RE: Response to the Open Letter published on October 21st, 2020 in Psymposia titled “An Open Letter and Call to Action for MAPS Canada.”

October 27, 2020

Dear Community,

RE: Response to the Open Letter published on October 21st, 2020 in Psymposia titled “An Open Letter and Call to Action for MAPS Canada.”

We would like to thank the authors, Ava Daeipour and Keeno Ahmed-Jones, for their volunteer work for MAPS Canada on diversity and for caring passionately about diversity and anti-racism. Now we have this opportunity to continue to grow and evolve as a community and an organization.  We are sorry that communication and our past responses to these important issues has been inadequate.  We sincerely commit to doing better as an organization.

We are saddened we have not been able to come to an amicable resolution with our two volunteers internally. We are committed to moving forward with integrity. While we will not always agree with one another, how we communicate our needs and disagreements is important in maintaining healthy, positive relationships. It is essential to express our disagreements with respect from an individual point of view and structurally as an organization.

MAPS Canada and its leadership highly value the beliefs and principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. As we continue on our path towards reaching our vision of a world where psychedelics are safely and legally available for everyone, we have and will continue to work as an organization towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We must do our best to dismantle societal barriers so that as many individuals and communities as possible can live a full and dignified life. Our goal with the legalization of psychedelics for medicine is to provide additional tools to heal trauma, depression and other mental health challenges that disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

Psychedelic research can also catalyze in some subjects, a unitive, mystical experience, with that sense of interconnectedness with the web of life acting as an antidote to racism, dehumanization, genocide, and separation from the environment.

Since inception, MAPS Canada and MAPS have each taken a stand to end one of the most racist tools of the state: The War on Drugs. We have been persistently vocal and dedicated to ending this blatantly unjust policy which is used disproportionately against marginalised communities. We are working towards a post-prohibition world where psychedelics, and other drugs, are available in a licensed-legalization context.

We believe in equity, and are actively working to allocate resources to ensure as many people as possible will one day have safe, affordable or free access to current and future therapies and treatments.

We believe in the importance of diversity, ensuring that more perspectives are seen, heard, and understood internally as an organization, represented externally in our clinical research populations, and within our therapists and speakers. We are actively working to fight racism and foster inclusion in our supporters, volunteers, researchers, and in the broader community, with examples to follow.

As MAPS Canada relies entirely on its volunteer base’s support, sometimes communication is not always ideal. The organization has experienced significant growth since its incorporation in 2011. Yet, MAPS Canada has only two full-time staff (full-time ED + ¾ time Volunteer Coordinator + ¼ Bookkeeper) – and we are very stretched for capacity on the best of days. The rest of our activities are shared and led by our fantastic volunteers’ hard work and passion.

In a recent re-organization in early 2020, it was decided by the Executive Director in consultation with other MAPS Canada leaders that all of MAPS Canada’s volunteer committees would switch to one lead, for clarity of communication and to save time and resources. The Diversity Committee initially had three co-leaders, two of whom, Keeno and Ava, were the volunteers who wrote the open letter.  After considerable reflection we offered this position to a woman of colour, one of the three diversity co-leads. She declined as she did not have the available time to take on the role. After further discussion another woman of colour, who has been a volunteer with MAPS Canada since May 2019, was chosen. The open letter simply describes this person as “Mark’s friend”, but omits the new lead’s impressive and directly relevant work experience and strong ability to work positively and constructively as a team member.

After numerous attempts at aligning with the volunteers acting as co-leads, it was clear we were at a stalemate and an executive decision needed to be made so the diversity committee could move forward. Verbal notification of the leadership change was provided to Keeno and Ava at least a week prior to September 29th – the day of the general volunteer meeting in question, and it was followed up in writing before this meeting.  As previously mentioned, our Executive Director asked one of the co-leaders if she would be the new leader, but she declined.  She agreed to the alternative choice of leader. She also agreed to give verbal notice to her coleaders as they both thought the feedback to the existing leaders would be better received if offered by her than the Executive Director.  In hindsight, the Executive Director should not have asked the co-lead to do this, and should have reached out to Keeno and Ava himself.

In response to our Diversity Committee leaders’ feedback and conversations, both MAPS Canada and MAPS Executive Director agreed that it was important to develop a vision statement to capture what we believed to be important in our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.  We jointly developed a vision statement which was released on June 10, 2020.  The vision statement can be found in full on the MAPS Canada website – https://mapscanada.org/diversity-vision/. Pending further consultation with the Diversity Committee, a Terms of Reference which will outline the specific goals and activities is currently under development and will be released soon.

In hindsight, we should have been clear prior to this summer that the vision statement for our organization should come from leadership, in wide consultation, and not a volunteer committee. We take responsibility for our lack of clarity and acknowledge that this has contributed to the difficult conversations with the Diversity Committee leaders. Simply put, this committee at times advocated for work that we felt to be too far out of scope. Due to the reality of our limited capacity, and after consultations, we eventually decided we needed to focus our work within the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) framework which would both fit within our “legalization of psychedelics” agenda and our limited resources.

With respect to Trevor Millar (our Board Chair), Trevor has been known to not shy away from controversial issues on social media. Trevor would like to apologize for his comments. He in no way condones racism or white supremacy and he and the board of MAPS Canada will continue to internally reflect on the issue.  The open letter voiced concerns regarding Trevor joining the Diversity Committee. To clarify, the reason he volunteered himself to become a part of the Diversity Committee was our desire to improve the strained communication we were experiencing.  We believed that more communication would be helpful at resolving issues. In one example, Trevor shared a metaphor, some coaching he’d been given recently by the head of a psychedelic society, that he needed to ‘stick to his knitting’ and not diffuse his own focus too much. His recommendation was that MAPS Canada too, needed to ‘stick to its knitting’ and not try to be all things to all people. This advice was not intended for any individual at the meeting, but the organization itself. Trevor is sorry it came across as insensitive.

Overall, there’s been significant work done by MAPS Canada in our efforts to increase diversity within the psychedelic space. MAPS Canada has for many years, partnered with Cosmic Sister in support of their mission to cultivate diversity in the psychedelic field and community, and in their ongoing series of formal awards and grants, which support and publicly recognize many BIPOC members. We have recently ran a successful event where we celebrated the contribution of women to psychedelic science and legalization. The MAPS Canada webinar series had three (of 13) BIPOC members in the first season and six BIPOC (of 25) members in the second season.  Finally, it can be observed at our meetings and events that the community of volunteers we bring together are more and more representative of all of society and the rich diversity it encompasses. 

MAPS Canada leadership has been reflecting deeply on how we can be better allies to marginalized and BIPOC communities, and we know we must do better.  Part of our organizational growth on this issue is to acknowledge that our board and staff are white individuals who come from positions of power and privilege. Looking ahead, MAPS Canada leadership will undergo further reflection through diversity and decolonization training. The training will first begin with the MAPS Canada leadership so that we can better understand and respond to the needs of our BIPOC volunteers and broader community.

We want to thank the Diversity Committee’s previous co-leaders for the call to action items they added at the end of the letter. Some of these action items are already being included in our processes. Many more are under consideration by the current Diversity Committee members. On September 30th, the Executive Director wrote Ava and Keeno a personal apology and thank you letter and want to do so again. Thank You for the long hours you put in on the MAPS Canada Diversity Committee and the incredible passion you have for making the world a better place. 

Sincerely, 

Mark Haden (Executive Director)

and the MAPS Canada Board (Rick Doblin, Colleen Fish, Gillian Maxwell, Trevor Millar, Eesmyal Santos-Brault, Mike Zaremba)