Constabulary and Critics Continue Tense Coexistence

As International Women’s Day approaches, it’s been nearly a year since Jenny Wright stepped down as Executive Director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council. In October, the Independent revealed RNC and provincial government involvement in the sequence of events leading to her departure. Since that time, there have been a range of responses from community organizations, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, and state officials. Five months after the story emerged, and nearly a year after Wright stepped down, the Independent takes a look at what’s transpired in the wake of the revelations.

The provincial government has maintained clear support for key figures involved in the overreach, including Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland and now-Deputy Minister for Status of Women Linda Ross.

But many important relationships across the community remain strained. The St. John’s Status of Women Council, as well as the Provincial Action Network for the Status of Women (an umbrella organization representing the province’s nine Status of Women Councils) issued media releases strongly criticizing RNC and government involvement in the complaint.

On October 23, RNC Chief Boland held a press conference where he sought to provide context for his role in the affair, as well as comments made in email correspondence released by Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (ATIPP) requests. The same day, First Light NL—the province’s largest urban Indigenous organization—issued a media release criticizing government and RNC. They also announced they were suspending involvement in the province’s Violence Against Women and Girls Committee (VAWG), along with a “reevaluation” of the provincial government’s role in the St. John’s Urban Indigenous Coalition.

The Independent spoke with both Ministers Andrew Parsons and Carol-Anne Haley, who provided their perspectives on the events outlined in the Oct. 9 article.

The range of responses indicate a stark divide between how community groups and government see their relationships to one another. SJSWC, PANSOW and First Light all expressed serious concern over government and RNC attitudes toward critical voices and toward local sex worker support organization Safe Harbour Outreach Program. Chief Boland acknowledged signing the complaint letter to SJSWC was a mistake, but insisted he was trying to protect public confidence in the RNC. Minister Parsons expressed confidence in Chief Boland while saying he understood both sides. Minister Haley refused to speak to the role of PACSW in the events, while at the same time reaffirming her confidence in Deputy Minister Ross, who spearheaded a coalition of community group representatives to file a complaint against Wright.

The Tweet that Started it All

For years, Constable Steve Curnew was the public face of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. He appeared in both local and national media to talk about everything from holiday safety tips to enforcing municipal noise bylaws.

But in July 2018, Curnew was charged with violating an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) filed by his estranged wife. When he appeared in court, both CBC and the Telegram report he ranted about his ex-wife and blamed her for conducting “a complete slanderfest” against him. At his sentencing on March 11, 2019, Judge Lori Marshall gave him a conditional discharge and required him to attend anger management lessons. (In February 2019, CBC reported that Curnew was fired by the RNC for an undisclosed and unrelated incident.)

Jenny Wright was Executive Director of the SJSWC when Curnew was initially arrested in 2018. Two days after his arrest, she posted a thread on Twitter:

It was this last tweet that upset RNC Chief Joe Boland.

“Now it comes to the tweet that caused the problem for me,” he told media at the October 23 press conference at RNC Headquarters in St. John’s. “On [1 August 2018], Ms. Wright sent out a tweet. The Tweet was critical of an officer here that had been arrested under an EPO order. It was critical of me personally.”

“That’s not what caused me the concern,” he continued. “The concern was what was said in the tweet… because basically it spoke about our police officers as persons that were abusers…”

Boland said he then mulled over what to do about the tweet.

“I took several days thinking about how to respond,” he explained. “I thought about calling Ms. Wright, but based on the tweet I didn’t think that that would be productive. I thought about writing a letter in The Telegram to address it. I thought about doing a press conference to address it. In the end, Ms. Wright like me, we have a boss. And I decided to call her boss and ask for a meeting.”

He says the SJSWC representative he spoke with told him they were very busy. He never got his meeting.

“Then on October the 23rd, I was asked to attend a meeting with the different groups [organized by PACSW, which compiled the complaint letter to Wright’s employer],” Boland explained. “I attended the meeting (…) and I spoke exactly what my concern was. It was about a tweet and it was my opinion that it undermined public confidence in the RNC.”

The signed letter eventually sent to Wright’s employer refers to “a persistent pattern of behaviour,” so reporters quizzed Boland on what other behaviours led him to participate in the complaint besides Wright’s tweet. He brought up Wright’s criticism of Operation Northern Spotlight, a controversial RCMP-led initiative to ‘rescue’ sex workers which has been described as “traumatizing” by sex worker advocates. The RNC participated in the project until it was cancelled under pressure from community groups. Boland said there were also other matters the two of them “may not agree with.”

“That’s not what concerned me. What concerned me here has completely to do with public confidence in policing,” he asserted.

Zero Trust”: RNC and the Indigenous community

Boland also addressed emails he exchanged with Ross during the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in October 2018. After Ross complimented him on his testimony, he wrote her: “I was not comfortable and advised by counsel to avoid challenging some of the non-profits.”

“I want to make sure that we’re clear about what I said there,” Boland explained at the press conference.

“I wasn’t comfortable. I had a week to prepare to testify, a little bit more than a week. And it became very obvious… [that] I had a lot to learn that I didn’t understand about the Indigenous community,” he conceded. “Which speaks to public confidence in policing. It was a very secretive kind of world. I went looking for stats—how many complaints did we have from the Indigenous community? I was getting zero….”

“[Except] when a neighbour would call about a domestic dispute that involved someone Indigenous, especially females, they would not give us a statement,” Boland explained. “They would not speak. There was zero trust. So when I was preparing [to speak at the Inquiry] I was assigned counsel… I was trying to explain [this issue] and I really couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t articulate it in a way that made sense to him. So he advised me not to go down that road.”

“Look, I’m not the moral police here,” he added. “I don’t really have a position on some of this stuff. But after I testified—and I don’t mind saying that this was one of the most difficult days of my career—but after I finished, I went back the next day, and I listened to an Indigenous woman who had worked in the sex trade industry and she talked about the benefits. She talked about how she could raise her children. She could get her children educated, feed her children, clothe her children. She didn’t have any negative experiences. And it got me thinking. I never really looked at it from that perspective. The next day I went down, and there was another woman, an Indigenous woman, that got on and spoke about the violence associated with the sex trade industry and gave a completely different spin.”

“It was that same week that Operation Northern Spotlight was supposed to happen,” the Chief noted. “And SHOP has been very critical, and Ms. Wright has been very critical, of the RNC and the RCMP both provincially here and nationally, about our role in Operation Northern Spotlight. And I cancelled Operation Northern Spotlight. Because I knew from the Inquiry that we still have a lot to learn about our role in how we deal with people that are, you know especially vulnerable people and other people—the sex trade is very diverse—about what our role is. So we took a pause, we stepped back from Northern Spotlight.”

Boland’s assessment of the lack of trust between police and Indigenous residents was frank and personal. Unfortunately, representatives of the city’s Indigenous community were not there to hear it. The RNC had barred them from attending the press conference.

First Light Speaks Out

First Light NL—formerly known as the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre—has seen a frenzy of activity in recent months. The organization has long outgrown the sprawling wooden structure it calls home, and is in the process of branching out across the city.

In August 2019, First Light received a multi-million dollar infrastructure grant, which it is using to expand programming around the city. It has entered into a partnership with the Cochrane Centre to establish the First Light Centre for Performance and Creativity, aspiring to develop the province’s premiere Indigenous arts and culture centre. Five social enterprises—including the acclaimed Four Fires catering service that specializes in local and traditional Indigenous foods—operate through the Centre. Its educational and training programs are sought after across the province, from private companies to unions and public service providers. And that’s in addition to its other array of services, including a shelter and a childcare centre.

It’s no wonder First Light has been looking for room to grow. Last year alone, its small staff of roughly 50 employees provided services with more than 45,000 clients and points of contact to members of the community.

At the helm of this activity is Stacey Howse, acting Executive Director.

Howse is a fixture at First Light. She has worked there for over twelve years, most recently as Director of Programs. She knows first-hand how vital its services and cultural support can be. Originally from Miawpukek First Nation on the south coast of Newfoundland, she moved to St. John’s after finishing high school.

“When I graduated high school and moved to the city, I experienced a loss of culture, and cultural connection,” she recalled to the Independent. “Where I grew up on the reserve, that’s all I really knew and I was surrounded by culture every single day. When you move into the city it’s a shock. It’s so busy, and there’s nothing that can really ground you.”

“So just the fact that you could come here and you could smell the smudge, and be around drumming and singing and people that understand the similar challenges that urban Indigenous people face [was important]. That support and that connection really just made me stay here.”

Critical voices are important

When Howse first learned about the role played by RNC and government in the complaint against Wright, she was deeply concerned. First Light’s decision to speak out was not just a matter of solidarity, she told the Independent. For her, the revelations speak very directly to the challenges First Light and other Indigenous organizations face in trying to transform the biases which shape how government and police operate.

That’s why the group is now re-evaluating the provincial government’s role in the St. John’s Urban Indigenous Coalition.

“The whole point of the Urban Indigenous Coalition is to challenge the colonial structures which have oppressed our people for so many years,” she explained. “We want to be able to talk openly and freely about the challenges which exist for urban Indigenous people… the actions of the police and the government endanger the democratic norms that we want, and we want to have healthy discussions and debate regarding the structures which exist.”

“We want to be inclusive but we want to be sure that we’re engaging people that have an actual interest in pursuing activities that aim to improve the lives of Indigenous people that live in St. John’s,” added Justin Campbell, Coordinator of the St. John’s Urban Indigenous Coalition.

“It’s difficult to see how we can do that if we have people around the table that have done things to stifle critical voices.”

Not just about Jenny Wright

For Howse, the correspondence and complaint letter to the SJSWC reveals a structural problem that goes beyond a concern with a particular person.

“It’s bigger than just any one person,” she said. “It’s not about what happened with [Jenny Wright], it was about the government and police inserting themselves and trying to unify opinions [against] people challenging the system. We are going to continue to challenge the system and we want to be able to feel free to do so without any repercussions.”

Howse echoed the concern voiced by PANSOW: that the role of community advocacy groups is to stand up for their members and criticize institutions—including, perhaps especially, the government and the police.

“We see it every single day in our line of work,” explained Howse. “Discrimination, racism, violence is very much a reality for our people and for other marginalized people. We’re constantly expected to get over a history that is not yet over. And those structures and those colonial systems, they still exist, and they continue to oppress our people. As we said in our statement, we need the complete dismantling of those colonial structures.”

No accountability from the RNC

According to Howse, Chief Boland’s claim to want to mend broken trust with the community was disproven through the refusal to allow First Light to attend the October 23 press conference he called. They requested to attend, but were told they would not be permitted.

“We feel that we have a stake in the discussion, and we should have been there to hear everything and not just piece everything together from social media, to hear his stance on the situation and his point of view,” Howse told the Independent. “It was frustrating having to do that. I didn’t see a whole lot of accountability. I saw a lot of him trying to justify actions of the RNC, but I didn’t see any accountability.”

“There was no apology, to my knowledge, and in my opinion zero accountability.”

Howse also notes that Chief Boland’s argument—that some individuals and groups were being ‘divisive’ while he was trying to bring together conflicting community perspectives on contentious issues like sex work—is problematic. It’s not his role to unify opinion, she says, and he shouldn’t think that it is.

“It’s not the role of the police to unify public opinions. To have diversity of opinion is a healthy democracy. It’s healthy,” Howse emphasised. “We should be able to do that without the police feeling that they need to step in and resolve everything. Because they can’t. That’s not their job.”

Smoke and Mirrors”

Howse is also frustrated Justice Minister Andrew Parsons could find time to appear on CTV and take credit for introducing Indigenous eagle feathers to the province’s courtrooms, yet did not have time to respond to First Light’s statement or publicly address the concerns raised by the actions of the RNC.

“It makes me really frustrated,” Howse told the Independent. “It makes me feel as if people just want the mere illusion of reconciliation. ‘Oh, we have eagle feathers in the justice system.’ As if they need a pat on the back for doing great work when really they’re skipping all the main issues [like] preventing violence against Indigenous women and girls, or preventing racism and discrimination. It feels a bit like smoke and mirrors.”

She says this is why First Light decided to suspend its participation in the VAWG Committee, co-chaired by Minister Parsons and Linda Ross. “We don’t want it just to appear that there’s action against violence against women and girls in this province, when there aren’t any real resources committed to finding solutions. It needs to be an action-based effort. It can’t just be the illusion of action. And we haven’t seen much from that.”

RNC need accountability: calls for civilian oversight

The Independent’s October story has revitalized calls for the province to establish a civilian oversight committee for the RNC. It’s one of First Light’s demands as a demonstration of government commitment to change before they come back to the table on the VAWG Committee.

“It all comes back to accountability,” added Howse. “We all have to be accountable to somebody or some group or some organization. Law enforcement needs accountability as well. We’re one of the few provinces that don’t have a civilian oversight board for law enforcement.”

Howse said that First Light’s community members have voiced strong support for its firm stand on the issue. She’s hopeful that the government will listen and engage in dialogue—as well as demonstrate through concrete actions that it is open to change and accountability.

“We need conversations. We need education. We need to start there,” she explained. “It needs to start with honesty, and it needs to start with truth, and being able to have difficult conversations. We hear time and time again people working towards truth and reconciliation, but they just want to skip the truth and go right to the reconciliation. And in order to recognize the truth and acknowledge the truth you need to be educated. That’s really important, that’s crucial for everyone.”

“Sometimes we’re expected to just fit within these structures, and it doesn’t work like that. These structures don’t work for a lot of our people,” she concluded. “So we need willingness to change those structures which exist so that within our culture, we can be free to be who we are.”

Pushing back on SHOP, dealing with outside interference

During the Oct. 23 RNC press conference, Chief Boland also addressed two other controversial statements made in his email correspondence. On June 25, 2018, he had an email exchange with then-PACSW president (now Deputy Minister) Linda Ross, in which they expressed criticisms of a VOCM article that was favourable to SHOP’s work.

“I do think it’s time to push back on SHOP,” he wrote. “Time for change!”

At the press conference, Boland sought to provide context for this statement. He said “dealing with women that work in the sex trade… has been difficult, to try and resolve.” He expressed incredulity at the fact that different organizations disagree on the best approach with which to engage the issue of sex work.

“When I talk about ‘it’s time to push back it’s time for change,’ it’s nothing to do with change in relation to Miss Wright,” he stated. “It’s time for change—you would have heard this from me before—even internally here when I look at how we changed our approach with our forensic identification section. You can’t keep on expecting to do the same thing and get different results. And that’s what I was talking about change… it’s pushing back change.”

SHOP offers services sex workers cannot access elsewhere

Laura Winters has only been Executive Director of the SJSWC since June, but her involvement with the organization goes back to 2013. SHOP has personal significance for her: she was one of the people who helped set it up in 2013.

As a sociologist, she conducted research on the sex industry in St. John’s, and helped with a 2011 report commissioned on the province’s sex trade. The report was initially banned from publication by the NL government and those involved put under a gag order. Following a great deal of public controversy and a ruling by the Privacy Commissioner, the provincial government released a highly redacted version of the report four years later.

SHOP emerged in the wake of this report. SJSWC among other groups fought to have the report released, and when they were initially unsuccessful, local philanthropist Adele Poynter offered them seed funding, Winters explained.

“[Poynter] just said: ‘start something—the government knows this is an issue now, and they’re not doing anything to support women engaged in the sex industry,’” Winters recalled to the Independent. “SHOP literally started with the premise: ‘what do you need, and how can we help?’”

According to Winters, that approach is what continues to be one of SHOP’s defining qualities, and what makes them so important among the various groups engaging with sex work in the province.

“The importance of SHOP is that it is unique in terms of the services offered and how they’re offered. It works from a harm reduction oriented place, where women can come and access those services with no barriers, no wait lists,” Winters recounted. “It’s ‘right here right now’ help.”

Other programs offered by other groups have more narrow mandates, and often have very exclusionary criteria—making it hard for sex workers to access their supports.

“That’s not the case with SHOP,” Winters explained. “You can come in and self-refer, you say ‘I’m somebody engaged in the sex industry,’ and the door is open. You can come in and access all the services that they offer. They’re one of the few places in the community that are doing outreach at the level that they do it.

“With Eastern Health, you need a particular diagnosis to be able to enter in certain programs, but with SHOP it’s very much open door,” she elaborated. “They go into women’s homes, they take women to their appointments, they do a huge amount of system navigation and service connection. That makes it really unique not just in terms of programs that serve people engaged in the sex industry, but in terms of programs serving people on the front line in this community in general.”

Since its inception, SHOP has served over 500 women—which Winters notes is a huge number of people to support with a program that has only two employees.

The numbers and demand just keep growing, she told the Independent.

“There’s a need. Government has a responsibility to respond to that need, to ensure women can access those services at the end of the day,” Winters continued. “SHOP tends to be a lifeline between [marginalized] women and the system as it stands. Our system is not easy to navigate, and SHOP does that work connecting women to the supports they need in terms of their health, mental health—all of it.”

Short-Term Funding for Long-Term Problems

For years, community organizations have complained about the fact that year-to-year funding makes it impossible to do any substantial long-term planning around service delivery. Many have called for multi-year funding in order to be able to plan long-term.

When the provincial government introduced three-year funding agreements for several of the organizations serving women in the province, SHOP was originally one of the 22 organizations included in the pilot. But it was the only group excluded from a three-year funding arrangement when the program was implemented—for reasons that Winters says have never been explained.

“At that time the oil boom was happening, there was a lot more money coming into the province,” Winters recalled. “Through the research I was engaged with I could see anecdotally that there was a huge increase in people involved in the sex industry.”

Given this backdrop, Winters and other staff at SJSWC and SHOP were deeply concerned when they read the critical comments about SHOP being made in correspondence between now-Deputy Minister Ross and Chief Boland.

The SJSWC issued a statement in which they indicated that more than an apology, “what SHOP and the women we serve need… is a firm commitment to the services we provide and secure operating funding…. This would be a tangible way to begin to repair the harm caused by statements which we hope do not represent the views of the Office for the Status of Women.”

Winters said this measure would correct the mysterious omission of SHOP from the initial three-year funding arrangement. A satisfactory reason has never been provided. Meanwhile, the SJSWC has submitted a formal funding request to include SHOP under the multi-year agreement structure.

Minister Haley Responds

After SJSWC issued their statement, Minister for the Status of Women Carol Haley met with representatives from the organization. When asked about the meeting, Minister Haley told the Independentshe could not commit to sustained multi-year funding for SHOP at the moment, “but it’s something we’ll look at going forward, absolutely.”

Haley was adamant that she strongly supports the work SHOP does.

“It is extremely important,” she said. “My department is focused on the safety and the advancement of women and girls in our province, and we do support SHOP.”

When asked about calls for expanded RNC civilian oversight, she felt it was an issue that did not fall under her mandate.

“That wouldn’t be my call. Not my jurisdiction,” she told the Independent. “Possibly there would be a benefit but it’s certainly not my call.”

Minister Haley would also not comment on whether PACSW’s role in organizing the complaint letter against Wright was appropriate.

“That’s more than I can say. I know that there are different signatories to that letter and I have nothing more to say,” she explained. She then affirmed her support for now-Deputy Minister Ross.

“Ms. Ross has been a valuable asset to my office,” she told the Independent. “She brings more than four decades of experience advancing the interests of women in our province and I feel we are very fortunate to have her as part of our team.”

Haley called the decision by First Light to suspend participation in VAWG “very unfortunate.”

“We regret that decision,” she noted. “I’d like to continue working with them in the future and I’d certainly welcome them back to the table. I will continue to focus my efforts toward having them come back. They’re an extremely important voice at the table and one that I would welcome.”

Minister Haley acknowledged there have been ruptured relationships and trust, but felt confident those can be repaired.

“We have been traveling the province, the island portion and parts of Labrador, meeting with women’s groups,” she explained. “It’s all been positive meetings and I’m looking very much forward to working with them in the future. I believe we can do that going forward.”

Minister Parsons Responds

Haley’s sense of optimism was echoed by Minister Parsons.

Parsons told the Independent he hasn’t spoken directly to Chief Boland about the matter, but he’s been following it in the media. He emphasized that he does not dictate operational matters to the police. He also said he sympathizes with Boland’s efforts to bolster public confidence in the RNC, saying that he witnessed a crisis of confidence with the force when he first came to office. He said he heard from the parents of several police officers who were affected by that crisis, and in particular the Dunphy Inquiry.

“I was trying to project an ‘I stand with the force’ [attitude], because you need that,” Parsons explained. “We went through a pretty significant period of time where people were losing faith. People were questioning the police. People were worried. We went through, we had an inquiry. So I get the mindset with where [Boland] was coming from.

“At the same time I get the reaction,” he noted. “There’s still a portion of individuals out there that whenever the police say or do something they will question you inserting your authority. I understand that, I can see that, and at the same time I can see what the Chief is saying. Knowing the Chief as I do since he’s got that job, I believe he is of honourable intent. Same as everybody else.”

Parsons says community groups have approached the police seeking to engage them on various issues, and he believes this also requires them to be receptive to the concerns of police.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he stated.

“I don’t think that [the letter] contained threatening language,” he continued. “I think it came from a good place, but at the same time, like any of these scenarios that happen, I get where a group can come back and say this is a concern.”

“We don’t want to go into a place where there’s political direction of police,” Parsons concluded. “Nor do we want a situation where police use the authority that they’re vested with to overpower an individual. So I get that there’s always got to be a balancing act.”

“I don’t know what he meant by ‘push back,’” Parsons conceded when asked about Boland’s comments around SHOP. “That could mean a whole bunch of things, and I don’t want to sit here and pick through it. All I can say is you know when it comes to the Chief, he took over the force when it was going through a bit of a crisis of confidence, and I fully believe that he’s trying to do the right thing.”

Parsons says he was “disappointed” to hear that First Light was suspending its participation in the VAWG Committee, but that the committee would continue meeting. When asked about calls for a civilian oversight body for the RNC, he said that he was not necessarily opposed to the idea, but would need to look into it further.

“I’m not saying I’m opposed to it,” he told the Independent. “I can’t tell you if it’s the greatest idea or the worst idea, but now that it’s been brought up, yeah I’ll look into anything. I mean if somebody brings you an idea, the least you can do is look into it. And then come back to them and say here’s where we stand with it, here’s some of the issues.”

“I tell you what,” Parsons continued. “I’ve had a hell of a lot more ideas that sounded more off the wall than something like that. It’s something I’m going to consider. But… what does it entail? What are they doing elsewhere? What’s the cost behind it, what’s the recruitment process, what does it mean, what’s the legislation that’s needed? There’s a bunch of smarter people than me that got to sit down and figure out what it means. I would also say to these groups: okay you’re coming with the idea, give me some detail.”

To advocate more and advocate stronger”

The SJSWC and PANSOW have joined the growing call for civilian oversight of the RNC. Winters told the Independent it’s a vital next step in reestablishing trust between police and community. It goes beyond the existing RNC Complaints Commission, which merely receives complaints. It also goes beyond the mandate of the civilian Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) for the province, which reacts to serious incidents like police shooting of civilians.

“What we’re asking for is a body of citizens that would be dedicated to reviewing and improving police officer conduct,” Winters explained. “It gives people who are not involved in the RNC the capacity and the medium to have a voice and to voice concerns and provide criticism and oversight of law enforcement operations.”

“It’s important to say this isn’t something new we dreamed up,” Winters noted. “This exists in many other Canadian cities. There’s some great examples of citizen oversight agencies in Ontario, and we think that’s important here for the police to do community policing in an effective way. This is a great first step towards that.”

“We echo First Light’s call and we stand in solidarity with them,” she added. “It’s really, really valuable to have Indigenous voices in this conversation. It’s so important when we’re talking about systems of power that we have our Indigenous partners at the table and having their voices heard.”

Winters emphasized that no matter what happens, organizations like SJSWC will not stop voicing criticism when it is warranted. If anything, the controversy has reinforced their determination to speak out boldly on behalf of women in the province.

“It’s our job as the St. John’s Status of Women Councils to bring forward the concerns and voices of all women in this province and I think particularly the voices of women who are marginalized by negative interactions with those systems,” she explained. “Advocacy is literally written into our mandate. It’s part of what government funds us to do, and our ability to do that is at the very core of all the work we do. We do a great deal of front-line services to individuals, but [we also] do the work of bringing those voices to people in power to shift and change our systems so people are better served at the end of the day. That’s very central to our work.”

“We have always been outspoken as an organization, and I want to continue that tradition,” Winters concluded. “[The Independent’s work] makes us want to advocate more and advocate stronger for things in response to this.

“Instead of the situation making us feel like we can’t speak out, it makes us want to push more for the things that we already know we need in this province.”

“The antidote to despair… is hope”

For her part, Jenny Wright concurs with Howse’s assessment that the issues underpinning the case were about more than just her.

“I think it is very clear that this was never was about me,” she tells the Independent. “And, when we continue to make this about me, we ignore…that there is a huge rupture among community activists, community organizations and the women’s movement.  When we don’t do the work we are entrusted to do, and come together to have the really difficult discussions in a spirit of accountability and repair, the most marginalized folks we claim to support lose. As a result, we have seen vital and needed activists walk away burnt out and broken, voices have gone silent, hope for real transformative change is disappearing. You can feel the tension and fear and silencing it has caused.”

“So many people have told me they can’t speak out or are too afraid to speak out.  Everything and everyone suffers when those pushing for real change go silent.”

Wright is angry there was no substantive government engagement with First Light following its statement. She feels an apology is owed by Chief Boland and Deputy Minister Ross, not only to her but to Debbie Hibbs, who was mentioned in their email exchange. Hibbs responded to Chief Boland’s comments in a letter to the editor after the Independent published their correspondence. You can read that letter here.

Wright now works as the Executive Director of the Midwifery Regulatory Council of Nova Scotia. She also recently launched a private practice, The Landing, together with Dr. Catherine de Boer.

“It is so easy to feel defeated, to feel real despair through all of this. I know that I have. But the antidote to despair is always hope. I am hopeful and I am still here and I am still fighting and still ready for that difficult discussion.”

Photo via RNC/Facebook.

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