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Our Voices

BCE has five women on its board; will that help Lisa LaFlamme?

Photo of woman helping another women climb a cliff. Background is a sunset.
U_Photo on Shutterstock.

In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the 50-30 Challenge, a new initiative in partnership with Canadian businesses and diversity organizations to accelerate diversity actions and improve equity for women and BIPOC identified folx. It calls for all (for profit, nonprofit, cooperatives etc.) organizations to aim for 50 per cent women and 30 per cent BIPOC and or 2SLGBTQIA representation on their boards and in senior management. 

The assumption is that if you change who is at the table, equity will seep into the organization like a teabag in hot water. Some hope it might also change the table itself. With diversity, so it goes, oppression will be dismantled—at least in the workplace; the result is a less extractive, life-sucking economy. 

But does increased representation of oppressed groups, in this case, women, on corporate boards result in less oppression in the workplaces they govern? 

The high-profile ageism + sexism-based taser-like firing of prominent journalist and TV news anchor Lisa LaFlamme will give us a chance to find out.

Why The Board Matters

Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) owns Bell Media which in turn owns and operates CTV, as well as brands like Noovo, TSN, RDS, Crave, and iHeartRadio. The whole kit and kaboodle of media brands and distribution enterprises are governed by the BCE board which as of today is made up of 13 directors, five of which are women all of which are over 55 and none have visible grey hair.  BCE is Canada’s 15th largest publicly traded corporations. 

A board’s job is to mostly protect shareholder interests, primarily stock price, return on investment and risk management. They are also charged with keeping an eye out for bankable talent and company reputation. The board are also expected to keep an eye on management. If management makes decisions that hurt the company, the board will, should, step in to protect the enterprise-namely its owners. Which by the way, includes many mutual fund holding Canadians. BCE is (25 per cent+) owned by our major banks, a variety of investment firms, pension funds plus others.   

Last week, a 12-year rising CTV star employee but still newbie Vice President, Michael Melling (age mid-forties), spear-headed and executed a decision that hurt the company: He abruptly fired Lisa LaFlamme, a 58-year-old CTV news journalist veteran who commanded an audience of close to 1 million daily viewers. She had worked at CTV for 35 years. Melling and his team maintained terminating LaFlamme was for business reasons. Everyone, and I mean seemingly  EVERYONE inside CTV and in the industry say it was blatant ageism, sexism plus the presence of an unclean spirit known as grey hair. 

A week later, the story dominated Canadian news. There are over 12 petitions on Change.org calling for retribution (Fire Melling!) or the reinstatement of Lisa Laflamme. Collectively they have secured 167,366 signatures—and the list grows daily. The Deep Dive newsletter reported that one of the LaFlamme petitions “generated twice the number of signatures that a petition for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to end the domination of Rogers Communications Inc.

Meanwhile, Bell Media has quickly erased Lisa LaFlamme’s existence as an anchorwoman on their network and digital footprint. Reports say her phone was immediately disconnected. Bylines erased. Any trace of her—gone from their website. It’s not an uncommon strategy in situations of harassment and corporate wrongdoing.  Senior executives somehow believe that if we unplug a person’s existence online, they no longer exist and the issue will magically go away. 

In a show of solidarity, women’s professional networks and feminist groups across social media networks appealed to their followers (by our estimate, Canadian women’s business networks alone represent over two million women) to drop their personal Bell Media subscriptions as an act of protest and solidarity.

There are, by the way, almost seven million women over 45 in Canada. Women make the majority of purchasing decisions in their household. Any sales manager in any industry knows it’s not wise to annoy them. 

Advertisers are watching closely too. And they should be. We know where their products live. 

The whole thing adds up to a huge business crisis for BCE.

So,we have to ask, what is the BCE board going to do about it? 

More importantly, will the five women (38 per cent) on BCE’s board step up—and out. Will we ever hear from them? If not, why not. 

And what if anything, as board directors, can these women really do? 

A lot.

The women on BCE's board.

Bell-Let’s Talk

For starters, these five women could join forces, re-imagine conventional board protocols, and raise a little collective hell.  

They are all independent directors. It’s not often done but they can individually, or together, bring forward a statement as the women of the BCE board. A statement we would all be interested to hear. 

They can choose to challenge the standard “all for one, one for all” cabinet solidarity protocol—used to silence dissenting views. Sure, they could be dismissed as Directors as a result (and lose their $258K annual director paycheck—a lot to ask). But at least then 15 million women would know the truth about BCE’s culture—even at the board level. 

According to BCE’s Corporate Governance Practices document, they, as a group or individually, can ask to meet with senior management on any and all matters –alone—without male board members present– to create a safer space for employees to tell the real story. Especially women employees. 

They could file a motion to launch a specifically intersectional feminist inquiry into whether or not Melling and his accomplices violated BCE’s own code of conduct which says all directors, executives and employees must undertake to:

  • Perform our work duties and conduct our business relationships with integrity and in a dynamic, straightforward, honest and fair manner;
  • Foster a work environment based on mutual trust and respect and that encourages open communication. 

Violations, according to the Code, can result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. 

And finally, the women directors could work with public relations professionals, and convince them that it would be to BCE’s advantage to let them lead communications on this issue. Women don’t want to hear from another white, male board chair. They want to hear from professional women on big boards—especially those whose bios include working to advance women. 

By all accounts released so far, CTV’s Michael Melling stewarded and executed a decision that has hurt CTV’s reputation, likely caused significant mental health trauma (ironically, given BCE’s commitment to mental health causes) to LaFlamme and other women who work at Bell Media and elsewhere, and set in motion dynamics that can result in a tumbling revenues and impact key talent acquisition for the foreseeable future. 

So far, the women on BCE’s board, for anyone following the story, appear to the public as silent, invisible and ergo, impotent. Leaving us to ask why bother advocating for women on boards? 

So how about it #katherinelee#shielamurray#jennifertory #karensheriff and #moniqueleroux?

Keep Being There

Women who end up being appointed to big corp boards worked hard to get there and they are professionals. But they didn’t get there on just merit—many women, feminist activists paved the way. 

Now it’s their turn to use their power and privilege to send a decisive message that ageism, sexism and the ridiculous teenage supermodel beauty standards many men–and yep, some women–impose upon female professionals in the industry ends here.

So will women on the BCE board leverage this opportunity and their post and voice to make a difference –not just at BCE but across the industry? Or will they quietly continue to collect that $258,000 a year director pay cheque, pour coffee every so often to make the men around the table comfortable with their formidable presence (been there myself) and hope this blows over soon. 

Or, and this is the bigger question, will they remain silent because they are worried they might be next?

Millions of women in Canada are waiting to find out.

Publisher’s Note: This op-ed by pk mutch (also publisher of LiisBeth) was originally published by rabble.ca.  We invite readers to comment on what solution they would like the board to pursue.  Bring Laflamme back?  Implement anti-ageism policy? Please share!

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Our Voices

U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe decision a broad attack on civil rights

Photo of a man attending a pro abortion rights rally holding a sign saying "I'm with her"
Photo by Aiden Frazier, Unsplash

As expected the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade thus opening the way for Republican states to ban abortion. Thirteen states have trigger laws that will come into effect immediately.  Many more will quickly pass restrictive legislation. The decision is catastrophic. It rolls back a constitutional right American women have had for 50 years.

The response has been strong. President Joe Biden, who has never been a pro-choice advocate, promises to do everything in his power to ensure that women in states that ban abortion will have access to medical abortion by mail and the right to travel to states where abortion is available. He promised that if the Democrats win a majority in both House and Senate in the coming mid-term elections, they will enshrine the principle of Roe v. Wave in federal law.

The sexual health movement in the U.S. has been spending their time since the leak from Politico that warned that this decision was coming to organize and ensure women in states where abortion is illegal will be able to access either medical abortion or travel to another country.  Even the Disney Corporation is offering assistance to their workers who need to travel to seek an abortion. Hopefully other corporations and perhaps universities and colleges will follow suit.

But to ensure that Biden keeps his promise, there must be the largest mass mobilization of people in American history.  A ban on abortion affects millions of people.  The Supreme Court argument basically says that there are no legal rights unless they are guaranteed in the Constitution other than those originally there unless a constitutional amendment is passed by elected representatives.  With that argument, same sex marriage, perhaps inter-racial marriage, birth control, gay rights, and trans rights could be eliminated.

President Biden and House Leader Nancy Pelosi both said in their statements about the Roe v. Wade ruling that this has to be a ballot box issue. At first, I was annoyed at them trying to turn a monumental defeat into a political talking point but there is a real point. A Democratic victory in November in both the House and the Senate could lead not only to enshrining abortion rights in federal law but also to real gun control.  But I don’t trust them. Only a massive movement in the streets as well as during the election can ensure that this will happen.

In Canada, we are in a much stronger position. So far the Conservative Party is not anti-abortion. Conservative Premiers in several provinces have promised they will not restrict abortion rights, but they don’t stop their members from putting forward laws to restrict access. All but one of the leadership candidates in the federal party say they are pro-choice. But Pierre Poilievre, who claimed to pro-choice in the French debate, has not yet made a statement on the US decision, despite being asked. No doubt he is testing the air. Anti-abortion activists have been building support inside the Conservative Party since abortion was legalized. Now they have the wind in their sails.

Twenty sexual and reproductive health groups put out a statement today about the Roe v. Wade decision saying in addition to solidarity with American sisters, they will fight to expand sexual and reproductive rights.

“Equity within Sexual Rights and Healthcare includes making contraception free, allowing abortion pills to be sold over the counter, strengthening access to abortion in rural and remote areas, implementing $10 a day childcare, enforcing the Canada Health Act against provinces that fail to provide adequate abortion, implementing comprehensive sexual health education in all Canadian schools, increasing healthcare funding to provinces to expand SRH, and more,” the statement reads. They see it as a moment to push for more rights.

Prime Minister Trudeau promised: “You can count on our government to protect women’s right to choose.” That’s great but in my experience you can’t count on governments to do anything for very long. Eighty per cent of Canadians support abortion rights and only 14 per cent oppose so while we can’t be sanguine, we don’t have to worry yet.

Publisher’s Note: This article was originally published by rabble.ca. We thank them for the permission to share this with our readers. 

To learn more about Canada’s abortion rights history and about organizations working to preserve those rights and expand access, download our abortion rights zine here. 

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Categories
Rabble Roundup

Rabble Round Up

an image with yellow background and type that reads best of rabble.ca. Illustration of a woman on the right side.
LiisBeth.com is proud to be an cahoots partner with rabble.ca

December is perhaps one of the most joyful, festive months, and after the year we’ve all had, we could certainly all do with some more joy. It’s time that can be spent with the family or loved ones, or a chance to reflect on what has passed and dream up what has yet to come. It is a season of love, hope and relief. 

With these themes in mind, we have curated our last Rabble Roundup of 2021. Our selections reflect on what we’ve been through this past year, people who have stood up and spoken out, and what is possible when we are hopeful together. 

For Mike Smith (photo provided), a survivor of conversion “therapy,” the ban means others won’t have to suffer the horrific trauma of the long-debunked practice.

Victory: Canada bans conversion therapy 

December 1 was a big win for the LGBTQ2+ community in Canada, as the country finally legally banned conversion therapy—a violent and discredited practice of changing people’s gender identities and sexual orientations—passing Bill C-4 by unanimous vote.This rabble.ca article shares why the new legislation is especially important for survivors of conversion ‘therapy’. in light of the trauma and suffering it wrought.

The international labour movement held Make Amazon Pay demonstrations on Black Friday November 26, 2021. An interview with the General Secretary of Uni Global Union, Christy Hoffman.

Taking on Amazon 

This rabble.ca podcast episode shares the story behind the Make Amazon Pay protests that saw over 1 million employees worldwide mobilize in demonstrations against the company on Black Friday last month. It shows us what’s possible when we organize, call out exploitation and demand accountability. 

David Suzuki at a viewpoint above the deep canyons and castellated ridges of the Hart River - one of the Yukon rivers recommended for protection by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission. Marten Berkman. Credit: Marten Berkman / Peel Watershed Planning Commission

Suzuki’s environmentalism 

This oped by Yves Engler dives into environmentalist David Suzuki’s support for Palestinians, which Engler writes ‘reflects a broader internationalist and anti-capitalist outlook every serious environmentalist should embrace’.


Publisher’s note: rabble.ca is a 20-year-old, Canadian, award-winning, independent, community-driven media outlet.  Among the first digital journalism organizations in Canada, and the first to incorporate as non-profit, rabble.ca has been at the forefront of reporting on national politics with a progressive lens that centres on issues of social movements, of labour, and of grassroots activism.

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Allied Arts & Media

A Bridge to the Past: Flashes of Activism from rabble.ca

“Everything On (The) Line: 20 Years of Social Movement Stories from rabble.ca." Photo via rabble.ca's website.

I don’t remember 9/11. 

Maybe that’s because I was a Canadian toddler, rather than American, or was just too young — but opening to the first story in Everything On (The) Line: 20 Years of Social Movement Stories from rabble.ca I am transported back by the moving words of Monia Mazigh and Barâa Arar, mother and daughter of Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian who was arrested on September 26, 2002. 

This transportive ability — to travel back in time and to live something you have a different memory of — is the primary accomplishment of rabble.ca’s  compilation of stories from the last twenty years. 

rabble.ca is an independent, nonprofit  award winning left wing media outlet with 1M unique readers annually worldwide, based in Vancouver (original territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations). They aim to extend and amplify the work of social movements and front-line activists in Canada.  

Everything On (The) Line is a collection of stories, but also the fossilized voices of journalists and activists during high-intensity moments in Canadian politics. Editors S. Reuss and Christina Turner have unearthed articles from rabble’s archives which capture the concerns and opinions of the activists, feminists, and fighters before us —concerns that still exist today. 

The articles speak from Indigenous rights to climate change; personal accounts of protests and violence; outrage and critique for the government. The collection focuses on the personal lives of Canadian citizens impacted by these threats, while also panning out to inspect the governments of the early 2000’s, tying traumas from the violent injustices occurring around the world together: uniting pain but also hope across two decades. 

The aim of the collection is not only to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Rabble, but to allow the past and present to converse; articles from 2001 in tandem with essays from 2020. 

It is an opportunity for readers to “reflect on the social movements that challenged capitalism, racism, settler colonialism, and patriarchy over the past two decades.” (5)

Readers hear the personal stories from Monia Mazigh and Barâa Arar, to personal accounts of when Black Lives Matter Toronto turned the Pride Parade into a protest. Words from protestors of the G8 Summit burn with anger still, 19 years later. 

In her piece “What Do We Want and Where Are We Headed?” Pamela Palmater expresses how “ultimately, we want to be free to govern ourselves as we choose; free to enjoy our identities, cultures, languages, and traditions; free to live the good life as we see fit.” (129) This desire for freedom and respect echoes throughout the twenty-four pieces in the book. 

Anger and fear and distrust bubble up within these essays. 

Amber Dean writes about attending Robert Pickton’s trial in 2007 for the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe, and Georgina Papin — asking how colonization can be over when the violence persists?

Michael Stewart picks apart the Harper government’s inability to “cope with the tender, patient, ironclad solidarity of Indigenous people in Canada.” 

Murray Dobbin asked in 2009 how the government would face their denial and complacency in the face of crisis. 

All are systemic issues still present today; the final section with pieces from 2015-2020 carry ghostly echoes of the first section from 2001-2005. This disturbing parallel calls for transformative justice, addressed by Walters and Zellars in their 2020 essay on abolishing the police and collective care. They call this turbulent time an “[opportunity] for reflection and growth [which] must be central to our abolitionist imaginings” and to “have the courage to dream, try, fail, try again, and fail better.” (173) 

The collection also contains new essays from esteemed writers such as Nora Loreto. In her piece “Real Change Meets Radical Tactics” Loreto traces the resurgence of feminist action in recent years, raising the point that “for what remains of the mainstream feminist movement, the dominant frame is still firmly white. Whiteness obscures the fact that women do not experience systemic violence in the same way. It creates a tent so large that feminism becomes a matter of self-identity […] feminism has become slippery and toothless.” (145) This comment spoke to me as a reader, as a feminist, and as a member of LiisBeth, because whiteness is a barrier in the feminist organizations I see and participate in. 

LiisBeth’s masthead is primarily (some queer) white women; “Everything On (The) Line” was compiled by two white women; LiisBeth partners with rabble.ca’s, putting together a monthly roundup. A white, queer woman is writing this review, the last in a funnel of white voices. 

That being said, 35 per cent of LiisBeth’s contributors are women of colour and over 50 per cent of the articles written in the last year featured enterprises and projects founded or operated by women of colour, queer women and trans folk.  

When rabble.ca was founded, a UNECE study found 40 per cent of journalists in Canada were women, and 97 per cent of journalists across all media were white, according to a study done by Laval University in 2000. This statistic from Laval University, as well as the point that there was (and still is) no current study to compare this data to, was mentioned in a rabble.ca piece in 2016 by Joanna Chu titled “The face of Canadian Journalism is still white — and it’s time to push back.” 

The collection spurs questions and invites reflection not just on the state of our world, but also journalism — those who wrote before us and how future writers will curate, cultivate and uplift all voices. 

It’s an opportunity to see how far we have come, but also look at where we still need to go. 

Everything On (The) Line is not perfect, because history is not perfect. What we glean from these reverberations of rallying voices is that the next twenty years should be equally as action-packed, as fueled by the desire for change. We should read about and reach for change, as the voices of rabble.ca have. 

The fifth section of the collection is titled “Activism and Indie Media: Pasts and Futures”, where publisher Kim Elliot and Mathew Adams call rabble.ca a bridge for the social movement, and reflect on how the launch of rabble.ca in 2001 gave them the focus of “[amplifying] the voices of resistance struggles and movement-focused news.” 

Hopefully, Everything On (The) Line can be the bridge to the past that lays the foundation for the next twenty years of rabble.ca.

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Activism & Action Our Voices

Lunch with a Feminist Icon

A feminist icon has lunch at The Pilot in Toronto

Let me gift you with a feminist trivia game for your next feminist holiday gathering. And I’ll wrap it up with a big hint: the questions all have the same answer.

Question #1: Who was the woman who saved the life of abortion rights advocate, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, by fearlessly stepping in front of an attacker wielding garden shears at Morgentaler during the opening of Toronto’s first abortion clinic on Harbord Street?

Question #2: Who led the fight to get abortion legalized in Canada in the 1980s, while serving as president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NACS), the feminist lobby group that represented more than 700 women’s rights groups across Canada and, from 1971 to 2007, successfully pressured the government to take action on daycare, birth control, women’s right to choose, maternity leave, family law, poverty, racism, women’s equality in Canada’s Charter of Rights, and violence against women—to name just a few issues?

Question #3: Who is Canada’s Gloria Steinem? Okay, that’s not an entirely fair question as we like to think Canada has a few. But, on top of authoring seven books, hosting a prime-time TV show, and writing countless articles about the women’s movement and social justice, this woman also co-founded rabble.ca, Canada’s largest independent, alternative news outlet and discussion site, and served as its publisher?

Question #4: Who understood and acted on intersectional feminism—social justice for all women—long before it was a thing?

Still stumped? You can imagine my frustration when I excitedly gabbed to everyone I knew that I was meeting Judy Rebick for lunch! Too often, the response was, Who is Judy Rebick?

Judy Rebick’s latest book is a memoir titled Heroes in My Head

 Who is Judy Rebick?

Well, I can tell you that Judy Rebick is a woman who not only shows up when she’s needed—she gets there early. She was already waiting for us at The Pilot tavern, a hangout for writers, musicians, and artists since Toronto’s Yorkville hippie days in the 1970s. Gordon Lightfoot performed with Bob Dylan here. It’s also steps away from the Toronto Reference Library, a place where writers spend a lot of time.

When I arrived, Rebick looked up. Though we had never met, we recognized each other immediately. Her stance, head of thick but now graying curls, and iconic glasses gave her away. Rebick greeted me with a big “in solidarity” hug. LiisBeth’s associate editor Lana Pesch, rushed from her day job, as eager to meet this feminist icon as I was, joined us soon after.

We quickly ordered coffee and lunch so that we could get down to talking without further interruptions. Rebick, now 73, was as keen to know about us as we were her. We shared histories and some great stories, then I shifted the conversation to a topic we came to learn more about: growing a sustainable media outlet in a time of turmoil for media enterprises in general.

Judy Rebick on Idle No More

I asked her what we, as feminist changemakers and publishers, could learn from her experience both as a long-time feminist journalist and as a co-founder/publisher/editor of rabble.ca, an alternative online publication (launched 2001) and now one of the country’s most successful, attracting 800 members, two million page views, and 350,000 unique visitors per month according to Google Analytics.

Specifically, for LiisBeth and our readers, I wanted to know the path to rabble.ca’s success. How did it ever get off the ground and survive this long, without a major foundation footing bills, angel investors or sponsors, or even a paywall?

Rebick told us that she and her co-founders were convinced that Canadians were frustrated by the mainstream press extolling neoliberal narratives. They wanted and deserved an alternative point of view on current issues and events. So Rebick and friends created a plan and hit the road to find funding. In one year, they raised $200,000 in startup funding including $120,000 from the Atkinson Foundation along with funds from some 18 unions—enough to code and launch rabble.ca.

Seventeen years later, Vancouver-based rabble.ca now generates approximately $350,408 in revenues, of which $121,000 (34.8 percent) come from reader donations. Income from sustaining partners (unions) represented another 50 percent while 14 percent comes from grants and various sponsorships. While the site promotes its advertising utility, less than 1 percent of its revenue comes from ads.

Rebick explained that unions backed rabble.ca as the publication offered a way for the left to connect and unions to connect with their constituents about ideas, critiques of policy, and economic analysis that the mainstream media largely ignored.

The idea of an online newspaper and participative forum for readers was totally rad at the time. That was early-stage internet and way before Facebook or Google.

Since its launch, some 90-plus independent news and magazine channels have appeared, and none have readership figures as high as rabble.ca yet. In Canada. But as Rebick filled us in on rabble.ca’s journey—the type of stories they chased and how—we were reminded how critically important alternative media is to any functioning democracy. Such media organizations hold political and business leaders accountable, bring new business models to light and offer an outlet for ideas of alternative world–making.

We were also reminded that financially sustaining an alternative indie media enterprise is a little like figuring out how to keep a fish alive and healthy out of water. After all, how do you challenge the status quo if you’re trying to raise money from people who benefit from systemic inequality?

Rebick certainly got us thinking, because at LiisBeth, we have similar values and face many of the same challenges as rabble.ca. We believe passionately that feminist entrepreneurs can change the world. We have faith in the idea that grassroots storytelling and discussion opportunities matter. And we dig deep to figure out what it takes to create, grow, and leverage a sustainable, social justice–forward digital media enterprise in today’s world.

Rebick believes that technology-enabled movements, aided by aligned alternative media outlets, are transforming power. Social movements—not governments, lobby groups, or corporate social responsibility initiatives—are correcting the course, exploding our ability to imagine new worlds, advance democracy and human rights, and force action on climate change. Rebick explained how different recent tech-enabled protests such as Arab Spring, Idle No More, and Occupy were to the anti-globalization rally in Quebec in the late 1990s. And she should know. She was there. On the ground. Involved in it all.

And suddenly, it was 2 p.m. Rebick was in demand again, at another meeting. She signed my copy of Ten Thousand Roses, the book she wrote on the making of a feminist revolution, and graciously rushed out.

Lana and I lingered, talking about how our conversation with Rebick was like getting drawn into an incredible living book on Canadian feminist action and social progress. The entire meeting was so engrossing that we completely forgot to document the occasion. No group selfie or even a picture of Judy. And we are a social media organization, with an online magazine and newsletter!

How will anyone ever recognize this incredible feminist icon? Chagrined, we took a picture of the chair she sat in.


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