January 21, 1997
Human Rights Award
Sent by mail and faxed to (415) 255-8662.
To Whom It May Concern,
As a friend, co-worker and activist, I would like to, offer my whole-hearted support for the nomination of the late Fiona Stewart (a.k.a. "Jane Doe;" 1962-1996) for the 1997 Felipa de Souza Award.
Fiona was an incredibly courageous lesbian who put her life on the line in her lonely struggle for basic rights, freedom and justice for sex-trade workers in Toronto, Canada, particularly in relation to the monolithic power, violence and corruption of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force.
I am a long-time housing and social activist. I currently work for Metro Network for Social Justice, a coalition of 200 organizations which recently co-sponsored the historic Metro Days of Action to protest the right-wing provincial government's draconian cutbacks and dismantling of social rights and protections. As an "out" lesbian, I also work for the Children's Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto as Co-ordinator of Services for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth, and I provide anti-hetrosexist training and advocacy. Previously, I worked for over five years as a housing advocate. I also volunteered for over five years as a founding director and chairperson of Robin Gardner Voce Non-profit Homes Inc, a non-profit housing development.
Fiona Stewart was also a housing activist for many years. We originally met in 1990 through our housing work, where we became close colleagues and very dear friends. Over the next six years, I had the honour of working with Fiona and hearing her inspiring story of courage and strength. I supported her in her difficult struggle and I learned vastly from her. I witnessed how she transformed her pain into activism and social change through her incredible courage, despite the unbearable injustices she was subjected to.
Fiona's saga begins with her being simply in the wrong place at the wrong time... but in the despised and abhorred role of sex-trade worker. Fiona was an occasional prostitute who was working the streets one night in November, 1989, when her "trick" turned out to be Metropolitan Toronto Police Sergeant Brian Whitehead. He threatened, raped and humiliated her at gun-point and then continued to harass her for weeks.
Fiona finally reported the assault, extortion and harassment to the police and co-operated fully with their flimsy investigation. However, Fiona's greatest surprise was the repeated abuse and betrayal she experienced from the very institution set up "to serve and protect" the community: the Metro Police Force. ("To Serve and Protect" is the well-touted motto of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force.)
Indeed, it became clear that the "community" that the Metro Police Force was most intent on protecting was itself.
Despite her turmoil and fear, Fiona accepted a tap on her phone line and allowed Whitehead to return to her apartment for the "sting operation" in which he was caught and arrested. However, no statement was taken from her, no report was filed and no criminal charges were laid, in direct contrast to her expressed wishes. When he was finally tried under lesser Police Act charges, she was never informed of the time and place of the hearings, nor of Whitehead's name. Her sworn testimony was significantly changed without her knowledge or consent (at the insistence of Whitehead's lawyer). Although her anonymity was assured her, the Chief of Police himself was on the brink of releasing her name to the media until she managed to obtain a last-minute injunction just in the nick of time. In the end, despite all of Fiona's valiant efforts, Whitehead was merely demoted. To this day, he still carries a gun and a badge, the most powerful combination of weapons which was used to abuse, assault and terrorize Fiona that which devastated her and eventually destroyed her life.
Recognizing that the problems she faced with the Metro Police Force were deep-seated, long-standing and included serious systemic corruption, Fiona was not satisfied with the outcome of Whitehead's hearing. After all, the same system that had abused and betrayed her still existed, unchanged and unaccountable. Undaunted by the ongoing struggle to recover from her own trauma, Fiona sought an obtained standing as "Jane Doe" at what came to be known as the "Junger/Whitehead Inquiry." Chaired by Frank D'Andrea, this inquiry reviewed the internal workings, policies and procedures of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force when investigating corruption and illegal activity within its own ranks. In her determination to seek justice and broader systemic change, Fiona was then harassed attacked, beaten and threatened in a futile attempt to force her to withdraw her testimony. She also indured intense isolation and fear in a second witness protection program. Fiona dug her heels in and testified anyway, despite the terror and pain she experienced. She was determined to make a difference and change the root of the problem so that others would not have to go through the horrors she faced.
As a direct result of Fiona's courageous testimony and her clear analysis, a scathing report was issued in 1992, indicting the Metro Toronto Police Force for its shoddy practices," tremendous lack of integrity" and "clearly inadequate" internal discipline processes (including management, supervision and enforcement of policies and procedures). Twenty-four recommendations were made in the Inquiry Report. To this day, it remains unclear how many of these recommendations have actually been implemented, but at least four critical ones have apparently been set in motion to significantly improve how sexual assault cases are handled:
The outcome of Fiona's labour is still ongoing and being pursued to this day. In November, 1996 a special investigation was ordered by the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board, mandating a private law firm to review the Metro Toronto Police Force's discipline policy, including whether the Inquiry Report's recommendations have actually been implemented.
In the midst of the upheaval during the inquiry, Fiona was searching for a way to recognize and honour another courageous woman who, in many ways, was Fiona's own precursor. Robin Gardner Voce was the first woman to openly challenge the Metro Toronto Police Force after being sexually assaulted by police officers. Robin had been raped by two Metropolitan Toronto Police officers while in their custody in the back of their police cruiser. After reporting the assault, she too was given despicable treatment by the police force and was constantly harassed. After five years of struggling to obtain a hearing under the Police Act, Robin mysteriously died shortly after giving her testimony, before she had ever had the opportunity to hear the "guilty" verdict. Furthermore, Robin's parents had never been able to obtain full information regarding her death and the ensuing, bungled investigation.
Fiona recognized Robin's heroic efforts and championed her cause by successfully spearheading two impressive initiatives: (1) she envisioned, initiated, co-founded and was the driving force behind the development of Robin Gardner Voce Non-profit Homes, Inc., a 115-unit non-profit housing project giving special priority to assaulted women and their families, and (2) she launched a vigorous campaign to exert public pressure on Ontario's Chief Coroner for an official inquest into Robin's death; the campaign included organizing a media conference and a candle-light vigil in front of police headquarters, speaking at a Take Back the Night rally and circulating a public petition calling for an inquest.
As a direct result of Fiona's fierce spirit and drive, she, Robin's family, and those of us working hard to develop Robin Gardner Voce Non-Profit Homes succeeded in obtaining 3000 names on the petition. The Chief Coroner did in fact order a thorough investigation into Robin's death. Robin's parents were finally satisfied when they obtained the results of the investigation and an explanation by the Ontario Provincial Police about how their daughter likely took her own life in response to the intense pressure and violation she had experience at the hands of the Metro Toronto Police and the unjust police system that victimized both Robin and Fiona.
In turn, Robin's heroic efforts inspired hope and passion in Fiona to keep on fighting her own fight, even when she wanted to end everything. While Fiona kept Robin's memory and her fight for all women alive, Robin also kept Fiona alive when she was in her own deepest despair.
In Fiona's (primary) professional life, she was a dedicated and knowledgeable housing activist and community worker who fought for affordable housing and tenants rights. She worked for a number of community-based housing organizations, including: co-ordinator of the Affordable Housing Action Group ( a provincial coalition of groups advocating for affordable housing and tenant rights), housing manger of 127 Isabella Non-Profit Residence (primarily for HIV-positive men) and Hugh Garner Housing Co-op, co-ordinator of the Inclusive Neighborhoods Campaign (a provincial coalition of organizations advocating for the legalization and safe regulation of apartments in houses), and many others.
Fiona and I first met through our housing advocacy work in 1990. She was a bright dynamic, energetic, knowledgeable, friendly colleague, who became a wonderful source of informal support, advise and camaraderie for me in my own work.
In her volunteer life, Fiona served on the board of directors for many non-profit organizations that fought injustice against marginalized and oppressed groups. These included Metro Tenants Legal Services, the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, Harbourfront Community Centre and Harbour Channel Housing Co-operative, where she lived for the last several years of her life. She also volunteered on an action group, Women Against Police Violence Against Women, and was always quick to support sex-trade workers who were assaulted. Most notably, as mentioned above, Fiona initiated and co-founded Robin Gardner Voce Non-Profit Homes Inc., a beautiful 115-unit affordable housing project in Scarborough, Ontario.
In Fiona's personal life, she was a supportive, warm. caring, incredibly wonderful friend. When her distinctive laughter rippled through the air, it seemed to resonate for miles around, and it never failed to cheer me. She could talk forever, but although she had a gift of the gab and a tendency to gossip, she was always sensitive and respectful in her dealings with everyone, never malicious or selfish. Fiona was always aware of the kinds of stereotypes and judgments that hurt people and was clear in her analysis of the links among various kinds of oppressions.
Fiona certainly had a way with words. She was an inspirational public speaker and could hold audiences spellbound. I remember one September night in 1993 when she was a key speaker at the annual "Take Back the Night" march in Toronto. She gave an impassioned speech describing the fight that Robin Gardner Voce had fought a few years earlier in her search for justice after being raped by two Metropolitan Police officers. that night the entire "Take Back the Night" audience was entranced with Fiona's profound and moving speech, (although in most years we can barely hear the speeches over the din from the crowd). Her moving words inspired many to sign the petition that eventually led to the thorough investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police into Robin's death.
Fiona taught me, and others, many things. She often spoke about how she was a white, educated, professional woman who had access to privilege and was well-connected in the community to lawyers and others who could help her and yet how difficult her struggle was despite these privileges. She went on to ask how much more difficult it would be for women who were less privileged then her to come forward to fight back against police violence against women, especially for street workers. Fiona taught me about the dangers and injustices faced routinely by sex-trade workers. As women we all face some form of sexism and woman-hatred; as lesbians we all face some form of heterosexism. But oppression is not always the same in its intensity nor its impact. In fact, it is sex trade workers who often end up taking the worst brunt of sexism, woman-hatred and heterosexism that the rest of us also face; however, many of us have more protection, resources and supports than do sex-trade workers. They have virtually no protection from that oppression; our society constantly judges and hates them; they are frequently "punished" for their livelihood with ridicule, disdain, hatred, degradation, threats, harassment, attacks and violence; they live with the constant threat of being arrested because of their livelihood and so are especially vulnerable to police harassment and violence. It is commonplace for police to threaten, harass, assault and extort sex from sex-trade workers. Once when Fiona was posting flyers about our candle light vigil to commemorate Robin Gardner Voce's death, she met a sex-trade worker who talked about the constant police assault and extortion that sex-trade workers must routinely endure in order to avoid arrest, as "part of the job."
Fiona spoke eloquently and passionately about how individual police officers and the systemic injustices within the police system erect insurmountable barriers against women (especially sex-trade workers) coming forward to report, seek justice for and end police violence. When a woman is raped by an ordinary member of the public, she hesitates to report it to the police because of ongoing problems without police, judicial and legal systems. And when a woman is raped by a police officer, who then can she turn to? Who polices the police? But when that woman is also a sex-trade worker, whom police frequently prey on in the best of times, her options are virtually nil. There is then no protection whatsoever provided by society.
We often think of Canada as a free country, with democratically elected governments, a Constitution, a Charter of Rights and Freedom and a peace-loving history of stability and little violence. However, this is only one version of Canada, which not everyone here is fortunate enough to enjoy. For some, Canada is a place where the notion of basic human rights is a mockery. the real question is "free country for whom?"
Fiona fought tirelessly for justice for other women, especially sex-trade workers. Rather, she fought despite her own exhaustion, terror, despair, inner turmoil and lack of sufficient support. She acknowledged that she would have been infinitely better off herself if she had never reported the assault by Brian Whitehead and if she had never testified at the Junger/Whitehead Inquiry. She advised other women against reporting. But she said that she could never have lived with herself ethically if she hadn't reported and testified... because she knew other women would continue to be trapped in the same situation time and time again, with no support or protection from the very system set up "to serve and protect," and no other alternatives to turn to.
Unfortunately, Fiona's valiance, determination and sense of justice eventually destroyed her life, and in fact, cost her life itself. Those of us who knew and loved her are left knowing that the work she accomplished in her short 34 years of life made a tremendous difference. We know that because of Fiona: (1) public awareness of police violence against women, especially sex-trade workers has been raised, including the power, corruption and lack of accountability within the Metro Toronto Police Force; and (2) some vital changes have been made within the system. However, while we value, honour and appreciate Fiona's immeasurable contribution, it is cold comfort when we remember her smile, her laughter, her sharp wit, her warmth and friendliness, her ever-perceptive analysis, and her heartfelt support and how much we have lost now that she is gone from us. Fiona was a warrior in the truest sense of the word, but even warriors do not always survive the trauma and injustice that no one should ever have to bear.
Thank you for your consideration of Fiona Stewart for the Felipa de Souza Award. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I apologize for the lateness of this letter, however it was a very difficult one to write personally, as Fiona was a very dear friend, I hope that you will still include it in your deliberations about selecting the award winner.
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Created: July 11, 1998
Last modified: March 28, 2000
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