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Sheila Rose Jones Steele, 1943-2006

Sheila Jones Steele was a member of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière in the 1960s. She held a variety of positions, including organizer of the Toronto branch. Among many other achievements, she helped to author and present the League's brief to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1968, a document that helped set the political basis for the LSA's active participation in the women's liberation movement several years later.

This tribute, by Sheila’s sister Monica, was published in the Globe and Mail on April 20, 2007. It is posted with her kind permission.

by Monica Jones

Daughter, mother, sister, friend, activist, injustice-buster. Born Jan. 24, 1943 in Milden, Sask. Died Nov. 11, 2006 of arterial sclerosis, in Saskatoon, aged 63.

In 1993, Sheila Steele met Richard Klassen. They were smoking outside the Saskatoon Court House. Both were attending the Martensville sexual abuse trial. Richard was trying to clear the Klassen name after charges of child abuse had been stayed against him and other family members.

Because of a publication ban, the media were not telling his story. Sheila and Richard began putting up posters in downtown Saskatoon with what they knew to be the truth. They were arrested while picketing the police station. Both were charged with defamatory libel. Charges against Sheila were eventually dropped and Richard was acquitted.

With access to police files and evidence disclosed from the libel charges, they successfully sued those responsible for this malicious prosecution. The Klassen case is documented in an award-winning episode of The Fifth Estate.

Sheila embraced the Internet. She regarded it as a place where one could publish and read the truth. Sheila and Richard launched injusticebusters.com in 1998 to publish information on the Klassen case. Injusticebusters went on to give voice to those seeking justice, particularly those wrongly accused and wrongly convicted. Many people are telling their stories on the site. Sheila hated secrecy on the part of the government and powers that be. Injusticebusters defied publication bans. She saw the Internet as a great leveller.

Sheila was the oldest of five daughters of Laura and Arthur Jones, farmers in Zealandia, Sask. As a teenager, she joined the Ban the Bomb movement in Regina. Soon she was attending a world youth festival in Finland and travelling overseas.

Before long she would enter socialist politics and marry John Steele. Son Kevin was born in 1964 in Minneapolis, just before they were expelled from the U.S. for their opposition to the war in Vietnam and defence of Cuba. This young family bounced from Toronto and Vancouver to London, England and Brussels. The marriage did not survive. Sheila returned to Saskatchewan with Kevin, settling in Saskatoon in 1970, where her parents lived.

Here her photography blossomed and she found a vibrant community of women's liberation activists. She took a library technician course, had another son, graduated with an honours MA in English literature from the University of Saskatchewan, taught there for several years, and spent four months in a correctional institute for growing marijuana. These facts only begin to tell her story.

She focused single-mindedly on whatever she was doing. For the last eight years, that was Injusticebusters. Some may question the path she took, but none can say she sought personal gain or glory.

Her mother, Laura Jones, remembers marching with Sheila, first against the war in Vietnam in 1967, and many more times for many causes. "Sheila phoned me on Nov. 4 to let me know there was a peace march in support of bringing the troops home from Afghanistan. It was a cold morning and I would just as soon not have bothered. But I went. As it turned out it was our last march together."

Sheila's youngest son, Marlon Gidluck, says his mother was his best friend and marvelled at her ability to take photographs of street people without offending them. Before her death, Sheila was active on Flickr.com, a photo-sharing website.

She had an original prayer: "Goddess, give me the strength to always do the possible, the courage to tackle the impossible and the wisdom to realize that if I start feeling too serene then I'm probably not doing my job."

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