You may recall the reported attempted abductions of young women this summer in downtown Toronto. As a Toronto resident, and a woman, I kept a close eye on these reports from early summer on. But then in late July, the random brutal assault of a woman in Whitby took the mainstage of the news.
So, I began to reflect.
When I was 19 years old, I left work at a restaurant around 11 p.m. one night. I remember going outside to wait for my partner to pick me up as the restaurant was closed and locked. A man in a black SUV drove past me, then circled back again, this time passing at almost a crawl. I made eye contact with him in an attempt to signify I was watching his actions. He pulled over just as my partner drove up and stopped next to me.
Another time, in early 2019, I was waiting for a bus at Sheppard West station. It was about midnight (I was returning home from work again), and a man walked into me and pushed me over — almost like I wasn’t even there. He followed me onto the bus, where I called my partner and stayed on the phone until I was safely home.
Last year I spent a night in Dallas, Texas on a layover. I was alone, but I wanted to see the city. It was November, and the darkness of night came quickly. I hastily explored Dealey Plaza, and promptly found myself an Uber. The driver made sure he dropped me directly in front of where I needed to go. My hotel concierge later told me stories of the frequent instances where young women have been robbed and assaulted in downtown Dallas.
When I talk to my male friends, colleagues, and family members, very few of them can share the same sense of concern or fear for their safety when walking or travelling alone. But, when I talk to the women in my life, the consensus is the same: we all know the feeling of being prey.
We all carry our keys tightly between our fingers in hopes that it will be sufficient to protect us if someone were to attack.. But I’m sure we all know this isn’t an adequate source of self-defence— at least that’s how I feel.
Let’s talk about why the government has decided we can’t have a non-lethal means of protecting ourselves.
So, after reflecting on my experiences in light of the news reports this summer, I thought to myself: how am I, along with every other vulnerable person in Canada, supposed to protect ourselves from being assaulted? My friends discussed the option of buying pepper spray, but this required a bit of research before we clicked “purchase” on Amazon.
I know carrying a firearm in public is illegal for the average Joe in Canada, and understandably so. Some knives are also illegal to carry, but others, such as pocket knives are legal. However, it isn’t necessarily the best option. Both of these are lethal weapons, and certainly something I don’t trust myself to use in self-defence — God knows I’d end up hurting myself.
Then I looked into the aforementioned Mace (either dog or pepper spray) to carry. It isn’t lethal, and it works from what I’ve read about it. Unfortunately, in Canada, you can’t do that either.
According to the Canadian Criminal Code, pepper spray used for personal protection is a prohibited weapon — in layman’s terms, you could be faced with criminal charges if you own and use any sort of pepper spray on another human.
What I want to know is will I be charged with a criminal offence if someone is trying to assault me, and I mace them in self-defence? Is protecting the assailant more important than protecting myself?
I told my friends the news about pepper spray, and they couldn’t believe it. This brought up the topic about how little people discuss the issue. None of us knew pepper spray was illegal, and we were shocked to learn this. We agreed this is an issue that needs to be discussed.
This is where I leave it off to you, reader.
Why don’t we bring this issue to the forefront of our political debates? Women’s rights and safety have been hot topics in the news, but I have seen little coverage on how women can protect themselves — other than “not dressing provocatively” or “not getting too drunk” (like being assaulted is our fault).
Let’s talk about why we all feel the need to carry our key between our fingers when walking alone at night. Let’s talk about why a small can of pepper spray is illegal for someone to carry in self-defence, but a knife isn’t. Let’s talk about why the government has decided we can’t have a non-lethal means of protecting ourselves.
And then, let’s push for change in valuing our most vulnerable, instead of protecting the predators.
I want to feel safe walking alone. Don’t you?