Samiha at the #FreeKhadija protest on May 27, 2016. PHOTO: Alix Buck.
For some, the halcyon days of late July represent carefree moments of sunshine and lakeside cocktails. For the CJFE office they brought something more poignant: the end of term for our intrepid Research and Communications Intern Samiha Sharif. After three months here, Samiha is packing up and returning to Montreal, taking with her an indomitable spirit, boundless enthusiasm and a truly inimitable gift for coining aphorisms.
Like a soft summer rain cloud over a parched mountain meadow, Samiha brought life, reprieve and colour. And just like that cloud, Samiha quickly vanished from our lives. The rest of Canada may believe summer ends on Labour Day; we here at CJFE know that it truly ended on those last days in July.
CJFE’s Campaigns Coordinator Duncan Pike sat down with Samiha to chat about her time at CJFE and to see what the future holds for the Boss from Bangladesh.
What made you want to work at CJFE?
It was the perfect intersection of politics, advocacy and research that I was looking for. I knew that I could watch and learn a lot from how a non-profit can impact policy.
What have you learned about free expression from your time here?
I've learned that it is hypocritical to want to defend that right for only voices that I like and not for voices that I don't like. And that free expression is severely under threat in the world we live in today. Journalists are dying every week to protect it.
Free expression is often framed as freedom from government coercion or censure. In what way can economic or social marginalization be seen as a free expression issue?
One of the most important reasons we have the right to free expression is to be able to critique individuals, societies, institutions and the government, allowing us stand up for ourselves in various capacities. It becomes even more important in a representative democracy when we entrust leaders to act on our behalf.
However, for us to use this right, there needs to be an awareness, a knowledge of free expression and a trust that critiques and criticisms will be heard and not misquoted or misrepresented. Economically, to engage in keeping the government accountable requires free time and education. Free time is often scarce for people working precarious jobs and hours.
When there is a distrust in the process or 'the system' - media, reporters, law enforcement - free expression as a right is threatened. When we empower and aid certain groups while depriving others of resources, free expression is also threatened.
So when men like Abdirahman Abdi are beaten to death by officers in Ottawa, or when a woman is assaulted and the prosecutor questions what she was wearing, when nobody cares about missing indigenous women, these social norms that are perpetuated by institutions alienate communities and create distrust. Every time a community doesn't have access to the media or when panels, debates and opinions on a topic (i.e. police brutality or the niqab) have no voices from the very people being affected, when their quotes are misrepresented, they know that they might have a right but in reality can use it much less than others.
What project are you most proud of working on during your internship?
As an intern, I was honestly surprised by how I was included in every meeting and decision and felt like I could voice my opinions and have them considered. I helped contribute to the future strategic vision of CJFE, researched governments and policies for advocacy and communications, helped create content for social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), wrote an article with my perspective on free expression, helped film and photograph events, helped with administrative duties and fundraising, and helped execute events that included protests, panels and movie screenings.
The highlights of my internship include CJFE's Annual General Meeting, where I got to meet members of the Board of Directors and see how a governance structure of staff, board, members and volunteers collaborate to hold an organization together. I also loved being part of the strategic visioning, which included brainstorming the needs and goals of the growing organization and thinking about realistic goals and fundraising options to set. The Free Khadija protest we planned and executed at Nathan Phillips Square was also a really amazing experience to take part in.
So I think I'm most proud of the insight and opinion I brought to the table. I hope it was useful.
What are you going to miss the most?
I think I'm going to miss having the wonderful discussions we did everyday. The jokes and the gifs certainly, but also the amazing discussions we had at meetings and between work tasks. The theoretical ones about journalism and the ones about practical realities. I learned a lot from them.
What are you up to next?
I'm going to finish my degree at McGill University; hopefully all goes well there. Next year, I'll be deeply involved with the ECOLE project at McGill. ECOLE is meant to be a model for urban sustainable living and a physical hub for the McGill and Montreal sustainability communities.
This is hugely outside my comfort zone so I'm very excited. After graduation (assuming that happens!), I want to come back to Toronto and work for a year or two before I apply for the Masters of Social Work at the University of Toronto!