A group of Hamilton organizations have begun developing a platform to track and address Hamilton’s high rate of hate crimes per capita

C/O Sergey Zolkin

In 2019, Hamilton had the highest number of police-reported hate crimes per capita in Canada at 17.1 per 100,000 people. The national rate, in comparison, was 4.9 out of 100,000. Further, many have argued that Hamilton hasn’t done enough to address its high rate of hate crimes.

In response to this, a variety of Hamilton organizations are in the process of developing a platform to report hate crimes online. Associate Professor in the McMaster University School of Social Work, Ameil Joseph, the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, Spectrum Hamilton and McMaster’s office of community engagement are all involved in the creation of this platform.

Kojo Damptey, executive director of the HCCI, noted that the main purposes of the online platform are to accurately track the number of hate crimes in Hamilton and to offer support and resources to those who are victims of hate.

“When we're talking about hate crimes in Canada, the only numbers that are available are what police departments submit to stats Canada. That doesn't give us an accurate picture of all the hate crimes and hate incidents that are happening . . . By having this community[-based], independent platform, it will give us a better sense of what's happening in the community and how we can address this issue of hate,” said Damptey.

“When we're talking about hate crimes in Canada, the only numbers that are available are what police departments submit to stats Canada. That doesn't give us an accurate picture of all the hate crimes and hate incidents that are happening."

Kojo Damptey

According to Sashaina Singh, project coordinator for McMaster’s office of community engagement, the project is still in the research phase and focus groups are currently being conducted.

“Students are doing focus groups with marginalized communities in Hamilton to find out what they'd like to see in the platform, if they would use it, why they would use it, how they would use it, how the data would be used,” Singh explained.

Damptey noted that one major benefit of an online platform is that it allows victims of hate to report incidents in an immediate fashion. However, Damptey added, this is only true for individuals with smartphones or access to the internet.

Given that an online platform has both benefits and drawbacks, Damptey explained that there are still many aspects of this initiative that have yet to be decided.

Singh explained that more decisions about the platform will be made once the research phase is concluded. According to Singh, the ongoing research will guide important decisions about the online platform, such as where it will be housed, what it will be used for and how it will be accessed.

“Hopefully, at the end of the focus groups, we will be able to have a broad [selection] of different options and resources for people,” said Damptey.

“Hamilton is pretty unique and well-positioned to learn from our super active and vocal communities [about] what might work best here, and it's nice to see the energy and the support,” said Singh.

“Hamilton is pretty unique and well-positioned to learn from our super active and vocal communities [about] what might work best here, and it's nice to see the energy and the support."

Sashaina Singh

Singh added that she hopes the platform will help all members of the Hamilton community, including McMaster students and faculty. 

“The most important thing is making sure that people that experience [hate have access to] resources and support,” Damptey emphasized. 

“The most important thing is making sure that people that experience [hate have access to] resources and support." 

Kojo Damptey
Illustration by Elisabetta Paiano / Production Editor

I never actually applied to be the Arts and Culture Reporter, I got here mostly by accident. I applied to a few other positions on staff, but when I got a phone call from our Editor-in-Chief on a windy summer day to offer me a job, it was for A&C Reporter. I didn’t even know it was a paid position for another month. 

McMaster isn’t my first school, I went to Western for two and a half years before coming here. In my first year at Mac I didn’t know very much about the school, and to be honest I still don’t know where Thode is and at this point I’m too afraid to ask. But the Silhouette gave me a home on campus (our little office in the dungeons of the MUSC basement, untouched by natural light), and a group of friends that I didn’t have before. It made me feel like I was a part of a family, and a part of campus. 

As Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

One of the best parts of working at the Silhouette is being able to give a platform to community events and organizations that matter to me. I’ve had the privilege to write about sustainable fashion, body positivity, local businesses and charitable organizations in addition to exciting arts initiatives. I was gone from Hamilton for a few years, and the Sil helped me to see my hometown in a fresh light. My magnum opus is my article on a local meme page The Hammer Memer. Don’t let your memes be dreams, folks. If there’s something happening in the arts community in Hamilton, don’t hesitate to contribute something to the Sil. It’s worth it. 

I’ve also had the opportunity to write for other sections of the Silhouette. Being able to give voice to my thoughts about the Yellow Vests outside of City Hall was something vitally important to me, and the Sil let me do that. If I hadn’t been a part of the team I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to submit something, but I’m so glad I did.

As I sit at my desk at home, I feel a deep sense of loss. This is my final year at Mac, and I don’t think I’ve entirely processed that it’s over now. I can’t chill on the couches in the office and ask Hannah when the desks for the reporters are going to be built (spoiler alert folks: it didn’t happen). I can’t warm up my lunch in the microwave that can’t be used at the same time as the kettle without blowing a fuse. I can’t chat with my friends about the latest tea while munching on the chicken strips from La Piazza. It feels like just as I was settling in everything ended.

In grade 12 English I read the book Stone Angel, which ends mid-way through a sentence. That’s how these past few weeks have felt for me; like an unfinished ending. It’s unsettling and unsatisfying, and I think we’re all feeling that way. Zoom calls are fine, but they’re not the same as sitting in your final few lectures and talking to your friends over coffee. 

It feels wrong to mourn for this when there are people who have it much worse than me right now, but undergrad has been a long and complicated process for me, and I can’t help but feel sad that our end of year festivities have been postponed or cancelled. This is it, this is our last issue for the year, and we can’t have a last hurrah. Oh jeez, I’m crying a bit just thinking about it.

So here it is, my love letter to the Sil. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this wild ride. Maybe this isn’t an ending, but a beginning. At least I can use the Oxford Comma again, thank the lord. Thank you to everyone on the team for being so kind, and thank you to everyone reading this for getting through to the end of my sentimental ramble. This isn’t a goodbye, just an until next time.

 

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Graphic by Katarina Brkic

Two long weeks after The Silhouette released an article regarding the gaps within the McMaster Students Union sexual violence disclosure processes, MSU President Ikram Farah finally released a statement.

The statement, which reads as a rambling pat on the back, condemns sexual violence and commits to a systematic review of the Maroons and the MSU as a whole, something that two Maroons representatives brought forward when they suggested a full audit of the service back in September 2018.

In the fall, a regularly scheduled service audit was conducted in which Maroons representatives made it known that an additional reporting tool would be useful. They also noted that the MSU’s workplace policy on harassment, discrimination and sexual violence should be more survivor-centric.

In response, the MSU vice president (Administration), Kristina Epifano, developed an online reporting tool and reportedly consulted with volunteers, staff and experts to update the workplace policy. But once released, it was discovered that this online reporting tool was not nearly as thorough or inclusive as the Maroons representatives had hoped.

Additionally, there is no evidence that the board of directors made any effort to lay the groundwork for investigation of sexual assault within the Maroons.

These Maroons representatives spent six months advocating for a full service review of the Maroons that focused on sexual assault. It was only when they made a public report to The Silhouette that the MSU president pledged to begin investigating sexual assault within the service.

Farah’s statement comes two weeks too late and six months after the fact that the two Maroons representatives reported the culture of sexual assault within the Maroons to Epifano.

The fact is that over the course of the two weeks following release of our article, the Maroons were actively hiring new representatives and ignoring the calls to action from the McMaster community.

Though Farah stated that Maroons events will be suspended for the time being while the review is underway, it is unclear whether the Maroons will be involved in Welcome Week this fall.

There’s a lot to say about the statement. We could mention that within the statement, Farah makes a note that she personally has not found any “actual reports” of sexual violence within the Maroons team this year. While she does acknowledge that the lack of reporting does not mean that harassment or assault hasn’t occurred, this tangent is absolutely unnecessary and self-praising.

What’s more is Farah’s claim that the MSU’s “practices and disclosure protocols are exemplary of the sector.”

What does exemplary mean if the practices and disclosure policies have not been consistent, thorough nor inclusive before these past few months? In what way is taking two weeks to release a statement regarding the matter exemplary?

Within the MSU, the lines between personal and professional are constantly blurred. Given that the MSU has consistently protected individuals accused of sexual assault, it is no surprise that survivors may not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual assault.

Whether the perpetrator was a member of the Student Representative Assembly or a presidential candidate, the MSU has continuously failed to support survivors.

This is indicative of a larger issue within the MSU: there is no independent human resources department to respond to complaints and initiate reviews.
Maroons representatives spent six months advocating for change, and it took two weeks and dozens of community members, volunteers and MSU employees taking to social media to demand a response from the Maroons coordinator and have the MSU commit to a full service review.

In order to properly address sexual assault at a systemic level, the MSU needs to overhaul its sexual assault policy and oversight process.

The MSU has proven time and time again that it is poorly equipped to properly respond to sexual assault allegations. It is left entirely up to the board of directors to ensure that policies are upheld, but they are not trained or qualified to respond to issues of this magnitude.

The MSU needs an independent HR department to consistently and proactively address concerns so that students do not have to turn to public disclosure in order to initiate a review process.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

From the Student Representative Assembly requiring a survivor to disclose their assault in order for the removal of a perpetrator on the assembly to news of rampant sexual assault within the McMaster Students Union Maroons, this past year has been filled with controversy.

Given the events of this year, and what has occurred in the past, it is shocking that the MSU lacks a formal human resources department.

HR departments exist to deal with workplace disputes and ultimately ensure that employees are aware of their rights as minimally outlined by the Ontario Employment Standards Act. This includes the creation, implementation and enforcement of policies and structures that support employee rights like formal complaint structures and disciplinary policies.

Currently, the only HR presence that exists within the MSU is through the operations coordinator, Maddison Hampel. Though Hampel has formalized HR training and experience, her role does not allow her to adequately support all HR functions of the MSU.

Unfortunately, the only HR-focused training for student employees ends at the mandatory online workplace health and safety training modules that all employees of McMaster University are required to complete.

The majority of student employees, myself included, have never even been formally introduced to Hampel or made aware of our employment rights during our training sessions.

If we had a formal HR department, it is extremely likely that the Maroons sexual assault allegations would have been dealt with appropriately.

In fact, with a proper HR department, policies for sexual assault and workplace harassment would likely already be in place, and be created by individuals with the expertise to do so.

A formal HR department could also allow for better and more comprehensive hiring practices wherein individuals who were previously reported to the department are properly dealt with and not re-hired for other positions within the MSU, a consistent problem of the institution.

At the very least, an HR department that is independent of the MSU could allow student workers to feel comfortable reporting any issues. As it stands, I report my workplace issues to my direct supervisors, but this gets complicated if my concerns are about individuals in positions of power.

An HR department can ensure supervisors are accountable for their actions and held to an expected level of professionalism.   

Josh Marando, president-elect of the MSU for the 2019-2020 year, has acknowledged that the lack of a formal HR department is an issue. One of his platform points is to restructure the internal operations of the MSU.

According to his #BuildTogether platform, he plans to divide the current full-time staff position of operations coordinator to create a specific HR coordinator who is independent from the board.

While the operations coordinator’s role would be shifted to focus largely on supporting clubs and internal operations, the proposed HR coordinator is meant to “support our students through connecting with university programs that have a focus on equity and anti-discrimination.”

Though creation of an independent HR coordinator is an important first step, it is not enough. The MSU is comprised of over 40 full-time permanent staff and 300 part-time student staff. A singular HR coordinator cannot possibly support this vast number of employees.

The lumping of the HR coordinator role with equity and anti-discrimination programs can also be problematic. Certainly the future HR coordinator can and should consult with equity groups to ensure their policies are consistent with student needs, but it is important that the two ultimately remain separate.

This is because it is possible that issues concerning diversity and discrimination may arise from the HR department. This would then make it difficult for individuals to report issues to the same department where the issues stem from.

What the MSU needs is a full-blown autonomous HR department, with policies in place and trained personnel. Only through implementation of an HR department can the MSU truly account for the safety of its student employees.

It’s important to remember that students employed by the MSU are employees. They deserve the same respect and safety enforced by a HR department in any other workplace.

Honestly, student workers should be unionized to ensure their rights are defended. Until they are, the MSU must do a better job in the 2019-2020 year of protecting their employees through implementation of formal HR resources and personnel.

 

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