Monday, October 3, 2016

Canada Needs a National Plan to Fight Campus Sexual Assault and Rape Culture

Despite the fact that sexual assault on campus is a national issue, Canada does not have a national strategy for fighting it, sexual harassment, and today's rape culture. This is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. To top it off, you have officials like Justice Robin Camp saying vile things to a rape victim in Calgary in 2014 such as "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" and "Pain and sex sometimes go together" ( These are our judges in Canada? No one asks to be raped. No one deserves to be raped. Showing some cleavage or wearing a short skirt does not mean a woman is asking for it. This does not give a man license and permission to violate her in the worst possible way. Five brave women from five different universities across Canada have come together to demand calling for justice and a national organization to be set up where an online portal be set up to provide legal information, survivor resources, and advocacy. Three of the five women have made human rights complaints central to advocacy (Metro News, Monday, October 3, 2016, page 6). Mandy Gray, 28, is one such victim who has chosen to speak out. Her case is nationally known as her rapist was recently sentenced to 18 months in jail and has appealed his sentence. The PhD student in sociology at York University in Toronto filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in 2015 and what she described as a "very long battle" with York after she was raped by a fellow PhD student in January. "I just wanted to return to campus without having to run into him," Gray told Metro News (Monday, October 3, 2016, page 6). Her complaint alleges many things, including a failure of school policies and a lack of trained staff and a centralized place to report and get information. York defends its support of rape victims by saying that it provides counselling and is in the midst of developing a sexual assault policy to comply with Ontario's new Bill 132. Gray's lawyer Joanna Birenbaum, however, says that her client's complaint demands much more from schools' sexual assault policies than the new legislation requires. "Women bear the brunt of this policy failure, sometimes at the cost of their education and careers," she told Metro News (Monday, October 3, 2016, pages 6-7). This is not mention the devastation of women's minds and bodies. The rape victim who bore the brunt of Justice Camp's disturbing comments said that she contemplated suicide as a result of her experience. "He made me hate myself, and he made me feel like I should have done something... that I was some kind of slut" ( Seriously? A rape victim doesn't need to feel any worse than she already does nor should she ponder killing herself. Camp should lose his job. This is unprofessional and unacceptable. Gray said that the larger political project lies in the new national network she and the four other victims are forming: "We're drawing the linkages between these cases to demonstrate this is, in fact, a systemic-level issue, and there needs to be some kind of oversight, an external body to hold these universities responsible" (Metro News, Monday, October 3, 2016, page 7). Furthermore, she addresses consent education or rather "the fetishization of consent education" as an easy PR tactic that costs far less money and time-wise than creating a comprehensive response to sexual assault. "My attacker knew what consent was," she said (Metro News, Monday, October 3, 2016, page 7).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

We Need People

I recently finished reading a book called If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski, which my Uncle Johnny recommended. Tworkowski's stories and musings remind us that it's okay to not always feel okay, and it's okay to be human. It's okay to ask for help or to take a second to catch your breath. He speaks of pain but also of hope. His constant message is that "people need other people." What helps deliver his message is the fact that Tworkowski, 36, is candid about his own hurts, insecurities, and struggles with depression. He shares about his life, career changes, moving, friendships, and relationships. He writes about feeling down on holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving. A Christian, he is anything but preachy. He is also the co-founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), an American non-profit organization that is "dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide." The 10-year-old movement "exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly in treatment and recovery" ( TWLOHA came about after Tworkowski wrote and published a story in 2006 entitled "To Write Love on Her Arms" about his friend Renee Yohe who was struggling with depression, self-harm, and drug addiction. She had also attempted suicide. She ended up staying with him and a friend for five days when she wasn't accepted into a treatment centre. An introvert, Tworkowski has been around the world speaking about hope and to not give up despite one's struggles with depression or addiction and that help is out there and that it okay to get help. He speaks about honesty, how we are loved, and community, i.e. how people need other people. Moreover, he said that we're all living stories and that our stories need more than one character. We're also part of other people's stories, and everyone's stories are important. In an entry in his book about Valentine's Day, he writes how we are all "living love stories." That really hit a chord with me. As a writer, I am very much drawn to stories and love people and their stories. I'm also an extrovert who needs people and have a great community of support as I've had my own struggle with depression. I'm currently dealing with much disappointment. Thank God for my friends and family. I had coffee with my pastor Paulo today who I've become friends with over the past nine months or so. He knows what it's like to have dreams and to know disappointment, pain, and depression. He encourages me to keep writing and to not sell myself short. He also told me: "You're amazing. You're an answer to prayer." That really touched me. I didn't expect to hear it. I also spoke with my best friend in Montreal tonight as well as had a lengthy conversation with another Montreal-based friend who usually makes me feel encouraged after we hang up. Thank God for amazing friends like Christina, Sigrid, (pastor) Paulo, and Heidi. Thank God for my loving boyfriend Paul. Thank God for Uncle Johnny who loves his "munchkin." Thank God for my Mom who may not always know the words to speak out loud, so she prays.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

University of Ottawa: Discrimination in the Name of Bilingualism

Bilingualism is important but not to the point of discrimination as is the recent case with the University of Ottawa and student James Lewicki. Lewicki wasn't accepted into the master of political science program because he's not able to take a course in French, which is a program requirement. However, students in the French stream of the poli sci graduate program aren't required to take a course in English. This is utter hypocrisy and highlights U of O's obsession with bilingualism, namely the French language. It is also compelling evidence that the university discriminates against people with disabilities. Lewicki, who has been diagnosed as gifted, has a severe form of dyslexia that prevents him from learning a second language. "English as a language in itself was very difficult," Lewicki told CBC. "I spent years with a tutor in a special classroom learning the language" ( As a result, he's filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, writing, "This has affected my sense of dignity...For an individual who has struggled with this special identity all my life, this continued reinforcement has shaken my concept of myself and of my abilities" ( A university official suggested that Lewicki apply to a program that is "less stringent on bilingualism" ( "They can say 'Go somewhere else,' but turning someone away because of a disability and saying 'There are other options' is still discrimination," said Lewicki. "If you turn someone away because of the colour of their skin, or their gender, or identity, that's still discrimination, even if there's a store next door that would take them" ( A University of Ottawa spokesperson wrote an e-mail saying that the university "[did] not see this as an accommodation issue... [and that] Mr. Lewicki was not admitted... because he did not meet the essential admission requirements for the program" ( Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said, "What we see... time and time again is rigid requirements that unnecessarily exclude people. Quite honestly, human rights law trumps tradition. You have to articulate something that goes beyond, 'This is how we've always done it'" ( Under the law, a university can only discriminate against someone if it can prove that making accommodations would cause undue safety concerns or financial hardship. Lewicki said he faced discrimination months earlier, ironically while taking a human rights course. He has a physical disability called graphomotor disorder, which means he can't write by hand. "I'm allowed a laptop in classroom and during exams, as long as it's not connected to the Internet," he said. ( A professor, however, forbade anyone from using a laptop in his classroom. The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa said that the university is not "flexible" about better accommodating students with disabilities despite the Federation's efforts to "continuously" talk it ( Lewicki said that the university's refusal to accept his application will cost him a year of his life as he's missed his opportunity to apply to other schools for the fall. "To have them turn their back on me like this, to point at me and say, 'You're different and we won't let you in because of it' - that's an emotional blow" (