Rights. However, the court suspended the full legal effect of its ruling for one year, giving the government time to rewrite the law. The security certificates allow government officials to use secret court hearings, indefinite prison terms and summary deportations when dealing with non-citizens accused of having terrorist ties.

"At no point does the accused person, or their lawyers, get to see details of the accusations against them," said Neigh. "At no point do they get to respond to specific evidence. It's heard in secret by a judge. The standard for what's admissible as evidence is incredibly low - things that would be thrown out of a criminal court proceeding are admissible."

There's also concern that some of the information that CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service) submits may have come from foreign intelligence and been derived by torture or other questionable practices. And the standard for a judge's decision is also very low."

The government has been using such unconstitutional practices for several years already and it may take many more before the majority of Canadians realize fully the extent of the injustice that has been perpetrated, said activists Gary Kinsman, also a member of Sudbury Against War and Occupation.

"I think we're going to look back on this with a lot of shame, as a period of major violation of people's civil and human rights," Kinsman said during Saturday's rally. He drew parallels between the government's current methods to the approach in past decades to other "national security" risks such suspected communists, gay activists and black communities.

"One of the reasons why secrecy is maintained, why there are secret trials and the allegations against these individuals are made public is that if people actually knew what was going on, they would not tolerate it. That's crucial to why and how national security operates and it's only later on that these injustices are uncovered and when people learn exactly what happened, they're outraged."

The demonstrators in Sudbury and at least 11 other cities called Saturday for the release of Mohamed Harkat and four others.

Harkat, who came to Canada as a refugee from Algeria, has been detained on a security certificate since 2002. He remains under house arrest and must wear a tracking device.

Officials denied Harkat's request to attend a rally in Ottawa on Saturday, but he gave supporters a message via audiotape.

"I feel like an animal on a leash. I don't feel like a human being," he said.

Canadian intelligence officials allege Harkat is an Islamic extremist with connections to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Harkat has never been formally charged with any crime, there has never been a trial, and he has yet to see the purported evidence against him.

He maintains his innocence and has said that he could be tortured if sent back to Algeria.

EDIT: And here is the article from the other local paper, Northern Life:

Group protests Canadian secret trials
Date Published | Oct. 22, 2007 | Northern Life

A group of concerned Sudburians banded together on the weekend to demand an end to the so-called "national security certificate" process that allows the Canadian government “to indefinitely detain non-citizens in Canada with completely inadequate due process.”

“We are opposed to this process. We feel it should be abolished,” said Scott Neigh, a member of the group called Sudbury Against War and Occupation (SAWO).

“This is legislation that allows the federal government to possibly deport these people, even if they will be tortured (back in their homeland.)”

Neigh said there are currently five men, all of them Muslim, who are being subjected to this process in Canada.

“We feel they should either be released or, if they have done things that are violations of the criminal code, they should be charged and they should go through the same kind of trial process that other people who break the law go through in this country,” he said.

The group, which has a couple of dozen members, held a media conference in front of the Sudbury Courthouse Oct. 20. One speaker was Dr. Gary Kinsman of Laurentian University, who has written extensively on the history of the Canadian national security state and was recently awarded Laurentian University's Research Excellence Award.

Also during the media conference, a group volunteer read a statement from New Liskeard native Sophie (LaMarche) Harkat, who is married to one of the men who is currently under house arrest. Mohamed Harkat was accepted as a refugee in Canada before being arrested in December 2002. Never charged, and never given a fair trial, his certificate was upheld in 2005 under the unconstitutional security certificate process, Neigh said. Under the conditions of house arrest, Harkat is never allowed to be alone and cannot leave home without the permission of the government.

In February 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that some aspects of the security certificate process are unconstitutional and gave the government one year to change the law. The Conservative government is expected to introduce new legislation this fall. Critics charge that the changes to the legislation will likely be inadequate and will leave the unjust process largely intact.

SAWO is calling for the abolition of the security certificate process, added Neigh.

“No amount of tinkering can turn an essentially discriminatory process – one which explicitly treats the liberty of non-citizens with contempt and which is implemented in ways that target Muslim men of colour – into a fair one.

“It is a process that places arbitrary power in the hands of spy agencies and politicians, that replaces precise charges with vague concepts, that relies on secret suspicions, profiling and association instead of evidence, and that has no end except deportation to further torture. It assumes that immigrants are potential ‘threats to national security.’ It cannot be reformed and must be eliminated.”

End secret trials now!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Canada's History of Routinely Setting Liberty Aside

Though they break the supposed universality of the standards of liberalism all the time anyway without admitting it, liberal-democratic states also tend to have formal mechanisms whereby in situations they define as emergencies they can temporarily and explicitly set aside some of their rules about process and democracy and individual liberty and so on. In Canada, it has historically happened by the government of the day invoking the War Measures Act.

It blew my mind yesterday to read that between 1914 and 1970, a period of 56 years, the War Measures Act was in force a whopping 40% of the time.

Now, a commenter could try to go through all of those years and point out that X made it acceptable at this time while Y made it acceptable at that time and then we could argue about each instance, but stand back a minute and think about it in its entirety. What does it say about liberal-democratic capitalism as a way of organizing our lives that, even though these standards of due process and democracy and individual liberty are so central to its claims to legitimacy, setting some of them aside in an open and formal way was so routine over such a large period of time? It doesn't say anything very complimentary, I don't think. Especially when you consider the role that dominant social relations played in creating some if not all of the crises to which the state was responding with the War Measures Act.

And, again, I want to emphasize that this is completely leaving aside all the nastiness inherent to liberalism as a matter of course but generally denied or ignored by liberals...this is open violations of their own standards of liberty and democracy, formally acknowledged and endorsed over almost half of a period of more than five decades!

[This fact was discovered in Myrna Kostash, Long Way From Home: The Story of the Sixties Generation in Canada, Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1980, p. 238. She in turn cites Richard Fidler, RCMP: The Real Subversives, Toronto: Vanguard, 1978, p. 15.]

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Two New Links

Yesterday I got two emails expressing interest in this site and offering to exchange links with me.

The first was from Maggie of The Other Side. I know Maggie from my time living in Hamilton, Ontario, and haven't heard from her in years. We were both involved in anti-poverty activism and in community radio. The Other Side is her radio show, which she describes as a "weekly current events radio magazine," and the web site that goes with it. If you time it right, you can catch it on the live web stream of 93.3 FM CFMU, but she also archives her show at Radio4All. For her broadcast from 9 October 2007, for example, click here. I've added her site to the "Interesting Radio" category in my sidebar. Check it out!

The other was from Eric of ArmyOfOne. He is a fellow Sudburian. He emailed me months ago, actually -- usually I'm pretty good at following up when people contact me out of the blue, because such contacts are one of the coolest things that comes from having an online presence like this blog, but I dropped the ball and didn't get in touch back then. Though neither of us immediately made the connection -- or at least I didn't -- we have since realized that we actually met in person just by chance a few days after he emailed me, while I was in the process of procuring a new computer. He came across me and my site again more recently via the Sudbury Against War and Occupation site and made another try to get in touch, which I'm very glad of. He is an IT professional who is interested in using his expertise for the purposes of social change...his site characterizes its mission as being to "use technology to remove barriers of religion, nation, economy, self-interest in order to make the hard decisions to restore truth and justice in the world; a world without war, suffering, oppression and inhumanity." I've added the site as a whole to the "Interesting Group or Static Site" section of my sidebar, and the site's blog to my my inspection of the site I've seen both things that he and I would have in common politically -- in particular an anti-war stance -- as well as other areas where our differing takes on things could lead to productive dialogue.

I'm definitely interested in connecting with other people doing political things online (or offline) in the Sudbury area, so I'm pleased to link to Eric's site. There is precious little of that sort of thing in Sudbury, at least in terms of online stuff -- there's the SAWO site, of course, which I'm involved with; local feminist blog Dissilusionment for the 21st Century, which I read regularly; and unfortunately the author of Better Late Than Never decided that he needed to move to Windsor, Ontario, to go to school, so he isn't exactly local anymore, though I am still definitely a reader. And that's all I've found so far. But if anyone else is out there lurking, drop me a line.

Anyway, please give these sites a look, see what you think, perhaps learn a thing or two and maybe engage in some interesting political dialogue!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

No Olympics on Stolen Land

A recent gathering in Mexico of indigenous peoples from the length and breadth of the Americas called for a boycott of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. I came across the announcement reproduced here (including pictures I haven't included on this site), but I'm not sure where it came from originally. I think this is an important development that those of us who are settlers attempting to figure out what it means to be in solidarity with indigenous struggles need to learn about and support.

Here is a media release:

Intercontinental Anti- 2010 Olympics Movement Launched In Mexico

For Immediate Release October 18, 2007

Coast Salish Territory; Vancouver

Indigenous representatives attending an intercontinental Indigenous gathering in Vicam , Sonora Mexico have called for a boycott of the 2010 Olympics Games. The meeting, which was attended by over 1500 delegates representing nations from the US, Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America, began on October 11thth and ended on October 14th. Indigenous people met to discuss 515 years of invasion and resistance to colonial occupation of Indigenous lands, with the Olympics a central theme.

Delegates agreed that the 2010 Games, to be held on the occupied Indigenous territories of Vancouver "BC", will have an immense negative impact on Indigenous people's lands and lives. Reading from the proposed resolutions delivered at the gathering, Gord Hill, a Kwakwaka'wakw delegate, stated that "Olympic related mega development on Indigenous lands have already disrupted hunting and fishing grounds and destroyed sacred sites". The resolutions also drew attention to the death of esteemed Elder Harriet Nahanee who died after she was imprisoned for protesting the expansion of the Sea to Sky highway – the primary artery to the main site of the 2010 winter Games. In the final statement, adopted resolution number two states "We reject the 2010 Winter Olympics on sacred and stolen territory of Turtle Island--Vancouver, Canada”. Angela Sterritt, Gitxsan participant, said "Not only are the 2010 Games destructive to the environment, but they will accelerate violence against Indigenous women. Prostitution is being actively promoted and referred to as a "tourist attraction" for the games".

The Gathering, held on Yaqui territory, followed a number of regional gatherings throughout Mexico. The delegates representing Northern Turtle Island, also known as Canada, agreed that defense and protection of the land and unity were central to their effort towards self-determination and freedom. The year 2010 in Vancouver marks a great threat to Indigenous people and to these goals.

Delegates from across the continent decided that resistance to the Olympics should be an international objective. Given the Olympic massacre of over 300 students in Mexico in 1968 and the exploitation of Indigenous people in other countries that have hosted the Olympics, the Indigenous peoples in Vicam agreed that stopping the Olympics 2010 is imperative. Hundreds if not thousands of Indigenous people now plan to attend the Olympic Games, not in celebration, but in resistance to the danger the Olympics poses to Indigenous lands, identity, culture, health, livelihoods, and to future generations.

For more information contact:
Dustin Johnson, Spokesperson, 604-602-7226; email: dustin[at]
Angela Sterritt, Spokesperson, 604-562-1028; email:[at]
Gord Hill, Spokesperson, 604-602-7226; email: warrior-publications[at]

For more information on the the indigenous gathering as a whole see this article, which I found via this post.

Nation Day of Action Against Secret Trials in Canada

Here is the public national call-out for the day of action against security certificates on October 20th. As mentioned recently on this blog, some of us here in Sudbury will be among the cities marking the occasion.

Coast to Coast actions 20 October 2007

Minister of "Public Safety" Stockwell Day is expected to introduce new security certificate legislation in Parliament any day now. The reform comes in response to strong public opposition to the security certificate - a symbol of injustice against migrants in Canada - and in response to the Supreme Court decision in February 2007 that the 'security certificate' process is unconstitutional.

This means that the government intends to maintain a two-tiered justice system, with one process for refugees and permanent residents and another for citizens. If it succeeds, this move will further entrench the use of secrecy and racial profiling in the Canadian legal system. It will help to normalize indefinite detention/house arrest for people who are deemed "suspect" by the spy agency CSIS. It will normalize increased government control and surveillance. All while leaving the door open to deportation to torture.

JOIN US on the cross-Canada day of action on 20 October to send a clear message to the government: no new security certificate process; immediately free those detained under this illegal law - or charge them and give them a fair and open trial.

1. Demands of day of action
2. Statements by security certificate detainees and family members
3. List of actions across Canada
4. What else you can do
5. List of organizations who have endorsed the day of action
6. Bios and photos of the secret trial five
7. For more information


The demands of the 20 October CROSS-CANADA DAY OF ACTION are:

1. No new 'security certificate' legislation;
2. Immediately free the five from all conditions or charge them and provide them with a fair and open trial;
3. End deportation proceedings against the five;
4. End deportations to torture; and
5. Close the "Kingston Immigration Holding Centre".


* Statement for 20 October 2007 by SOPHIE LAMARCHE: CLICK HERE Sophie Lamarche has campaigned for the release of her husband Mohamed Harkat since his arrest in December 2002; since his transfer to house arrest in summer 2006, she has been forced to supervise her husband.

* Statement for 20 October 2007 by MOHAMED HARKAT:
CLICK HERE Mohamed Harkat was arrested under a security certificate in December 2002; he was transferred to house arrest in summer 2006.

* Statement for 20 October 2007 by AHMAD JABALLAH:
CLICK HERE Ahmad Jaballah is the oldest son of Mahmoud Jaballah, who has been under a certificate since August 2001.

* Radio Canada "Maisonneuve en direct", interview with ADIL CHARKAOUI (12 October 2007): CLICK HERE Adil Charkaoui was arrested under a security certificate in May 2003, and was released from prison in February 2005, is currently under strict conditions. (French)

* Statement by LATIFA RADWAN to the People's Commission on Immigration Security Measures (April 2006): CLICK HERE Latifa Radwan is the mother of Adil Charkaoui; since his release from prison, she has been forced into the role of supervisor of her son. (French)

* CKLN Radio interview with HASSAN ALMREI (31 August 2005): CLICK HERE Hassan Almrei was arrested under a certificate in October 2001; he remains the sole detainee in the special prison for security certificate detainees, the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.


Events are taking place from 19 October through to 28 October in a dozen places:

Saturday, 20 October
Meet at 4 Corners
* Walk through town led by a bagpiper.
* More info: Liz and Barney Barningham, tel. (519) 369-3268

Saturday, 20 October at 11am
McIntyre Park Gazebo, 83 Ave. & 104 St.,
* Teach-in with SPEAKERS (Dylan Handy, winner of the Maher Arar Essay contest on Human Rights; Martin Tweedale, Council of Canadians; Peggy Morton, ECAWAR; Paul Viminitz, Prof. of Philosophy, Univ. of Lethbridge; Marilyn Gaa, Edmonton Raging Granny) and MUSIC (The Edmonton Raging Grannies, Paula Kirman, Notre Dame des Bananas)
* Sponsored by: Edmonton Raging Grannies; Council of Canadians; ECAWAR; Earth's General Store; Edmonton Small Press Association; Edmonton Presbytery
* More info: 780-378-0173

Saturday, 20 October
Farmer's Market
* Leafletting

Sunday, October 28 from 1pm to 5pm
Room 224, Dalhousie SUB, 6136 University Ave (corner of University Ave and Seymour St)
* An Afternoon Workshop on challenging Canada's "National Security" Agenda and upholding Human Rights Abroad and at Home, Featuring a Session on Creative Protest and Nonviolent Direct Action: "Ending Secret Trials, Indefinite Detention, and Canadian Involvement in Torture"
* More info: NSPIRG, tel. (902) 494-6662

Saturday, 20 October, 12 noon
Meet at King and Benton Streets (Speaker's Corner, across from Market Square and Karen Redman's office)
* Rally
* More info: pacscollective[at] or call Alison or Nadeem at (519) 569-8085

Saturday, 20 October, 3:30 pm
Meet at Conservative Party headquarters, 30 Adelaide St. N. at Nelson, just north of the river
* More info: bethwarnerguthrie[at]

* Vigil and Letter-writing

Sunday, 21 October 2007, from 5pm
CÉDA, 2515 Délisle St., Lionel Groulx metro
* Panel, dinner and strategy session: The Other Arars
* More info: Coalition Justice pour Adil Charkaoui,,

Saturday, 20 October, 1pm
Human Rights Monument, Elgin Street
* Rally: Speakers include Monia Mazigh and Abdullah Almalki.
* More info: justicepourmohamedharkat[at]

Saturday, 20 October
Farmers Market
* Joining in weekly peace vigil
* More info: Amnesty International Orillia - Group 10

Saturday, 20 October 2007, 12 Noon
Sudbury Court House, 155 Elm Street
* Media Conference, "Many Canadians believes we live in a country where the government cannot lock you up while keeping the charges and the evidence are secret. Many Canadians are wrong."
* More info: Sudbury Against War and Occupation, tel. 705 675-8479

Saturday, 20 October, 12 noon
Meet at CSIS, 277 Front Street West,
* Rally and Walk to federal Court, Moss Park Armoury
* More info: tel 416 651 5800, tasc[at]

Friday, 19 October, 4:30-6:30 PM
Broadway Skytrain Station, Commercial Drive
* Leafleting, Readings, and Creative Resistance
* Organized by No One is Illegal-Vancouver and Siraat Collective.
* More information, noii-van[at] or tel. 778 885 0040


* Sign petition (petition at or available by email from tasc[at]
* Call or send a postcard to your MP, telling them to vote against the new security certificate legislation (postcards available from justiceforadil[at] or for download at; you can find the MP for your district at
* Get involved! Email tasc[at] (Toronto), justiceforadil[at] (Montreal), or justicepourmohamedharkat[at] (Ottawa) to find out how.
* Break the silence! Stand up and challenge racism and fear in your workplace, at schools, on the street, in your community centre.


The Day of Action is endorsed by many organizations and networks,

Solidarity Across Borders, The Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Monia Mazigh, Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill, Rassemblement Outaouais contre la guerre, El-Hidaya Association of Montreal, Les Soeurs Auxiliatrices-Comité Justice sociale, Immigrant Workers' Centre, Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui, Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), Irene Mathyssen (MP London-Fanshawe), Collectif Échec à la guerre, Comité social centre-sud, l'Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ), Ligue des droits et libertés, NDP Québec, Jack Layton (MP, Toronto-Danforth), Libby Davies (MP, Vancouver East), Centre justice et foi, Wayne Marston (MP, Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and the NDP Advocate on Human Rights, Multiculturalism and Sport), Canadian Arab Federation, Canadian Peace Alliance, Forum Musulman Canadien / Canadian Muslim Forum (FMC-CMF), Quebec solidaire, Bill Siksay (MP, Burnaby-Douglas), Alternative Perspective Media / Regard Alternative Média (APM-RAM), Center for Constitutional Rights (New York), Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC), Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation, Bethune Institute for Anti-Fascist Studies, No one is illegal Fredericton, Comité action refugié-Montréal, Gerald and Maas, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU), No One is Illegal Montreal, 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, No One is Illegal - Toronto, Féderation des femmes du Québec, Coalition contre la brutalité policière Montréal, Chinese Canadian Redress Alliance / Alliance des sinocanadiens pour la réparation, Olivia Chow (MP Trinity Spadina), Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), Fédération des Congolais de l'étranger (FCE-Canada), Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL), South Asian Women's Community Centre (SAWCC), International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), Canadian Council for Refugees, Action Refugiés Montréal, Toronto Action for Social Change, Campaign to stop secret trials in Canada, Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee, No one is illegal Vancouver, Ontario Coalition against Poverty, Présence Musulmane Montréal, Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service, NOWAR/PAIX, Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NS PIRG), Executive of the Edmonton Presbytery of the United Church of Canada, Local Global Justice Committee of Edmonton Presbytery of the United Church of Canada, Justice & Peace Office of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul


* Mohammad Mahjoub, married with two children, is a torture survivor from Egypt who was accepted as a convention refugee in Canada in 1996. He was arrested in June 2000 in Toronto, but never charged. His certificate was upheld on the basis of secret suspicions in October 2001. He was moved to house arrest - 24 hour supervision and no leaving the home without permission - in spring 2007. He denies the allegations against him and asks for a fair trial in which he can clear his name if there is any case against him.

* Mahmoud Jaballah, married with six children, is a torture survivor from Egypt and a school principal who arrived in Canada in 1996. He was arrested under his second certificate in August 2001, days before his refugee hearing. He had previously been detained under a security certificate for seven months in 1999 before the judge deemed the certificate unreasonable in a very unusual decision. He was re-arrested under a new interpretation of the previous "evidence". The second was thrown out on a technicality; the third was finally upheld in 2006. He was moved to house arrest, under the same draconian conditions as Mahjoub, in spring 2007. Like Mahjoub, he insists on his innocence, and asks for a fair and open trial to clear his name if the government thinks it has something against him.

* Hassan Almrei, born in Syria and accepted as convention refugee in June 2000, was arrested under a certificate in October 2001; his certificate was upheld the same year despite objections to the lack of justice in the secret trial process. Since then, he has been threatened with deportation to Syria, even though it is well-known what happened to Maher Arar in Syria under similar allegations which proved to be baseless. Almrei was held in solitary confinement for over four years, and went on many hungerstrikes to protest his conditions, the longest lasting well over 100 days. He is currently the only detainee in the "Kingston Immigration Holding Centre". Like the others, he firmly rejects the allegations that are made against him by CSIS.

* Mohamed Harkat, married, born in Algeria, was accepted as convention refugee in Canada before being arrested in December 2002. Never charged, and never given a fair trial his certificate was upheld in 2005 under the unconstitutional security certificate process. He was transferred to house arrest in June 2006, under which he is never allowed to be alone, cannot leave home without the permission of the government and has many other harsh restrictions. He is still waiting for justice in Canada, though he has repeatedly asked for a fair and open trial if there is anything against him.

* Adil Charkaoui, married with three children, was born in Morocco and came to Canada as a permanent resident with his mother, father and sister in 1995; he was arrested in May 2003 and released under harsh conditions in February 2005. His certificate has not yet been reviewed by Federal Court. His successful legal challenge to the security certificate process brought down the legislation in February 2007. Like the others, he is still waiting for justice in Canada and in the meantime lives in the limbo of indefinite conditions and threat of deportation to a strong probability of torture.


Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada
(416) 651-5800

Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee
sophielamarche[at] or justicepourmohamedharkat[at]

Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui
tel. 514 859 9023

If you live in one of the cities where events are happening, please attend. Even if you do not, take a look at some of the resources, learn more about the issue, and take action where you are.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sudbury Residents to Protest Secret Trials

I'll be faxing the following release (plus contact info I'm not necessarily keen to put online) to local media outlets later today, along with a French version where appropriate:


SUDBURY, ONTARIO, October 15, 2007 – Many Canadians like to think that we live in a place where governmental authorities cannot lock you up and throw away the key while keeping the charges and the evidence secret.

Many Canadians are wrong.

On October 20, 2007, members of Sudbury Against War and Occupation (SAWO) will join with people in communities across Canada on the National Day of Action Against Secret Trials to demand an end to the so-called "national security certificate" process.

SAWO will be holding a media conference in front of the Sudbury Courthouse at 155 Elm Street at noon on Saturday, October 20. Speakers will include Dr. Gary Kinsman of Laurentian University, who has written extensively on the history of the Canadian national security state and was recently awarded Laurentian University's Research Excellence Award.

In the last several years, the Canadian government has subjected five Muslim men to indefinite, arbitrary detention or house arrest conditions, under threat of deportation to torture. Under the security certificate legislation, the government can do this to non-citizens without charging and convicting them in a court of law. Instead, they face secret trials that do not require the government to tell the accused or their lawyers the substance of the allegations or evidence against them.

The evidence is presented in secret, usually by intelligence agencies, and may be tainted by coercion, torture, and destruction of evidence. It may also consist of hearsay or be derived from questionable foreign intelligence sources. "The allegations rely more on racism and fear than anything else," argues SAWO member Scott Neigh. "And despite the harsh consequences for the accused, the government does not have to meet the same evidentiary basis or standard for due process required for laying actual criminal charges under Canadian criminal law."

In February 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that some aspects of the security certificate process are unconstitutional and gave the government one year to change the law. The Conservative government is expected to introduce new legislation this fall. Critics charge that the changes to the legislation will likely be inadequate and will leave the unjust process largely intact.

SAWO is calling for the abolition of the security certificate process. Says Neigh, "No amount of tinkering can turn an essentially discriminatory process – one which explicitly treats the liberty of non-citizens with contempt and which is implemented in ways that target Muslim men of colour – into a fair one. It is a process that places arbitrary power in the hands of spy agencies and politicians, that replaces precise charges with vague concepts, that relies on secret suspicions, profiling and association instead of evidence, and that has no end except deportation to further torture. It assumes that immigrants are potential 'threats to national security.' It cannot be reformed and must be eliminated."

Sudbury Against War and Occupation is a group of Sudbury residents concerned with all forms and consequences of war and occupation. The organization started in early 2007 to object to Canadian support for and involvement in the ongoing occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. They have also been active in supporting the struggles of indigenous peoples in North America. SAWO sees secret trials as one domestic consequence of Canada's deep involvement in war and occupation.

If you want more information about the local event or the national day of action, get in touch with me and if I can't answer your questions then I'll put you in touch with someone who can.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thoughts on Two Consecutive Liberal Majorities in Ontario

Despite the title of the post, I am not intending to comment directly on yesterday's triumph by Dalton McGuinty's Liberals -- a victory I expected all along in a race I followed only peripherally, though the dubious political judgment of John Tory made it less of a contest than expected.

No, I am intending to talk a little bit about the last time the Liberals won two consecutive majority governments in this province, which happened in 1937 when the leader of the party and the province was Mitch Hepburn. I am not doing this to try and claim that there is anything at all directly similar in the historical circumstances between seven decades ago and today. Rather, I am providing a historical illustration that is meant to kind of meant as a poke at the more progressive folks that reside under the shade of the big Liberal tent, and an illustration of what sorts of things can happen when liberalism is posed as the answer to the social problems that more progeressive Liberals claim to care about.

I don't remember exactly which year Hepburn won his first majority government, but it was at some point in the early 1930s. A very blue Tory, R.B. Bennett, was Prime Minister in Ottawa. The Depression was in full effect, Communists were reputed to be hiding under every bed, and upstanding business magnates did their best to make sure that federal tax money was not wasted on poor people like those class traitors were doing south of the border under FDR's New Deal. But there were also populist stirrings, and one the slogans from Hepburn's first election victory was one that would make left-liberals hearts go pitter-pat: "I swing to the left, where some Grits fear to tread."

Mr. Hepburn, however, was good buddies with a number of important gentlemen who owned significant mining interests in Northern Ontario. One of these, whose name I forget, also at some point owned...hmmm, I forget whether it had changed to the Globe & Mail by this point, or if it was still just the Globe then. Anyway, you get which paper I mean. As his years running things in Queen's Park lengthened, good ol' Mitch got closer and closer to this gang of bluebloods.

One of the things that particularly chilled the blood and filled the nightmares of owners of capital in Ontario was the prospect of rowdy workers acting up along the lines of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the United States. Most existing unions at the time in Canada were craft unions, not industrial unions, and they were quite passive and conservative -- separate Communist unions did do some scattered militant things in Canada in the early '30s, but nothing that was really sustained. But the CIO had a record in the States of being militant, of organizing the unorganized, and of winning serious concessions from the most powerful corporations in the world. Partly this was because of changes in labour law that had been made under the New Deal (which were not really replicated in Canada until near the end of World War II) but partly it was because of enthusiastic grassroots organizing, in part by Communist Party USA organizers. However, though CPers did do a lot of important stuff to build the CIO in the United States, it was never a Communist organization. This did not stop capitalists in Ontario from tarring all trade union activity, particularly that along the lines of industrial unionism, with anti-Communist slurs, of course.

In 1937 -- and I don't remember how this was timed with respect to Hepburn's reelection -- the first big victory by forces that identified with the CIO happened in Canada, in the car plants of Oshawa. This was really a homegrown victory by Canadian workers who self-organized and then linked up to the CIO but did not receive much in the way of material support from their sisters and brothers south of the border. It was workers standing up for themselves in the face of brutal exploitation. If memory serves the federal Liberals under William Lyon Mackenzie King weren't so bad, but Hepburn was completely and viciously anti-union during the strike, despite his earlier claim to "swing to the left", and in line with his cosy relationship with mine owners who didn't want to have to deal with unionized miners if industrial unionism were to pick up momentum in Ontario. At one point he authorized the provincial police to hire special officers to send in to Oshawa to keep the peace (read: intimidate strikers) which were officially known as Hepburn's Hussars, but which were calls the Sons of Mitches by the workers in Oshawa.

Anyway, at some point -- again, I'm doing this from memory, so I don't remember if this was during the course of the strike or just after -- Hepburn decided to up the ante. Now, remember, this was an era in which open fascists ruled Italy and Germany and were in the process of taking over Spain. In Canada, Bill Aberhart's Social Credit government in Alberta and Maurice Duplessis' Union Nationale government in Quebec both displayed some fairly fascistic tendencies, though the worst of Aberhart's efforts were disallowed by Ottawa while Duplessis' were permitted because the federal Liberals depended on votes in Quebec. (An interesting side note relevant to the point of this post is that the thuggish Union Nationale government came to power in part because a group of progressive, nationalist, dissident Liberals broke away from their party to join with the Quebec Conservatives to form the new party -- whatever populist sentiments they began with were swallowed whole.)

Back to Hepburn: He decided he wanted to get in on the action. He actually proposed to the leader of the Ontario Conservative party that they join together to form a unity government in the province with the aim of trashing some civil liberties, cracking some Commie heads, and saving Ontario from the imminent revolution. Though he offered his Conservative counterpart the premiership in this new arrangement, and though some prominent Conservative caucus members were all for it, the Tory leader ended up declining.

Like I said, I'm not trying to say that Dalton is some kind of crypto-fascist. I'm trying to say that he is a liberal. And all liberalism needs to turn from supposedly fair exploitation grounded in rules that appear neutral but are stacked in favour of those who already have power into more direct predation is to turn some group into an Other. Some groups -- particularly indigenous and other racialized groups -- have always been liberalism's Others, and the predation they face today through the workings of relations of white supremacy in the context of liberal-democratic capitalism's global functioning today amply demonstrates that. And some, like the (mostly white) industrial working class in Ontario, is only Othered under particular circumstances. I'm not saying I wanted the Tories to win, but I think it is important to keep in mind that this is part of the tradition that you are cheering on as you slap each other on the back because of your good work in getting McGuinty reelected.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Quote: Politicization

Political and ethical formations are idiosyncratic as well as social. One can explain and describe at length the milieu in which an individual lives and works and has being. One can account for the historical, socio-economic, political and moral dimensions of that milieu and delineate their tendencies which, in retrospect, are particularly meaningful. One can do all this and still be faced with a mystery: how is it that this person and not that one, in 1964, became a radical? Even when the differences of class, sex, region, ethnicity are accounted for, it is the person himself or herself who in the end becomes conscious. In other words, it is perfectly dialectical: biography and society interpenetrate and the radical is made. Timing is all.

-- Myrna Kostash

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Movement History Project Update

I just added one of my infrequent updates to the web site for the social movement history project that is my main focus these days:

Chapter 6 is written, minus two passages that will require a few days of research that I cannot do in Sudbury. I'll see if I can do that down in Toronto in November. In the meantime, I've moved on to Chapter 7, which should be a fairly quick one to write, and hopefully I'll get Chapter 9 done as well before the end of the year, or close to it. In terms of the search for a publisher, neither of the two agents who had requested a full proposal in the last round of queries were able to take me on. One had serious health issues that mean he will not be doing anything professionally for some time, and the other sent me a very complimentary and supportive "no" -- not sure if that's just SOP, but it was still nice to receive. The next step is to return to approaching publishers directly, which is really a more appropriate strategy for a book of this type. I had thought that I would go back to doing it one publisher at a time, but a response to my last email update from a supportive reader with much more experience in these matters than myself made the point that it makes more sense to do them in parallel rather than in series just because of how long publishers take to respond to such things. Most relevant publishers in Canada accept simultaneous submissions, so this morning I sent off a bunch of query letters. There also appear to be two very relevant publishers that do not require a query first and just want proposals, so when I get the first request back from these queries for a full proposal, I'll print out three copies and submit to those other two as well. I think I may want to tinker a bit more with the proposal, too, and shorten it if I can...we'll see.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


I recently completed my second (and more leisurely) reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I thought I would write about it. The things I write below will include fannish nerdiness -- you have been warned, so go away if you cannot accept that in the spirit in which it is intended -- but will certainly reflect my interest in storytelling and writing and politics.

The short version of my reaction to the book is that I like it. It isn't the strongest book in the series, but I definitely enjoyed it and felt that it provided a conclusion that I could be quite happy with, even considering what I have to say in the rest of the post. I thought the beginning and ending (minus the epilogue) were strong, but the middle somewhat less so, and certain choices made by the author left something to be desired both in terms of storytelling and in terms of politics. The rest of this post is me fleshing all of that out.

There are a lot of different ways that speculative fiction -- science fiction, fantasy, and horror -- can be put together such that it engages me and makes me want to read more. One combination that often gets me is when the author manages to create characters that are sufficiently interesting and complex to draw me into their emotional lives, a plot that is compelling and makes skillful use of whatever fantastic elements exist in the author's world, and does things with the world or the story or the characters that are politically interesting to me.

I want to emphasize that not all of these elements are necessary for me to enjoy a piece of speculative fiction, and there are countless ways of combining them or doing writing that completely ignores them to produce a great story. One of my early favourites was J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings -- I read it many, many times growing up. Looking at it now, I recognize that it has some seriously politically dubious elements and treats characters largely as vessels for moving the plot forward rather than proceeding with much interest in them as people, but its sweeping, mythic plot (with the huge impact that it had on the genre) still gets me. There are lots of (especially older and male-written) sf and fantasy that basically only do plot -- flat characters, lousy politics -- but that do it in ways that I still find interesting and worthwhile. On the other hand, there is Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Forbidden Tower, which really isn't all that well written and its plot is clearly a convenience to explore personally and politically interesting relationship dynamics among the main characters, but that, too, gets me. Or there are Lynn Flewelling's books -- something I have intended to write about in the past but never have, and may do so in the future -- which have really alive characters, are great stories, and do politically interesting things with sexuality and gender, and they definitely get me. And there are lots of others where talking about them in these categories wouldn't necessarily be useful in getting at what is most interesting about them.

That said, JKR's books are at their best when she does all three. They are at their weakest when she focuses too exclusively on plotiness, on adventurous happenings, on the monster-of-the-week. That area just isn't her strength, I don't think. They are much stronger when there is a good balance between monster-of-the-week stuff and character stuff. And her character stuff is at its best when it is done through everyday, interpersonal interactions, in an ensemble setting rather than too exclusive a focus on Harry's inner life in the absence of plenty of other characters for him to play off (though the great, intense alone stuff with Harry at the end of Deathly Hallows is an exception to that).

I did not start reading the series until the fourth book (of seven) had been published, I think, and I really didn't become a fan until I'd read the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix. That one caught me because it did such a good job of combining all three elements. It was massive, for one thing, so JKR had plenty of space to do both plotty stuff and character stuff. The balance between those two was good, and the size allowed the character stuff to go significantly beyond the solid Trio (Harry, Ron, Hermione) interactions in the earlier books to include what I have seen referred to as the "six pack" in some fan contexts (the Trio plus Neville, Luna, and Ginny). It was very ensemble and very interactive. Even better, it is a politically interesting book (which none of the earlier ones were) because the focus of the plot was collective struggle against arbitrary authority within the context of Hogwarts, which was quite skillfully shown -- all the moves and countermoves, the central role of textual regulation in setting the rules of the game, the various ways in which those engaging in struggle could exploit the spaces available to them in the service of resistance, and so on.

The set-up for Deathly Hallows, on the other hand, forced JKR to make a number of choices. The beginning balanced plot and character quite well, and was very ensemble oriented, but once the Horcrux hunt began, the storytelling environment was much different than anything before in the series because the Trio was essentially out of regular touch with anyone for many hundreds of pages. In essence, JKR chose to split the "six pack" in two. Harry, Hermione, and Ron went on the Horcrux hunt and engaged in the hero's magical quest necessary to win, while Neville, Ginny, and Luna (and most of the other characters who engaged in any action at all) were involved in elements of struggle that might be understood as political rather than mystical. Except the reader gets to see only very occasional snippets of the political stuff, like when the Trio tunes in to the guerilla wizarding wireless show, or in the brief recounting near the end of what had been going at Hogwarts all of this time. So in that long, long middle stretch, you have an emphasis on plot, relatively few opportunities for interactive character development, and an isolation of the reader's stream of awareness from politics.

Add to that the fact that there were bits that just didn't quite feel like they worked in that section. The emotional pacing of a number of aspects was off. While I appreciate the dramatic utility of having Ron storm off and abandon Harry and Hermione so as to isolate Harry as much as possible from any supports and any signs of hope before starting to bring things back together, it felt a bit forced. As did the mechanism by which the upswing began, though it did make more sense as more of the plot was revealed. As well, the big action sequences, like when the Trio penetrates the Ministry and later when they rob Gringotts, felt the way stretches with too much monster-of-the-weekness have felt throughout the series -- that is, fine but not great.

The separation of the Trio from the rest of the wizarding world was partly a consequence of where the plot had gone and so couldn't really be avoided. But JKR took the isolation much farther than she had to, I think. Part of that was the economics of publishing: I would have liked to have seen both halves of the "six pack" getting screen time, and sufficient interactions between the two halves to justify that, but it would've resulted in a 1500 page book to do it right, and even JKR couldn't get away with that length. I have my suspicions about other reasons as well, some of which I'll talk about more below, but I think it also had to do with the choice to introduce the Hallows as a focus for the quest and a source of new mythology and detective work by the Trio instead of keeping the story focused on the Horcruxes. Introducing some new mystical mystery to solve is a pretty standard thing, and I think the way JKR did it was clever and allowed exploration of some thematically interesting things, but it did take up space, and help preclude attention to the political side of the struggle.

The Problem of Ginny

Apparently, pseudo-political squabbles can have a huge impact on online fan communities. I have never felt any urge to become involved in such things, and my few instances of reading fan writings that enter into said debates has tended to leave me repelled and bemused. Nonetheless, I think there are often ideas of real political interest underlying what tends to get expressed as personality conflicts and loyalties to fictional characters. The character of Ginny has been, apparently, a focus of one of the most vicious such conflicts in the Harry Potter fandom.

As far as I understand it -- and, again, I haven't followed such things, so I could easily be getting this wrong -- there is a chunk of the fandom that loathes Ginny, and feel that her coming out of her shell in books V and VI was somehow a reprehensible choice on the part of the author. I have trouble understanding this position, because it sounds a lot like these fans are objecting to a story that allows a little girl (who is mostly portrayed as quite silly, because in the earliest books her only 'screen' time revolves around her crush on Harry) to turn into a young woman (who is strong and capable). A big part of that process happens outside of the reader's view, because Ginny is largely absent from books III and IV, but I still have trouble coming up with a reading that makes her growing up implausible without a heavy dose of sexism in the mix. Some of the fan objections also seem to centre around a loyalty to Hermione and a sense that she is displaced in some way by Ginny, but again I have trouble coming up with a way to make sense of this unless you think that there is only ever room for one strong female character in a series of books. (And, as other authors have pointed out, the Harry Potter series is certainly not feminist storytelling, and a surplus of attention to strong women or to other challenges to dominant gender norms is hardly a complaint that anyone could plausibly make against the series.)

All of which is kind of irrelevant to what I have to say about her in Deathly Hallows -- I'm more painting some context. In any case, late in Half-Blood Prince Ginny and Harry get together at long last, though they break-up again at the very end on Harry's initiative for stupid and noble reasons. Early in Deathly Hallows the two have a moment, and then she largely disappears from the story until the epilogue. We do learn that she has been participating in resistance and we see flashes of her presence in the final battle, but all of that is at one or two removes from the central flow of the part of the story that JKR directly shows the readers.

The question is, why is Ginny absent?

There are several possible answers to this question. One is that JKR was responding in some way to the Ginny-focused turmoil within fan communities. I don't think this is terribly likely or terribly interesting, but it is possible.

The second possibility has to do with dominant norms around sexuality and the economics of the publishing industry. Particularly once the series was established, JKR was obliged to write books that would sell as many copies as possible. One thing that can cut into sales is telling your story in ways that challenge norms held by people you want to buy your book. One ridiculous but very powerful norm around sexuality is that teens don't, or at least shouldn't. A book showing how teens actually behave in this area rather than conservative fantasies of how they should behave will have fewer buyers, even if all the actual action is offscreen but the general outline of what is happening is clear to the reader.

I have the sense from what JKR actually wrote that she recognizes this as unrealistic and she retains a loyalty to the characters that have lived in her head for close to twenty years now, and she didn't want to write them in ways that were not true to who they are. So in Half-Blood Prince after Ginny and Harry have their first kiss, the author's gaze (and therefore the reader's) conspicuously draws away from this side of their relationship, leaving it undefined rather than violating loyalty to realism and character or obligation to publisher. This is possible because the period when they are together is so brief. JKR gets away with slipping in the fact that it would be entirely unremarkable for some at least semi-intimate clothing removal to have taken place between Harry and Ginny by tucking that away in how the characters react to a particular joke. The moment shared by the two in Deathly Hallows occurs on Harry's birthday, not long before he is about to take off on the potentially fatal Horcrux hunt. They are broken up, but one purpose of this moment is to make it clear that is not because they don't want to be together. In any case, it is pretty clear that -- given the danger, given Ginny's established go-get-it-iveness in many areas of life including with boys -- that she is offering/seeking more than just a birthday kiss, but other characters interrupt so it is suitably vague to be included in the book.

In other words, part of the reason why Ginny was so absent from the book was because it would be very hard, probably impossible, to balance loyalty to how the characters would actually behave with the "no sex" interdiction from the publisher if Ginny was any more present in the book. This same logic is why the inevitable Ron/Hermione first kiss did not occur until the middle of the final battle. Though I understand the basis for this phenomenon, I have little patience for it, and am in fact a bit angered by it.

However, there is a third possible explanation for the absence of Ginny in Deathly Hallows, and this one I actually have some respect for. At the most obvious level, this reason can be stated by saying that the story of Harry and Ginny's relationship was just not the one JKR wanted to tell. It was important in Half-Blood Prince, but she's dealt with it and has a different story to tell this time. The significance of this expands from basic authorial choice, however, when you appreciate the narrative environment into which this book enters.

The power of the heteronormative pair bond in mass narratives is almost overwhelming. How many stories -- book, television, movie, comic book, whatever -- have you seen where part of the resolution was the successful creation of a heteronormative pair bond assumed to be monogamous, permanent, and "happily ever after"? It is so ubiquitous, it is sometimes hard to notice how narrowly focused and mandatory it really is. Even lots of movies in which emotional and romantic considerations are largely irrelevant to why people watch them feel the need to include this device somewhere along the line. Even in some stories with same-sex relationships, the author changes only the gender of one participant while leaving the larger relationship practice and the way the relationship functions in the story largely the same as the heteronormative model. It is also an extremely common device in a lot of genre fiction, particularly the more formulaic examples: the (usually male) hero marries the princess, the fair maiden, the amazon warrior, at the end. (In one series I read voraciously as a kid, one character was even quite open about at least one facet of politics of the whole thing by referring to the princess that the scullion-turned-king was about to marry as his "reward" for conquering the forces of evil.)

The heteronormative pair bond functions as a symbol of completeness, of all being right with the world, of satisfaction having been achieved. It is an element of the hero's victory that all of us in our right minds are assumed to aspire to, encouraged to aspire to, forced to aspire to. Its absence is the sign of an empty life, an implicit cause for dissatisfaction, a sign that the story is not yet done.


Now, to some extent, all of this is achieved in the epilogue anyway, and I'll talk more about that in a moment, but I still think it is a relatively bold move to resist the ways in which actually including the Harry/Ginny romance as part of the story would have been inviting in powerful narrative forces that could easily have pushed the story in directions that were quite simply not the ones the author wanted. The heternormative pair bond did not trump all other forms of human relationship in this story, and the relationships among Harry, Ron, and Hermione remained the book's focus. I appreciate this.

On the other hand, I would much rather have seen JKR respond to this pressure not by completely removing Ginny from the book but by inviting her in and challenging the narrative pressures carried in via this norm in a more active and engaged way in how she wrote the story rather than just by dodging it. But that gets back to challenging norms and the mass media's need to sell as many copies as possible.

Now, back to that epilogue. It was, unfortunately, utter cheese, and largely indistinguishable from the sorts of endings you can find in countless middle-tier Harry Potter fanfictions. But I don't begrudge JKR this cheesiness -- they're her babies, she's done a lot of writing that I'm sure at times felt like it was more for others than for her, so let her indulge a bit.

What I'm more concerned about is how that ending relates to one of the central themes of the series. It is saying nothing controversial to point out that family is an important theme in the Harry Potter books. To many people, the epilogue fits perfectly within this because it is Harry having finally achieved the sort of family that his fate denied him while growing up. As that funky mirror he discovered in book I or II showed, this yearning for family and for belonging is a central one to Harry, and that is carried through all of the books. But for me, one of the most fascinating elements of the family theme in the series was what it said about the family you are forced into versus the family you build for yourself. In essence, it was quite blatant about the fact that if you are growing up in a family that is abusive and that wants you to deny who you are, and if some older folks representing a world that allows you to totally be yourself and explore your full potential come along and extend a welcoming hand, you take it and you run with it and you don't look back. Personally, I think it is this that has religious conservatives up in arms about the series, not the inclusion of hocus-pocus. Because it is giving youth a message that can easily be translated into a recommendation that if they desire others of the same gender but their repressive, queer-hatin' family refuses to endorse that, they should just say "screw you" and take off to the nearest major urban centre to find/build spaces where they can be who they are. The epilogue, however, is not just about Harry finally having achieved family, but about a very particular kind of family -- a kind of family perfectly consistent with dominant norms. Now, you could probably come up with more queered readings of the epilogue that do complexify family, given how prominent Ron and Hermione remain, given the references to Harry's godson Teddy, but you'd have to really work at that. I think the most plausible reading of the epilogue means that it functions to defuse some of the challenge to our understandings of family found in the rest of the series. Which is too bad.

Other Political Stuff

As I said above, material of political interest in this book is much less than it could have been because of the focus of attention on the single, mystical quest by the hero and a small number of companions -- a staple for the genre, after all -- with relatively little chance for the reader to get a good look at the more politically oriented collective struggle that we know is going on. Still, there is some interesting stuff. The creation of the feel surrounding what amounted to a secret fascist coup was quite well done, I thought, as well as the odds and ends we learned about the resistance. I also appreciated both the told and the shown examples of Neville engaging in defiant behaviour in the face of overwhelming odds, and his explicit emphasis on the importance of doing so even if the act in question cannot hope to meet the scale of what it opposes in direct, material terms -- a kind of propaganda of the deed, an inspiration for those who silently resent the status quo to not give up and perhaps to take action themselves. And the final battle was well done (though the fact that it was the most visible instance of collective resistance to Voldemort falls into a tendency that exists throughout the genre and the culture more generally that makes it quite rare to see examples that understand "resistance" or even "action" to mean anything other than "combat.") But mostly, that was it.

However, one final depressing note on the political side of things was the way in which some of the series-long tensions about relationships between humans and non-humans were resolved. It is only relatively recently that I've come to appreciate what the label "post-colonial" might mean when it applies to the reading and writing of speculative fiction. In response to the one other post I've written about Harry Potter, a commenter talked a bit about it. I don't think I completely got what she was saying at the time, though I think I understand it better now. A lot of the issue has to do with what we can learn about relations between an assumed "we" and a designated "Other" by looking at the ways in which relations between species, "races", and nations are portrayed in speculative fiction. Traditionally in these genres, the narrative viewpoint rarely deviates from that of some sort of dominant species, "race", or nation, and relationships to the non-viewpoint species, "race", or nation tends to be one of dominance or superiority, implicit or explicit. This tends to be shown in ways that naturalize it rather than challenge it. Though there are wonderful exceptions, the reading and the writing of f/sf/h have historically been disproportionately white, at least in part because of the incorporation into the standards of the genres this naturalization of a standpoint that maps most easily onto white, colonial, and imperial standpoints in real life.

The Harry Potter universe is no exception, with the role of the human-dominated Ministry in perpetuating the enslavement of house elves, the economic ghettoization of goblins, the social ostracizing of werewolves, the spatial marginalization of centaurs and other sentient creatures, the denial of wands to non-humans, and so on. There is some effort by JKR to disrupt the naturalness of these arrangements, partly through the discomfort of most of the "good" characters with the most extreme examples of human chauvinism, and particularly through Hermione's much more thoroughgoing indignation, which is often portrayed as over the top and not terribly well-informed but at least as well-intentioned. These efforts to call into question some of the colonial tendencies in the storytelling have always felt vastly inadequate to the problem (something I have always told myself I could live with because surely she was going to bring some positive resolution to things by the end). In particular, almost noone in the books besides Hermione seems to be as outraged at the enslavement of house elves as slavery really deserves -- in other words, this is a world in which the "good guys" are not really anti-slavery, which is very disturbing. The justification seems to be that most house elves, with the exception of Dobby, don't want to be freed, something that resonates painfully with the sorts of idiocy that pro-slavery forces would spout back in the days before abolition. Other aspects, like the confinement of centaurs by human beings to very small plots of land, reminiscent of the confinement of indigenous peoples to reserves, is never taken up critically by any character at all.

Still, there is a tension there. I was sure -- I was positive -- based on how JKR had built the situation up through the earlier books that an important part of the resolution would be some sort of liberation of the house elves, who would then turn out to be an important and powerful ally against Voldemort.

Instead, the tension about the relationship between humans and non-humans gets resolved in ways that favour the status quo and deny the need to be concerned about it.

One example: Whatever resolution we get to the house elf question is a disappointingly apolitical one that amounts to "be nice to them." While being nice is not, in general, a bad thing to advocate, showing it to be the central way to respond to those that your group or nation politically subordinates is disappointing, to say the least.

Another example: There is a goblin character that has significant interactions with the viewpoint characters, a first for the series. There is some interesting stuff in those interactions, particularly what we learn about the significant differences in how goblins and wizards conceptualize ownership. But really we learn that goblins are hard to get along with, that they are not very nice, and that they don't like wizards very much, which all works towards making the history of conflict between wizards and goblins seem more natural, almost inevitable, and it distracts attention from the fact that it is not just a history of conflict but a history of domination of goblins by wizards. That happens all the time in mainstream discourse in and about the real world. The viewpoint characters ultimately and reluctantly decide to pull a fast one on said goblin, and only fail to do so because he pulls one on them first. Not that I expect all of that history to be resolved in the plot and not that I expect it to be portrayed in ways that are simplistic, but I don't like the way that conflict because of domination is erased by a shift of frame to understanding the conflict as due to difference.

And in the final battle, the house elves, the centaurs, and others line up with the "good guys" against Voldemort. Within the logic of the world JKR has created, this decision on their parts seems reasonable. Viewed from our world, it is perhaps one of the most politically disappointing things in the book. In the book, the "good guys" -- the viewpoint characters, the Order of the Phoenix, and Dumbledore's Army -- are critical of the wizarding state, but mostly around specific policy questions, with some discomfort but not open opposition around the treatment of non-humans from some of them, and no basic opposition to the current social relations of the wizarding world. They are progressives but they are not radicals. And the lesson from the final battle is that, when fascism comes knocking, progressives can count on support from subordinated groups and nations just because fascism is so obviously worse. They do not have to give any thought to their own complicity in oppressing those nations and they do not have to deal with granting any political concessions to win the support of the groups and nations they dominate in return for support against fascism. A united front completely hegemonized by liberal forces is shown as natural and inevitable. Not that this is unrealistic, necessarily, but it would've been nice to see more legitimacy granted in the storytelling to standpoints that would be less than satisfied with this arrangement.

Anyway. A lot of the things that I have criticized here are really only incidentally about Harry Potter. As I've said in a number of instances, they are not at all surprising when you consider the actual ways in which mass market oriented media production happens in our society. There are always exceptions, but most pop culture products that reach as immense an audience as this series will be shaped by these pressures, and any producers of media hoping to reach such a mass audience will train themselves to be responsive to them. Interesting challenges are much more likely on the margins, where sales are expected to be in the thousands rather than the millions. And, as I said, I still enjoyed this book and still thought it was a good read.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Violence Against Women and the Ontario Elections

The following media release came from YWCA Toronto, the largest women's organization in that city:

Media Advisory - Toronto's Largest Women's Organization Calls on Provincial Candidates to Address Violence Against Women in their Platforms and Funding

TORONTO, Oct. 4 /CNW/ - YWCA Toronto, the city's largest multi-service organization by, for and about women and girls is stunned by the 64th and 65th murders of the year, two women both under the age of 30, but is not surprised that not one political candidate has addressed how his party will work to end violence against women in the province. One victim, Jocelyn Dulnuan, a 27- year-old woman living as domestic worker in a tony Mississauga neighbourhood, the other 25-year-old Aysuen Sesen, was seven months pregnant when she was allegedly stabbed to death by her common law husband.

The details of these crimes speak to the overwhelming swell of systemic violence against women in our city, and a missed opportunity for Ontario's provincial candidates to address the issue of violence against women in their campaigns. In fact, party leaders have been conspicuously silent on issues of violence against women, focusing instead on publicly decrying gangs, guns and the importance of community crime prevention, rather than addressing the root causes of woman abuse - including inadequate affordable housing, income inequality, and lack of access to affordable child care.

"At YWCA Toronto we see causes of violence against women as they affect each of the services we provide," says YWCA Toronto Chief Executive Officer Heather McGregor. "We see the connections between abuse and the factors that prevent women from leaving abusive partners including insufficient post- shelter funding; inadequate access to safe, affordable and permanent housing; and the overwhelming lack of affordable, high-quality childcare. With a week left before Ontarians head to the polls, what are the parties' positions on the development of a more effective domestic violence action plan?"

Some facts to consider from YWCA Canada:

  • In Ontario, between 1995 and 2005, 231 women were murdered by their partners or former partners, many of whom then killed themselves. From January to November 2006, 24 women and 12 children in Ontario were murdered in acts of violence against women. Unfortunately, these numbers - in Ontario and across Canada, are not decreasing;
  • Canada's more than 550 shelters for battered women remain full; many with waiting lists;
  • According to a recently released study by Statistics Canada, approximately one in ten abused women use a shelter;
  • The same report found that approximately 100,000 women and children used battered women's shelters in the 12 month period beginning April 12, 2005;
  • Ontario's Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which reports to the Office of the Chief Coroner, noted in its 2004 report that 100% of the victims in the cases it reviewed were women and 91% of the perpetrators were men, concluding that domestic violence is not gender neutral. The most common risk factor was actual or pending separation, followed closely by a prior history of violence, which was present in 8 of the 11 cases reviewed by the committee in its first year.

The brutal murders of Jocelyn Dulnuan and Aysuen Sesen serve to remind all Ontarians that the root causes of violence against women deserve the same media and political attention given to other aspects of the provincial election campaign. YWCA Toronto urges provincial candidates to hear this message and begin to address in their platforms the conditions that trap women and children in violent homes. Adequate child care, employment supports, anti-discrimination laws, affordable and permanent housing, and an end to the baby bonus clawback are just some of the issues that parties should be focusing on in the remaining campaign period.

YWCA Toronto is a turning point in the lives of more than 26,000 across the Greater Toronto Area. We help women achieve equality, economic independence and lives free from violence through our four program areas: housing and support, employment and skills development, girls' and family programs, and advocacy. We welcome women of all faiths, sexual orientations, races, cultural affiliations and creeds.

Between October 15-20th YWCA Toronto will host its 11th annual Week Without Violence, a weeklong series of free events throughout the GTA aimed at eradicating violence and envisioning peaceful communities including: girlJAM5, an all-ages festival of music aimed at raising awareness about violence in young women's lives; Bully2U, a speaker, author and performance series for 400 high school students on violence and bullying in popular culture; BU: The Power of Being a Girl, an all-day conference for 200 girls and young women ages 14-22 on anti-violence, self empowerment and self care at the North York Civic Centre; and a host of other internal events for women in YWCA Toronto shelters and after shelter programs. For more information visit

For information or to arrange an interview contact Corinne Rusch-Drutz, Director of Advocacy & Communications, 416.961.8101. x 350

October 14 to 20, 2007
Imagine a Week Without Violence

For further information: Raine Liliefeldt, Marketing and Media Coordinator, Advocacy & Communications, YWCA Toronto, A Turning Point for Women, 80 Woodlawn Ave E, Toronto, ON, M4T 1C1, T (416) 961-8100 x 326, F (416) 961-7739, rliliefeldt(AT),

Personally, I would also encourage both Ontarians and politicians to cast a wider net when thinking about the ways in which the provincial level of the state is complicit in violence against women and what needs to change. For instance, the role of the province in the Six Nations standoff in Caledonia shows one aspect of how that segment of the state has no qualms about failing to act to end ongoing violence (broadly understood) by settlers and by the settler state against indigenous women (and men). There are many other examples of this. As well, the fact that Jocelyn Dulnuan, one of the recently murdered women mentioned in the media release above, was a domestic worker raises a bunch of other important issues, including the explicit subordination by state regulation of mostly racialized women who come to Canada to work as domestic workers for the benefit of mostly white women and men, and the inadequate labour and employment law protections that these women receive -- on its own, the provincial level of government cannot solve all of those things, but it can definitely do more than it is doing now.