UN Human Rights Council Resolution: Maternal Death, Illness Are Human Rights Violations

Jodi Jacobson

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution recognizing maternal death and illness as a pressing human rights concern.

In 1988, I stayed for a week with a married couple, both physicians, who ran what was then recognized as one of the best rural clinics in the state of Maharashtra, India. Even so, they could not work miracles in a setting in which reaching the clinic itself represented a problem.  While there, one woman died of haemorrhage due to the combination of a complicated labor and delivery and her inability to get to the clinic in time to be saved. Another was dying of metastatic breast cancer, which had gone undiagnosed for months during her fourth pregnancy.

A couple of years later, attending a maternal mortality conference in Zimbabwe, I visited with a doctor who spoke about the number of women he’d watched die due to infection, haemorrhage and complications of unsafe abortion. While I had long worked from a policy perspective on and had passion for these issues, seeing them close-hand had a profound effect on me. I could not fathom why we were not doing more to address these problems…..except of course for the fact that governments did not make women’s health a priority and that conservative forces continued to lobby against investments in basic sexual and primary reproductive health care.

Yesterday (June 17th 2009), 21 years after that first trip to India, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution recognizing maternal death and illness as a pressing human rights concern. Over 70 UN member states co-sponsored this resolution, led by Colombia and New Zealand.

The US was a co-sponsor from “almost the start of this,” according to one advocate, “participating in the discussions quite constructively.”

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By passing this resolution, according to a statement released by a coalition of advocacy organizations involved;

governments express grave concern for the unacceptably high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity [throughout the developing world], acknowledge that [maternal health] is a human rights issue and commit to enhance their efforts at the national and international level to protect the lives of women and girls worldwide.

(The coalition includes Action Canada for Population and Development (ACPD), a human
rights advocacy organisation; the Center for Reproductive Rights, a
non-governmental legal advocacy organization; the Sexual Rights
Initiative, a South-North collaborative advocacy project focused on
advancing a full range of sexual rights issues; and the Youth Coalition
for Sexual and Reproductive Rights
, an international network of youth advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights.)

I want to celebrate and I also want to say “its about time.”

Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are now and have for decades been among the leading causes of illness and death among women ages 15 to 49 in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  More than 1500 women and girls worldwide die every day from maternal causes according to conservative estimates, totalling roughly 550,000 annually.

Many times that number of women suffers illness and disability associated with these same causes. While it is difficult to measure pregnancy-related injuries and disabilities, estimates of maternal morbidity vary from 16 million to 50 million annually and include such profoundly disabling conditions as vesico-vaginal fistulae, a condition which, left untreated, many consider as a fate akin to living death.

Add to this deaths among women due to other causes such as AIDS-related illnesses (women represent 60 percent of those infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa for example), cervical cancer (rampant in many parts of the global south), and sexual violence (an epidemic in itself), and you can see why sexual and reproductive health concerns loom large in the lives—and deaths—of women worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines maternal mortality as:

The death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy,
irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.

Leading causes of maternal death are divided into two categories. “Direct” causes include conditions such as pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, obstructed labor (especially prevalent among adolescent girls whose pelvises are not fully formed), and infection and haemorrhage (which may result from complications of unsafe abortion or unsafe delivery practices). “Indirect causes” include conditions (renal, heart or other conditions) left untreated and exacerbated by pregnancy.

Complications of unsafe abortion are responsible for at least one-fourth or roughly 75,000 maternal deaths annually worldwide, according to WHO.

Ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths worldwide occur in developing countries where women often cannot control whether, when, and whom they marry; may be subject to early marriage; and may be forced to bear children “too early and too often.” These conditions, paired with lack of access to the basic family planning methods needed to delay, space, or limit childbearing, lack of access to safe abortion services, and lack of access to emergency obstetric care in cases of obstructed labor (just one example) contribute to the ongoing toll in women’s lives and health.

Despite one public campaign after another, relatively little progress has been made in reducing maternal illness and death over the past two decades.

“It has taken fifteen years since the adoption of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, fourteen since the Fourth World Conference on Women Platform for Action, and nine since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals – all significant United Nations’ consensus documents recognising the need to increase efforts promoting the health and rights of women and girls – for the UN’s main political human rights body to take this important step,” stated the coalition of groups working at the HRC.

Why has this taken so long, and why have we made so little progress on such a preventable cause of death and illness?  For one thing, as we see above, it is easier for government reps to go to conferences, write international agreements, get feel-good press coverage and then engage in business as usual than to actually implement policies that make those international agreements into living policy.  And lack of progress on maternal health comes down to one thing: Few governments have put their money where their proverbial mouths are. 

"Globally, governments have failed to meet the commitments made and targets set in these documents," said the coalition statement.

Lack of investment in primary sexual and reproductive health care (in the United States and abroad) is a persistent and pervasive problem compounded by the fact that conservative forces (again, in the United States and abroad) have fought tooth and nail since the eighties to create obstacles to the policies and funding needed to save women’s lives.

The term “pro-life” apparently was never meant to apply to the woman dying of obstructed labor, haemorrhage, or infection.

Now, however, states the coalition, through the Human Rights Council resolution:

governments recognise that the elimination of maternal mortality and morbidity requires the effective promotion and protection of women and girls’ human rights, including their rights to life; to be equal in dignity; to education; to be free to seek, receive and impart information; to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress; to freedom from discrimination; and to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health.

“The resolution is critically important, said Sandeep Prasad, of ACPD, in an interview with Rewire, because

first of all, it brings [maternal mortality and health] into the realm of human rights and very importantly legitimizes [the fact] that the rights of women and girls are violated when they experience maternal deaths injuries or disabilities.  And [these are] the governments themselves legitimizing it by saying that this is very clearly a human rights issue.

Second, he notes that bringing the issue into a human rights framework…”automatically [obligates] governments to take steps to ensure these preventable deaths are prevented through the provision of all necessary services.”

To me, the Council’s message is clear: governments, whether developing or developed countries, have not done enough to eliminate maternal mortality and morbidity, so how are they going to renew and step up their efforts? This problem is a global failure to respect, promote and protect the rights of women and girls. How are governments going to respond to this call?

One response is to increase access to basic services, especially among young women.

"Adolescent girls and young women need greater access to information, education, services and resources that will empower them to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, including contraceptive use, safe abortion, birth spacing, pre- and post- natal care, and management of pregnancy and childbirth related complications,” said Neha Sood, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights’ member from India. Sood continued:

This resolution highlights the need for governments to promote and protect women and girls’ rights to seek and receive such information, education and services and have access to resources.

While the issues of safe abortion, contraception and family planning are not specifically mentioned in the document adopted by the HRC, “the references to various existing government declarations (such as ICPD, Beijing) and to treaties imply these obligations,” said Prasad.

The ICPD and its reviews are clear on the matter that where abortion is legal it must be safe and accessible. The resolution clearly implies that renewed attention to ensuring accessibility of safe abortion services, at least where legal, is part of what states have been asked to do and also implies an obligation to minimize recourse to unsafe abortion through a variety of means, including greater access to contraception, access to safe abortion, and so on.

Moreover, he underscores:

The work of the Human Rights Committee, just as an example, is clear: Where women are forced to risk their lives and health because safe abortion services are not available, governments are in violation of their international treaty obligations.

The adoption of this resolution “is a groundbreaking step towards ensuring every woman’s basic human right to a safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth,” said Ximena Andion, the International Advocacy Director at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Governments should heed the call of the Human Rights Council and take urgent action to prevent women from dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth.

HRC resolutions are in and of themselves non-binding, according to Prasad, however:

the consensus nature of this resolution signals agreement on the part of governments with the various acknowledgments, requests and calls that the Council makes in it. Moreover, the resolution reinforces the legally binding obligations that states have already assumed upon themselves as interpreted by treaty-monitoring bodies and long-standing commitments that governments have made.

Ensuring that governments in fact live up to their obligations will now fall to civil society.

“It is clear," said Prasad,

that what governments are currently doing has been inadequate, so the first question for civil society organizations to their government is what steps will [the government] be taking to ensure that this Council request and other relevant parts of this resolution are implemented.

In other words, the resolution is only as good as civil society makes it through concerted action, accountability work, and attention to what our own leaders will do to implement it domestically and globally.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

Commentary Race

Black Lives Matter Belongs in Canada, Despite What Responses to Its Pride Action Suggest

Katherine Cross

Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada's history or present ignores the struggles of Canadians of color, including those who are LGBTQ.

As I walked the streets of Toronto last month, it occurred to me that Pride Week had become something of a national holiday there, where rainbow flags and the Maple Leaf banners flying in honor of Canada Day on July 1 were equally ubiquitous. For the first time in my many years visiting the city—the place where I myself came out—the juxtaposition of Pride and the anniversary of Confederation felt appropriate and natural.

For some, however, this crescendo of inclusive celebration was threatened by the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) protest at the city’s Pride March, often nicknamed PrideTO. The group’s 30-minute, parade-stopping sit-in has since come in for predictable condemnation. The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente dubbed BLMTO “bullies,” sniffed that its tactics and concerns belonged to the United States, and asked why it didn’t care about Black-on-Black crime in Canada. The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, meanwhile, called BLMTO “Nobody Else Matters,” also saying it “bullied” Pride’s organizers and suggesting we all focus on the real object of exclusion within the LGBTQ community: gay members of the recently ousted Conservative Party.

There is a lot to learn from this Torontonian incident, particularly around managing polite liberal racism—an especially important civics lesson in light of the past month’s tragedies in the United States. Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada’s history or present means ignoring the struggles of hundreds of thousands, many of whom are LGTBQ themselves.

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Pride has always been a thoroughly political affair. It is, thus, hardly an “inappropriate time and place” for such a protest. It began as, and remains, a public forum for the unapologetic airing of our political concerns as a community in all its diversity. We may have reached a new phase of acceptance—the presence of Prime Minister Trudeau at Pride was a beautiful milestone in both Canadian and LGBTQ history—but Pride as a civic holiday must not obscure the challenges that remain. It is not a coincidence that the majority of transgender people murdered worldwide by the hundreds every year are Black and Latina, and that many of them are sex workers. That is part of the reality that BLMTO was responding to—the fact that racism amplifies homophobia and transphobia. In so doing, it was not just speaking for Black people, as many falsely contended, but advocating for queer and trans people of many ethnicities.

Even so, one parade-goer told the Globe and Mail: “It’s not about them. It’s gay pride, not black pride.” The very fact that Black LGBTQ people are asked to “choose” validates BLMTO’s complaint about Pride’s anti-Blackness, suggesting a culture where Black people will be thinly tolerated so long as they do not actually talk about or organize around being Black.

Indeed, BLMTO’s much-criticized list of demands seems not to have been read, much less understood. While drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter collective, it also advocated for South Asian LGBTQ people and those in First Nations communities, whose sense of not-entirely-belonging at an increasingly apolitical PrideTO it shares.

In each paint-by-numbers editorial, there was lip service paid to the “concerns” BLMTO has about Canadian police forces and racial discrimination, but the inconvenience of a briefly immobilized parade generated more coverage. Throughout, there has been a sense that Black Lives Matter didn’t belong in Canada, that the nation is somehow immune to racist law enforcement and, in fact, racism in general.

Yet to listen to the accounts of Black Canadians, the reality is rather different.

Janaya Khan, one of the co-founders of BLMTO, recently spoke to Canadian national magazine MacLean’s about the activist’s views on structural racism in the country. As a native of Toronto, they were able to speak quite forthrightly about growing up with racism in the city—up to and including being “carded” (a Canadian version of stop-and-frisk, wherein officers have the right to demand ID from random citizens) at Pride itself. And last year in Toronto Life, journalist and writer Desmond Cole talked about his experiences being raised throughout Ontario. He told a story of a traffic stop, none too different from the sort that killed Philando Castile earlier this month, after a passenger in his father’s car, Sana, had tossed a tissue out the window onto the highway. The officer made the young man walk back onto the highway and pick it up.

Cole wrote, “After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. ‘You realize everyone in this car is Black, right?’ he thundered at Sana. ‘Yes, Uncle,’ Sana whispered, his head down and shoulders slumped. That afternoon, my imposing father and cocky cousin had trembled in fear over a discarded Kleenex.”

This story, of narrowly escaping the wrath of a white officer on the side of a motorway, could have come from any state in the Union. While Canada has many things to be proud of, it cannot claim that scouring racism from within its borders is among them. Those of us who have lived and worked within the country have an obligation to believe people like Cole and Khan when they describe what life has been like for them—and to do something about it rather than wring our hands in denial.

We should hardly be surprised that the United States and Canada, with parallel histories of violent colonial usurpation of Native land, should be plagued by many of the same racist diseases. There are many that Canada has shared with its southern neighbor—Canada had a number of anti-Chinese exclusion laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it too had Japanese internment camps during the Second World War—but other racisms are distinctly homegrown.

The Quebecois sovereignty movement, for instance, veered into anti-Semitic fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. In later years, despite tacking to the left, it retained something of a xenophobic character because of its implicit vision of an independent Quebec dominated by white francophones who could trace their ancestry back to France. In a blind fury after narrowly losing the 1995 referendum on Quebecois independence, Premier Jacques Parizeau, the then-leader of the independence movement, infamously blamed “money and ethnic votes” for the loss. More recently, the provincial sovereigntist party, the Parti Quebecois, tried to impose a “Values Charter” on the province aimed at criminalizing the wearing of hijab and niqab in certain public spaces and functions. Ask Black francophones if they feel welcome in the province and you’ll get mixed answers at best, often related to racist policing from Quebec’s forces.

Speaking of policing and the character of public safety institutions, matters remain stark.

A 2015 Toronto Star special investigation found hundreds of Greater Toronto Area officers internally disciplined for “serious misconduct”—including the physical abuse of homeless people and committing domestic violence—remained on the force. In 2012, the same outlet documented the excessive rate at which Black and brown Torontonians were stopped and “carded.” The data is staggering: The number of stops of Black men actually exceeded the number of young Black men who live in certain policing districts. And according to the Star, despite making up less than 10 percent of Toronto’s population, Black Torontonians comprised at least 35 percent of those individuals shot to death by police since 1990. Between 2000 and 2006, they made up two-thirds.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ and Native Ontario corrections officers have routinely complained of poisonous workplace environments; a recent survey found anti-Muslim attitudes prevail among a majority of Ontarians.

Especially poignant for me as a Latina who loves Canada is the case of former Vancouver firefighter Luis Gonzales. Gonzales, who is of Salvadoran descent, is now filing a human rights complaint against Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for what he deemed a racist work environment that included anti-Black racism, like shining a fire engine floodlight on Black women in the street and joking about how one still couldn’t see them.

One could go on; the disparate nature of these abuses points to the intersectional character of prejudice in Canada, something that BLM Toronto was quite explicit about in its protest. While anti-Black racism is distinct, the coalition perspective envisaged by Black Lives Matter, which builds community with LGBTQ, Muslim, South Asian, and First Nations groups, reflects an understanding of Canadian racism that is quite intelligible to U.S. observers.

It is here that we should return again to Margaret Wente’s slyly nationalistic claim that BLMTO is a foreign import, insensitive to progressive Canadian reality. In this, as in so many other areas, we must dispense with the use of Canadian civic liberalism as a shield against criticism; the nation got this far because of sometimes intemperate, often loud protest. Protests against anti-LGBTQ police brutality in the 1980s and ’90s, for example, set the stage for a Toronto where the CN Tower would be lit up in rainbow colors. And any number of Native rights actions in Canada have forced the nation to recognize both its colonial history and the racism of the present; from Idle No More and the Oka Crisis to the 2014 VIA Rail blockade, that movement is alive and well. Indeed, the blockade was part of a long movement to make the government acknowledge that thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women constituted a crisis.

If we must wrap ourselves in the Maple Leaf flag, then let us at least acknowledge that peaceful protest is a very Canadian thing indeed, instead of redoubling racist insults by insinuating that Black Lives Matter is somehow foreign or that institutional racism is confined to the United States. Canada has achieved little of worth by merely chanting “but we’re not as bad as the United States!” like a mantra.

Far from being a movement in search of a crisis, Black Lives Matter and its intersectional analysis is just as well-suited to Canada as it is to the United States. In the end, it is not, per the national anthem, God who keeps this land “glorious and free,” but its people.