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Archive for March, 2012

In September of 2010, Winnipeg’s Take Back the Night march was themed “Shine a Light” to draw attention to violence that occurs behind closed doors in this city. It is with sadness that we reflect today, in March of 2012, on the fact  that over half of homicides in Winnipeg in 2012 have been domestic homicides. The most recent, a murder-suicide in a Maples apartment building, has drawn media attention, that has in turn put a spotlight on domestic homicides in our city. At the very least, it is encouraging that the media is starting to pay attention to these occurences. It is about time, given the StatsCan statistic in the Free Press article linked above that between 2000 and 2009, Manitoba had the second highest rate of spousal homicide in Canada. Similarly, we are glad to see Jane Ursel, director or RESOLVE, quoted in the same article, and are in solidarity in the feeling of hope that the new “death review committee” will effect change.

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This just in!

The Ontario Court of Appeal today released its decision in Bedford v Canada, a landmark lower court decision that found that provisions 210 [bawdy house], 212(1)(j) [living on the avails], and 213(1)(c) [communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution] of the Canadian Criminal Code unconstitutionally violate the Charter rights of sex trade workers. The CA has upheld the finding that 210 is unconstitutional, has read in an added element of exploitation to 212(1)(j) and has allowed the appeal of 213(1)(c).

We’d love to hear what you have to say about this – have a look at the complete decision here. It’s a long one, but undoubtedly worth a look-see.

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Osborne House is facing dire funding difficulties. Despite the need and the important role that Osborne plays in assisting domestically abused women and children in our community, the shelter’s calls for help have not been heeded by Government. Read more about this shameful response from government here and here. A rally is being held at 5:00 pm on Friday March 23rd outside of City Hall.

Osborne House is a safe-house for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Osborne House offers food, shelter and counselling to foster recovery and hope for the city’s most vulnerable. Due to a 75% decrease in private donations over the past years and a steady increase in the community’s need for Osborne House’s services the safe-house is in dire need of support from the municipal government.

On Thursday, March 15th, Osborne House attended City Council requesting $450,000 in annual funding to meet their needs. This request was denied by council with the reason that the request came at the last minute and was too expensive. Opposing this claim, Barbara Judt, CEO of Osborne House, has six months of documented communications with the City of Winnipeg approaching the date of their request and the reality of the situation is that they need the full funds that they have requested in order to support the community need.

On Tuesday, March 20th Osborne House spoke in opposition of the budget to try to have the City’s decision rescinded; this request was not only denied, but completely ignored. Councillors were inattentive and unresponsive. Not a single question about Barbara’s proposal was asked and the council did not bother moving to reconsider their decision.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Councillor Fielding, who spoke in support of the budget, claimed that public safety is one of the key priorities of this years budget–clearly he does not consider women and children an essential part of this “priority”. Because their funding request was denied Osborne House will be forced to turn down women and children who need safety. Because Osborne House’s funding request was denied women and children are at greater risk of physical, sexual and emotional violence; they are at a greater risk of homelessness; they are at greater risk of death.

WE DEMAND THAT THE CITY OF WINNIPEG RESCIND THEIR DECISION AND AWARD OSBORNE HOUSE THE FUNDS THAT THEY NEED.

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*The following was prepared by Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. This is a great summary of the issues regarding Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion M-312. Please consider sending a letter to your MP. A sample letter can be found here with an alternate version here 

Summary

Motion M-312 is motivated solely by anti-abortion ideology. The intent is to bestow legal personhood on fetuses in order to re-criminalize abortion. M-312 is a waste of time and taxpayer money because the issues it raises
have already been answered by Canada’s Supreme Court. Further, there are zero problems with the existing law or current medical practice that need addressing. Fetal personhood would also seriously undermine the constitutional rights of pregnant women under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not just for those who need abortions, but for any pregnant woman. It would invite the prosecution of pregnant women for any perceived harm to fetuses by creating confusion around how child welfare laws and policies apply to fetuses as legal persons. (We have named the motion the “Women Can’t Be Trusted” motion to convey its real meaning.) Further, the motion itself is unworkable because it rests on misinterpretations of the Criminal Code, misleading use of language, and logical fallacies.

Background

Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada[1] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#one>  falls under “Homicide” and reads: “A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother,whether or not (a) it has breathed; (b) it has an independent circulation; or (c) the navel string is severed.”

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener Centre) began a media campaign in December 2011 to promote his view that the definition of “human being” in Section 223(1) is 400 years old and should therefore be reviewed in light of modern medical knowledge to determine if fetuses should now be legally defined as “human beings.” His motion to that effect, M-312,[2] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#two>  was accepted on March 12 for consideration by Parliament, with one hour of debate scheduled for April 26, and a vote in late spring or early fall. M-312 calls for the formation of a special Parliamentary committee that would be directed to answer four questions:

(i)        what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?,

(ii)       is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?,

(iii)      what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?,

(iv)     what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?

1.     The Supreme Court has already decided the issue

Several legal precedents have already dealt with the questions that Woodworth’s motion raises, in particular, Tremblay vs Daigle,[3] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#three>  Dobson v. Dobson,[4] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#four>  Winnipeg Child & Family Services v. Ms.G.(D.F.),[5] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#five> Borowski v. Attorney General of Canada,[6]
<http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#six>  and R. v. Morgentaler.[7] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#seven>  These rulings have concluded or noted that the fetus has never been a person or included in the meaning of “everyone” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that a fetus must be born alive to enjoy rights (the “born alive” rule[8] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#eight> ), and that the law has
always treated a pregnant woman and her fetus as one person under the law. This is because the intimate connection between the two means the fetus cannot be considered in isolation, and imposing a duty of care on a pregnant woman towards her fetus would result in extensive and unacceptable intrusions into her bodily integrity, privacy, and autonomy. (See Endnotes <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#endnotes>  for relevant excerpts from the decisions.)

Although Parliament could theoretically revisit the issue and pass laws to restrict abortion or give rights to fetuses, it’s highly unlikely that such laws would withstand a constitutional challenge in the courts – both for the
above reasons and because laws that apply only to women and not men are automatically discriminatory. Further, no government since the Mulroney Conservative government in 1990 has dared to try and pass a new abortion law, because it’s sure to be a losing issue for politicians. Canada is largely a pro-choice country. Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t want to re-open the abortion debate because he knows it would mire his government in controversy and probably cost him the next election.

2.     Giving personhood to fetuses invites criminal prosecution of pregnant women for negative outcomes

In the United States, fetuses have legal personhood rights in at least 38 states,[9] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#nine>  mostly through “fetal homicide” laws supposedly aimed at third parties who assault pregnant women. In practice however, these laws are used primarily to justify prosecuting pregnant women[10] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#ten>  under child welfare laws for drug or alcohol abuse, refusing a Caesarean, experiencing a stillbirth, or even attempting suicide. These unjust and cruel prosecutions tend to scare pregnant women away from pre-natal care or even motivate them to have an abortion. They also turn pregnant women into lesser citizens whose rights are subordinated to those of their fetus, as evidenced by pregnant women in the U.S. being jailed for “crimes” that are not crimes for anyone else.

Similar actions could happen in Canada if fetuses had rights. Anti-choice members of law enforcement or the judiciary could exploit child welfare laws to subject women to criminal prosecution for harming or “murdering” their fetus when something goes wrong in a wanted pregnancy. It could even open the door to women being investigated after they suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth, or any other serious complication that endangers the fetus. As in the U.S., the women targeted would mostly be racialized and low-income women.

Woodworth’s motion raises the same types of issues that galvanized Canada’s women’s movement back in 2008 when the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act” passed second reading.[11] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#eleven>  That bill would have treated a fetus as a separate legal person under the law when a pregnant woman was assaulted. At the time, the U.S.-based group National Advocates for Pregnant Women prepared a 15-page brief for ARCC-CDAC,[12] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twelve> documenting the hundreds of unjust cases of prosecutions of pregnant women in the U.S. (New examples can be found on their website: www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org.)  The organization also notes that: “Thousands more [women] have been subjected to punitive and counterproductive child welfare interventions that treat what women do or experience during pregnancy as evidence of civil child neglect or
abuse.”[10] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#ten>

3.     Abortion cannot be criminalized without violating women’s
constitutional rights

Since the mid-1980’s, women have had established constitutional rights in Canada under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to life, liberty, bodily security, conscience, and equality. These rights are all directly implicated in women’s decisions around pregnancy. In contrast, fetuses do not have legal rights and cannot be given any, since two beings occupying the same body would result in a serious clash of rights. In fact, if fetuses had legal personhood, pregnant women would lose theirs.

It is senseless and cruel to restrict or ban abortion because giving rights to fetuses or banning abortion does nothing to “protect the unborn” or women. Every country in the world where abortion is illegal has a well-developed abortion underground, and abortion is generally more common in countries where it’s illegal than where it’s legal. Almost half of all abortions in the world (49% of 43.8 million[13] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#thirteen> ) are unsafe and mostly illegal. About 47,000 women die every year in the developing world and another 5 million are hospitalized.[14] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#fourteen>

In the U.S. where abortion is now heavily restricted, women will travel hundreds of miles for abortion care, use their rent or food money to pay for it, go before judges to get permission, listen to mandated anti-abortion propaganda, walk past aggressive and bullying protesters, and even huddle for hours in a car in the clinic’s parking lot until the bomb threat is over. In short, most women will do whatever it takes to get an abortion[15]
<http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#fifteen> , regardless of the difficulty or risks.

4.     The motion is an exercise in misogyny

Underlying the motion is a profound disrespect and lack of trust for women, and a total dismissal of their rights and welfare. Like the rest of the anti-abortion movement, Woodworth shows no recognition whatsoever of the human rights of women, or how giving rights to fetuses would harm pregnant women.

Historical and medical evidence clearly shows the negative and often catastrophic results when the state interferes and imposes restrictions on the reproductive rights of women in the interests of “protecting”
fetuses,[16] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#sixteen>  [17] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#seventeen>  as if women are incapable or irresponsible. But the only person who can make conscientious and informed decisions on behalf of an embryo or fetus is the pregnant woman herself. The state’s only role should be to ensure that women have the resources and supports they need to achieve the best pregnancy outcomes – which may sometimes include having an abortion. We can trust women to know
what is best for their families and themselves, which means there’s no need to re-open the abortion debate in Canada.

Further, the motion perpetuates the patriarchal need to control women and reproduction by seeking to relegate women to a childbearing role. The vision of the anti-abortion movement is to ban both birth control and abortion and force women into repeated unwanted childbearing, with no regard for the substantial health and social problems this would pose to women, children, and society at large. The patriarchal purpose behind this vision is to keep women busy with a brood of children so they will have no time to gain influence in the political arena, leaving power securely in the hands of men. Pro-natalism is also strongly tied to militarism, as war-mongering
countries need to produce plenty of cannon fodder. These patriarchal considerations mean that women’s needs and rights are immaterial or even “wrong,” which may explain why Woodworth and his ilk have no respect for
them.

5.     Woodworth has misinterpreted Criminal Code Section 223(1)

One of Woodworth’s main claims is that the definition of human being in Criminal Code Section 223(1) is derived from 400-year old English common law.[18] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#eighteen>  He explains that in 1642, Sir Edward Coke wrote in his The Third Part of the Institute of the Laws of England that “children before birth were not considered human beings until they were born alive.”

However, Section 223(1) was not a blind incorporation of Coke’s statement (which was part of a commentary, not a law). The Criminal Code definition of human life was enacted in 1892 and placed under the Homicide section, apparently to clarify the difference between abortion and infanticide.[19] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#nineteen>  Canada had enacted restrictive abortion laws in 1869 based on an 1803 statute of England, and Section 223 was added later to make a strategic distinction about when a fetus becomes a child in order to clarify these laws. Woodworth’s notion of an unjustly outdated definition of human life rests on misleading statements about the foundations of Canadian law.[20] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twenty>  Regardless, this 400-year old definition of “human being” has stood the test of time. It accords very well with our modern human rights framework in which women have equality under the law.

Woodworth also claims that the Criminal Code does not protect fetuses in the process of being born. But Section 223(2) goes on to say that “a person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.” It appears that this section already accomplishes Woodworth’s goal, especially considering that a child being born does not have to be breathing or have an independent circulation to be defined as a human being under Section
223(1).[21] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twentyone>

6.     No problem exists for the motion to solve

There are zero problems with the existing Criminal Code law or current medical practice that need addressing. Woodworth appears to be fixated on the lack of legal rights for 9-month fetuses about to be born, in hopes of eventually securing restrictions against later abortions at least. As a fervent anti-choice activist, Woodworth no doubt believes the commonly-repeated (but still false) propaganda that women in Canada can easily obtain abortions for any reason right up to the moment of birth. But abortions after 20 weeks are rare in Canada – virtually all are confined to cases of fetal abnormality where the fetus cannot survive after birth.[22]
<http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twentytwo>  Doctors abide by a Canadian Medical Association policy[23] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twentythree>  that recommends abortion on request only up to 20 weeks gestation and after that only under “exceptional circumstances.” All medical treatment is governed by policy, medical protocols, and doctor discretion – not civil or criminal law – and abortion should not be any different.

If late-term abortions were restricted by law, it would penalize women in the most tragic circumstances by making it difficult or impossible for them to obtain desperately needed abortions. Regardless, Woodworth tries to scare Canadians with his farcical description of fetuses needing protection from abortion while one “little toe” still remains in the birth canal during delivery.

7.     Woodworth misuses language

Woodworth’s motion and his entire campaign is based on a fundamental confusion between the medical and biological aspects of “what is a human being” and the legal and social aspects of personhood. Fetuses are
biologically “human” in the sense that they are composed of human tissue and DNA, but they are not “persons” in a legal or social context. A fetus has no individual existence because it lives inside of a woman’s body and depends completely on her (and no-one else) for its survival. It does not possess key aspects of personhood, such as the ability to experience human emotions, interact with others, or exercise constitutional rights. Personhood is a socially and legally constructed concept, and it is bestowed upon birth for very practical and obvious reasons. As the Supreme Court stated in the Tremblay v. Daigle decision:[24] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twentyfour>  “The task of properly classifying a foetus in law and in science are different pursuits.”

Regardless of the biological or medical status of the fetus, women need and have abortions anyway, in order to protect their own lives and health and that of their families. Women do not decide to have an abortion because they think the fetus is a “clump of tissue” or even because it’s their “right to choose.” They have abortions because they’re not ready to support a child right now or because they don’t want to have a baby. They have abortions because their partner is abusive or because they’re living in poverty. And they seek abortions regardless of legal restrictions or other barriers. Pregnant women know very well what is growing inside them, which is why they try to abort an unwanted pregnancy as early as possible, to stop the development of a baby they feel unable to care for. Such decisions are responsible and well thought out, and have nothing to do with a disregard for fetal life – on the contrary, they demonstrate respect for a child’s right to be wanted and well provided for.

8.     Woodworth commits the logical fallacy of “begging the question”

The major fallacy of the anti-abortion view is the unquestioned assumption that fetuses are “human beings” and therefore deserve rights, even though that is the very question at issue – but one on which there can be no
consensus. Woodworth makes the same mistake as the rest of the anti-abortion movement, apparently completely unaware of the absurdity of what he is saying. For example, he has stated repeatedly in the media: “Don’t accept any law that says some human beings are not human beings!” (Do a Google search.) In the words of journalist Heather Mallick, this is “a perfect display of the much-misunderstood logical fallacy of ‘begging the question.’ He is answering the question with the original question, except for him it is not a question. It is a fact. When a fetus can breathe on its own, it is not just a human being, it is in Woodworth’s terms positively elderly.”[25] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twentyfive>

Whether a fetus is a “human being” in a moral or philosophical sense is necessarily a subjective call and a matter of opinion – one that only a pregnant woman has the prerogative to decide. As discussed in #7 above,
fetuses are certainly not legal persons in any case. Even if they were declared to be “human beings” in the biological and medical sense, this would not change the practical necessity of giving them legal personhood
only at birth.

Woodworth also continually uses the word “child” to describe a fetus, which is just another “begging the question” ploy to try and lead people to equate fetuses with children and therefore accept that they should have rights. Fetus is the correct medical term and it means “the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth.” The term “child” means “a person of either sex between the time of birth and adolescence.” Although “child” is often used informally to refer to fetuses, this is a colloquial usage that has no legitimate place in modern law or medicine – including in Woodworth’s motion.

Conclusion

Woodworth’s motion is a patriarchal waste of time and money, and his concern for fetuses at the expense of the rights and safety of pregnant women is dangerous. He has said: “Just laws must be based on accurate evidence, not arbitrary lines unrelated to reality. If there’s no objective criteria for who’s a human being, then personhood and the fundamental rights that go with it can be defined in any way any powerful person or group decides.”[26] <http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/action/M-312.html#twentysix>  Woodworth pretends that having personhood start at birth is an “arbitrary line” without “objective criteria”, as if the biological fact that a fetus depends totally on a woman’s body while a newborn does not, is somehow insignificant or even imaginary. This is deeply insulting and disrespectful to women and their childbearing capacity. Ironically, it is Woodworth in his role as an elected Member of Parliament who is the “powerful person” trying to arbitrarily and subjectively define a fetus in a way that would undermine or negate the legal personhood of an already-vulnerable class of people – pregnant women. That is why we have nicknamed his motion the “Women Can’t Be Trusted” motion.

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According to the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Police Department is considering a new set of guidelines that would instruct officers to prioritze sex workers’ safety over enforcing prostitution-related prohibitions. The propsed guidelines were written by Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke, and highlight the historic distrust of law enforcement by sex workers, and a need for officers to show them respect. “Sex work involving consenting adults is not an enforcement priority for the [Vancouver Police Department],” state the guidelines.

It’s interesting to note that the guidelines come in the wake of the Pickton Inquiry, which is investigating why the VPD failed to recognize the ongoing abduction and murder of sex workers by Robert Pickton. Evidence before the inquiry has shown the tendency among officers policing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to not only disregard violent crime against sex workers, but also to personally harass, over-enforce and even to commit assault themselves against sex workers, up to and including the recent past. While the guidelines do seem progressive, considering them in context highlights the fact that they may be more in the realm of damage control than a sincere attempt to protect the phsycial safety and dignityof sex workers. That being said, sex work safety advocates seem to be excited by the prospect of the new guidelines, and it does seem possible that they could lead to positive change.

The guidelines will be considered before the Vancouver Police Board tomorrow, and we look forward to seeing if they are adopted. We’ll keep you posted!

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A huge thank you to everyone who supported our bake sale and clothing drive yesterday! We raised over $170 for LEAF’s Bertah Wilson Fund, and collected an impressive amount of clothing and products for the Elizabeth Fry Society.

We also got some interesting feedback from our ‘share your thoughts’ posters, which we thought we’d post here in case you didn’t get a chance to have a look in person. Here they are in all their unedited, anonymous glory. On that note, we’d love to keep the discussion going, so please feel free to comment!

Question: In 2010, Justice Himel (Ont SCJ) struck down the living on the avails, bawdy house, and solicitation provisions of the Criminal Code. Does Justice Himel’s decision promote women’s equality?

Your thoughts:

– “This is step 1 – ie., letting these women come to the law for help. Step 2 is putting programs in place to better insure safety and health”

– “It has the potential to promote women’s equality, but without a comprehensive program to address these issues, women’s equality will be stalled”

Question: Women make up 14% of corporate boards in Canada. The EU is considering mandatory quotas for women on corporate boards. If Canada followed the EU’s example, would it promote gender equality?

Your thoughts:

– “No. the % is  much lower in Europe. This is only an issue today, but i believe the problem will be solved organically in very short order as more women hired in the 80s and 90s make it to upper management positions at our major corporations. The corporate elite will probably be unrecognizably diverse within 10 years.”

– “[arrow indicating direct response to previous comment] that’s something of a ridiculous assumption. The diversity of the corporate elite hasn’t changed much in the last one hundred years. There is very little support for an argument it will change radically in the next 10 yrears.”

– “No – even if the women deserved to be there, there would be underlying rumours that they were only there because of quotas. Better to earn it honestly. Time will even it out.”

Question: Quebec’s Bill 94 would refuse reasonable accomodation to niqab-wearing women receiving or providing public services. Does Bill 94 promote gender equality?

Your thoughts:

– “no”

– “I second that”

– “It doesn’t support equality of any kind”

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International Women’s Day is just over a week away, and the FLF is looking forward to making it count!

On Thursday, March 8th, the FLF will be holding a bake sale, clothing drive and small poster display in the main floor hallway of Robson Hall.

Our bake sale will be in support of LEAF Canada’ Bertha Wilson Fund (see the brochure here: LEF_bwf_broc_final_e,) which honours the legacy of the Supreme Court of Canada’s first female justice. Justice Wilson was an unabashed supporter of the Charter and a champion of equality. The Fund is used for education, research on gender issues and jurisprudence, as well as intervention in important cases. So bring your sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) and your wallet to support a truly worthy cause. [Note: if anyone is interested in contributing baking for the sale, that would be amazing! You can comment on this post or send us an email at flf.robsonhall@gmail.com]

Our clothing drive will be in support of the Elizabeth Fry Society, a non-profit organization that seeks to address the needs of and provide direct support to women involved in the justice system. We will be collecting gently used clothing and unused personal hygiene products, and would greatly appreciate your donations! We will be collecting donations during the bake sale. If you’d like to donate and need to make other arrangements, please just let us know.

There is also the annual International Women’s Day March, also on March 8th, at 5:30 at City Hall, ending at Union Centre on Broadway. We went last year, and it was a great and enthusiastically supported event!

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