Vancouver Island teen releases ‘devastating’ exploration of local hatred

Comox Valley student creates project addressing intolerance and bigotry in our community

Mackai Sharp's project addressing intolerance and bigotry will premier at the Comox Valley Art Gallery on Dec. 17. Photo supplied

Mackai Sharp knows first-hand about intolerance.

He has experienced it, and seen others suffer through acts of hatred, right there in his Comox Valley backyard.

The lack of tangible action being taken by community leaders to put an end to intolerance and bigotry has been frustrating for Sharp and others to endure. His latest project challenges people to take a deeper look within, and he is hopeful it is the catalyst to real change.

The project was launched on his website Dec. 14, and at the Comox Valley Art Gallery on Dec. 17. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The project was launched a couple of days ago, and it’s made its way not only across the Valley, but across the Island,” he said. “I’m surprised by the amount of support it’s received.”

Mackai Sharp’s project addressing intolerance and bigotry will premier at the Comox Valley Art Gallery on Dec. 17. Photo supplied

Sharp’s project is entitled “Kill Yourself” and done with the help of his photographer friend, Nula Power. It is a photo essay, as well as a written document.

The photo captions offer comments and slurs that have been directed at him personally due to his sexual orientation. Sharp, who is bisexual, said the project is not about his sexuality, or the LGBTQ community in particular, but rather about the larger picture of intolerance and bigotry within the community.

“I am utilizing my experiences as a vehicle to highlight how this intolerance isn’t just for people like me; it’s for a variety of different people in the Comox Valley, and how it is affecting all of them in a very similar manner,” he said. “It’s not just about sexual orientation. It’s about gender identity, people of colour, and anyone whose [similar experiences] have affected their quality of life in this community.

“It’s a way of showcasing that this is happening to a lot of different people.”

Sharp said his personal motivation for taking on this project was frustration due to a lack of acknowledgment from community leaders that such a problem exists in the Comox Valley.

The catalyst was a verbal racial attack launched against two women at a Courtenay restaurant earlier this year.

RELATED: Racial attack at Courtenay restaurant

Sharp, the victims, and a few other witnesses met with government officials in the wake of the incident in an attempt to affect change and have been disappointed with the aftermath, starting with the local school district and working its way higher.

“It’s been five months now. There have been promises that have been made for acknowledgment, for changes in policy, and there has been nothing – not a single acknowledgment.

“It really instilled this frustration and disgust within myself. I was like, if these people, who experienced outright bigotry, couldn’t get any action… it made me feel hopeless. I was so disappointed in my community and its stance on this issue. It brought back a lot of emotions from when I was dealing with the same sort of intolerance. So to deal with that, I used this creative outlet.”

Sharp explains in his written document that the incessant bullying and bigotry he endured in high school eventually made him turn to home-schooling to complete his high school education. (He is in Grade 12 this year.)

Local politicians react

Sharp said the launch of his project on the website has already prompted some response from community leaders, including North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, who reached out to him after seeing it.

“I think it is powerful and very brave,” Blaney said to The Record, when asked her impressions of the project. “The language Mackai has experienced is absolutely heartbreaking. Part of building strong communities is creating an environment of belonging. To be told you do not belong is an injustice that needs to be addressed and Mackai is doing that.”

“It’s devastating to hear, but also I am very proud of him for being able to voice what we know is happening in our community that we never give voice to,” added Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, when contacted by The Record. “It’s very impressive, and very brave of him.”

Comox Valley Regional District director Arzeena Hamir was also moved by Sharp’s project.

“I fully understand that Mackai’s story isn’t just a single story,” she said. “I’ve heard it repeated so many times, be it a young woman dealing with sexual assault, a person of colour dealing with a racial slur. I myself have been a target so I know racism is present in the Valley. Our community does not do a great job dealing with difficult situations like this.

“I would love to see the day come for us to say, as a community, if you are a bigot, you are not welcome in the Comox Valley.”

It is reactions like these Sharp was hoping for when he set out to do the project.

“I hope it just, if anything, starts a conversation,” he said. “The concern to me is that we are allowing complacency to become the new normal. We are normalizing silence. I really just want the community to reassess its values.”

What can be done?

Blaney recognizes the need to be more proactive when it comes to intolerance.

“All too often we avoid what scares us. It is important to practise being an ally, because it’s not easy and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. We all need to be prepared to speak out against discrimination when we see it. There is no perfect reaction and every scenario is different, but inaction can be a matter of life and death, so we need to practise in order to be prepared.”

Leonard pointed to the re-implementation of a BC human rights commissioner as one important step towards making communities safer from acts of intolerance and hatred. BC’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, started her five-year term in September of 2019. (It had been dismantled in 2002.)

She also referred to the government’s work on reforming the Police Act. A special committee was formed in July to examine the current Police Act and bring its recommendations forward.

Sharp is particularly interested in seeing change at the school level, which, according to his project essay is where much of the intolerance is experienced. Sharp says it’s not just students being intolerant towards others, but the authority figures turning a blind eye to acts of hatred.

“I want them to present new options, new change in the district,” he said. “I don’t expect them to do that alone. I am more than happy to meet with them. I know a lot of other students that would be very happy to meet with them. We want the conversation to be positive.”

***

On Dec. 17, School District 71 sent out a statement regarding Sharp’s project.

“We are always concerned to learn that a student felt mistreated or not supported in our schools,” the statement read.

”We must continue to make changes necessary until all our students feel welcomed and cared for. Every child deserves an education free from discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation and violence. ”

Mackai Sharp’s project can be seen at his website, Mackaisharp.com (Readers should understand the project is graphic in nature, with bigoted language in the captions.)

Comox Valley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There still has been no arrests and the investigation is ongoing into the deaths of Nellie Williams and Fran Shurie on Christmas Eve, 2019. Police are asking for the public’s assistance in solving the crime. This memorial, located near Trunk Road and Canada Avenue where the crime occurred, still stands at the site of the double homicide. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Investigation continues into Duncan double murder

Police ask anyone with information on Christmas Eve, 2019, crime to contact them

An Island Health graph showing COVID-19 cases in the central Island by local health area between Dec. 27 and Jan. 23. (Island Health image)
Central Island’s COVID-19 case spike shifting, says Island Health

Cowichan Valley has seen the highest number of cases, but Nanaimo and south Island seeing upticks

Extensive water on No. 4 and 5 at the Mount Brenton Golf Course following heavy rains earlier this month. (Photo submitted)
Mount Brenton Golf Course does a booming business in 2020

A total of 15,000 more rounds played than the previous year

The memorial site for double-murder victims Nellie Williams and Fran Shurie, located in Charles Hoey Park, will be allowed to stay for another two months after the City of Duncan changed its policy on temporary memorials. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Duncan allows temporary memorials to stay longer

Policy change related to memorial for double-homicide victims in city park

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.
B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Most Read