stPhoto by Priscilla Ojomu

Student-run anti-discrimination platform shares Canadians’ hidden experiences with social injustices

Canada Confesses is an online platform that empowers individuals to anonymously share their experiences with discrimination and connects them with resources.

When third-year UAlberta psychology student Priscilla Ojomu immigrated to Canada from Nigeria in the eight grade, she hoped her new home would be as it is so often advertised: a paragon of multiculturalism and acceptance. Instead, she met classmates who made racially ignorant jokes — sometimes centred around Black women — and teachers who treated her differently from her peers.

“It was hard for me at first to call something racist or discriminatory because I was always finding excuses to make up for the ideal image Canada portrays,” Ojomu said.

That image is what Canada Confesses, a new online platform for anti-oppressive activism, aims to interrogate and disrupt. Created by Ojomu and fellow psychology student Nancy Tangon, Canada Confesses allows users to anonymously share experiences with discrimination. Volunteers then analyze those experiences using academic research to explore topics such as racism, ableism, sexism and harassment. Once the core social injustices reflected in the story have been discovered, the team broadcasts the “confession,” along with links to justice-focused organizations and suggestions for allies who want to help end injustice, over social media and on the Canada Confesses website.

“It was intentional from the start to expose the underbelly of the friendly, multicultural myth of Canada,” Ojomu said. “The central idea behind the ‘Canada Confesses’ name was to shed light on the hidden, often unspoken aspects of Canada via people’s real, lived experiences, stories and voices.”

In just over a year, Canada Confesses has amassed over 40 volunteers, a social media reach of over 16,000 people and partnerships with over 30 organizations focused on promoting equity, but it started as a project in a diversity awareness and skill building program for youth. Ojomu pitched the idea during a Zoom meeting, and Nancy Tangon immediately expressed interest.

Nancy Tangon (Left) and Priscilla Ojomu (Right). Photo by Geoff McMaster.

“There are a lot of online confession pages where people expose secrets or something that is vulnerable to them,” Tangon said. “I was interested in creating a place where people can share their stories in their truest, most raw form.”

However, Tangon also wanted the site to be a safe place for people to come forward about their experiences. She has seen people get victimized by racists — including an incident in which racialized people were attacked on transit — and she knows why people hesitate to tell their stories.

“We want these stories to be heard, and we want people to know there’s a face behind them,” she said. “But at the same time, people are afraid. They’re afraid their experiences will be minimized or invalidated. Anonymity gives people the confidence to speak the truth without any fear of being reprimanded in real life.”

When people detail encounters with discrimination over Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, they are often met with harassment, bullying, and questions about the validity of their claims, according to Tangon.

Canada Confesses provides resources and information for people who want to more deeply understand the roots of social injustice.

It began accepting confessions this past February, and since then, people have submitted stories about anti-asian bullying by peers and adults during elementary school, racial harassment on public transit, and one message in which the confessor alleged that they missed out on income support due to their race.

Photo by Priscilla Ojomu

Ojomu and Tangon want Canada Confesses to not only be a place where people can share their stories and get support, but also a mirror that reflects the blemishes of prejudice that mark Canadian society, and a platform that can help create social change.

“We want policymakers, the government and media to see this so they have information to draw from and they see what’s happening in real life,” Tangon said.

What has surprised them most is just how many people want to help them on this mission.

“We have new volunteers onboarded almost every day,” Ojomu said. “There’s a huge demographic range too. We have people all the way from 14-year-olds to people who are retired. There is something here that people see there is a need for.”

Some volunteers help investigate confessions, others do outreach, curate resources and create content for Canada Confesses’ media channels, and much more.

Canada Confesses has also expanded to feature “Voices of Canada,” a blog for “articles, essays, poems, stories, artwork, photographs, illustrations, music, podcasts, infographics, and othercreative mediums” made for self-expression, activism and empowerment.

“Having a platform like this when I was in high school and really trying to navigate being a new immigrant and settling, and also for the first time realizing racism is a thing here would have been really helpful,” Ojomu said. “That’s why the project has meant a lot to me.”

Priscilla Ojomu was a winner of this year’s Campus Sustainability Leaders Awards.

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