Most people who read this blog know who I am and what I do.
Sometimes I want to speak for myself but no matter what I do, some people perceive it as me speaking for the Capital Poetry Collective.
There isn’t a whole lot I can do about that. I still have my opinions. I still have things I want to speak out about. There are still things that I get to say without it being filtered through ‘official channels’.
This has happened before. When I spoke out against people saying misogynistic things on our stage or at our show, some people got mad. They said that ‘in my position’ I shouldn’t say such things.
Well, I am in a similar situation again. I am being attacked by Ottawa’s biggest blowhard, John Akpata.
Somehow this all revolves around ‘Safer Spaces’.
Well here it is. Let’s put it all out there.
None of this is the CPC speaking, it is just me.
A while back, we received second and third hand complaints about a poet in the scene (Array-of-Words) and possible Safe Space violations. This was the first time I, personally, had heard of any concerns along those lines. Since then I have been told (and I believe) that there have been concerns about him and other poets all along, but at the time, I didn’t know about them.
Honestly, people don’t talk about stuff like that to the ‘old guy’.
We looked into it. Nobody would talk. Nobody would actually file a complaint. The most we got was “this person told me that…” and ‘this person’ denied it.
We had nothing.
Not knowing any better, I decided to just try to keep my eyes and ears open and try to be hyper-aware.
It is important to note that we were criticized for INVESTIGATING the allegations by John Akpata.
Oh how quickly some people can switch from defending the accused to claiming some sort of moral high ground.
Time passed. More and more, I became aware of the general misogynist nature of our society. I mean, I already KNEW, but it was becoming something that I started really paying attention to and wow… it is everywhere.
Meanwhile, something else shifted. I used to try to address people saying hateful things on stage in a quiet manner. The early issue with Gavin Russell was dealt with successfully. The (first) issue with Shaun Sullivan was handled sloppily. It was the first time someone had questioned our rules from the opposite angle… as in ‘why do you allow that on stage?’
Before then, every time we brought up Safe Space in the AGM, the people there would insist that ‘freedom of speech’ was paramount. So, when someone asks why we ‘allowed’ someone to say something on stage the answer was ‘we can’t control what they say on stage’.
I’ll be blunt and say that this answer is no longer satisfactory to me.
Then came the night that I have blogged about, when both Omar and Fash said things to tip me over the edge. I said enough is enough, and I started calling people out publicly.
Did I take heat for it? Yes I did. Too bad. Volunteering to act as Slam Master for CapSlam does not invalidate my right to an opinion and my right to stand up for what I see as right.
We started hearing the second hand stuff about Ray again. We removed him as OYPS Slam Master.
Then we got a formal complaint. For the first time, we had someone who was willing to step forward.
This next sentence took me minutes to write because I take things like privacy seriously. We agreed to confidentiality at the meeting, but the reality is, RAY already broke that confidentiality. He went and told someone about everything that happened, including the name of the person who had filed a complaint against him.
As far as I am concerned, if he can talk about it, so can I. (Though I am not naming anyone else in that meeting.)
At the meeting Ray agreed to a ban. He said he would not attend any Ottawa poetry shows for an indefinite period.
That is what the person who filed the complaint asked for and that is what they got.
That seemed, at the time, to be the first steps towards a successful resolution.
Seemed. At the time.
The next thing that happened is that Greg Frankson flipped out and started yelling that we had somehow violated Ray’s rights and that CapSlam shouldn’t be allowed to attend CFSW and a bunch of other absolute nonsense.
I now believe that the reason he was doing that wasn’t to defend Ray, but to try and make it harder for anyone to come after him.
For those who were at CFSW and witnessed how angry I was at Greg, it was about this. As far as I was concerned, he had interfered in our attempt to deal with a safe space violator and tried to obstruct our attempts to make the scene safer. He had even told people NOT involved in the process who the person who filed the complaint was! Absolutely unacceptable!
We used to be friends but that day was definitely gone. I still had no idea how much worse it was going to get.
In the meantime, John asked us to readdress what Gavin had said on stage. He asked for a meeting that included Brad, Gavin, John and myself. We had it. John was quite amicable. He seemed to completely accept Gavin’s apology. He asked Gavin to put it in a letter and post it on the CPC blog. He wrote the letter and I posted it.
Then the Frankson complaint came in. Multiple women. Multiple complaints. Ranging from Sexual Harassment to Sexual Assault. Greg Frankson. One of the founders of the Collective.
This time we had more experience than the time with Ray. Not much, but some.
We used to have a Safe Space group but it had pretty much dissolved. We had a group who had agreed to put together some Safe Policy (led by John Akpata) but nothing had been done. Brad and I talked about who we could pull together for a grievance committee and we agreed with the make up so a meeting was called.
(Once again, I am not going to ‘out’ the committee members, but for the purpose of this discussion I need to say that Akpata was there.)
The conversation about the banning went quicker than expected. Where I thought this meeting was going to be the start of the process, everyone was very clear in that they wanted to call for a ban right now. So we did that. The person who filed the complaint had asked for a statement about him being banned (something that was not part of the request when we dealt with Ray), so we did that.
There was some concern over the wording of the statement. John insisted that we NOT say what he was banned for. We reached a compromise. An unsatisfactory one, in hindsight.
Throughout the meeting, though, I witnessed the worst behaviour that I could imagine as John badgered and bullied the woman who brought the complaint forward. He complained about HER behaviour and claimed that she wasn’t doing enough.
(Am I sensing a theme? John, who has done nothing to try and help improve things in our scene, even going back to the first days when people are telling me that ‘everybody knew’ about Greg… does that include you, John? What did YOU do about it? HE wants to tell other people, who are TRYING to help people and make things better that they aren’t doing enough… or are doing too much… or basically not doing EXACTLY what he thinks they should.)
We walked away in agreement to the ban and the statement, which was what the person who filed the complaint had asked for.
(Each time we had a formal grievance we ended up doing exactly what was asked by the complainant.)
Also, the woman who filed the complaint informed us that she would also be filing a complaint with Spoken Word Canada. I am pretty sure we offered her our support if she needed it.
Then, two things happened. We made our statement and the nationwide community took notice of it.
And John started acting in a completely irresponsible fashion. He started complaining that we weren’t acting properly. He threatened to try and get our funding cut-off. He threatened to get our show shut down. He threatened a grievance against me personally. He threatened a grievance against Ruthanne.
Remember, John was part of the meeting where we took action. He agreed to everything we did. So he was complaining that we weren’t doing enough. (Really he was complaining that everyone didn’t do EXACTLY what he suggested. How dare people have their own opinions on things!)
He also started saying things which I would like to call errors but I am CERTAIN that John knows the truth. He was THERE. That means they aren’t errors.
He claimed we were deleting posts from the group we had set up. That never happened.
He claimed we had ‘done nothing’ about Ray when he knew that wasn’t true.
He claimed we had ‘done nothing’ about Gavin when he ABSOLUTELY knew it wasn’t true.
He claimed we hadn’t done anything to develop a proper grievance policy, when HE was the one heading up the group that was supposed to be developing the policy!
So, what then?
Well, while we were trying to deal with the fallout from the Frankson statement (many other scenes have now banned him. The media got hold of it but at the request of the women who had filed the complaint, we have had no comment), we now had to deal with Akpata trying to destroy everything that had been built. (Not for the first time. I was once in a meeting with him about the then-new Urban Legends where he claimed that CapSlam was done and should get out of the way for the new show.)
This takes me back to a really important point. Some people think we should call the police. Some people think we should talk to the press. I am not personally opposed to doing either of those things, but the problem is the VICTIMS have said they don’t want either of those things to happen.
Let me make this crystal clear: you don’t make safer spaces by ignoring the wishes of the victims. If you start doing that you will no longer have people coming forward. If that happens, it is all done.
So, now what? Well, we have had a victim come forward to ask for a new resolution on a previous complaint. The request was completely reasonable and we are working on resolving that right now.
It is POSSIBLE that John isn’t aware of that, I suppose.
So, now let’s look at what he just decided to mislead the public about, shall we?
Ray Guillermo aka ArRay-of WoRds is leaving Ottawa. No doubt to work with youth and the vulnerable. Many people, including men, women and youth (minors, children) have complained about his conduct to the Director Brad Morden, Slam Master Rusty Priske and Volunteer Coordinator Ruthanne Edwards many times over the years. The same people who led a ‘Safe Space’ crusade against Greg Frankson are the very people who have been willfully blind to the actions of Ray. No grievance filed with SpoCan, no public statement, no reports to the media. I would like to know why.
Can we pick apart this statement?
I’ll skip the first sentence because other than knowing that Ray announced he was moving away, I have no idea what he plans to do or where he plans to go.
“Many people, including men, women and youth (minors, children) have complained about his conduct to…”
I covered this above but I do want to be really clear on one point… to the best of my knowledge (as in, I can’t speak for Brad and Ruthanne) we have never heard a complaint about Ray FROM youth. When we investigated the second hand complaints, none of the youth would agree to speak on the complaints. The fact that there were second hand complaints… yes. I will not deny that at all. At the time I was convinced that if there wasn’t a formal complaint that would COULD NOT act on it. I no longer believe that.
Ruthanne Edward hasn’t been the volunteer co-ordinator in… at least three years, I think. Small point but still…
“Safe Space’ crusade against Greg Frankson…” interesting choice of words. What ‘crusade’ is that? Does John mean the when we resolved the grievance against him that John was part of the committee for? So is he now implying that we SHOULDN’T have banned Greg? He was pretty adamant IN the meeting that we should, so what are we to think here?
John’s selective memory again? Like how he is forgetting that he criticized us for investigating the complaints against Ray in the first place?
“have been willfully blind to the actions of Ray” Again, an odd choice of words considering the fact that Ray IS banned from our shows. If he means that we didn’t do enough he should say we didn’t do enough. Don’t lie and claim we did nothing.
“No grievance filed with SpoCan” Well, of course not. We didn’t file a grievance with SpoCan about Greg either. The persona who filed with us also filed with them. We told the person who filed a complaint with us about Ray that if she wanted to file with SpoCan that we would help her, just as we did for the Frankson grievance. She (thus far) has chosen not to do that. (Possibly partially due to the SpoCan Anti-Appression Committee mandate that says they will only deal with complaints about incidents that happen at SpoCan events. This is a rule that I strongly disagree with.)
“no public statement” The initial complainant never asked for a public statement and we were following her wishes. I now happen to believe that a public statement should be standard but since we have been through this exactly twice it is hard to claim a precedent has been set. This is also a work in progress.
“no reports to the media” We did not speak to the media about Frankson either. Based on reports I have seen, the only person who went against the wishes of the women who had filed the complaint was David Silverberg and A: he is not part of the CPC and B: he may not have known before he spoke that the women had asked for this plan of action. I have no idea.
“I would like to know why.” No, he would like to raise hell. If he wanted to know the answers to the questions he would have spoken to me when I reached out to him twice after he decided to go on the attack following the Frankson statement.
And now somebody will tell me I shouldn’t have posted this and that I should try to settle things and an amicable manner.
Well, I went through a lot of my life being the person who tried to ‘smooth things over’. I refuse to continue to let a bully be a bully.
Criticize me. Go ahead. But TELL THE TRUTH. Do not try to slant things around to try and make yourself look good and try to be a conquering hero after years of doing nothing.
I don’t claim everything I have done has worked exactly the way I had hoped but I am going to stand by this: I am always going to try and do the right thing. Even when it hurts. Even when it puts me at risk.
Why was mad at Greg BEFORE I found out about the complaints of assault? Because he was making it less likely that victims would come forward. He was trying to make it harder for us to do the right thing.
(probably to protect himself, as it turned out.)
Why am I now mad at John?
The exact same reason.