Forum for Discussion and Debate on the Lawsuit, University of Ottawa

I Did Not Make Professor St. Lewis Sick

In All on 2013/07/19 at 13:12

by Hazel Gashoka

I was wrongfully accused, in public, of making Professor Joanne St. Lewis sick. This is my response:

In 2008 the student union released a public report which found systemic racism at the University of Ottawa. The University asked Black law expert, Professor Joanne St. Lewis, to act as an expert to criticize the student report in a responding public evaluation report. Professor St. Lewis found that there was no basis for affirming system racism at the University of Ottawa. In 2010, I tried to contact Professor St. Lewis because I was concerned that her report served to diminish the student complaints. Professor St. Lewis failed to respond to over half a dozen of my emails and when she finally responded, she advised me that “given what [she had] on [her] plate it would best to recontact [her] towards the end of May [2010] for a meeting”.  As directed, I recontacted Professor St. Lewis; however, she did not respond. It wasn’t until I sent her a few more emails throughout the following months that I received an automated message that she was on sabbatical leave.

After a great deal of thought and consultation with many Students of Color at the University of Ottawa, I decided to make a YouTube video regarding Professor St. Lewis’ report. In the YouTube video I made, I expressed the opinion that Professor St. Lewis acted like University of Ottawa President Allan Rock’s “house negro”. My assessment of Professor St. Lewis as a “house negro” is based on the definition that is postulated by Malcolm X. In the video, I stated that Professor St. Lewis “is a black collaborator [who] was working with the Master to pull the wool over the eyes of the People of Colour to satisfy them and tell them that everything is fine and dandy”. According to Malcolm X, that is what “house negros” do. The fact that she was hired by a white man, President Rock, to write her responding report and then essentially said that systemic racism does not exist led me to the conclusion that she acted as a “house negro”. I still hold this opinion today.

On November 22, 2012, I sent an email to Professor Joanne St. Lewis advising her that I made a YouTube video about her and posted it on my blog. Moreover, I asked her to kindly provide me with any comments or corrections which I would have also posted to my blog. The matter discussed in my video arose while I was a student at the University of Ottawa. Professor St. Lewis did not respond to my email; however, her lawyer Richard Dearden did. On December 18, 2012, I received a notice of libel from Mr. Dearden.

Upon receipt of the notice of libel, it was my contention that the University of Ottawa would have funded the potential lawsuit against me. Professor St. Lewis is already suing former University of Ottawa physics Professor Denis Rancourt for $1 million dollars over a blog post about her titled  “Did Professor Joanne St. Lewis Act as Allan Rock’s house negro?”  That defamation lawsuit, which began in 2011, is funded by the university and pursued by the same lawyer who is threatening me. I sent a few emails to President Allan Rock asking whether or not the University of Ottawa planned on funding the lawsuit against me; however, these emails went unanswered. As a result of Mr. Rock’s lack of response and the pending lawsuit, I held a press conference at the University of Ottawa. The purpose of the press conference was to ask President Allan Rock and Professor St. Lewis not to sue me. I invited both of them to my press conference but neither of them attended nor responded to my invitation.

After the press conference, a few of Professor St. Lewis’ friends approached me and told me that they would be happy to set up a meeting with Professor St. Lewis and I, as well as other Students of Color. I was happy with the news, so I contacted Professor St. Lewis directly, but she did not respond, her lawyer did. Mr. Dearden said that Professor St. Lewis will not discuss meeting with me until I take down my video. Also, he said that the “pending libel action against [me] stands” and that I should retain a lawyer. However, I will not take down my video. I stand by the statements I made in the video, but I’m also not an unreasonable person. If new data presents itself that suggests that she was not acting as President Rock’s “House Negro” then I will retract my statement, but until that time I am going to stand by my criticism. I refused to be silenced, even with the threat of a lawsuit.

After the press conference, I sent President Allan Rock another email asking him about unconfirmed reports that appeared in the student newspaper, La Rotonde, whereby a University of Ottawa media relations person stated to La Rotonde that the University would not be funding a lawsuit against me. Again, Mr. Rock did not respond. Finally, I showed up at President Allan Rock’s office demanding an answer. According to Mr. Rock’s secretary, he was out of the country; however his chief of staff, Mr. Alastair Mullin, confirmed that “the University had no plans to fund such a suit.” I insisted on receiving the University’s decision to not sue me in writing and this was provided to me.

On Monday, May 6, 2013, I attended a case conference in court in the Joanne St. Lewis vs. Denis Rancourt defamation lawsuit. During the case conference Professor St. Lewis’ lawyer Richard Dearden said that his client was on sick leave due to alleged “racist statements” made about her in the past few months. He proposed that his client was so affected by these statements that she is unable to work. This new development bothered me immensely: not only was I being threatened with a lawsuit, I am now being accused of being the source of Professor St. Lewis being sick.

Being accused in court as being the cause of someone’s illness was very stressful and intimidating for me. In addition, Mr. Dearden’s allegations did not make sense to me. Based on my observations, Professor St. Lewis’ legal battle has been very successful thus far. She has won several motions and has thus far been awarded thousands of dollars in cost. In addition, it appears as though she has the court’s ear. For example, I have witnessed Justice Robert Smith scold Dr. Rancourt for interrupting Mr. Dearden; however, I have yet to hear Justice Smith utter a word when Mr. Dearden interrupts Dr. Rancourt. In my respectful opinion, this is one of very many examples of how Professor St. Lewis is given preferential treatment by the court.  Furthermore, it appears as though no one in the law community has given merit to my criticisms.  Several of Professor St. Lewis’ partisan supporters, who identified themselves as law students, attacked my character rather than addressed my criticisms. In fact, on at least on one occasion I was booed by Professor St. Lewis’ supporters while speaking at my press conference. Moreover, I have read several supportive editorials and I have heard many people calling Dr. Rancourt a racist.  Professor St. Lewis even has the support of her administration who publicly stated that they will support the St. Lewis vs. Rancourt defamation lawsuit “without a cap”.  I find it strange that someone with overwhelming support and resources is too sick to work because of criticism from a couple of voices.

I struggled with being blamed with Professor St. Lewis’ sickness and in order to cope with these feelings, I decided to try to understand her sickness. This brought me to study sickness that can arise in circumstances of racial politics as discussed by Frantz Fanon. Fanon discusses this sickness in his seminal work “Black Skin, White Masks” which I studied during my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa. Despite that Fanon’s historical work is based on race politics of the 1940s, Fanon’s work is still relevant and applicable to this particular case. Fanon described the question of sickness by black servants in relation to their white master:  a psychic trauma occurs to the black servant when they realize that they can never obtain the power of the white master in spite of their best efforts. When you are a privileged, there is not much out there that can make you sick. That is, unless you hit a psychic wall. According to Fanon (1952), the deepest trauma experienced by a privileged black servant occurs when he realizes that he can never obtain the power of his white master in spite of his best efforts:

“Once I had established that my counterpart, in his dream, has fulfilled his desire to be white – i.e., to be a man – I would demonstrate to him that his neurosis, his psychic instability, and the crack in his ego stem from this governing fiction…” (p. 190)

In Professor St. Lewis’ case, I believe she experienced this psychic trauma when her master, President Allan Rock, told her that she cannot sue me. In my opinion, this is the cause of her sickness and is known to be the main affliction of “house negros”.  In fact, it is clear to me that when Professor St. Lewis was told by Mr. Rock that she cannot sue me that this caused her illness. One must recall that Dr. Rancourt’s blog post, which is the focal point of the defamation lawsuit, titled “Did Professor Joanne St. Lewis Act as Allan Rock’s house negro?” merely posed the question as to whether or not she is a house negro. I, on the other hand, answered the question and very clearly stated that I believe that she is a house negro and that there is nothing wrong with a white man posing the question.  My comments are more direct than Dr. Rancourt’s blog post yet her master will not allow her to purse me. As such, Professor St. Lewis likely became ill when she learned that she was not in the driver’s seat. In addition, I think that the same kind of analysis can help Professor St. Lewis come to grips with her sickness and improve her psychological disposition.

This understanding has helped me to cope with the accusation that I am responsible for Professor St. Lewis’ illness. I will no longer accept that my field negro criticism of a powerful house negro is the cause of her sickness. I now understand that the root cause is her subservience and her realization that she will never be the boss.

References

Fanon, Frantz (1952). Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press

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