OTTAWA—Is there a rule that I don’t know about where women of colour are required to clean up messes that white men make? Is there a secret meeting of whiteness at hockey games? Is Tim Horton’s a sponsor?
In another iteration of the ongoing saga that is sexual harassment and assault in the Canadian Armed Forces, newly-minted Defence Minister Anita Anand held a press conference to apologize to the victims of the sexual scandal that seems to have no chance of ending soon. Flanked by General Wayne Eyre and deputy minister of national defence Jody Thomas, Anand delivered an apology that seemed to demonstrate that she got it. She understood the harmful effects, the lives ruined, and the souls shattered by gender discrimination—because sexual misconduct is a pathological method of discrimination, and it’s systemic. She understood that the military “leadership” left its female and female-identifying members—who risk their lives for this country and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms we hold dear—bleeding on the sidewalk, figuratively speaking. I won’t go over the ins and outs of this scandal, since I’ve already written about it and my colleague, Scott Taylor, has done a great job of keeping us informed.
“I am apologizing to you on behalf of the Government of Canada. We must acknowledge the pain and trauma that so many have endured because the very institution charged with protecting and defending our country has not always protected and defended its own members,” said Anand.
Cool, but … why is she apologizing?
Ok so I have thoughts about this apology from @CanadianForces and Anita Anand. Seeing 2 WOC apologizing for a mess made by white men who got their positions with the help of patriarchy rubs me the wrong way. And what's Anand's use of "I" about? She didn't make that mess #cdnpoli
— Erica Ifill (@wickdchiq) December 13, 2021
Former defence minister Harjit Sajjan cocked this up from the beginning, including unleashing a belligerent tirade to assuage his ego, and when asked questions he should’ve known the answers to at the House Defence Committee in Spring of this year, Sajjan shielded himself from criticism by using the cudgel of colour. “I’ve had many people, many white men, trying to tell me what my experience is,” he said. “Please don’t do that, don’t define my experience.” CTV News continued to report how Sajjan tried to blame the former military ombudsman, Gary Walbourne, who initially brought the complaint to Sajjan. Everyone was to blame except the man in power, Sajjan, and he’s gotten away with it, with zero accountability or discipline, because this government is so performative and shallow it thinks it can survive on branding alone.
This brings me to the crux of the situation: this government treats women as expendable and women of colour with contempt while claiming the sceptre of feminism, but without addressing patriarchy. Make it make sense.
It is disgusting to me that the prime minister trotted out Anand like a show pony to give an apology for something in which he is implicated. This is another example of the glass cliff in which women are brought into organizations to clean up the messes men make. And if you want to get a bit more intersectional, women of colour are brought in to clean up the messes white men make. There is a caretaker aspect to this phenomenon, as women are still expected to take care of the professional housekeeping. And women of colour, many of whom arrived in Canada to do domestic labour (I’m thinking of the West Indian Domestic Scheme, which changed over time to sourcing domestic labour from Asian countries), will always be seen by some as mammies. And that’s how Justin Trudeau treats women of colour in his cabinet—like mammies who are there to clean up after him and the other men in his circle. That treatment underpins the oppressive intersection of gender and race, and intersectionality is what this government committed to in its 2020 Speech from the Throne.
It is Trudeau who should’ve made this apology, not Anand. However, as been consistently demonstrated time and time again, Trudeau will use women of colour to shield him from criticism. Anand is just the latest in a litany of political corpses of the women of colour who dared to believe his Best Actor performances dedicated to diversity, reconciliation, intersectionality, and feminism, even though he’s achieved nothing on those fronts.
I had the honour of sitting next to Jean Augustine at Equal Voice’s recent gala celebrating 100 years of women in Parliament, and she talked about fighting against patriarchy and a bit of what it was like being the first Black woman to serve in federal Cabinet. In the background, Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland waxed poetic about how far we’ve come as women, and I wondered if she even acknowledged the harm her government has continued to inflict on women in the CAF.
I am at @EqualVoiceCA’s gala and I’m hearing the most powerful (white) women talk about:
1. Making men feel comfortable enough to support women (Kim Campbell)
2. Chrystia Freeland giving some weird speech about fathers and daughters.
I HAVE YET TO HEAR THE WORD PATRIARCHY
— Erica Ifill (@wickdchiq) December 8, 2021
What would’ve been different had Freeland been prime minister instead of Trudeau? Answer: nothing. Because patriarchy ensures that no matter who cooking the meal, the dinner guests are always the same.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.
The Hill Times