In honour of Julie Berman, The 519 was present today at Colin Harnack’s sentencing hearing. Today’s hearing followed the December 2022 trial finding Harnack guilty of second degree murder in Julie’s death. Court resumes at the 361 University Ave. Courthouse on March 8th, 2023 when the Judge will render heris sentence.
Julie, beloved community member, trans-activist and former The 519 staff member, was tragically murdered by Harnack on December 22, 2019. Julie’s murder has a direct and lasting impact not only on her loved ones who knew her best, but also on broader 2SLGBTQ+ communities. The 519 attended the trial and sentencing hearings to honour Julie, bear witness with our communities, and to monitor for transphobia and gender stereotyping in the court proceedings.
At the hearing today, Crown Prosecutor Heather Keating highlighted the vulnerability of trans communities who experience disproportionate experiences of violence. Though defence counsel argued that the evidence in the trial did not highlight hate in relation to her gender identity, the Crown noted that Julie’s gender could not be removed from the fabric of what occurred. Rates of violence against transwomen are vastly higher than rates of violence against the general population of Canada. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has long recognized that transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming communities regularly experience harassment, discrimination and violence on the basis of their gender identity and gender expression. Racialized and 2 Spirit trans communities face even higher rates of systemic and interpersonal violence and harassment. In the recent “Access to Justice for Trans People” Report, many TRANSforming Justice Study participants reported that extreme social isolation was often their only strategy for preventing, avoiding and/or staying safe from discrimination and violence. Having to choose extreme isolation, and its negative impacts such as decreased mental wellness, loss of belonging and connection to community, loss of access to needed services and supports as a strategy to mitigation discrimination and violence is not a reasonable expectation or standard for 2 Spirt, trans, and non-binary people.
Julie’s death was investigated and a verdict of guilty for her murder was rendered within the framework of our criminal justice system. However, her murder falls within a broader context of often lethal violence committed against trans women that goes unreported or uninvestigated. TRANSforming justice participants reported not being taken seriously by law enforcement when reporting violence. BIPOC TRANSforming Justice participants identified their awareness of the pervasiveness of violence and discrimination from law enforcement against their communities as additional factors that fuel their reluctance to seek help from the legal system or have confidence in potential legal remedies to violence and discrimination. The systems-level violence facing 2 Spirit, trans, non-binary and non-gender conforming communities is ever present. Persistent stigma and lack of supportive protection for people engaged in sex work and using drugs increases both the rates of violence and the simultaneous failures and inadequacies of existing systems to respond to violence against transwomen. A dangerous, and lethal cycle.
Every year, Trans Day of Remembrance is held for victims of anti-trans violence. In 2017, Julie spoke at the event and her words continue to ring out as a call to action: “We are beautiful, we are strong, we still have a long way to go.” Julie highlighted that she hoped she was still alive to see the day that [trans people] were not such an oddity. Her words were gentle, hopeful, and courageous, and they resonate with us today.
Today, victim impact statements were read in court, explaining the hurt and harm experienced by Julie’s friends and family. They spoke to Julie’s joyfulness, her community activism, and her positive mentorship and friendship, all of which are deeply missed. They also spoke to her gentle nature, her vulnerability, and the vulnerability of the 2 Spirit, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming communities. Julie’s friend Rachel Clark said:
“Julie’s reality was one, as it is with many transgender people, of having to always be on the lookout for people trying to do harm. I think she thought that many people think of transgender people as disposable people. That violence isn’t often met with justice, so hurting us is acceptable, as there often hasn’t been consequences for hurting us. And because Julie cannot be here to speak for herself, I just want to confirm that thought. Avoiding violence is how we survive. Julie the aggressor is just not possible. The Julie I knew, the Julie I lost in my life, was gentle and timid. That is how she survived. Sadly, she couldn’t avoid violence this time.”
Our hearts remain deeply saddened and our commitments to transforming systems that discriminate and perpetuate violence towards 2 Spirit, queer, and trans communities remains strong. For those affected by Julie’s death and the trial outcome, please contact The 519 at: firstname.lastname@example.org for information on Drop-in Counselling supports.
Photo: Davina Hader
For immediate support, please contact:
Gerstein Centre (24/7): (416) 929-5200, ;
Toronto Distress Centre (24/7): 416-408-4357 or text 741741 (2am-2pm daily for text) ; or
Trans Lifeline (10am – 5am EST): (877) 330-6366. Call us if you need someone trans to talk to, even if you’re not in crisis or if you’re not sure you’re trans.