Vanslam Incident Statement – Re: Community Values -Nov 14/21 2016
On Nov 14th and 21st we had two separate but equally troubling incidents at the Vancouver Poetry Slam. In each of these incidents a person was removed from the cafe for use of abusive/racist and sexist language. In the incident on the 14th the police were called to the cafe to ensure the safety of the event/cafe staff and participants. This incident also involved verbal threats and threatening physical contact with members of the community. Though there were attempts by the staff/ volunteers on both counts to de-escalate and reason with the parties in question, the end result was that the offending parties were removed. Once the police arrived and spoke with the individual in question, the situation was diffused and the individual was able to go home without further incident. While we regret the need to call the police to our event, I believe it was a necessary decision; the safety of our members and attendees is of utmost importance to us at the Vancouver Poetry Slam and its parent organization, Vancouver Poetry House. Our 20 year legacy of working toward safe spaces for our members is invaluable to us and we will continue to work with our community members to protect the integrity of that safety.
I wish that I could say that these incidents were surprising and even isolated. The unfortunate truth is that it seems we are entering a political climate where we may expect to see many more situations like this. While we value, support, and make space for free speech on our stages, we will not tolerate hate speech or threats uttered against other community members. We strive at the Vancouver Poetry Slam to create as safe and accountable a space as possible. As such we will be proactive in holding all of our participants and staff accountable to the values which have been conscientiously established and agreed upon by our community. Those values are stated clearly in our rules, read each night at the beginning of the event and all participants are made aware, before they reach the stage, that behavior that is oppressive to others, or infringes on their ability to move safely within our space will not be tolerated.
Freedom of speech is not and has never been freedom of criticism or consequence. Unfortunately there are many places where the values of these individuals might be accepted and normalized. There are however, few spaces like ours where the safety of all people, (especially those who have been traditionally marginalized) is an absolute priority. We will need to be vigilant as a community during these coming times if we want to hold onto the relative safety of this space and protect the values we have created and held here with you, our members for over two decades.
Vanslam has long been known as a leader in the national spoken word community, on the forefront of accountability-policy and community care. As we brace ourselves for an increased climate of violence lead by a wave of new and highly visible hate crimes against a wide variety marginalized groups, we must hold tight to our identity as a conscious space, – one that values, celebrates and respects the voices of all people and one that holds all of its attendees and staff accountable and responsible for the safety of each other.
It has been discussed that we may be due to reassess how we currently deal with accountability measures within our membership. As we continue to grow as a community this conversation will evolve as well. Incidents such as those detailed above, if they persist, will certainly factor into decisions around those processes. The date for our upcoming Vanslam Family Meeting is forthcoming and details will be posted presently. We encourage your attendance to discuss any community concerns that may arise so that we can work toward a better stronger and safer community together.
Please be sure to take care of yourselves and seek out any resources necessary to create and maintain safety within our community. I have attached a link to our community Code of Honour as well as our most current resource list. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me, your slam master, at firstname.lastname@example.org .
*photo credit: Amber Dawn*