UKPC/FCYA - Toronto

Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada / Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance - Toronto Chapter

Monday, May 08, 2006

UKPC-TO Speech at J4J Rally & March

May 6, 2006
(Delivered by BALANCE)

Make some noise for being here!

The Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance Toronto Chapter or UKPC-TO welcomes everyone to the Justice for Jeffrey Rally and March. We are not only gathered here to welcome the inquest that the Reodica family, the Justice for Jeffrey Coalition, and you – our supporters and allies – have worked so hard for, we are also here today, May 6th to commemorate what would have been Jeffrey’s 19th birthday. We have also come together today to demand justice that is long overdue.

I want you each of you here today to be angry. So angry, that you will want to enact change! What happened to Jeffrey was unjust, and not an isolated incident. Jeffrey’s death is a glaring example of the impact of systemic racism – from the confrontation between the White youth and Filipino youth; to the excessive reaction of the White police officers towards the Filipino youth; and to the decision of the SIU to clear the officer who shot Jeffrey of any wrongdoing. This systemic racism is plaguing our city, undermining our rights and welfare, making it impossible to feel safe in our own neighbourhoods from the very institutions designed to protect us.

This rally is significant because it marks the beginning of the Coroner’s inquest. Because of the community’s efforts, we are able now to examine and judge for ourselves the evidence that will be brought forward at the inquest, so tragedies like this involving our youth will never happen again.

But, even though we have gained this victory, a lot of nonsense has been said and will be said involving Jeffrey. There are those who say Jeffrey was hanging out at the wrong place at the wrong time, or that he was hanging around the wrong kind of people. Others even have the audacity to say something ignorant and untrue, like “Jeffrey was a gang member”. They’ll even go as low as playing the blame game by saying it was his fault and that of his friends.

These kinds of reactions are not surprising considering the current talk in the mainstream about youth violence. The violence that is happening among youth is being portrayed as merely the result of the activities of “youth gangs” or “juvenile delinquents”. And, the mainstream quickfix solution is more policing? But, as we have seen in the case of Jeffrey, violence among youth is not simply the problem itself, but they are the symptoms of much deeper social issues.

In Jeffrey’s case, the confrontation was clearly racially motivated – the confrontation between the White youth and Filipino youth was spurred by an incident involving racial slurs coupled with physical assault on two Filipino youth the day before. In other cases that UKPC-TO has heard of, Filipino youth were involved in conflicts either with other youth of colour or with fellow Filipino youth. How is this still related to racism?

Today’s Canadian society is one in which people of colour remain disadvantaged in many aspects. For youth of colour and immigrant youth in particular, we experience this through the different institutions of society. In our schools, our people’s cultures, histories and contributions to Canadian society are not reflected or are just outrightly degraded. One most recent and glaring example of this is that of a seven-year old Filipino boy in Quebec who was punished 10 times by a teacher for eating his lunch with a spoon and fork. Eating with a spoon and fork is Filipino custom, but the teacher said that the boy ate “like a pig.” In the media, people who look like us are seldom represented or are portrayed negatively. In the workforce, we see our parents segregated into the lowest-paying jobs – as live-in caregivers, janitors, etc. – and this, in turn, affects the quality of our own lives.

In a society like this, where youth of colour, including Filipino youth, cannot fully integrate and exercise power and do not see any positive images of themselves and their people, we can easily turn against each other and against members of our own ethnic groups.

By ignoring these realities of youth of colour and reducing the issue of youth violence to a matter of “juvenile delinquency” or “youth gangs”, blame is shifted onto the youth themselves. These ideas allow the justification of blatantly violent and unjust attacks on youth such as the fatal shooting of Jeffrey by Detective Dan Belanger two years ago.

Today, we welcome this coroner’s inquest, because we it as an opportunity to see for ourselves the facts about the circumstances of Jeffrey’s death, and to put forward recommendations so that deaths like Jeffrey’s and police violence on Filipino youth and other youth of colour do not happen again. UKPC-TO will be a permanent presence at the inquest and will continue working with the J4J Coalition and the Reodica family in making sure that the inquest is conducted in a just and transparent manner. More importantly, we will make stronger efforts to educate, organize and mobilize youth in our community so that we can fight to uphold our rights and welfare. We will work to build pride in our people’s heritage and history so that we can effectively combat the negative images of ourselves that have been ingrained in our minds.

Lastly, we will continue to work in solidarity with other communities of colour; our Black, Latino, Aboriginal, Asian brothers and sisters and other marginalized communities in the struggle against this systemic oppression.