Film Screening and Panel
May 13, 2023, 3 PM to 5:30 PM
Karin Lee, Lisa Mar, and Rosel Kim
Moderator: Jan Wong
“My whole body shook after watching Incorrigible. I was struck to my core with rage, sorrow, and admiration of Velma Demerson’s resilience in the face of the squalid racism of the day. She’s an inspiration.”
— Simon Choa-Johnston, author, The House of Wives and House of Daughters
Join us for a free screening of Karin Lee’s Incorrigible: A Film About Velma Demerson on May 13, 2023, at 3 PM located at Innis Hall, University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Following the screening will be a panel bringing together the illustrious voices of Karin Lee, writer and director; Lisa Mar, associate professor for the Department of History at the University of Toronto; and Rosel Kim, senior staff lawyer at the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), with moderator Jan Wong, Canadian academic, journalist, and writer.
2023 marks the centenary of Canada’s 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act, which deemed people of Chinese descent “unsuitable for citizenship”, and prevented people of Chinese heritage from entering Canada for 24 years. This dark part of Canada’s history is shared with the signing of the Williams Treaties and the passing of the Female Refugees Act in 1913 by the Ontario Legislature, which created a unique intersection of vulnerabilities for women. This Act granted judges the power to order the incarceration of women in Ontario and the placement of girls identified as uncontrollable or ‘incorrigible’ into reform facilities, where they were expected to work to support the institution.
In 1939 Velma Demerson was labelled as ‘incorrigible’ and jailed for falling in love with Harry Yip, a Chinese man she would later marry. Demerson was only 18 years old at the time of her imprisonment at the Belmont Home and Mercer Reformatory for Women. Sixty years later, Demerson successfully sued the Ontario government for her wrongful incarceration, arguing that the Female Refugees Act was in fact disguised criminal law and is outside provincial jurisdiction. After her legal battle in 2002, Demerson received an official apology from Premier Ernie Eves and continued to advocate for women’s and children’s rights until her passing on May 13, 2019.
Co-presented by Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival and CCNC-SJ, this screening would not be possible without the collective support of our co-sponsors from the University of Toronto and The Metropolitan Lincoln Alexander School of Law.
Karin Lee is an award-winning writer, director, producer and media artist whose films, experimental media and installations reflect themes about women, gender, sexuality and the Chinese diaspora.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Karin is a fourth-generation Canadian. Her activist parents worked in Vancouver’s Chinatown and the downtown Eastside where her father ran a Chinese communist bookstore and her mother worked as a legal secretary for a Chinese Canadian lawyer. With an undergraduate degree in Chinese and English literature from UBC, Karin moved to Beijing to study Chinese at Beijing University from 1982-1984. When she returned to Canada, no-one would hire her and she began working in the arts.
Karin co-founded TOP DOLLAR SISTERS PRODUCTIONS, a film and media production company which has garnered many awards and recognition for excellence in filmmaking including a Gemini (The Canada Award), from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television for Ms. Lee’s groundbreaking documentary Made in China, about children adopted from China living in Canada.
Ms. Lee has written and directed over 20 shorts, scripted films, documentary, installations and period dramas which have received BC Leos, multiple awards for Best Writer, Best Director, Best Documentary and Best short film from international film festivals from around the world.
Karin was recognized in 2014 by the Mayor of Vancouver as Film and New Media Artist Award of the year; was nominated for the 2017 YWCA for the Women of Distinction Awards in Education, Training and Development, and received the “Leadership in Education” Award by Vancouver Women in Film and Television Society.
In 2018 Lee had a solo show at the SUM Gallery (Canada’s first Queer Art Gallery). She launched her drama series: Plan B, a comedic drama set in a women’s sexual health clinic. Incorrigible – A film about Velma Demerson was released in 2022. She is currently in post-production on Girl with Big Feet (Ts’ekoo Cha Ke), a short period drama about a girl who is to have her feet bound in late 1800’s Barkerville, BC.
Karin Lee taught Film Production as an Adjunct Professor at University of British Columbia and created and managed UBC Film Multicultural Film Production Program and Phil Lind’s Multicultural Artist-in-residency program; she has also taught at the UBC Department of History as well as at Simon Fraser University Asia-Canada Program.
Lisa Mar specializes in modern Canadian and U.S. immigration and ethnic history, especially the experiences of Asian Canadians and Asian Americans. Her research focuses on Chinese Canadians and Chinese Americans, their relations with their neighbours, and connections between global and local multicultural experiences in Canada.
Mar’s first book, Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885-1945 (Oxford University Press, 2010), exemplifies her blending of Canadian and Pacific World Studies by tracing how community leaders’ political struggles to represent Chinese Canadians’ concerns to Canadian institutions revealed a Canada deeply embedded in a Pacific World that joined China, the United States and the British Empire.
Brokering Belonging’s innovative re-imagining of early Chinese Canadians as influential political actors in Canada earned the Association for Asian American Studies History Book Award (2011), Honorable Mention for the Albert B. Corey Prize for best book in US-Canadian history from the American Historical Association and the Canadian Historical Association (2011) and a nomination for the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction (2010).
Mar is currently working on two book projects: an historical study of ethnic Chinese Confucianism in Canada and the United States during the 19th and 20th century, and a comparative history of Chinese in Canada and in the United States during the Second World War.
Rosel Kim is a Senior Staff Lawyer at LEAF. In her role, Rosel contributes to the development and management of LEAF’s cases and drafts LEAF’s law reform submissions. She recently acted as co-counsel for LEAF in Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform et al v. Canada (Attorney General), a case challenging the constitutionality of sex work provisions in the Criminal Code. Rosel led LEAF’s process to develop a position on sex work, a first for the organization, and co-wrote LEAF’s position paper on this topic. Rosel currently leads LEAF’s Technology-Facilitated Violence Project, which explores equality-centred legal responses to technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). She is regularly invited to speak on issues linked to technology and gender-based violence to government committees, members of the media, and the broader legal community.
Outside of LEAF, Rosel serves on the Board of Directors of the Korean Legal Clinic, which aims to improve access to justice for Korean Canadians by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate legal services, education, and resources. Her writing about justice issues, race, and gender have been published in the Toronto Star, The Ex-Puritan, GUTS Magazine, among others. Rosel was recently named the 2023 Young Lawyer of the Year by the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers.
Jan Wong is an award-winning Canadian journalist and author. She is the granddaughter of a Chinese railroad worker who in 1881 left Toisan 台山, China, to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway across the Rocky Mountains, and who became the 10th Chinese in Canada to become a citizen. More than 50 years ago, her father, Bill Wong, became the first restaurateur in Canada to offer the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.
In 1972, as a third-generation Montrealer, Jan Wong became the first Canadian to study in China during the Cultural Revolution. In 1989 as Beijing bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, she covered the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Her first book, Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, was named one of Time magazine’s top ten books of 1996, and remains banned in China.
DATE & TIME: May 13, 2023, 3 PM – 5:30 PM
VENUE: Innis Town Hall Theatre
LOCATION: Innis College, 2 Sussex Ave, Toronto, ON, M5S 1J
This screening could not have been made possible without the collective support of our co-sponsors from the University of Toronto and The Metropolitan Lincoln Alexander School of Law.