Canada has a long history of youthful protesters. In the 19th century, girls and young women demanded entry into Canadian colleges and universities. The youth of many first feminists should not be forgotten. Student doctors, such as Bishop’s Octavia Grace Ritchie (-England), Queen’s Elizabeth Smith (-Shortt), and Toronto’s Augusta Stowe (-Gullen) repudiated pervasive misogyny in their medical programs in the 1880s and went on to campaign for women’s rights (Hacker). Later on, generations of youthful activists honed their skills in groups such as the Student Christian Movement, the Council of Young Canadians, and the Student Union for Peace Action. Some found inspiration in political parties, notably but not only those of the left. Beginning in the 1960s, the second feminist movement channeled enthusiasm in diverse groups and organizations. By the 21st century, young women were especially visible in intersectional protests, from Idle No More and ending violence against women and children to environmental and Green Party campaigns.
Brigette DePape first came to popular attention in June 2011 when as a Senate Page (a much coveted position for ambitious, politically minded young people), she held up a sign reading “Stop Harper” during the Throne Speech. The social and economic policies of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper were her target. She was immediately fired and just as immediately entered the popular imagination as the poster girl of youthful protest with endorsements from the Council of Canadians and American filmmaker and social activist Michael Moore.
By the time she reached the floor of the Senate, the bilingual Winnipeger with a progressive mother and sisters had a distinguished academic record. As a student at Manitoba’s College Jeanne-Sauve (named after Canada’s first female governor-general), she was awarded the Loran undergraduate award for four years of study at the University of Ottawa. As a Winnipeger, she cited the inspiration of that city’s famous 1919 General Strike (Geddes). By the time she headed for Canada’s capital, she was active with Students Without Borders, notably in fund-raising for Senegal, had performed and written for Winnipeg’s Fringe Festival, and was president of her college’s social justice committee. In June 2010 she joined protests at the G20 summit in Toronto. The policies of the federal government were increasingly in her sights. Nevertheless, her very public challenge on the floor of the Canadian Senate was unprecedented and apparently unexpected by thunder-struck authorities.
Now a graduate of the University of Ottawa, Brigette DePape has continued to agitate for environmental and social justice. In September 2011 she marched on Parliament Hill against the Alberta oil sands and later that year joined youth protests at the U.N. climate change talks in Durban, South Africa. She also endorsed the Quebec student protests against tuition increases that disturbed that province throughout 2012.
Her politics regularly embraced coalitions. In late 2012, she supported the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) in its campaign to halt Greyhound bus line’s efforts to cut service and jobs in British Columbia. In that December in Maclean’s Magazine, she suggested that Idle No More was a ‘Christmas gift to us all.’ Its environment and anti-colonial politics offered, she argued, an opportunity “to be active participants in our communities and our democracies”.
Brigette DePape’s credo emerged clearly in her introduction to the 2012 collection, Power of Youth. Her rallying cry spoke for a wave of activists, the like of which had not been seen since the anti-war protests on Canadian streets in the 1970s and 1980s:
We know that in spite of what we are told, wealth doesn’t trickle down; it’s only environmental destruction that trickles down to us. So when they trickle down, we say grow up! (15)
She challenged Canada’s young women and men to contest the future and urged elders to make room and to collaborate in the struggle for a better world. Her message would have resonated with Octavia, Elizabeth, and Augusta more than a century previously.
Resources and Further Reading
“Brigette DePape,” Wikipedia, the Free Encylopedia.
Bell, Sonya. “Where in the world is Brigette DePape?” iPolitics, Feb. 18, 2013, http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/12/05/where-in-the-world-is-brigette-depape/
DePape, Brigette, “DePape in Durban: Witness to a Tipping Point,” The Tyee, Dec. 12, 2011, http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/12/12/Brigette-DePape-Durban/
—-“Idle No More is a Christmas Gift to Us All,” Macleans.ca, Dec. 25, 2012, http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/12/25/idle-no-more-is-a-christmas-gift-to-us-all/#more-331619
— ed. Power of Youth: Youth and Community-led Activism in Canada (Ottawa: Our Schools Our Selves, 2012).
Geddes, John. “Brigette DePape: From Rogue Page to Activist Icon,” Macleans.ca, May 22, 2012, http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/22/brigette-depape-from-rogue-page-to-activist-icon/
Hacker, Charlotte. The Indomitable Lady Doctors (Ottawa: Federation of Medical Women of Canada, 2001).