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• Explore a self-guided Cross-Country Music Road Trip. • Enjoy breathtaking architecture and exhibitions dedicated to the story of music in Canada. • Check out the new Canadian Music Hall of Fame exhibit honouring 2020 inductee, Jann Arden. • Experience roaming performances every weekend courtesy of Scotiabank Backbeat.

Book your timed tickets now at studiobell.ca Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre | 850 4 Street SE in Calgary, AB | For more info, call 403-543-5115 or go to studiobell.ca

Weekend Activities at Studio Bell




November 1 – 1:00 PM

November 22 – 1:00 PM

November 8 – 1:00 PM

November 29 – 1:00 PM

Land’s End Ensemble

Kensington Sinfonia




Josué Valdepeñas and Karl Hirzer New Works Calgary

November 15 – 1:00 PM

Prairie Debut


>In this issue 4





4-7 > Opioid overdoses spike amidst the pandemic 7-9 > Non-profits out in the cold

18-19 > Ironwood Stage & Grill keeps the music alive 20-22 > Ski hills stuggle without international support staff

10-11 >More inclusivity in the counselling business 11-13 > City protests in B&W photography

COVER 14-17 > Book club promotes inclusitivity

22 10 11

24-25 > Captain for the MRU women’s soccer team ponders her future 26-27 > Fitness trainer put his clients first


28-39> Seeking better safety regulations for sex toys


24 28

Contributing Editors › FLOYD BLACK HORSE ASHLEY FAZEKAS BAILEY TAYLOR GRINGAS-HAMILTON SOLAYA HUANG ERIN SWEERE Managing Editor > ARCHIE MCLEAN: damclean@mtroyal.ca Faculty Editor > SEAN HOLMAN: sholman@mtroyal.ca Production Supervisor/Sales > BRAD SIMM: bsimm@mtroyal.ca 403-829-7424 CALGARYJOURNAL.CA

NOV/DEC 2020



The Dual Health Crisis As opioid overdoses spike amidst the pandemic, there are calls for a different approach to harm reduction


ver the summer, there was a spike in opioid overdose numbers due to COVID-19 affecting the drug supply and harm reduction resources. As winter approaches, those numbers may get worse, resulting in calls for Alberta to take a different approach to solving the province’s opioid problem. However, the government is rejecting some of those solutions, including a safer supply program and continued funding to safe consumption sites. Those rejections took place against the backdrop of the 301 accidental opioid deaths that happened in Alberta between April to June - a 97 per cent increase over the 153 deaths over the same period last year. Over the later period, the COVID-19 pandemic made Alberta’s precarious supply of illegal narcotics even more unpredictable. Border closures have affected the flow of those narcotics, resulting in shortages and an increase in the fillers being used to cut the drug supply. As a result, Kathleen Larose - the provincial programming coordinator for Alberta Addicts Who Advocate and Educate Responsibly - says “people have been purchasing more and using more to achieve the same effects.” Larose, whose organization works directly with drug users through harm reduction and street advocacy, says people have also been experiencing unusual overdose symptoms that are more difficult to spot. “(People have) appeared blue in the face because they are not getting enough oxygen to the brain and are currently overdosing but they are still alert,” Larose explains. She has also seen a spike of carfentanil, an opioid more potent than fentanyl, in Alberta street drugs. Tainted street drugs are not an issue isolated to Alberta. Caitlyn Marco, an outreach worker for the Umbrella Society in Victoria, B.C., has also seen a rise in deadly fillers. “The newer trend that has been showing up is high doses of benzodiazepines,” says Marco.

BAILEY GINGRAS-HAMILTON bgingras-hamilton@cjournal.ca Unlike opioids, benzodiazepines don’t respond to naloxone. As drugs become more toxic, harm reduction services have also faced COVID-19 constraints on their ability to help people. That includes safe consumption sites being forced to operate at a lower capacity due to pandemic health protocols. During this time, Larose noticed a larger number of people using opiods outdoors and more needle debris around Calgary. “When COVID-19 started, a lot of services shut down until they could figure out how to keep everyone safe,” Larose says. “A lot of people were displaced.” As a result, Larose’s group dispatched outreach teams to help drug users. “Our numbers of interactions increased about 40 per cent in those first couple months, which is huge,” Larose says. “There were a lot of people outside, figuring out what to do. And then there were people who were afraid to access services because they were scared to catch COVID.” Marco says that has had deadly consequences. “I would say roughly 15 of my clients have overdosed and died because of using alone in their homes and not being able to access things like safe consumption sites or one-on-one support.” Both Marco and Larose are increasingly worried about what could happen in the winter. As temperatures plunge and the holidays approach, overdose numbers often rise. “There’s naturally a lot of loneliness and depression that comes along with the holidays when they (drug users) don’t have family or are sleeping outside,” says Larose. “People will often use more or use different substances to forget that they are sleeping outside.” This is an issue even in warmer climates, such as Victoria. “The holidays are a hard time of year for a lot of people, but especially for people that I work with who have substance use and concurrent mental health challenges,” Marco explains. “There’s this societal pressure to spend time with family, and a lot of people who have substance use challenges do not feel

“It’s absolutely essential that our provincial government, who are in charge of public health policy and allocation of funding, recognizes they need to check their ideology at the door.” > Alison McIntosh, former harm-reduction researcher


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POLITICS safe around family or are not welcome to be around family.” With holidays and colder weather rapidly approaching, Alberta government funding cuts to harm reduction services have alarmed harm reduction advocates. Most recently, the Lethbridge safe consumption site has been forced to shut down. After the closure of that site, which was run by the AIDS Outreach Community Harm Reduction Education Support Society, Larose said she saw a huge spike in overdoses. Her colleagues once saw three overdoses during a single three and a half hour shift. Currently, Alberta Health Services is operating a mobile consumption site in Lethbridge to replace the one they shut down. “In the winter months, unless we figure out a solution other than the little consumption site that they’re using right now, we are going to see a huge spike in the winter (in Lethbridge). I think it’s going to be a bit catastrophic,” says Larose. But the Alberta government stands by their decision to close that site. In an email, Kassandra Kitz, the associate minister of mental health and addiction’s press secretary, says, “The AHS-operated mobile overdose prevention site has been successful thus far, with adequate capacity to serve the community.” She says emergency medical services have responded to 36 per cent less opioid-related emergencies since the implementation of the mobile safe consumption site. In the same statement, Kitz states, “We do recognize that the pandemic is not over which is why we are continuing to monitor opioid fatalities in the province closely and making investments where they are needed most.” One form of harm reduction that Larose has been advocating for nearly 17 years is a safer supply program. A safer supply program offers users regulated versions of illegal drugs that are too often cut with toxic substances. “Essentially, with the fentanyl crisis, it will keep people safer and it can be monitored and people can do it with supervision and what not,” Larose says. She also believes a safer supply could play a factor in avoiding overdose deaths over the winter by taking some strain off other harm reduction services. Alison McIntosh, a former harm reduction researcher for the Parkland Institute, also supports a safer supply program. She says it could benefit communities overall by reducing drug-related crime. “By having a safe supply that is regulated, produced and distributed through official channels, you have the potential to reduce


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harm across a whole lot of issues that we face right now,” McIntosh says. “It’s absolutely essential that our provincial government, who is in charge of public health policy and allocation of health funding, recognizes they need to check their ideology at the door.” When asked about the possibility of a safe supply program, Kitz did not answer the question. She instead linked an article with previous statements made by the associate minister of mental health and addiction, Jason Luan. For now, Larose and McIntosh emphasize the importance of keeping safe injection sites open. Safe injection sites not only protect users but also give them a sense of hope and community. “They’re also a point of contact, a place where people can go for a familiar face or a cup of coffee. Those interactions are really important, especially for people who are considering treatment options,” McIntosh says. In addition, Larose says, “When people access those services they can be led to other services that will further support them towards their recovery journey, wherever they’re at.” “Recovery services are essential, harm reduction services are essential. Everyone is on their own continuum, wherever their journey is. We can’t just stomp people who are at the bottom of the totem pole further into the ground.”

Naloxone kits are free, widely available, and can save someone from overdosing. PHOTO: BAILEY GINGRAS-HAMILTON

The safe consumption site in the Sheldon Chumir Hospital in Calgary, Alta. is one of many under scrutiny by the provincial government. PHOTO: CALGARY JOURNAL


Calgary’s Downtown PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Winter is coming leaving many non-profits out in the cold

Facing increasing need and decreasing funding, how will Alberta’s non-profit sector survive?


MACKENZIE HERMANN mhermann@cjournal.ca

lberta’s economy has been brought to its knees. Already rocked by the province’s seemingly endless struggles with a volatile oil and gas sector, it took little for the COVID-19 pandemic to push it over. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, a ballooning provincial deficit, shuttered businesses and vacant offices, Alberta seems to be at risk of losing its advantage. It’s in this challenging environment that more Albertans have turned to non-profits in their community for critical assistance. From putting food on tables to providing affordable housing options, Alberta’s non-profit sector has risen to the challenge – but will it be able to continue doing so as the holidays approach? This

question remains top of mind for many organizations, particularly those in the social services sector. In any economic downturn, it’s often non-profits that provide direct and immediate support to those most in need who also see the biggest increase in need. The Calgary Homeless Foundation has seen this firsthand. “These are hard times. Even with the general population, anxiety, mental health struggles, substance abuse and addiction is up. When you work with people who are more vulnerable, this is even more pronounced,” said the foundation’s president and CEO, Patricia Jones. “Of course people who were vulnerable before the pandemic will continue to be

vulnerable,” Jones continued. “But people who are now at the edge of homelessness after losing their jobs are in an incredibly stressful position. The partners we directly work with have certainly seen an increase in community need.” One of the foundation’s key community partners is The Alex. The two work closely together, along with Alberta Health Services, CUPS, HomeSpace and the Government of Alberta, to run Calgary’s Assisted Self-Isolation Site. ASIS provides isolation spaces for homeless Calgarians who have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 or been diagnosed with the virus. For The Alex, which provides access to health care, housing and community support for vulnerable and at-risk

Calgarians, the increased community need has been staggering. “We have certainly seen a higher volume of calls and inquiries, as well as an increase of new people accessing our services since the pandemic began,” explained Tori Wright, director of community engagement and development for The Alex. “If anything, COVID has taught us that any one of us can be vulnerable. Whether it be through the loss of a job or loved one, increased anxiety, addiction, trauma. It can be any of us.” At The Alex, plans are being put in motion for a busy holiday season as the long-term impacts of the pandemic and struggling economy are felt throughout the province.


DEC/JAN 2020



The Alex has seen increased community need throughout the pandemic, especially for its Community Food Centre PHOTO: THE ALEX “We expect to see even more people reaching out to us this winter, as we already see increasing distress, severity and complexity of issues among members of our community that we are already serving directly,” Wright said. But meeting this increased need is difficult because the non-profit sector’s traditional funding sources are in jeopardy. That funding usually comes from three major sources: donations, revenue earned and government funds. However, donations from individual Albertans have been dwindling for years, according to Statistics Canada, as unemployment rates rise. The ability for non-profits to generate revenue from sales and fees, as well as fundraising, has also been threatened by reduced funding. And now government funding is at risk due to the $24.2 billion deficit, which the United Conservative Party is adamant about reducing through funding cuts. Non-profits that are part of the provincial government’s response to the ongoing pandemic, such as the Alex, have secured more funding than others. However, these organizations will still be directly impacted by cuts in other areas. “Currently, our core government funding is considered stable through to next year,” Wright explained. “But we are keeping a close eye on how changes happening now can impact the people we are serving, and


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how this will in turn impact us. Specifically, we are certainly keeping a close eye on the changes we’re seeing in health care.” This presents a unique challenge for non-profits. Even if government funding remains stable, cuts to health care and decreased assistance for low-income Albertans have placed additional strain upon an already overwhelmed system. The Alberta Nonprofit Network, which represents many of those non-profits, warns that impacts to funding have left organizations with limited options and time. “We can’t keep up with increased demand and decreased funding long-term. In the coming months, many organizations will need to start dipping into their reserves and this is not a sector that has deep pockets to draw from,” said Mike Grogan, network steward of the ABNN. “Likely about a third of organizations don’t even have reserves to begin with.” Without the ability to flex into alternate funding sources or rely on cash reserves, non-profits have been forced to get creative. Although fundraisers and galas have largely been cancelled due to the inability to gather in large groups, organizations have used technology to engage with stakeholders and make donation pitches. For The Alex, one of their signature fundraisers helps pay for the cost of

operating their Youth Health Bus. The bus travels to different Calgary Board of Education high schools offering free and confidential care to teens. This year, the fundraiser will be going virtual. Instead of an intimate wine and cheese networking night, families are encouraged to join an inclusive Zoom call for an evening of fun and fundraising. “There is no doubt that our fundraising, particularly at the individual level, has been impacted. We want to use larger scale digital events to fundraise in the hopes of raising both awareness and funds,” Wright said. While virtual fundraisers and events are an innovative idea, Grogan cautions they will not be the singular solution to problems in the sector. “Virtual fundraisers and galas really show the creativity and resilience of nonprofits but they are not to scale. Costs are significantly lower, but you just don’t have the same ability to fundraise. It’s also hard to hold people’s attention and encourage that same level of engagement, as we see dozens of these virtual events happening monthly this winter.” This leaves organizations having to find other creative opportunities to help address their funding gap. A surprisingly popular revenue source for The Alex this year has been Skip The Depot, a home bottle and can pickup

“In the coming months, many organizations will need to start dipping into their reserves and this is not a sector that has deep pockets to draw from. Likely about a third of organizations don’t even have reserves to begin with” > Mike Grogan, Alberta Nonprofit Network


“In Ontario, one in five non-profits are considering closure before the end of this year. I don’t think this will be any different in Alberta. There could potentially be thousands of non-profits who won’t make it through the winter.” > Mike Grogan, Alberta Nonprofit Network

service. Users can sign up to have their bottle credits donated directly to the charity of their choice. The Alex received more donors through this service in the first few months of the pandemic than all of 2019. “While this is a relatively small portion of fundraising dollars for us, it was heartening to see people adopt the program while they were presumably generating more bottles and staying at home,” Wright said. It is small displays of generosity like this, giving whenever and wherever possible, that could help provide much needed relief and support to the Alberta-based non-profits struggling to make ends meet as their funding dries up. “The initial response and reaction is over and we did see some extreme generosity. But now is about keeping an eye out, as the next six months are critical to determine what will happen in the fundraising landscape for us,” said Wright. The ABNN will also be keeping a close eye on the non-profit sector in the coming months as they track what they now consider to no longer be a temporary setback but a long-term trend. In their June survey, titled ‘From Response to Recovery,’ the ABNN gathered results from 200 non-profit organizations and registered charities across Alberta to help understand the most prevalent challenges across this overwhelmed and underfunded sector. Respondents listed their most pressing issues and concerns as increased demands for services, decreased ability to fundraise or earn revenue and the inability to access funding. The ABNN cautions that these issues will only increase in severity throughout the winter. “How long we can continue offering

increasing services without increased funding is the question a lot of us are asking,” said Grogan. Citing a bilingual survey conducted in June by the Ontario Nonprofit Network and L’Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, Grogan did not mince words when asked what Alberta’s non-profit landscape will look like by next spring. “In Ontario, one in five non-profits are considering closure before the end of this year. I don’t think this will be any different in Alberta. There could potentially be thousands of non-profits who won’t make it through the winter.” With the holiday season quickly approaching, a glimmer of hope remains for some organizations. The spirit of giving may present an opportunity to help fill the funding gap before the new year. “A significant portion of donations are traditionally made in December, in response to direct appeals from organizations,” Grogan said. “We just have to wait and see how these appeals can be ramped up and if supporters will have the resources to offer the same level of support they traditionally do around the holidays.” As many Albertans face the financial toll of the pandemic, holiday donations are likely to be lower than expected. Without the ability for organizations to access additional funding to help address rapidly increasing needs, many vulnerable Albertans are at risk of being turned away from struggling organizations this winter. “People need to recognize that this is a sector under incredible stress,” Grogan said. “Many of these services and needs will go unmet. It’s highly unlikely that other nonprofits and organizations can pick up the slack, as they are struggling as is.”

A Calagry winter night downtown. PHOTO: REDDIT


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TREATMENT OPTIONS C alg ary therapist G io D olcecore is prescrib ing more inclusivity in the counselling b usiness NIKITA LEHNERT-THIEL nlehnert-thiel@cjournal.ca

Gio Dolcecore is helping more nonbinary individuals become therapists.


f you check out Psychology Today’s long list of counsellors in Calgary, you’ll find just two non-binary therapists, with Gio Dolcecore being one of them. However, Dolcecore was only able to truly find their calling after a disappointing stint at the city’s police academy led them to train as a social worker at the University of Calgary. Now, they help others on their own journeys of self-discovery while encouraging other non-binary individuals to become therapists themselves. Dolcecore says discovering their own gender “has been kind of like a life-long thing.” “I don’t think there’s been a single moment in my life where it was like a light switch went off, and it was like ‘Oh! I’m non-binary.’ I think it was a combination and accumulation of a lot of different events.” One of the earliest such moments happened when Dolcecore was attending Catholic school in grade six. “I was participating in recess with some of my other friends, and I went inside to use the bathroom, and when I went inside, I immediately went to the boy’s bathroom,” Dolcecore said, adding that they didn’t really understand the “social divide between boys and girls.” Dolcecore didn’t think twice about the possibility of this being inappropriate or wrong but was reprimanded when a teacher found out what happened. The school then called Dolcecore’s parents and they were taken home. The next day, Dolecore remembers their parents tried to explain to the principal, “I just had to pee really bad. I wasn’t trying to be a bad person.” “But I saw my parents lying on my behalf to get me out

10 NOV/DEC 2020



of trouble, trouble that I didn’t know and no one really explained it to me. So, for the longest part of my life after that, I just thought if I lied about how I felt expressing my gender, I could keep myself safe. I thought that was normal; I thought that’s what people did, you lied about what felt good.”

I just thought if I lied about how I felt expressing my gender, I could keep myself safe. I thought that was normal; I thought that’s what people did, you lied about what felt good. > Gio Dolcecore After that moment, Dolcecore didn’t question their gender again until college when they joined a triathlete team and started working out. During that training, Dolecore said they were “trying to get as skinny as possible

because that’s what females in the triathlete world do.” “I remember I thought I was being jealous that the guys were bulking so quickly, and it was taking me so long to see myself put on some body mass,” Dolcecore explains. At the time, Dolcecore thought they were a “bad person” for feeling that way. However, looking back at that moment, Dolecore believes that jealousy came from wanting to “change my body type or body presentation to be more masculine - as opposed to chasing these social constructs of feminine athletic success.” Despite these confusing times, Dolcecore enjoyed their time at Mount Royal University and graduated with a bachelor of arts in criminal justice in 2011. They even served as one of that year’s valedictorians. “I was able to do the final speech for the graduating classes in the arts, which was amazing,” they recall.   Subsequently, Dolcecore tried to become a police officer with the goal of helping their community.  “Back then, there was this mentality that you moulded yourself into this perfect image that CPS (Calgary Police Service) wanted you to be. I was not that perfect image.” Dolecore found that they “asked too many questions.” “You would always hear me say, ‘Okay, so we restrained them but how are we going to help them?” According to Dolcecore, they were usually met with a disappointing answer, “That’s not your job.” On Dolcecore’s last day at the academy, the class practiced a tackle and restraint drill on each other. “I was put in a restraint and I remember tapping out


Gio Dolcecore has advocated for 2SLGBTQ+ rights. PHOTO: COURTESY OF GIO DOLCECORE for the person to stop,” they said. “I almost blacked out, and I just remember, he finally let go of me.” That’s when they say their classmate said to shut up. After that incident, Dolcecore says, “I was just like, ‘Fuck this. This is not the place for me.’ And I just quit.” Dolecore says the Calgary Police Service has gotten better since then. However, that moment caused them to do some soul searching. They decided they wanted to pursue a master’s degree in clinical social work. “I wanted to help people be advocates and wanted to help people feel comfortable to be an activist. I knew that those values were morals in my life. So, I wanted to pick a career that helped me encompass those values and those morals,” says Dolcecore. “I looked at social work, and I was like ‘Yes! This is the one. This is what I have to be.’” During this time at the University of Calgary, Dolcecore met a transgender individual who had not yet transitioned to a specific gender. Instead, they presented many non-binary characteristics. This interaction led Dolcecore to the realization that there’s an “in-between” they didn’t know existed, motivating them to do more research and even inspiring their thesis. That thesis focused primarily on trans identities and figuring out the best practices to support people in deciding to either socially transition, medically transition or both. “That’s probably when I learned the most about my gender, and how my gender is a combination of femininity from my past that I’m proud of,” Dolcecore says. “Those were the beginning days of me finding confidence. And then, if you know me now, I’m very masculine and I’m very proud of that.”

Dolcecore explains that they demonstrate their non-binary identity by playing with the gender spectrum. Using this experience, Dolcecore shares stories with others about how they can find their truth without being impacted by social constructs of how that’s supposed to look. “Technically, I’m not supposed to look like any social construct that’s actually out there... but that’s what I’m most proud of. I love that I don’t fit the mould.”   Today, Dolcecore works at a private practice called Tharseo Counselling. Here, they specialize in sexuality, individuality, selfdiscovery, milestones, transitions, grief and loss. They also work as a counsellor at student services at the University of Calgary and teach as a sessional instructor with the social work faculty.  With 10 years of experience working in social services and roughly six years working as a counsellor and therapist, Dolcecore has spent a fair amount of time in the industry and has touched many lives. Alyjah Neil is one of those people. Neil is an Indigenous trans person who identifies as non-binary and two-spirit. They are completing their masters in clinical social work at the University of Calgary. As part of that degree, Neil attended a lecture Dolcecore gave about being trans and non-binary. “I went home from class that day and told my partner, ‘I think I’m trans,’” Neil explains. “I then spent the next several months researching everything I could about being non-binary. I slowly came out to my family and friends.” Neil found support from a friend who was also trans and further along in their gender journey. But, soon after Neil started hormone treatment, their friend died after an overdose. “I felt very isolated and alone. I went to a transmasculine support group a few months later, and Gio was presenting.”

After the presentation, Neil confided in Dolcecore about everything that had been happening in their life. “We’ve been close ever since. Gio has mentored and taught me so much about being non-binary, being a social worker and being a human that’s healing.” Together, the two friends started training social workers to operate more effectively and inclusively with Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ+ and youth populations. Dolcecore and Neil have also been involved with Planting Seeds, a training conference to spark dialogue around working with two-spirit youth. And Neil has been a guest speaker for some of Dolcecore’s lectures at the University of Calgary. “I’ve learned that friendship and community with fellow non-binary and trans folks are vital to my gender journey. I have learned that no matter how dark it gets or how long it’s been since you called them, if it’s dark in your head – just call. They’ll show up. And vice versa.” Neil hopes to continue their research and consulting while also having a private practice to work with couples and individuals who are BIPOC or trans/queer.  Dolcecore wishes there were more such 2SLGBTQ+ individuals among the mixture of excellent therapists and social workers in Calgary, but the solution is not simple.   “I think the reality of that is when you think about queer individuals growing up, there are so many more things that we have to heal from” - from microaggression and discrimination to oppression and trauma.  “It’s really hard to heal from all of those things and then become a healer yourself. So, I know that the barrier’s there. I just wish that we had more support to guide kids to heal sooner so that they can be supporters and caregivers and healers in their adult life.”

“I wish when I was a kid that I had a butch therapist, or a non-binary therapist, or a trans therapist,” Dolcecore adds. “I wish that were the case because then it wouldn’t have been this like magic, mystic unicorn that I was dreaming about. It would have been real.” However, Dolcecore believes we are slowly working towards that goal and expresses their appreciation for Calgary agencies working to help the 2SLGBTQ+ youth. “There are agencies and organizations in the city that are doing the really hard work; for instance, I really truly believe the Centre for Sexuality and their Camp fYrefly program is changing the world and changing the trajectory of a lot of 2SLGBTQ+ kids,” they explain. “I tell people all the time; I wish when I was a kid that I went to Camp fYrefly, that would have answered everything, like that would have taken 15 years of therapy off the books for me.”  Dolcecore believes the more we uplift and support programs such as the Centre for Sexuality, the more we can start to heal our 2SLGBTQ+ folks.  “They don’t always have to be the kid with mental health [problems], they don’t always have to be the kid who’s not like everyone else, they don’t always have to have a problem, and I think those agencies are teaching kids just that,” they explain. “Being gay, being trans, being nonbinary, being queer, it’s not a problem. It’s actually awesome. It’s something that you get to celebrate; it’s something cool that you get to show the rest of the world.”

Calgary Social Workers for Social Justice is a group of social workers who are passionate about working for positive social change. PHOTO-ILLUSTRATION : NIKITA LEHNERT-THIEL


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Tandia Feagan illustrates city protests in black and white

P ow er and connection to the g lob al B lack L ives M atter M ovement b ring s out the activist in local photog rapher


andia Feagan has been a photographer since she was in junior high, taking pictures of everyday experiences and abstract structures. But she was strongly affected by the Black Lives Matter movement, using her lens and her experiences as a mixed race individual to get up close and personal with the anguish of racism. Feagan started taking pictures when she was 13-years-old, eventually graduating to learning how to use professional cameras. “I was an emo-scene kid back in the day, so it was mostly like selfies and stuff.” During her high school years, she learned about the technical side of photography and made the Internet part of her studies. “The Internet is definitely an amazing source to have when you’re starting out as a new photographer and you don’t necessarily have any educational training for it other than high school.” Feagan took shots with a Polaroid camera, having fun with instant prints she would take of herself and friends where no editing was needed. As Feagan developed her photography skills, she began exploring the world outside. She started composing photos of

doorways of nearby homes that stood out to her. She describes her fascination with buildings in general as “imaginative,” focusing on structures that are “cool” to look at. Through a process of snapping random scenes she came across, Feagan quickly appreciated the beauty she would find in normal, everyday places. “It’s just amazing how creative everything around you can be if taken in the right angle and edited the right way. It can still look beautiful and be just as creative as taking a picture of the mountains.” Feagan says she has “found art in absolutely everything” - eventually expanding her work to include portraits showing deeper parts of her identity, as well shots of her friends, roommates and family members. But the shots she was taking started to change on May 25. That day, George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, was caught on tape. He could be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests denouncing the officers involved and calling for an end to ongoing police brutality. Those American protests were enough to spark similar demonstrations against racism

in Canada, seeking justice for names such as Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other BIPOC people whose deaths continue to shock society. Calgary had its own rally and call to justice on May 31. Supporters came out in masks to show there was a reason the city needed to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Feagan attended several such protests over the summer, capturing the angst and civil unrest. Those events included Silence is Violence and the Black Lives Matter Vigil at city hall which brought out hundreds of supporters. “They’re all fighting for the same thing and all being very emotional and feeling inspired and wanting change,” said Feagan. “And I’m very happy to be one of the many people going out there and capturing the moments that are currently happening in our society.” Feagan immediately uploaded and shared her photos to her Instagram page, adding her own thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and making sure her voice was being heard as well. Her black and white photos show women screaming in the streets, men standing with fists in the air and children without smiles holding signs printed with George Floyd’s

FLOYD BLACK HORSE fblackhorse@cjournal.ca

last words. Feagan had a personal stake in those protests, coming from a mixed race background. Her dad is white and her mom is black. They are also part Indigenous and Asian. “Being mixed definitely means that I am a little bit more privileged than certain people. But I myself have dealt with some racism growing up in the sense that I have been told to go home or I have been called the monkey for just walking down the street. Someone yelled at me saying, ‘Hey, Pocahontas’ or something like that.” Feagan grew up in St. Albert and experienced racism as the only student in class with a dark complexion, an upbringing she associates with feeling “stuck in the middle.” Her past links her with the demonstrators in her photos. “It’s just a beautiful thing throughout the entire protests” says Feagan. “Just a constant feeling of power and connection.” Feagan’s photographs from the protests are free to share and publish as she wants to share her work for the people who need to know that “it’s ok to fight and stand up for what you believe.”


Protestors wearing face covering amidst crowds carrying signs. “No justice, no peace” reads one poster with the symbol of a fist drawn onto it. The fist is a universal symbol of solidarity and support. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

With their hands upraised, Calgary Black Lives Matter protesters are urging the city and province to do more to ensure racial equality. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

Black Lives Matter protesters in Calgary are representative of an international movement demand equality and racial justice. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

Onlookers from one of Calgary’s high-rise apartment buildings cheer on Black Lives Matter protesters. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN

“Hands up, don’t shoot“ reads the sign as protestors walk through the streets of downtown Calgary, demanding an end to police brutality as similar demonstrations take place across the country. PHOTO: TANDIA FEAGAN


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Turning the page

H ow

a C alg ary- b ased b ook club is contrib uting to the conversation on inclusivity SOLAYA HUANG shuang@cjournal.ca


n every holiday growing up, SueShane Tsomondo was sent to her grandparents’ home in Gweru, Zimbabwe - a city that sits in the centre of the country, on the banks of the river it’s named after. With no TV and nothing else to do, Tsomondo, young and bored, was forced to read as a source of entertainment. “My grandmother was just like: ‘Here are some books – read’… In the afternoon, the TV’s off,” says Tsomondo. And so she read. The books her grandmother owned were old, with yellow pages and strange covers, but they were a better alternative to boredom and would spark a lifelong passion. After moving to Canada however, Tsomondo, now 25, discovered how Westernized the literary world was. Motivated and inspired, she created an online book club to uplift the voices of POC authors, as well as promote inclusivity and healing through reading.

“I started to ask myself questions like, ‘Why am I reading Shakespeare in Zimbabwe?’” > Sue-Shane Tsomondo Sue-Shane Tsomondo’s main book supplier is Shelf Life Books, an independent bookstore here in Calgary. In 2014, Tsomondo moved from Zimbabwe to Canada to pursue her degree at the University of Calgary. There, she majored in international relations, focusing on subSaharan Africa. “I was really drawn to the civil society aspect of it, to the people who hold governments and people with power accountable,” says Tsomondo. In her second year, she decided to minor in English, which led her to notice the influence Western literature has, even in the country she grew up in. “One of my required courses was Shakespeare and we studied Shakespeare in high school as well,” says Tsomondo. “I started to ask myself questions like, ‘Why am I reading Shakespeare in Zimbabwe?’”


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She also noticed how Western literature seemed to be more valued academically than authors and stories from other countries. “I remember I had this one TA who would shame people for not reading certain texts – ‘Oh you haven’t read Kafka? You’re not serious about English literature,’ and I remember being very offended because I was wellread but in books that aren’t considered mainstream, that are excluded from the canon,” says Tsomondo. This experience prompted Tsomondo to do her own research on Zimbabwean authors and literature. It was then that she found The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera - a collection of stories that reflected his life under white rule in Rhodesia, which is now known as Zimbabwe.

“I don’t even know how to describe [that book]. I think I’ve always had a hard time trying to,” says Tsomondo about the impact it had on her. “My favourite quote ever in any book is from that book. I remember just thinking: ‘Wow, his mind.’ I was so captivated, inspired.” Those words by Marechera, which have stayed with Tsomondo since the moment she read them, go as follows: “The underwear of our souls was full of holes and the crotch it hid was infested with lice. We were whores; eaten to the core by the syphilis of the white man’s coming.” “I am yet to read a quote that would change my life like that,” says Tsomondo For her, The House of Hunger represents the power of writers. The depravity and


double entendre of Marechera’s words in his description of pre-independence Zimbabwe made reading the book a “life-changing experience.” “What he represented as a writer is what I want books to do for people: To cause people to question things, to be more socially aware.” Rejuvenated and inspired by Marechera’s work and a clear lack of action in promoting inclusivity and diversity in literature, Tsomondo created Sue’s Stokvel, a book club centred around the work of Black and POC authors. A stokvel is a type of informal credit union unique to South Africa. It’s a community where members look out for each other and make sure everyone has access to food, money, resources and support.


PODCASTERS AMPLIFY MARGINALIZED VOICES Tsomondo wasn’t part of a stokvel growing up in Zimbabwe, but she did have Ruwadzano/Manyano – a women’s association within the Methodist Church that supported her and her single mother. “They were always very loving towards me and were always looking out for me,” says Tsomondo. “When my mom got sick, they were the people who were there to visit. When she ultimately passed, they had really just taken me under their wing.” The group still keeps in contact with Tsomondo, checking up on her and her wellbeing. “It’s very much like it takes a village. And for me, that village was [the] Ruwadzano/Manyano community.” Tsomondo started her own “stokvel” in the hope she could encourage greater inclusivity both inside and outside the reading world. “I want people to understand that [being] inclusive, you need to learn it,” says Tsomondo. “You can’t just assume that you will understand people.” Learning to value and practice inclusivity is something that Tsomondo believes can be achieved through reading. “[It’s] one of the easiest and most accessible ways to bring people into your line of sight,” says Tsomondo. “There are certain things that I might never experience in this life but, because I’ve read certain books, I’m aware of them.” “For example, with Brother, I’m Dying, we had conversations about our own immigration experience. I really value that space of being able to just talk about different things and share and look [out] for each other.” When she first created Sue’s Stokvel in 2019, it started as a physical book club with around six members. Tsomondo would host meetings in her apartment and find books for everyone to read and discuss. But attendance soon dwindled.

A collection of some of Tsomondo’s favourite books.

The advocacy and community building that Tsomondo wanted to do with the book club is something that she says “you can’t just be interested [in], you have to be committed.” After three short months, she decided to shut down the physical book club. Cut to a year later and it’s May 25, 2020. The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police was not the first of its kind and not even of this year. But it was a breaking point. Through the lens of a cell phone camera, the entire world witnessed Floyd’s death and the killing quickly became a catalyst for protests across the globe that continue to this day, as well as the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. In early June 2020, along with the protests, the social media initiative “Blackout Tuesday” took off. The idea first started with the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused, an initiative to encourage those in the music industry to reflect on how they have been complicit in racism and what they can do to support the Black community. When social media users, including many highprofile celebrities, got wind of the initiative, they began posting images of black squares using the hashtags #blackouttuesday, #blacklivesmatter and #BLM. The result was an endless sea of black squares with little to no context, information or acknowledgement of complicity. The movement ultimately drowned out the voices of those who needed to be heard the most. In a reaction to this, another initiative called #AmplifyMelanatedVoices was created by activists Alishia McCullough and Jessica Wilson, and it would be the next step in Tsomondo’s journey.


Over the summer, the Black Lives Matter movement put racism at the forefront of many people’s minds. But local podcasters Misha Maseka and Demi Okuboyejo hope to keep the movement and the conversations it’s started going. For Maseka, that conversation centres around creativity. Growing up as a self-described “obnoxious theatre kid” who was always in and out of competitions and festivals, she also studied opera in university, writes and is a poet. As a result, her podcast “In Rehearsal” focuses on “what it means as a creative to be considered marginalized.” In the performing arts, as with any industry, there is a lot of work to be done with representation and inclusivity, including bridging the pay gap between Black artists and their white counterparts, as well as putting people of colour in leadership roles. “We do have things to say and offer that are valid and will make all of us, in turn, a better community,” says Maseka. “Because a Black woman on a panel for whatever can see a blind spot that a straight white male might not see.” For the first episode of her podcast, Maseka and her co-host Heather Gallipeau got the opportunity to interview Dr. Shelley Scott, a theatre professor at the University of Lethbridge. “She told this story about this play that debuted somewhere in the Prairies, it was either Saskatchewan or Manitoba. And it was a play written by a Black playwright. When the reviews came out, all the critics, mostly white, were just like, ‘(I) didn’t understand it,’” says Maseka. But Scott offered a simple solution that has stayed with Maseka since the interview: To listen harder. Listen to the stories of Black and marginalized people. Listen to the people around you and what they have to say. For her own part, Okuboyejo, along with her co-host Elsa Kaka, created their podcast “Ordinary Black Girl” to start a conversation around the realities of being a Black woman Okuboyejo says that growing up in Calgary, “you get the message really young that being a Black boy is cool, and being a Black girl isn’t. There’s a way in which Blackness is connected to masculinity.” “Even when you see how the deaths of Black women are treated,” she continues. “A lot of the focus of the protests have been [on] the men that have been killed by police violence.” Yet violence against Black women is often overlooked. Okuboyejo says it’s unfortunate that Breonna Taylor, for example, who was killed by Louisville police, hasn’t received the same level of media attention and support as victims who are Black men. “What happened to her… It’s (also) areally horrific story,” says Okuboyejo. “I’m disappointed justice isn’t being served for her.” But “Ordinary Black Girl” is bringing attention to the injustices against Black women like the case of Taylor’s death, and “discussing the things that pertain to us, not letting people tell us that we’re too sensitive, or we’re too this or we’re too that or we’re angry Black women.” However, Okuboyejo says that “it’s not all heavy. There is a lot of humour. That is one thing that I love about Black women. We are so funny, we’re so joyful and we’re so jovial. We talk about heavy things, we talk about difficult things, and we also laugh and we smile and we just enjoy what life has for us to enjoy.”


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Sue-Shane Tsomondo’s Top Ten LITERARY PICKS 1



The Water Dancer is a powerful and factually rooted reimagination of the underground railroad. It is a portrait of slavery that gives the enslaved the dignity of individuality, complexity and beauty.





I love thrillers, and My Sister, the Serial Killer is a brilliant and enjoyable thriller that signals the expansion of African literature into other genres that do not centre the white gaze. I used to read more of them when I was younger, but I have struggled to find thrillers by African authors.

Harvest of Thorns is an insight into the early years of independent Zimbabwe. Chinodya balances love and humour with the painful realities of living in the new Zimbabwe, and it is one of my favourite books partly because it is set in my home country of Zimbabwe and the humour and characters are familiar and authentic.


This book feels like a love letter to Black children everywhere, Black children who feel the pressure to be excellent, Black children who grew up with the news of police brutality on the news, etc.

“(They) were like, ‘I don’t think Black people should be silent. I think this is a time to amplify melanated voices,’” says Tsomondo on the initiative. So she made a post using the hashtag on her Instagram, giving Sue’s Stokvel a much-needed boost. “I was paying to keep up my website out of my own pocket…I’m purchasing books out of my own pocket, and so I posted, ‘If you would like to support an organization in a melanated voice in Calgary, there’s Sue’s Stokvel’ and I put that hashtag and it really just went from there.” By using the hashtag, Sue’s Stokvel was propelled into the public eye, reaching an audience of people who wanted to help. Through a surge of support and funding, Tsomondo was able to give her book club another chance. She contacted a local bookstore, Shelf Life Books, and they have since become Sue’s Stokvel’s main supplier.



“Because I had the support of the donations, it didn’t feel like I was doing it for free. It felt like something had been given to me,” says Tsomondo. Though a lot of the support she received was out of genuine belief in her work, Tsomondo thinks it was also partially due to performative allyship. “There’s a sort of recklessness (in just donating), like ‘Here you go, I’ve done my part’, but that’s really just the beginning,” says Tsomondo. For her, real action isn’t reflected in financial support but in conversation. “Okay, I’m going to donate money. But what else am I going to do? I’m going to actually try and read the books. I’m going to try and have conversations about this. I’m going to ask questions,” explains Tsomondo. One of the main conversations Tsomondo wants to start is on the reality that Black women face - using Sue’s Stokvel to accurately represent their experiences

and capabilities. Too often, according to Kenyan conservationist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, these women have been seen as bearers of culture - frozen in time. This is a perspective that Tsomondo hopes to shift through reading. “Our traditions say that women are supposed to cook, clean and take care of their families,” says Tsomondo about Maathai’s words. “While men can dress differently, can succumb to the trends of the Western world, women are shamed for adopting Western practices.” One of the first books that Tsomondo read involving middle-class African women was Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo. Tsomondo says it had “all these interesting characters that are really not frozen in time, that are experiencing challenges that come with changes



I Write What I Like is an incredible resource for organizers and student activists from one of the greatest organizers against the South African apartheid government. I learnt a great deal about allyship, the role of Christianity in the state and just critically thinking.

I love documentaries mainly because of the primary source interviews. Barracoon is beautiful in that way as well. Hurston brings humanity and compassion to cultural anthropology that has rarely been seen in this exploitative discipline.







I love documentaries mainly because of the primary source interviews. Barracoon is beautiful in that way as well. Hurston brings humanity and compassion to cultural anthropology that has rarely been seen in this exploitative discipline.


No one has told the stories of Zimbabwean women better than Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Nervous Conditions is no different and even closer to my heart as Dangarembga draws from her experience from her high school which is also my alma mater.



Binyavanga Wainaina knew what it was like to be an eccentric and creative child in an African family, and he writes about it beautifully and honestly. This is a reassuring read for young African creatives. in culture, the economy (and) the political situation changing.” “I think that we are frozen in time because it helps to control us. It is definitely an oppressive tool. But as the bearers of culture, I think we also have a lot of power and a lot of agency to change that.” Though Sue’s Stokvel is her passion, Tsomondo has bigger plans for the future. She hopes to build a publishing company, one that not only embraces and invests in new voices in African literature but also in the voices of the past, voices like Marechera’s. “In Zimbabwe, a lot of books have gone out of print. That’s why someone like me, only finally when I moved to Canada, started finding out that there were all these Zimbabwean writers,” says Tsomondo. “These are wellwritten books; these are amazing stories and I want them to be accessible again.” In the meantime, she has many plans for her book




The book was first published during the crack epidemic and paints the origin of the modern-day militarization of the police and the lack of social responsibility by the government in a future America. This novel is eerily prophetic, and it has changed how I think of the possibilities of science fiction literature. club, including video content and reviewing African films. “That’s something I really would love to do because I think the connection between film and literature (is) really close, and I want to explore that,” says Tsomondo. With COVID-19 cases still climbing, Tsomondo remains limited to the digital world. However, she is already making plans for when it’s safe to go out again. “I definitely want to meet and engage with people,” says Tsomondo. “I would love to have (storytimes) for just African literature, to read African folklore to children of colour and Black kids.” Reading may not be an obvious choice as a step to healing the trauma faced by the Black community, but it is one that Tsomondo is passionate about. When opening the webpage of Sue’s Stokvel, a short phrase pops up. It says: “Shifting the narrative and healing through storytelling.”

Tsomondo says that if there is one thing that she would want someone to take away from her book club, it’s that “there’s a lot of healing and community in reading. It’s a very personal act.” “I think for me it’s always given me the words when I don’t have them,” she says. “There’s a specific quote from Dogs at The Perimeter by Madeleine Thien that when I read that I was like, ‘This is it. This is exactly how this feels.’”: “Between us, she said, I had known love, I had lived a childhood that might sustain me. I remembered beauty: Long ago, it had not seemed necessary to note its presence, to memorize it, to set the dogs out at the perimeter. I felt her in the persistent drumming of water against the boat’s hull. Guard the ones you love, she told me. Carry us with you into the next life.”


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The show must go on

H ow the I ronw ood S tag e & G rill is b ring ing live music b ack in a time of uncertainty

TRISTAN ORAM toram@cjournal.ca


“I sort of realized the gravity of the he Ironwood Stage & Grill is a staple situation,” he said. After looking at the of the Calgary live music scene. history of pandemics around the world, Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it MacIntyre realized “the writing was on was forced to change the way it hosts live the wall and we would have to close for music shows or risk closing permanently. an extended period of time.” But these innovations, as well as a But that didn’t dampen MacIntyre’s fundraiser that helped the Ironwood and spirits. He told himself he wouldn’t be other struggling local music venues, may put in a position where the Ironwood just allow it to survive the pandemic. had to give up. Located in Inglewood, the Ironwood “I was mainly thinking of different keeps it simple. With wooden floors and an ways we could present the music and Old West atmosphere, the venue amplifies still create a revenue stream not only the style of the many folk musicians who for the Ironwood but for the musicians. play its stage. It’s a place where music I was exploring every option possible,” lovers can gather together and celebrate the joy and sense of community created by MacIntyre said. When Phase Two of Alberta’s Relaunch live music. Strategy was announced and live music “The Ironwood means everything to me. with vocals still wasn’t permitted, It’s a conduit. It’s a necessary connection MacIntyre put some of the options he between the artist and the audience. And had been thinking they present (music) about to work. so perfectly,” said Jory The province’s Kinjo, a Calgary ska relaunch guidelines artist known for his included spacing introspective lyrics tables out so and energetic sound. they were six “The Ironwood is a feet apart and shining example of requiring patrons what a venue should to be masked upon be.” entering the venue. “It was interesting Accommodating the how it became a social distancing staple. I was mainly > Patrick MacIntyre, requirements meant thinking of it as a the Ironwood could place where I want to Ironwood owner only seat 50 people support live, original instead of its usual music. And when limit of 150. But none of this helped you kind of put your head down and get MacIntyre put on live performances that to work, you can forget how other people involve a vocalist, something vital for feel about it,” said Patrick MacIntyre, the many of the artists that perform at the Ironwood’s owner since 2006. venue. His primary goal was to build up the His solution? He built a plexiglass Ironwood as an environment for bands “aquarium” to isolate the singer. to showcase their original music. Since “You were allowed instrumentals,” 2006, MacIntyre says they quickly started he said. “So, with the vocalist basically filling up their schedule, until the venue removed from the room by a plexiglass was playing upwards of 400 shows a year wall that I built at the back of the stage, within the first couple of years that they we were able to put on live shows as were in business. soon as Phase Two rolled around. I had But, as COVID-19 cases started to climb that done around 24 hours after the in the province, MacIntyre knew the announcement.” Ironwood could be in trouble. On March This arrangement took some adjusting 17, the day the province announced a state for musicians, especially vocalists who of emergency with a total of 97 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Ironwood closed for like to connect with a crowd. “It’s very strange. It’s hard to preserve what would be an undetermined amount a connection with the audience. As an of time.

“The writing was on the wall and we would have to close for an extended period of time.”

The Ironwood Stage & Grill.


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COVID-19 artist it gives you a new set of challenges that you have to overcome,” Kinjo said about singing behind the plexiglass. Kinjo did his best to get over that hurdle. “I have a wireless guitar rig so, when I wasn’t singing, I was able to come out from behind the plexiglass and then sort of be engaged with the rest of the band on stage. And that was important.” However, this isn’t the only option for vocalists. When musician Ben Sures played the Ironwood on Sept. 17, he was given a choice: he could either perform behind the plexiglass or sing with a mask at the back of the stage on the drum riser. “I chose to wear a mask, which really kind of enlightened me to how deeply I inhale when I’m singing because I kept sucking that mask in,” Sures laughed. But in the end he felt okay about it. “I was closer to the audience than I would be behind the plexiglass.” The mask also provided Sures with a unique challenge to overcome. “It’s really important for me to communicate with my audience,” Sures said. “Because my face is covered up, it forces me to think differently and forces me to find new ways to communicate. So when I was telling a story leading up to a song, I used my hands more and I used my eyebrows more.” The reaction to all these changes has pleasantly surprised MacIntyre. He acknowledges there is a bit of a visual adjustment for the audience. The sight of a vocalist behind plexiglass at the back of the stage is certainly not the norm for a live show. Some vocalists are enjoying the plexiglass because it mimics a studio environment and “the audience has noticed it. That’s the thing that impressed me the most,” MacIntyre said. Sures found value in the show even though there was a thinner audience. “There weren’t that many people there, but we had a really nice time. People that love music are coming and are really enjoying it,” Sures said. But financial help has also come in the form of a fundraiser organized by Kinjo and the Ironwood staff. Between Aug. 21 and Aug. 22, the Ironwood put on a weekend of live music called ‘Banding Together,’ featuring Kinjo and other local artists including T. Buckley and Liz Stevens, as well as Amy Bishop and The Polyjesters. Between the three shows and a successful GoFundMe campaign also set up by Kinjo, they raised over $68,000 for the Ironwood. MacIntyre says the fundraiser has

offered much needed support and extended their lifeline into the New Year. The Ironwood put on a second round of fundraising shows from Sept. 18-20, this time to help out other local music venues, including The Blues Can, Broken City, Dickens, Mikey’s on 12th Ave. and Vern’s Bar. Kinjo was pleased to see the fundraiser he helped start gain so much traction and support. “I’ve been playing music in Calgary for almost 25 years. And I’ve never seen an initiative that brought the community together for such sincere reasons,” Kinjo said. “When we all band together like that it just displays the strength of our community and what we can do when we have a collective intent.” MacIntyre was shocked by the support shown by the music community, especially those who aren’t comfortable attending a live show yet. “The people who don’t feel like they can come out to a show have been supportive by watching the live streams, and donating online,” he said. “Although attendance might be thinner than socially distanced allotted numbers, it’s important to note that that’s not all the support we’re getting. Which is pretty amazing.” Looking into the New Year, MacIntyre does worry about the prospect of the province reintroducing restrictions, as well as uncertainty surrounding what Alberta’s COVID-19 numbers could look like in the coming weeks or months. “We have no idea where this is gonna go. All we can do is hope that the case loads don’t go up and that things can open safely,” he said. However, MacIntyre acknowledges that, in these times, almost nothing is definitive. Despite this uncertainty and increasing concern of a second lockdown on the horizon, the Ironwood doesn’t have plans to put on another round of fundraising shows right now but MacIntyre doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility. “We don’t want to overdo it. People have been generous so we’ll just soldier on, and if there needs to be one then we might do it again.” MacIntyre knows that COVID-19 has impacted everyone and stresses the importance of providing live music to the community, whether people come into the Ironwood to catch a show or watch from the comfort of their homes through a live stream. “Whether you can afford it or not afford it I want everyone to watch it,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing it. So that people can see it and enjoy [live] music.”

“I’ve been playing music in Calgary for almost 25 years. And I’ve never seen an initiative that brought the community together for such sincere reasons.” > Jory Kinjo, musician

Jory Kinjo.



DEC/NOV 2020


Black diamonds are formed under pressure Lack of international workers impacts Alberta ski hills and resorts ERIN SWEERE esweere@cjournal.ca


Freshly groomed snow at Lake Louise Ski Resort.


n a typical ski season, Canada’s ski resorts depend on international workers for staffing, relying on employment outsourcing companies to fill their ranks with workers from around the world looking for a taste of the Rocky Mountain lifestyle. But, thanks to COVID-19, this isn’t a typical season. A small number of those international workers will still be able to experience the Rocky Mountain slopes as employees. However, with new restrictions on travel and international worker exchanges, Canadian ski hills are faced with the task of staffing their workforce with more locals while simultaneously making sure their resorts are as safe as they can be during the pandemic. “If you’ve been to many North American ski resorts, you know that Australians and Kiwis make up a significant part of our staffing as well as other international students. That’s not going to be possible this year, at least not the same levels as the past due to restrictions on foreign workers,” says Dan Markham, director of communications for Lake Louise Ski Resort. The Working Holiday Club is one of the companies that helps bridge the gap between ski resorts and international workers. On average, 70 per cent of their participants are from Australia, with the other 30 coming from New Zealand,


So the Working Holiday Club partnered the United Kingdom and Sweden. In an with a hostel in Vancouver, where their average year, they help around 1,400 office is located, to provide isolation period international workers find jobs across 11 accommodation. ski resorts throughout Alberta and British “Everyone must do their quarantine at Columbia. the hostel on arrival unless they have some This year though, that number has family or friends in which they can safely dropped to 170. According to Jake Gibbs, do that,” says Gibbs. “We’ve organized for the founder and general manager of The Working Holiday Club, that drop is because them to get three meals a day delivered to their individual the Canadian dorm, and they can government also order drinks, stopped Skip The Dishes, processing Uber Eats and international visas things like that to on March 16 - the their dorm during same month quarantine.” most people start He still believes signing up for their that it will be program. a worthwhile That meant experience for there were > Jake Gibbs, general manager those participating. between 400 and “It’s such a 500 people in The Working Holiday Club vastly different Australia alone environment, that had signed up weather-wise, than what we have back for the Gibbs’ program, eager to come to home,” says Gibbs. “A lot of our guys have Canada, who are now unable to. never even seen snow before, nevermind However, the company is still working skiing and snowboarding. Everyone is hard to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip hardworking and loves to have a good for those individuals still able to make time when they’re not working.” the journey. For example, the Canadian The unique experience is what got Gibbs government requires international workers hooked to working holidays. to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry.

“A lot of our guys have never even seen snow before, nevermind skiing and snowboarding.“

“I would say, without a doubt, it is one of the best experiences of their lives. It’s how I got started. I did a ski season myself and I thought, how can I do this for the rest of my life without getting paid $8 an hour, which is what it was when I got started. I love my skiing and my snowboarding.” Tami Green is one of the few people still coming to Canada with The Working Holiday Club. Her and her husband, Chris Green, are travelling from Auckland, New Zealand. “There were 11 resorts to choose from and Lake Louise struck us as perfect. It’s close to Banff but a bit out[side], beautiful and has staff accommodations. Everybody was raving about it,” she says. She is going to work as a lift operator at Lake Louise Ski Resort, but will merge into a snowsports instructor as the season continues. But doing a working holiday was not always their intent. They wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail into Canada and work for a while. But, because of COVID, they were forced to take a different route. “We always wanted to go to Canada and we love traveling. Pacific Crest Trail was canceled due to COVID but we still want to use our visa, so we are going,” says Green. They have taken the necessary


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New sanatizing regime in place for the gondolas at Sunshine Village Ski Resort precautions for their trip, including masks, hand sanitizer and gloves. They have already made the conscious decision to take a taxi, not transit, to keep themselves as safe as possible - although she is worried about an overnight layover their flight has to make in Los Angeles before they arrive in Vancouver. That’s because their insurance won’t cover them if they get sick in the United States. Nevertheless, Green says, “I’m excited to see the beautiful mountains, a new culture, and different food. I am excited to ski in actual powder and meet new people!”


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Nor will Green be alone. About 50 percent of staff at both Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village are international workers, according to Markham and Kendra Scurfield, director of communications for Sunshine Village. “Right now we are seeing some positive numbers coming in, so we’re hoping we will be able to run everything much like a normal season, but we are going to have a slightly smaller team this year than we have had in previous years,” says Scurfield. That’s good news because, despite having fewer international workers this year, the ski hills aren’t expecting a decrease in guest numbers.

PHOTO: COURTESTY OF KENDRA SCURFIELD “In the wintertime, about 80-90 per cent of our guests are regional guests. International and US guests really only make up a little over 10 per cent. We believe that people are still eager to get out in Alberta, B.C, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and enjoy activities outside,” says Markham. That means ski resorts have been forced to get creative to recruit the employees they need to support those visitors. Rather than having companies such as the Working Holiday Club provide a list of foreign applications, resorts have turned to Canadian specific job boards, career fairs and students.

These new tactics seem to be working. COVID-19 has left many people without work, and the ski hills have a surplus of new job openings. “We’ve seen significant growth in interest from students who are just graduating high school and delaying a year or two of their college or they’re currently in university and are waiting a year before they go back. They’re looking for opportunities, as well as folks who are retired and are looking for something to do for the wintertime since they can’t cross the border and go south,” explains Markham. But the resorts those new employees will be working at will look slightly different this year. Both Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Ski Resort have put in place new measures to ensure their guest’s safety during the pandemic. These new precautions include outdoor heated tents, reduced capacity in indoor spaces, outdoor washrooms and mandatory face coverings. “The biggest change we have for the 2020/2021 ski season is that face coverings will be mandatory to ride all of our lifts and to enter any of our buildings and facilities. A face covering can include a neck warmer, a mask or a scarf, it just has to cover your face,” explains Scurfield. The lifts and gondolas will also look a little different this season. “Our gondola will be running as normal, but we will be encouraging guests to load their own equipment so we don’t risk touching it and there will be team members there to help them with it,” says Scurfield. “We of course will try to accommodate people to load in their cohorts, but on busy days it will have to be loaded at capacity. We will also be sanitizing our gondolas a lot more frequently.” Both resorts are encouraging guests to purchase season passes and to do as much booking online as they can. This will streamline the process, prevent long lines and reduce the need to be inside in general. With these precautions in place, the resorts expect the guest experience to be comfortable and safe. “Once you are up on the ski resort, our terrain has enough cubic acres to accommodate 26 000 skiers and snowboarders throughout a day. On a typical busy day, we at Sunshine Village will have about 6000 skiers and snowboarders, so when people are skiing there’s a lot of room for them to spread out,” says Scurfield.


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Goal Oriented

W ill Ja nai M artens play soccer for one more ye ar or put her playi ng days b ehind?

IZAIAH LOUIS REYES ireyes@cjournal.ca


anai Martens’ passion for soccer led her to join the Mount Royal Cougars, a team she now considers her family. But as Martens was preparing to play her final season of soccer - a farewell tour of sorts - the global COVID-19 pandemic cancelled it. Now, Martens must choose whether she should move on from her playing career or attend another year at Mount Royal University, completing that season. Martens is the team captain of the Mount Royal Cougars women’s soccer team. The 5’8 midfield says she fell in love with the sport at a young age. Martens played with the Grande Prairie Wolves Soccer Club for nine years before joining the Edmonton Strikers. There, she won Gold at the Arctic Winter Games. Eventually, she joined the Grande Prairie Regional College, winning rookie of the year and notching a silver medal at the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference provincials in the process. “A dream of mine was to eventually play at the university level,” says Martens. “It’s a higher caliber of play compared to ACAC and I wanted to see how far I could go.”

“I love my experience here so much that I don’t know if I’ve enjoyed the people or the sport more.” >Janai Martens

Janai Martens, team captain of the Mount Royal Cougars.




Regardless of their academic year and institution, every student athlete gets an opportunity to play for five years starting with the very first time they join a post-secondary school team. That meant, after playing for a year at Grande Prairie Regional College, Martens had four years of playing left when she transferred to Mount Royal University. “When I first came I was really nervous,” says Martens. “This was the highest caliber of soccer and I didn’t know anyone coming in. But all the girls made me feel so welcomed.” The elite-level Martens dreamed of playing at became a reality and she has met all the challenges that came with it. “I find that, when competing on a high level, the pace is so much faster and the physicality is more intense. But you adapt and improve because of it.” Additionally, those challenges have been coupled with the camaraderie she’s built with her team.


“I think she’s stuck with making a decision of what to do with her career. My suggestion would be to move on with their life and see where she can go with it.” > Coach Tino Fusco Coach Tino Fusco has been coaching the women’s soccer team since 2008. Together, their team has battled for three years in the very competitive CanadaWest conference, covering Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “It’s been a struggle getting past the first round of the playoffs,” Martens says. “That’s been one of our biggest team goals.” Being bounced out early again this past season, Martens thought she could regroup with her team and come back stronger this year. Unfortunately, like the rest of the world, she was in for a big surprise. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Canada to go on lockdown by the end of March. Businesses shut down, people started working from home, schools ended abruptly and the future of university sports was up in the air. “When COVID struck, we actually had seasons end early,” says Karla Karch, director of Cougars Athletics and Recreation. “Both our women’s hockey and volleyball teams were at nationals but the games had to be cancelled.” The Canada-West conference had meetings throughout April and May to figure out what the 2020/21 season could look like. The Can-West COVID-19 task force, made up by school athletic directors and medical experts, decided to cancel the fall sports, including football, cross-country, rugby 15s, field hockey and soccer. “These decisions have to be made with enough time in advance to allow schools to make arrangements if it was approved,” says Karch. “In this case, our best guess of the

timing of this is we did not have approval for return to sport.” As a result of the season cancellation, fifthyear student-athletes cannot play out their final year of competition. Karch and the MRU athletic department understand this and have given their athletes some good news. “Because there is no season, they don’t lose their eligibility; they still have their fifth year.” Martens will be getting her degree in health and physical education this year, meaning her soccer career could be cut short. Head coach Tino Fusco empathizes with the dilemma Martens is now facing. “I think she’s stuck with making a decision of what to do with her career,” he says. “My suggestion would be to move on with their life and see where she can go with it.” Outside of soccer, Martens has other interests she would like to pursue. “I’m really interested in nutrition and exercise physiology, and I’m considering getting my masters for it,” she says. “I would love one day to teach at a college or university.” Martens and her team continue to practice amidst the lost season. “We can have our building year and come back stronger without anyone losing a year of eligibility.” Alexi Watson has been Martens’ teammate from her days with the Grande Prairie Wolves Soccer Club up to now as a Cougar.

PHOTO: IZAIAH LOUIS REYES Martens considers Watson to be her closest teammate both on and off the field. “I respect whatever decision Janai chooses in regards to staying or leaving for the next season,” says Watson. “Personally, I want her to stay and play her last year at Mount Royal because I believe it is an advantage to have experienced players like her on the team – and also because she is one of my closest friends and I love playing soccer with her.” Martens says she is also exploring options for courses she could take at MRU to still play her lost season. “Along with school, soccer will always be one of those things that come first for me.” Aside from the sisterhood she has gained, soccer has given Martens life experiences she will forever cherish. “I have travelled to Las Vegas, Alaska, Washington, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Manitoba for soccer,” she says. “I have sports to thank for all the travel that I have experienced thus far.” Though she has yet to make a decision, Martens is still trying to be present for her team. “I can’t believe that I’m graduating this year already and so I wanted to enjoy my time with the team,” says Martens. “Even when we’re doing conditioning, which sucks, I just tell myself ‘I get to do this. I don’t have to, but it’s a privilege.”

There are no clear indications as to when play will resume. PHOTO: IZAIAH LOUIS REYES


NOV/DEC 2020


ASHLEY FAZEKAS afazekas@cjournal.ca



iron man

Darren Fuentes shares his journey to becoming a personal trainer and how he adapted his business during a pandemic 26

NOV/DEC 2020


ver since he was in eighth grade, Darren Fuentes knew he wanted a job in the fitness industry. However, working for a big commercial gym stole Fuentes’s passion for that job. Now, as an independent trainer, he’s able to better help his clients meet their personal fitness goals - even in the midst of the pandemic. Initially, Fuentes thought he would “end up as a basketball coach to be honest or a volleyball coach for high school or a club team.” That changed, though, when he “started falling in love with weight training” and how the equipment was changing his body. “I’m looking better and I was doing it for my own personal benefit at first. As time went on and I started lifting at Fit for Less, an older gentleman came up and asked me - and I don’t think I’ll ever forget this - ‘Hey man, how do I get my arms as big as yours?’ And I didn’t think my arms were big but he did!” He also remembers not having a good response for the man or his high school friends when they started asking for muscle building tips as well. That inspired him to start taking weight training more seriously. At first, that meant using online resources to find new workouts. But, after graduating high school, he joined a men’s basketball league where he met a personal trainer on the team named Gino Suarez. “I said, ‘I think I’m going to ask him what steps he took to get to that point of becoming (a personal trainer).’ But I was younger and a little nervous to ask him. We just played basketball so I didn’t even talk to him,” says Fuentes. However, when he upgraded his gym to Goodlife Fitness, he met the same personal trainer again. “He took me under his wing and then I took Canfitpro, which was my first step of a fitness education, which certifies you as a personal trainer. Every commercial gym requires it and it’s (something) you need to have,” says Fuentes. After that, he completed a six-month course at Elevated Learning Academy. “It covered everything on personal training: anatomy, how to program, how to build rapport, everything that’s involved in the fitness industry, how to coach someone through a movement,” Fuentes says. “That one helped me build my confidence up because there’s a lot of practical hours. We team up with a classmate and we train each other, build them a program, find out their goals.” During the course, he was also shadowing trainers at Goodlife for a practicum, learning what the fitness industry is like. “I would pick these trainers’ brains since I don’t know. I was 18-years-old!” Fuentes says. He was soon hired at Goodlife right after completing his placement. He gained more experience but he didn’t yet know what his niche was. He just accepted every client he could. He continued taking more certifications, such as program design specialist and conditioning coach for cardiovascular training. Then, he became a mobility coach. “I was really interested in (everything). I wanted to start training athletes. I wanted to understand more about how to train a client and make sure their conditioning is up to par and not be lost on Google searching, ‘How do I do something,’” says Fuentes, who recently finished his sports nutrition training. However, after two years at Goodlife, he had begun to lose his passion for training. He fractured his ankle during the same

SPORTS puts value into everyone, like he doesn’t have a cookie cutter period, which made him feel even further disconnected from for anything.” his original love for fitness. Fuentes also loves the flexibility he gets with his clients from “I started to get a little discouraged there, just because it was being his own boss now. more pushing to just sell instead of focusing on taking care of “It’s not just about the sales,” he says. “We can show clients our clients. So I thought, ‘Oh man I’m not really enjoying it here what options will work best with their budget, so they’re still anymore.’” able to live the way they want to outside of the gym but also “(With my injury) I didn’t even lift. All I did was I teach my come and feel good working out at our gym.” clients and then I would just go home. I just lost my touch for Harnum said just learning it. It was just too much anxiety for from Fuentes about how to selling and for getting written up maintain her fitness level has because I’m not selling,” Fuentes been crucial to meeting her says. “You kind of lose your biggest goal: longevity. enjoyment for the job when you’re “That’s what he teaches. not looking forward to training He teaches longevity and a your clients.” consistent routine. Everything He eventually left Goodlife to that he teaches is not for a pursue new goals of working for quick fix.” himself. Now, he contracts himself When Fuentes thinks out to a private gym facility. He about his future goals as a pays rent to that gym and has the personal trainer, he is really freedom to work as many hours as > Jania Harnu, fitness client satisfied with how things are he wants. currently going - even with the “It’s nice here: just a little bit pandemic. Fuentes says that more freedom, the environment the public crisis has forced is way healthier. We all care about him to provide new training our clients more than just the commercial gyms that want to make a sale. So it actually makes options to his clients, such as virtual training programs and online check-ins. you enjoy working,” Fuentes says. “My dream job is already happening! What I’m doing right His clients seem to love his training approach as well, now, I don’t think I’ll ever change until maybe a big opportunity with one customer in particular - Jania Harnum - feeling a noticeable difference after a bad experience with a trainer at comes up, and I can’t say what that opportunity is,” says Fuentes. a competing gym. It used to be wanting to open a gym, but he says that’s not After diagnosing her as “clinlincially obese” the trainer “told really in the picture anymore. me that I was too fat to train and that I wasn’t worth investing “If I do that, I’m gonna want to leave the industry because time in.” it’s gonna just be very overwhelming and it’s going to take She says, despite this heartbreaking experience, she is me away from, you know, how I like to care for my clients,” grateful that it led her to Fuentes. Fuentes says. After telling him her entire story with chronic pain and “Getting more people to know that I’m here to help, for weight struggles, “he was the first person in my entire life who anything, whether it’s just some nutrition tips or some business said, ‘Yes, we can’” to achieving her fitness goals. “He’s helped me more than just with my body. He helped me tips it doesn’t matter, I just want to keep evolving in the fitness industry.” with my mentality towards myself as well,” says Harnum. “He

“He teaches longevity and a consistent routine. Everything that he teaches is not for a quick fix.”

Fitness trainer Darren Fuentes coaches his clients at Parallel Performance, a boutique fitness centre located in southeast Calgary. PHOTO: IZAIAH REYES

Darren Fuentes pays close attention to his clients fitness needs. PHOTO:IZAIAH REYES

Fitness trainer Darren Fuentes once thought he’d be a basketball or volleyball coach. PHOTO: IZAIAH REYES


NOV/DEC 2020


When love’s on lockdown The dangers of finding pleasure in a pandemic

MACKENZIE MASON mmackenzie@cjournal.ca and HANNAH PAPKE hpapke@cjournal.ca PHOTO: ANNA SHVETS/PEXELS


espite the increasing popularity of sex toys since the beginning of lockdown for COVID-19 — and concerns about their safety — the Canadian government has yet to regulate those products, something the Liberals demanded when they were in opposition. Health Canada now says worries about the materials used in mostly cheap toys are overstated. But at least some Canadians continue to be harmed by shoddily made sex toys, as others advocate for the government to do more to protect consumers. The sex toy industry as a whole, which also produces safe and well-made products, has reported major growth in sales since March - the start of the pandemic. Adam and Eve, a company with stores across North and South America as well as online, reported a 30 per cent growth in sales this March and April compared to last year. Some vendors that are exclusively online, such as We-Vibe and Womanizer, reported sales of their body safe toys have grown over 200 per cent in April compared to last year. And, in the future, those strong sales will likely continue. According to Research and Markets, the international sex toy market was valued just under US$30 billion in 2019 and has been projected to grow to just under US$53 billion by 2026. Internationally, the sex toy industry is regulated in two polar opposite ways. A number of countries, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand and Vietnam, ban the purchase and/or possession of sex toys completely. Those found breaking the law can face jail time. In comparison, countries such as Canada and the United States - excluding the state of Alabama - have not taken any action to regulate the industry. If Canada were to regulate sex toys, Health Canada would be the department responsible for those rules. That’s because it “regulates and approves the use of thousands of products and delivers a range of programs and services in


NOV-DEC 2020


environmental health and protection, and has responsibilities in the areas of problematic substance use, tobacco policy, workplace health and the safe use of consumer products.” But sex toys are not among those products, even though there is concern about how some of them are made and what they are made from. Of particular concern are phthalates, a chemical used to soften harder plastics and give them a jellylike consistency. They are also carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic to reproduction and endocrine-disrupting.

“What was supposed to be a liberating, self-loving moment actually ended up feeling really horrible.”

As a result of these risks, phthalates are on Canada’s list of toxic substances and, in June 2011, Health Canada restricted the use of such chemicals in children’s toys because “research shows that exposure to even low levels of certain phthalates can affect a child’s development and behaviour” as the thenHealth Minister, Leona Aglukkaq, put it. It’s because of reports like these that Shane Orvis, a sexual and mental health specialist with Alberta Health Services, worries about sex toys that contain are made with phthalates – which were most notably pointed out in a 2006 report by the Danish Ministry of Environment.

“When [these chemicals] come in contact with a porous membrane like your vagina or your anus, or come in contact with your penis or mouth, they ooze and will be absorbed into these membranes,” says Orvis, who is the co-owner of an online store that specializes in body-safe sex toys that aren’t made from such substances. In an email to the Calgary Journal, Health Canada stated it has “determined that the regular use and handling of soft vinyl (PVC) products — such as sex toys — does not constitute a health risk to adults. Any risks identified with phthalates in consumer products occur when it leeches out of soft vinyl during mouthing actions (i.e., sucking or chewing) that last more than three hours a day, on a daily basis.” “Such behaviour is typical only with small children (those under four years of age), which is why Health Canada closely regulates soft vinyl products, such as teethers, pacifiers, toys and child care articles intended for use by young children.” But regardless of the safety of the materials some sex toys are made from, sometimes they are made poorly. In a 2013 article about the regulation of those products published in the Berkley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice, lawyer Emily Stabile, cited research that “many sex toys contain design or labeling flaws that can lead to injuries.” For example, “toys with sharp edges can cause cuts and tears. Vibrators or other toys with electrical elements can expose the user to unsafe wiring and shocks.” And “vibrations themselves can cause chronic numbness and pain over time.” Unfortunately, these negative side effects are something Courtney, whose name has been changed to protect her identity for legal reasons, knows about all too well. Courtney grew up as a homeless youth and was a teenage mother who had been advised by a counsellor to try to take back ownership of her sexuality after she was the victim of sexual assault.


Although sex toy usage is on the rise, the industry remains unregulated — putting consumers at risk “After having done some counselling work at that time, I really wanted to intentionally reframe my experience with sexuality and my body and take that (sexual) power back.” The vibrator wand she purchased was poorly made using cheap materials and the battery acid leaked through the plastic seal. This resulted in a terrible rash and intense irritation that could have turned into a dangerous situation. The device also shed a metallic coating inside of her the first time she used it. “What was supposed to be a liberating, self-loving moment actually ended up feeling really horrible.” “To have that toy be so damaging and so poorly made – it caused me a lot of shame,” Courtney continued. Courtney is not alone when it comes to the physical and emotional effects of using unsafe sex toys. Brett Zilleneuze had purchased a jelly-based dildo and when it came, he immediately noticed a foul smell coming from it. “I didn’t have any education about body safe toys or lubes or anything, so I just went off what I thought would be best for me.” “I used it a couple of times and it was very uncomfortable, something didn’t seem right every time I used it. It would burn or hurt and it was very uncomfortable,” says Zilleneuze. He ended up throwing the toy away but before he did, he noticed small parts of his dildo missing. “It looked like if you took a pair of clippers to it, like small chunks out of the [jelly],” he explained. Over the next few days, Zilleneuze began to notice an unusual pain around his anus and, after using the washroom, he noticed bits of the dildo were coming out. Both Courtney and Zilleneuze felt that their negative experiences produced a lot of shame for them and that the industry itself carries a lot of negative connotations surrounding the use of such products. “People are so ashamed of themselves and their bodies,” Zilleneuze explained. “Educating ourselves and learning how to love ourselves is the best way to start talking about it.” Kate Sloan is an online advocate for sex-positive environments who created an online blog called Girly Juice to have these conversations. “I have the belief that sexual shame takes up a lot of mental and emotional energy for a lot of people,” says Sloan, whose site reviews sex toys and tries to break down the negative stigmas around sex. “There is a much lower amount of people reporting (their negative experiences with

sex toys) because they tend to think there’s something wrong with themselves or they might be embarrassed to admit that they used a sex toy so it just creates this silence,” Sloan said. “Sexuality is a very core part of humanity and if we can make that into a less shame filled experience I think we will have a lot more to offer the world and the people in our lives.” Despite the shame surrounding the industry, some have tried to take action to regulate the industry in Canada in the past. Among them is Kim Sedgwick, who co-owned Red Tent Sisters, a sex toy shop in Toronto with her sister Amy. When Sedgwick was opening the boxes of tester products she began noticing unusual things about them. “Some of the time when we were opening the boxes I would turn to my sister and say that it smelled awful, like that new car smell. It was so nauseating,” explained Sedgwick. That smell resulted in looking into the risks associated with the phthalates in some sex toys and eventually writing to Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who is also a medical doctor, about that problem. “We were really looking for someone who could be a spokesperson in a way that we couldn’t because unfortunately there is still a stigma around sex toys and the fact that we were two sex toy shop owners, a lot of people found it really easy to dismiss us and dismiss the importance of it,” she says. “We felt like we needed someone to speak on our behalf, someone that had that credibility.” “It started by just inviting her to our store and we gave her a little tour and explained what our mission and passion was and asked if it was something she would be willing to endorse given her background and interest in health and it kind of went from there,” Sedgwick explained. Afterward, Bennett, who was the Liberal’s health critic and is now the Minister of CrownIndigenous Relations, wrote a letter to then Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, asking for the government to regulate sex toys. At the time Bennett stated, “No one questions these chemicals are hazardous. However, they are still found in many sex toys, and because these toys can be sold as ‘novelties’ — which suggests they aren’t intended for actual use — they aren’t subject to regulation or testing.” Bennett’s office did not respond to a request for comment by the Calgary Journal. Since Bennett made that statement, no changes have been made to the regulation of sex toys or the chemicals being put in them in Canada.

Sedgwick says she knows the government has many issues it needs to address. But she’s still “disappointed” at the lack of action. “There are lots of other products that are regulated and there is someone that’s in charge of making sure that happens so it’s unfortunate that no one’s taken this up.” Nor is she alone in feeling that way. Alexa Forigo, who co-owns the Sensual Intimate Wellness online story with Orvis, says, “Sex toys are one of those things that really fly under the radar or aren’t discussed seriously.” “To create a regulation system for sex toys, that means we have to acknowledge that they’re more main stream than others would like to believe, and that won’t be happening any time soon.” That said, Health Canada stated it is aware the “International Organization for Standardization is working on the development of an international safety standard, and Health Canada will consider the recommended safety requirements in any future risk management approach.” This means that design and safety requirements will be created, and hopefully implemented, for all toys that come in contact with genitals and the anus. Until that happens, Canadian consumers are responsible for keeping themselves safe from unsafe sex toys. Forigo says that there are certain features that an unsafe sex toy will have that you should look for before purchasing a toy. “(Unsafe toys) will always smell like a pool toy because of those unbonding agents that are leaking out. They also easily catch on fire because those (chemicals) are very flammable, whereas a medical-grade toy will singe a little bit but it will rub right off,” she explains. She also warned that toys that are a jelly-like substance, see-through, have sparkles or have any visible seams on the product should be avoided. “No one is going out into the world buying a sex toy and thinking ‘this could possibly give me cancer’ but they should be because that is the world we’re living in. People need to be asking those questions and they need to be making sure manufacturers are being held accountable.”

“To create a regulation system for sex toys, that means we have to acknowledge that they’re more main stream than others would like to believe, and that won’t be happening any time soon.” > Alexa Forigo, co-owner the Sensual Intimate Wellness


NOV/DEC 2020



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