By Alice Jeon
When I was told to “keep an open mind” and “be flexible” during the internship orientation sessions, I did not think that I would have to be prepared for a pandemic. I also did not expect to start in one internship for the first few weeks of the summer, only for the arrangement to fall through, and to be switched to a new organization midway. I suppose everyone’s narrative of the spring and summer of 2020 follows a similar trajectory, experiencing the unprecedented and confronting the once unimaginable. But oh boy, was I unprepared.
Amidst all the chaos, I am so lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity to intern with the HIV/AIDS Legal Network in Toronto. I had a late start and only just finished a month at the organization, but I have already learned an incredible amount.
One of the projects I have been working on is advocacy to stop Toronto police from attending overdose scenes, unless they are specifically called for security reasons. Research from the HIV/AIDS Legal Network shows that their presence and surveillance causes a chilling effect, making people reluctant to call in dangerous overdose situations. In theory, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act is supposed to provide immunity from prosecution for offenses related to simple drug possession to anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose or to anyone on the scene when emergency services arrive. But of course, if police show up on their doorsteps anyways, take down bystanders’ names and dig for information, these good Samaritans inevitably become reluctant to call. In Vancouver, the police force has explicitly recognized this chilling effect and have published guidelines that say that police should not interfere, to the extent possible in overdose situations. It seems time that the Toronto police follow suit.
Furthermore, another project I have been working on is research for an ongoing court case that aims to repeal the antiquated sodomy laws in Jamaica. Jamaica’s constitution has a saving’s law clause, which essentially “saves” Jamaica’s colonial-era anti-sodomy laws. However, there was recently a ground-breaking case in Guyana, McEwan and others v Attorney General of Guyana, that rendered a judgement on four different ways in which the savings law clause could be construed liberally. I have been looking at ways in which this McEwan case could potentially be applied in the Jamaican context, and ultimately help in repealing this antiquated law.
This summer has been out of the ordinary. I have spent more time cooped up in my room than ever, quite different from where I thought I would be pre-pandemic (spending three months in Windhoek, Namibia). It has also been frustrating not to be able to meet any of my amazing co-workers in person, from a personal and professional perspective—it would definitely be so much easier to slip in a quick question to my supervisors they were in the vicinity. But I am continuing to practice gratitude for everything that I have, and continue to remind myself that when it comes to situations that I cannot control, how I engage with it is a matter of my own mindset. “Keep an open mind,” “be flexible”; these words of advice became important in more ways than one.