Blue Heron Project

Interview by Mina Ramos 

A few weeks ago on a phone call, a close friend of mine mentioned to me that she was starting to grow cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms at home with her partner and plans to sell what was harvested. She had just finished a ceremony with Golden Teachers (a type of psychoactive mushroom) and spoke highly of the experience that she had and about the therapeutic and spiritual benefits. I was kind of shocked because I had never known her to do something like mushrooms. I remember her saying that the thought of tripping made her anxious. Given that she lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her partner and two dogs, I imagined that she would be growing maybe six or seven plants. I was amazed when I went to visit a few weeks later to find a highly organized set up with about 60 plants and a mushroom greenhouse area. As people who are trying to grow everything organically, with as little waste as possible, on a tight budget in a one-bedroom apartment, I thought it’d be great to interview them about what they’re doing so far and how it has been going for them.

How did the idea to grow weed and mushrooms arise?

While looking at the role that money has had in our lives and analyzing our values, we decided to embark on a journey that has brought joy into our lives, our home and our hearts. Both of us have had toxic relationships to money and how it was earned. We decided to make a change.

For us, that change became an indoor cannabis garden and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms, AKA “magic mushrooms”. 

One of us had a conversation with a close friend about income, and the friend called us out on the way that we were bringing money into the home. Both of us have struggled with addiction and often relied on “survival skills” to meet our chemical dependencies and basic needs. But we weren’t there anymore. In the conversation, it was agreed upon that the way one earns money is relevant to one’s spiritual well-being. What we had been doing in order to earn money wasn’t sustainable. Our friend pointed out that having intrinsic values that are modeled in the ways that we bring money into the home is important for our soul. We talked together and agreed to shift away from an outdated mentality that was based on survival skills, developed while in the heat of a nasty addiction. We were able to and wanted to move into a way of living that can be considered earning a living vs fighting to survive. On our healing journeys, moving away from addictions, one of us was introduced to plant medicine. These experiences have been key in freeing us from our dependency and fears and we have become strong advocates for their use.

We knew that the cannabis market is lacking in organic growing, and that pesticide-free growing is paramount for those using plants for medicine. Having had life changing spiritual experiences during psychedelic plant medicine ceremonies, we wanted to find a way to make both organically grown cannabis and plant medicines more readily available for people we know. We found a way of growing cannabis and cultivating psilocybin mushrooms, known as “magic mushrooms” that was both organic, and full of love. We are growing with the intention of medicine and for the use of personal development/inner healing. Plant medicines are showing groundbreaking transformations for people struggling with trauma, addictions, anxiety, depression, and more. We are not by any means treating people, we are providing safe access to sacred plant medicines, grown organically, safely, and with love for people on the path of healing and self-development.                                          

How far into the project are you?

With respect to the mushrooms we are growing, we have had a full cycle of mushrooms and a number of flushes, we are still producing fruits from this first cycle (Stropharia Cubensis Cuban). We have taken spore prints from our first batch that we will use for our next grow. We are expanding and shifting how we are producing them now. We purchased the spawn pre-inoculated our first time. This time we will be spawning ourselves. Exciting! All this lingo just means getting the mycelium started and established. But we are working to be able to do the entire process, from start to finish, here, ourselves. It’s super fun to learn and it’s been inspiring to find out that we’re capable of this. There’s been a lot of learning, and although I don’t think we’ll ever stop researching (while we embark on this journey at least), it’s honestly a lot easier to do than we had realized.

Weed is a bit of a different story! These plants take a while to grow. I’d say our plants are about 1.5 months old and younger and we are probably 3 months from harvest. It has been incredible getting to know the plants during this time. We both have such a new level of respect for them and are really enjoying getting to know them. They have a sweet, delicate smell and they dance with the fans blowing winds. They have dark deep shades of green and some bright green in them too. They are such a beautiful plant that I never was able to appreciate in this way. There is something about being part of their lives and supporting their growth that has shifted my relationship to them.

 If you are interested in learning with us, feel free to contact us on our IG @TheBluestHeron. We are happy to give you some good resources for getting started with mushrooms. The great thing about mushrooms is that the process is pretty quick! You just need to set up the right environment and keep things super sterile. You are also welcome to follow our journey there as we will be continuing to post content related to what we’re up to, what we’re learning and where we’re headed as our path ends and curves. We would love to hear about your journey as well, connection is what life is about for us.

 What does your setup look like so far? 

Our set up is currently in a 9.5′ x 11′ room that we have divided into two sections of the following dimensions: 3.5′ x 11′ and 6′ x 11`. This may not sound like a lot of space, and it’s not. However, we are making great use out of the space that we currently have available. We are starting on a small scale before scaling up.

The 6′ x 11′ segment is designed for our cannabis plants. We currently have three 1500 watt LED full spectrum grow lights hanging from the ceiling. Underneath the lights, you find a lush, dark green landscape of branches and leaves, grown in a beautiful and rich living organic soil full of millions of living microbes. There is a forest green crop cover which helps to retain the beautiful living water. We use spring water that we gather weekly from a nearby spring in order to provide fresh, ph balanced, living water to our plants. The crop cover we grow with the cannabis plants includes alfalfa, clovers, and other plants that get cut as they grow. The remains left in the soil further the cycle of life and rebirth, death and decay, modeling nature. A balanced and realistic representation of what we believe in. The landscape of cannabis plants is growing bigger and brighter every day. They are currently still in their vegetative state. There are three different ages of plants in there right now, the oldest being about 45 days, the youngest are seedlings that are ready to be transplanted into small cups and the middle-aged plants are just over 30 days old.

The 3.5′ x 11′ space is currently designed for mushroom cultivation and we have placed four 4-tier mini greenhouses converted into fruiting chambers for mushrooms. This is called the Martha Stewart technique for growing mushrooms. These are on their way to each having their own humidifier, grow lights, fans, and a few other adjustments that maintain an environment suitable for growing mushrooms. Right now, one of our mushroom greenhouses is operational and one of the shelves is producing mushrooms. This week we are in the process of completing the other three greenhouses and by this time next month, all of the greenhouses, and each shelf of the greenhouses with be producing psilocybin mushrooms. Also in the room, you’ll find many fans, both small and large, two clipboards on the walls to track temperature and humidity of the room, some shelving for work equipment and other plant care essentials. Also, you can find plant seeds and mushroom spore prints, a small portable microscope, ph meters, light meters and other handy items that are important for monitoring the plants‘ life cycles.

We are living in a one bedroom apartment and we have decided to live in the living room space in order to have this fully functioning operation in our home. We have found it humbling and nurturing in our personal development to look at space, what we need, what we don’t, and what we are taking for granted. We have recently transitioned even further from having a bedroom, by moving from our living room bedroom to a tiny nook of our apartment near the front door, and dividing the space using our clothing storage and dog beds! By doing this we have opened up the living room portion of our apartment to grow vegetables, and for cannabis plants in their vegetative state to keep separated when we begin to transition cannabis plants into the flowering stage. Moving forward this will allow us to have two spaces for the separate cycles that are required to grow cannabis. We found it important to shape a space for the development of a sustainable, year round (southern Ontario winters) growing of organic fruits and vegetables.

How have you combined your ethics in your practice so far? What are your hopes for the future?

 A lot of this came to us because of our values and that has shaped a lot of our research. We are using “Regenerative Farming Practices” as best as we can within our apartment. This means we use a crop cover for our weed plants (we use a mix of clover, alfalfa etc.) that continues to give nutrients to the soil and keep the topsoil cover moist. We also make our soil mix so that it is living/no-till soil. This soil gets stronger as things grow in it and has a lot of beautiful bacteria and fungi that continue to thrive. We don’t have to add fertilizers to this soil and if we do, we add “compost tea” which is basically brewing earthworm castings, compost and kelp meal (which is all in the soil already).  We are using organic and locally sourced products/ingredients as best as we can. We use spring water to water everybody, which means the water they drink is ALIVE! We also got worms, who eat our compost food and then create worm castings which provide some of the best nourishment for our plants. We feel that even though we are growing in an apartment, we are using practices that are going to heal not harm. We think it’s about recognizing mushrooms and weed as healers. When we are growing, we are trying to sustain life around us, including the environment. There are so many living things in this process, that deserve respect, dignity and care! These practices can be expanded if we are able to practice this outdoors.

It is our hope to charge fees on a sliding scale as we do want these things to be accessible to other people. On one hand, yes, we want to have a source of income, but also see these sacred plants as living beings who provide opportunities for healing and growth and want people to have access to them, and in this we find a sliding scale system to be important. We are honoured to be holding intention into what we are doing. We pray over our plants and mushrooms and we honour them. So our ethics are guiding us: accessible to others, respecting this earth, creating life and allowing nature to show us the way. Honouring non-human life, trying to live in love and recognizing oppressive systems. Growing has become a spiritual practice for us. Our hope for the future is to see where the future takes us. We want to stay grounded in our intention and continue to have fun and enjoy learning about getting to know mushrooms and weed.

What are the connections for you with these plants and healing?  Why are they important to you?

 We have both used both of these plants in our lives for different reasons. For us, when we talk about sacred plant medicine ceremonies, we aren’t talking about cannabis. Yes, cannabis is a sacred plant medicine and for us, there’s a difference in the way that cannabis and other sacred plant medicines are used.  We both still smoke weed somewhat regularly, lately, it’s been in the evening, most days for one of us and on occasion for the other.  

Ceremony as white settlers means doing our research in order to connect with our own people, and use practices from our ancestors. We are mindful and aware of cultural appropriation. We focus on earth based traditions of Western Europe, so typically we will open by ‘casting a circle’ and acknowledging the Four Corners. We may build an altar dedicated to nature and we speak to spirit and the universe. If you are a settler and not interested in ancestral practices, you can still have ceremony without cultural appropriation, just do your research. Also, we know the land we are on (Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Anishinaabek peoples, Treaty 3) and the land we get our water from (Neutral Territory and Mohawk Territory). We give thanks and acknowledge that this land is stolen and our complex relationship as settlers here. We are on Dish with One Spoon Territory and we are learning to live as such.

One of us has attended sacred plant medicine (Ayahuasca and Iboga) retreats with the guidance of respected people who host them. These were super helpful in personal development and in severing the ties with harmful chemical dependencies (drug addictions). Having learned that magic mushrooms are another type of plant medicine that are used in ceremonies, becoming curious and inspired by experiences with Ayahuasca and Iboga and other plant medicines, it became exciting to consider the power of magic mushrooms and to start a journey with them. Having limited prior knowledge that indoor mushroom cultivation exists and could be grown at home, it was only a matter of time before curiosity turned into passionate yearning.  We both owe a great thanks to sacred plant medicine ceremonies in lending us the opportunity to look at ourselves, for healing and bringing  into our lives an enriched sense of the beautiful people that we are. By no means does this mean we have substituted our drug use by taking psychedelic drugs.

 Plant medicines ceremonies are sacred and can be held in many different ways, and for us when it comes to holding ceremony, we find it invaluable to wait 1-3 months in between. Sometimes there can be ceremony back to back, two ceremonies in two days, but then focus on integration. We at this point have only taken one ceremony at a time, one day, and then waited. We find integration to be an essential part of the process. Integration requires time between in order to take the insights that were gained from the plant medicines and explore/live out of that wisdom. Both of us have history with addiction and daily dependence. One of us has struggled with intravenous drugs and homelessness. Our paths have been independent and very different at times, but we both had an undeniable sense of urgency and need to be taking strong and harmful chemicals. As such, we both see it necessary to respect the plant medicine ceremonies and to fully integrate our experiences and not to be recklessly taking mushrooms in order to find some sort of escape. Instead, we find ourselves living in grace for blessings that have come from the use of plant medicines.

 We have found a lot of insights into ourselves that we have been able to carry with us out of the ceremonies. We have carried into our daily lives a new found appreciation for who we are, what we are doing with our lives, the love that we share with each other, for ourselves, for our friends and family and gratitude for the blessings that we have everyday. I don’t know about anybody reading this, but for me, to be able to find gratitude for who I am, the blessings in my life and the love that I share with friends and family is everything and more. To be able to know myself better from a psilocybin mushroom ceremony, knowing the love that I have to share and seeing the love that is all around me is something I couldn’t put a price on – and something that in the past I couldn’t have imagined would come out of a plant medicine ceremony. We do not ingest the fungi often, these are lasting effects from genuine, heartfelt and inspiring experiences that were gifts of plant medicine ceremonies.

What tips would you have for people who are starting out?

 Depending on your current financial situation, be ready for money to be tight, and if you can, don’t obsess about it. We’re obviously looking to turn a modest profit, as we already shared. However, the intention behind these changes in our lives are born out of a spiritually sick relationship with money including how money has been earned for us in the past. Money stress is terrible and this kind of thing does require some financial investments that can add up pretty quick. These costs are short term costs, as the perpetual cycle of growth and rebirth of the plants will compensate the original investment. If managed properly and handled responsibly, the money returned for the hard days of work can effectively be reinvested into the system and create an opportunity for prosperity. If this is something you’re about to start doing yourself, do your research and buy what you need, leave the rest. There’s a whole bunch of fancy stuff out there, especially in the realm of growing. We put the most of our money and our energy into our soil. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in this process, is that it all comes down to soil. You can have the best temperature, tools, state of the art lights etc. but if your soil is sick nothing will thrive. So that’s where we invested.

 We also made this what we do. So we don’t have money to spend but we don’t need to go out and do stuff. We were in a position with just enough money to get started on this adventure; nothing else to spare. It’s hard to give any sort of approximate sense of what that looks like financially because everybody’s space and size, as well as goals, are completely different. All we know is that we had just enough money to get started. Every dollar coming in goes to our bills or our plants. Thankfully we love what we’re doing, we have a great time learning about this stuff and we love getting dirty in the soil. We have a blast going to the spring to collect water and take our dogs with us. Spending time being with the plants after we’ve watered feels like being outside after a rainfall — the smell and the feeling in the air. Watching them grow is a joy and we are very busy with them so we aren’t left wanting to spend money on other stuff! If you are growing for personal use, you don’t need a ton of stuff and can get started fairly quickly. Have fun with it. Again, if you have questions, please ask!!! @TheBluestHeron – we’ll be happy to provide resources that have been invaluable to us.

 If you do plan to embark on growing and building relationships with either cannabis or mushrooms, please do your research around legality so you can make informed choices. Although having long histories of medicinal and therapeutic use, both weed and mushrooms carry criminalization. Even though weed is legal, there are specifications for growing and licensing requirements that you may choose to follow. You can order spores for mushrooms online and grow kits but that is where things end. Pharmaceutical companies have a lot to lose if people have access to these beautiful teachers and friends. 

Recipes

Illustration of various breakfast ingredients to make a "deluxe breakfast sandwich" Text reads "Avocado & Egg Toast"

A Small Collection of The Peak Collective’s Favourite Meals.

By: The Peak Collective

“Deluxe Breakfast sandwich” Illustration by SoySuki

Ciana’s Spanish Style Rice and Beans 

Easy. Vegetarian. Budget-Friendly.

What you need:
-  1 ½ cups of rice (long grain works best)
- 2 cups of water
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced 
- Half an onion, chopped
- Half a jar of salsa, about 1 cups (mild, medium or spicy whatever you like!)
- 1 can of black beans (rinsed and drained)
- 1 Tbsp Oil (olive oil is best, but use whatever you have)
- 1 tsp of salt, pepper and cumin* (optional)
Directions:
- Add oil to saucepan over medium heat.  Add your chopped onion and saute for 5 mins until translucent.
- Add rice. Stir. You want your rice to be nice and covered with the oil and onion. 
- Add garlic.
- Add water, beans, salsa and spices. Bring to a boil then simmer for 25 minutes covered.
- Serve! Eat plain or with toppings like cheese, avocado or protein of your choice. You can also add to a tortilla and make it burrito style.

Mina’s Pico de Gallo aka homemade salsa 

Easy, Vegan, Budget Friendly

What you need: 
- Two large tomatoes
- One white onion
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro
- One jalapeno 
- 1 teaspoon salt 
- One lemon

Directions:
- Dice the tomatoes
- Mince the onion - if it is a small onion use whole, if it is a big onion use half 
- Add the salt and juice from the lemon and crush up the mixture with your hands until the juice is released from the tomatoes 
- Mince the jalapeno and add it to the mixture 
- Mince the cilantro and at it 
- Stir together and eat with nacho chips or on top of rice!

Hauwa’s Deluxe Breakfast Sandwich 

Easy, interchangeable ingredients, budget-friendly!

What you need:
Bagel
Herb & garlic cream cheese 
Avocado
Tomato
Onion
Bacon
Egg
Hot Sauce
Salt & Pepper


Directions:
Toast bagel
Slice tomato into 2 thin slices 
Cut avocado and scoop out half 
Slice onion thinly and saute 
Fry 2 eggs in the same pan as onion for taste!
Cook bacon (or meat alternative)
Spread cream cheese on bagel, add avocado, tomato and onion slices
Add eggs and bacon on top 
Add hot sauce and salt & pepper to taste

Enjoy!!

Add or remove ingredients to your preference or dietary restrictions.
Some alternatives I enjoy are: smoked salmon, melted cheese,
spinach, hot peppers etc.
And you can make it vegetarian, vegan or gluten free! Yum!

Temi’s Amazing Spaghetti

Easy. Interchangeable Ingredients. Budget-Friendly

What you need:
Spaghetti as much as you need 
1 of each: red, yellow, green and orange bell peppers.
Add other veggies you like, I love the flavour of celery in this!
Half an onion
1 scotch bonnet, 2 if you tryna feel the heat
1 large clove of garlic
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
Seasoning and herbs: salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, basil,
curry powder and 1 knorr (bouillon) cube. 
Protein of your choice or none. I usually use shrimp or stewing beef.
For this recipe we’re using stewing beef. 
Cooking oil


Directions:
Chop onions, garlic and bell peppers and beef into your preferred size.
Throw that spaghetti in some boiling water
You can use a different pan for this step but if you’re too lazy to do dishes
like me then just wait till your spaghetti is ready. Drain your spaghetti and
keep it aside. Then put some oil in the pot and wait till it’s hot. 
Put the beef in and when it’s sizzling throw in the garlic,
onions and scotch bonnets. Stir for about 2 minutes, add bell peppers and
let simmer with the lid for 5 minutes.
Add the pasta sauce and seasoning to your liking.
Make sure you taste it so it’s not bland when you’re done.
When it tastes right add in the spaghetti and a lil bit off water
so it doesn’t dry out and turn the heat just below medium.
Mix it all together and let it be till the water dries out and
the spaghetti is the level of softness you like. If it is not then add some more water bro. 
That is all, enjoy your meal!

Bonus! Roasted Curried Cauliflower

Easy. Vegan. Budget-Friendly 

What you need:
1 large cauliflower 
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of curry powder 
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of salt and black pepper 
Optional:1 tsp chili flakes or cayenne pepper 


Directions:
Set oven to bake at 350
Cut the cauliflower into small or medium size florets 
Add to florets to large mixing bowl
Add oil, curry powder, salt, pepper, cumin and chili flakes (if using) to the bowl.
Mix the cauliflower well so all pieces are covered with spices and oil
Spread cauliflower evenly onto a baking sheet 
Put in oven and roast for 25 minutes or until cauliflower has crispy brown edges 
If you like spicy, drizzle some sriracha on top once it’s cooled down!

When the Forgotten Resist

black and white photo of a stack of letters onto of fanned out pile of mailing envelopes

by Mina Ramos

On September 17th 2013, 191 immigration detainees at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay ON collectively went on a hunger strike. At the time, it was one of the largest prisoner hunger strikes in Canadian history and the first time immigration detainees in Canada protested for their rights en masse. Since then, detainees incarcerated in Lindsay, ON have been fighting alongside former detainees and allies to put an end to immigration detention in Canada.

Background on Immigration Detention

At the very basics, immigration detention is a tactic used by the Canadian government to jail migrants. Many immigration laws have been changed in the last 5 years that it doesn’t matter if you are undocumented, a refugee claimant, permanent resident or citizen. As long as you weren’t born here, you can be subjected to immigration detention.

Here’s an overview of how people become immigration detainees in Canada:

  • They commit a crime in Canada. This can be any type of crime. It doesn’t matter how long they have lived here; their status can be taken away and they can be placed in immigration detention
  • They had some sort of visa and it expired. Maybe they were applying for permanent residency, maybe they were waiting for another visa to be processed. Doesn’t matter. If they are caught, they will be placed in immigration detention.
  • They show up at the airport to make a refugee claim, but the government thinks the claim is a fraud or that their papers or identity aren’t real/true. They will get arrested at the airport and be placed in immigration detention.

The government likes to call immigration detention, “administrative hold”. They say this because technically immigration detainees aren’t actually serving time for criminal offenses. Canada has just decided that they don’t deserve to live in Canada anymore and keeps people detained until they find somewhere to deport them to. Even if someone commits a crime with a prison sentence, they first serve the sentence for their crime and then get put under immigration detention. The problem is, “administrative hold” can mean anywhere from 2 days to 10 years and detainees never know if they are going to win their case and be given bail in Canada or deported back to a country where they: a) are in danger b) have not been to in years c) have never been to at all

Because detainees are technically not serving time, the government also gets away with never giving detainees an actual trial. They have something called a “detention review.” It happens once a month and is the only way a detainee can get out of detention. Instead of a judge, they have a randomly appointed member of the Immigration Review Board (ie. The people who helped to put them in jail in the first place) who meets with detainees over something similar to skype. The whole process is such a joke and the release rates are so low that in June of 2014 detainees in three different prisons including the Central East Correctional Centre boycotted their reviews for the month. To give a statistical view of release rates; in 2013, 7,000 people were held in immigration detention but only 711 or 9% were actually released. In fact, Canada is one of the only “western” countries in the world that doesn’t have a set limit on how long someone can be detained for. It is all based on the detention review process.

In the past eight years, over 100,000 people have been held in immigration detention. Hundreds of these detainees are children. In 2013, 205 children were detained in Canada’s immigration holding centres. Although there are 3 designated immigration holding centres (with a fourth being built in Toronto as we speak), almost a third of all immigration detainees are also held in maximum security prisons. Despite some of the obvious human rights issues with immigration detention, millions of dollars are invested in maintaining this system. Canada Borders Services Agency (CBSA) who play a huge role in detaining people has had their budget balloon from 91 million dollars in 2010 to 165 million dollars in 2014-2015.

To be clear, immigration detention does not affect immigrants coming to Canada equally. 90% of immigration detainees at any point in time are racialized and approximately 75%-80% of all detainees are black. It becomes quite apparent that race plays a huge role in terms of who is profiled and targeted for immigration detention and who isn’t.

Detainees Organizing from Inside the CECC

In August of 2013, the ministry of public safety decided to merge a bunch of detainees from different prisons across Southern Ontario into one unit at the CECC in Lindsay ON; a maximum security prison.

The detainees who had been moved were angry. The move had happened without warning and the majority of them were now hours away from their lawyers and family. Unlike many jails across Canada there was no rehabilitative programming and no opportunities for paid work. With the average prison wage rate of 3 dollars a day across Canada, prison work is nothing to boast about. To go from that to nothing however, was a shock. On top of this, the detainees were being subjected to inhumane living conditions. This included constant lockdowns (which basically means never being let out of the cell), rotten food and mould in the cells and showers.

It was under these circumstances that their hunger strike began in September 2013. The detainees in Lindsay ON were in a unique position. They had previously been scattered across Ontario and for the first time they were clumped together in a large group. They started to talk. They realized that immigration detention itself was extremely problematic. They began to question why they were being held in maximum security prisons when they didn’t have charges or why there was no limit to how long they were being detained. They noticed that because they were on immigration hold, they were not getting equal access to the bail program even if/when they had someone to bail them out. Within the first week of the hunger strike, immigration detainees re-focused and changed their demands drastically. They were now focused on 3 things:

  • 1 – End arbitrary and indefinite detention: Implement a 90 day maximum to detention. If removal (deportation) cannot happen within 90 days, immigration detainees must be released. This is recommended by the United Nations, and is the law in the United States and the European Union.
  • No maximum security holds: Immigration detainees should not be held in maximum security provincial jails.
  • Give immigration detainees fair and full access to legal aid, bail programs and pro bono representation.

Detainees connected with migrant justice organizers on the outside and a phone line (which continues to run to this day) was started to keep up active communication with detainees in Lindsay ON. The collective hunger strike officially ended in the beginning of October but detainees continued to organize. Over the last two and a half years they have drafted and snuck out collective statements and petitions against immigration detention, boycotted their detention reviews, held cell walkouts, had fasts, held meetings to negotiate with CBSA and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and done an exuberant amount of media. Despite all of this, nothing has been done to change any of the laws in respects to immigration detention.

Transformative Justice and Immigration Detention

I have worked on the phone line that connects to detainees since September 17th 2013 and have seen how remarkable their organizing has been. It is difficult to sustain organizing in a prison, let alone when you are also at threat of being deported. Despite this, the guys continuously take risks to speak out and come up with new ideas to fight for their freedom. They hold range meetings and educate new detainees when they are brought in about Canada’s immigration system and why immigration detention is unjust. Packages sent in by allies which contain a history of immigration detention, actions that have been taken to fight against it and media coverage on immigration issues are used to help educate new detainees about their situation.

Apart from the organizing aspect, the detainees look out for each other.  Many of them do not speak English and have a hard time advocating for themselves. Often, older detainees will work to try and connect non-English speaking detainees to those that can speak their language to help translate when they need to make phone calls and speak to their lawyers. Although the guys do fight, whenever someone is sent to segregation they call the phone line to check in to see if their friends have called from segregation and are okay. In 2015, when Abdurrahman Ibrahim Hassan died while locked up at the CECC, migrant justice organizers already knew what had happened before he was officially pronounced dead. This was because the guys worked together to know exactly what was going on when Hassan was originally taken out of his cell.

The phone line set up to maintain a connection with detainees and allies on the outside has played a huge role in laying down the foundations for a transformative movement. Although the line was started to hear and support the organizing being done by detainees, it has morphed to be much more than that. Overtime the line has helped to open up many different dialogues that might not have taken place otherwise. For example, in the beginning of their organizing, mental health was something that was rarely brought up by detainees. Through conversations on the line, mental health became a huge topic. As the guys felt less isolated, they opened up about mental health issues both on the line and with each other. In 2015, detainees collectively asked to be individually assessed by a psychotherapist to see how they have been mentally affected by immigration detention.

Although it still has a focus on organizing and bringing up things that come up in the jail, for some the line has also become a place to escape from immigration detention and talk about light hearted things. For others it has become a place to talk about systemic issues. A typical phone line day can look like getting into a debate over why detainees constantly state that they are not criminals and instead exploring the idea of prison abolition, to talking about dating and relationships and the first thing to order in terms of food once they get out of jail. As someone who is queer it has been such an indescribable experience coming out to detainees over time through the phone line and getting into all kinds of discussions around misogyny, patriarchy and homophobia. Since coming out as queer I have always had such a jaded view of cis straight men and at this point spend most of my Tuesdays getting into deep discussions with cis straight men that are deemed by the state as “inadmissible” to Canada but have more brilliance than the politicians who are demonizing them.

I will admit, the movement around immigration detention in Ontario has major fallbacks. Possibly the biggest shortcoming is the fact that at the moment there are very few black people involved in the movement who are not former detainees. This is not the fault of black organizers and community members but rather of migrant justice organizers who have historically failed to reach out and create genuine connections with different black communities or have straight up pushed out black folks from migrant justice organizations. The irony of working with mainly black folks in jail but having little to no black allies on the outside to connect to is too real. Over time, it has become a huge reality check for organizers working with detainees at the CECC to own up to the anti-black racism rooted in the migrant justice movement as it exists and begin to change dynamics that have led up to this. Although I write this article to demonstrate the transformative aspects of this movement, there is clearly a lot more work to be done.

Although many people remain locked up and too many have been deported, there are a few who have been successful in being released from immigration detention since 2013. Just last week, a group of former detainees and people running the phone line gathered for the first time as a group to hangout, eat food and strategize how to continue organizing with those on the inside. The guys exchanged news about different detainees still in jail, joked about sueing CBSA and gave each other advice on how to navigate getting ID’s, work permits, mental health resources…all kinds of things.  The feeling of people being together, some of us meeting each other in persyn for the first time is hard to explain in words. We couldn’t stop taking pictures joking about who would be the first one to post on Instagram. No one actively voiced what we were all feeling until after the hangout. The laws might not have changed but the fact that two and a half years later, the struggle to be free and the connection through the phone line has created deep bonds between the guys themselves and us on the line. Bonds that the system hasn’t been able to break despite their best efforts. That people are still so committed to fighting and through the fight have learnt so much about themselves, each other and the ways that we relate to each other as humans is beautiful. That this means we are winning. If that’s not transformative I’m not sure what is.


mina sitting on a the ground with her arms behind her and smiling

Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that centre on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.

At the End of a Beginning

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Mina Ramos

Content Warning: Abortions 

For the last year, most conversations with my friends have been about babies. I mean let’s be real, we spend our fair share of time talking about dismantling white supremacy, the dreams we have for the future and making a ton of jokes no one else thinks is funny. In between though, it always comes back to babies. Who is having them, who we are having them with, when we are having them, and how we will raise them.

 Up until pretty recently, anytime the conversation turned to baby talk I would shut off. Even though I loved to play with kids, the thought of having a child made me feel sick; uneasy. I remember when I was dating someone who wanted to be a doula. I wanted to be supportive, but when she would talk about how excited she was, I would change the subject. I felt bad, but the thought of her helping deliver a baby made me panic. Any talk about childbirth made me panic. I was set on the idea that I would never give birth. Instead, I would be everyone’s favourite Auntie and I was okay with that.

I had been pregnant once. When I was 19 years-old. I got an abortion only days before the average cut off point which is twelve weeks in Canada (some clinics will perform abortions up to twenty-two weeks though). Although at the time, I knew it was okay to have an abortion and had the support of my immediate family; it was an experience that haunted me for several years.

I will always vividly remember the night I found out I was pregnant. It was my first year of university and I was living in residence. My boyfriend was still living in the town we grew up in. The night I found out, I had only been in school for three weeks. Our residence was small; three floors to be exact. I lived in a “Living Learning Centre” called International House. You had to apply to get in and it was supposed to be a house of “diverse cultures.” It ended up being mainly white students studying International Development or what I call “white people wanting to save People of Colour.” It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The night I found out, someone on the first floor was having an, “I wear my sunglasses at night” dance party in their room. I was sitting on a toilet, in the washroom on the second floor. I could hear and feel the music from the party. I held the little plastic stick in my hands and stared at the two blue lines.

|| = Positive.

The stick in my hand made it that much more real. I remember crawling into bed, not bothering to turn on the light and starting to cry. Someone knocking on the door and asking why I wasn’t downstairs. I tried to make my voice sound as natural as possible and told them that I was just tired. The reality is that I had already known the moment my boyfriend pulled his dick out from inside of me and realized that the condom had broke. We had spent the whole day drinking and I remember laughing and saying; “Well, let’s hope it’s too drunk to know it’s way.” As soon as the words left my mouth I knew. As if the statement had started the process.

|| = Positive.

The plan had been to take the morning after pill but when I woke up the next morning I remembered it was a holiday and the pharmacy in my neighbourhood was closed and the busses were not running. We lived in a suburb outside of town and my mom didn’t understand why I needed the car. I was too ashamed to tell her why.

|| = Positive.

I started to notice pregnant women everywhere I went. Pregnant bellies in the foods that I ate; pregnant bellies as shapes in buildings. I remember my dad, who has an incredible gift of knowing when things are awry in my family asked if everything was okay. I told him things were fine. He said he had awoken from a dream that morning and knew something was wrong with one of our family members. He wondered if it was me. I told him not to worry.

For the first time I felt anxiety. Like a pile of bricks had fallen on my chest and I didn’t know how to take them off.

|| = Positive.

The next few weeks were a mixture of ups and downs. At the time, I was so excited to be in university; something that hadn’t felt real to me at the height of my drug use in high school. I wanted so badly to fit in. I was used to being around drug users and dealers. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people who had never thought about using drugs. People who talked real nice, wore Birkenstocks, were vegetarian and wanted to “change” things. I had this warped thing going on where I wanted to be like them but already felt like I was different and had this big secret I didn’t think they would approve of.

|| = Positive.

When I told my parents they were surprisingly supportive but told me to keep it a secret until I made a concrete decision. They were still ashamed. I told them that I would be keeping the baby. My boyfriend and I had quit using hard drugs together and I felt that our bond was strong enough to raise a child together. Although I was scared, I felt a weird exhilaration. I would smoke weed and lie in bed and talk to my baby. I couldn’t believe I had a little human growing inside of me.

|| = Positive.

I started to go home for appointments. Started getting morning sickness. My new friends wondered why I was going home so often. I told them I had an ulcer to explain why I couldn’t party and why I was sick so often. My boyfriend couldn’t handle the stress of it all and started using again. The day he took oxycontin with my brother after we went for my ultrasound, I started to feel small. He would show up drunk on weekends and wanted to have sex. I would push him away. Told him that I needed him to be sober. That only made things worse.

|| = Positive.

One morning I woke up and realized I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t picture myself in my 600 student classes with a pregnant belly. Couldn’t picture myself having a child with someone who was still a child. To be real, I still felt like a child too. I didn’t know myself yet. As much as I had grown to love the being inside of me, I wanted to know how to teach it about the world. I didn’t think this was possible when I didn’t even understand myself, let alone everything else.

|| = Positive.

The day before my abortion, my boyfriend’s mom called me and begged me not to go through with it. She said my boyfriend loved me and wanted to have the child with me. She said that she would help us raise it. That was the day I stopped loving him. I couldn’t love someone who didn’t understand where I was coming from.

|| = Positive.

At the clinic, the nurse asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to go ahead with the abortion. I wanted to slap her. As if I hadn’t thought about it thoroughly. Waves of sadness swept over me as I layed on the operating table. Faces with eyes poking out from behind surgical masks stared down at me. I didn’t know these people. The room was too white, too sterile; devoid of emotions. Didn’t my baby and I deserve a better ceremony to say goodbye?

[DEATH]

As soon as they took my baby out of me I felt empty. Like the shell of a human. I went home and smoked with a friend who didn’t have a clue. When he left I curled into the fetal position and whimpered, alone.

I couldn’t sleep. When I did, I had nightmares. I was anxious all the time. I felt like I had to confess something to the universe but I was choked for words. I thought I felt this way because of what I had done. That I had selfishly killed something I loved. I dreaded my boyfriends visits. Made excuses not to see him. Got closer with the girls on my floor. Started to talk a bit about my abortion. Always in a veil of secrecy. One friend who was particularly close suggested I sleep beside her. That it might help with the nightmares. She would leave the door of her dorm unlocked and I would stay with her. I always felt safe in her arms. I broke up with my boyfriend and my abortion became a distant memory.

[HEALING]

Years passed, and I thought I was fine but something nagged at me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. My life had changed drastically. I came out as queer. My “close” friend from residence had awoken something inside of me that had always been there but had been dormant. I began to surround myself with queer people and started to explore my relationship to being racialized. Made more friends of colour. Friends who had beliefs I had always felt at the core of my heart but never had the words or the space to express what I felt.

[HEALING]

I started to talk about my abortion. Realized that some of these friends had also had abortions. It dawned on me that if I respected these people so much who had gone through the experience of abortion I might not be the monster I thought that I was. I also noticed that some people were not traumatized by their experience like I was. Our conversations helped me to understand that so many things impact the way that you feel about your experience with pregnancy and abortion. My experience had been one filled with stigma and a fear of judgement. Even when I told people it was always in secret. I realized my experience at the clinic was radically different than clinics like Planned Parenthood. Although they offered the service, they were not trained to support someone emotionally, through an abortion. Because of this, my procedure had been one of anxiety and stress. I also learned that there were other ways of undergoing abortions that didn’t involve a clinic at all. That herbal abortions were a very real option that some friends had either done by themselves or with the support of a herbalist.

[HEALING]

One day I was sitting in a workshop by Robin Rose Bennett, a white herbalist from New Jersey. The workshop was focused on the plant commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot. Queen Anne’s Lace is an incredible plant because it can act as a contraceptive but can also help with getting pregnant depending on how it’s used. During that workshop she said something that I will never forget. She was talking about abortions and said that they are always difficult for the body because bodies that have vaginas are still biologically geared to have babies. That it is a shock to the system when we are forcing our bodies to do the opposite of what it was intended to do and that we need to soothe our bodies so we can trust ourselves to open up to an invasive procedure like an abortion.

She also talked about unborn babies in a way I had never heard of before. Bennett explained that all souls in the universe exist indefinitely; because they are souls. If you choose not to birth that soul into the human world that soul does not die. However, for some who create a connection with that soul it can cause trauma because there is no process of grieving to acknowledge the connection that was lost through the abortion. I had never thought about it that way. Immediately a weight had been lifted. My baby was being held by the universe; waiting for the right time to be born on earth by whomever it was actually destined to be born by. The conversation I had felt choked for words was one I was supposed to have with that soul. To say goodbye on my own terms.

[HEALING]

A year later I had the opportunity of also hearing Loretta Ross speak, an incredible Black woman who lead the reproductive justice movement in the 2000s. In 2004, Loretta held the largest march in US history with over one million people called the March for Women’s Lives.

Hearing her talk about openly about her abortion and her experience organizing had an indescribable effect on me. Her presence was one of strength and confidence; she was unashamed. In fact she was proud that she had been able to make a choice over her own body. It dawned on me that her abortion had paved the way for her destiny to speak publically about women’s rights to having supportive bodily autonomy. I started to think about my own abortion. How differently my life would have been if I had proceeded with the pregnancy. Although it was the hardest thing I had ever gone through, I realized my experience with pregnancy and abortion had actually been a blessing. A blessing. Through my abortion a different life path was created that actually brought me closer to myself. Brought me closer to my ideas, values beliefs. To a friend group I consider family and a community where I am daily inspired amidst the struggles.

Sometimes I wonder if my baby who knew I loved it from the very beginning brought that path to me knowing that if I did choose to have a child in the future I would be ready.

After Loretta’s talk, I started to have the ability of talking publicly about my abortion in conversation. I started to warm up to the idea of parenting although I did not want to have a child. It was an interesting experience as I sat in a queer parenting planning class with a former partner as we watched a home birth video. As I heard her half joke that she was re-thinking the whole pregnancy thing I had a strange thing hit me. I realized I did still want to give birth. That almost eight years later, my body is starting to feel ready; that I am starting to feel ready. I’m not entirely sure when this will happen, who it will happen with or how it will happen. I know that I am still growing, that I still have a lot to learn. That so far this experience has brought me closer to faith, to truly believing in higher powers and the ability to heal in ways I had never imagined were possible. Amidst my little doubts and fears that linger in my insecurities, when I am the most grounded I have a deeper sense of excitement for what is to come.


Mina Ramos
Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina based out of Guelph, Ontratio. She is a radio broadcaster and is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that center on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.

Mental Health in Detention

black and white photo of butterfly

Finding Freedom

By Mina Ramos

Since 2013, different individuals detained at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) for immigration reasons have been fighting for their freedom and to end immigration detention. M was involved in the initial hunger strike in 2013 that started a series of organizing from within the CECC. 

Although he is now released, M still works with several different organizations to support migrants coming into this country and to end immigration detention. I sat down with M to talk about his experience balancing his mental health while in detention and his ideas as to what can be done to create a world centered on humanity.

Mina: What was your overall experience like while in immigration detention?

M: Throughout the whole ordeal, it was basically CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency‎) going back and forth with the country I was born in trying to confirm my identity and CBSA trying to get identity documents for me. It’s hard to describe the feel of being incarcerated in a maximum security prison. You’re going through the routine on a daily basis as to what they want you to do, how they want you to live, down to what they want you to eat. The conditions there were horrible. I can’t tell you enough about what people who are incarcerated go through. Communication was the biggest aspect of it. You’re going through so many different things and you want to talk to your lawyer but that was so hard because with the system that is setup up you are making collect calls. Sometimes the people you have to call, can’t call take collect calls because there is a menu and they have to setup up calling you direct. Sometimes instead they’ll set up a meeting to come visit but this is also hard for them to make the time for because the jail I was in was so far away.

As far as hygiene, healthcare, medication, all they could really do was issue you anti-depressants. That was the easiest thing you could get. Once you’re on these pills, it alters your mind and you are pretty much dependent on that. They are so quick to issue these pills. There is so much more to healthcare that they don’t seem to understand. First of all, if of you need a psychiatrist, there is no help. For the time I was in jail, I never once saw a psychiatrist because CBSA knows that if a psychiatrist diagnoses you with mental health issues it becomes more difficult to deport you. So they deny you this access.

It’s an everyday fight because you are locked up with people who are sentenced with crimes and regardless of your viewpoints on prison, it messes with you that you have no convictions while on immigration hold, but are still in jail because you are an immigrant. That takes a toll on your soul, on your mental capability just to be human. You have to understand, you don’t even know why you are there in the first place and they will never really tell you because all it is is that they are trying to deport you but for whatever reason they can’t put you on the plane. So you are just there wasting away. You start to lose ties to your family outside who can’t visit you often. When they do, the visits are only twenty minutes. In twenty minutes you can’t really have an actual conversation. I would tell my family not to come because I didn’t want to put them through that strain. The fact that you are in a prison uniform alone discourages you everyday.

One time, I went to go see a doctor and I will never forget this scenario; when I was in the elevator and I was in chains. There was a kid in the elevator and he’s looking at me and asks his father “What did this guy do”. This was a four year-old kid. So, him seeing me would probably remain in his brain the rest of life. He probably has never seen something like this. He’s looking at me like, “this man is in chains. Why? I don’t understand.”

This is the type of image that CBSA projects.

Mina: You mentioned you had to deal with the stress of being in jail and then on top of that not knowing if you would be deported or released. How did you deal with that?

M: I don’t know. I don’t want to say I was strong-minded because that would send the wrong message. What CBSA tries to do is break you into submission. Everyday you go onto the range and manage to play games. it becomes your entire life that just repeats. Everyday you get up and do the same things. The lack of communication to the outside world makes it that jail is all you think about. You’re with thirty to forty people in the same situation. Naturally there is drama. People are frustrated and when they are frustrated, it leads to violence. There was a lot of violence. Some of it I am not proud of, but order has to be maintained in any society. In a jail society, there are so many power struggles and to deal with this you have to be strong mentally and physically. During all that stress, the only outlet that I had was working out. I made sure that I built my body and stayed healthy as much as that could help me. Even working out though is not pleasure. You had to get your mind in the fact that anything could happen. You see people stabbed and passing out. Immigration detention is a situation where people can die. I told myself I am not going to die in here and that kept me strong. I decided I would organize myself and make sure I let people know what was going on. A lot of times organizing and building awareness from inside jail on what I was going through is what kept me going.

 Mina: What specific mental health resources were there why you were in jail?

M: It wasn’t about the system diagnosing you. It was about telling the nurse “I can’t sleep” or I am thinking about this or that. The dominant prescription they would give you is Seroquel and it has some major side effects. That stuff was everywhere, it was like water. There were so many people on it and it would get your mind weak and people were being taken advantage of. You’re not really sober enough to understand what is going on around you. You are basically sleep-walking and attracting violence.

Mina: It’s been over three years since you’ve been detained. What was your transition out of jail like and how have you managed to keep yourself grounded?

M: Listen, I have seen so many psychiatrists since I’ve been out and the most common thing they say is that I have PTSD. They say man, you have so much trauma something really serious must have happened to you.

I don’t like to believe this because I like to stay strong especially when dealing with my kids and my daily outside life. I have a very supportive family that has helped me throughout. There are slips that happen. There are different ways that I cope. Every morning I tell myself today is gonna be a better day. That’s it. Sometimes I drink a lot. Me knowing myself before I went through this whole dilemma, I was taking care of myself and I was able to work and provided for myself but the stress that is related to this doesn’t allow yourself to see you that way. And there are minimal things that the public healthcare can do for you. Half the help I am seeking I am paying out of my pocket. The damage is done. You got to understand I spent three and a half years in maximum security prison. There is no freedom and you’ve been told this over and over again while you are in there. This has such a huge impact on what your life is during and after. Not everyone has the same experience than me, but I can tell you about my foundation. Some of the experiences I’ve been through before this all happened, I think equipped me to deal with everything CBSA put me through.

So here I am, three and a half years later and I notice that I am not myself. When I am dealing with my kids sometimes I yell. Sometimes I get aggressive even though I know that it’s not their fault.  Who do I blame in this case? I can’t blame anybody, it’s my life. That’s what I mean when I say the damage is done. I can’t find any answers to it, it doesn’t matter how many psychiatrists I see a day, I am still struggling. Some of the people I have been locked up with are also released but they are doing way worse than I am. Some of them turn to drugs. Some of them can’t cope. There has been instances where people got deported to their own countries and commit suicide. It’s so hypocritical, some people came here to seek refuge, get incarcerated, get deported back to the country where they were seeking refuge and then kill themselves. Where is the guilt? The government has to respond to these situation? If Canada is supposed to be a safe haven of the modern world, then why is this happening? What are people supposed to do? The system dedicates itself to keeping this image in the world. They say come here but the reality is that they detain you. Imagine people come searching for a better life and end up in prison. This is something that a lot of people can’t cope with.

Is Canada here to help or is Canada here to destroy? What they are doing is violence.

 Mina: Since you’ve been detained, you’ve been organizing in different ways to work with people to carve out a little bit more humanity in the world. Part of this has involved working to end immigration detention. Beyond these things, what does it mean to create a liberated world that takes into account the trauma that people have gone through?

M: My principle is pro-humanity. My principle is anti-detention. There has to be an alternative to this. I mean I understand that prisons are supposed to create opportunities for employment and economy for communities, but human nature dictates otherwise. Human nature tells us how to be humane regardless of what your status is or the crimes you have committed. So, for an entire institution to be built on this, people are making money somewhere. It costs two hundred and fifty dollars a day  to keep someone in immigration detention and this is taxpayer money. This is where your money is going.

These thoughts are what inspired and sparked myself and others to go on a hunger strike back in 2013. For me it lasted thirty-two days in order to have some sort of affirmative response. I had to starve myself just to get the bail program and and for CBSA to listen. During this time, they came to me and said, you have to stop and I told them this is my god-given right. I was sickened with their laws so I had to do something. I had to organize people to make them understand that we don’t have to be in this situation and I had to help them believe this.

Moving forward, we got to centralize the people who have been through this. You got to get to know them. You have to understand that they’ve been through so much atrocity that some of these people are not in their right minds now. So you have to organize some basic foundation that people can lean on. We have to get people their basic needs as in what they need to survive. We have to get people work permits. Most of these people are willing to work but you can’t even get a work permit even after everything you’ve been through. There are no workshops that are guaranteed to you, nothing that really helps you along the way once you are released. We need this.

In order for you to understand my trail of thoughts, you have to put yourself in my position. I’ve witnessed death and people being kept in some pretty seriously inhumane conditions. On the flip side, when speaking out about this I’ve had people approach me to tell my story for their own personal gain. Don’t take mine or anyone else’s misfortunes for personal gain; ever. To understand what goes on in these maximum security prisons you have to be in one. No matter how much you read about it or speak to people about it, you will just never understand if you don’t go through it. Bigotry, in whatever way it plays out has no place in my world. If you do approach me or anyone else who has gone through this don’t ask hypocritical questions and devote your life to making real differences.

I am not a genius in politics. I don’t understand politics. What I do understand is humanity and this is the basis of what society was built on. We neglect humanity as much as we want, but my fight is not just for me and if people actually believe in humanity, people like Justin Trudeau should be booking time to talk to me.

I am not saying I would put myself on the front lines, because it takes a whole body of people to do this work, but I do work with certain networks and people who are on the same page with me. Governments have to think twice about their principles and philosophies about what it means to be human. I come from a small country but I see my people mobilize, which is my foundation, which is my root. Me being in Canada, I struggle everyday with mental health. I struggle with addiction. I am not ashamed to say it. What I know is that humanity as a whole will one day conquer. Because we are people of different backgrounds but one thing that we have in common is that when we centralize as humanity no one will defeat us.

I am going to Manitoba today and I am going to be there to support people who are now coming into the country. Even though I have been through what I have been through, there is no way that I cannot support this people. These are times where I feel and I know that I can make a difference.

So yeah, this whole idea turns into who is in control and about who is dictating people’s lives and how we carve freedom from that.


Mina Ramos
Mina is a mixed race queer who is based out of Brampton ON. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues ground- ed in resistance movements of all kinds and the intricate connection to spiritual- ity but speci cally organizes in the realm of migrant justice

Truth On the Airwaves

An illustration of an old school radio with a sketch of a raised fist above it

Community Radio as a Tool for Social Justice

by Mina Ramos

They say you can’t understand resistance until you actually connect with it; the moment it hits your heart. When it resonates with you. My moment of connection began while studying abroad in Guatemala in 2011. I’d been travelling to Central America since I was little to visit my dad’s side of the family (I am mixed white European and Latina). But this time was different I was older, understood the world a bit more and was craving to know my people; to understand the significance of where I come from. Although my family is actually from El Salvador, I jumped on the opportunity to go. Guatemala shares a border with El Salvador. 

While there are differences (big and small), both countries hold similar histories and share Indigenous Mayan lineages. Throughout my semester abroad, as a class we took trips to learn firsthand about the history of the country and current political struggles. We met with indigenous communities resisting mining companies, former guerillas who had started intentional communities, different communities suing the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for fucking them over, Mayan people investing in permaculture without all the stupid entitlement and bullshit environmental rhetoric we see so often in North America.

It was so beautiful. It was urgent. Something I had never encountered before. It was also painful. I cried a lot. I remember the feelings I had as I learnt more about the atrocities that had occurred in the Guatemalan civil war. Taking in that during the war 200,000 Guatemalan people had been “disappeared”. 1

After my semester was over, I got in touch with the organization that had taken us on a few of the trips on my semester abroad. They are/were called Rights Action (to this day they do some incredible solidarity work). My ticket was for May but I didn’t feel like touristing around. I had gotten a group together who wanted to learn more about resistance movements and support in any way they could.


They called the civil wars that happened across Latin America the dirty wars because of the ways that people disappeared without a trace. Many people ended up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. To this day mass graves continue to be discovered across Latin America.

One of the members, Grahame Russell, asked if we would be willing to go to Honduras. Manuel Zelaya, a left leaning president had just been ousted in a military coup and Porfirio Lobo (a right wing extremist) had been put in his place. He told us that if we were willing to write articles once we returned, he would make sure someone could connect us to different resistance movements that were going on in the country.

When we got there, the country was in chaos. Under Lobo, corporations had been given permission to swoop in and essentially steal large portions of land. At that point, almost seventy percent of the land titles “officially” held in Honduras were under Canadian corporations. They were investing in the palm oil business and opening up, taking over or expanding mining companies. Building cruise ports and resorts for tourists.

I began to notice that everywhere we went communities had two things in common. The first thing I noticed was the amount of networking that was going on. Desperation had forced people to work with each other in ways that I had never seen before. It was unbelievable. Everyone had a role to play in the struggle down to the taxi drivers. I remember sitting in awe as I listened to a taxi driver recount how he had dropped out of the army and was now driving taxi by day and smuggling political leaders earmarked for death out of the country by night.

The second thing I noticed was that every single community we went to visit had a community radio station. At that point mainstream media was (and is still) highly controlled. Although there were alternative newspapers in the city, in the country, many communities could not read. I understood that community radio was essential to the functioning of all of the different movements I had witnessed.

It was used to inform, educate and keep people involved in the day to day activities of different movements. Radios were cheap to buy and radio stations were cheap to run. They always looked the same. A small room somewhere with one old computer, a two channel switch board, one microphone and a pair of headphones. So simple but so effective. There were general news shows, women’s rights shows, shows about unionizing, shows for the youth, shows explaining indigenous history, public health shows and of course incredible music shows run by community DJs.

I was impressed.

It sunk in that with all the technology in the world, community radio continues to be the only media technology that (after you buy the radio), is free. Anybody can tune in. Even though people have their own independent shows, I realized that community radio allowed these people to be part of something together. To have all of their different voices come together on one platform with the goal of speaking the truth. To have their experiences and stories heard. A true media for the people by the people.

I realized that for all the actions, struggles and stories that take place in the world; without a way to get them out, to connect them to each other, to bring them together; they disappear or are forgotten. Media gives us the opportunity to remember. Community media forces us to remember directly from the source.

After this experience, I grew such a big appreciation for community radio and all other grassroots media alternatives. Although I find that community radio here is whitewashed with way too many indie-music hipsters, my experience in Central America helps me to stay grounded in the idea of the importance of media to resist. 

That although it is important to get news out to the masses; when the platforms are owned by the people we are fighting against, we will always have to appeal to their discourse, frame it to their narrative, respond to their backlash; always worry how they will change the narrative and if they want to, shut us down.

We must never forget about the grassroots options we have and how to make use of them, especially in these times.

As I got the idea to write this article, I remembered that when my dad came to Canada he too became involved in community radio and used it as a platform to speak out about the war in El Salvador. It’s funny how things come full circle. I decided to interview my dad and end this piece with his thoughts about community radio and the role it plays in waging social justice and creating space to express our truths.

Mina Ramos: What was your first introduction to community radio?

Hugo Ramos: I came to Canada in the summer of 1983. By 1984, I found some friends in Quebec City. They were friends that I knew from the old country. So I quit my job and moved there. I had done some solidarity work for El Salvador in Toronto and Kitchener. Once I got to Quebec City, I got involved in a radio program that my friend Miguel and others had going in a community radio, Radio Basse ville in lower Quebec. This radio operated from a basement at an old building near a mall. In a very, very small place. The program was on Mondays for an hour about real news from El Salvador. The program was done within an hour in three languages: French, Spanish, English. It was therapy for all of us, we could talk reality over the pile of mostly fake news about the war of our little country.

Mina: How has community radio played a role in your life?

Hugo: Over the years at one point or another I have been in contact with community radio. Nowadays people call it alternative news; same thing. To me it is real news; news that can for the most part can go on the air unfiltered and raw. I’d rather tell people the truth, so does community radio…most of the time.

Almost 30 years after the little Quebec City project, I still keep in contact with community radio in El Salvador. Telling people the truth as much as it might hurt is important to me. Public radio like the CBC does not come close as to the truth that community radio has the potential to deliver.

Mina: From your perspective, why is community radio used as a tool for social change?

Hugo: Well, you as my daughter know that well enough. Community radio doesn’t need to kiss anybody’s ass! We as a social whole walk a very fine line of political correctness; it drives me nuts! The truth shouldn’t be painted pretty! The truth hurts, but then again so does a lie.

Social change can only be understood if the reality of it is put raw to the masses. We aren’t that naïve, and if we are, let the truth smack the shit of our fake reality. Community radio can do that. Community radio has a very big burden if it takes its responsibility seriously.

Mina: You have been involved in community radio both in North America and Central America. What are the similarities and differences in community radio between the two regions?

Hugo: None. People who want to give real news, will give it. People who want real news seek it. Community radio offers that platform. This is why Amy Goodman is successful with the program “Democracy now” It is a good thing to know that most people who want real news are somewhat intellectual, they want to understand beyond what is fakely given in the ordinary rich everyday media. The big conglomerate media spends millions understanding the populace ignorance because by understanding it, they can will it.

Mina: In your experience, has the face of community radio changed over time? In what ways has it changed/not changed?

Hugo: Very glad to have seen it changed! it has gotten bolder! Thumbs up for that!

Lets not forget that in the not so democratic countries sponsored by the g7 countries an average of 50 daring journalist are assassinated every year to say, or rather report the truth. Just in the little isthmus of the center of our “democratic” continent an average of 35 journalist are assassinated by systems that are deemed conveniently democratic even by our present barbie male prime minister.

Mina: In your eyes, how does community radio maintain its significance in the digital age?

Hugo: It is totally imperative that the voiceless have a voice! Bishop Romero, now saint of El Salvador, had a saying “la culebra solo pica al descalso” (“a snake only bites those who are shoeless”).

Mina: Who are the shoeless?

Hugo: The populace that can easily be manipulated. Ignorance isn’t bliss. ignorance is the ticket Baystreet exploits. The challenge of community radio is not to be intimidated. Community radio has to keep up with the latest technology, not easy as their budget aren’t in the billions. But be very much aware, community radio is badly needed by the hungry everyday joe who knows that all kind of caca is given at all hours of our lives by the millionaire mainstream media.

This is the reason why I sponsor as much community radio as I can. Real news must get to those who are lied to in a convenient way, just to make them another consumer of products that are made in countries that might not have as easy of an opportunity to voice their discontent.


About Mina
Mina is a mixed race queer who is based out of Brampton ON. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues grounded in resistance movements of all kinds and the intricate connection to spirituality but specifically organizes in the realm of migrant justice.