US Advocate for Incarcerated Mothers Prevented from Entering Canada
From May 12 to 14, 2011, the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) held a Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency Conference in Toronto, Canada. The conference included a series of academics and activists speaking on issues of importance in the 21st century motherhood movement, i.e. exploring the way that women’s power as mothers and mothers’ power as women have improved mothers’ ability to care for their children while living full and purposeful lives.
The conference, which paid “particular attention to the ways in which issues of race, class, nationality, sexuality, age, ability, religion and ethnicity affect (positively and negatively) the ability of mothers to advocate for and achieve authority, agency, respect and empowerment,“ had an impressive list of speakers with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
However, one speaker was missing. Karen Shain, policy director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children in San Francisco, was pulled aside, questioned, and subsequently excluded from Canada shortly after her arrival in Vancouver (en route to Toronto). She never made it to the conference.
After being pulled aside by Canadian officials, Shain was asked a series of questions about organizations that she belonged to and activities from her past. Shain indicated that she was a student activist in the 1960s as a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), working primarily against the Vietnam war and in support of women’s liberation. Shain is not ashamed of her activities and has not been arrested since 1981. Canadian officials asked Shain if she was a member of Weather Underground (which was an underground, illegal organization) and she indicated that she was a member of Weatherman (an organization that split off from SDS and that came before Weather Underground).
Apparently, Canadian officials had Googled Shain’s name and found a 1986 Los Angeles Times article, Six Suspects in Terrorist Plot on Olympics Sought, which named Shain as a member of a group that was plotting to disrupt the 1984 Olympics and aid in the escape of a Puerto Rican nationalist leader from a federal prison. According to Shain, “I explained that I had been wanted as a material witness on a case that has since been resolved, that I had never been arrested or indicted on that case.” However, that explanation was not sufficient for Canadian officials who deported Shain based on their assertion that there were:
…reasonable grounds to believe [she] is … a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts referred to in paragraph 34(1)(A), (B) or (C), namely engaging in an act of espionage or an act of subversion against a democratic government, institution or process as they are understood in Canada, engaging in or instigating the subversion by force of any government or engaging in terrorism.
According to Shain, despite never being arrested or indicted in the 1984 Olympics case, that was “the thing that sent me over the edge from being sort of a ‘suspicious’ character to being a terrorist.”
Shain has traveled to Canada in the past without any problem and was not expecting any difficulties crossing the border. She plans to contact a Canadian lawyer to attempt to clear her name, so that she can participate in a Toronto Symposium she has been invited to speak at next May.
Attendees of the MIRCI conference were disappointed and dismayed at Shain’s exclusion. She was expected to speak on a panel with several other feminist advocates speaking about their work supporting the rights of marginalized mothers.
In her presentation on Incarcerated Mothers: Mothers First and Foremost, Shain planned to talk about the challenges that incarcerated mothers face and strategies for overcoming those challenges. According to the conference abstract:
Women make up the fastest growing sector of the U.S. prison population. Most women in prison are mothers and approximately 60% of them were single mothers at the time of their arrest. While incarcerated women tend not to be violent and most of their convictions are considered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to be “non-serious,” the time that these women spend in prison has a devastating impact on their families.
Shain’s is clearly a voice we need to hear. It is disappointing to hear that border officials would use a 1986 Los Angeles Times article as grounds for removal from the country without verifying the facts regarding the outcome of the case.
Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.
Photo credit: abdallahh on flickr