In the last couple of days media and social media has been full of the story of Avery Edison, a London-based stand-up comic who was refused entry to Canada and was sent to a men’s prison and later moved to a women’s prison. With scant regard for any journalistic research, the commentariat launched quickly into action. For example, Paris Lees in an article published online for The New Statesman on the 12th February at 17:44 GMT claimed that the outrage on Twitter had forced the authorities to move Edison to the women’s prison. This was on the basis of events that were still in process in Toronto, where Edison was still waiting for her immigration hearing to take place. This media need for speed continues to hamper journalism, as was evident in the false accusations about the Boston bombing being based on a Twitter storm.
Lees cited posts from Edison’s Twitter feed, but in her haste got it wrong. Edison did not claim to have travelled on an expired visa, but to have overstayed a student visa the last time she was in Canada. Nor did Edison complain that she would be forced to undergo a humiliating medical examination, she merely noted that a nurse would decide if she went into a male or a female cell. Most importantly, the Twitter storm did not force the authorities to move Edison. The nurse in the men’s prison would decide if she stayed there or went to the nearby women’s prison. At least Lees was almost correct in linking the detention to an expired visa, whereas a lot of the Twitter storm had seen her detention as evidence of transphobic behaviour by border staff, something that Edison had already refuted on Twitter.
Lees’ article is a paragon of journalistic precision besides that published by Lauren Strapagiel for Canada.com at 3:35PM on 12th February (8:35PM GMT). She quotes from Edison’s timeline about being placed in a solitary call in a detention centre, but links this to her being sent to the men’s prison. That tweet actually refers to the early stage of the process when Edison thought that she was going to be sent to an immigration detention centre. That tweet was made at 4:39AM (11th February ET) and Edison was first informed about going instead to a women’s detention centre (actually a jail) at 5:32AM, but could not go there until the next day and would have to sleep in the holding area. Then at 6:18AM she was told that she would go to the jail to be assessed by the nurse for a male or female cell. She left for the jail at 6:40AM and at 9:55PM her partner, RahRah Templeton, took over Edison’s Twitter feed. The feed does not make it clear when she moved to the women’s prison, but it occurred before 1AM on 12th February. There is no indication of what decision was made by the nurse or what time the transfer took place, but the end result was that Edison ended up in the women’s prison earlier than she was originally led to believe. As she was originally being told that she would stay another day in the holding area, the obvious inference is that the women’s prison needed time to make an appropriate cell available.
So where does that leave our knowledge of events leave us until we allow the facts to become known (and two days after Lees and Strapagiel jumped the gun)? Edison was taken to a men’s prison (Maplehurst) that shares a campus with the women’s prison (Vanier) that she was told she would be detained in. She was in the women’s prison earlier than expected and the delay may have been because they was no appropriate cell available. In is not unknown in such circumstances that prisoners are held temporarily in nearby prisons, even when it means staying briefly in a facility designed for the opposite sex. Since arriving back in London, Edison has taken to Twitter again to explain that she was sent to the jail rather than the detention centre, because they were worried that she would be a suicide risk. I would take from that that the last place they would want her staying was the holding area, while they readied a cell in Vanier.
So for all the Twitter and media storm it looks at present as if the decision to send Edison to a men’s prison was a temporary move due to prison over-crowding in Vanier.
© Mercia McMahon 2014