Westward Independent

North Cowichan Community Rallies for Safety and Inclusivity in Public Spaces

by Westward Independent
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Community Rally Highlights Urgent Call for Safe Spaces in North Cowichan

In a powerful display of community unity and concern, residents of North Cowichan gathered to address recent safety and privacy concerns at the Cowichan Aquatic Center. The rally, marked by poignant speeches and a call for action, highlighted the pressing need for re-evaluating public space policies to ensure the protection of women and children.

Watch the original video which sparked the response below.

March 26 protest

The protest follows a dispute at the Cowichan Aquatic Center on March 23, centred around a man’s presence in the women’s change room, which has spotlighted the complex balance between inclusivity and safety in public spaces. The incident, captured in a widely circulated video, has become a flashpoint in discussions about gender identity, with some community members arguing that efforts to create inclusive spaces for gender-diverse individuals are inadvertently compromising the safety and comfort of children and women.

For context, see:
https://wwind.ca/safety-and-space-the-cowichan-aquatic-center-incident-ignites-concern-for-children-and-womens-rights/
https://wwind.ca/new-perspectives-emerge-in-cowichan-aquatic-center-incident-highlighting-concerns-for-childrens-safety/

The situation, as told by Serena Winterburn is quoted,
“The mother said to me, and I quote;
We believe in gender fluidity. This is not what it was about.
There were accusations of this being a racial issue by this family who is First Nations. That is not the truth as to what happened.
The second accusation was that this was a trans issue and that is not the truth.”
Winterburn further set the stage, “This was a safety concern because she had a ten-year-old daughter in the change room and she was also with her ten-year-old cousin in the change room. This was the women’s change room that they were in, not the universal change room.” She concluded, “What happened was, they were made to feel uncomfortable. Multiple families were witnessed coming out of the change room and putting in complaints at the front desk.”

Winterburn, the main speaker at the event, introduced several speakers to address the crowd. Among community advocates and support persons, members of the Conservative Party made their presence known. John Koury, an MLA Candidate for the Conservative party, called for common sense and political engagement resonated with the crowd as he highlighted the transformative power of the community’s voice in effecting change. He urged, “It’s up to us to make the change through our human agency… elections matter. Get involved with your campaigns.”

Winterburn brought attention back to the specific incident, clarifying its context and dispelling misconceptions about it being a trans issue or related to the LGBTQ+ community. She stressed, “This is about inclusivity… This was a safety concern because she had a ten-year-old daughter in the change room… it’s not an issue of inclusivity and this is not an issue of representing everyone’s rights.”

Image: Rose Henry addressing the crowd

Rose Henry, a local native elder and civil rights activist, called for education and understanding, particularly around transgender issues, urging a nonviolent approach to advocacy and change. “Your very presence here is showing that this is a community that does care about what is happening. We have some excellent leaders here showing our young ones, our little ones,” Rose spoke to her 55 years of advocacy, on the rights of indigenous people and rights of women. She explained, “I see the humanness first. And so, you know, we need to move up into the actions. We need to talk to our municipal governments. Our city council people need to hear our voices”

Among the crowd was Bridget, a woman who was in the changing room at the same time the accused man in question was getting changed in front of 2 underage girls. She commented, “I thought, what the heck is he doing in here?” In reference to Natus, the man from the original video. “When I came out, he was in his swim trunks, putting his clothes into the locker… I went out and I addressed it to the lady on the front right away that there was a man in the change room.”

According to the report, several other people had brought the issue to the attention of the staff. RCMP is still asking for witnesses to the event, if anyone has additional information they are encouraged to contact the non-emergency line at 250-748-5522.

Savanah Wright, one of the event organizers comments on the event stated, “How does a misunderstanding go to a ten-year-old little girl being pushed up against a wall by a full-grown man?” She explained, “It is opening the door for anybody, any man to say, I’m a lady with a beard, there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, you know what? There is something we can do about it. And we are here and we are sick and tired of regulations, policies and ideologies.”

Community’s Commitment to Inclusivity

Throughout the rally, speakers and participants alike made it clear that advocating for safe spaces does not detract from the rights of trans and LGBTQ+ individuals. Instead, the community’s stance was one of inclusivity, seeking solutions that respect and protect all individuals.

“This is a bigger issue that is taking place beyond just the swimming pool. We need these safe spaces all throughout our community, and these spaces need to be protected for girls, women, boys, men and our trans community.” Community members who took to the microphone shared in those viewpoints. Marina Sapozhnikov, also an MLA Candidate for the Juan De Fuca-Malahat riding stated, “Trans-identifying individuals can and should be accommodated without infringing on other people’s rights. In this case, it’s infringing on women’s rights to have protected spaces.” She finished with, “This incident should never have happened. Thank you.”

Winterburn concluded with thoughts and prayers to the family who was attacked during the incident, the original event caught on film. “Don’t forget who we’re standing here for today. Yes, all of our children. But how about that family that was impacted? Who is still healing? That child experienced trauma. That mother experienced trauma. Let’s think about this for a moment. When we speak up and say we don’t feel safe or uncomfortable, we go so far as to find the courage to advocate for ourselves, to our parents and say, I don’t feel comfortable. I had to leave that space. Well, bravo, young girls, for leaving that space. Thank you for listening to yourself. Thank you for going to an adult who is trusted. Thank you to that mother for understanding her responsibility and her obligation to investigate this situation, to inquire about this situation, to try to fix the situation and the violence that they faced by three adults, not just to the mother, but to the child.”

The rally in North Cowichan stands as a testament to the community’s resilience and commitment to dialogue, safety, and inclusivity. The calls to action, emphasizing policy engagement, respectful dialogue, and community involvement, point toward a future where all members can feel safe and respected.

The investigation is still ongoing, we will update the article with more information as it emerges.

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