Saturday, March 26, 2016
Tuesday February 9, 2016
By Bill Tieleman
"There's a whole community of women who feel violated by the publicity around this trial who have had their own experiences of sexual assault."
- Amanda Dale, director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic for women survivors of violence
The trial of former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi has been shocking -- not only for the allegations of sexual violence, but because two women testifying against him subsequently had flirtatious, friendly contact with Ghomeshi afterwards.
Why would any woman who was allegedly slapped in the face, punched, rammed against a wall or choked have anything more to do with any man who assaulted her?
Sadly and stunningly, the evidence in a Toronto courtroom, from actress Lucy DeCoutere and another witness who cannot be named due to a publication ban, is not unusual.
Those who work with victims of violence know all too well that women who have been assaulted have complex and challenging emotions that can lead to them continuing a relationship with their abuser.
As DeCoutere testified in court last week after being confronted by the defence team with friendly and even sexually suggestive emails she sent Ghomeshi: "That still doesn't change the fact that Mr. Ghomeshi assaulted me. Women can be assaulted by someone and still have positive feelings for them afterwards, that's why there are emotionally abusive relationships that continue."
That contradiction is something I learned over several years as a volunteer fundraiser with a Toronto shelter for battered women, where I talked to many counsellors and also victims who escaped abusive situations.
Unfortunately, it can take a long time and multiple attempts for some women to leave a violent relationship.
In many cases there are significant financial, family history, emotional, health and shelter issues that deter women from ending it.
"People wind up blaming themselves for the abusive behaviour of their partners. They convince themselves if they approach the person differently, maybe they won't be abused," says Craig Malkin, a Harvard Medical School clinical psychologist.
Research also shows abusers are attracted to those who have self-esteem issues or were victims of abuse as children, or were raised by parents who were in abusive relationships.
"They don't have a model for anything different. They accept it as the price of intimacy," says Malkin.
It's a strong reminder that the challenges of a victim can be complex.
Legal system requires bravery
Now, in the Ghomeshi case, we also see how difficult it can be for someone to bring allegations of abuse to court, especially under such fierce cross-examination.
That's why all owe a debt of gratitude to Lucy DeCoutere for having the courage to step forward with her allegations, be identified and defend herself in public.
Actress Ellen Page put it well on Twitter Saturday: "My friend Lucy DeCoutere is one of the most incredible people I know -- deeply kind, generous and brave."
DeCoutere's lawyer, Gillian Hnatiw, was compelled to remind the media and public about the important point behind many such cases.
"Violence against women is not about the behaviour of the women. It is not about how they cope with an assault or the details they commit to memory in the aftermath," Hnatiw said outside court. "This is, and remains, a trial about Mr. Ghomeshi's conduct. What Lucy did and how she felt in the aftermath of the assault does not change that essential fact."
We have to hope that the Ghomeshi case -- which continues with a third woman witness this week -- will not negatively impact the willingness of other women to use the courts to hear their stories because they fear devastating courtroom cross-examination by the defence.
And that's very important for British Columbia women.
In 2014, Statistics Canada found that 9,053 women in B.C. reported intimate partner violence to police and across the country there were 69,848 cases.
But University of British Columbia law professor Janine Benedet says sexual assaults are only reported to police about 15 per cent of the time, meaning the actual numbers of women attacked are far worse.
With the right support, survivors of sexual assault can "do just fine" holding their abusers accountable in the justice system, Benedet says.
But the legal system requires their bravery, says the Schlifer clinic's executive director Amanda Dale.
"The threshold is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the only way to establish that doubt, in the minds (of defence lawyers), is to attack the credibility of the witness," Dale says.
Canada needs a better way for women who have been assaulted to bring their attackers to justice -- without being re-victimized in court.
UPDATE – Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty on all counts by Justice William Horkins, who delivered a scathing decision that reads like it was the women witnesses who were on trial, not Ghomeshi.
"The harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth," Horkins said.
"I am forced to conclude that it is impossible for the court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants. Put simply, the volume of serious deficiencies in the evidence leaves the court with a reasonable doubt."
News of the acquittal angered women’s groups and sparked protests in several locations.
Ghomeshi faces another charge of sexual assault which goes to trial in June.
|Then-UBC President Arvind Gupta and BC Premier Christy Clark|
Tuesday February 2, 2016
By Bill Tieleman
"Moreover, you must refrain from thinking controversial thoughts out loud, especially when the facts are far from certain."
- Ex-UBC board chair John Montalbano to ex-UBC president Arvind Gupta in May 24, 2015 letter
How outrageous -- a scientist turned university president voicing controversial ideas!
If that scientist were Galileo Galilei in 1615 saying out loud that -- contrary to popular and Catholic Church belief -- the earth revolves around the sun, he would face the Roman Inquisition to defend his views.
And be proven right in the end.
But 400 years later in 2015, that man was Arvind Gupta, president of the University of British Columbia.
And his inquisition came from the executive committee of UBC's board of governors -- most appointed by the BC Liberal government -- who apparently pushed him to resign just a year into his five-year term.
New documents released last week -- some accidentally -- are the first true indication of what really happened. And like an inquisition, Gupta's accusers were powerful and relentless.
Gupta is now speaking out due to those documents going public, saying he regrets his resignation, but not fully disclosing his views.
Understandable, as he's still on UBC payroll.
But unlike Gupta, neither Premier Christy Clark nor the man directly responsible for UBC -- Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson -- have yet explained how their own hand-picked appointees and major party donors moved to oust B.C.'s largest university president. Or if Clark or Wilkinson approved the board gunning for Gupta -- and why.
While Wilkinson has said it was merely "a matter between the board of governors and their employee," when the head of a $2.1 billion public institution with 60,000 students dramatically disappears, they have a fundamental obligation to explain why their governors pushed out the president -- and whether they authorized it.
And there is no way such a dramatic move could come without their knowledge and at least acquiescence -- it's too big a decision.
Questions need answers
Fortunately, when the B.C. Legislature resumes Feb. 9, opposition members can question Clark and Wilkinson directly, including in budget estimates -- though whether real answers will be given is doubtful.
Nonetheless, here are some that should be posed:
What communications did then-UBC board chair John Montalbano or other governors have with Wilkinson, Clark or their senior staff regarding unhappiness with Gupta?
Did Wilkinson or Clark approve Montalbano and some UBC governors' attempt to force Gupta to significantly change his course?
Did Wilkinson or Clark authorize UBC governors to push for Gupta's resignation when unsatisfied?
And perhaps most intriguing, could Wilkinson and/or Clark have been misled in what they were told about Gupta's performance so that they agreed to the purge?
Gupta was clear in interviews last week what he thinks of the UBC governors who forced him out: "This group had only one intention. They decided they didn't want me."
Indeed, Gupta is correct based on the now-released letters from then-chair Montalbano.
Docs' shocking tone
The tone of the letters is shockingly critical, if not insolent and insulting towards the president, regardless of any failings on his part.
The letters reflect Montalbano's observations on behalf of the UBC board of governors' executive committee following their meetings with Gupta.
"We appreciate that you have come to understand that you have some key deficiencies in your leadership style that must be addressed," Montalbano writes May 24, 2015. "To be completely transparent with you we are still not certain that you fully appreciate the scope of your accountability."
"The board has noted that your first year as leader of the University of British Columbia has been an unsettled one. Relationships with key stakeholder groups, notably your senior executive, the faculty deans and the board of governors are not at functional levels to allow you to move forward in a confident manner -- unusual even for an organization undergoing strategic shifts in vision and key personnel."
"Communication of change and strategic vision has been poor. The executive committee of the board has witnessed a degradation of quality in the communications from the president's office and executive in the past number of months," Montalbano continued.
Not only were Gupta's style and approach trashed but so were his staff.
"We are deeply concerned that your office is not providing you with the information you need on a trusted and timely basis," Montalbano wrote.
"We are also very concerned that your office is not only inexperienced and perhaps under resourced but that certain members of your team do not reflect well on the tone that the office should wish to establish with stakeholders on and off campus."
And while some board members are experienced business people, none of them has the kind of academic background Gupta brought to the job.
What else unsaid?
If the letters were presumably more cautious than unrecorded verbal meetings between the governors and Gupta would be, exactly how nasty were those conversations telling UBC's doomed president that he was allegedly incompetent? Only those there could say -- and they aren't talking.
What is clear is that Gupta was shaking up long-established fiefdoms at UBC, which can be more medieval and treacherous than Game of Thrones. Some faculty deans and senior administrators were threatened by Gupta's reforms -- and they didn't take it well.
Gupta told The Ubyssey student newspaper last week that he became aware that opposition to his changes at UBC was being fed secretly to the board.
"In the summer, I began to realize maybe there was some back channels developing where some of the people who were uneasy about this direction were back-channeling into the board about what they were saying," Gupta told the paper.
But ultimately that back channel of opposition turned the tide against Gupta.
The UBC executive committee may have also underestimated -- or ignored -- the impact of Gupta's departure within the influential South Asian community in B.C. and beyond.
The Indo-Canadian Voice has followed Gupta's resignation closely, noting in an editorial last week that: "now letters that appear to have been released by an oversight seem to show that Gupta was pushing for change in an institution that was too dinosaur-like in its reaction."
While many dismissed UBC professor Jennifer Berdahl's early analysis that Gupta was the victim of a "masculinity contest" as over the top, others may think differently as more documentation of the situation comes out.
"I believe that part of this outcome is that Arvind Gupta lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men," Berdahl wrote in August 2015.
"President Gupta was the first brown man to be UBC president. He isn't tall or physically imposing. He advocates for women and visible minorities in leadership -- a stance that has been empirically demonstrated to hurt men at work."
'Traits of a humble leader': Berdahl
Perhaps more tellingly than first appeared, Berdahl also directly and substantively contradicts Montalbano's extensive criticisms of Gupta's style.
Montalbano told Gupta that: "Because there is a low level of trust among those that work most closely with you morale is low. You are rarely seen to solicit or seek advice from those best positioned to support you. You are deemed too quick to engage in debate in a confrontational or dismissive manner, which is demoralizing to a group of executives in fear of their employment."
But Berdahl observed the opposite behaviour by Gupta, she wrote.
"I also had the pleasure of serving on an executive search committee he chaired. In leading that committee he sought and listened to everyone's opinions, from students through deans," Berdahl said.
"He expressed uncertainty when he was uncertain and he sought expertise from experts. He encouraged the less powerful to speak first and the more powerful to speak last. He did not share his own leanings and thoughts until it was time to make a decision, so as not to encourage others to 'fall in line.'"
"In other words, he exhibited all the traits of a humble leader: one who listens to arguments and weighs their logic and information, instead of displaying and rewarding bravado as a proxy for competence," she concluded.
Quite the contrast -- and clearly completely contrary to Montalbano and his committee's views -- which could well have been communicated to Clark and Wilkinson in justifying the decision to push Gupta out the UBC door.
Ironically, Berdahl was the "inaugural Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies: Gender and Diversity" -- actually funded by Gupta's accuser.
And after Montalbano made the astonishingly bad decision to personally call Berdahl to complain about her blog post, the UBC chair was forced to leave his position over concerns about academic freedom -- perhaps a touch of poetic justice.
But Montalbano's departure hardly changes the fact that like in Shakespeare's play Hamlet -- something is still rotten in the state of Denmark.
And as Gupta now haunts UBC like the murdered King Hamlet's ghost, Clark and Wilkinson must know that there will be no resolution to this power play until the truth is told.
UPDATE – While the questions still remain about what happened and what role the BC government played in Arvind Gupta’s departure, another UBC Board Members has resigned.
Greg Peet left after stories came out about his alleged avoidance of $1 million in corporate taxes. Peet was one of the UBC Governors involved in meeting Gupta shortly before he resigned.
|BC Education Minister Mike Bernier visits students actually in front of computers|
Tuesday January 26, 2016
By Bill Tieleman
"You don't actually have to be sitting in front of a computer to learn coding. There's lots of different ways to do that."
This province has tens of thousands of students at risk daily because they attend schools that are potential earthquake disasters, and the BC Liberal government has not fixed them in 15 years.
B.C. has kids in need, young people in government care, put up in hotels by themselves because the BC Liberals haven't made appropriate housing and treatment a priority, even after one teenager fell to his death from a hotel window last year.
B.C. has failed on its goal of dramatically increasing low First Nations students high school graduation rates from 49 per cent to 85 per cent in the past 10 years, getting to just 62 per cent.
Rather than working with the province's public school teachers, it is at war with them -- with another Supreme Court of Canada case coming up -- and if the BC Teachers' Federation wins, thousands of new teachers will be hired.
With all that to fix, what education improvement does Premier Christy Clark announce at a photo opportunity last week at the BC Tech Summit?
That computer coding will be taught in classrooms. Seriously. And Education Minister Mike Bernier says there's no additional money for computers, training, teachers or anything else -- just an order to do it.
Apparently Bernier thinks that's easy -- why would you need a computer to learn computer coding for goodness sakes?
I guess Bernier thinks you don't need a car to learn how to drive or a piano to learn how to play either, but I'd bet that's not how Formula One champions or Elton John got their start.
It boggles the mind that these education illiterates are in charge of our kids' education.
Tech ed reality check
Leave it to an actual computer science educator to spell out the obvious flaws in the BC Liberal announcement.
"If we are regarding coding at a similar level, in their view, as woodworking, a vocational skill, then do you not need tools and wood to do woodworking?" asks Melody Ma, a Vancouver advocate for kids learning coding.
"I'm a web developer, and it's pretty hard to go to work and tap on the tables to actually code. That's why 'computer science' has the word 'computer' in it," Ma says.
But Bernier and Clark clearly fail when you go past the flashy photo op phase to the reality kids face in classrooms.
BCTF President Jim Iker points out another big problem: "We've got schools that have computer labs where half the computers right now are not functioning properly."
Teach BC Libs a lesson
Fortunately, some parents and other adults have an immediate opportunity to tell the premier and minister to smarten up.
There are two by-elections on February 2 -- and while BC NDP candidate Melanie Mark is expected to easily hold Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, an upset win by the BC NDP's Jodie Wickens in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain would be a shock in a BC Liberal safe seat they won by over 2,000 votes in 2013.
And you won't need a computer to figure that message out.
UPDATE – Both NDP candidates Jodie Wickens and Melanie Mark were elected in those by-elections and sworn in as MLAs. Education was a major issue in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.