Chants of "Not your body, not your rules" rang out outside Peter Nygard’s former business on Wednesday afternoon during a demonstration in solidarity with sexual violence survivors.
"A small group of determined women can start a movement, but it takes strong, sustained, collective action to force change on an unwilling establishment," University of Manitoba labour studies professor Julie Guard said to the crowd. "We are part of that movement. We can change the world."
Around 50 people attended the gathering, named Time's Up Nygard, which was first announced Aug. 17 through Instagram. The Notre Dame building where the group rallied was once a Nygard business property and was briefly his temporary residence, but is now in the process of being sold. Organizers of the demonstration include members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees local 2348, Migrante Manitoba, Women’s March Winnipeg and the Workers United Canada Council.
Nygard, once considered a Winnipeg success story for the fashion empire that bears his name, is the subject of a class-action lawsuit first filed Feb. 13, in which 57 people have said Nygard was sexually abusive to them over the last four decades.
On Aug. 16, two of Nygard’s sons filed a lawsuit in U.S. court alleging their father had paid a sex worker to rape them as teenagers.
Susan Rodriguez, who spoke at the rally, has lived in Winnipeg for 20 years. Since she arrived, she said, she has spoken out in support of migrant workers and is currently a volunteer with advocacy group Migrante Manitoba.
Women who are migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, Rodriguez said, because employers are aware of their precarious worker status.
"There’s so many fears," she said. "You want to better your life, but then, at the same time, you don’t want to be deported. If something unfortunate happens, you just keep it to yourself."
The intersectional nature of violence against women and workers' rights was discussed several times during the rally. Activist Leslie Spillett, who acted as a union representative for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union in the 1980s, said her experience working with Nygard brought up memories of "an exploiter of primarily female workers of colour."
"In addition to being a serial sexual predator, Peter Nygard is an exploiter of women and labour, and a union buster," Spillett said to the crowd. Nygard has denied all allegations and no accusations have been proven in court.
The demonstrations included a group recital of "Un Violador En Tu Camino" -- "A Rapist in Your Path" in English -- a Chilean protest song against the impunity enjoyed by many sexual abusers.
Sarah Nick and Rhiannon Smith came together to support the rally, and both said they hoped demonstrations like these would provide both solidarity to survivors and a chance at education for allies.
"If this has never happened to you, I think it’s good that you get out there, you educate yourself, so you can have a better understanding of what people go through every day, to be empathetic, and then you can stand up for what you believe in," Nick said.
"I think just raising awareness of how common rape and sexual assault is (is important), especially from people in positions of power, and how scary it can be for these people to come out, but once they do, there’s that domino effect," Smith said. "It can bring people out and make people more aware."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.