Editor’s Note: This piece was published publicly on Twitter on Feb. 26, 2021 by Rebecca Salazar Leon who was a member of the “roundtable to address sexual violence on campuses” announced in December 2020 by Tammy Scott-Wallace, the minister responsible for women’s equality. The roundtable held its first meetings in January 2021.
Student activists, including Michelle Roy and Salazar Leon, left the process in late February, issuing a bilingual “Statement from Survivors and Student Advocates In Regards to GNB’s Round Table on Sexual Violence on Campuses” explaining how the process left the students feeling manipulated for political gain while continuing “to protect abusers and the universities who defend them while silencing survivors.”
Roy initiated the @accountabilityatmta account on Instagram in the fall of 2020 to provide a forum for survivors of sexual abuse. This movement quickly spread to other campuses, including the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton where public demonstrations were held and one of the campus psychiatrists was suspended by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, leading to UNB “ending its service contract” with him. Salazar’s tweets were written in response to the government’s position in a Global News piece.
Thanks to Global News for covering this story after we posted our statement earlier this week. I am one of the students involved, and have some thoughts about Minister Tammy Scott-Wallace’s claims in this article.
First comparison. In the Global News article, the Minister responsible for women’s equality states she did not know we would no longer be participating; however, in the email she sent us Monday (Feb. 22, 2021), she admits to cancelling all meetings with herself, and subtly but definitely discourages us from attending other meetings: “The four of you do not need to be available today as we collect this information they have prepared.”
I should add that any ambiguity in the Minister’s email was quickly resolved by the emails we subsequently received from Government of New Brunswick (GNB) staff, cancelling the Zoom meetings in question.
Second comparison. The Minister states there was never any discussion of our being compensated for our consultations, contrary to her email, in which she claims she thought the issue had been addressed and expresses the (questionable) reasoning for that decision: “I thought the issue of compensation had been addressed so I am sorry. I simply do not want to discredit the process or the information by having to pay for it. I felt the public would see that in a negative way and that concerned me.”
For context, I had emailed the Minister and various GNB staff after our first meeting on January 27, 2021, to inquire about compensation given that we were essentially being asked to work as consultants. While I never received a response to this inquiry, when I brought it up in a meeting on January 19, 2021, (which the Minister chose not to attend, after giving us the impression she would), GNB staff informed me they thought the Minister and her staff had addressed this in an email to me. Obviously, this had not happened…
We were never informed that the decision not to pay us for our consultation was made because the Minister thought fair compensation would “discredit the process or the information” we gave. Must I unpack the harmful myths this decision is based on?
I’ll defer to the words of Maggie Forsythe from Sexual Violence New Brunswick on that issue, as stated in the Global News piece: “We need to be able to show that survivors are essential to this process and put their value and respect right up front (…) It’s important that we recognize that this work is done for far too long for free by people who are passionate and advocates for these issues.”
The Minister engaged us in bad faith as a performative gesture, with her mind already made up about the value of our experiences, our labour, and our worth.
In our first meeting, the Minister and her staff spent well over 40 minutes (I timed it) talking about how our voices –survivors’ voices– were the most important in this conversation. The irony that we were talked over for so long is telling; this was always meant to center the Minister’s public image, and not the experiences or recommendations of survivors of campus sexual violence. This was always a performative campaign for the Minister, using the unpaid work of survivors as a mere token.
In a conversation that was supposedly meant to make change after our experiences being exploited and gaslit by abusers and the universities that protect them, we were exploited and gaslit by a government that never meant to change those abuses of power.
It should not be ignored that we continue advocating for ourselves and for a future without sexual violence, or at least supports for survivors. This work is not a choice for us. It is this work that keeps us alive, that keeps our peers and future generations safe.
It is unpaid, thankless work. It is exhausting, but necessary. What is insulting is when powerful, moneyed institutions like our universities and the Government of New Brunswick use our work, but treat us as disposable. We know that treatment already; we refuse to accept more.
Rebecca Salazar is an activist, author, and PhD candidate currently based on the unceded territory of the Wolastoq people.