Manitoba

Poems by man who killed Indigenous woman removed from parliamentary website

Two poems written by Stephen Brown have been removed from the Library of Parliament website after a Manitoba MLA and others raised concerns that the poems showed disrespect.

Manitoba MLA Nahanni Fontaine says poems show disrespect toward his victim and others

Manitoba MLA Nahanni Fontaine took to social media to call for the poems to be removed. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

Two poems written by a man who killed an Indigenous woman have been removed from the parliamentary poet laureate website.

The poems by Stephen Brown included one about a sex worker, eliciting a chorus of public concern, including from Manitoba MLA Nahanni Fontaine, who said they showed disrespect toward his victim and other missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"There was a disconnect on why it would be so egregious and disrespectful," Fontaine said on Monday.

Brown, who changed his name from Steven Kummerfield, and his friend Alex Ternowetsky were convicted of manslaughter in the 1995 beating death of Pamela George, a First Nations woman.

Brown was sentenced to 6½ years in prison and was granted parole in 2000. He now lives in Mexico.

Two of Brown's poems were posted to the Library of Parliament website in 2017, when George Elliott Clarke was the parliamentary poet laureate.

They were included in a selection of poems chosen by Clarke during his tenure as part of a "poems of the month" space on the website to showcase Canadian poetry.

Clarke likened Brown's works those of American beat poets Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and referred to him has an "avant-garde poet" who is a "singular intelligence and artisan among English-Canadian poets."

Fontaine took to social media, calling on Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault to step in and have the poems removed.

Daniel Savoie, a spokesman for Canadian Heritage, issued a statement Monday saying neither Guilbeault nor the department play any role in the poet laureate program or its associated website.

Heather Lank, the parliamentary librarian, recommended the poems be removed and the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons agreed, said Tanya Sirois, a communications adviser for the Library of Parliament.

"The Library of Parliament has received numerous complaints regarding the presence of work by Stephen Brown on the parliamentary poet laureate website," Sirois said Monday.

She later said Clarke also supported the removal of the poems.

Brown's poems on the site were titled Plaza Domingo and Alejandra. The opening line of Alejandra refers to the woman the poem is about as "la pornai," or a sex worker in ancient Greece. At one point in the poem, it says, "I follow her."

Poets George Elliott Clarke and Steven Kummerfield (a.k.a. Stephen Brown) have worked together since 2005. Clarke says he was unaware Kummerfield killed an Indigenous woman in 1995. (Camelia Linta/Nimbus Publishing, Vallum)

In an interview on Sunday, Fontaine said she interpreted this line to mean the author was stalking the woman and said she found it "unacceptable" for a Canadian parliamentary website to be promoting a convicted murderer writing about stalking vulnerable women.

"Indigenous women will no longer stand by while patriarchy, misogyny and racism are being upheld and celebrated," Fontaine said after the poems were taken down on Monday. "And that is exactly what happened in this case."

In a tweet, she thanked those who joined her in calling for Brown's poems to be removed.

The First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs suggested the Library of Parliament was forced to do the "right" thing.

"There should've been a better position right from the get-go instead of having a whole bunch of people that are up in arms forcing them to do the right thing," Cora Morgan said.

Although George was killed decades ago, the legacy of tragedies and injustices continue, she said.

With files from Patrick Foucault

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