Statement on PSAC’s webinar: An introduction to anti-racism for White folks

PSAC National President Chris Aylward made the following statement:

PSAC is holding a very important webinar to take place next Monday (in English) and Tuesday (In French), An introduction to anti-racism for White folks. The webinar features a conversation between a Black activist, Paige Galette, and a White activist, Nora Loreto. While the webinar is open to everyone, the education is designed specifically for White people to learn about systemic and institutional racism, and to deepen understanding about the conscious and unconscious benefits that racism brings to White people. The webinar is intended to build solidarity and explore how White people can engage in anti-racism. It has drawn a great deal of interest and close to one thousand people have registered as of a few days ago.

The webinar has also provoked a strong negative response from a small but vocal number of members who have urged that the webinar be changed or cancelled, but, as I told the National Board of Directors when the matter was discussed, the criticism has reinforced for me the need for this anti-racism education.

However, a few days ago, someone forwarded to me a Tweet posted by Nora Loreto which I judged to be offensive and disrespectful. The Tweet was in reply to someone who was questioning why she was giving a webinar only for White folks. On seeing the Twitter exchange, I determined the language used by Nora Loreto to be unacceptable—to run against my and our union’s long held position that exchanges about internal PSAC matters, especially those in public forums, must remain respectful at all times. I made the decision to disinvite Nora Loreto as a presenter on this basis.

Over the last few days, I have had many discussions involving PSAC’s top leaders, activists, members and staff about my decision. I heard and reflected on the many Indigenous and racialized voices that spoke. It says a lot about our union that we can have such discussion.

I realize now that my action was wrong: I made a serious mistake that had grave and far-reaching consequences, and I am very sorry. I was acting on my long-held belief and assumption that a person must always be respectful. I did not (could not) put myself in the shoes of a woman who is regularly attacked on Twitter with threats of sexual and other physical violence. I held her to my own standard of conduct and expression—a standard that, consciously or unconsciously, comes from a place of privilege.  Also, I did not give full weight to the impact of my decision on our union’s anti-racism work, and on the members and staff, particularly those who are racialized and Indigenous.

I agree with those who have said that disinviting Nora Loreto and thereby making it impossible for the webinar to go ahead as planned with Paige Galette sets back PSAC’s anti-racism work. I agree with those who said my decision served to bolster Rebel News’ vicious YouTube attacks on PSAC, anti-racists, and especially Nora Loreto—attacks that generated a bombardment of vile hate messages that landed on her Twitter feed.

Some have said that I dis-invited Nora Loreto because of the opposition to the webinar from within and outside the PSAC. This is not the case. My support for this anti-racism education never wavered. The problem is that my decision, although based on good intention, had the effect of putting the webinar in question, and my decision served those who want to set back our anti-racism efforts.

I have never been afraid to take a stand. I am also not afraid to admit when I make mistakes. I deeply regret the damage they caused, and I will work hard to repair it as best I can. The first step is often recognizing mistakes and learning from them. I hope PSAC’s leadership bodies, activists, and members will continue to support me in that work.

Last night, I spoke to Nora Loreto and to Paige Galette to discuss the situation and re-invite them to be part of our webinar. I am very happy and grateful they accepted. They have put anti-racism work first, as we all must. The webinars on Monday and Tuesday will go ahead as planned.


July 18, 2020