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Celebrating Women: Naira Velumyan

Life doesn’t always goes as planned. Imagine being a young mother to two children and losing your husband. As painful as that reality is, Dr. Naira Velumyan lived this ordeal. Living in her homeland of Russia at the time, Dr. Velumyan had to turn her life around, focusing on creating a brand for herself and investing in opportunities for the survival of herself and her children.

After obtaining her master’s and doctorate in psychology, Velumyan decided to pursue something that has always fascinated her; Jungian analysis and symbolism in art. Coming from a background in law and psychology, this was not an easy jump, but Velumyan embraced the connection between an artist and his audience through the collection of images. Jungian analysis deals with the psychology of the unconscious and a persons’s attitudes of the ego. Using this relation to artwork connects our unconscious mind to an artist’s intensions through his work.

While trying to put her life together, a close friend introduced her to a Russian artist named Alexey Klokov. Klokov was able to give Velumyan an inside perspective on the life of an artist growing up in Russia. She became inspired and  Velumyan used her understanding of art to become a gallerist and Mr Klokov’s agent. She was now part of an exclusive artistic world — little did she know she would be thanking her future husband at the time.

Velumyan spent her time in Russia building up a solid business network and becoming a certified art dealer, exclusive to Klolov’s work. To grow in business you always have to think outside of the box and this is why Velumyan had thoughts of integrating her Russian art brand into the North American market. Prior to this, she had little exposure to the North American art scene and all her connections were in Russia. She managed to maintain a private psychological practice and balanced her time.

“After we built an established dealer network in Russia, I recognized the importance of growing beyond European boundaries. North America always attracted me with its art market, and my father who has lived in Toronto for 25 years was always inviting me to come. As a skilled worker, immigration to Canada was not insurmountable; however, my adult children and Alexey did not share this vision.”

‘Girl on Two Balls’- 2012- Alexey Klokov- Oil on Canvas

Despite this, Velumyan pushed through and left Russia for Canada in the pursuit of building an even bigger and noticeable brand for her husband’s artwork. She was now classed as an immigrant in unfamiliar territory and with it came all the challenges. She was unestablished in a country full of competing artists striving to make a name for themselves.

“In Canada I had to start from scratch. Different country, different mentality and different culture … In a new country amidst established Canadians. Everyday is a learning experience with unique challenges and opportunities.”

During her first year in Canada, she had to learn English while having her Phd credentials approved. Velumyan attended the Bridge Training Program for Internationally Trained Mental Health Professionals, interned at a local clinic, and subsequently received her license in psychotherapy. Velumyan was used to helping people, so in addition to her art work, she became a founding member of an organization called IWB.

IWB stands for Immigrant Women in Business and is an organization dedicated to Helping Immigrant Women in Business to Succeed. It is run by CEO Svetlana Ratnikova, a fellow Russian immigrant in Toronto.

“When I met Svetlana Ratnikova, she invited me to become one of the founding members, and I was eager to help. As a woman in business, I know what unique challenges we face in the workplace and in our personal lives not withstanding the challenge of being immigrants.”

‘Potentility’ -2016- Alexey Klokov- Enamel on Linen- Suggested Abstract

As a founding member of IWB, Velumyan publicly shares her struggles as an immigrant and how she excelled in life. For International Women’s Day in March, Velumyan spoke at an IWB event and featured the painting shown above, ‘Potentiality’ which she says Klokov created to show the path of an immigrant ( the green mark) rising to success (yellow). Her talks offer a form of mentorship for immigrant women thinking about venturing into business.

As Alexey Klokov’s exclusive agent, Naira represents the sole interests of his work. She is developing a Canadian brand, organizing exhibitions, providing all printed products, and conducting negotiations with dealers and buyers. Currently, she hosts private art exhibits in Toronto, Ottawa, New York and Miami and is looking to establish a gallery network in these cities. Success in the art world was not linear for Velumyan and she knows the struggles women face in life.

“Sometimes women lose faith in themselves,” she said. “I would like them to know that there are always alternatives. In life everything is temporary and tomorrow is always another day. With the right effort any situation can be changed and these are life changing secrets I would like to share with women.”

Living in Canada has helped Velumyan explore a world outside of her comfort zone. One day soon, she hopes to establish her successful dealer’s network then she will focus on private psychotherapeutic practice. She would like to eventually volunteer for families that don’t have access to a therapist. “I look at the family as a system where the problem of one affects the others. Therefore when we cure one person, we get a healthier micro system.”

For a chance to listen to one of Dr. Velumyan’s talks, check out the next IWB event, scheduled for September 5 at Metro Hall, downtown Toronto. The event will run from 6-9pm and will offer various inspirational speeches and networking opportunities from other successful founding members. For more information and to register check out their Evenbrite page.

Charlottesville: can it happen here? Yes, it can.

It’s seven in the morning and I’m listening to the radio. The host comes on to talk about the news of the day, describing the violence in Charlottesville once again. I’m groggy, but even I can predict the next question that will be asked — can it happen in Canada? Every day this week I’ve heard the same question. Whether it is on the radio, the television, in the newspaper, or even within my circle of family and friends, people want to talk about how what happened in the United States may, or may not, happen in their communities.

On the evening of Aug 11, a group of white nationalists — a.k.a. Nazis — marched the streets of Charlottesville in a rally that supposedly was meant to “take America” back. These people started chanting things like “white lives matter” and “blood and soil”, among many offensive and discriminatory things.

Oh, and they were holding torches and some of them held flags with the swastika.

The march was meant to be a response to the removal of a confederate statue, but considering the symbols scrawled on the signs and the slogans being screamed in the streets, there is no doubt this was a meeting of white supremacists who didn’t care about a statue. They just wanted to express their views and show their numbers.

These Nazis* were met with a counter protest — and because these marchers were not there to peacefully showcase their displeasure about a historical figure being immortalized in stone, they lashed out violently. People were pushed and beaten. And then someone drove a van right into the crowd, killing one of the protesters.

* I was recently asked whether it was fair to call these “nationalists” Nazis, and my answer is unreservedly yes. Calling them “nationalists” waters down the message of their ideology. If you are chanting discriminatory things about transgendered people, people of colour, and those of the Jewish faith while holding torches and the swastika — you are a Nazi. Everyone who marches with you, by association, is a Nazi. It’s that simple.

So, can it happen here? That’s the big question, isn’t it? My answer is, sadly, yes — and that’s what’s so frightening.

Fear and violence inspires more fear and more violence. It can create a chain reaction of events on an international scale. When one group of people use violence as a way to deal with what they see as a threatening situation, another group will respond in kind, creating a cycle that is never ending.

And Canada is not immune. Sure, we have small victories. A forum for “nationalists” being held at Ryerson University was cancelled after public outcry, and the University of Toronto has publicly said they will not allow a group of white supremacists to protest on their property. But is it enough to combat the many instances of racism, sexism, and blatant hate this country has seen over the last few years?

During the last federal election, the signs of Muslim candidates were defaced with graffiti, with phrases like “Go Home” scrawled across their property. In January, people were shot while leaving a mosque in Quebec City. There have been numerous instances of neighbours sending letters threatening parents of children with disabilities because they were disturbed and felt these kids shouldn’t be alive. And there is, I’m ashamed to say, many alt-right people who were starting to listen to Kellie Leitch’s rant about RCMP tip lines for those worried about their immigrant neighbours, not to mention the disgusting concept of using “Canadian values” to determine who enters the country.

Hate breeds more hate — and unfortunately, there is still a lot of hate left in Canada. Can that hate turn to violence? Yes, quite easily. But, will it? Not if those of us who are tolerant and compassionate human beings rally together and say enough is enough. People can end the cycle, but only if they do not resort to the same methods as those who initiate the violence and hate.

As grossly cliché as it is, people have to fight hate with love. Already, two rallies are being organized in Toronto as a response to the violence in Charlottestown. If this is how the world responds, in similar fashion to the Women’s Marches in January and February, I have high hopes we will not see the rise of white supremacy or Nazism spread in this country.

God, I hope I’m right.

Medical abortion drug available at no cost in Alberta

Earlier this year, a potentially life changing prescription drug arrived in Canada called Mifegymiso. What is Mifegymiso? With a name as complicated as it sounds, the drug follows a lot of controversy. It is the medical abortion pill that can terminate a pregnancy for up to 49 days following conception.

Women are slowly gaining access to more reproductive choices and on Monday, it was announced in Alberta that this pill will receive universal coverage, which means it will be free.  Alberta is the second Canadian province to approve universal coverage, following in the steps of New Brunswick. The new policy in New Brunswick also led to a change in abortion access.

Mifegymiso has been the choice drug for medical abortions for over 30 years and it was approved for use by Health Canada in July 2015, following an application time of three years. It became available in January 2017 for a cost of $300 and physicians are required to complete a training program before prescribing. In April 2017, New Brunswick approved coverage and now Alberta has joined them in July 2017.

The idea behind universal coverage is to remove financial barriers and allow women complete freedom over their reproduction choices. It also allows access to rural parts of Canada, where it is more difficult to access reproductive health care services due to the lack of physicians and skilled workers operating clinics.

Sandeep Prasad, the executive director for Action Canada for Sexual health and Rights, remarked that Alberta has shown great leadership in implementing universal coverage of the drug, and hopes it will  motivate other territories. “They have demonstrated that cost coverage is both necessary and possible, she said in a news release after the Government of Alberta announced their decision. “That is why we expect all provincial and territorial governments to commit to cost coverage programs of at least the same caliber as Alberta’s before the health ministers’ meeting in the Fall of 2017.”

Abortion is legal in Canada and in the province of Ontario, but there has been no amendment to covering the cost of Mifegymiso, but many expect the cost to be covered in this province by the end of the year as mentioned in the last budget.

Free Mifegymiso does not mean that the process is simple, as women are still required to do ultrasounds first before taking the pill so that doctors will assess if the candidate can undergo use of the drug. The pill is only available through prescription by your doctor.

Canada’s new Governor General is a former astronaut!

Earlier this week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Julie Payette, a former Canadian astronaut, will be the country’s next Governor General.

Most would agree that Payette is the ideal candidate for the position of Governor General. The 53-year-old Montrealer speaks six languages, she has a commercial pilot licence and has held positions as a computer engineer, scientific broadcaster, and corporate director. Before serving as CSA’s chief astronaut, she participated in two space flights to the International Space Station.

Payette is a strong advocate for promoting science and technology, which could make her an incredible role model for young girls interested in STEM.

Suffice to say, Women’s Post is absolutely thrilled with this choice.

The role of Governor General is mostly ceremonial. The chosen candidate is recommended by the Prime Minister and then appointed by the Queen. They are also responsible for ensuring that Canada has a stable and functioning government. He or she has the power to dissolve parliament and give royal assent to legal documents.

The term for Governor General is usually five years.

Sexual assault rate in Canada remains unchanged after 13 years

A new report was released Tuesday by Statistics Canada that showed the rate of self-reported sexual assault in 2014 was about the same as it was in 2004 — a disturbing fact, but not very surprising.

Considering the trauma of a police questioning and court hearings, in addition to the circus of high-profile sexual assault cases in the media, it’s not a shock to see that women still feel uncomfortable reporting an attack. These women are often judged for what they were wearing and what they were drinking. More often than not, it is assumed the woman “wanted it” or “led them on”. Not to mention 1 in 5 cases are determined baseless by the police.

Why would anyone go through all of that willingly?

According to Statistics Canada, in 2014 there were 22 incidents of sexual assault for every 1,000 Canadians over the age of 15. This equates to 636,000 self-reported incidents, which is similar to statistics collected in 2004. Just when you think society is starting to evolve, it goes backwards.

“Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes,” the report reads. “Research has attributed this to a wide range of reasons, including the shame, guilt and stigma of sexual victimization, the normalization of inappropriate or unwanted sexual behaviour, and the perception that sexual violence does not warrant reporting.”

Of these sexual assaults, 87 per cent were committed against women.

This report is proof that Canada still has a long way to go towards supporting women after they have reported a claim of sexual assault. The majority of these women are between the ages of 15 and 24, meaning they were students. While many Canadian campuses have changed (or are in the midst of changing) their sexual assault policies, it isn’t happening fast enough.

And then there are the moments in which a sexual assault case is actually taken in front of a judge who doesn’t understand the difference between consent and an unconscious woman. Women are constantly being forced to explain and define the term “consent” — something that is probably dissuading a lot of women from actually reporting these horrific assaults.

The Canadian government has made changes to laws and encouraged college campuses to update their policies, but obviously there hasn’t been enough done to reduce the stigma of sexual violence or support victims of assault. My only hope is that somebody, anybody, steps up to help change the stigma of sexual assault. Police, government, and university agencies need to step up and take an active role in altering not just policies, but also cultural norms surrounding crimes of a sexual nature.

In another decade, let’s hope Canada doesn’t see a report similar to this one.

 

Note about survey: About 33, 127 people across 10 provinces responded to the General Social Survey for which this report was based.

Why is there still a stigma around bare breasts?

As the temperatures continue to rise, women may see more and more guys walking around the streets without their shirts on. It’s a normal thing, right? But, what about when women try to walk down those same streets without their shirts on?

People would probably stare or point. Someone may even ask these women to cover up, saying they are indecent in a public place.

Every year it seems like women get in trouble for baring her breasts in public. Whether it’s two sisters asked to cover up while cycling without a top or an eight-year-old girl told to put her shirt back on in a swimming pool, it’s obvious there is still stigma and misunderstanding over a woman’s right to go topless in public.

Over the last week, the media has reported a woman in Cornwall is making a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, claiming a pool policy that makes it mandatory for girls over the age of 10 to wear a top is discriminatory. City councillors now have to decide whether to fight the complaint or change the policy — a conversation that is bound to turn heads in both the press and in the chamber.

It’s a bit silly toplessness is still a problem in 2017, especially considering Ontario essentially made the act legal in 1991 when Guelph University student Gwen Jacobs won her court case. Municipalities have followed suit, adjusting policies where needed to adapt to this change, but it still isn’t common place. Women still get harassed and told to put more clothes on. Public beaches and pools still don’t understand that it is perfectly acceptable for women to go topless while outdoors. And men use this as an opportunity to make sexual remarks or comment on a woman’s figure.

While I was in Mexico, I went to a beach every day and saw women of all shapes and sizes walking around without a bathing suit top on. And you know what? It wasn’t a big deal! And in Europe families walk down the street or relax in the park wearing nothing but underwear! So, why is it that in North America it’s so taboo?

Personally, I think the sexualization of a woman’s breasts has become so engrained in social culture that it has seeped its way into every day activities. Anatomically, women have breasts in order to breastfeed. They were never “meant” to be sexual objects, and yet the number of brassieres and pasties makes it impossible to think of them as anything else. Even for women it becomes stigmatized. I know that for myself, being in public without something covering my breasts would make me uncomfortable. That’s a shame, but a reality of the kind of society we live in.

For those women who do feel comfortable — rock on! Remember that breasts are a part of the human body. They are not sexual objects, despite what people have been taught, and are no different than the nipples men showcase every day of the summer when they wander around downtown without a top.

So next time the heat becomes too much to stand, remember that baring your breasts is legal and totally okay — and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Will toplessness ever be considered a norm for both women and men? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

Should students be deterred from reading To Kill A Mockingbird?

The Durham District School Board has ruled that students don’t have to read To Kill A Mockingbird if they don’t want to. It’s all part of a modern curriculum change that would give students (or most likely parents) more control over the novels studied in class.

To be very clear: the book is not being banned — students are just no longer required to read it. The idea is that those who feel uncomfortable about the language and the themes of To Kill A Mockingbird will be allowed to choose another option to read in class.

Written by Harper Lee and published in 1961, To Kill A Mockingbird follows the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. It’s a classic novel that explores themes of racism, gender roles, and religion.

Reaction to this decision has been mixed. Some are praising the Durham District School Board for “modernizing” the curriculum while others can’t understand the problems it may cause.

I’m all for diversifying the books students read. In fact, I think new literature should be added to the reading list every year — but there are some novels that should absolutely be read and To Kill A Mockingbird is one of them.

First of all, young people should be exposed to different kinds of literature, especially if it explores themes that make them uncomfortable. This is how they learn about history and aspects of life they may be unfamiliar with. Too often, especially in school, teachers lean towards political correctness. In typical Canadian fashion, no one wants to offend someone else. But, if there is one place students should feel comfortable enough to ask questions that may not be acceptable in current society, it’s at school! If all of the “controversial” books are removed from shelves or are provided as an option rather than a requirement, how will students be exposed to different walks of life?

The argument that this book may be offensive to some people is ridiculous. It’s a historic novel that presents real themes that still impact people today. Sure, the language can be a bit intense (no one likes the n-word), but how else can teachers begin a conversation about why those phrases and words are not acceptable now? A good novel has a way of introducing topics that may be disturbing or controversial, and allows for real discussion. I think all students should be encouraged to read books that explore themes like religion, gender, politics, and racism.

At the same time, I support the idea that new and modern books should be re-introduced into the curriculum. But, why not put these two ideas together? Instead of making students choose between a book written in the 2000s and one written in the 1960s, make them read both! Expose young people to a variety of literature, including those written in Canada. Who says students have to focus on one book a year? I say, the more the merrier.

So, Durham, I hope you have thought this through. Don’t deprive students from the teachings of a classic and important novel just because it may make some of them uncomfortable. It will only hurt them in the long run.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Is Ontario investing too much in foreign builders?

Everyone is talking about the foreign buyers tax in Ontario — but no one is talking about the increase in foreign builders.

What do I mean by foreign builders? Large, international companies based in Italy, France, or Japan, with small offices within the GTHA, are being given contracts for large transit projects while smaller Canadian companies are shut out.

If you take a look at the shortlist for the Hurontario LRT, half of the constructors are not from Canada. They may have Canadian offices, but the companies themselves were created and have headquarters in Europe, the United States, and Asia. While each individual “team” that is bidding for the contract does have at least two Canadian companies on board, this is not a guarantee on division of work and/or financial contributions.

And this is a big problem.

By allotting contracts for big developments and transit projects to foreign builders, it severely impacts the Canadian economy. It means less jobs and less money for construction workers, and it means the competition between Canadian companies is steep.

Canada also has a unique climate. There are certain materials that must be used for a development to support extreme cold and hot temperatures. Would a company from Spain or Italy be able to understand how to build something resistant to this temperamental landscape?

An even bigger problem is that these foreign companies are not connected to the community, and therefore do not understand and/or empathize with local concerns over a new development. These companies come in, build, and leave, which means they are not around if any problems arise and they don’t get to see the affect it has on the residents who leave them. There is no real investment to the community they are building.

To be clear, collaborating with international partners is not a bad thing. These types of partnerships can inspire new ideas and provide interesting solutions to municipal problems.

However, when native companies are pushed out of the process in favour of international conglomerates — it’s Canada that loses out.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Senate pushes forward Infrastructure Bank

Wednesday, the Senate passed legislation that would allow for the creation of the Infrastructure Bank. According to the bill passed, this corporation’s purpose is to “invest in, and seek to attract private sector and institutional investments to, revenue-generating infrastructure projects.”

Bill C-44 allows government to implement certain provisions to the federal budget, including making room for the much-talked-about Infrastructure Bank. The bank will help structure proposals and negotiate agreements for infrastructure projects across the country. They will receive unsolicited proposals from the private sector or institutional investors, provide advice to all levels of government, and monitor the state of infrastructure in Canada.

As Bruce McCuaig, Executive Advisor of the Privy Council, said Tuesday at a seminar on alternative financing, “If we were to build all infrastructure on public balance sheets, we wouldn’t be able to get there.”

The seminar McCuaig spoke at Tuesday was hosted by the Transit Alliance, a non-political organization for those who work in the transit and infrastructure industry, students, or those interested in transit and transit planning in cities across Southern Ontario. Much of the discussion centered around whether or not the Infrastructure Bank is going to be useful for municipalities.

The biggest challenge is that Bill C-44 only outlines the recommendations and the broad powers the Infrastructure Bank holds. There are still quite a few details to work out, for example how the Infrastructure Bank will balance public and private interests. The general consensus is that the bank will provide opportunities for municipalities, but that it should focus on projects that are having a harder time finding funding.

As the bank starts to develop and grow, more information will become available.

What do you think of the Infrastructure Bank? Let us know in the comments below!

Senate approves transgender rights bill with majority

Thursday afternoon, the Senate approved a piece of legislation that amended the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include transgender Canadians. This means that gender identity and gender expression is on “list of prohibited grounds of discrimination” and therefore protected against hate propaganda.

 

The bill also amends the sentencing principles section of the Criminal Code, making it possible for a person’s identity or expression to be considered an aggravated circumstance by a judge during sentences.

Most importantly, gender identity and gender expression are now identifiable groups under Canadian law! This is an incredible accomplishment and brings Canada one step closer towards becoming a truly equal, fair, tolerant, and inclusive society.

The only disappointment was that it took this long to get Bill C-16 to pass. This request to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code has been proposed and tabled numerous times over the last decade. Bill C-16 was presented to the House of Commons a little over a year ago and was delayed at the Senate due to debate surrounding free speech.

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, called the bill a celebration of inclusion and diversity, “bringing us one step closer to strengthening laws against discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crime based on gender identity and gender expression.”

“Trans and gender diverse persons must be granted equal status in Canadian society, and this Bill makes that status explicit in Canadian law,” she said in a statement.

The bill passed by a vote of 67 to 11 and now needs Royal Assent before it is considered a law.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberal government plans on introducing legislation that would erase past convictions against Canadians charged with crimes related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. He also said the government is planning on apologizing to the LGBT community by the end of this year for past discriminatory legislation and policies.