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The Spring Melt: A Time of Drastic Change

I have been at the Yukon Human Rights Commission (“YHRC”) for two months now. I’ve been hesitant to write this blog entry. I didn’t want it to be just a microphone for my own crazy adventures and experiences – of which there has been plenty. I also however, had fears of trying to speak about the reality here with any sort of authority, of which I have none. I will try my best to write a composition of both my experiences, and what I have been told by others. In doing so, I hope to shed light on Whitehorse and the Yukon, without masking it in the viewpoint of what a southerner thinks it is.

I arrived here after the most visually mesmerizing plane ride I’ve ever had the privilege of being on. I witnessed the British Columbian coast, south and north, all while my plane chased the midnight sun. It felt as if I was flying west, as the sun wouldn’t set – but I had to remind myself I was flying north, to Whitehorse. I landed around 11pm, with the sun still on the horizon.

The next day, my exceptionally kind landlords drove me around Whitehorse and introduced me to the city. Whitehorse is mostly built into the river valley of the Yukon River. Having lived most of my life in Toronto and Montreal, it certainly felt like a small town. However, after two months here, I see it as a small town with big city syndrome. It has all the charms you expect from a small town – the kindest and most generous people, small shops with history – while having all the amenities you expect from a big city. I’ve never once felt there was something I needed or wanted that I couldn’t find – unless it was Sunday and the buses weren’t running.

We drove into Miles Canyon and up to the view point. While I was already struck by the towering mountains surrounding the river valley during my two days there, I was completely overwhelmed by the vast wilderness in front of me. It was an ocean of trees, and instead of plankton, fish, dolphins and whales being hidden by the water – ants, porcupines, elk, and bears were hidden by the trees. A few weeks later, I was told by my landlords that I had been a breath of fresh air for them, because while the Yukon was still transitioning from its winter white to its summer green, my amazement with the surroundings reminded them how beautiful it really was. And it really is.

During the next four weeks, the Yukon was having its spring melt: the half-meter thick ice sheets which covered parts of the river and its banks disappeared completely within two weeks; flowers bloomed on plants you wouldn’t think flower; snowy mountain peaks lost most of their snow. As the environment was undergoing a drastic seasonal change, the town was also coming alive. Patios sprung up. Runners and bikers could be seen everywhere. International bike relays across mountain passes and international borders (Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay) took place. The Yukon River Quest took place – the world’s longest annual paddle race, crossing through five First Nations. For a city of nearly thirty thousand people, it seemed to have the heart and energy of thirty million.


International Bike Relay: Anxiously Waiting to Start my Leg


Throughout this time, I was working at the YHRC. I had to learn the Commission’s vast procedures, how to take inquiries, how to help draft complaints, and how to conduct my own investigations. I had to learn a vast amount of skills in a short period of time.

This isn’t to say I didn’t also have to learn a substantial amount of law during my time here. The vast amount of law created by human rights tribunals and boards, in relation to different areas of law – employment, services, landlord and tenancies, and others – provide for a broad and sweeping area of law with numerous intersections. The very real difficulties in translating complex legal human rights issues into something practical and fair on the ground is nothing short of a significant challenge. Reading about the case law, from the Supreme Court defining a test for the duty to accommodate, to tribunals applying it to a myriad of different and complex situations, has given me a new appreciation for the important and delicate task of balancing various rights and duties which administrative commissions and tribunals perform on a daily basis. The impact on lives – both on an individual level, and on a systemic scale – can’t be understated.

I had the luck of working at the YHRC in the year they hosted the annual CASHRA conference – The Time is now: Change and Innovation in Human Rights Today. I had the opportunity of learning from those working at the cutting edge of human rights, both in law and other disciplines. What I appreciated most was the Northern context infused into the conference.

During the lighting of the Sacred Fire, I had the opportunity to learn from three Elders of the Vuntut Gwichin, Kwanlin Dün, and Champagne Aishihik First Nations about the fire, its tradition across different Nations in Canada, and their lineage, culture, and history about the fire, its tradition across First Nations in Canada, and their lineage, culture, and history. While they spoke, it was quiet around the fire. Their words carried a heavy weight, along with some light-hearted humor at times. One of the Elder’s grandson was present as well. At one point, they explained to us how, as children, they do not ask questions. Instead, for years and years they listen, learning as much as they can. Once invited to ask questions, one of us at the fire asked why this was so. The Elder explained that to ask a question is itself an act of judgement. The question defines the parameters of the conversation, and limits what can be said.

This stuck with me throughout the conference, and still is on my mind. It seems antithetical to how I was brought up – to ask questions whenever they came to my mind (albeit respectfully, without interrupting someone). That to learn is to actively engage, and to actively engage is to ask those questions. I was taught in my first year of law school during my Integration Week course, that key to a negotiation is determining your own interests and the other parties’. The way to do so, is to listen attentively, and then repeat to the party what you understood, following up with questions for clarity. Thinking about what the Elder had said, this act is also judgement, as it defines the conversation on your – the listener’s – terms. It takes ownership of both the listener’s interests, and the speaker’s, and works to find a solution off this newly defined framework. By restating someone’s words as your own, you are losing part of what was said. It seems paradoxical to encourage learning through an action which seems to encourage the loss of knowledge in translation. It is also at odds with the goal of negotiations, which is to devise a mutually benefiting arrangement – to grow the pie, and not just divide it.

About a week earlier, we had had a visitor from Human Rights Watch at our office. She was researching food security issues in Canada’s North. While Whitehorse has its challenges – for example, I was told by my landlords in my first week to expect perishable grocery items to last around half the time they do down south – it is incomparable to fly-in northern communities like Old Crow, and a large proportion of northern communities in Nunavut and the North-West Territories.

The topic of greenhouses as a solution came up. Our Director swiftly noted that while they can be useful to a limited degree, they are far from being a sufficient solution. It struck me, because coming from the south, all I had ever heard about greenhouses had been that they are the solution. Certainly, there have been useful greenhouses built in the North. However, I began to wonder who those successes were for – for us southerners, to feel as if we contributed and fixed their problems – or for the actual people the greenhouses were meant to serve. There is something to be said in paying attention to the means as much as the ends. Perhaps if we truly listened, we would all get to a better future faster, together.

“Para los pobres, no hay justicia”

“There is no justice for the poor”.[1]

All throughout my legal education, I have encountered this statement. In my Law & Poverty class, we examined the many ways laws have contributed to poverty. We discussed how often those in the most precarious of situations find themselves without legal representation due to the expensive fees of lawyers and the various limitations on legal aid in Quebec. When volunteering at McGill’s Legal Information Clinic, I spoke to clients facing hardship who were limited by a confusing and inaccessible justice system. And – at a public hearing during my internship this summer at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [2], I encountered this statement again – this time directly expressed by a grieving mother who had lost her son.[3]

The Court in session on May 25, 2018.

On March 20, 1999, Walter Munárriz Escobar disappeared after being supposedly detained by police in Lircay, Peru. Although Peru posited that he was released, the Inter-American Commission argued that there was no documentary evidence of that release, that the testimonies brought forward by the State alleging to the release of Munárriz Escobar did not meet the Court’s minimum standards of credibility, and that there was evidence that Munárriz Escobar was subject to physical and verbal abuse while in the custody of the State.[4] Almost twenty years had passed since he disappeared, with the inadequate investigations of the State yielding few results.

During the hearing, I observed the many ways justice is limited for the poor.

First, I watched Munárriz Escobar´s mother, Gladys Justina Escobar Candiotti, testify to how the disappearance of her son changed her and her family´s lives. She declared the above statement in response to an interrogation by one of the judges – this was her first time speaking in a Court – she was never given the opportunity to testify to her son´s disappearance in Peru. She claimed that her family was economically worse-off since he had helped provide for them since her husband had passed. She described her limited access to justice given the many institutional, procedural and legal barriers she encountered throughout the entire process.

Second, as the hearing progressed, I watched the representatives of Peru question Escobar Candiotti. They spoke quickly, in legalese, and showed little empathy. They formulated their questions using complicated words and by making reference to procedural irregularities she knew nothing about. It was clear that Escobar Candiotti did not understand all of their questions.[5] Their inaccessible use of language is another way justice limits the poor – this mirrored the incomprehension I often witnessed parties experience during court visits in Montreal. I thought about whether any guidance was provided to the State representatives on the manner of questioning victims in the courtroom. I wondered if the Court could intervene.  Article 52(4) of The Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights indicates than they can.[6]  However, it still remains unclear as to whether this can apply to the victim´s comprehension of a question and to what extent the Court can intervene. Witnessing this part of the hearing reaffirmed my belief that justice is limited for the poor if legal proceedings are tainted with jargon and if legal actors fail to ensure that non-legal actors are fully aware of the nature of proceedings directly affecting them.

Third, I listened to Escobar Candiotti make her closing statements, and emotionally appeal for her son´s remains, declaring that all she wanted was “justice”, “justice to feel closure, justice so that her other children could also feel closure”.[7] The President of the Court directly responded to her plea in pronouncing that “this court administers justice, Inter-American justice”.[8] Witnessing this made me think about how the Court has successfully helped provide a space for so many to achieve justice. The point of public hearings is to allow victims to speak out publicly and to allow for the acts of States and their agents to no longer be shrouded in secrecy. Yet, so many individuals remain left behind. This is exemplified in the statistical data on the activities of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).[9] In 2017, the IACHR received 2494 petitions. 473 were opened for processing and out of those, 17 were submitted to the Court for adjudication.[10] While cases must first be processed by the Commission, and while they may be resolved before making it to the Court, and while the Court definitely does not have enough resources to hear every case, these circumstances do not preclude the reality that many victims of human rights violations in the Americas are left without the opportunity to even make it to the preliminary stages of the Inter-American system. Only State parties and the Commission can refer contentious cases to the Court. Many are left without the opportunity to seek justice.

My experience so far in Costa Rica has been wonderful. I have been privileged to meet extremely kind, intelligent and inspiring individuals. I feel extremely lucky to be here. However, I won´t forget that day. I keep thinking back to Gladys Justina Escobar Candiotti, and to the Court´s role, and my role within and beyond this internship, in working towards a world where justice is an opportunity for all.

My colleagues and I during the session on May 25, 2018.

[1]See 49:48 of Caso Munárriz Escobar y otros Vs. Perú (Audiencia Pública 25-05-2018). Found here: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/galeria-multimedia-en.html

[2] The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the judicial organ of the Inter-American human rights system. With the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and under the umbrella of the Organization of American States (OAS), it contributes to the protection of human rights in the Americas.  It is located in San José, Costa Rica. It holds hearings on a part-time basis. For a quick explanation of the Court, please see: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/tablas/abccorte/abc/6/index.html

[3] Public hearing of Caso Munárriz Escobar y otros Vs. Perú (Audiencia Pública 25-05-2018), held at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on May 25, 2018.

[4] Please see: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/tramite/munarriz_escobar_y_otros.pdf

[5] See 36:50 and 38:14 of Caso Munárriz Escobar y otros Vs. Perú (Audiencia Pública 25-05-2018). Found here: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/galeria-multimedia-en.html

[6] Article 52(4): “The Presidency shall have the faculty of deciding the pertinence of questions posed and of excusing the party being questioned from answering, unless the Court deems otherwise. Leading questions shall not be admitted”. Please see:http://www.corteidh.or.cr/sitios/reglamento/nov_2009_ing.pdf

[7] See 57:46 of Caso Munárriz Escobar y otros Vs. Perú (Audiencia Pública 25-05-2018). Found here: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/galeria-multimedia-en.html

[8] See 58:20 of Caso Munárriz Escobar y otros Vs. Perú (Audiencia Pública 25-05-2018). Found here: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/galeria-multimedia-en.html

[9] Under the American Convention on Human Rights, cases can be referred to the Court by the IACHR or a Member State. The Court is a measure of last resort; cases can only referred to the Court by the Commission once the State has failed to comply with the recommendations made by the Commission in their process.

[10] For 2017 statistics, see:  http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/multimedia/statistics/statistics.html

Rivers and Borders: Environmental Protection in Akwesasne Mohawk Territory

The Mohawk community of Akwesasne is connected by rivers and divided by international and provincial borders. It sits at the confluence of three rivers—the Raquette, the St. Regis, and the mighty St. Lawrence—which serve as highways, trade routes, and reliable sources of fish. Akwesasne also sits at the intersection of three settler jurisdictions—Ontario, Quebec, and New York State—giving rise to jurisdictional issues that complicate Mohawk efforts to protect the rivers from harm.

The health of the rivers, and their ability to provide healthy food, has been degraded by heavy industry, hydroelectric development, and the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. These developments continue to have adverse effects on the environment, restricting the ability of Akwesasro:non to fully engage in fishing and other subsistence harvesting activities. Although heavy industry has largely disappeared from the shores of the St. Lawrence River, its legacy persists in local wildlife and the contaminated riverbed, with enduring health consequences for Akwesasro:non and other local people.

Akwesasro:non have won partial compensation for these environmental harms, but they continue to fight for enhanced environmental cleanup and a leadership role in environmental management. These efforts are complicated, however, by the complex jurisdictional arena.

Akwesasne Conservation and Compliance Officers on patrol in the St. Lawrence River

The international border divides Akwesasne into two parts: the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation (in the United States) and the Akwesasne Indian Reserve (in Canada). The Canadian reserve lands are further divided into three districts: Kana:takon (or St. Regis Village) and Tsi Snaihne (or Snye) in Quebec, and Kawehno:ke (or Cornwall Island) in Ontario.

The Akwesasne Justice Department, under the Indian Act band council government in Canada, has sought to exercise Akwesasne jurisdiction in environmental protection. Legislative development and enforcement efforts are making significant progress in this area, despite ongoing capacity issues and the reluctance of settler governments to cooperate.

Akwesasne has an acute interest in the management and conservation of fish and their habitat. It aims to exercise its jurisdiction in this area by enforcing its own environmental laws. It is currently updating a 1989 Wildlife Conservation Law and drafting a new water law, which should improve its ability to protect the rivers and wildlife on Akwesasne Lands.

The rivers of Akwesasne have been negatively impacted by industrial pollution from both Canada and the United States. Decades of dumping from now-shuttered factories—including the Domtar pulp mill in Cornwall (Ontario) and the General Motors and Reynolds Metals/Alcoa facilities in Massena (New York)—has resulted in the accumulation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, and other pollutants in the ecosystem. Efforts to dredge up, remove, or cap contaminated river sediments have been somewhat successful, but pollutants continue to circulate in the ecosystem and affect human health.

The health risks of consuming contaminated fish must be weighed against the cultural value of subsistence harvesting in Indigenous communities. Akwesasne governments advised Akwesasro:non to restrict their consumption of locally caught fish when the health risks emerged, but some consumption still occurs; fish remain an important component of the diet of many Akwesasro:non. Fishing also helps to reaffirm the connection between Akwesasro:non and the natural environment, thus serving an important cultural role in the community.

The author on a ride-along with Akwesasne Conservation and Compliance Officers

The constraints of the Indian Act have not stopped Akwesasne from exercising its inherent right to govern its lands and waters. Akwesasne Laws are being applied to protect the rivers and wildlife on Akwesasne Lands, despite jurisdictional uncertainties regarding enforcement powers and the authority of the Akwesasne Court—established in 2016—to adjudicate legal issues.

The Akwesasne Court has been tacitly accepted by the Canadian federal government, but full formal recognition from Canada, Ontario, and Quebec remains elusive. Apart from the 2013 Iatathróna Raotiientáhtsera ‘Couples Property’ Law, which uses the Akwesasne Court to adjudicate matrimonial real property issues, no Akwesasne Law with an explicit Akwesasne Court role has been formally approved by the federal government. Inter-governmental agreements are needed to formalize the Akwesasne Court’s jurisdiction and clarify its relationship with the courts in Canada, Ontario, and Quebec. Internal review and appeal processes will ideally capture most legal challenges, but Akwesasne Laws will need to be respected (and potentially enforced) by outside courts as well.

Akwesasne Conservation and Compliance Officers have been actively enforcing Akwesasne Laws, despite many of these laws—originally formulated as Indian Act bylaws—being formally disallowed by Indian Affairs pre-2000. Akwesasne Laws are now developed and enforced under Akwesasne’s inherent authority as a self-determining and self-governing First Nation. The federal government has not seriously challenged these laws or Akwesasne’s authority to enforce them, suggesting tacit approval. In addition, Akwesasne enforcement efforts have not been opposed by outside enforcement agencies. The Akwesasne Officers are beginning to gain the support of their provincial, state, and federal counterparts.

I recently observed Akwesasne enforcement efforts in a “ride-along” with Akwesasne Conservation and Compliance Officers. We spent a Saturday in June on the St. Lawrence River enforcing the 1989 Wildlife Conservation Law, including a requirement for non-Akwesasro:non fishermen to carry an Akwesasne fishing permit. We approached several boats with fishing lines in the water, but none of them—on this day—had their permit. Most of the fishermen pleaded ignorance and complained about the unclear jurisdictional boundaries. These are Akwesasne waters? I didn’t know. The officers did not write any tickets, but they invited the fishermen to buy the $10 year-long permits from them or at a local marina.

Akwesasne Laws encouraging responsible fishing are just one element of the community’s efforts to protect the rivers and wildlife. Although their relationship with outside courts and enforcement agencies remains somewhat murky, Akwesasne Laws have the potential to significantly improve ecosystem and community health. And with the authority of Akwesasro:non and their elected governments behind them, they are likely to gain the recognition needed for deepened environmental cooperation with settler governments.

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp

Tansi/Ai’!

On May 5th, I arrived in Saskatoon, at the heart of the Canadian prairies. I had never been to Western Canada before, so the flat lands of Saskatchewan felt very exotic to me. Two days after my arrival, I began my internship at the Native Law Centre, at the University of Saskatchewan. (On another note, the University of Saskatchewan’s campus is gorgeous but incredibly large – I still get lost in it. And to my bewilderment, I have heard some UofS students complain that it is too small. They should see some of the McGill buildings, squeezed between office towers in downtown Montreal!) The Native Law Centre, a department within the College of Law that has its offices in the Law Building, was founded in 1975 by College of Law Dean Dr. Roger C. Carter to “facilitate access to legal education for Aboriginal peoples, to promote the development of the law and the legal system in Canada in ways which better accommodate the advancement of Aboriginal peoples and communities, and to disseminate information concerning Aboriginal peoples and the law.”[1]

I quickly found out that the time at which I came to the Centre was special for two reasons. The first one jumped at me minutes after I set foot in the Centre: it was the first day of the NLC Summer Program, an intensive, 8-week Property Law course to prepare the 52 future Indigenous law students to attend law school in the fall. There was a whole welcoming committee for them and opening ceremonies and lunches followed for the week. The second reason was more of interest to me (not that I don’t like law students and free lunches): the Centre was ongoing a restructuring and revitalising process, which meant that many initiatives of the Centre began around the time that I arrived. Most importantly, as a means of Indigenizing it, the Centre was given the Cree name Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp, meaning law lodge or law tipi, while I was there.  I was assigned to do a few things (summaries, research…) but mainly to one of the new projects, the Gladue Awareness Project.

Of course, I had learned about Gladue and its application to the sentencing of aboriginal offenders in my criminal justice class, but I was under the impression that it was applied almost all the time an aboriginal offender was to be sentenced. When it comes to Saskatchewan, I was wrong. It is difficult to get numbers as to how many Gladue reports have been made in the province, but we have heard numbers ranging from 5 to 30 (30 seems to be the more realistic one). However, regardless of the amount of Gladue reports that have been written, the high incarceration rates of Indigenous offenders that the Gladue decision is meant to prevent are very much present in “the land of living skies”. It is estimated that Aboriginals constitute about 77% of the adult inmate population in Saskatchewan, while they represent about 16% of the total provincial population.[2] I was shocked by this: I wanted to understand why so many Indigenous people would be denied their freedom in Saskatchewan, more so than in other provinces, especially when considering the indecently high amount of dangerous offender designations among them. These numbers of course cannot be solely attributed to under-application of the Gladue and Ipeelee decisions. They speak of bigger problems, echoed in the two Supreme Court judgments: the inter-generational trauma created by residential schools, colonialism, lack of housing and overcrowded dwellings, substance abuse, FASD, loss of culture and family structure, and, most of all, lack of resources. But before tackling these problems, it is crucial to tackle their application to sentencing. Nevertheless, it becomes difficult to find ways to apply the Gladue factors to modify a sentence, when there is no programming available to place offenders in. I will address this in another post.

The Gladue Awareness Project aims to educate justice personnel and Indigenous communities as to the application of the Gladue and Ipeelee decisions, but also to create discussion as to how the issue of the over-incarceration of Indigenous offenders can be addressed. One of the ways the NLC did this was by developing materials – booklets and pamphlets – that educate about Gladue and that are to be distributed to courtrooms and Indigenous communities all over Saskatchewan. The main way though, is by preparing interactive seminars on Gladue that are currently and will be presented throughout Saskatchewan to those who participate in the criminal justice system. The discussions and solutions, suggestions proposed will be included in a final report, written by the Gladue Awareness Project Officer, Regina lawyer Michelle Brass. My role in this project has been to assist Michelle (a Saulteaux lawyer specializing in Indigenous and Environmental Law and an all-around amazing person) with editing the booklets and pamphlets, researching information and Saskatchewan cases and coordinating the seminars. I also got to help out at two of the seminars, which I will discuss in another post.

My experience so far in this project has been very eye-opening. I have learned a lot of things about project management and the application of the Supreme Court decisions by the Saskatchewan courts, but the most important things I have learned have been about the disparities that exist within a single country – my country. I did not think I would be shocked by the Indigenous realities in the Prairies, since I myself come from an Inuit community in Northern Quebec. However, while my community and other Inuit and James Bay Cree communities have certain social and justice programs – including a lot of Gladue reports and alternative justice measures – in place because of Land Claims Agreements, that is not the case in Saskatchewan. The optimism of the Supreme Court seemed out of touch with the reality of the Prairies.

Nevertheless, I also had a lot of positive experiences learning about First Nations and Métis cultures in Saskatchewan. Being Inuk, I did not know much about First Nations and Métis cultures, which are very different from Inuit culture. During the first weeks of my internship, I got to see grass dancers, a tipi raising and a traditional Plains Cree pipe-smoking ceremony that took place during the naming ceremony for the Centre. I got to sit in on a customary adoption seminar, during which First Nations elders discussed their experiences and the customary laws surrounding the practices. I also got to visit the traditional buffalo-hunting grounds of the Plains Cree and learn about many of their traditions (hunting, different properties of plants, tipi making, hoop dancing…) at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park just outside of Saskatoon. Most importantly though, I got to speak with people (students, professors, employees of the Centre…) from all over the country, which made me learn about their respective Indigenous cultures that I would have probably never heard of, had I stayed in Québec.

Grass dancer at the naming ceremony at the Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre

Tipi raising – the before

Tipi raised – the after

Before I end this blog post, I would really recommend that you (the reader of this blog post) go check out the art of Cree artist Allen Sapp from Red Pheasant First Nation (just an hour and a half North of Saskatoon) C’est mon coup de coeur de la Saskatchewan!

[1] Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre, “Native Law Centre”, (9 July 2018), online: <https://www.usask.ca/nativelaw/>.

[2] R v Halkett, 2016 SKPC 65, at para 61, [2016] S.J. No. 321 [Halkett].

Des histoires pour guérir

Bien le bonjour! Salam aleikoum!

Voilà deux mois que je suis au Maroc. J’y suis en mode ‘petite éponge’ : j’écoute et tente d’absorber tout le savoir et la sagesse que l’on me partage. Rencontre après rencontre, je savoure les histoires que l’on me partage et c’est ainsi que je prends conscience de leur pouvoir. Alors, laissez-moi vous en conter quelques-unes.

« Tu pourrais jouer de la musique pour les arbres ? Ça les aide. » Voilà ce que vous dira Taha, un jeune amoureux de toutes formes de vie qui vit sur une ferme charmante à l’écart de Rabat où pousse une armée de citronniers. C’est après s’être embrouillé avec l’administration canadienne sur des questions d’attestations d’études et de visas, qu’il est rentré au Maroc, le corps marqué par le stress, les cheveux un peu plus blancs. Une visite nostalgique à la ferme abandonnée de ses parents, un coup de tête, un coup de pelle, et il décidait de reprendre la situation en main, d’y faire de l’agriculture biologique et de prendre soins de quelques animaux, dont une jument. Un matin, Taha l’a retrouvé étalée sur le sol, mal en point. On soupçonnait de multiples fractures au niveau des hanches et du dos. Voisins et vétérinaires lui ont dit : « c’est fini, il n’y a plus qu’à l’abattre ». Taha n’a pas aimé cette version de l’histoire. Il a construit un système de poulies pour suspendre la jument dans les airs. Matin et soir, il venait lui parler et lui porter des concoctions à base d’eau de cactus et d’avoine. Trois mois plus tard, la jument était guérie.

J’ai été touchée par cette histoire de guérison dite impossible parce que Taha n’avait pas le savoir, les outils ou les médicaments des vétérinaires, mais il avait la volonté de voir l’histoire se continuer. Et en effet, aujourd’hui sa jument est forte, rapide et grosse d’un poulain.

Dans l’immeuble où j’habite, il y a une vieille dame avec qui j’ai pris le thé une fois. Une main sur mon genou, le regard fixe, elle m’a raconté qu’elle avait fait la rencontre d’un Canadien, « oh ! il y a de cela plusieurs années, dans ma jeunesse », tient-elle à préciser. Il est arrivé au Maroc en fier médecin. Il venait guérir les gens grâce à son expertise médicale et son savoir du corps humain. Des mois plus tard, cet homme refusait qu’on l’appelle médecin. « Je suis un conteur », disait-il. « Un conteur qui guérit les gens à leur racontant des histoires ». Ce n’était plus à coup de scalpels, seringues et prescriptions que cet homme apportait guérison, mais grâce à ses mots qui portaient avec eux les faiblesses, mais surtout les forces du corps et de l’esprit humain.

« La guérison par les histoires, c’est joli », j’ai pensé. Mais comment les histoires peuvent-elles apporter guérison aux maux des personnes, des sociétés et de l’humanité ?

C’est dans le cadre d’une recherche sur la justice transitionnelle pour mon stage que j’ai pris conscience du rôle des histoires pour la guérison d’une nation, par exemple, suite à un régime violent et répressif. Au Maroc, on vous parlera des années de plomb sous Hassan II. Face aux efforts de justice transitionnelle du royaume, certains m’ont dit « il faut tourner la pagenous avons changé de roi, c’est une autre époque, c’est de l’histoire ». D’autres, comme Souad, une femme adorable que j’ai rencontré à Meknès, qui est née alors que son père était en prison pour s’être opposé au régime, m’ont dit que les sommes d’argent reçues ne valaient presque rien. « On n’a toujours pas reconnu l’importance du travail de personnes comme mon père, les familles, les vies brisées ».

Le justice transitionnelle est un processus de guérison et de reconnaissance. Pour guérir, il faut découvrir l’histoire passée, rechercher la vérité, les corps, les victimes, les responsables. Il faut conter cette histoire, l’inscrire dans la conscience collective, éviter qu’elle ne se répète. Bergson a dit « toute conscience est mémoire, conservation et accumulation du passé dans le présent ». Nous ne sommes pas déterminés par le passé, nous y donnons un sens en construisant le présent. Tels que nous le rappellent les rapports des commissions de vérité de l’Amérique latine : « No hay mañana sin ayer ».

La reconnaissance pour guérir passe par le droit à la vérité et le devoir de mémoire. La guérison ce n’est pas que le rétablissement physique d’une personne blessée ou une indemnisation pour la disparition forcée d’un membre de sa famille, la guérison prend place aussi dans les théâtres communautaires afghans qui offrent une scène aux victimes pour discuter des leurs expériences, des conflits, et des solutions de paix ; lors d’échanges de paniers de nourriture et de coquillages entre des groupes en conflit dans les îles Salomon ; et par la publication de rapports des commissions de vérité de la Sierra Leone en versions illustrées pour les enfants.

« Le problème ici c’est que les histoires elles sont manipulées par ceux au pouvoir. Et s’ils ne parviennent pas à la changer comme ils veulent, ils évitent d’en parler et les laissent mourir tranquillement ». Assises à déguster un ftour dans le salon, ma colocataire, étudiante en journalisme, me rappelle, qu’au Maroc et ailleurs, toute personne peut raconter une histoire et c’est le contrôle de la narration dominante qui est alors un véritable jeu de pouvoir. « Tu vois, c’est comme ces centaines de personnes arrêtées pour avoir participer aux manifestations dans le Rif, on n’en parle presque plus ». C’est suite au décès de Mohcine Fikri, un poissonnier qui fut broyé par une benne à ordures en tentant de s’opposer à la saisie de sa marchandise, que le peuple s’est rassemblé en 2016 et 2017 pour demander le développement de cette région enclavée du Nord depuis longtemps abandonnée par l’État. Les manifestations ont été violemment réprimées et des centaines de personnes se trouvent toujours derrière les barreaux dans l’attente de leur procès.

Ce n’est que tout récemment, suite à de lourdes peines prononcées à l’encontre des principaux dirigeants du mouvement Hirak, qu’on se mobilise une fois de plus à travers le pays pour dénoncer la situation des prisonniers du Rif et rappeler leurs demandes. C’est un combat pour que leur récit, et celle de la région, ne soit pas réduit au silence.

Voilà l’importance et le pouvoir des histoires. Pour l’individu, raconter une histoire c’est explorer son récit interne et reprendre contrôle de la narration de sa vie. C’est créer et s’externaliser. Pour la société, c’est inscrire dans la conscience collective le passé, dénoncer le présent. C’est guérir et bâtir des communautés.

Alors, racontons-nous des histoires.

 

La guérison par l’histoire ici et là : l’initiative I walk with Her et Kayna qui permet aux femmes de partager leurs histoires et de marcher à la conquête de l’espace public, le projet #Me/We dans les camps de réfugiés syriens, le livre Cree « The Sweet Bloods of Eeyou Istchee » pour aider à guérir les personnes qui ont le diabète…

‘Bon’ et ‘mauvais’

Par Elisabeth Beauchamp

L’organisation au sein de laquelle je travaille en Serbie est vouée à la promotion et à la protection des droits des personnes handicapées, notamment à travers l’implémentation de la Convention relative aux droits des personnes handicapées (la « Convention » ci-dessous) dans le pays.

Depuis mon arrivée, j’ai eu l’occasion de visiter plusieurs organismes et institutions qui offrent des services aux personnes ayant des déficiences intellectuelles, en Serbie et en Bulgarie. L’organisme dans lequel je travaille a une vision spécifique de la manière dont la Convention doit être traduite, et peut être assez critique des diverses initiatives communautaires, si ces dernières ne se conforment pas intégralement à la Convention.

Il y a encore en Serbie plusieurs institutions où enfants et adultes sont confinés. Après avoir visité l’une de ces institutions, rencontré les gens qui y vivent et entendu leurs histoires, je peux affirmer avec certitude que ce n’est pas un endroit où il fait bon vivre. (Néanmoins, dans ces institutions j’ai fait des rencontres belles et émouvantes, que j’espère pouvoir décrire dans une prochaine publication). Récemment, avec le support de certains donateurs internationaux, des organismes ont commencé à sortir certains enfants de ces institutions pour les placer dans des foyers de groupe. L’organisme auprès duquel je travaille se prononce fermement à l’encontre de ces foyers de groupe pour enfants, qui à leur avis, perpétue la culture de l’institutionnalisation; ils insistent sur le fait que ce dont les enfants ont besoin, c’est d’être dans une famille, et appuyant leur positions sur les conventions internationales. Une telle approche est provocante pour moi; à première vue, ce ne me semble pas évident que l’établissement de ces foyers est une chose intrinsèquement mauvaise, surtout en comparaison avec les institutions dans lesquelles des enfant sont présentement confinés. Évidemment, l’idéal serait que chaque enfant puisse vivre dans sa famille. Toutefois, ces initiatives méritent-elles la qualification de « mauvaises »?

La semaine dernière, nous nous sommes rendus à Sofia, en Bulgarie, pour rencontrer d’autres personnes qui travaillent dans la promotion des droits des personnes handicapées. Des ONG en Bulgarie ont déposé une ébauche de projet de loi qui implémenterait l’article 12 de la Convention, prévoyant l’abolition du système de tutelle et remplaçant ce dernier par un système d’« aide à la prise de décision » (‘supported decision-making’), ce que mon organisme voudrait accomplir en Serbie. Lors de cette visite, nous avons visité divers organismes communautaires. L’un d’eux était un centre de jour pour personnes adultes ayant des déficiences intellectuelles. La plupart des usagers vivent chez leurs parents et fréquentent ce centre pendant la journée, où certains font la cuisine et participent à une entreprise de service de traiteur, et d’autres participent à des activités telles que des cours de peinture et de poterie. La plupart des personnes qui fréquentent ce centre ont été privées de capacité juridique, et n’ont donc pas le droit d’avoir un emploi rémunéré. À première vue, encore une fois, cette initiative communautaire ne m’a pas paru problématique: l’endroit était propre et spacieux, les employés qui y travaillaient avaient l’air dévoués à leur travail, et avaient l’air de se soucier du bien-être des usagers. Ils m’avaient l’air d’opérer, de leur mieux, dans les limites imposées par un système juridique rigide et archaique. Toutefois, en sortant du centre, mes collègues étaient unanimement outrés par ses pratiques, qui à leur avis étaient ‘mauvaises’ puisqu’elles infantilisaient les usagers, et n’implémentaient pas du tout le « changement de paradigme » du modèle médical au modèle social du handicap prévu par la Convention. Après y avoir réfléchi un peu plus longuement, j’ai constaté que les observations de mes collègues étaient en partie fondées.

Néanmoins, ces expériences me poussent à me questionner sur le rôle et les limites de la Convention. Alors qu’il me semble impératif que les personnes ne soient pas forcées de rester dans des conditions atroces dans les institutions contre leur gré, ou que le droit par rapport à la capacité juridique soit réformé, le langage manichéen du « bon » et du « mauvais » utilisé par les personnes citant la Convention pour juger du travail des autres me semble parfois manquer de nuance. Autrement dit,  alors que la Convention me semble un instrument pertinent pour empêcher l’État de bafouer les droits fondamentaux des personnes, la Convention est-elle un instrument légitime pour dévaloriser toutes les initiatives qui ne s’y conforment pas à la lettre?

Un de aspects critiqués par mes collègues lors de cette dernière visite était le rôle trop important que le centre permettait aux parents des usagers de jouer dans la vie de ces derniers, qui, encore une fois selon eux, ne respectait pas les principes d’indépendance et d’autonomie garantis par la Convention. La Convention elle-même peut-elle véritablement être utilisée pour dire, par exemple, à des parents qu’ils n’aiment pas leurs enfants correctement? Est-elle un guide moral absolu? J’espère approfondir ces question pendant le reste de mon séjour.

Sur une autre note, la Serbie me plaît chaque jour davantage alors que je découvre son histoire, ses montagnes, sa langue et son peuple. La semaine dernière, un ami et moi avons visité le Musée national de la Serbie, qui venait d’ouvrir ses portes après quinze ans de rénovations. J’ai été véritablement émerveillée, car le musée présentait, à travers l’art,  toute l’histoire de la Serbie, à partir de l’ère paléolithique, en passant par les périodes d’occupation par l’Empire romain, par l’époque du Royaume de la Serbie, par  celle de l’occupation par l’Empire ottoman, tout en révélant l’art orthodoxe du Moyen âge, celui issu du royaume de la Yougoslavie, de la république de Yougoslavie, pour finalement en arriver à l’époque contemporaine.

Certains éléments culturels et historiques continuent de me surprendre, tels que la découverte d’une rue qui porte le nom de Gravilo Princip et d’une statue à son effigie, alors qu’il m’était connu, depuis mon cours d’histoire de secondaire 3, comme celui qui a déclenché la Première Guerre mondiale. Ici, d’après ma compréhension, il est plutôt conçu comme un héros national, libérateur du peuple serbe. Une autre élément surprenant a été la découverte de l’existence à Belgrade d’un musée en mémoire de Tito. Après avoir discuté avec quelques personnes, il semblerait que la population serbe ait une opinion ambivalente sur ce personnage, et sur l’époque de la Yougoslavie; bien que les droits et libertés y étaient peu valorisés, on y jouissait apparemment d’une certaine prospérité économique, et la Yougoslavie était considérée comme un pouvoir important sur la scène internationale, ce que certains Serbes semblent regretter.

la montagne de Suva Planina

Une église orthodoxe construite dans la forteresse ottomane

Ainsi, la découverte de l’histoire et de la culture serbe déconstruit elle aussi, peu à peu, mes propres conceptions réductrices du ‘bon’ et du ‘mauvais’.

Guns N’ Rifles: A Free-for-All

By Léa Carresse

Illicit trade is a fascinating topic in its potential for oddity and horror. There are “things” I never thought could be smuggled or trafficked: from the innocuous, KFC chicken wings smuggled in Gaza tunnels from Egypt,[1] to the morbid, human cadavers from China, for museum exhibitions or local tradition.[2]

But it’s not just about what can or cannot be smuggled or trafficked. The way in which it can now happen is also developing. Take Cody Wilson, for example, who had the rather unusual privilege of being ranked #14 on Wired’s 2012 list of “The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World”.[3] Wilson invented the first website to share and sell blueprints for anyone who would want to create a 3D printable and downloadable gun. There’s a legal loophole in the US Gun Control Act of 1968 that Wilson takes advantage of – you can’t make a firearm for sale in the US, but it isn’t illegal to build your own gun – hence the possibility to have those gun parts sold and shipped. Recently, Wilson came up with the “Ghost Gunner”, a desktop CNC milling machine that can produce guns anywhere at any time.

Cody Wilson
Source: Raw Story

How worrying is this? On the one hand, with technology developing fast, it could be that terrorist groups such as ISIS will accelerate the production of their weapon supply by using 3D printing, with blueprints downloaded or bought on the dark web, for example.[4] The arms trade would now occur on online platforms or be domestically produced with the creation of one’s own blueprints and milling machines. On a more local level, especially in the US, it also means that firearms will be harder to trace, perhaps leading to a booming illicit trade.

On the other, it seems that the whole 3D manufacturing of a gun is still a very expensive, lengthy and tricky process, and the outcome is a weapon that is inefficient, unable to fire repeatedly and with accuracy.

The example of 3D gun printing is somewhat a digression from the maritime arms and drugs trafficking research in Africa, the Middle East and Asia that I had to complete at OEF, but it shows the possibilities for and the rapidity of expansion of the illicit arms trade.

This rapid expansion and evolution didn’t start with technology. An older example would be that of the AK-47 as the terrorist weapon of choice. Arguably the most recognizable firearm, if not weapon, in the world, the AK-47 assault rifle was created in 1947 by Russian engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov after the German Sturmgewehr, and received an update in the early 1970s with the newly branded AK-74.

What’s so great about the AK-47? It’s light, inexpensive to manufacture, incredibly sturdy and easy to manipulate (which is why child soldiers are often seen with them), and yet very deadly. A stark contrast, perhaps, from the 3D guns mentioned above.

Russian soldiers with AK-47s, a USSR symbol
Source: The Telegraph

Because AK-47s are so easy to make, they were produced in the USSR on a huge scale, and shipped to allied governments as part of deals – with Vietnam, China, Syria and Iraq, among others – some of which manufactured their own variants and fueled the black market. This in turn led to the AK-47 becoming an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist symbol, the most potent example being the Munich massacre conducted by the Black September terrorist group.[5]

The US, misjudging the rifle’s efficiency and focussing on nuclear arms, came late to the game, but had a significant hand in the distribution of the firearm, worsening the situation. The AK-47 and its legacy are still lethal today, with copies of the weapon used by Jihadi groups to perpetrate their most recent attacks, such as Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

Christian Militia in Syria using AK-47s
Source: The Daily Mail

Point being, you don’t need fancy technology for something to work and spread like wildfire. All you need is simplicity and efficiency.

As the French would say: the USSR is dead, long live the USSR!

Update: A settlement with the US government will officially make it legal for Cody Wilson to disseminate his printable gun blueprints.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2013/may/19/kfc-smugglers-of-gaza

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-37103447

[3] https://www.wired.com/2012/12/most-dangerous-people/

[4] https://www.wired.com/story/terror-industrial-complex-isis-munitions-supply-chain/

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/world/ak-47-mass-shootings.html

Responses to Nicole and Catherine

Nicole Maylor:

Like in my previous post about the work of the Stable Seas project I am very interested in the use of the word “terrorism” in the context of maritime violence/crime. One thing that stands out to me, especially when you use the example of Nelson Mandela, is the racial/racist dimension of using the terrorist label. Other than that the proceeds of these crimes may go to “terrorist organizations” the activities of pirates sound more like organized crime. What is the line between organized crime and terrorism? Is it the case that we in the West are very quick to label someone a terrorist when they are Muslim and when the victims are white Westerners?

Catherine Labasi-Sammartino:

I was struck by the following statement in your post: “the use of the law as not only a tool to solve a single fact pattern but as a tool with the potential to create population shifts and improve health conditions on a national scale”. As I have explained, I am critical of international human rights law and the way you described the use of law is one of the reasons why. I am wary of the imposition of legal rules universally – exactly because it does not take into account the specifics of the cultural/social/political/economic context. For example, it is inappropriate to hold countries with vastly different levels of wealth to the same standards of health. This is something I confront in the area of disability rights because of how expensive it is to provide the medical interventions or social supports for people with disabilities to live independently and with dignity. Further, accessibility in the built environment is hard enough for a wealthy country like Canada. It would be nearly impossible to hold every country to the same standard.

Your post also made me think about the way in which international human rights standards/norms are unidirectional. Many of the aspects of the “right to health” are predicated on a country’s level of wealth. Yet I can think of aspects of Western practices that would be unacceptable to other countries. For example, we in the West have medicalized and segregated old age. We place our family members in long term care facilities because we do not value care work that is done within the family, so for many it would be financially catastrophic for an otherwise employable adult to stay home to care for an elderly (or disabled) family member. Further, we pretend that we will be young and able-bodied forever so when we learn of abuse or neglect in nursing homes (like in Quebec where seniors are only given one shower a week) we fail to allocate more money to improve living conditions. Perhaps those involved in international human rights law ought to include the values and practices from outside the West. Like, for example, allowing seniors to age in place with the assistant of family members or other forms of home care.

Kinngait (ᑭᙵᐃᑦ)

In mid-June I had the opportunity to travel to the island of Kinngait (ᑭᙵᐃᑦ), Nunavut for circuit court. Kinngait is known as Cape Dorset in English and is located on the southern tip of the Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut.

   

[The Community Hall of Kinngait where the circuit court took place for the week. The Hall was painted by local youth.]

Kinngait is the epi-centre for Inuit art, world-renowned for its prints and carvings. The carvings are largely made from serpentinite stone which ranges in beautiful green hues. The stone is quarried from Korak Inlet and Markham Bay approximately 200miles from Kinngait. The sheer success of Inuit carvers in this region is exemplified by the quantity of rocks quarried each year: approximately 40 tons of serpentinite is quarried each summer and transported to Kinngait by boat or snowmobile.

Community members of all ages engage in carving as it has become an important mechanism for people to engage in the wage economy within Kinngait, Nunavut, and throughout the world.  Importantly however, carving is a direct expression and embodiment of Inuit culture and the land that surrounds them.

  

[Picture 1: Nocturnal Presence, Artist: Pudlo Pudlat. Picture 2: Stone Carving: Dancing Bear, Artist: Pudalik Shaa.]

The dancing bear is perhaps one of the most prominent subjects within Inuit art and first developed in Kinngait. The dancing bear symbolizes the strong relationship in Inuit culture between the natural and spiritual world. When shamans seek to communicate with those no longer living or community members in faraway places, they dance while playing drums in order to summon thetuurngaits (spirits). When a tuurngait arrives, the visible appearance of the shaman alters and his tarniq (spiritual essence) and arnirniq (breath of life) merge together with those of the tuurngait. This nexus causes the shaman to act like a bear or adopt the form of a bear while playing the drums and dancing.

The dancing bear is also one of the most difficult carvings to create as the bear is often balancing  on one limb. Palta Sala was the first artist to create the dancing bear. Throughout the years artists have been inspired by his creation and continued to create the dancing bear adding their own personal artistic touch.

During my time in Kinngait I was fortunate to visit the Dorset Fine Arts studio with numerous prints and sculptures created daily by local artists. While walking around the town I was also able to view sculptures created by local people in their homes. The art in Kinngait is truly amazing, as is the community, and land surrounding it. It is incredible to think that in a community of approximately 1,500 people their art can be found throughout Canada and the world.

  

[Picture 1: The bay of Kinngait. Picture 2: Kinngait at its darkest hour.]

The Deception of Comfort

* This post mentions sexual harassment

I feel the need to start this post off by saying that the negative experiences detailed below are in no way representative of my time in Sri Lanka thus far. In fact, I often forget they happened. This is partially because so much is constantly happening here. Yes, the pace of life is much slower than at home, but at the same time so much is new to me – the colours, the sounds, the smells, the culture, the responsibility – it all feels very happening. At times, overwhelming.

At work, I research the implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This project has involved a significant amount of field work on my part. Among other things, I have discovered that I enjoy talking to people much more than I do sitting behind a desk from 9-5, reading other people’s research. The personal connection is what has made the work interesting for me. It has also instilled in me a heavy sense of duty: to write something compelling and nuanced that grasps at the complexity of the issues people from a variety of communities have shared while also speaking to larger structural problems, but I’ll leave that for a different blog post.

I’ve also had a fair number of personal distractions. On weekends my friends and I travel, and let me tell you, other memories were quickly washed away and replaced by the time I was ejected from an inflatable boat and thrown over a few rapids whilst white water rafting. We accepted the recommendation for what the contact of a new-friend advertised as a “beginner’s” rafting adventure without much thought; the spontaneity of the decision seemed fitting in a country where plans are fluid. I’ve since been told that this activity is dangerous, especially in off-season when the water is wild from the excess rain.  Luckily, we’re all fine. We are outsiders, but we’ve become comfortable outsiders, at times trusting our surroundings to a fault.

Spontaneous decision to go rafting – before picture (when we were still smiling)

 

I could share a number of positive experiences I’ve had and ways in which I’ve made little changes to my life, not because I’ve felt particularly pressed to do so but because I am comfortable. This comfort was not present when I first arrived, but grew steadily over time. It took me three days to learn how to cross busy intersections – “you just have to start walking” – eventually I lifted my hands up like Moses parting the Red Sea and prayed for the best.  I also used to refuse to take tuk tuks alone after dark, opting for uber instead (until my friends pointed out that you can be locked into an uber). These precautionary measures marked the beginning of my stay but they aren’t what I would tell you about now. Now I would tell you about how I’ve cut my nails short and learned to eat with my hands, and how much I look forward drinking fresh and frothy fruit juices in the peak heat of the afternoon. I would describe how happy I was to discover that the pineapple here is sweet and doesn’t cause my tongue to tingle uncomfortably. I would talk about how easy it is to make friends, especially with Colombo’s large network of short-term interns. I would rave about how helpful and kind the locals have been (provided they’re not driving, at which point road-rage takes on a whole new meaning). In fact, when I got water-poisoning on a weekend away in Kandy, the hostel owner offered to drive me to the doctor’s office and find me a ride back to Colombo (approximately 120km away). All of these experiences contributed to my comfort, and feeling secure I eventually let my guard down. This process happened so steadily I don’t think I was consciously aware of it.  But at times, that comfort has betrayed me. On one occasion, my friends and I were bargaining with a tuk tuk driver. When he refused to lower his price, we moved to the next tuk, and its driver agreed to charge the amount we wanted. Before we knew it, several angry men including the previous tuk driver surrounded us, and one of them slapped our driver. My first instinct was to raise my voice and protest, luckily a good friend had the common sense to point out that we were about to be trapped in the tuk tuk and should leave before matters escalated.

On another occasion, I took the train alone between Kandy and Colombo, leaving my friends behind because I had water poisoning. I rationalized the decision to make the journey by myself because it was the middle of the day and I was sitting in the “pregnant mothers” section. To my credit, all my research pointed to these choices as safe decisions for solo female travellers: travel during the day, trains are fine, sit in the family section. But that didn’t stop the man who sat next to me from stroking my upper thigh and touching himself. If you’re wondering what happened, I promptly stood up and screamed at him until he left. My larger point here is that up until that moment, my biggest preoccupation was trying not to vomit on the train. When the man sat a little too close to me, I blamed my North American standards on personal space. After all, the train ride over was so packed people were practically falling out of the doors – western rules on capacity definitely don’t apply here. When the strange behavior persisted, I told myself I was being paranoid. I refused to trust my own instincts.

unclear whether being pregnant makes you a mother or whether the sign required one to be pregnant and have a born child to qualify, but that’s beside the point

While I consider my comfort here in Sri Lanka to be a beautiful testimony to my relationship with this place, the truth is that it has nearly gotten me into a trouble a few times. As exhausting as it may be, I do feel that an extra sense of self-guardedness is required here. This might seem evident; to the Adriana from 2 months ago it certainly would have been. To this I have two responses: firstly, things are different when you’ve spent time in a place, made friends, and learned to walk long distances on sidewalk-less streets without getting hit by a tuk tuk or accidentally stepping on exposed wiring. The once unfamiliar place I mostly knew for its 26-year civil war, the 2004 Tsunami, and reports of harassment from fellow female travellers became associated with happy, personal experiences, and these experiences made a difference. In my comfort, I thought I had earned some sort inside knowledge on how to avoid these situations. Secondly, I find this need to constantly be aware of one’s surroundings suffocating and burdensome. Sometimes so much so that I unconsciously abandon it.

Living in Sri Lanka is not easy. I don’t think I can afford the luxury of mindlessly doing things here without somehow compromising my safety. However, I also feel it’s fair to say that if you do stay on your guard you will have some beautiful, unparalleled experiences.

Elephant crossing in Udawalawe National Park

Sitting at the World’s End in Horton Plains

Delawalla Beach

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