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Shine The Light On Woman Abuse

I don’t know what I was thinking. No, that’s not true. As I parked by car a few blocks away and walked to the downtown square where they would soon be lighting a large fir tree with purple lights to ‘shine the light on woman abuse’ for the month of November; I was thinking “I’ve healed”, “it’s time I volunteered and got involved”, “I could really help”. You see, it’s been six years and I thought I was ready.

I left the relationship, went to one-on-one counselling, participated in group counselling, even served on the Board of Directors of the women’s abuse centre for six months. I then found a new love, a new city and wrote a 47000 word manuscript about getting away from abuse. It’s one thing to write about it and yet another to actually do something. So I thought it was time to put my efforts towards helping others. My intentions were pure.

As I approached the square, I felt a lump in my throat. I fought through it. I went up to the women’s shelter booth and asked about volunteering. A welcoming woman said, “We’re all volunteers and there’s lots to do. You can do anything from help at an event to wrap Christmas gifts.” I took a card and joined the crowd to listen to the speakers: the mayor, the head of the shelter and then the honouree – a survivor who now counsels victims and survivors.

She was clearly nervous. She didn’t speak of her own ordeal. She directed her communication at social blindness and prejudice toward abused women in general. She spoke of how the public react with either indifference or disbelief. It was powerful. She moved me so I had tears running down my cheeks. I stood there like stone searching to see if anyone else was as impacted as me. Rather than choked up, wimpy women; they looked like warriors, angry activists. I’m not there yet.

When the speeches were done and tree lit purple, an Indigenous drum group performed and I flew from the crowd hastily walking back to my car with tears full flowing. I’m not there yet. My dream is that one day I too will be a warrior.

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Woman Abuse Awareness

November is Woman Abuse Awareness Month in Canada. Although some may refer to it as ‘domestic violence’, abuse has a much wider scope. Of course we’re concerned when it becomes violent, but other abusive behaviours can be equally impacting, and can be the harbingers of physical violence. It’s time we started to take notice.

Emotional abuse is likely the most common. It includes: controlling what someone says and does, insulting, blaming, shaming and stalking. Financial abuse is when the partner not only manages the money, but also prevents access to it. Harassing someone at work or damaging their credit score are also forms of financial abuse. Sexual abuse includes coercing someone to perform sexual acts with which they are not comfortable or when they are unable or afraid to refuse. It also includes physically hurting a partner during sex. Technological abuse is the stalking of someone via their phone, computer, and social media.

Each of these behaviours can be precursors to physical abuse. I’m not saying that every time a man calls his wife a derogatory name, or berates her for spending too much that he’s a woman abuser. He’s probably just a jerk who needs some sensitivity training.

What I am saying is this: If your partner frequently behaves in these manners, then he is abusive. If your partner controls your activity, if your partner bullies you, or if you are afraid of your partner; then you are likely being abused. When my ex-husband did these things, I sloughed it off. I thought it was his problem and not mine…until it was too late.

I was a victim then. Now I am a survivor. Take notice. Reach out. If you know anyone who is experiencing these behaviours from their partners, talk to them about it. Help them be aware and be there for them. If you are the woman who is experiencing these behaviours, get help. Be safe.

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Shedding Light on a Very Dark Topic – Part 2

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States.  It’s November in Canada.  I don’t know why the difference, but it lends itself to me writing about it for the next few weeks.  In the U.S. statistics say that three out of four people know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.  In Canada half of all women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence.  Of course, abuse against children and men is despicable, I am writing herein about the abuse women experience from men – only because that has been my personal experience.

Each year in Canada 40,000 arrests are a result of domestic violence.  That’s 12% of all violent crime.  So if you consider that 70% of spousal abuse is never reported to the police (Statistics Canada) the true numbers are much higher.  It’s pandemic and we’re not doing much about it.

The cost of violence against women in Canada for health care, criminal justice, social services, and lost wages and productivity has been calculated at $4.2 billion per year.  Basically, we’re paying for the aftermath rather than putting our dollars into prevention. Lots of money and effort have been put into awareness: Articles have been written, websites created, campaigns launched.  And yet our society fails at the real change required.  What can you do?

  1. Be aware and speak up.  Take notice of what goes on around you.  Just like on the TV show, “What Would You Do?” – intervene when you see a situation where someone is being sexist, dominant, or abusive.  In our polite society, we have a tendency to not get involved, but you might just be teaching someone a lesson or at least shining the light on how poorly they’re behaving.
  2. Learn the signs of abuse.  It starts with control.  Do you know anyone whose partner manages all of the money?  Do you know a woman whose husband tells her how to dress or won’t let her go out with her girlfriends?  Google domestic violence and abuse and read about the signs.
  3. We can all start by raising our children differently than we have in the past.  Make sure your little girls have interests other than princess movies where the damsel in distress needs a prince to come and rescue her.  Make sure your little boys have interests other than playing games that involve a lot of destruction.  Get them interested in nature and teach them kindness.
  4. Vote for political candidates whose platform includes women’s rights, equality and feminism.

Our world will only be a better place for our children and grandchildren if we lead the way.

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Shedding Light on a Very Dark Topic – Part One

Now known as the Toronto Van Attack, where on April 23, 2018, a vile man purposefully drove a rented van into the sidewalks of Yonge Street in Greater Toronto killing 10 people is in the news again because the Toronto Police have released video of the man’s interrogation interview.  CBC only released small portions of the video citing respect for the victims and their families and I will not even print the man’s name herein.

What we need to be aware of is that this man killed 10 and seriously wounded 16 people because of his hatred for women.  Just before the attack, he posted on Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun.”  Incels (involuntary celibates) are subculture brotherhood of men who hate women because they have been unsuccessful in gaining their positive attention – specifically have been unable to get laid.  As Barbara Perry, a criminologist specializing in hate crime at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, told The Fifth Estate “…they think they have some inborn inherent right and privilege to access women and women’s bodies…” during their research for their January 21, 2019 episode The Lone Wolf.

The Fifth Estate piece was named The Lone Wolf because more often than not, these horrific violent attacks, when not immediately linked to terrorism are labeled by the police and media as arbitrary, senseless, one-off acts of mentally ill individuals without any purpose.  In fact, this is not true.  Many of these offenders have found online groups of other men who feel they have been alienated by attractive women whose attention is given to attractive men.  Ergo, they hate all women and some even encourage violence against them.  They are driven by an ideology – a resistance against feminism which in their perception doesn’t value men.  This is pretty scary stuff.

What’s the takeaway?  How can we prevent this from happening?  Well, first, recognize that there are misogynistic groups who target the lonely, the bullied, and society’s outcasts.  It starts in our schools.  We can work to be more connected to each child that may feel excluded, promote inclusiveness, or simply encourage your child to say, “Hello” to a classmate.  Second, we can encourage our police, media and politicians to call out these horrific incidents for what they are:  Extreme right wing example of violence, a form of terrorism.  And, thirdly, we can do like the D’Amico family:  Focus on doing some good.

Anne Marie D’Amico was one of the victims of the Toronto Van Attack.  Anne Marie was a vibrant woman who volunteered her time and put her heart into everything she did.  The family launched the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation to help women affected by violence.  This year their focus is the Turtle Project, a fund-raising event to benefit the North York Women’s Shelter.  They are presenting a celebration at the Meridian Arts Centre on December 3, 2019.  To read more, donate, or buy tickets, click here: https://www.damicofoundation.org/

Shedding light on the topic of violence against women is the beginning of ending it.

The Colour of My Poppy is Red

Remembrance Day is important. It is intended for us to remember, respect and be thankful for everyone those whom war has affected. It is all inclusive: those who fought, those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones.

Over the years, there have been some who have wanted to change the traditional red poppy to white for peace, black for persons with darker skin, purple for war animals. Most recently, in Canada, there has been controversy over a suggested rainbow poppy to recognize those of the LGBT community. The red poppy was never intended to be divisive.

While poppies do grow in other colours, the traditional red poppy comes from “In Flanders Fields”, a war poem written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

My poppy is red like the ones Lt. Col. John McCrae saw when he wrote his poem. I am sure he was referring to all those who died, not even thinking about the colour of their skin, their gender or sexual orientation.

I will not be distracted by people who want to make a controversy about anything and everything. You can wear any colour poppy you like. I don’t care. You can wear as many as you please. Queen Elizabeth II has worn as many as five. I will wear one and it will be red. It represents those that died fighting to make our world a better place. It represents the respect I have for all, regardless of race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation, who fought so that I could live in a free society.

Sometimes tradition is best. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, for 2 minutes I will bow my head and solemnly thank those who put their lives at risk for me.

Prejudice Runs Deep and It Saddens Me

Canada’s Election took place this past Monday and I worked at a Polling Station.  I knew going in it was going to be a 14 – 18 hour day and even though it was a serious task, I was determined to have a little fun.  Most of the day went smoothly; yet I walked away with sadness, even bitterness about the behaviours that I found disappointing. To what could I possibly be referring?  I have come to the revelation that many people are prejudice.  It’s subtle, but it’s clearly there.  Let me explain…

I worked as a Poll Clerk accompanying a Deputy Returning Officer.  Although most voters don’t know, the two roles are quite different.  The Deputy Returning Officer is ‘in charge’ of the polling station.  Generally, the Deputy Returning Officer is the interface with the voter and the Poll Clerk merely administrative doing all the paperwork.  My Deputy Returning Officer happened to be a well-groomed, neatly-dressed, educated man who immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh 6 years ago.  He was pleasant, intelligent and well-spoken. 

In the first hour of the poll, every single voter made eye contact with and greeted me rather than my partner.  When he asked for their ID, most of them handed it to me instead of him.  Noticing this, as people approached our table, I started to bow my head and focus on the paperwork.  It didn’t make a difference.  They still placed their ID in front of me rather than him.  If they had a question, they directed at me instead of him.  This continued throughout the day.  By the evening, when it got busy, I gave up on not responding to them as I didn’t want to appear rude; but it bothered me and I continued to be aware of the behaviour until the polls closed.

The only difference between the two of us was the colour of our skin.  Close to 100% of the voters at my poll were Caucasian.  I only remember one that was not.  At first I thought maybe I just looked friendlier.  I am in my 60s, whereas my partner was in his 30s; so maybe it was an age thing?  Every single voter (there were over 250 at my particular poll) dealt with me and only dealt with my partner when I didn’t answer, ignored them or in some cases motioned to him with my hand.  No one said anything offensive.  It was subtle, but obvious to me.  I don’t even think the voters noticed they were behaving in this manner. 

At the end of the night, I walked away from the poll, knowing that it didn’t matter that my poll partner was an intelligent, capable person who carried out his duties well.  The people chose to interact with me rather than him.  We may say we are an inclusive society.  We may vote for politicians who say they represent equality and want immigrants to come to Canada.  We may not be overtly rude or condescending.  It is clear to me, however, that prejudice runs deep here.  I saw it with my own eyes.  I am saddened and disgusted.

Election Canada, It’s Still a Toss-Up

The Canadian election, happening Monday, October 21, 2019 is still too close to call.  There are several factors that make it so.  I’m not a political writer, but several non-Canadians readers have asked, so here’s my take on Canada’s election.  I apologize for the length of this article up front.  You might want to grab a cup of coffee.

A month ago, it looked like the Liberals had an excellent chance of maintaining Canadian’s favour.  What’s happened in the last few weeks?  The campaign and televised debates have helped the New Democrats in much of Canada and the Block Party in Quebec – which has taken votes away from the Liberals and the Conservatives.

A little background, for those of you who don’t know much about Canadian politics:  Although we have more political parties, only 6 actually have members of parliament so those are the ones I will address:  The Conservatives, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the People’s Party.  Actually, a party must have 12 members in the House of Commons to be ‘recognized’ by parliament.  Only the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP fit the criteria; however that may change this election as both the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois are within striking distance.

The Conservatives are right wing.  Their platform is mostly economical with a plan of $35 billion in cuts and the aim to erase the deficit, partially by cutting foreign aid.  They are pro oil and pipelines, hence the support of most of our western provinces.  They oppose a ban on guns and have dismissed any program, suggested by other parties, to reduce or waive the cost of pharmaceuticals.  They haven’t said much about climate change, but they have promised to scrap the Liberal Party’s carbon tax imposed on businesses that have no carbon reduction plan. The party is lead by Andrew Scheer.  The two issues that have recently questioned his character are that he claimed to have once been an insurance broker whereas he only worked as a clerk in an insurance company and that he apparently holds dual citizenship with the United States.  Scheer is pro life and when recently asked by a reporter to name one policy that shows he supports women’s rights, he couldn’t name any.

The Liberals, are mid-to-left wing.  They want to increase immigration and implement a national ban of semi-automatic weapons and give support to cities to ban or restrict hand guns.  They want to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals.  Experts (as in several articles published by scientists and economists) say the Liberal plan on fighting climate change is the most feasible.  The Liberals stopped the building of two pipelines, but have endeavored to build one from the west to the Pacific Ocean, saying that they will work with Indigenous People and use the profits to combat climate change.  The party is lead by Justin Trudeau.  Trudeau has visibly lead Canada for the last 4 years, handing out winter coats to Syrian refugees at the airport, attending the Paris Accord, standing up to Trump during the trade negotiations, marching in Vancouver’s and Toronto’s Pride Parades (the first Prime Minister to do so) and meeting with Greta Thunberg.  The two issues that have put Trudeau’s character in question are his blackface appearances 20 years ago for costume parties and when he placed pressure on the then Attorney General to spare SNC-Lavalin criminal conviction.  He’s accepted responsibility for both, apologizing profusely for the former and claiming he was trying to save Canadian jobs for the latter.

The NDP are left-wing, some say socialist.  Although there’s never been an NDP Prime Minister, the party has had many influential leaders – most notably Tommy Douglas (yes, Keifer Sutherland’s grandfather) a human rights supporter who lead the New Democratic Party’s introduction of Canada’s universal health care plan.  Today’s NDP platform includes implementing free pharmaceuticals, free university and college tuition as well as creating a national strategy for dementia and tax credits for caregivers.  They want to improve on the Liberal platform for climate change and increase immigration.  The party is led by Jagmeet Singh.  Before the campaign, Singh was not well-known and some Canadians have had a hard time imagining a turban-wearing Prime Minister.  However, Singh has proven to be a skilled public speaker – genuine, intelligent, quick-thinking and charming.  He and his party are proving to be the ‘spanner in the works’.

The Green Party, also left-wing, bases their platform on six core values: social justice, ecological wisdom, respect for diversity, grassroots democracy, peace and non-violence, and sustainability.  Their main cry to battle has been to fight climate change aggressively.  Although they only have 2 seats in Parliament, their voice has been a catalyst in the way Canadians think about our environment and climate change.  There are many more Canadians that agree that climate change is the most important issue than will actually vote for the Green Party, likely because they also believe that the Green Party doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to run the other aspects of government.  Nevertheless they have proven to be an effective devil’s advocate.  The Green Party is lead by Elizabeth May, who would not be Canada’s first female Prime Minister.  She is a lawyer and has been an environmentalist since the 1970s.  She is a lawyer, well-spoken and passionate.

The Bloc Quebecois is the anomaly in terms of national political parties because they are devoted to Quebec nationalism and the promotion of its sovereignty.  Strange, I know, but those of us who live in Canada understand that Quebec has always been ‘different’.  Surprisingly, last election, they won 10 seats in parliament.  And, based on a strong performance in the televised debates by their leader, Yves François Blanchet, have increased momentum in the polls.

The People’s Party, considered a fringe party by most, is extreme right-wing.  They were recently formed by past Conservative Party member Maxime Bernier.  They want to balance the budget, reduce immigration and focus on only skilled immigrants, encourage oil and gas industries to grow, and withdraw from the Paris Accord.  Bernier finagled his way into the televised debate and really should not have been there because he had been elected as a Conservative.  He didn’t win any brownie points, was consistently attacking and being attacked and over-speaking.  With no seats in parliament, it is unlikely the People’s Party will have any affect on the upcoming election.

That’s the playing field and we’re in the last inning.  Trudeau is still out there reminding folks of the good he’s done in the last 4 years and insisting that Scheer will cut necessary services.  Scheer is still claiming that Trudeau’s not fit to be our leader.  Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh are focusing on social change.  What could happen on Election Day?  Based on how Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh performed on the campaign trail and the televised debate polls indicate a rise in both of their left-wing parties.  Canadians could vote with their hearts. The result would mean fewer votes for the Liberals.  In addition, Quebecers could vote for the Bloc Quebecois, taking more votes away from the Liberals.  That means there is a real chance that the Conservatives could win the election.

There is always the chance that Canadians, regardless of whatever party they like, will strategically vote Liberal just to ensure the Conservatives don’t win. 

Climate Change Activist in Canada

There are few topics these days where one’s political preference is best put on the back burner: Saving our environment is definitely one of them. So, politics aside, I am proud that this Canadian world leader did the polite thing and met with Greta Thunberg today; especially when others wouldn’t even glance her way.

Since he’s been in office, Prime Minister Trudeau has signed the Paris Agreement, implemented a carbon tax, and most recently promised to plant 2 billion trees; but that’s not enough. World acclaimed climate change activist Greta doesn’t pull any punches, so she told him just that.

Back to politics: In Canada we actually have a Green Party. That befuddles me. Shouldn’t every party be green?

Survivors of Grief

For most of my life, I thought grief was connected solely to death: how one feels after the loss of a loved one.  It was not until I visited a psychiatrist when I was 60 years old that I understood grief is a reaction to loss which doesn’t necessarily include death.  I sought the advice of a psychiatrist about 6 months after I had left my 22 year marriage.  Although verbally, emotionally and financially abusive for years the relationship had only been violent on one night – and that was the catalyst to spur my leaving immediately.  I left behind, and thus effectively lost, my relationship, my home, most of my belongings, and (temporarily) my retirement dream.

I told the psychiatrist I doubted my mental state. I wondered if I was suffering from depression, or anxiety, or PTSD.  After asking some questions and listening to me for about 45 minutes, he said, “You have shown signs of PTSD, but it sounds to me like you’ve built a network to help you through your symptoms. You are doing all of the right things. You’ve researched on your own, you’ve gone for therapy, you’ve reached out to people, you’re getting exercise and eating well and you’re taking care of your mother. I see no signs of depression. What you need to do now is give yourself a break.  Be kind to yourself.  You are grieving.”  Prior to hearing these words, I hadn’t thought of my condition as ‘grieving’ per se.

Grief can be caused by the death of a loved one.  It can also be the result of loss of physical ability, way of life, familiar surroundings, or hope for the future.  Following the end of an abusive relationship, a lot of business is left unfinished, including: unsettled disputes, the possible discrediting of your character, and unanswered questions. You’re left hanging, unable to complete your relationship with your abuser and feeling stuck in the pain of your grief.  It is grieving.  It’s best to recognize it for what it is.

There is no “average” or “normal” time frame for moving through grief.  Every person is different.  So, how does one stop grieving?  The grieving never really stops.  Who is to say it should?  It just fades as new memories replace the old ones.  You don’t “move on” from the loss, you move forward with it.  Whether it’s a loved one who has passed away, a divorce or other circumstances; every family holiday can revive those feelings of loss. We all have our “baggage”, events in our life, typically those that had a negative impact, which we carry with us.   A new home, a new job, new friends, new relationships all help.  With time new memories start to replace the old. 

Sometimes, particularly if you feel stuck in overwhelming grief, you have to force the issue.  You may need to seek out your own way by creating some form of “ritual” for closure: a divorce party, a symbolic burning of old papers and photographs, or whatever you can think of.  Sometimes it takes consciously focusing on the present and future rather than the past.  Sometimes it takes consciously remembering the good in the past – those golden moments – rather than the bad or sad.  Sometimes it takes expressing to others how you feel.  Sometimes it takes listening to others as they express their grief just to acknowledge that they’ve been heard and understood.  Sometimes it takes thought or prayer to be thankful for where you are now and who and what is in your life.  Be kind to yourself.