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The Current Transcript for January 15, 2018
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
Listen to the full episode
REMA RAJESHWARI: It was shocking and this was for the first time that one crime caught the nation's attention in such an instant way that today rape is treated as a mainstream issue.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: You might remember the story over five years ago now of a young woman brutalized, raped, and beaten on a Delhi bus. Her agonizing death triggered outrage around the world. And across India it encouraged those already fighting for women's rights to fight harder. Today we're going to introduce you to one of those women. She's a rarity, a police chief, a trained sniper, and a passionate advocate for both legal and cultural change in the treatment of women and girls in India. She has led the special "She Teams" that fanned out across her Indian state, arresting men who aggressively harassed women. She's vocal against stalking crimes where women are attacked with acid and she's worked to save child brides. Her name is Rema Rajeshwari and you will meet her in an hour. And in half an hour Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been unequivocal on this issue...
JUSTIN TRUDEAU: An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women's rights is not in line with where we are as a government.
AMT: His opponents are betting the law is not on his side. At stake a federal summer jobs program where the Liberal government says those organizations that do not respect reproductive rights are not eligible. A vocal mix of churches, camps, charities, and anti-abortion groups say that is infringing on their rights. We will hear the concerns and from the minister responsible today. And it was a question that reverberated well beyond the Prime Minister's townhall event in Nova Scotia.
FATOUMA ABDI: Why are you deporting my brother? My question to you is, if it was your son would you do anything to stop this?
[Sound: Cheering and applauding]
AMT: Fatouma Abdi's public efforts to help her brother have raised uncomfortable questions about the treatment of refugee children. We are starting there. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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'The government was our parents': Abdoul Abdi's sister says Somali refugee failed by Canadian foster system
Guests: Fatouma Abdi, Benjamin Perryman, Julia Huys, Julie Taub
AMT: There's no getting around the fact that Abdoul Abdi is a convicted criminal. He has faced multiple charges and has been convicted of aggravated assault. And at the age of 23, he has spent years in prison. But he came to Canada as a six-year-old refugee, and was raised as a ward of the state, shunted between foster care and group homes in Nova Scotia—31 in total. The province was literally responsible for his upbringing. But no one there thought to apply for his Canadian citizenship, until it was too late. Now his criminal record means he could be deported to Somalia, a country to which he has not been since he was a young boy; where he has no family and does not speak the language. Abdoul Abdi is not the poster child for Canada's immigration and refugee policies. And yet his supporters make a strong case that he should be allowed to stay. Fatouma Abdi is Abdoul Abdi's sister and she joins me from our Halifax studio. Hello.
FATOUMA ABDI: Hello.
AMT: He's 23-years-old. How old are you?
FATOUMA ABDI: I'm 25.
AMT: And you came to Canada as young children with two aunts?
FATOUMA ABDI: Yes we did.
AMT: How did the two of you become wards of the state?
FATOUMA ABDI: Children's Aid just chose to take us away. From my understanding it was because we weren't in school. And no one really sat down with my aunts to explain the laws or how Canada works and that kids have to be in school. We landed in Sydney, Cape Breton where we did go to school. But me and my brother faced a lot of bullying and abuse because we were from a different culture and we didn't speak the language. So we moved to Halifax and they pulled us out of school. And that's why we got taken away.
AMT: What was life like for you both in foster care and group homes?
FATOUMA ABDI: It was horrible. We faced a lot of abuse. My brother and I went to a group home when we first got taken away, where we spent two years of our lives. And then we went to a foster home, where I ended up getting out of it because the abuse was so bad and I kept running away and it got the attention of my teachers. And they ended up advocating for me and talking to my social workers and seeing marks on me, so they took me out that home and kept my brother in that home. So he faced a longer abuse than what I did.
AMT: So they removed you, but they left him there?
FATOUMA ABDI: Yes.
AMT: How old were you at the time?
FATOUMA ABDI: I want to say maybe 10 going in 11.
AMT: And did you stay in contact with him after that? What happened?
FATOUMA ABDI: I haven't seen him for a few months after I got removed from that home. But then we both were frightened to see each other, so then we started access visits on weekends.
AMT: So you would see your brother all through your childhood even though you were in different places?
FATOUMA ABDI: Yes.
AMT: And he stayed in this foster home. And what did he tell you about what it was like for him there?
FATOUMA ABDI: He said it was horrible. It was basically hell. They physically and emotionally— everything—abused him. And I started trying to talk to my social workers and advocating for him. And I told him to basically do what I was doing, which was run away from the home and maybe that will grab their attention. And finally after I'll say, maybe two years and a half after I moved out, they finally pulled him out of there.
AMT: And that's when he started going to different foster homes?
FATOUMA ABDI: Yes.
AMT: But it was like a constant change was it? Like, he was always moving?
FATOUMA ABDI: Yes. He bounced around from foster home to foster home, to group home to group home.
AMT: During this time, was your aunt trying to get you back?
FATOUMA ABDI: Yes, when we first got taken away she went to court trying to get us back. But you can only fight for so long. From my understanding until you can't fight no more and you get placed in permanent care, so you have a [unintelligible] line. So they fought for us for about a year and a half until the court decided to place us in permanent care of the government.
AMT: Do you have Canadian citizenship Fatouma?
FATOUMA ABDI: No. Me or my brother, both don't have Canadian citizenship.
AMT: When you were growing up were you aware that you needed it? Like, when did you find out that you didn't have it and you needed it?
FATOUMA ABDI: I never knew as a kid or teenager that I wasn't a citizen or that I needed it. How I came to find that out was on my birthday, a couple friends told me that they wanted to travel and we should do this big thing where we should go away. And I said, 'okay.' And I was trying to round up my paperwork from Children's Aid to be able to travel. So I found out that I had a permanent residence card. I wasn't too sure what that is. I had a lawyer that was trying to figure out my paperwork for me, which was [unintelligible]. And he explained to me that I have a permanent resident card and not a Canadian citizenship. Therefore, if I was to leave Canada and try to come back I would maybe run into problems where they wouldn't let me come back. That's how I first found out that I wasn't a Canadian citizen.
AMT: Now your brother is not a citizen for the same reasons. He didn't even know. He was convicted of a serious crime—aggravated assault. The original charge with attempted murder. What do you tell those people who ask why should he be allowed to stay in Canada?
FATOUMA ABDI: He should be allowed to stay because first of all, Canadian officials don't feel that it's safe for them to go to Somalia. So why do they think it's okay for someone that grew up as a Canadian to be sent back to somewhere they call dangerous? Second of all, I don't think he should be sent back because I consider both of us as Canadian citizens, even though we might not have a Canadian citizenship. We were placed in permanent care, meaning again government was our parents basically. They had all responsibilities over us. It was their responsibility to figure out our paperwork, to do our paperwork as children. They failed to do that because they failed to go for our Canadian citizenship for us, even though they had legal rights over us. Now my brother is facing the consequence of getting deported, which I think is really unfair.
AMT: Fatouma Abdi your brother's lawyer, Benjamin Perryman is with you in our studio. Hello Mr. Perryman.
BENJAMIN PERRYMAN: Good morning.
AMT: Where is your client right now?
BENJAMIN PERRYMAN: He's currently being held in detention. I'm not sure the precise location. But he's been transferred to two detention centres in Toronto. And so he's being held in detention and will face detention review hearing later this morning.
AMT: And he's served his time. This is Canadian Border Services that's holding him, am I right?
BENJAMIN PERRYMAN: That's correct. So he finished the jail portion of his sentence and Corrections Canada determined that he could safely be released to a halfway house to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community. It was at that point that border services intervened and rearrested Mr. Abdi.
AMT: Outside of quashing the deportation order. What do you think is the best and likeliest outcome?
BENJAMIN PERRYMAN: I think the best outcome is for the government to put a halt to its deportation proceedings against Mr. Abdi. If they're not prepared to do that then there will be a court challenge in this case. He has already won once at the federal court where the Federal Court overturned the minister's decision as unreasonable and in violation of the law. And we're prepared to make those arguments a second time round if need be.
AMT: Fatouma Abdi we're almost out of time. But I wanted to ask you, if you and your brother had been allowed to stay with your aunt. How do you think your lives would have been different?
FATOUMA ABDI: It would have been a lot different. We would have been like my aunts. We would have been Canadian citizens. My aunts both have Canadian citizenship and we don't.
AMT: Okay, well thank you for speaking with me today.
FATOUMA ABDI: No problem.
AMT: That is Fatouma Abdi. She is the sister of Abdoul Abdi who is facing deportation to Somalia. Benjamin Perryman is Mr. Abdi's lawyer. They both joined us from Halifax. We did request a statement from the Department of Community Services in Nova Scotia. It says in part, that it takes whatever immigration steps are needed for children in its care and that the department is currently reviewing its policies. We also contacted the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. We didn't hear back from them. Julia Huys is a lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth, a legal aid Ontario clinic that provides legal representation to Ontario youth. This case is not the only one that lawyers are seeing. And Julia Huys joins me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
JULIA HUYS: Hello.
AMT: So how much of an outlier is Abdoul Abdi in this case?
JULIA HUYS: I can certainly say it's not an outlier. The situation is not uncommon. And given the seriousness of the injustice involved the fact that it's happening to any young person is highly concerning.
AMT: How many clients do you know of that are facing a similar situation?
JULIA HUYS: Over the years our clinic has seen many cases where this is happening. Where young people who are here as permanent residents are taken into care by a child welfare agency and later on find themselves subject to removal proceedings.
AMT: And how many do you know are actually deported?
JULIA HUYS: What's concerning is we don't have the exact numbers of who are deported. However there have been many cases that our clinic has seen over the years.
AMT: And so what's the biggest challenge to citizenship for the refugees and permanent residents who are in state care? What's the problem?
JULIA HUYS: Prior to last year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada was not always accepting applications where child welfare agencies had signed off as the legal parent or guardian. This meant that young people who were in care could not apply for their citizenship. The other issue is there is an age requirement that said children who are under the age of 18 could not apply on their own behalf. Now this has gotten slightly easier. However children still need to apply for a ministerial waiver in order to make that citizenship application.
AMT: So in other words the child would have to apply for a ministerial waiver—someone under 18.
JULIA HUYS: Someone under 18. So this is a huge barrier. And it was not well advertised prior to last year.
AMT: And so how would you rectify that situation? What would you do?
JULIA HUYS: So currently the process has gotten a bit easier where children can apply for that ministerial waiver. However it still implies a great burden on them where they have to explain the situation—why they do not have a parent or guardian signing off for them. You also need to have a willing child welfare agency that's able to do it. Another major issue is that the fee to apply for citizenship for children is the same as adults if they're applying on their own behalf. This is upwards of $600, which is an immense sum for a young person.
AMT: So in other words there are all these barriers in the way both bureaucratic and financial in order for them to get what another child would be able to get much more easily.
JULIA HUYS: That's correct.
AMT: Into that we bring Youth Criminal Justice Act. How does that affect citizenship applications?
JULIA HUYS: When a young person has an ongoing Youth Criminal Justice Act charge, they are not able to apply for their citizenship. That said, if they have a finding of guilt under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, they can apply for citizenship—they are eligible. So you have a situation where if they have an ongoing charge, they can't get it, which doesn't make much sense. Another major issue is, young people who are involved with the children's welfare agencies, have higher rates of involvement with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Something between 40 and 50 percent of young people who are incarcerated have involvement with children's welfare agencies.
AMT: And so clearly you're making the point that there's something about the way that they're treated as children that streams them into the justice system.
JULIA HUYS: Absolutely. They're highly vulnerable.
AMT: And so if someone has been convicted of a crime and is facing deportation because of it, what options do they have?
JULIA HUYS: They are able to make submissions as Mr. Perryman had mentioned. However, these may not necessarily be accepted or to go well. So immigration may choose to nevertheless move them to a country where they don't speak the language, where they have no family connections, and really removing them from the only community that they know.
AMT: And in the case of Somalia, Canada doesn't have much of a diplomatic connection with Somalia, does it?
JULIA HUYS: No, that's correct.
AMT: In the past they've actually brought people to Kenya and then found a way to fly them over the border and drop them off. Is that what we're talking about here?
JULIA HUYS: It's unclear what would happen to Mr. Abdi in this case.
AMT: And now we did contact the office of the Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale and they would not comment on this particular case. But they said that with deportations the government's trying to balance potential danger in sending a person back to a home country versus the potential danger to the public and letting that person stay. He has been convicted of a violent crime. How much weight should public safety concerns be given in a case like that?
JULIA HUYS: Well I certainly don't want to negate the safety issue. However in this case to pile on punishment and in this case the ultimate kind of punishment is disproportionate. Mr. Abdi really is a Canadian child. He grew up here. And he's served his sentence like any Canadian child would. If he were Canadian, we would give him the opportunity of rehabilitation, which is not happening here. In this case, it's just completely disproportionate.
AMT: So in the grand scheme of things, this falls with a couple of different departments. The Nova Scotia child welfare agencies. It falls to the immigration department and now public safety. Does there have to be some coordination amongst the three of them?
JULIA HUYS: It seems that there is very little coordination. Child welfare agencies are not necessarily aware of the ministerial waiver or pushing for that young person to get citizenship. And Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, up until last year was not accepting many of these applications from these child welfare agencies. Leaving these young people highly vulnerable.
AMT: So you're telling me this can happen to young children really anywhere in the country then?
JULIA HUYS: Absolutely. And we've seen it happen numerous times in Ontario where they're removed.
AMT: Okay, thank you for coming in.
JULIA HUYS: Thank you.
AMT: That is Julia Huys. She's a lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth, a legal aid Ontario clinic that provides legal representation to Ontario youth. She's with me in our Toronto studio. Well there are many calls for Abdoul Abdi to stay in Canada. Some worry about the potential risks of doing so. Julie Taub is an immigration and refugee lawyer. She's a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. She is in our Ottawa studio. Hello.
JULIE TAUB: Good morning.
AMT: What do you think should happen in the case of Abdoul Abdi?
JULIE TAUB: Well in his particular case, I do believe that the minister should exercise discretion and stay the removal order. Not quash it. But stay with conditions. That is giving him perhaps a five-year—I guess it would be similar to probation—five-year parole that is with conditions. We're going to set aside the removal order for five years, but it'll still be in effect. And if you meet a set of conditions and don't break the law and start working and become a functioning contributing member of Canadian society—you don't get into trouble—then after five years we can quash the deportation order.
AMT: And give Canadian citizenship? Would that be your advice?
JULIE TAUB: Well he would have to apply for Canadian citizenship after the five-year probation. But I'm just saying that because this is an exceptional situation based on all the information that was on your program earlier. Normally if we're looking at a balancing act, public safety versus an individual who has committed a violent crime, if you're deporting them to a European country, South America, United States, I'd say in similar conditions, similar situation, go ahead with the deportation order. But Somalia is not even a functioning country. He does not speak the language. He has no connections there. He would not survive. So we're looking at basically a death sentence for him, if he's deported. But on the other hand you have to take into consideration the best interests of Canada public safety. So that's why I think this approach of putting a stay on his deportation order for five years, seven years—you know the minister can exercise discretion—put in strict conditions and I think that is fair and would satisfy concerns on all sides.
AMT: And how often has that happened?
JULIE TAUB: Not to my recollection. I'm not sure.
AMT: But you think that because of this case and the condition of Somalia that they should think outside the box on this one?
JULIE TAUB: Absolutely. Because it's Somalia. Not let's say the United States or Bermuda or France, where this individual would be depOrted to.
AMT: And so who would assume responsibility for what has happened to him?
JULIE TAUB: Who should assume? I guess it would all start with the child welfare agency. Taking the children away from their aunts to begin with. I guess it starts back there. And I know everybody wants to point a finger at the child welfare agencies across Canada because there has been some terrible, terrible admissions and horrible situations. But perhaps one should consider that they are all underfunded and understaffed.
AMT: Julie Taub, thank you for your views on this today.
JULIE TAUB: Thank you for having me on the show.
AMT: That is Julie Taub. She's an immigration and refugee lawyer. She is also a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. She joined us from our Ottawa studio. Let us know what you think of this story and what our last guest has suggested as a way around dealing with this one. You can tweet us @TheCurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook. Go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. CBC News is next and then hundreds of churches, camps, and charities say the Liberal government has shut them out of federal funding because of their religious values and anti-abortion principles. We'll hear why they're saying this. We'll get a response from the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM Online, on cbc.ca/thecurrent, on podcast and on your radio app.
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The abortion clause: Should groups that work against reproductive rights receive public funding?
Guests: Blaise Alleyne, Patty Hajdu, Daphne Gilbert
Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, it was a crime so brutal it caught the whole world's attention. The gang rape and death of college student Jyoti Singh on a New Delhi bus prompted reforms in India, including a new emphasis on holding police officers to account because they had often been part of the problem. In half an hour I'll be joined by a woman working to change the Indian police from within. But first a controversial caveat.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU: An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women's rights by removing rights to abortion and the rights for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.
AMT: That is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall in Hamilton last week, drawing a line. The immediate issue at hand is federal funding for the Canada Summer Jobs Program. But it's become a much larger story than summer jobs. New rules from the Liberal government mean that groups seeking funds to help hire students now have to check a box on their application. It's been dubbed the "abortion clause." Groups must affirm that they support individual rights as laid out in the Charter, including reproductive rights. Applications that do not make that attestation will not be considered. And that has prompted complaints from religious and anti-abortion groups that their Charter rights are being violated. The federal Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, has weighed in on the controversy as well.
ANDREW SCHEER: I believe that the federal government should respect the freedoms that Canadian's enjoy to have different beliefs and that imposing personal values of Justin Trudeau on a wide variety of groups is not an appropriate way to go.
AMT: Blaise Alleyne is the President of the Toronto and Area Right to Life Association. He's with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
BLAISE ALLEYNE: Hi. Thanks for having me.
AMT: So we heard from Andrew Scheer there. But we also heard from Justin Trudeau. How do you react to the Prime Minister's statement?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: Well it's not illegal to disagree with the government or to hold and share different beliefs on a social issue than the government. And all that we do as a pro-life organization is hold and share our particular beliefs on the right to life for all human beings. And we don't think that we should be discriminated against simply because we hold a different belief than government.
AMT: How will this new clause affect your organization?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: I mean our conscience prevents us from signing that attestation. So we've submitted an application. But with a substitute attestation affirming our support for the Charter and human rights, but expressing our view that the government doesn't have the jurisdiction to compel speech or punish us by withholding an unrelated benefit, and especially speech that would violate our conscience rights under the Charter.
AMT: Okay. How much funding have you received in the past from this program?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: In 2016, when we were approved we received about $10,000. And in 2017 we applied with a very similar application and we were denied. We took the government to court then and they settled with us back in November, paying us the funding that they had originally denied. So it's about $10,000 for a small organization like ours.
AMT: Okay, I want to ask about the court in a minute. But what do you use the money for?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: For hiring summer students, right. We had four summer students that came on and they assist us with our educational work, serving the community by providing our educational services.
AMT: And what does that mean? Educational services...
BLAISE ALLEYNE: So this Canada Summer Jobs Program provides meaningful job experience for students and assists organization in their community service work. So we provide education on issues like abortion to the Greater Toronto Area.
AMT: Okay, so your organization did take the federal government to court last year around this issue. You did settle out of court. Why?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: Yeah, so we were denied in the spring of 2017 saying, that our application was eligible, but that they weren't going to provide funding. At the same time that the government was saying publicly that they were going to deny funding because of our pro-life beliefs. So we along with two other organizations filed a claim in federal court and the government settled offering us the funds that were denied saying, that we had been denied for an unspecified reason. So now in 2018, they're trying to specify the discrimination with this attestation.
AMT: Okay. Now your group does actively work to restrict women's reproductive rights. Why should public funding go towards your organization?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: Yeah, I was a little confused when the prime minister said that. I mean, all that we do is hold and share a different belief than government on a social issue. And it's not illegal to do that. All we're doing is expressing our view on the right to life under Section 7 of the Charter.
AMT: Well you fight abortion rights, do you not?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: By expressing...
BLAISE ALLEYNE: I mean by expressing our opinion, right? So I mean it's not illegal to advocate for change to the law or to advocate for social reform. In fact that's protected under freedom of expression under the Charter. So all we're doing is sharing our beliefs about Section 7 right to life under the Charter.
AMT: So what would you like to see the government do?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: We would like to see the government treat us fairly, treat us equally like any other employer in Canada. So we're also asserting our equality rights under the Charter. And we think that our applications should be considered just like any others and we shouldn't be punished for holding a different belief on a social issue.
AMT: Okay, so you have a different belief, but you're representing an organization. Does your organization's belief trump the beliefs of individuals who can be thwarted in their reproductive rights by an organization that pushes against those beliefs?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: So I'm not sure how expressing our opinion would thwart someone's individual rights?
AMT: But I guess I'm just asking. You're talking about your personal opinion, but you're actually talking about, "this is an institutional thing." So what do you think...
BLAISE ALLEYNE: As an organization, we're an educational organization. And what we do is we share the pro-life message of human rights for all human beings. We express that message publicly. That's what we do as an organization. You know I think this transcends the abortion issue. There's a larger principle at play here that in a free and democratic society, should the government of the day be able to compel speech or punish those who hold a different belief? Whether it's this government or whether it's the previous or the next. Whether it's this issue or whether it's another. Should the government of the day be able to compel speech or otherwise punish those who hold a different belief?
AMT: So as you wait to see what happens with the application you've put in, you have launched more legal action. How are you going back to court on this now?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: Right. So we filed a claim in federal court asking for judicial review of the attestation that it be declared to violate the Charter because in the Charter there is a right to freedom of expression, conscience, religion, and equality rights. We've also filed a motion asking for urgent injunctive relief. That this attestation be put on hold until this judicial review is complete.
AMT: And the attestation. The problem that you have with it is that it does say they include reproductive rights. So let me ask you is it that specific point in the clause, "reproductive rights"? Because it goes on to talk about discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or expression. Is your concern solely with the reproductive rights clause?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: Our concern is with the reproductive rights. It says the rights in the Charter, as well as other rights, and goes beyond the Charter. So our paper application that we submitted, we attested our support for the Charter and human rights. But specifically for reproductive rights, which it defines as the right to safe and legal abortion, our conscience permits us from signing that attestation.
AMT: Do you expect to make this a Charter fight? You think it's going to go that far?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: This is absolutely a Charter fight. We're making a charter challenge against this because there is no Charter right to abortion. If you read the Morgentaler decision there was actually no Charter right to abortion. But there is a Charter right to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and equality right. So this is a Charter challenge.
AMT: How far do you think you're going to have to go in this fight?
BLAISE ALLEYNE: We'll take this fight as far as it needs to go. We think there are serious principles that any free and democratic society should care about at play here.
AMT: Okay. Well thank you for coming in.
BLAISE ALLEYNE: Great. Thanks for having me.
AMT: That is Blaise Alleyne. And he is the President of the Toronto and Area Right to Life Association. He joined me in our Toronto studio. Well joining me to explain the government's position on this issue is the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. Patty Hajdu is in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Hello.
PATTY HAJDU: Good morning Anna Maria.
AMT: Why has this clause been added to the summer job grant applications?
PATTY HAJDU: Well first let me just tell you about the purpose of Canada Summer Jobs. Canada Summer Jobs exists to provide quality work experience for young people across the country, so that they can get that good experience through the summer, earn a bit of money that will help lead them into prosperous futures and careers. And so we're committed to ensuring that all of the youth job opportunities are funded by the government take place in an environment that respects the rights of all Canadians. And we want to ensure that federal funding supports employment opportunities that respect existing laws, including human rights law and labour law. And this is something that public, private, not-for-profit organisations are already subject to.
AMT: Okay. But you added this clause in this time. Why did it go in there?
PATTY HAJDU: Well it's really important as we move forward that we ensure that we use public funds in a way that respects Charter Rights and other fundamental rights that Canadians have won and have been affirmed by courts time and again.
AMT: And are reproductive rights spelled out in the Charter now?
PATTY HAJDU: Well at this point we know that Canadians through the Supreme Court have the right to access abortion. Women have a fundamental right to control their own bodies and it's important that when we're talking about Canada Summer Jobs funding—which by the way is a grant process it's not an automatic situation. Organizations apply and then receive funding based on the strength of their application. That these experiences that young people will have are in fact experiences that will be respectful of Charter and other fundamental rights.
AMT: And so the grants go from your department to the individual MPs who give them out. Am I correct?
PATTY HAJDU: Yeah. So how it works is that employers apply to our department and the employment team of Canada Summer Jobs reviewers review the applications and they're reviewing the applications for a variety of things. The capacity of the organization to deliver the oversight that might be responsible for example. Their administration capacity. And then the MPs receive a list of employers that have applied from the riding. And the list is rated in terms of the score of the application. But MPs do have the ability to move employers around and choose employers that may be rated for example a bit lower than maybe the top employers or maybe somebody's apply for 10 jobs and they want to give that employer three jobs and spread the jobs amongst the riding more equitably or whatever the case. And so MPs a lot of that community base knowledge. They know those organizations.
AMT: Right. Okay. What makes an organization ineligible for the funding?
PATTY HAJDU: Well at this point, again the attestation, not being able to sign the attestation the organization would be ineligible for the funding.
AMT: Are there specific organizations that you're targeting with that attestation?
PATTY HAJDU: What we want to do is make sure that these jobs are going to be held in organizations that respect the Charter Rights, and as I said other fundamental rights that Canadians have. We know that across the country faith-based organizations for example are doing phenomenal work in our communities. I personally as a former employee of a homeless shelter worked very closely with faith-based organizations in my community. They have mandates that are around administering spiritual relief for people who are suffering or feeding people living in poverty. So this is about making sure that when organizations apply that their core mandates and the purpose of the job that the young person will hold will respect the Charter and those other fundamental rights.
AMT: We spoke to Brad Jones, a pastor at Woodgreen Presbyterian Church in Calgary. Listen to what his concerns are about these new rules for applying.
BRAD JONES: We've sponsored three Syrian refugees. We have an ESL Cafe a conversation Cafe. This new clause, if they just asked are you complying with Canadian law then we could pay you a hearty yes. But when they say that we need to respect reproductive rights for example and they define that as safe and legal access to abortion, well then we can't attest that.
AMT: Okay, that is Brad Jones, pastor at Woodgreen Presbyterian Church in Calgary. Minister Hajdu, how do you respond to what he's saying?
PATTY HAJDU: Well, I mean each organization will have to decide for themselves whether or not they can in good conscience sign the attestation. That's why it's there. But what I would say is that by the sounds of things, the kinds of work and the mandate of their organization you know very well might be make them eligible. So I would want organizations feel that they have a need to apply for this position, that they wouldn't be able to hire student otherwise to sign the attestation if it's within their own conscience to do so. As I said, this is not about excluding faith-based organizations or organizations of all different stripes, it's about making sure that when organizations are creating their summer jobs, both the purpose of the job and the mandate of the organization, do not violate the Charter.
AMT: But he's making the point that in all conscience his organization cannot sign that attestation as it's written. And yet they want to help people in areas that are unrelated to that issue.
PATTY HAJDU: Well as I said each organization will have to decide for themselves if they can or cannot sign the attestation. And I can't speak on his behalf. But what I would say is that we know that there are many religious and faith-based organizations that do fantastic work across the country. We encourage them to apply. They are welcome to apply and they're in most cases eligible. Applicants are not asked to provide their views or beliefs or values at the time of the attestation. They're not taken into consideration. It's about their mandate and the purpose of the job.
AMT: And we're talking specifically about reproductive rights. But this also spells out sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. Have you heard complaints about any organizations that don't want to sign it because of those phrases?
PATTY HAJDU: I personally have not. I mean from my perspective again these are important rights that we hold dear in this country. And so I'm happy to listen to people's concerns. And if people are interested in reaching out to the department to have conversations about whether or not their organization or the job might be eligible, we're always available to have those conversations.
AMT: And what do you say to those who say that by trying to uphold one Charter right you're infringing on another Charter right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression?
PATTY HAJDU: What I would say is that this job—this program—has a very specific purpose. And it is about providing that quality work experience for young people. Look, last year our government nearly doubled the number of jobs for young people created under Canada Summer Jobs. I've travelled across the country and visited with many of these groups and many of the young people taking advantage of this program. And I heard overwhelming enthusiasm about these opportunities, both from the students perspective for having that quality job, but also from the employers perspective who many times are not-for-profit organizations or small enterprises who might not otherwise have been able to have a summer student. So I'm very proud of the program. I think it's an amazing opportunity for young people and for all of the great organizations across our country that do phenomenal work.
AMT: Well do you fear that by adding this some of those great organizations who do the phenomenal work you're talking about will be sidelined?
PATTY HAJDU: You know I'm not afraid of that. One of the realities is that even though we've nearly doubled the job, we never really quite can meet the demand. You know there are phenomenal, as I said, organizations all across this country doing fantastic work. My goal is to help them and ultimately help students get that experience because that's what this is about. This is the grant program that provides incredibly great experience for young people so that they can take that experience and use it as they move forward in their career.
AMT: We have to leave it there Minister Hajdu. Thank you.
PATTY HAJDU: Thank you very much.
AMT: That is Patty Hajdu. She is the federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and labour, and she joined us from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Well both sides in this dispute seem to believe that the arguments are on their side. We're joined now by a constitutional law expert for her thoughts on this. Daphne Gilbert is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. She joins us from our Ottawa studio. Hello.
DAPHNE GILBERT: Good morning.
AMT: What are you thinking as you listen to this? And what do you think of this new requirement?
DAPHNE GILBERT: I think the requirement is a bold move. As a taxpayer I'm proud of the government in taking this stance. In terms of the constitutional issue I think it's been misrepresented as a contest between freedom of religion and expression and equality. I don't think this is a move that compromises freedom of expression or freedom of religion because the organizations are always free to believe what they want to believe and to advocate and lobby for those beliefs to become more mainstream. This isn't shutting those organizations down. It would be a problem if they were defunded in a way that shut them down. But that's not what's happening. Those organizations have their own fundraising and can continue to do their work.
AMT: Well help me understand because we heard the argument today, someone saying they need to be able to believe and they have the right to believe versus someone else's belief. How do you see that from more of a legal point of view?
DAPHNE GILBERT: American Supreme Court Judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, once famously said that, 'you have the right to move your arm as long as it doesn't punch me in the nose'. And that is what freedom of religion and freedom of expression mean in this country. You can speak and you can profess your religious beliefs, but they can't be imposed on other people. And equality rights are very significant balancing factors for freedom of religion and freedom of expression in this country. We take the view that equality rights are very important and expression and religion can't trump those equality rights.
AMT: And do you expect this to go all the way through the courts?
DAPHNE GILBERT: Well I expect that there will be organizations that push that. But I think that the government's position is very defensible. The grant is not an entitlement. So to have criteria for grants that require respect for the law. I mean the attestation simply requires organizations to say that they will respect the rule of law and they're not going to employ people to undermine or overturn those laws. Doesn't mean that they can't do that. They can fundraise for those positions. But the government's public money won't be used to fight a Charter fight using taxpayer money.
AMT: Do you see any vulnerabilities for the government on this front though?
DAPHNE GILBERT: The only possible vulnerability is the specific phrase around reproductive rights because I think that you can talk about women's equality rights more generally and include reproductive rights. But I can understand that for religious organizations the specific attestation around reproductive rights is a problem. And I think the vulnerability isn't so much a legal one as much as it is a public perception that the government is being a bit too strong arming in this situation. Legally I think it is a defensible position because I believe that abortion rights are constitutionally protected in this country and so it's a defensible position to require respect for those Charter Rights. But I can see it from a public perspective that that'll be the controversy that continues.
AMT: Well we heard our first guest say that abortion rights are not protected.
DAPHNE GILBERT: Yeah, I mean referencing Morgentaler which was a decision in 1988 to say that it didn't protect abortion rights, I think is again a misrepresentation. A lot has happened in the courts since then. There's been a lot of decisions since Morgentaler. And I think now we would recognize that abortion rights are protected.
AMT: Does the Charter of Rights actually spell out reproductive rights?
DAPHNE GILBERT: No, it doesn't. But it does spell out equality rights, which abortion is a sex equality issue. It also spells out that the rights to security of the person. And since Morgentaler—in the 30 years since Morgentaler—there's been a lot of decisions that indicate, that control over one's body, and decisional control are fundamental to how we understand the Charter. That would include reproduction.
AMT: So you see this is a bold move by the government. The government knew this would be controversial.
DAPHNE GILBERT: I suspect they did. I mean obviously by settling last year with the pro-life organizations they recognized that they needed to be transparent on this. And so it's bold to me that they actually are being transparent. We have a lot of very dynamic issues going on right now between governments and religious institutions. With respect to medical aid in dying for example, there's a direct contest now between religion and the government. And I think it is bold for the government to be taking a really strong position that it respects equality rights above all.
AMT: And from what I understand the organizations that brought the legal challenge that resulted in the out-of-court settlement last year were not actually religious. They were abortion rights groups.
DAPHNE GILBERT: Right. And I can understand that the government felt that it hadn't been transparent in the reasons why those organizations didn't get money. Now it's being transparent.
AMT: And so how do you see this playing out legally in the coming months and years given that you've also raised the other issue of religious institutions and the issue of medical assistance in dying.
DAPHNE GILBERT: Well one of the big things we have to resolve is whether institutions even have Charter Rights. I think that is an open issue. In my opinion they don't. So when we're talking about rights, we're talking about individual people, not so much institutions. And so there might not be even a right to a grant as an institution. So that's a big issue. And the balancing between equality and freedom of religion is something that the courts are going to have to address more and more I think as we move along in medical assistance in dying. But it's also going to have a big impact on reproductive rights as well. I think that the government is taking the position that equality rights are very significant to its mandate. And I think that's a good thing.
AMT: Okay, thank you for your time on this one.
DAPHNE GILBERT: Thank you.
AMT: That is Daphne Gilbert. She is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. She joined us from our Ottawa studio. Let us know what you think of this discussion. How you fall on all of this. You can tweet us @TheCurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook. Go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. Stay with us. In our next half hour, you'll meet a woman who is the chief of police—called superintendent of police. But chief of police in our words,. In the Indian state of Telangana she's part of a change happening inside India when it comes to recognizing and prosecuting sexual assault, as well as recognizing and prosecuting the fact that many police officers in the past have been dismissive of complaints of sexual assault. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM Online, on cbc.ca/thecurrent, on podcast and on your radio app.
AMT: [Music: Bridge]
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'Change is slow': Female superintendent of police in India tackles sexual violence and harassment
Guest: Rema Rajeshwari
I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. You're listening to The Current.
VOICE 1: What happened on December 16th was a nightmare. That is very difficult to forget. But it shook an entire nation and each one of us believe that probably change will begin with the sacrifice of Jyoti.
VOICE 2: The ordeal Badri's daughter suffered on this bus is unimaginable. She boarded it with a male friend and they were beaten with iron bars for an hour by a gang and she was repeatedly raped. They were then stripped and dumped on a road in Delhi. Badri's daughter was transferred to Singapore for specialist treatment. But 13 days after the attack she died from her injuries.
VOICE 3: It's a movement that's gaining traction with every minute. This very minute in the capital hundreds of people have marched to India Gate, to Safdarjung Hospital, even to Congress President Sonia Gandhi's residence, with candles, flags, and messages of support for the 23-year-old woman who's bravely fighting for her life.
AMT: Well those events from five years ago. Jyoti Singh, the young woman who was gang raped on a New Delhi bus lost the fight for her life. But her brutal attack would prove to be a turning point in Indian society. Outrage about what happened spread across the country and once and for all Indians demanded reform. Sexual violence against women had long been seen as something less than a crime—let alone a serious crime. In the aftermath of Jyoti's rape and death. A government commission panel recommended changes to the Criminal Code, including a new amendment imposing jail sentences on police officers who fail to register rape complaints. Victims who do approach police have often been shamed or berated for bothering authorities. Rema Rajeshwari is an active and vocal part of India's efforts for change. She is a rarity in India's law enforcement, superintendent of police—what we would call chief of police—in the Indian state of Telangana. And she's with me from Chicago. Hello.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Hello Anna.
AMT: How did you react? What did you think when you learned what had happened to Jyoti Singh five years ago.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Well, it was shocking. And it was a horrific crime that roused a nation's anger. This was for the first time in the country we saw such a huge outrage, that one crime caught the nation's attention in such an intense way, that today rape is treated as a mainstream issue. The issue gets a front page coverage by the media and every political party since 2002 has had women safety among its top five promises. And of course this doesn't translate so easily into real, on the ground changes. But yes, as a nation we are talking about it.
AMT: Well I'm going ask about what's happening on the ground. But why this case? Why did it trigger such a much greater outcry than incidents in the past?
REMA RAJESHWARI: This was for the first time that a huge media coverage was given to an incident of sexual assault. Until that point in India talking about sex or sexual crimes was a taboo. And this was a turning point like you rightly said. For the first time the taboo was broken and people started talking about it. And like you mentioned in the beginning, a committee was appointed and they finally decided to change the rape laws and that was a huge thing in India.
AMT: And her name was not at first released. And she's taken to Singapore for treatment and died there. But her name wasn't released. What was she called before?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Jyoti Singh has become widely known as Nirbhaya, which means fearless. And her life and death have come to symbolize women's struggle to end the rape culture in India. This was seen as the only opportunity for women in India to come out and speak openly about sexual assault. And the Indian law doesn't allow us to reveal the name of a rape victim.
AMT: Give me an idea of how prevalent sexual assault and rape are against women in India?
REMA RAJESHWARI: If you look at the latest statistics which is available, we have the data for 2016 compared to the previous year; the crime against women is up by 2.9 percent. And if you specifically look at the data for rape, there is an increase of 12.4 per cent—the reason being more women are coming out and bravely reporting the crime. But largely especially in states like Uttar Pradesh which is the largest state in North India and Madhya Pradesh another state in north India got a huge number of crime against women. And we still have a long way to go.
AMT: Is rape always considered a crime in India?
REMA RAJESHWARI: It always was, but no one wanted to speak about it in an open forum until the Nirbhaya incident happened. It was never part of a living room conversation. But today you see whenever there's an incident, it always find some media space and people want to talk about it. There is no taboo attached to rape anymore in India.
AMT: While you're on the frontlines as a police chief. How well do you think male police officers handle sexual assault cases?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Well the majority of them are sensitive enough. But if you look at the societal fabric of India, it still patriarchal and it is male-dominated. So all these police officers come from the same society. So after the Nirbhaya incident, lot of efforts have been taken by the state to bring in sensitivity among the police force and the Justice Verma Committee gave a wide range of recommendations and one of the most important recommendation was to initiate penal action against police officers if they failed to register a case on rape or any form of sexual assault. So today, if a police officer refuses to file a complaint on sexual assault, he can go to jail sentence—a sentence of one year.
AMT: And do you see officers being penalised like that?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Yes, we have had cases. But because of the huge national attention it received, no one wants to risk their job. So everyone is reporting the crime. The reason why there is a spike in crime.
AMT: What about the wider communities? What's it like in the smaller communities and the villages when you need to prosecute a crime or investigate an allegation of rape or sexual assault?
REMA RAJESHWARI: If you look at the rural communities, still there is reluctance on the part of the community to encourage a woman to go to the police station. Communities, which are not financially empowered or backward, if they see a woman going to a police station it is seen as a taboo. There is a social stigma attached to a woman who ends up in a police station, either as a victim or as an accused. So that's where the role of police officers comes. These days a lot of efforts are being taken by the police officers across the country to do community outreach campaigns.
AMT: And so what, to convince families to allow their daughters to be talked to? Do police officers have to get permission to even be there to go to see the victims?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Absolutely. As for the new legislation's, a woman police officer has to be present at the time of dealing with the victim of sexual assault. So when I mentioned about the community outreach programs, most of these police officers make it a point to visit the community, take the community elders into confidence, and give them an assurance that the identity of the victim will be kept confident so that she doesn't have to go through the stigma that is attached to reporting a crime. So that way you're giving confidence to the community that a woman can come to the police station without any fear and she can still go ahead and seek justice.
AMT: And have you seen a change in communities? Did the people leading these communities once feel either shame or disgust with a woman who was once in those positions? Like has that changed?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Not much. Change is slow. It happens slowly. Some of the urban communities, there's a lot of change and they're encouraging the women to come out and publicly speak about the abuse. But if you take a look at the rural communities in India, which is quite huge, lot needs to be done.
AMT: You have written about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault of women in public spaces, things that happen on the streets. Can you tell us what happens?
REMA RAJESHWARI: We call it eve-teasing in India. It's about public harassment of a woman. It can be cat-calling. It can be groping or unwanted touching of a woman against her consent. So two years ago in the state of Telangana where I work, we started something called "She Teams." This was a specially trained anti eve-teasing force. So we used to train police officers to go and be present in public spaces in plain clothes and they carry some gadgets and they keep looking for these men who try to harass women in public spaces and they secretly videotape the whole incident, and he's taken into custody immediately. So in most of the cases the woman doesn't have to give a complaint herself and we take cognisance of the case, and justice is given to the girl. So this has given a lot of confidence to the women. But this is happening only in one state. I've been championing for the cause to call for a collective social responsibility because keeping a woman safe on the street is not the responsibility of law enforcement alone. The society needs to own it up and they need to educate their boys to be responsible towards a woman in a public space.
AMT: So tell me a little bit more about the results you had with the "She Teams" with what you call eve-teasing. What were the numbers of arrests? What happened?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Well, in the first year when we started the work, we had registered over 800 cases within a matter of six months. And with just 100 teams in a metropolitan city, that number was really shocking. So today the entire state implements the "She Teams." And until this point, eye-teasing was not really considered as a crime by the society because of the kind of influence movies have in India. Most of the movies have a very common narrative, which a persistent pursuit of a female lead as long as she falls for the male lead. And he can resort to anything. He can resort to stalking her and harassing her until she falls for him. And it is an accepted thing.
AMT: So you arrested that many men in just six months. What was it like for women to be on the streets? Were they afraid to go out?
REMA RAJESHWARI: We did a survey asking all these women how it was for them to be out on the street. Most of these women gave a feedback saying that they are extremely cautious. That was the word they used. No one used the word we felt "safe" or "unsafe." They said, 'we always made it a point to be extremely cautious when we went outside'. That is an indicator which points towards the fact that maybe they're not feeling safe enough.
AMT: So this eve-teasing. This aggressive groping and cat-calling and unwanted touching. You've written about something else and that's the consequences of stalking. Tell me a little bit more about what happens with women who are stalked and how prevalent that is?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Until the Nirbhaya incident happened, stalking was considered as a petty crime under the Indian Penal Code. And for the society it was not a crime at all. We usually hear this dialogue that, 'oh boys will be boys. If they don't pursue a woman they are not boys at all'. So now stalking is made punishable under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. If you look at the incidents which happened over the past two years, there have been cases where stalked victims have been killed and they have thrown acid on their faces. And some of them have been harassed to the extent that they have to move spaces, they leave the village or they move to another place. But this was never spoken about. But now there is a conversation in India which is happening around the issue because recently there was an incident where a very famous cricketer's daughter was stalked by a man and that immediately drew national attention.
AMT: You mentioned acid attacks are also cases of women being lit on fire.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Yes. So when a woman refuses the advances of a man or refuses to accept his demand for marriage, there have been cases where they just go and throw acid on her face because the man doesn't want her to find another man or get married to anybody but him.
AMT: You're underscoring just how difficult it is societally for women when it comes to the issue of violence and sexual violence. Makes me wonder how hard it is to be a female police officer, let alone a police chief in that system.
REMA RAJESHWARI: I have to say that it is not easy. It is definitely hard because as a female police officer you need to prove yourself on a day to day basis. I think that is something common across the world. But I'd like to say that this is not about being male or female. Those days are long gone. We are all police officers and since day one I've done everything that every male police officer on the force has done. But yes there is a common narrative which attach male officers to leadership qualities and female police officers are seen as somebody who would bring in the concept of nurturing to the police force. So my appeal to the police organisations across the country is that when they want to hire more women in the force it should be as a matter of scaling up the effectiveness of the force and not as an act of fairness.
AMT: Rema Rajeshwari, I'm really curious to know your own story. Why did you want to do this? How did this start for you?
REMA RAJESHWARI: As a child my grandmother used to tell me so many stories about the great civil servants do in India. So I grew up listening to all those stories. I always wanted to be part of the Indian civil services. So when I took the exam, I ended up in Indian police service. Even though it was not part of the original plan, once I became part of the force, I fell in love with my job. And I became the top of my class and that gave me a huge platform to start my work. So I started my job as an assault commander with Greyhounds. It's an elite force which fights left-wing extremists in India. I've had a good ride and I've been using my job to create more opportunities for women like me to join the force.
AMT: What was your role with the Greyhounds?
REMA RAJESHWARI: So my role was to lead my teams and to launch jungle-based operations to fight the extremists.
AMT: And you're a trained sniper as well, are you not?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Yes I am.
AMT: I didn't realize actually that there was an elite force doing jungle operations in India. How big a problem is the insurgency that the Greyhounds were fighting?
REMA RAJESHWARI: So the organization which is outlawed now called the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) is fighting against the state. And 172 districts are battling this issue. And the state where I am working is one of the state's which has been facing this issue for the last 30 years.
AMT: How long were you with the Greyhounds?
REMA RAJESHWARI: I was there for about a year.
AMT: And then what did you do after that?
REMA RAJESHWARI: After my stint with the Greyhounds, I was posted as assistant superintendent police in one of the largest subdivisions in the state. It has a lot of responsibilities, including training of the force and maintaining order within the force.
AMT: And in the job you have now. How many people do you command?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Close to 5,000.
AMT: And how rare are you? How many women are choosing to be police in India?
REMA RAJESHWARI: If you look at the figure of women it is barely 7 percent of the total force. The female police officers who are in leadership position is still less than 2 percent in India. Even if a woman is inducted into the force, she is usually deployed into some traditionally stereotypical roles such as, taking care of reception in a police station or being part of a deployment when there is a public event and a more number of women are expected there. So we've been requesting the state government that women should be able to do the job male police officers have been doing, including investigation duties and being in the front-line and being in the public interface so that the community gets to know that the women are there. And especially in a country like India, a woman victim will feel more comfortable to approach a female police officer than a male police officer.
AMT: What is all of that like for you on a personal level though? Even though you make the point that you see the policing as policing as policing, regardless of gender. How many obstacles did you have to face to get to the position you're at with the authority you have?
REMA RAJESHWARI: The only obstacle that I can cite right now is the mindset because in India fighting mindset is the biggest challenge of female police chief can have. I do the same job as my male colleague. But fighting the mindset of the society is a huge battle for every woman in uniform.
AMT: I'm guessing you work long hours as well.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Oh yes. My job. It's pretty much 24/7. My residence, it is not called as a residence. It is called a camp office. So that means I'm pretty much on the job 24/7.
AMT: How do you make time for your family life?
REMA RAJESHWARI: It's a struggle to keep the balance. But when I think about it, as a police chief, in the initial ten years I get a chance to work closely in coordination with the community and it's a great opportunity that I have. So I have a responsibility to leave a legacy for the women who are going to join the force in the future. So I need to lead by example. So I cannot really take my opportunity for granted.
AMT: I want to ask you a little bit more about the kind of policing you are able to do around the issue of violence against women. As you point out in the aftermath Jyoti Singh case the government commissioned the Justice Verma Committee. Some recommendations were rejected. And I'm thinking specifically of the recommendation that would have made non-consensual sex in a marriage a crime.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Yes, marital rape. That's what we call it in India. Mr. Verma gave a very strong recommendation calling the governments to criminalize marital rape. But unfortunately the demand was not taken into consideration and quite recently the government took a stand saying that if we criminalize marital rape it can be misused and more men will be harassed in the name of marital rape. As a member of the police force I cannot take an official stand on the issue. But personally I feel that case by case consideration has to be given. And a lot of discretion has to be given to the law enforcement to decide and take a strong stand on marital rape because in India a majority of the women are financially dependent on a man. You cannot expect that a woman who is going through a marital rape will be able to report the crime even if she's going through it for many years. So we need to come to a conclusion or we need to have a consensus regarding this issue and we hope that maybe in the future strong action will be taken on this issue.
AMT: I do understand that it is considered a crime if the wife is under the age of 15, am I right?
REMA RAJESHWARI: It is, yes. Yes, it is.
AMT: How many 15-year- old brides are there?
REMA RAJESHWARI: Oh it's huge. I mean if you look at the issue of child marriage in India it is huge. Even in urban centres parents in India do not want to invest in girls education because they feel that there is a higher opportunity cost in investing money in a girls education because once she's married off they're not going to get the returns. Even if she has a job, the husband or the husband's family is going to gain out of it. The reason why the girls are married young, in India if you have to marry your girl off you need to pay a huge amount of dowry, which is a criminal offence but it is a widely practiced thing in India. So in the district that I have worked as a police chief I ran a campaign called "Saving Child Brides." We used to run community outreach campaigns going deep into remote villages, educating the parents about the health implications a girl will have if she if married young and the kind of violence a girl has to go through when she's married to a much older man. So change is happening, but it is going to take some time.
AMT: When you were doing that how much support were you getting in the community then? That sounds like an incredible amount of work to try to push things forward.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Well surprisingly I had a great positive response from the community because for the community the way they looked at it was that a police officer was reaching out to them which was not the usual case in India. Because there was this huge gap between the law enforcement and community in India that people would never feel free to approach a police officer. So in my case when I decided to go out into the community and interact with them at the level which was not within the usual police affairs, they felt very happy and they wanted to help us. The reason that we could succeed in bringing down the raids and some of the districts was because of the community support that we had.
AMT: So as you go forward what's at stake here for Indian society if women don't feel safe in public or in their own homes?
REMA RAJESHWARI: That is why we are calling for a change in attitude and we are calling for a collective social responsibility. If a woman has to feel safe in India it is not the responsibility of law enforcement alone. The family has to own it up. The society has to own it up. The community at large has to own it up. So when we run these campaigns the first thing we tell the boys present there is that when you look at a woman look at her as your responsibility or not as an opportunity, so that you can just go ahead and harass her or take advantage of her. That's not how it should be. So we are calling for parental accountability, a collective social responsibly. It's a long drawn battle and it's going to take many, many years. But I'm sure change will happen.
AMT: You sound very passionate and committed to being part of that change.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Absolutely.
AMT: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. It's really important to hear your voice.
REMA RAJESHWARI: Thank you so much Anna Maria. This was really a great honour.
AMT: Rema Rajeshwari is the superintendent, what we would call chief of police, in the Indian state of Telangana. She joined us from Chicago. That's our program for today. Stay with Radio One for Q. Lena Waith made history late in 2017 when she became the first African-American woman to win the Emmy for comedy writing. She'll talk to Tom Power about her new project, a TV series about growing up on the south side of Chicago. Remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It lets you browse through past episodes of our show and start listening in just a few seconds, free from the App Store or Google Play. Today is "Blue Monday" the third Monday of January which is supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Of course there is nothing scientific backing up that claim. It was originally dreamt up as part of a marketing campaign. But "Blue Monday" has caught on. So we're going to end with some music to improve your mood. This is Fats Domino with his song "Blue Monday." I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thank you for listening to The Current.
[Music: Fats Domino - Blue Monday]
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