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.

Related posts:

ICE Deports Children, Disabled and Domestic Violence Victims

House Lawmakers Condemn Immigration Officials on Same-Sex Spouse Deportations

Deportations Up 70% Since Obama Took Office

Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.

Photo credit: abdallahh on flickr


Michael MacDonald

I don't hate americans though
I just can't stand republican americans,
but that's okay
because neither can most liberal americans.

Michael MacDonald

sorry on behalf on my country,
but the way they are acting right now
is due to the fact that we have a bigot prime minister at the moment.
He's the closest thing to a republican you can find in canada.
60.4% of us voted against him
so it's not like the majority of canadians support this attitude,
but somehow 39.6% of the vote was enough to give this guy a majority government in this country.
We've even lost decriminalization because of this guy.
Yea, some canadians hate americans,
but honestly, there are very good reasons for it.
America has really screwed canada over a number of times like when they created the 2nd worst chemical waste zone in north america on my island.
it's hard to forgive that kind of thing when you're probably not going to make it to 50 because of the cancer.

Rita Flynn
Rita Delfing6 years ago

Like cops there are good customs officials and crappy ones with power issues, this looks like one of those situations. Harper's an idiot and anyone who is a minority who voted for him should have their head examined. Not sure why this topic ended up with our government but often these situations boil down to a few bozo's who feel they need to exercise a organ they haven't used enough, and really should leave the critical thinking to those of us who know how to do, critical thinking. This situation is not unusual customs or immigration officers are like any other profession there are some that are worthy of the job they do and others you just shake your head and say, why???

Claire M.
Claire M6 years ago

I was detained and interrogated for 2 hours once because I was visiting a Canadian friend and didn't have at least $300 USD in my pocket [I had never visited so I didn't know better]. Even though I returned the next day with plenty of cash I was given a special notice saying I had 7 days to get out of the country and while I had no plans to stay more than a few days as I was traveling to visit relatives in Washington state, still I felt rather violated. On the same buss was an African woman who was going to surprise a guy she had been having an internet affair with, a French couple with a pair of bikes and tents with no money at all and a Hispanic woman who didn't speak English and had children she could not prove were hers. I was the only American on the buss and the only person they really checked out that day or even ask to show money.
I do not know if this was the norm but the buss driver confirmed that the local Canadian guards had a strong dislike for Americans. I wish I could feel comfortable enough to shop in Canada but I don't.

Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey6 years ago

Wow, Heidi, much as I hate Schadenfreude, this is what I wish for you: I wish for you to be pulled over, on a bad day, have the officer decide that you are "resisting arrest." I wish for you to be thrown to the ground and tasered. I wish for you to have them call in the drug dogs and have them scent positive on your car. I then wish for some crooked cop who doesn't like your attitude to and wants an easy arrest to plant drugs on you.

Then let's see how you feel about women in prison.

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago


Doug C.
Doug C6 years ago

Niether of the two governing parties in Canada give a rat's ass about the will of or the sensibilities of the Canadian people. Both have demonstrated clearly that when push comes to shove Corporate interest trump all. Perhaps now the NDP (responsible for universal free healthcare) will expose in opposition all the shortcomings of Capitalism and the Corporate fatcats who benifit from it's manipulation.

Elizabeth K.
Elizabeth K6 years ago

Right Heidi, because EVERYONE in prison is guilty.

Take the stupid princess tiara off your head.

Sheila L.
Sheila Swan L6 years ago

The woman, however, is who she is and the laws are Canadian laws, there isn't much but protest that one can do.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

I feel for Canadians right now, but you know if you don't exercize your voting privilege you are really voting for the opposition. That's apparently how the Canadian PM won and that is how the Republicans, in America, won in November 2010.

I have no sympathy for the person who has the privilege and right to vote and does not. That person is lazy, selfish, uncaring and in my viewpoint a traitor. I'm not saying they should be arrested for treason, I am saying their actions are tauntamount to treason. They have let down their fellow citizens and by doing so let down their country.

Take heart Michael MacDonald, we all freedom loving people are still here to fight another day...and to vote too.