All posts by Tiffany Gooch

Canada failed Abdoul Abdi but it’s not too late to do the right thing

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“If it was your son, would you do anything to stop this?”

This was the question posed directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Fatouma, the sister of Abdoul Abdi, at a town hall event in Halifax this week.

Abdi’s is a tragic story that highlights the gaps in Canadian institutions and systems that disproportionately and negatively impact Black Canadians.

Abdi came to Canada as a child refugee from Somalia in 2000 with his sister and aunts. His mother died in a refugee camp while awaiting the three-year process that eventually landed his family here.

Under uncertain circumstances, of which his family continues to seek clarification due to language barriers at the time, the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services removed a 7-year-old Abdi and his sister from the care of their aunt. Over the next decade the siblings were separated and Abdi was shuffled between 31 homes.

Abdi’s aunt never stopped fighting for guardianship, and while she obtained her own citizenship she was denied the opportunity to apply for citizenship on behalf of her niece and nephew. While under child protection, Abdi was provided insufficient support to navigate the process of becoming a Canadian citizen on his own.

He was failed by the very system that was meant to protect him.

For child welfare advocates, Abdi’s story and path from care to the criminal justice system is a familiar one. For the crimes he committed in his youth, which included aggravated assault, time has justly been served. At the moment of his release, as he prepared to reunite with his family and reintegrate into society, Abdi was detained once more.

Without his citizenship in place, Abdi was left vulnerable to the immigration process that could possibly lead to deportation.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder to speak truth to power, advocates across Canada have spoken out with a resounding roar on Abdi’s behalf, garnering attention and seeking immediate remedy for his case.

In response to Fatouma’s question, Trudeau emphasized compassion and empathy while outlining the ways in which he recognized Canadian systems failed Abdi.

“It opened our eyes to something that many of us knew was ongoing in many communities but we continue to need to address,” he said.

While his response was well informed, I would have liked to hear the prime minister name systemic anti-Black racism as a key factor to be addressed.

We need to directly acknowledge the cracks in our government systems through which Black Canadians are falling through at disproportionately high rates so that we can proactively tackle them.

South of our border, the president of the United States has continued his divisive political agenda anchored in anti-Black racism. After hearing of his comments this week I wonder how his defenders continue to uphold him as a leader.

Characterizing Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “s—hole countries,” in an immigration meeting Trump reportedly asked, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

As thousands of Haitian families look to Canada in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind deportation protections from nearly 60,000 Haitian refugees following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, I hope Canada will show the compassion and empathy our prime minister talked about in his town hall this week and take them in.

Canada should be aiming for nothing less than global leadership in the steps we take to address anti-Black racism. To do this successfully we will need active engagement from Canadian political leaders.

They should be proactively partnering with Black communities to identify priorities, set goals, communicate them publicly, and track progress toward success.

It’s difficult to engage in dialogue about policy while Abdi and his family live in crisis, facing this terrifying uncertainty. I hope this nightmare is over for them very soon.

But how is it fair that his story be used to advance public policy before his own livelihood is restored?

It is time for him to be reunited with his family so they may begin the long journey of healing from these painful experiences. That is what’s fair.

And I hope once that happens we can dive deeply into rectifying the systems that failed him, and map our way forward.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, January 14, 2018)

Canada right to support Caribbean hurricane reconstruction: Gooch

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The Canadian government joined the UN on Tuesday to answer a call from Caribbean nation states recovering from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which are requesting assistance from the international community for support in reconstruction.

Aside from a larger pledge from the Netherlands, which is intended exclusively for Dutch territories, the Canadian pledge of $100 million over five years was the largest in response, exceeded only by bilateral pledges from the European Union. A stark contrast to the U.S. pledge, which amounted to $4.3 million.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes delivered the announcement in her role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — UN High Level Pledging Conference.

Caesar-Chavannes was an inspired choice to share the news of Canada’s support to the region. She opened her statement sharing of her own Caribbean roots: “I myself, as a daughter of the soil from Grenada, am proud of this close bond and it is a privilege to be able to continue building these bridges between our countries.”

More than 32,000 people have been displaced by the 2017 Caribbean hurricanes, with an estimated 17,000 still in need of shelter. Communities are in the process of addressing immediate infrastructure projects, including schools, hospitals, government administrative offices, and private institutions at the core of local economies.

Livelihoods hang in the balance of this rebuild.

According to Global Affairs Canada the funding will begin by taking into account the needs assessments for both Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda. The funding further focuses on supporting local efforts, particularly those led by women, ensuring better preparation for natural disasters and reconstruction of essential services.

The Caribbean diaspora in Canada is powerful — according to 2016 census data it is nearly 750,000 strong, and Canada is immensely enhanced culturally and economically by these connections. When the storms hit, Canadian organizations, businesses and individuals sprung into action to ensure emergency supplies reached those in need.

The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) served as a central organizing space for support to the region during the storm. The women in leadership of the JCA focused much of their efforts on Barbuda where the devastation was so widespread that the island was left uninhabitable for the first time in 300 years.

Toronto financial professional Akilah Allen-Silverstein stepped forward in support of friends and family in Dominica where 90 per cent of vegetation and structures were lost in the storm. She hosted an event this past week in efforts to replant trees and crops essential to preventing further flooding or landslides.

Akilah also shared the story of her mother, who considers herself lucky as she only lost a roof and was able to ensure her own safety while also salvaging some family albums from flooding. Her mother joined the local reconstruction efforts with a much-needed focus on securing appropriate mental health supports for communities impacted.

The success of these efforts will be defined by our ability to effectively empower women in leadership. Women who are creatively organizing to ensure children and youth don’t see a gap in their education due to the storms as institutions are rebuilt. Women working to ensure those traumatized by the storms have mental health supports. Women who are brimming with entrepreneurial ideas to bring prosperity and wellness back to their communities.

Toronto writer Sharine Taylor welcomed the Canadian investment watchfully: “We need to be mindful of how we play our global citizenship card to ensure it leads towards tangible changes on the ground.”

Sharine is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bashy Magazine, a publication aimed at carving an authentic space connecting the lived experiences of the Jamaican diaspora. I echo her hope that the support Canada is offering does not end up spent on administration before reaching the communities that need it most.

Long after the storms are no longer deemed emergencies and disappear from the headlines, local communities carry out the difficult work of balancing immediate needs of displaced families while also carrying out long-term reconstruction.

I’m proud that the Canadian government not only answered the call for assistance, but also chose to lead globally with a feminist approach in their response to supporting local reconstruction efforts in the Caribbean.

The resilient women and men rebuilding these communities have a long road ahead. In the words of Celina Caesar-Chavannes, “Canada is proud to stand in solidarity with its Caribbean friends.”

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on November 26, 2017)

The enduring power of Michelle Obama: Gooch

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Toronto is abuzz.

Tickets went on sale last week for the Economic Club of Canada event on Nov. 28, which will feature a discussion with former First Lady Michelle Obama. The topic of the fireside chat-style discussion is education and equality for girls and women around the world.

I applaud the Economic Club of Canada for donating 1,500 of the 3,000 available tickets to youth aged 14-24, to be distributed through Plan International Canada, however, I’m disappointed to hear that the event will not be live-streamed. There is a key demographic that is missed in this strategy — young people who just miss the age cut off, but are unable to afford the $500 to $800 tickets.

While this is Obama’s first, I expect that this will not be her last speaking engagement in Canada. As her work empowering women and girls through education continues, she will find alignment from thousands of Canadian organizations and individuals who support her vision.

There are powerful opportunities for partnership as the Canadian government rolls out its Feminist International Assistance Policy and increases investments to international organizations supported by the Status of Women Canada.

Michelle Obama’s is a voice the world needs more of. As people watch to see what Barack Obama does following his presidency, my eyes are squarely set on the former First Lady.

A graduate of both Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Michelle served as the third First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree alongside Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. Stepping away from a flourishing career as a University of Chicago hospital executive, in her time in the White House, she made a concerted effort to ensure her legacy was both authentic to her values and reflective of her upbringing.

She advocated passionately for girls’ education through the Let Girls Learn initiative; she danced and gardened her way into the hearts of Americans by raising awareness of the importance of physical activity and healthy eating; and she used her platform to support veterans and their families.

I am not alone in the belief that Michelle could be the first female President of the United States of America, if that were something she wanted. Unfortunately, as much as we all hoped she would, she has shown no desire to run for office.

Her leadership is needed wherever she chooses to bring it, and should she ever change her mind about running for office, I’ll be right there with her in support.

I admire and respect that Michelle Obama never forgot where she came from. In her 2015 speech at the Democratic Convention, she reminded America of its dark past: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent Black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn …”

Among her most memorable speeches was one delivered in 2015, upon receiving an honorary degree from Tuskegee University. She spoke candidly of the unique challenges she faced as the first Black woman in the White House, acknowledging the pain that accompanied the blatant racism that both she and Barack faced. She was portrayed in media as a militant holding a machine gun, described as Barack’s “Baby Mama,” and even compared to an ape.

I hope that as the dialogue around her visit to Toronto continues, commentary won’t shy away from these race issues. The barriers she faced are not unlike those standing before Black women and girls in Canada today.

Like Michelle, Black Canadian girls have shared experiences of being told to aim lower in their education by guidance councillors and teachers. Like Michelle, when speaking passionately about issues of importance to their communities, Black women have been written off as too angry.

While Michelle stands as a positive example for everyone, there is a special connection for Black women and girls in particular. She stands as an example and much needed affirmation that #BlackGirlsRock and anything is possible.

In the words of Ava Duvernay, Michelle is her “ancestor’s wildest dream.”

I’m saving up to purchase a ticket to the event, and have encouraged young people to register through Plan International Canada to hear her speak. You’ll find me somewhere in the audience, beaming just a little bit wider alongside the Canadian #BlackGirlMagic in attendance.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on November 12, 2017. Also published on MetroNews.ca)

Creating safe spaces for women in politics: Gooch

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Every so often, a politician makes a public statement that unreservedly merits an apology.

This week that moment came for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

When presented with a question about transparency in land dealings for a Global Transportation Hub, he deflected with a question about the NDP’s approach to allegations of sexual assault within their party.

For Premier Wall to bring this up in parliamentary debate, not with the intention to help victims, but instead as a retort to a question he did not want to answer is reprehensible.

When pressed further Wall stated, “I make no apology for raising it. If we don’t, what other opportunity is there to do? For it to be raised?”

Respectfully, Premier, there are many opportunities where sexual violence and harassment in politics can be proactively addressed that do not include rebuttals to unrelated questions in the House.

Wall has since apologized on Twitter to Rylee Schuhmacher, the young woman at the centre of the case he referred to, but still, he refuses to apologize to the party.

Responding on Facebook Thursday (and shared with her permission) Schuhmacher made a statement ended with powerful words: “Stop politicizing my assault and my trauma. Full stop.”

Wall’s actions this week exemplify the risk of politicization that must be weighed in the decision to report sexual harassment and assault in politics. This is exactly the reason so few come forward with their cases — and this problem is not isolated to one party or one level of government.

In the absence of meaningful intergenerational dialogue addressing how political spheres uniquely perpetuate and protect this behaviour, the Young Women’s Leadership Network has taken up the charge in pressing the issue forward.

I couldn’t be more pleased to see these young women challenging the status quo and rejecting the notion that they should let sexual harassment roll off their backs. When presented with the “whisper network,” a young organizer I met last month inquired as to why it wasn’t the “shout it from the rooftops network.”

With these fierce young women in leadership, the future of Canadian politics looks bright.

Following the overwhelming wave of stories shared through the #MeToo social media campaign founded by Tarana Burke — detractors still question how widespread the problem actually is in Canadian society today.

An Abacus poll published this week further contextualized the issue, finding 53 per cent of Canadian women taking part in the survey have experienced “unwanted sexual pressure.” Further, 77 per cent of the participants did not believe their harassers faced any consequences for their behaviour.

This week, federal Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hadju released a report summarizing the results of public consultations on harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. The report revealed Canadians are less likely to report sexual harassment in the workplace for fear of retaliation.

There is a great deal of challenging work ahead ridding workplaces and political spheres of this behaviour and providing better support to survivors.

Recently a male friend and long-time political organizer approached me, in earnest, for advice on how he could be helpful in addressing this issue. He was mortified as he reflected on his own contributions to creating a culture that was disrespectful toward, and unsafe for, women in politics. He wanted to know how he could serve as an active and outspoken ally.

I didn’t know how to answer at the time. Not knowing the specifics of individuals victimized by his behaviour, no matter how much time had passed — my instinct was to ensure their well-being before he went about centering himself in the discourse. This wasn’t about him or the journey he underwent to wake up to how his behaviour was impacting the women he worked, studied, or organized alongside.

That being said, I’m glad he and so many men are waking up and looking for ways to help.

So, how does one effectively ally in creating safer spaces for women in politics?

While considering how you will or have changed, take it a step further — forget the “bro code” and actively work to call out inappropriate behaviour when you see and hear about it.

Support individuals and organizations carrying out the front-line work of supporting survivors or building campaigns.

Remove the stories shared publicly by the brave souls who choose to report sexual violence and harassment from your political arsenal.

Most importantly: believe survivors.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Saturday, November 4, 2017)