Gender Discrimination at the Met

Tags

, , ,

When I speak to audiences about my book Silenced: The Untold Story of the Fight for Equality in the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), I am invariably asked the same question: “What do I tell young women who want to join the RCMP?”

I often say that they should be aware of the history of the RCMP, their human rights, and the gendered attitudes that are systemic in the culture of the police force.

Of course, not everyone is convinced that discrimination still exists in policing. I was reminded of this recently when I read an online article published by Womanthology. Written about nineteen-year-old Katie Dennell, a new constable working for London’s Metropolitan Police Service (also known as the Met), it is a reminder of the energy and exuberance that young people bring to police work.[1]

What stopped me in my tracks, however, was a quote from Dennell who stated, “I would encourage all girls and women to apply for the police if they would like to pursue a career as a police officer. It really is exactly what I expected when I signed up and there is no gender discrimination.”

WPC Katie Dennell Source: Womanthology

WPC Katie Dennell
Source: Womanthology

Before we dismiss Katie’s enthusiasm as naïve, we should talk about what she has overlooked to arrive at the conclusion that her employer has solved the problem of gender discrimination.

Because I am not privy to the inner workings of London’s police service, I’ll confine my comments to two informal observations found in the article that convince me that gender discrimination is alive and well at the Met.

To begin with, Katie is referred to as “WPC Katie Dennell.” WPC stands for Woman Police Constable. Female police officers at the Met have a “W” in front of their rank. It is a distinguishing marker that is discriminatory since male officers do not have a similar designation, such as “MPC,” that identifies their gender and rank.

Secondly, a photo of Katie in her uniform suggests that there is a definite difference between male and female officers. Differences between uniforms are always tied to more conventional ideas about masculinity and civic authority and they have, historically, been one way of appeasing tensions regarding the integration of women into the rank-and-file. This is particularly true if the uniform is viewed as a national symbol.

For example, the men of the Met still wear the famous bobby helmet which has been an iconic symbol of British law enforcement since 1863. In contrast, the Met’s women wear a bowler-style of hat. Different headgear was also the experience of the women of the RCMP in 1974 who were not issued with the famous Stetson hat worn by the men. Instead, they were issued with a pillbox hat to give them a feminine appearance.

Source: Metropolitan Police Service

Source: Metropolitan Police Service

Today at the Met, women wear a checkered cravat instead of a necktie. As a social marker, a necktie can convey a whole set of socially constructed ideas about masculinity and femininity. A necktie symbolizes professionalism and neatness and projects a certain public persona about the wearer.[2]

Although the original female RCMP service uniform included a necktie, its triangular shape suggested, in much the same way that the Met’s checkered cravat does, that a female Mountie was still feminine despite working in a male-dominated occupation. Feminized versions of ties convey the idea that female police officers possess a different set of attributes and authority than their male counterparts.[3]

Uniforms and lettered designations can tell us a lot about discriminatory attitudes within police culture, despite official policies to the contrary. Difference is not the same as equality. In fact, it suggests subordination and sets up masculinity as the standard within the profession.

My hope is that Katie Dennell will have a long and successful career ahead of her. I also hope that the discrimination she undoubtedly will encounter will not dampen her enthusiasm for the work or her desire to help people in the communities she will serve. Good luck and stay safe, Katie.

 

[1] http://www.womanthology.co.uk/to-help-protect-and-serve-across-the-generations-wpc-katie-dennell-meets-her-greatest-female-role-model-from-the-metropolitan-police-service/.

[2] For more on the meaning of uniforms see Jennifer Craik, “The Cultural Politics of the Uniform,” 129.

[3] It was not until 1990 that the RCMP began to issue a unisex uniform to all of its members.

Advertisements

Celebrating Great Canadian Women on International Women’s Day

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

International Women’s Day is a day set aside to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day during International Women’s Year in 1975, establishing March 8 as the day member states celebrate women.

International Year of the Woman

This year, March 8 is particularly significant because it marks the centenary of the date women first gained the right to vote in Canada. In 1916, Manitoba became the first province to grant women the suffrage in provincial elections, along with the right to hold public office. Women have come a long way since then. For the first time in Canadian history, women now hold half of the federal Cabinet positions in the House of Commons.

To celebrate, here are just some of the women who have helped to make Canada great and who have influenced and inspired me:

Doris Anderson (1921-2007)

Anderson was the editor of Chatelaine magazine from 1957-1977. As an activist, Anderson played an important role in championing women’s rights and advocating for social change through her editorials and the magazine’s content. Anderson’s editorials in particular were instrumental in applying pressure on the federal government to establish a Royal Commission to investigate the status of women in Canada. She also lobbied for the inclusion of women’s rights in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1981. Under her tenure as editor, Chatelaine’s readership rose to over one million.[1]

Doris Anderson Source: CBC News

Doris Anderson
Source: CBC News

The Women of the Stelco Steel Company (1943-1981)

During WWII, Stelco Steel in Hamilton, Ontario supplied steel for the building of ships, shells, and army transports. One of the largest steel producers in Canada, Stelco lost 1,500 men to the war. To fill the employment gap, the company hired women who worked in some of the toughest sections of the mill, including the blast furnaces. After the war, all of the women were fired. Between 1961 and 1977, no women were hired womens-rights1[1]at all. Only twenty-eight women, working in the tin mill and the cafeteria, were employed at Stelco while 13,000 men worked for the company. The disparity was challenged when five women launched a sex discrimination complaint against the company with the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1979. The women won their case and Stelco was forced to hire 180 women, all of whom lost their jobs during massive layoffs by Stelco in 1981.[2]

Julia Verlyn (Judy) LaMarsh (1924-1980)

In 1963, Judy LaMarsh was just the second woman in Canadian history to be appointed to a federal Cabinet position. As a minister, LaMarsh was instrumental in pressuring her cabinet colleagues to establish a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. She was also responsible for the implementation

Judy LaMarsh

Judy LaMarsh

of the Canada Pension Plan, designing Canada’s Medicare system, creating the Broadcasting Act, and overseeing Canada’s centennial celebrations as Secretary of State in 1967.[3] LaMarsh died of cancer in 1980, but her legacy is lives on in the medical and social benefits that all Canadians enjoy today.

Kathleen “Klondike Kate” Ryan (1868-1932)

Ryan was the first white woman to arrive in Whitehorse in 1898 during the Yukon Gold Rush, mushing some 600 miles on foot along the Stikine Trail to get there. She established a successful restaurant business and regularly invested in gold. In 1900, Ryan was hired by the North-West Mounted Police as a matron to assist in the care of female prisoners. She was later appointed as a “Constable Special” to work as a gold inspector monitoring female smugglers. Ryan was so esteemed by the RCMP that when she died in Vancouver in 1932, the police force provided an honour guard for her funeral, a rare privilege that few women have been afforded.[4]

Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944)

Aimee Semple McPherson Source: Foursquare Church International

Aimee Semple McPherson
Source: Foursquare Church International

A missionary, radio broadcaster, evangelist, and author, Aimee McPherson was born in the small farming community of Salford, Ontario. McPherson’s evangelistic work landed her in Los Angeles where she established one of the largest Pentecostal churches in the world, Angelus Temple, in 1923. During the Depression, McPherson’s temple fed and clothed thousands of homeless and destitute in Los Angeles. But she is best remembered for her colourful preaching and unconventional approach to spreading her “old-time gospel” message. McPherson was ahead of her time. She used radio broadcasts, stage plays, magazines, newspapers, and even a float in the Tournament of Roses parade to draw people to church and to God, methods that would become commonplace later in the century.

The Women of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Troop 17 (1974-1975)

In September 1974, thirty-two women arrived at the RCMP’s academy in Regina, Saskatchewan to begin training as the first women to join the RCMP. Although the RCMP signed up all thirty-two women at exactly the same time so no one woman would be able to claim that she was “the first,” the members of Troop 17 broke ground as the first female figures of authority in Canada’s national police force.

Female Troop Parade Square

Constable Lois Beckett, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (1949-1968)

Lois Beckett served as a constable with the Sault Ste. Marie Police Force between 1949 and 1968. Although she held the rank of constable during those years, she was paid less than men of the same rank. She was also denied membership in the force’s association because she was a woman. Beckett sued the police force and the association for discrimination. In response, the department dismissed her from her duties as a constable and reclassified her as a clerk-typist. In 1968, her case went to the Ontario Supreme Court where Justice R. Fergusson ruled against Beckett, arguing that she should be paid less than her male colleagues because, as a woman, she did not perform the same duties as men and did not have dependents to provide for. To Fergusson, the lower rate of pay was justified since it conformed to “all the rules of civilization, economics, family life and common sense.”[5] Nevertheless, her demands for equal pay and equal rights brought the issue before politicians and the public, opening the door for women’s rights as police officers.

The Women of the Manitoba Political Equality League (1912-1916)

On January 28, 1914, members of Manitoba’s Political Equality League staged a “A Women’s Parliament” at the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg. The satire starred suffragist Nellie McClung as the premier of a mythical province where women were the political leaders and men were asking for the right to vote. The women acted out a parliamentary debate discussing why men should be denied the vote, using the same arguments Manitoba’s politicians employed. But it was McClung’s thinly-disguised parody of the province’s long-time premier Rodmond Roblin that brought the house down. The satire was a brilliant strategy that placed the issue of voting rights into proper perspective for many Manitobans. In 1916, exactly two years to the day after the mock parliament was first performed, Manitoba women became the first in Canada to exercise their right to vote in provincial elections and to hold public office.[6]

Executive members of the League following the passage of the suffrage bill in Manitoba, 1916. Source: Manitoba Archives

Executive members of the League following the passage of the suffrage bill in Manitoba, 1916.
Source: Manitoba Archives

 

[1] Eberts, Mary. “‘Write It For the Women’: Doris Anderson, the Changemaker.” Canadian Woman Studies 26:2 (Summer/Fall 2007): 6-13.

[2] Meg Luxton and June Corman, “Getting to Work: The Challenge of the Women Back Into Stelco Campaign,” Labour/Le Travail 28 (Fall 1991).

[3] LaMarsh, Judy, Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1968).

[4] Edmonds, William Lewis, “The Woman Called Klondike Kate,” Maclean’s (15 December 1922); Brennan, T. Ann, The Real Klondike Kate (Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 1990).

[5] Doris Anderson, “The Strange Case of Policewoman Beckett,” Chatelaine 41:4 (April 1968): 3.

[6] http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/mcclung-played-the-crowd-like-a-vaudevillian-241934181.html.

Sexual Misconduct and Changing Military Culture

Tags

, , , , ,

It didn’t take long for the newly elected Liberal minister of defense, Harjit Sanjjin, to immerse himself in controversy over the issue of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.

Last week, Chief of Defense Staff General Jonathan Vance announced that the military was taking steps to change the institution’s sexualized culture through a program called “Operation Honour.” In response, Defense Minister Sanjjin stated publicly that he didn’t believe that the military’s culture leads to sexual misconduct, contradicting Vance and undermining his efforts to implement change.[1]

General Jonathan Vance Source: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

General Jonathan Vance Source: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Sanjjin’s statements effectively ignored the findings of Madame Justice Marie Deschamp, whose report on the issue was released on April 30, 2015. Deschamp found that “there is an ‘underlying sexualized culture’ within the Canadian Forces that is hostile to women and LGTBQ members. If left unchecked, this culture can lead to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”[2]

For decades, researchers studying the Canadian military and paramilitary organizations such as the RCMP have pointed to the fact that the culture of these organizations not only creates space for sexual misconduct to occur, but protects offenders when it does take place.

A culture that hides human rights abuses allows those violations to develop into an acceptable practice that then become imbedded and systemic within that culture.

Why would the minister state that he doesn’t believe that the culture of the military leads to sexual misconduct? He was not forthcoming. But we can speculate about his reasons.

Firstly, admitting that the military has a sexualized culture poses a number of problems for the federal government both at home and on the international stage. Internationally, our reputation and image as peacekeepers is tarnished when the rights of a minority group within our own armed forces are regularly violated.

At home, the presence of a sexist culture would lead to lower recruitment numbers for women. Canadian women are no longer willing trust an organization incapable of preventing sexual abuse from occurring or protecting them when it does.

Source: DND, Canadian Armed Forces

Source: DND, Canadian Armed Forces

Potential lawsuits present another challenge, particularly when a government minister admits to the existence of a culture that is harmful to its own employees. Any such admission about the military would likely extend to other federal agencies such as the RCMP, which is already facing legal action over the sexual harassment of female Mounties.

Whatever Sanjjin’s reasons, denying that military culture does not lead to sexual misconduct does a disservice to those men and women who have served our country with integrity, honesty, and professionalism. It also castigates those who have suffered physically, emotionally, and mentally at the hands of their peers and minimizes their struggles as they work to move forward.

General Vance commented that it will take a long time for real cultural change to happen in the military. But at least he is taking steps to initiate it. Denials from the highest levels of government will only interfere with those attempts. I certainly hope that General Vance’s commitment is sincere. He has a long road ahead of him.

 

[1] See: http://globalnews.ca/news/2489610/canadian-military-releases-first-report-on-mission-to-eliminate-sexual-misconduct/ and http://globalnews.ca/video/2493936/sajjan-challenged-on-sexual-misconduct-in-the-military-comment.

[2] http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/key-points-from-the-deschamps-report-on-sexual-misconduct-in-the-canadian-forces-1.2352469. For more on Vance’s viewpoint see http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/gen-jonathan-vance-says-military-blind-to-or-tone-deaf-to-sexual-misconduct-1.3166615.

The RCMP, Sexual Harassment, and the Hope of Collective Bargaining

One year ago the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that prohibiting members of the RCMP from collective bargaining or forming a union was a violation of their Charter right to freedom of association. The justices ruled that Mounties should have the freedom to choose their own independent labour relations system.[1]

Since 1919, members of the RCMP have been prohibited from forming a union under the RCMP Act. That legislation was challenged in 1974 when thousands of RCMP officers met in cities across the country to discuss the possibility of forming a union. At these meetings, Mounties aired a number of grievances against the RCMP including unreasonable transfer policies, low wages, no overtime pay, archaic marriage regulations, and a “military system of operation.”[2]

Source - Winnipeg Free Press

Source – Winnipeg Free Press

In response, the RCMP proposed the establishment of a Division Staff Relations Representatives (DSRR) system. Under the plan, an elected representative from each division would meet with the commissioner and his deputies once a year to address grievances and discuss personnel issues.

Mounties voted in favour of the proposal in a country-wide referendum held on May 30, 1974. The positive outcome was a public relations boon for the RCMP who by this time was intent on projecting an image of modernization and change to its members and to Canadians.

The DSRR system proved to be a failure when it came to addressing complaints of sexual harassment, however. The DSRR was not independent from management and elected representatives were non-commissioned officers. Women were regularly denied the opportunity to file grievances against their harassers, many of whom were also non-commissioned officers.

For decades DSRR representatives viewed the RCMP’s transfer system as a solution to the problem of sexual harassment. Female members who filed grievances were often transferred to another posting where a reputation as a complainer usually preceded their arrival. The approach allowed the harasser to continue his harassing tactics without consequences to his own career. Many female police officers chose to resign instead.

Female Troop Parade Square

It was not until July 1983 that the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual harassment as “discrimination on the ground of sex.”[3] It was an important development for the women of the RCMP, given the ineffectiveness of the force’s DSRR system in dealing with harassment.

When Ralph Goodale, the minister for public safety, announced in the House on December 7, 2015 that his government was working on a new labour relations plan for the RCMP, I couldn’t help but wonder if the plan would include an independent grievance process for resolving sexual harassment issues.

The government’s plan will purportedly give Mounties the right to unionize and collectively bargain for wages and benefits, but how far it will go in addressing all aspects of employee relations in uncertain.

The proposed legislation is set to be tabled in the House at the end of February 2016.[4] Hopefully Mr. Goodale and his staff will keep the history of sexual harassment in the RCMP in mind when developing the new system. It’s taken forty years to get this far; hopefully it won’t take another forty for sexual harassment to become an obsolete practice in the RCMP.

 

[1] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/supreme-court-backs-mounties-right-to-collective-bargaining/article22486356/.

[2] Peter Moon, “RCMP Morale Problems Traced to Rapid Growth,” The Globe and Mail, May 27, 1974.

[3] Canadian Human Rights Commission, Sexual Harassment Casebook, 1978-1984 (Ottawa, ON: Canadian Human Rights Commission, 1984), overleaf.

[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/rcmp-collective-bargaining-1.3354213

Canada Was Not Always So Welcoming

Tags

, ,

Today, as the first Syrian refugees arrive in Canada, I am thinking of those Canadians who oppose the government’s plans to accept 25,000 refugees by February 2016. Social media has been full of racist comments as well as derogatory and discriminatory remarks about the refugees, Muslims, and immigrants generally.

Syrian refugees from Jordan arriving in Canada. Source: http://www.cbc.ca

The roots of discriminatory attitudes toward ethnic groups run deep in Canada. In the past, fear, misinformation, and assumptions about racial difference often compromised the moral and religious ideals espoused by many Anglophones when it came to refugees and immigrants entering our country.

Religious discrimination also has a long history. Specific groups such as Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, and Jews have all been denied entry into Canada, or their rights as citizens ignored, at some point in our history because of their religious beliefs.

So, it should come as no surprise to learn that Canadians haven’t always been as welcoming to refugees as we’d like to think. Here are just a few examples:

1885 – A head tax of $50.00 is imposed on Chinese immigrants hired by the Conservative government to work on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The federal government passes a number of exclusionary laws that forces them to live in segregated areas and prohibits them from voting, serving on juries, and accessing professions.

1907 – White Canadians carry out an “anti-Oriental” race riot in Vancouver damaging homes and businesses owned by Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

The aftermath of Vancouver's race riot, 1907

The aftermath of Vancouver’s race riot, 1907

1910-1912 – Public resistance to 1300 African American homesteaders fleeing persecution in Oklahoma to settle on the prairies causes the federal government to prepare legislation banning all African Americans from entering Canada. The order-in-council is never acted on for fear of reprisal from the United States and African Americans residing in eastern Canada.

1914 – The Komagata Maru, with 376 passengers on board, is detained in Vancouver Harbour for two months before being denied entry to Canada. The ship and its passengers are ordered to return to Calcutta. The action was thought to stem the  “brown invasion” of Canada.

1939 – Canada’s Liberal government refuses to grant sanctuary to 907 Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi Germany aboard the ocean liner St. Louis. The ship is returned to Europe where 254 of the passengers eventually perish in concentration camps.

Passengers aboard the St. Louis, 1939.

Passengers aboard the St. Louis, 1939.

1942 – Following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, almost 22,000 people of Japanese descent, most born in Canada, are sent to internment camps in British Columbia and Alberta. Considered “enemy aliens,” their property and assets are seized and sold at public auction.

There have been times, however, when the Canadian government opened our doors to accept refugees in crisis:

1975 –Thousands of refugees flee the advance of communist rule in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. At least half a million die in boats trying to escape to neighbouring countries and the safety of refugee camps. Between 1975 and 1976, Canada accepts 5,000 “boat people” as they came to be known. Another 50,000 immigrate between 1979 and 1980. In total, Canada welcomes almost 60,000 refugees from the region.

My grandfather was a 16-year-old Catholic, Romanian farm labourer fleeing conscription in the Second Balkan War in 1913 when he immigrated to Canada with $30.00 in his pocket. I’m grateful that those Canadians who actively resisted the arrival of immigrants in 1913 did not prevail.

Hundreds of thousands of others like my grandfather have successfully risen to the challenge of adapting to a new language, a new country, and a new way of life. History shows us that xenophobia accomplishes little, but inclusion and acceptance can accomplish so much. Today, I’m especially proud to be a Canadian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Canadian Women and War

Tags

, ,

There is a tendency in Canada today to overlook the work of women who participated in Canada’s armed conflicts. Too often we assume that because they were prohibited from joining the military throughout most of the twentieth century, they did not contribute to the defense of our country. Remembrance Day poppy1[1]

But the contributions of Canadian women can be traced back to 1899 when four nursing “sisters” accompanied the first contingent of soldiers fighting in the Anglo-South Africa War (1899-1902). It was the first time Canadian women served overseas with the military.

At the start of the First World War (1914-1918), 105 military nurses sailed to England with the first group of Canadian soldiers. These nurses were known as “Bluebirds” because of the long blue dresses, white aprons, and the sheer white veils they wore.

Bluebirds worked on the front lines in thirty military hospitals around Europe. Over forty nurses were killed by enemy action during the conflict, and one lost a limb. By the end of WWI, the number of nurses working in field hospitals had increased to more than 3,000 women.

Katherine MacDonald, the first nurse to die during bombing in France, 1918 Source: Veterans' Affairs Canada

Katherine MacDonald, the first Canadian nurse to die during bombing in France, 1918
Source: Veterans’ Affairs Canada

In 1917, in recognition of their contributions, Bluebirds became the first women to vote in a federal election, along with the women at home whose husbands, sons, and brothers were away at war.

Bluebirds at the ballot box overseas, 1917. Source: DND and Library and Archives Canada

It was not until 1918 that the federal government finally acknowledged the service of all Canadian women to their country by granting them the right to vote in federal elections.

During the Second World War (1939-1945) a total of 4,480 military nurses served overseas. For the first time in Canadian history, however, all three branches of the military created women’s divisions. As combat casualties mounted, the work of women was needed as more and more men were required to fill combat roles. By the end of the war, approximately 50,000 women had joined one of the women’s divisions.

Women on the home front women-making-bombs-wwii-2[1]stepped into what were then considered to be men’s jobs. Their work provided armaments and aircraft for combat and kept Canadians and her allies fed. In short, they kept the country going.

This Remembrance Day, let’s remember the sacrifice and commitment to the country made by Canadian women. They also deserve our recognition and thanks.

For more about Canadian women and war see http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/timeline  and  http://pw20c.mcmaster.ca/case-study/angels-mercy-canada-s-nursing-sisters-world-war-i-and-ii

A Good Day for Canadian Women

Tags

, , , , ,

As I watched fifteen female members of parliament being sworn in today as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, I was thinking of two of their predecessors who also made political history. Ellen Fairclough (1905-2004) and Judy LaMarsh (1924-1980) were the first women to serve as federal cabinet ministers in Canada.

Ellen Fairclough

Ellen Fairclough

Fairclough was elected as a member of parliament for the riding of Hamilton West in 1950. She was the first Canadian woman to hold a cabinet post when Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker appointed her as Secretary of State in 1957. The next year she held the portfolio of Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Under her direction, immigration legislation was reformed making Canada’s laws more progressive and less discriminatory against immigrants and refugees.

Judy LaMarsh, Member of Parliament for Niagara Falls, was the second woman in Canadian history to be appointed to a cabinet position. In 1963, Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson assigned her the portfolio of Minister of National Health and Welfare. LaMarsh was responsible for some of Canada’s most innovative social legislation during her tenure in office. She implemented the Canada Pension Plan, a national health care system, the Broadcasting Act, oversaw the country’s Centennial Year celebrations, and served as secretary of state from 1965-1968.

Judy LaMarsh

Judy LaMarsh

Both women were the only female members of their respective cabinets during their time in office. In contrast, the women who were sworn in today will be joined by fourteen female colleagues, an occurrence that both Fairclough and LaMarsh could only dream of.

Our new prime minister’s promise to create a cabinet that is more representative of the Canadian population has been criticized by many. Of course, questions of merit arise any time people start discussing women in powerful positions. Old arguments about affirmative action usually surface and the abilities of women who are given political power on an equal basis with men are often called into question.

(For more on the issue of merit see http://www.chatelaine.com/living/politics/justin-trudeaus-new-cabinet-is-a-dream-team-and-heres-why/.)

But the women who were sworn in today challenge assumptions of tokenism. They have backgrounds in international trade, United Nations peacekeeping, public relations, communications, law, medicine, worker’s compensation, Paralympic sport, medical geography, indigenous rights, political organization, and environmental protection, to name just a few. One, Kirsty Duncan, jointly holds a Nobel Prize for her participation on an intergovernmental panel on climate change.

Patricia Hajdu, Minister of the Status of Women (Source: @PattyHajdu)

Patricia Hajdu, Minister of the Status of Women

Yes, many of the rookie cabinet ministers will make mistakes and stumble as they learn their jobs and wrestle with some fairly daunting issues. But they’ll do so because they’re human, not because they’re women. “Government by cabinet is back,” according to Trudeau, and for the first time in Canadian history women will equally share in the burden of running the country.

Fifty-eight years ago, Judy LaMarsh recalled having to curtsey to the Governor General before taking her oath of office in 1963. Today the curtsies were dispensed with as the new ministers assumed their rightful place in leading our nation. It’s an exciting day for Canadian women, one that is long overdue.

Why We Should Vote on October 19

Tags

, ,

Recently my nephew posted a comment about the upcoming federal election on his Facebook page. “We’re being gamed on all the issues,” he said. “Please don’t vote. Politics is a fraud. We deserve better.”

It bothers me when I hear people today dismiss the vote so easily. History has shown us that people, both male and female, have literally given their lives so that others could vote in a free and democratic election.

imagesYZHCYVG3

Ironically, it is the democratic process that allows us to freely express our political opinions, just as my nephew did, without serious personal consequences. Democracy, and the freedom to engage in open dialogue, is one of the benefits of being Canadian and a reason why so many from other countries hope to live here one day. Maintaining our democratic freedoms is reason enough to cast your ballot.

But it’s also important to remember that voting is more than a one-sided process where politicians dictate to us what we should be concerned about and how we should live. Yes, there are politicians who will try to game us in any number of ways. However, I personally believe that most Canadians, like my nephew, are too well-informed, too sophisticated, and too intelligent not to see through these tactics. (To become better informed on all of the party platforms go to http://www.polenize.org/canada for a guide to the 2015 election.)

This is our election. We are the ones who get to choose who runs this country, not the politicians. Voting is more than a right. It is our responsibility as citizens living in a democratic society.

British suffrage photo

Refusing to cast a ballot is not a form of political protest. It is simply losing your say. It allows others to impose their vision of Canada on you.

So don’t withhold your vote. Make a commitment to cast your ballot on October 19. Go to www.votenation.ca to encourage others to do the same. If you’re not sure whether you’re registered, go to www.elections.ca for more information and to register online.

Police and Peace Officers’ National Memorial Day

Tags

, , ,

On Sunday, September 27, 2015 memorial services honouring police and peace officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty will be held across the country. The Canadian government first designated the last Sunday of September of every year as Police and Peace Officers’ National Memorial Day in 1998. The intent of the day is to give Canadians the opportunity to express their appreciation for those who work to keep their communities safe.

Canadian Press, Marc Grandmaison

Canadian Press, Marc Grandmaison

A ceremony will also be held at the national police memorial in Ottawa, Ontario. The memorial consists of a wall of glass panels positioned along the perimeter of Parliament Hill and overlooking the Ottawa River and the Supreme Court of Canada. As of 2015, the names of over 850 men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty have been engraved on the panels.

The day is also designed to give police and law enforcement officers the opportunity to collectively remember their colleagues who have died. Official marches to mark the day will be similar to those that have taken place during police funerals.

Traditionally, regimental police funerals in Canada have been highly choreographed public rituals where police officers from across North America join together to march in formal dress uniform to the funeral service. The ritual reaffirms police solidarity and camaraderie but also reminds the public of the willingness of police officers to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their communities.

This ritual was especially noticeable during the regimental funerals of four RCMP officers murdered in Moncton, New Brunswick in 2014. http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/tributes-tears-at-regimental-funeral-for-fallen-mounties-who-made-ultimate-sacrifice-1.1861002

Historically, the police funeral has sometimes served as a site of political protest. In the 1960s, for example, capital punishment was viewed by police organizations as a deterrent against the murder of police officers. When the government abolished the death penalty in 1976, police officers and their unions across the country protested.[1]

Photo: The Edmonton Sun

Photo: The Edmonton Sun

Tensions over the issue were heightened in 1978 when RCMP constable Dennis Onofrey was murdered in Virden, Manitoba. He was the fourth Canadian police officer to be murdered in one month. The president of the Canadian Police Association at the time “blamed the increase in violence against the police on the recent abolition of the death penalty.”[2]

Since the RCMP Act prohibited RCMP officers from publicly criticizing the federal government regarding changes to the Criminal Code, Onofrey’s funeral served as a form of political protest against the new legislation. It was attended by 800 people, including police and law enforcement officers from across North America.[3]

Recently, police forces across Canada have come under intense scrutiny and criticism for the way they conduct their duties and handle members of the public. Sadly, lives have been lost on both sides of the many complex situations and issues in our society that involve police officers.

Nevertheless, the Memorial Day presents us with the opportunity to remember that whatever the failings and shortcomings of the police in our communities, police work is the only occupation where public servants are most likely to die at the hands of their fellow citizens. It is also worth remembering that when police officers put on their uniform and go to work, they have no guarantee that they will be going home at the end of their shift.

 

[1] Greg Marquis, Policing Canada’s Century: A History of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 344. The last executions for first degree murder in Canada took place in 1962. Capital punishment was limited to the killing of on-duty police officers and prison guards in 1966. In 1976, capital punishment for first degree murder was removed entirely from Canada’s Criminal Code and replaced with a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for twenty-five years.

[2] Robert Knuckle, Beyond Reason: The Murder of a Mountie (Dundas, ON: Kayson Publishing, 1997), 212.

[3] Knuckle, Beyond Reason, 224.

1975: The Egg that was International Women’s Year

Tags

, , ,

In 1972, the twenty-ninth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) adopted Resolution No. 3275 proclaiming 1975 as International Women’s Year (IWY). The year was designed to “promote equality between men and women” and to emphasize “women’s responsibility and important role in economic, social and cultural development at the national, regional and international levels” of society.[1] As a signatory Canada’s federal government was required to ensure that the terms of the resolution were carried out in this country, especially in its own institutions.

International-Womens-Year-1975_WHY-NOT_because_buttons1[1]

What was really accomplished? According to Chatelaine, one of the leading Canadian women’s magazines at the time, not much. Journalist Michele Landsberg, writing in “Has Women’s Year Laid an Egg?,”[2] observed that the exercise was largely a public relations opportunity for Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s governing Liberals.

Although the federal government had allocated $5 million toward promoting IWY through a program called “Why Not?,” it spent the bulk of the funds creating informational programs, conferences for men, designing pamphlets and buttons, and developing a number of mobile information vans that toured six of the provinces. All of these initiatives focused on the federal government’s programs rather than providing funding for local women’s groups and projects. The idea of the federal government raising awareness of women prompted one man to wonder if this was “the first time the government had heard of women?”

equality equal rights amendment separate but equal is not equal[1]Women’s complaints about the inadequacies of the campaign prompted Prime Minister Trudeau to publicly offer up his own complaint: “That’s the trouble with women: they bitch after the fact.” It was an example of the prevailing attitudes toward women in the 1970s.

Landsberg did note that some minor progress was made in 1975. For example, women were no longer discriminated against under the Canada Pension Plan and they were no longer required to identify themselves as “Mrs.” on the voters’ list. They were also given more flexibility when deciding when to use their 15 weeks of paid maternity leave. Girls were allowed to join the military cadets for the first time. Rape victims were now legally protected from being questioned by defense attorneys about past sexual behaviour during court proceedings.

But serious injustices remained. The provinces dithered over marriage laws, specifically the division of assets and property rights during a divorce. Those decisions were left entirely to a judge’s discretion and, more often than not, judges decided in favour of men. Preschool children of working mothers were still without adequate childcare.

Women who worked full time in 1973 earned just over half of the wages paid to men who, on average, earned up to $3,834 a year more. Forty years later, little has changed. In 2011, according to Statistics Canada, women earned $32,100 a year, or just 66.7% of the $48,100 earned by men, an alarming statistic that should concern all Canadians.[3]

womens-rights1[1]

The failure of the government’s IWY campaign to effect real, lasting change for Canadian women in 1975 prompted Landsberg to conclude that change would only come when women themselves became more active in demanding their rights as citizens. Government grants, glossy ads, buttons, and kiosks did little to generate concrete cultural change in 1975, and they won’t today. Women’s inequality will only become a thing of the past when those who are committed to “fighting politically for human betterment” make their voices heard.

[1] United Nations General Assembly Resolution #3275 (XXIX), “International Women’s Year,” December 10, 1974.

[2] Michele Landsberg, “Has Women’s Year Laid an Egg?” Chatelaine 48:11 (November 1975).

[3] “Average Earnings by Sex and Work Pattern,” Statistics Canada, June 27, 2013. www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableau/sum-som/101/cst/o1/labor01a-eng.htm.