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By Joanna Pearce
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My book wishlist for next year's reading challenge
Resilience and Triumph

Resilience and Triumph

Immigrant Women Tell Their Stories
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Developed with the Feminist History Society, Resilience and Triumph is a collection of true, first-person stories from 54 racialized immigrant and refugee women that creates an eclectic mix of three generations of voices. Women in their twenties to those in their seventies provide snapshots from the 1960s up to the present that capture the many intersections of gender with race, culture, class, religion and nationality in Canada over five decades. Together these vividly recounted entries documen …

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Across Canada by Story

Across Canada by Story

A Coast-to-Coast Literary Adventure
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook

More adventures from one of Canada’s premier editors and storytellers

Canada is a country rich in stories, and few take as much joy as Douglas Gibson in discovering them. As one of the country’s leading editors and publishers for 40 years, he coaxed modern classics out of some of Canada’s finest minds, and then took to telling his own stories in his first memoir, Stories About Storytellers.

Gibson turned his memoir into a one-man stage show that eventually played almost 100 times, in all ten …

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Ahead of Her Time

Ahead of Her Time

Select Writings of Dora Russell
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Few today have ever heard of Dora Russell (1912-1986), let alone read any of her work. At best, some might recognize the name of the wife of Ted Russell, the creator of Uncle Mose and the fictitious outport of Pigeon Inlet. But Dora was also a writer, as prolific (maybe even more so) as her husband. She was certainly much more than just the woman behind the man. Ahead Of Her Time: Selected Writings of Dora Russell offers a cross-section of her work, beginning with her years as Woman's Editor wit …

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June Mickle

June Mickle

One Woman’s Life in the Foothills and Mountains of Western Canada
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

June’s strength of character was forged by living in the wilderness west of Turner Valley as a young girl with her mother and her stepfather, Tip Johnson, a renowned cowboy and horse trainer. She learned early to live in harmony with her environment and became a strongly determined woman capable of meeting the challenges of being an artist, horseback guide, businesswoman, wife and mother. As the only child of a single mother, June saw early years that were marked by loneliness but also by clos …

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Dirty River

Dirty River

A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home
edition:Paperback

A transformative memoir by a queer disabled woman of colour and abuse survivor.

Lambda Literary Award and Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction finalist

 

In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, carrying only two backpacks, caught a Greyhound bus in America and ran away to Canada. She ended up in Toronto, where she was welcomed by a community of queer punks of colour offering promises of love and revolution, yet she remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This pa …

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The Story of Jane Doe

The Story of Jane Doe

A Book About Rape
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback

Startling, incisive and surprisingly funny, this is the true story of a woman who challenged stereotypes, the justice system, the police -- and won.

On an August night in 1986, Jane Doe became the fifth reported woman raped by a sexual serial predator dubbed the Balcony Rapist. Even though the police had full knowledge of the rapist’s modus operandi, they made a conscious decision not to issue a warning to women in her neighbourhood. Jane Doe quickly realized that women were being used by the p …

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Excerpt

The Background

On an August night in 1986, Jane Doe became the fifth reported woman raped by a sexual serial predator dubbed the Balcony Rapist. The rapist stalked single women who lived alone in second- and third-floor apartments in a downtown Toronto neighbourhood. He scaled the outside walls of high-rises located within a six-block radius and entered the apartments through locked balcony doors.

Despite the fact that the police had full knowledge of his modus operandi, they made a conscious decision not to issue a warning about the rapist to women in the neighbourhood. Their rationale was that women, hearing the news, would become hysterical, and the rapist would flee the area. Informed of their decision a few days after her rape, the woman who became known as Jane Doe quickly realized that she, in particular, and women, generally, were being used by the police as bait to catch the rapist.

The woman who became Jane Doe was actively involved in the then thriving women’s movement. She worked for a high-profile film festival and was experienced in public relations and marketing. She took it upon herself to organize a series of press conferences, postered her neighbourhood with warnings and delivered a deputation to the Police Services Board, demanding that the police be accountable. The rapist was captured as a result of a tip received after Jane and other women distributed two thousand posters – including one to the home of the man who raped her – alerting the community to the danger women faced.

During the criminal prosecution that followed, Jane Doe became the first raped woman in Ontario to secure her own legal representation. This strategy allowed her to sit inside the courtroom while the hearings involving her rapist proceeded, instead of out in the hall where victim-witnesses were usually cloistered from the ongoing testimony. As a result she heard details of the police investigation that were normally withheld from women in her position. When the rapist was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison, the comfort Jane experienced was cold. A shocking degree of police negligence and manipulation had been revealed during the hearings, and Jane realized that the same type of crime that had been committed against her could easily take place again.

By 1986 a number of external elements colluded to provide a small window of redress for women who experienced crimes of violence. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a new constitutional document with a section designed to prevent gender discrimination. The women’s movement had established awareness of sexual assault as a prevalent social crime, as opposed to an ugly fact of life. Since criminal law did not serve raped women, the women’s movement looked to civil prosecutions as an alternative. Jane Doe became a test case, the right woman in the wrong place at the right time. Political, educated, presentable and a risk-taker, she was in her early thirties and there was no doubt as to her “good girl” status. In 1987 Jane Doe sued the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force for negligence and Charter violation in the investigation of her rape. The rest became legal history.

Of course history is a long time in the making. Over the next eleven years, Jane engaged a legal system and its players as no other woman in her position had previously done. Unwilling to play the traditional victim role, she battled with a series of her own lawyers to ensure that she, the person most involved, directed her case. In 1991 the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that Jane Doe had a cause of action and that she could proceed to trial. Until that ruling, it had not been possible to hold police officers responsible in a court of law for their actions in the investigation of a crime.

Jane plowed on. She developed strategies, secured witnesses and challenged her lawyers to push the boundaries of the law. They often were not amused. When the civil case finally came to trial in 1997, Jane was dismayed to learn that, as she had predicted, her past sexual, medical, employment and family history was used against her to support the police defence that any damages she had suffered had existed before her rape and that her lawsuit reflected the delusional posturing of a bitter, man-hating feminist.

The ensuing nine-week trial was a media bonanza as retired police chiefs, celebrated psychiatrists, police officers of every stripe and station, forensic profilers and an FBI agent from Quantico, Virginia, testified to the “non-violent” nature of Jane’s rape and her police-bashing agenda. After the trial was over, the judge deliberated on the evidence for six months. She ruled in Jane’s favour, and a common-law legal precedent was set. A citizen could sue the police. She could even win.

But it didn’t end there. It hasn’t ended yet.

A Preliminary Note from Jane

Rape stories are not new stories. They are as old as war, as old as man. Many bookstores have sections devoted to them, and I read them. I read them “before,” too.

I have found most rape stories to be either chronicles of fear and horror, victim tales that make me want to run screaming from the page (although I do not), or they are dry academic, feminist or legal treatises on why rape is bad, written in language I must work to understand. All are valid. But all somehow limit me from reaching a broader understanding of the crime: why men do it; the myriad ways women experience it; and how rape is used to maintain the status quo socially, politically, legally. No book has ever reflected my lived experience of the crime.

I learned early in my political life to pose the question “Who benefits?” when attempting to understand social inequities and injustice. It is clear that rape is bad; that it has dire effects on the entire social fabric. We read the alarming statistics – sexual assault is the only violent crime currently on the rise – and try to teach our daughters well. Everyone, even some rapists, would like rape to stop. In the seventies and eighties some viable solutions were crafted to address the crimes of rape and violence against women. But in the last decade, services have been cut and law and order agendas are now trumpeted as the single remedy for the crime.

In this book I explore who benefits from, and who controls, this state of affairs. I hope to help any reader who comes along for the ride to ask questions, develop answers, and experience what I experienced: the horror of it all, the honour and the humour, the theatre of the absurd known as the contemporary courtroom, and a cast of real-life characters that could have come from Dickens or Rohinton Mistry.

I want to challenge and respond to "popular" ideas about rape that still inform the way police and society behave around raped women. Popular, social, psychiatric and legal mythologies about rape tell us that women lie about our rapes, file false reports to seek attention, revenge or money, or, ludicrously, that we enjoy rape. The myths hold that rape can be non-violent. That a woman can be predisposed to being raped. That women will become hysterical if told a rapist is preying on their neighbourhood. They tell us that a woman can be a good or bad rape victim. Some myths insist that women cannot be raped at all, and that men cannot physically control the biological urge to rape.

I wanted to write a book about rape that is not about being a “victim” of rape. I want to startle you with art and humour. I’m not referring here to comedy but to the comic theatre of life, which is sometimes too outrageous, too wild to be believable. I often regret that I was a central player during the civil trial, as it prevented me from fully appreciating what was going on all around me. I laugh now about a lot of it, the kind of laugh that keeps you from losing your faith. Or your mind.

* * * * *

I’ve taken a few liberties in the telling of my story. Everyone else has. I have changed some people’s names where to do otherwise would cause pain or harm. I have fictionalized the voices of Bill Cameron, Kim Derry and Margo Pulford, the three police officers most involved in the Balcony Rapist investigation. I wanted to tell some of their stories in a manner that would humanize them and allow some insight into why historical and current relations between police and the citizens they serve are so fractious. I was mindful of the tradition in policing and in the law that requires officers of those institutions to speak on behalf of, and define the experiences of, raped women. To be their voices. I reclaimed that voice, made it mine again. While I have invented some details of their personal lives and thoughts, especially what they may have thought about me, and about each other, all information about the direction of the police investigation into the crimes of the Balcony Rapist, and the decisions they made in pursuing it, is lifted verbatim from courtroom transcripts of their testimony, or the interactions I had with them. Bill Cameron’s and Margo Pulford’s kindnesses toward me are factual.

* * * * *

I wanted to write a book that would be a revolution. A book that would place rape on the table, in the mainstream, where it belongs. A book that would subvert stereotypical notions of the crime of rape and the women who experience it. But revolutions require more than the power of words, and to effect one, we must fight in different ways, with different voices. The art and images of Shary Boyle help illuminate places where words fail. Her visual narrative is another way to read rape, to look sideways at pain and victory. I want to surprise readers with angles and images that can be read from the inside out, or from bottom up to better understand the cryptic puzzle of rape, in order to untangle and solve it. This book is meant to be a reflection of rage that is focused and smart, an expression of subversion and joy; it is supposed to shake us up, to help us think about ciolence against women in new ways. The old ones aren’t working. I wanted to describe and translate feminism and its impact on me. But my feminist analysis is also influenced by art, anarchy, labour, romance and lapsed Catholicism and it is developing still — as is its nature. The feminist movement is much more than what you will find in these pages. There are a thousand more readings of it still forming, waiting to be written. This book is meant to be a reflection of rage that is focused and smart, an expression of subversion and joy; it is supposed to shake us up, to help us think in new ways. The old ones aren't working.

* * * * *

Most of all, I wanted to celebrate what is most common in human nature: our ability to overcome. To shuffle the deck and play the next hand, and sometimes to win.

I’ll open with the first entry of the journal I kept during the civil trial, just to give you a flavour of what’s to come. And then I’ll step back and begin at the beginning – which is a place I still don’t like to think about.

From the Hardcover edition.

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A Profession of Hope

A Profession of Hope

Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail
edition:Paperback

Winner of the Canadian Authors Association Exporting Alberta Award

Gold Medal for the Green Living category in the Living Now Book Awards

Finalist for the High Plains Book Award for creative nonfiction

"This is not the story of a ready-made farm, complete with generations of history, carefully tended tools and sturdy clapboard farmhouse." In 2006 Jenna Butler and her partner, Thomas, purchased "160 acres more or less" of rough northern bush. They knew they weren't purchasing anything more than hard …

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Circle of Stones

Circle of Stones

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Nik is an eccentric art student obsessed with painting his dancer girlfriend, Jennifer. When one day she inexplicably disappears, Nik’s world is shattered. Determined to find her, he embarks on a cross-country journey following a scant trail of clues. He doesn’t anticipate how far he’ll have to travel, what he’ll do when he runs out of money, or the fact that an intimidating stranger is looking for Jennifer, too.
Nik and Jennifer fade into the background of their own tale, surfacing now …

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