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  • The Missing 17 Minutes
  • Alison Duke (bio)

It was 2007. I was outputting the final mix of The Woman I Have Become, a 60-minute documentary about the experiences of eight African, Caribbean, and black (ACB) women living with HIV in Toronto, Canada. The film was commissioned by a Toronto-based community health center (CHC) that was home to a support group of approximately 300 ACB women living with HIV. The two-year old group was a response to the rising HIV infection rates among ACB women. Today ACB women continue to bear the burden of HIV in Canada with nearly 40 percent of new infections.1 One of the contributing factors identified was the continual distrust of the medical system due to the perennial ill treatment and oppression of black women.

The purpose of the documentary was to educate stakeholders in the health-care industry about their stigmatizing and discrimination of women from this community living with HIV. The film was scheduled to premiere on World AIDS Day (December 1, 2007) the following week and the editor and I were so pleased. It was the first of its kind in this sector and we believed that we had created the perfect vehicle for this conversation. However, as luck would have it, as soon as the output ended, I got a phone call from the executive director of the CHC. It was horrible news.

She had received a letter from The Catholic Children’s Aid Society (CCAS) of Toronto and we had to change 17 minutes pertaining to Rhonda’s story, one of the eight women that were profiled in the documentary. Rhonda died during the production and CCAS was demanding we remove all the bits that included her teenage daughters. They were apprehended from their home by child welfare shortly before Rhonda’s death and subsequently became Crown Wards thereafter. [End Page 182]

The letter read:

RE: The Woman I Have Become. As you know, Child One and Child Two are wards of the crown and in care of this Society. Both are Children. We understand that they signed a form of consent or offered their verbal consent to being portrayed in your film. They did so at the time when their mother was ill and without fully understanding that they do not wish to have their images portrayed in your film nor do they wish any information to be made public that would identify them in your film. Any consent they purported to provide would be vitiated by the fact that they were children at the time and unable at law to enter into any sort of contract. We also wish to point out to you that section 45(8) of the Child and Family Service Act makes it an offense to “publish or make public information that has the effect of identifying a child who is a witness at or a participant in a hearing of the subject of a proceeding, or the child’s parent or foster parent or a member child’s family. A person found to have contravened this provision may be subject to a fine of up to $10,000, three years in prison or both.”2 Xxxx, Manager – Communications Department, wishes to view this film immediately and this is our written request for your facilitation of that viewing. Signed. Acting Chief Counsel.

Some of the details in the CCAS letter were incorrect and/or didn’t apply. For example, Rhonda signed her daughters’ release form before we started filming her family and there weren’t any court proceedings or matters before the courts. Regardless, this was exceptionally stern letter to receive. I didn’t have $10,000 and I was definitely not willing to go to jail for this.

In any case, the lawyer representing the CHC had advised us in writing that “it was a significant issue that the children were now crown wards and that they may have also had a change of heart about appearing in the film and are effectively revoking their consent.” Because the film was now flagged by the CCAS, their supervisor was required to see the film before we could screen it. We didn’t...


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pp. 182-188
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