PEN Canada’s 2016 annual general meeting was held at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto on June 1, 2016.
In the Great Hall of the storied Arts and Letters Club on Toronto’s Elm Street, sitting PEN Canada President Randy Boyagoda brought into session the 2016 annual general meeting. Thirty PEN writer members had gathered to discuss the business of the organization, while a chair sat empty to mark the absence of imprisoned Ethiopian editor and journalist, Eskinder Nega.
After the initial approving of minutes and agendas Boyagoda presented his president’s report, opening with an issue close to the hearts of PEN members and the larger Canadian literary community. Calling for a moment of silence, those in attendance honoured the memory of past PEN Canada president and heavyweight editor, Ellen Seligman, who passed away in March.
Boyagoda then moved on to recap the many events held by PEN Canada in the past year, both the successes, such as the Spring Ideas and Dialogue event with Junot Díaz, and the controversies, like our Freedom to Read Week panel on Gaza with contentious writer, Max Blumenthal.
Boyagoda welcomed the refugee writers brought into the PEN community this year, and thanked the many people who contributed to their settlement in Canada: PEN members, supporters, staff, and our partners at Romero House among them. He also recognized the work by outgoing PEN International President, John Ralston Saul, on behalf of freedom of expression around the world.
Executive Director, Grace Westcott, gave her report, highlighting the inauguration of two awards in the last year: the Ken Filkow Award for courage in the interest of freedom of expression, and the Escribir Sin Miedo prize, for public interest journalism in Honduras. Westcott also mentioned the collection of busts of Canadian literary figures now held by PEN Canada with thanks to Richard Stursberg and the artist, Suzanne Longmire.
Leading off the program reports, Writers in Prison Committee Chair Jim Creskey emphasized the need for further intervention in Honduras, where the situation for writers and journalists is dire. He also detailed the committee’s report on India’s use of outdated laws to silence expression, and the update to that report which is currently in process.
Delivering the Canadian Issues Committee report on behalf of Chair Elise Moser, Grace Westcott congratulated the committee on their release of the third and fourth Know Your Rights guides on prisoners’ rights to read and the right to peaceful demonstration. She thanked Philip Slayton and Cynthia Wine for their continued support of the Ken Filkow Award, and highlighted a few ongoing and upcoming projects. These include a survey assessing the impact of surveillance on writers in partnership with Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, and participation in reviews of government policy regarding charities’ political activities and anti-terrorism legislation Bill C-51.
Mary Jo Leddy, chair of the Writers in Exile Committee, began her report by recognizing Ellen Seligman’s in bringing her back into the fold of PEN Canada. She also thanked Marina Nemat, Keith Leckie, and Aaron Berhane for the energy they had brought to the committee, and Hannah Fisher for her work in finding host homes for the past year’s new arrivals.
Leddy then spoke in detail about a particularly troubling case currently occupying the committee. For the past seven years, writer Maaran Nagasara has worked to finalize his residency and bring his family to Canada. The situation became dire earlier this year when the Indian refugee camp his wife and child inhabit was thrown into chaos by floods. This trouble was compacted by soon-to-expire passports threatening to leave them stateless.
In response, Leddy and members of the Committee visited the Immigration Minister’s office in Markham each day for weeks, and approached the Immigration Minister directly with the help of Bob Rae, Hugh Segal and John Ralston Saul. Though a great deal of progress was made through this intervention, Leddy had been informed that the permit for Nagasara’s family to travel to Canada still has not left the immigration minister’s office. Plans were in place, she said, to visit the office again the day after AGM. Boyagoda and the members in attendance thanked Leddy for her committed service to the Writers in Exile Committee.
The next order of business was the election of three new directors, Emily Keeler, George Melnyk and Marina Nemat, and the recognition of directors retiring from board: Miki Andrejevic, Neil Bissoondath, Bill Kowalski, Mary Jo Leddy, and Grace Westcott. The members then voted to increase the maximum number of directors from seventeen to eighteen.
After a few words from members on the importance of protecting the LGBTQ community in the Caribbean, and the importance of engaging young people with PEN, the meeting was adjourned. Thank you to all who attended in person or by proxy.
For a full copy of the minutes from the 2016 AGM, please contact email@example.com.