“Solidarity to Protect Our Waters”
I missed this past weekend’s #NoLogging #NoMercury demonstration for Grassy Narrows in Toronto. The demo saw 7 full marching bands accompanied by busses full of people who descended upon the home of Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynn. The message being sent was that the people of Ontario demand that the Province adhere to the decision made by the people of Grassy Narrows that there be no more logging on their territory, and that the mercury poisoning of their waters be cleaned up and properly compensated for.
Sunday’s demo comes ten and a half years after a youth led blockade against clear-cut logging was initiated on their territory, and one day after an action by youth and women of Grassy Narrows, accompanied by other Anishnabek youth and women attending the annual Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, participated in a demonstration of their own, sending a message about their intent to protect the waters of their territory against further damage from mining and other environmental threats.
I missed the demo on Sunday because I was in Grassy Narrows, where I’ve been for a week now, having attended the Youth Gathering and the annual Grassy Narrows Pow Wow in the preceding days. The theme of this year’s gathering was “Solidarity to Protect our Waters.” I had been scheduled to facilitate a workshop on the impacts of mining and Indigenous resistance to mining companies around the world.
I was going to talk about the position of mining in the global economic system of corporate colonial capitalism, and how people from communities who resist Canadian mining companies (the same companies which seek to mine on Indigenous lands here in so called Canada, who are also operating in the global south) are often attacked by paramilitary security forces. I was going to talk about how mining operations rip apart and devastate the earth and the ways they poison the waters in the regions in which they operate. I was also going to talk about the fierce resistance undertaken by Indigenous Peoples around the world and how that resistance is most effective when people are on the land, using it and defending it.
At the workshop I would have talked about how the Federal Conservative’s Navigable Waters Act allows for any lake that is not part of a “navigable waterway” (i.e., a river system) to be re-designated so that it can be used as a “tailing pond” for mining (or other industrial) waste and runoff. I would have talked about how the Ontario Mining Act reserves mining as the priority usage for any land such that any private or crown lands can be staked for mining by any licensed prospector who can prove they have capital to extract the resources: this is a big part of why it is so hard to stop mining companies from carrying out their destructive operations in Ontario, even when they do not have the consent of the Peoples upon whose territories they operate.
I didn’t get the chance to facilitate that discussion, but instead I had the honour of being able to participate, as a settler-ally, in a demonstration on the land, for the water, with some of the fiercest, most inspiring people I know. At the Youth Gathering, I also had the privilege of hearing some of those people—mostly Anishnabek women—talk about the importance of protecting the water, not only for reasons of environmental protection, but as a fundamental part of processes of decolonization and traditional resurgence for Anishnabek Peoples.
The most compelling message, I think, was about the deep connection between the destruction of the waters and the violence against Indigenous women that is endemic to this colonial society. The capitalist raping of the land and patterns of missing and murdered Indigenous women are connected in numerous ways, and combined, amount to a real and primary strategy for destroying Indigenous Nations, cultures and Peoples—genocide—so that the Canadian (and American) Nation State and capitalist corporations can legitimize their theft and plunder of the land: Without the presence of strong Indigenous women in Indigenous communities, Clan-Mother based governance systems of Indigenous Nations cannot function; without access to undestroyed land, Indigenous cultures cannot survive. We talked about deep cultural, political, spiritual and ceremonial connections between Indigenous territories and waters and Indigenous women. We talked about both the destruction of Indigenous lands from resource extraction and the systemic societal devaluing of Indigenous women that makes possible existing and ongoing patterns of missing and murdered Indigenous women, both as forms of explicit active genocidal racism being enacted at the state level with the complicity of all settlers residing here.
At the gathering we also heard about threats to water from fracking and from pipelines, and about the damage done by a Goldcorp gold mine on upstream Lac Seul First Nation Territory at Red Lake and the fight against imminent construction of a new hydro dam at Big Falls. There was also a presentation from one of the founders of Idle No More, and there were ceremonies, traditional teachings and a ‘mini pow wow,’ as well as lots of singing and drumming by the camp fire. For many of the youth, it seemed, teachings from Elders, Clan Mothers and Warriors were highlights of the gathering.
On Sunday, while the demonstration was taking place out front of Premier Wynne’s home in Toronto, I went swimming at some local cliffs in Grassy Narrows Territory with a group 10-12 year old girls who are members of the youngest generation of one of the families here, which I have had the honour and privilege of coming close to over the years, that has been central in the blockade and the ongoing fight here against logging and other forms of environmental destruction. One of the girls looked at the tattoo on my back and asked me what “Resist” means. I told them it means fighting back when people who have more power than us try to hurt the people or places we love and need. She asked me if I meant like when her aunts stopped the logging the trucks here. I told her that was precisely the kind of actions that I was talking about. Another one of the girls pointed out that the word in “Resist” can be rearranged to spell “Sister.”
In a lot of ways, it is those girls and their peers that are the reason that this fight in Grassy Narrows in particular, like other anti-colonial fights led by Indigenous women and youth, is the struggle that I find myself most committed to. It is the understanding of how deep the connection is between the destruction of the land and violence against Indigenous women, as well as knowing how urgent is the need and real the possibility of defeating the destruction of the land and People here on this territory, that keeps me going back to the front lines and back on to the land to resist.
I want to write about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign in Toronto. I want to write about how three different young Indigenous women have been apparently killed this summer in this city, and how like across the country such deaths are so often not taken seriously by the state. I want to write about the connection between these deaths and the murder of a Syrian teenager by Toronto police. I definitely want to recall their names: Cheyenne Fox, Terra Gardner and Bella Laboucan-McLean; Sammy Yatim. I want to write about the connection between the horrific phenomenon of missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country and the capitalist ethos of environmental destruction and how at a really deep level these patterns can be seen as part of one and the same.
But I still haven’t figured out how to write about that.
But it is almost Prisoners’ Justice Day and I figured that I should post something to this blog. After all, the problem of prisons in this system is also connected to the patterns and problems above.
So, below is something that I’d meant to have posted quite a while ago. It is the sentencing statement that I delivered to the court on June 26, 2012 before I went in to jail to serve time for my role in organizing the protests that took over the streets of Toronto during the G20 Summit in the summer of 2010.
Those protests were about a lot more than the G20 and the austerity agenda that was ushered in through those meetings. They were also about all that which I mentioned above, and about people uniting to resist intersecting and overlapping forms of oppression and violence.
Prisoners’ Justice Day is on August 10, this year and every year. While the statement below was my attempt to challenge the Crown and the Court’s processes of persecution that they exacted through the G20 Main Conspiracy Case like they do with all their prosecutions, I hope that people will take the 10th to think about, not only the people in prisons and the history of prisons, prison organizing and resistance, but also the way prisoners’ justice and resistance against prisons intersects with the fight for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, for the victims of police murder, and for all families and communities struggling against the ongoing racist legacies of colonialism and capitalism that continue to attack us everyday.
ONTARIO COURT OF JUSTICE
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN
BEFORE THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE L. BUDZINSKI
AT TORONTO, ONTARIO, ON JUNE 26, 2012
J. Miller, Esq. Counsel for the Crown
J. Norris, Esq. Counsel for the accused
THE ACCUSED: The first thing I want to address is the point that Mr. Norris finished on. It has been stated throughout these proceedings repeatedly by Mr. Miller, and by several J.P.s, and I think even by yourself, that this case isn’t about politics, and I want to suggest that that’s ridiculous. That everybody who has witnessed this case be it the defence lawyers, be it the media, be it non-politicized family members of the co-accused and community, this is so obviously about politics.
And given that we keep hearing this phrase about putting the reputation of the justice system into disrepute, or anything like that, or other variance of that we have heard, I think every single time, either someone behind the Bench, or the Crown Attorney suggests this isn’t political, it puts the justice system in disrepute.
I think the most concrete evidence of that is when we compare the sentences given to people who were caught breaking a couple windows during the G20, versus what has happened to people who were caught in Vancouver [during the Stanley Cup riot].
There was recently a young man who broke a half dozen windows, was involved in fist fights, smashed up a couple cop cars, he got 1 month. They are trying to give Kelly Pflug-Back, a G20 defendant, 18 to 24 for almost the same set of charges. So to suggest that this isn’t political is, I think, ridiculous.
Further, the way that the Crown, as Mr. Norris also eluded to, has demonized otherwise perfectly normal community groups, I mean, AWOL is a group that existed in Kitchener for almost a half dozen years, the way we were described by the Crown in this case, we were never, ever described by any political people in Kitchener, Waterloo, or by the police that way. This was a new invention that was part of politicizing this case. It is not an accurate description of who we were as a group. And, you know, pictures of me hugging the Mayor of Waterloo after one of our actions from years ago I think would attest to that. This is a fabrication of these OPP guys, and this Crown unit, that we are some kind of evil organization.
I also think –another thing that speaks to that is the tremendous focus that was put on hyperbolic rhetoric. Things that I accept that were clearly offensive and societally unacceptable ideas to put forward, some of the quotes that we heard over and over again [during our bail hearings and at the preliminary inquest], but trying to take quotes that were obviously jokes, and frame them as serious political discourse, and then say that is what makes us more guilty, that is a ploy, and it’s a political ploy. I think it is very clearly a political ploy meant to turn people against us, so that people won’t listen to what we actually have to say. And I think that’s really obvious, and I don’t think — I don’t think the media were duped, and I don’t think the public were duped, and I don’t understand why… I understand why the Crown is insisting on it. I don’t understand why the courts are.
And that’s part of it, I think part of the reason it’s all happened is to put up a smoke screen and make it impossible for people to hear about the alternative ideas that we’re actually putting forward, or to have a reasonable discussion about tactics.
It can’t be illegal for us to talk about the possibility of actions, except the very premise of this case when it was still a conspiracy charge, was that merely being at meetings where people were talking about illegal actions may be part of a conspiracy to do those things, and I don’t know how we are supposed to have any kind of political discourse if we are not allowed to talk about ideas anymore.
I also think this case was really political because as we suspected from the beginning, as the disclosure has suggested through looking at the Intelligence Reports, and as through a number of F.O.I.s [Freedom of Information applications] into various issues, including the 2009 Aboriginal JIG [Joint Intelligence Group] Report will confirm a lot of what this case was about really clearly to people who have looked through it all; it was about targeting a growing network of radical activists.
There has been a burgeoning network over the last half dozen years in this country, of Indigenous Sovereigntists and their allies, migrant justice organizers, and anarchists. And we have seen time and time again in the evidence that those networks are explicitly what are being targeted by the Intelligence operations. We have seen it in who was selected for — to get brought into this case, as opposed to who wasn’t. And then when this JIG report came out, when someone dug it up, half of what they are talking about in that report those networks, anarchists, migrant justice organizers, — in the RCMP’s report about policing aboriginal communities. And that is — they talk about it in the case as part of the goals, but I don’t know how much of the disclosure – you don’t have access to all of the disclosure until it comes before the court.
THE COURT: I want you to understand that your plea, your admission of the facts, constitutes all the information that I have to deal with this case.
THE ACCUSED: Right.
THE COURT: It would be inappropriate for me to read newspapers, and look at what you may have said or done outside, or prior issues that you may have raised before, or the history of anyone, I am isolated by the information I have in this courtroom and nothing more, do you understand that?
THE ACCUSED: I understand that, and I think that’s part of what is – it’s somewhat problematic about the system. I think that this whole process that we have been dragged through is really — has been all about the criminalization of dissent, and I think that if you want to take the position that you can only — that you are very bound by a certain set of parameters, then I would suggest the court is being used as a weapon by the Crown and the police to criminalize dissent. I would suggest, perhaps, the Court has been used in that way.
Dissent has very much been criminalized. It is very clear to most people that things like [the Crown] appealing our bail, given that we weren’t actually accused of anything violent, things like asking for two year sentences for what are essentially thought crimes, that these are about nothing more than intimidating the public to try to scare people from doing the types of things we were doing—like Mr. Miller just said, deterrence. But this is deterrence from thinking. This is deterrence from engaging in politic activity. This is deterrence from community organizing.
Deterrence from smashing windows is catching people smashing windows, and charging them appropriately, not giving them politically motivated sentences for doing so.
And I think it has specifically been about, not just criminalizing the idea that we are not allowed to talk about these things, but in the course of the way their case was put together, actual tactics and methods of political organizing have also been criminalized. The suggestion that merely being at a meeting where something illegal was talked about makes you part of a conspiracy, makes even the most peaceful soft forms of civil disobedience, conspiracies, because how can you plan them without talking about them.
And I think part of the reason why the Crown didn’t want us to go to trial was so that we couldn’t talk about those issues in court, so you couldn’t see all the disclosure, so that there wouldn’t be an actual public conversation on these things.
We were quite explicitly silenced. When I first got out of jail, the –
THE COURT: You are not suggesting your counsel in some way is part of the conspiracy, are you?
THE ACCUSED: No, I am not –I don’t believe in conspiracy.
THE COURT: You did have counsel, and counsel represented you.
THE ACCUSED: Counsel represented me, stuck by in the parameters of a system, and I will — and I am going to get to that a bit, but I think that the fact that we were very explicitly silenced, that I came out of jail and was told, “You’re not allowed to talk· to the media,”
THE COURT: Are you being silenced now?
THE ACCUSED: No. I had to fight. I had to refuse my bail conditions at one point, and then we –
THE COURT: Are you being silenced right now?
THE ACCUSED: Right now, no. But I think this process — there has been a tremendous amount of –
THE COURT: Let’s keep focused on what we are doing right now, that’s all –
THE ACCUSED: But right now is the culmination of four years. It’s not just the culmination of the trial, and since the arrest, it’s also the whole operation. And I think the court has to own some of what the police did. I think the court is much more responsible for what the police did than anyone else in the room, other than the police.
So you know, these lawsuits that are starting to come up, I think the court is somewhat complicit in those things that happened for not having stopped it.
I also think that the process was –was used tremendously to bully us into a deal. We were told –
THE COURT: What do you mean “a deal?”
THE ACCUSED: The plea deal. I totally accept –
THE COURT: Do you want to take a moment to speak to your counsel?
THE ACCUSED: No, I have talked to him about this. I totally accept that I definitely… I’m quite sure I did something illegal in this process. i’m quite sure that the nine months i’m about to serve is relatively appropriate for what I did. I think it’s unfortunate that none of us can tell anyone which parts of what we did are actually illegal.
The Crown approached… once the discussion for a deal was on the table, we were told “it’s all or nothing. Either there’s a group deal, or nobody is getting cut.” This is in a system where one of our co-accused was facing potential deportation if found convicted, where there were 19 year olds only peripherally involved –
THE COURT: Each of the parties were represented by counsel.
THE ACCUSED: Yeah.
THE COURT: The parties had a right to say no, and each of the parties had a right to go to trial. I clearly articulated to you that you do have a right to go to trial—
THE ACCUSED: Yeah.
THE COURT: –and that by entering a plea you are waiving that Constitutional right to have a trial –
THE ACCUSED: I have a right to a trial, but what the system doesn’t—
THE COURT: But hold on, let me –
THE ACCUSED: –afford me –
THE COURT: Let me finish. Let me finish, okay? You have all the freedom in the world to write about whatever you want to write about, or speak about whatever you want to speak about after today. You also have some rights to speak about relevant issues today in the case. But if you are saying in some way that you were coerced, or that you entered a plea against your will, that is a different matter.
THE ACCUSED: I’m not saying it was “against my will,” and I’m not sure quite what “coerced” means, because this whole process, the whole system is inherently coercive. If I don’t pay my taxes, I get in trouble. If I… we live in a coercive society. That is the nature of the authority in our society
THE COURT: And destruction of property is also coercive –
THE ACCUSED: Sure, that’s not what we are talking about.
THE COURT: Well, we are. That is exactly what we are talking about. We are talking—
THE ACCUSED: Okay, well I’ll get –
THE COURT: –about the freedom of speech that has been reduced to coercive acts of violence against property. That is –
THE ACCUSED: I think that –
THE COURT: That is no different than the coercion that you speak about.
THE ACCUSED: I think it is quite different. But to suggest that what we did was somehow more coercive than the way the police and the Crown have used the system that they possess against us –
THE COURT: In a free and democratic society, it is important that both the authorities and the public recognize that it is, I suppose, an issue of faith, and that people treat each other with dignity. Breaches of dignity or self-respect are wrong for either side to employ in any situation. One cannot—
THE ACCUSED: Okay, then
THE COURT: — justify their own use of breach of dignity or respect to other people by saying that the other person disrespected me first. There are revolutions throughout this world. There are panics in different parts of this country, not this country, but other countries right now, where one religious group fights another religious group I or and one particular political group fights another political group only because they are saying, “You did this to me, and I didn’t do this to you, so I’m going to do it back to you.” Unless we return to the fundamental issues of a democratic society, where everyone treats everyone with dignity, recognizing that there is mutual obligations both on the State and the individual, democratic societies will fail.
THE ACCUSED: Well, frankly, I would suggest that the direction this country is going in, and the very austerity agenda we were protesting, is the most violent thing that anyone did out of all of this, and to suggest that we have a wonderful democratic country that we need to protect with the rule of law, given what the austerity agenda they were putting into place that weekend, given what the police did, given what we can see happening in Montreal right now, I think it’s ridiculous. We have got a situation just across the Provincial border that is nearing the type of revolution you are talking about.
THE COURT: You are an intelligent man. I don’t want to engage in a lot of non-topic or non-relevant issues to what is happening here today. Like I say, you are free to pick up a pen, you are free to write, you are free to speak after today, after the sentence is imposed, in any way you wish.
THE ACCUSED: But I am not free to talk about the process right now?
THE COURT: Well, you have to keep it relevant. You have to keep –
THE ACCUSED: I’ve got –
THE COURT: We have got to keep it to how that sentence is relevant to you.
THE ACCUSED: I think that talking about the fact that we were, I would agree probably within the confines of the law, bullied into a deal. I accept I did something wrong, I accept the terms –
THE COURT: I am going to take five minutes. You may want to speak to your lawyer because –
THE ACCUSED: I have talked to my lawyer.
THE COURT: No, no, no. I I want you to-take five minutes because to say that you are bullied into a dealt I think you need to –
THE ACCUSED: I am qualifying the term “bullied” but –
THE COURT: No, no, we are not playing linguistics here.
THE ACCUSED: We have been playing linguistics since the beginning.
THE COURT: No, I am going to –
THE ACCUSED: When he –when Mr. Miller dragged out the dictionary—
THE COURT: No, no
THE ACCUSED: –we started playing linguistics.
THE COURT: I am going to give you five minutes to speak to your lawyer, okay? You can have five minutes –
THE ACCUSED: Well, how about this, why don’t I fire my lawyer right now and you can talk to me. I don’t want the five minutes.
THE COURT: Just keep it to the point then.
THE ACCUSED: I am trying to keep it to the point. Talking about the process and the way this deal happened, how can that not be relevant to the sentencing hearing that is happening right now?
THE COURT: Mr., Miller, is there an issue here of concern by the Crown?
MR. MILLER: No.
THE COURT: I just –
MR. MILLER: No, I understand Mr. Hundert to be saying –he is explaining his motivation for entering a plea. I don’t take it to be somebody overcame –
THE ACCUSED: And that’s not what l’m trying to say either –
THE COURT: Wait a second. Wait a second. Mr Norris, you agree with the –
MR. NORRIS: Your Honour, I agree with Mr. Miller.
THE COURT: Okay.
MR. NORRIS: I think Mr. Hundert has stated his –
THE COURT: Okay, that’s fine, thank you very much. Go ahead.
THE ACCUSED: So I don’t know where I was in all of this, but I think that that all –all of that, I think you have got a system that you preside over that is flawed. I think it is set up to allow the Crowns to bully defendants into plea deals.
I spent a lot of time in jail, not a lot of time, I spent a very small time in jail, but got to talk to some people who have spent half their lives in jail who talk about pleading over and over again to charges they didn’t’ commit because of the way the system’ operates. Bail is used as a coercive mechanism, and the process is used as a coercive mechanism. The process is used as a coercive mechanism to rack up’ convictions. I’m not saying I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m saying it’s a shame that because we –nobody wanted to go to trial — that nobody knows which things are actually illegal. We didn’t set any precedent in this case, and that’s unfortunate, and that doesn’t fulfill justice.
And all I’m saying is that if the Crown had let the people who obviously weren’t guilty, and should have been cut out of this case get cut, and let the people who wanted to go to trial to have a public discourse about all of this go, that that would have been serving everybody’s definition of justice much better.
And I would just caution the Court and the Crown, and everything else involved, to not let this stuff keep happening. If this system is allegedly about justice, avoiding the conversation is not useful.
I also think — I mean one of the things that has happened through these sentencing hearings… You chastised Peter Hopperton for mentioning the Arab Spring. And then Leah Henderson was maybe not chastised, but, you know, when her lawyer submitted the Time magazine cover of the Occupy “person of the year, protester” story, and I think that in the time that has gone… since then it has become clear that these things are connected.
To suggest that the austerity agenda that we were protesting at the G20, and what is happening in Quebec right now is unconnected would be ridiculous. It is clearly connected to austerity –
THE COURT: No, but just to keep it –
THE ACCUSED: No –
THE COURT: Just to keep it understood is that the comments I made were not against the issues. That is not for me to decide or be involved in. The comments I made were in the effectiveness of the method used. The Arab Spring was very much a social media concern –
THE ACCUSED: That’s not actually true.
THE COURT: Well, okay, I –
THE ACCUSED: That is inaccurate.
THE COURT: We can argue here for hours and –
THE ACCUSED: Yeah, but this is my turn to speak.
THE COURT: No, no. But we can’t argue that point because there is no resolution –
THE ACCUSED: There is. There is. You could actually do the research and go back and look at the footage. People were getting killed live on CNN in Cairo. There was — it was a tremendously violent movement. The spirit of the movement was peaceful, and people were supportive of it so they called it a peaceful movement. That’s part of what our global media does. Is when we support things, we call them peaceful. When we don’t support them, we call them violent. It’s part of the way the whole system works.
For example, it has been suggested that one of the really egregious things we did was to be willing to use violence to achieve political ends. I would suggest that almost everybody is willing to do that. You, yourself, are willing to do that. If I refuse to go to jail at the end of this hearing, what is going to happen? You guys in uniforms are going to physically drag me out of this room. That is a use of violence for political ends, and I only bring that up to suggest that the statement, “Using violence for political ends is always wrong,” is it’s a fallacy. It’s not the world we live in.
And I would also suggest that the tactics that were used on the street during the G20 are part of a global history, and a global reality of resistance, and it was one of the first times in recent memory that a street protest in Toronto actually looked like a protest in the rest of the world, and I think that’s part of why it happened. I think people are waking up in this country, that Canada is not some oasis in some messed up world. Canada is actually part of the problem, a big part. And I think since that G20, we have seen a lot more protests starting to look like that, and I think if the direction this country is heading in doesn’t change immediately, the future is going to be full of a lot more of them. And why the courts wouldn’t take that seriously, and recognize where we are actually at in the world, I don’t think it serves anybody any good.
The other thing we were told is that the riot that happened on the G20 stole the message of the protest, and I think that’s preposterous. There were five days of entirely peaceful protests before it. They got almost no attention. It’s not our fault — it’s not anybody’s fault who was on the street that nobody paid attention to the peaceful protests. That nobody remembers the messaging from five days of themed protest that saw more than 40,000 people on the street. That doesn’t get covered, that doesn’t get talked about.
Occupy didn’t get huge media until it started getting a little bit rowdy. The same with the Quebec stuff, and same with the Arab Spring. To suggest that somehow violence on the part of the protesters is what steals the message is ridiculous. The media can cover whatever they want, and people can remember and think about whatever they want.
And I have pretty much covered everything I really wanted to say. I would like to suggest again that with — having seen that OIPRD report now, you know, there is a specific line in the statement of facts that says that the only reason teaching people how to defend themselves against the police was illegal was because I didn’t specify that you can only resist arrest if you know it’s an unlawful arrest. People have a Constitutional right to defend themselves against unlawful arrest.
And I don’t think it’s fair to punish us because we knew what the cops were going do. We knew that most of the arrests that weekend were going be unlawful, and we prepared people to defend themselves against a brutal police Force. And if that’s the thing I did that was illegal, so be it, but that’s a flawed system if that’s illegal. That’s it.
THE COURT: Thank you.
Remember Gary McHale? He is the anti-native racist organizer who has been provoking and baiting Six Nations land defenders since 2006, who has fronted a bullshit narrative of reverse racism that has been picked up by the likes of Christi Blatchford and Sun Media and poisoned public discourse, who wrote a letter to the Hamilton cops and the cbc threatening to come down to the #SwampLine9 blockade to “monitor” the protesters. Remember when we mobilized against that racist narrative, against his incursions on to the reclamation site, against the so called Caledonia Militia, against the alliance between the JDL and McHale’s (unofficially) white supremacist organization, canace?
Theresa “Toad” Jamieson is a fiercely dedicated front line land defender from Six Nations. She has been and continues to be an inspiration to many people.
On July 3 at 10am, Toad’s trial starts at the Cayuga courthouse. She is charged with “assaulting” Gary McHale on Feb 18 2012 when, McHale – escorted by OPP – forced his way onto Kanonhstaton, the Six Nations Reclamation site, then continued on past the police to worsen tensions and leading to arrests. McHale and the police are both employing the strategy of using racist agitators as bait in order to further criminalize Six Nations land defenders.
Toad is representing herself in court and challenging the court’s legitimacy and it’s alleged right to prosecute her on her own territory. She has asked for us to help mobilize support and to pack the court room.
Having recently been through the court system myself, i can tell you that it was unbelievably empowering to have a courthouse full of supporters there when i used my own sentencing hearing as a platform from which to challenge the system. We should now be extending that same support to Toad, who poses a much greater challenge to the state than I did. At her past court dates, the presence or absence of supporters has made a big difference towards how she has been received by the court; this is another reason it is important for us to be there.
Defenders Of the Land and #IdleNoMore have launched “Sovereignty Summer”, a call to build mounting pressure, including through mass direct actions to be joined by non-natives, to challenge the Harper government and the land destroying colonial system, a call for escalation in the ongoing struggles for Indigenous sovereignty, and now is a time to step up our support for Indigenous land defenders. In the wake of the amazing #SwampLine9 blockade which took place on Onkwehonwe Grand River Territory, it is especially important to support frontline land defenders from Six Nations.
The Cayuga Couthouse is at 55 Munsee St. N. The attached callout from the Two Row Society has contact info for people in various cities to help coordinate rides. I really hope to see lots of people there; this is a personal plea for folks to support the callout and pack the courthouse.
I am out of jail; safe and sound.
I have been out of the house, wandered around the neighbourhood, in daylight and in darkness last night. It is good to be out.
Here is something I wrote last week.
“…any strength that i may have carried through this was brought in from the outside, borrowed from the people I have been honoured and privileged to fight alongside, derived from the communities and the earth that we fight for, it is derivative of our struggles, sent in from the outside word by word, letter by letter, from the people who have extended themselves into this enclosure to support, to keep of strength, to keep up the fight. all of the strength i have had in here has come from them, from you, from being able to stay connected to community, and in turn rooted to the earth.” (March 21, 2013)
All I really want to say right now is to extend my most sincere gratitude and utmost appreciation to everyone who has offered support to me and to my family and friends and to the various communities I and others who have gone through the same and similar experiences belong to, and to those who offer the same to the numerous other people going through similar experiences for numerous other but intersecting reasons who so rarely get the same, thank you, so much.
And especially to those who have been central and integral to the support i have received, more.
I have decided not write a list of names, cause I am sick of lists of names, and also because I do not want to forget or exclude anyone.
To everyone, see you in the streets.
One of the core features of authoritarian systems is the monopoly over the legitimate use of power. Only the authorities are allowed to exercise it. While prison is inherently an authoritarian institution, it is important to be able to recognize it as a microcosm of the ways that more encompassing systems function in our purportedly democratic state. The idea that power is rooted in a people’s consensus is but a fiction manufactured to elicit both complacency and complicity.
When people, imprisoned or otherwise, try to organize themselves — whether within or outside of the structures and procedures designated by authority as proper — if the goals of that organizing are counter to the interests of those who hold power, those organizers will be targeted and the so-called rights of people negated. Rights only exist in so far as they do not substantively undermine the needs and legitimacy of power, of those in charge. They do not want us to organize.
While I have been imprisoned at the CNCC, every attempt that I have made to act against the deteriorating conditions in the prison, though mostly in accordance with authorized structural mechanisms, has not only been negated or dismissed but also at times criminalized. This very much parallels some of my pre-imprisonment organizing experiences as well, where sometimes those efforts most in accordance with so-called “proper channels” were often those most targeted by authorities for criminalization.
In prison, this institution’s administration has repeatedly denied access to, or even the existence of, some of Correctional Service Ontario’s rules. I have been on multiple occasions threatened by guards and senior management. I have faced disciplinary action without even being accused of breaking the rules. Any attempts to appeal to the notion of rights or policies have been entirely negated, one way or another. None of these experiences are unique to myself. They are standard fare in prison, like in most authoritarian institutions and systems.
It is not a coincidence that the actions which led to the original conspiracy charges I faced, the breach of bail conditions I was re-arrested for, and the counseling charges I was forced to plead guilty to were themselves all seemingly protected by a doctrine of rights, yet criminalized because those rights were being exercised in a form that challenged the very legitimacy of the ways that power is monopolized in the neo-authoritarian statist system we are currently living under.
In such systems granted rights, guaranteed freedoms and democratic processes are only valid when used in ways that reinforce the legitimacy of power. So when people attempt to organize for individual or communal autonomy, or the decentralization of power, or to improve the lives of people in targeted communities which would undermine the system’s order, those efforts will be negated and criminalized. This is the system we live under. Prisons illustrate and embody, enforce and reinforce this authoritarian system.
In the federal prison system during the 1970s, in a series of riots, imprisoned people literally fought and died to challenge this type of systemic negation of their dignity as people who, though imprisoned, remain members of communities that collectively comprise an allegedly democratic society. One of the results of that period of resistance was the creation of inmate committees — currently institutionalized through Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner’s Directive 083 — which now serve as organizing bodies for imprisoned people and as an internal accountability structure within federal prisons.
A few months ago, several of us imprisoned at the CNCC decided that we wanted to try to establish something similar here, knowing that such a thing once existed in this very prison. In order to force the issue of accountability and input from imprisoned people for the day to day operations that dictate our lives here, we were going to simply submit request forms asking to start an inmate committee.
Before the request even made it past the guards, I was pulled off our range by one of them. Making explicit threats, he told me that such an effort would not be tolerated. He threatened to “search and strip” various ranges on the unit and to “put it all over me,” meaning that he would tell other imprisoned people that it was on my account that privileges would be revoked and cells trashed, meant to result in retributive physical violence against me. “I’m going to start doing your time and lots of other people’s time,” he told me.
Some of the people I had been collaborating with still wanted to push forward. We knew it was not a bluff from the guards but we were ready to see things escalate. However we had not done the work of building support on the unit for such efforts and knowing that people other than ourselves who had not consented to conflict would bear much of the brunt of the guards’ recriminiation, we took a step back to strategize.
The protest-action in December, that resulted in myself and two others being thrown in the hole, was a spontaneous response to worsening conditions in the prison at a moment near the culmination of that strategy. A week later we were almost ready to make our move, when I was then thrown back into solitary confinement on a “security hold”. I think that security figured out that something was about to happen. Nothing moved forward during the additional month that I was in segregation and by the time I returned the momentum had largely dissipated, tensions having been redirected to interpersonal conflicts among the imprisoned people.
One of the reasons we need an inmate committee here is to have space to deal with conflict between groups of imprisoned people. Another is to build a platform from which to demand accountability and to address issues including lack of access to books and programs, discrimination and racism, abuse of authority, and deteriorating living conditions. An inmate committee would be a representative body that would enable us to provide input for ways to decrease violence in the prison, to address needs, and to empower us to make our own lives better while we are in prison.
One of the preliminary strategic steps we took was an attempt to start a unit-wide inter-faith discussion group. This was to allow us to talk about racism within the prison population and in the broader world, misogynist attitudes that are prevalent amongst the population, discrimination and violence in the prison against people living with HIV/AIDS and queer and trans people; and to do work together to build, maintain and support connections and reintegration in our communities, as well as to give us experience and to foster an expectation of being able to organize together. This proposal was officially rejected because the prion is “understaffed,” but a member of the chaplaincy had forewarned me that the initiative would be turned down because the administration does not want to give us “space to conspire.” They don’t want us to organize.
Not only do they not want us to organize, they don’t even want us to know the rules. (This is part of why legal codes and procedures are so difficult to decipher and navigate.)
This prison has, on multiple occasions, literally removed from my mail the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services Act and its attendant Regulations, Regulation 778.
A security manager here, Sergeant Beninger,told me that imprisoned people are not allowed to see the legislation for security reasons, and refused to discuss the appropriateness of this rule. When I asked why we are not given access to the Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions, all he could say was that people imprisoned here are supposed to receive copies upon admission. He would not comment on the fact that we do not.
When I wrote to the Superintendent, Robyn Kasha, formally requesting access to the legislation, she responded by saying that the request should be redirected to the Education department because the MCSA is “resource material” and we are therefore only entitled to have access to it during class time. This would mean that only the estimated 10-15% of people imprisoned here who are enrolled in the education program are entitled to see the provincial legislation, the laws that govern this place. When I challenged Deputy Superintendent Johnston and refused to accept his repetition of the “security reasons” mantra, he acknowledged that “of course” we have a “right” to have a copy of the legislation.
There is, however, quite a logical reason why the institution’s administration considers it a security risk for imprisoned people to have access to the MCSA. The act and its regulations — those passed in provincial parliament — dictate a very different set of rules than those which govern the lives of people imprisoned here.
Our granted rights are infringed upon and violated in systemic and institutionalized ways on a daily basis here. The terrible conditions on the Segregation Unit, for example, do not in any way correspond to the rights that have been guaranteed to us by elected parliamentarians. It turns out that the “rules” of provincial prisons are determined not according to the legislation, but by a lengthy document called the Institutional Services Policies and Procedures Manual which is authored by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and has not been passed by the provincial legislature.
According to a January 24th letter that I received from Superintendent Kasha,”for security reasons the ISPP is not a public document.”
So apparently the Institutional Services Policies and Procedures Manual authored by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which fundamentally undermines and contravenes the rights guaranteed to us by elected representatives, is a secret document. A more Orwellian negation of democratic principles could not be invented. And people wonder why I do not believe in electoral democracy.
Within an oppressive system prison can best be understood as an institution that both enforces and reinforces the established order. On the one hand prisons are an enforcement mechanism whose spectre breeds compliance and complacency. On the other hand, the systemic patterns of how, why, and who is imprisoned ingrains hegemonic norms and shows complicity. Further, when we understand prisons as microcosms that illustrate the functionality of order and authority, complacency and complicity, we can glean deep understandings of how power functions in both micro and macrocosmic systems.
One of the ways that we can see prisons operating as a systemic microcosm that shuts down the ability of people to organize is to understand the prison’s role as a warehouse. Prisons warehouse — they store away people whose participation in ostensibly democratic societies power seeks to deny. They keep people out of their communities thereby denying their participation. This is obvious when we look at who is primarily targeted for imprisonment: Black people, poor people,Indigenous people and people disabled by inadequate social support for denormalized mental health conditions.
Within the prison, the Segregation Unit functions as an internal jail where similarly warehoused are those whose presence is deemed undesirable in the General Population. In the Segregation Unit, also known as “the hole,” are people whose mental health conditions the institution is unable or has no interest in supporting, and those labeled as threats to security. Some people merely spend short terms in segregation as punishment for “misconduct” thus serving as disincentives for challenges against the authorities’ claims over people, enforcing order, and reinforcing complacency as well as the values of exclusion.
I recently spent five weeks in segregation because my endeavours to organize have caused me to be classified as “likely to endanger the security of the institution.”
Initially I was thrown in the hole on “misconduct” for “inciting a disturbance.” After a week in segregation where I was able to find ways to build support for prison hunger-striker David Cedeño I was returned to the General Population with a “reprimand” for my “non-violent” offence.
Once out of segregation I immediately started working to spread word of Cedeño’s actions amongst the population of imprisoned people. His strike was as much for the dignity and rights of all of us and against the oppressive nature of this institution as it was about confronting the ongoing attacks he was facing from the guards. Awareness of his struggle and support for it was a potential catalyst for broader resistance inside the prison and could have sparked the fuel to start an inmate committee here. It was also simply important for people to know about David Cedeño — knowledge is often the most dangerous threat facing authoritarian regimes.
It seems that as soon as the authorities became aware of these efforts, I was quickly thrown back in the hole, just 48 hours after getting out of segregation.However it has also been suggested by one of the guards that I was never supposed to have been let out in the first place. I was never given a “misconduct” for this occasion as there were no rules they could point to that I had broken. I was merely guilty of sharing information. Nonetheless I was held for another four weeks in solitary confinement under the vague notion of a “security risk.” After four more weeks in the hole, I found an opportunity to agitate against the authoritarianism of this institution — even from solitary confinement. I began to challenge the procedures and policies — the rules — that are in practice on the segregation unit. I told other imprisoned people about their so-called rights and I explained to the guards that the orders they were following are contrary to what the legislation accords.
One day I showed a guard a copy of the MCSA Regulations (that I managed to finally get my hands on). He agreed that it very clearly guarantees imprisoned people a standard of living that is grossly violated by institutional practice. An hour later a sergeant was at the door of my cell. I showed her the same section of Regulation 778. Her response was to inform me that the issue was “above her pay grade.” Two hours later, along with two guards and two sergeants, Deputy Superintendent Johnston was in my cell to talk to me.
It seemed that all of a sudden my “security review” had been completed and they were ready to return me to the general population. I guess they had to stop me from undermining the authority of the institution through teaching people about the legislation. However, being moved out of segregation did not come without renewed threats.
Johnston told me that if another “disturbance” occurred it would not matter whether or not it was “non-violent” (nor if I was actually guilty of “inciting”), not only would I be put permanently back in segregation and lose my “remission” (extending my sentence), but I would also be hit with new “serious criminal charges.”
If I am forbidden from even talking about “rules” and “rights” then obviously organizing is to be out of the question.
When we were arrested during the G20 summit a group of us were charged with “conspiracy” — not doing something, talking about something — a thought crime; meeting to plan protests (and yes, some of those protests included elements that are “illegal”). Over the 48 hours following the police raid on my house more than 1100 people were arrested. Fewer than 300 were ever charged, fewer than 50 convicted. Most of the arrests were totally unwarranted and obviously illegitimate (as if any armed kidnapping — which is what an arrest is — should ever be considered “legitimate”).
Less than half way through our preliminary inquiry, the Crown wanted to drop charges against two thirds of the Main Conspiracy Group defendants and to have six of us plead guilty to “counseling” charges, to sharing information. I pled guilty to two counts, one stemming from a series of activist workshops, one for compiling a list of potential protest sites. For this I received a 20 month prison sentence.
At one point while I was out on bail, I was arrested for participating in a speakers’ panel that was arranged to talk about post-G20 organizing and movement unity. Allegedly this constituted a breach of the order not to participate in any public demonstrations — a “demonstration” being defined as any public meeting in which any moral or political matter is discussed.
And allegedly, this is not an authoritarian state.
The premise that the authoritarian power holders of our society do not want us to organize is a system-wide reality. By “us” I mean anyone who through their actions, or through their very bodies and identities, challenge the system’s dominant norms. For example: people of colour in a white supremacist society, trans people in a cis-supremacist heteronormative society,Indigenous people in a settler society. I hope that people can see that.
We are living with a mounting slew of measures from all levels of government that undercut the power of unions, of environmental groups, of cultural groups, of community organizations, of advocates, and of anyone who would organize to improve the lives of people in targeted neighbourhoods and communities. The very practice of non-governmental, non-corporate organizing — from unions to NGOs to community groups — is under attack.
While I have been able to document some of the recent attacks on the efforts of imprisoned people to organize at the CNCC, and to narrate some of the resistance to those attacks, there is nothing new or unique to this story.
This purportedly democratic state has a long history of criminalizing dissent and the organizing of people(s) who have been cast as peripheral to the hegemony of the dominant normative culture. Whether through historical and ongoing attacks against Indigenous Peoples’ sovereignty, the over-policing and stigmatization of neighbourhoods of colour, or the myriad ways that austerity cuts are eliminating opportunities for poor people to organize in their own neighbourhoods, this state has always sought to prevent targeted people from being able to organize. And not only do I hope that people can see that, but I hope we are ready to fight back.
The last piece that I posted on this subject was written in this prison a couple of months ago, before I’d been thrown into “the hole” on administrative segregation. I wrote about the prison’s banning of reading material, which they have classified as “anarchist.” Security here has been removing such items from my mail. Prior to that posting I had written about a newly enforced policy at the CNCC that functionally prevents books from being sent in from the outside.
In the days immediately after that policy became effective – a policy that we are still trying to fight – the prison was in the position of having a backlog of books to still deliver to people in prison here, books that had arrived at the facility before the date chosen to enact the policy. In delivering those books, the same kind of discrimination was employed as that which I wrote about in regard to my mail. Books identified as “anarchist” were denied, including a book of poetry by Kelly Pflug-Back and one authored by the Curious George Collective titled Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs.
Discrimination against “anarchists” is not the only kind displayed by this prison’s administration in their censorship and banning of books, as the title of this piece suggests.
A couple of us were going to file applications to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal as one of the very few possible grievance mechanisms available to those of us imprisoned here. However, the multiple copies of the application that have been sent to me here seem to have been intercepted by the staff and not one has made it into my hands.
* * * * * *
In my last piece, titled Anarchist Material Removed, I noted that one of the articles that the CNCC wanted to prevent people imprisoned here from reading was an interview with Shane Bauer in which he spoke about solitary confinement practices in the United States being in some respects more severe than those in Iran, where he was imprisoned. We know very well that the Ontario Super Jails are styled after American prisons, this one having been run by an American corrections corporation for a time, with most practices left untouched or in some cases made even harsher.
In that article Bauer talks about the Secure Housing Units (SHUs) at the Pelican Bay Prison in California. He mentions that one of the things which results in people being thrown in the SHU there is the identification of so called “gang-related material” in their possession or in their mail.
Bauer explains that in at least one instance, Black liberationist political material – an essay by W.E.B. DuBois – was labelled by Pelican Bay Security as “gang-related material” and resulted in the person to whom the essay had been sent getting transferred to the SHU, where they will be held in indefinite solitary confinement.
* * * * * * *
Adrian Nolan, 31, is another person imprisoned at the CNCC who has had books denied to him because management here have alleged that some of the content sent to him violates their security protocols. The reason he was given was that the books constituted “gang-related material.”
Unfortunately, the notes from my interview with Nolan, like all of my notes, letters and papers, were confiscated when I was placed in solitary confinement on January 21 for unspecified “security reasons.” Fortunately, I do remember much of the content of that conversation.
Nolan said to me that it is wrong to consider the books “gang related”; rather, he described them as “urban books.” He used that term to draw attention to the fact that a sergeant here had employed it when explaining what Security defined as “gang related”: “You know: urban books,” said the sergeant.
Nolan and others were quick to name this as the obvious racism that it is.
Abdi Mohammed, 23, told me that the only difference between these so called urban books and many of the books currently read by people imprisoned here is that these are written by Black authors with Black characters and set in Black neighbourhoods.
Adrian Nolan agreed with this assessment. He talks about one of the book series which he was trying to bring in, which he told me were nearly indistinguishable in genre from many John Grisham or James Patterson books (which are very popular here) – they are thriller mysteries, they’re about crime, like many novels are.
There is also another type of book that is in wide circulation here at the CNCC which Nolan compared to those which were rejected by security: the evangelizing Christian books provided by the Chaplaincy. Ironically, these are for the most part the only books available to people stuck in “the hole” (other than Bibles and Christian self-help books). It seems that this rule may have been quietly and partially – for those of us on “administrative” rather than punitive segregation – repealed since I first wrote about it several weeks ago.
The general outline of these Christian books is that the story is told by formerly imprisoned people who have found religion and become devoutly faithful. The first half (or more) is always full of drug use and violence and then late in the novel the author-narrator finds Jesus and starts to live a religious life.
Nolan pointed out that this is very similar to some of the books he tried to have sent in (and to share with other people), the primary difference being that they are not pushing Christianity, they are about Black people.
Abdi Mohammed told me that it is unfortunate that the CNCC administration is blinded by racism because unlike most of the books available here, ones Nolan wanted to share are “books we can relate to.” I remember Mohammed saying this with reference to himself and other young imprisoned people of colour.
Sadly though, this discrimination does not surprise Mohammed. He says that racism is pervasive at the CNCC. He has felt it himself and witnessed it many times.
I wish that I had access to my notes and Mohammed’s own words available. One thing I do remember him saying is that as a Somali Muslim he has experienced racism because of his colour, his country and also his religion.
Mohammed said that racism is a serious problem at non-urban jails like this one in Penetanguishene.
The staff here are almost excusively White, in stark contrast with prisons located in the GTA. The difference is palpable and Mohammed says this results in both systemic and day- to-day racism.
* * * * * * *
There is a tragic irony in the comparison of books allegedly containing “gang-related material” with evangelical Christian books that are numerous in this and other prisons.
The practice of having only Christian books available to people imprisoned in segregation here is itself a notable colonizing act in a country with a history of violent Christianization.
Indeed, racism is a pervasive factor in the CNCC’s war on books. But as Abdi Mohammed pointed out, the racism in the so called justice system is much deeper than just this front. A deeply ingrained systemic racism – from the over-policing of neighbourhoods of colour to the normalized hegemony of Whiteness – is but reflected in this prison’s policies that deny imprisoned people access to books.
* * * * * * *
A couple of things need to be said about trying to file an application with the Ontario Human Rights Commission – a couple of things in addition to the fact that our efforts have thus far been thwarted by the CNCC, which has prevented me from receiving the application.
Resorting to this kind of application is a tremendous compromise. It is a soft reformist measure at best. “Human rights” discourse is an inherently liberal doctrine that appeals to the authority of the state to define and grant people’s so called “rights” and reflects privilege in terms of who gets access to those rights.
That said, I still find it alarming that when I called “Offender Issues”—also known as the Client Conflict Resolution Unit and which is supposed to be our first recourse for human rights issues in the provincial prison system—they said that access to books is not a serious enough issue for them to care about. More alarmingly, they also said that discrimination against political ideology is not a human rights issue. They refused to talk to me about racism and that complaint stemmed from an incident involving another person.
The application, as a tactic, was not an attempt to portray discrimination against White anarchists like myself on the same plane as racism against people of colour. Rather, it was part of a strategy that is attempting to put the issue of systemic abuse of people’s “rights” onto the table for discussion.
Racism, denial of rights based on political ideology, contesting freedom of thought through the censorship and banning of books and other reading material; these are all happening in the Ontario prison system.
That racism and political identity might be similarly targeted by state institutions merely reaffirms the notion that there is a real necessity for organized resistance against this colonial system that employs prison justice as one of its primary weapons.
Racism is an endemic feature of Euro-American capitalist colonial culture and statehood. It is inevitable that this manifests in the way prisons are run; prisons playing a central role in maintaining and enforcing that system. The CNCC is not only no exception but, as Abdi Mohammed explained, it is actually one of the more racist prisons in the provincial system.
Note: The policy of making non-religious books unavailable to people imprisoned on the segregation unit—for which there now seems to be an exemption for people here on “administrative segregation”—is not a policy that either the chaplaincy or the guards are responsible for. Like most problems, this one is a problem with those in charge.
[January 26th 2013]
On the evening of January 21st, I was brought back to the hole. Not on misconduct this time, but to what is known as Administrative Segregation because the Security Manager has decided that having me on range, where I can associate with other imprisoned people, constitutes a threat to security. That is only after having spent a week in the hole for “inciting a disturbance likely to endanger the security of the institution.” I was returned to Unit 5 on the order of the provincial adjudicator. I was placed on one end of the Unit where only [some] did not participate in the protest action here that occurred on Jan 12th. I have not been provided with any basis for being removed from general population aside from the vague notion of security measures, nor have I been given any justification for being stripped of any of my so-called privileges. All I know for certain is that it was the personal prerogative of Security Manager Martin Krawczyk. On the way to the segregation unit, the Sergeant said if I didn’t write so well, I wouldn’t be in this mess – or something to that effect. Perhaps Krawczyk and the CNCC administration have adopted the Harper-esque notion that bad public relations are synonymous with a threat to security. Regardless, it would appear that I am to be held in solitary confinement potentially indefinitely. Regardless of any particular reasons, it seems that being an anarchist organizer is now being understood as an inherent threat warranting segregation and the loss of most privileges. Given that the primary basis for this may very well be the writing I have been posting to this blog since–and prior to–my imprisonment, it feels appropriate to now post a piece I have been waiting for the right time to release. It is titled “Anarchist Material Removed.”
“Anarchist Material Removed”
Prison mail and the Ontario Human Rights Code
I receive lots of mail in here. But occasionally letters or photocopied material sent in are screened out by Security. On November 13, the words “anarchist material removed” were scrawled across a letter I received that day.
Material being removed by Security and mail being interrupted in general is a problem here at the CNCC. Worse than the fact that correspondence and community connection are disrupted is how rarely people are informed that it has happened or why. In my case it seems to be because Security has decided that their labelling of something as “anarchist material” is enough to warrant its removal.
On November 22 I saw my friend’s picture in the Toronto Star. “Jailhouse rights complaint launched by G20 activist,” read the headline. It was an article about my co-accused, Mandy Hiscocks, who was freed from the Vanier Centre for Women on December 3 after serving ten months in prison.
Mandy’s application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is based on the harsh fact that the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Service’s system of assigning the maximum security designation to prisoners is discriminating against people of colour, disabled people, people with non-conforming mental health needs, as well as people with anarchist and anti-capitalist political beliefs.
Mandy’s lawyer, Niiti Simonds, was quoted as saying, “The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’s case law is unresolved as to whether political beliefs are included in ‘creed’ as a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary’s relevant definition of creed is, “a set of principles or opinions, especially a philosophy of life.” To me, it seems that anarchism definitely qualifies. Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code says, “every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability or the receipt of public assistance.”
It is my contention that the CNCC and (by extension) the Ministry of Correctional Services have violated my Ontario Human Rights Code right to be free from discrimination based on creed in several ways. They have violated lots of people’s rights, lots of ways. This post is about the mail.
I have been trying to talk to someone here about the “screening of mail” and “letters and material not received” almost since I arrived here. I sent three requests to the Security Manager between July 27 and September 17 (“request” forms are the only way to communicate with management if you are a prisoner in the system), followed by another three to the Superintendent between September 18 and October 8. None of these received any response from the institution.
Throughout my time here, I have found out from friends and family that I have not received many of the letters that have been sent to me. Occasionally I have received envelopes that have no postal markings, but have my name and a security stamp on the outside and a letter to me within. In those cases it has been clear (from the letters) that there had been photocopied materials included in the original envelopes, and the conclusion being that, despite no indication from the institution, Security had removed something but did not inform me. Only once did a guard ever discuss something she had removed—guards do the preliminary screening, though my problem seems to be with the secondary screening done by security (more on that below). And only once did I ever receive formal notification—a “Halted Mail Notice”–which does however prove that such a thing exists (and is obviously the proper way to deal with legitimate instances of security screening).
The Inmate Information Guide for Adult Prisoners put out by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services says, “Institution staff can check letters you write and receive. The Superintendent can refuse to send a letter that affects the security of the institution, threatens someone or might upset the person it is being sent to. If this happens, the staff will tell you why your letter was not sent. The letter will be returned to you. You may rewrite it or have it stored with your property.”
I am aware of at least two occasions that letters of mine had items removed or were not sent out, though I was not notified by staff, and I definitely did not have the letters returned to me.
The Inmate Information Guide goes on to say, “If someone sends you a letter that is threatening or unsuitable, the letter will be returned to the person who mailed it. The Superintendent will write and tell the person why the letter is being returned. You will be told if a letter is not given to you.” Well, the one time I was told about something not given to me, the person who sent it did not receive a letter or have the item returned to them. A few times people have had things returned to them—books, zines, magazines, photocopied articles (all things that have got in at other times)–with vague explanations (“excessive”) or outright lies (“we do not accept books”) scribbled on to sticky notes. But on these occasions, I was definitely not informed.
The solitary “Halted Mail Notice” that I did receive (dated September 24)–clearly a formal document with Ministry header and a Province of Ontario logo in the upper right corner—said, “On this date an envelope, addressed to you was received at the facility from… A review of the envelope’s contents revealed material(s) deemed to be unacceptable, for security reasons. Due to…” and then in pen, in the two lines of blank space provided for an explanation, was the single word, “magazine.”
The typed form continued, “this letter has been interrupted. The unacceptable material has been returned to sender or placed in your property, which you will receive upon your release from our facility. It is your responsibility to make efforts to prevent this type of unacceptable material to be transmitted through correspondence at CNCC. Further infractions may result in all fo your correspondence being subject to more rigorous screening; this will likely result in additional delays in sending and receipt of your mail.” OK, no magazines or they will screen my mail, which they’ve been doing since I arrived here anyway.
(How “Due to magazine” constitutes “unacceptable for security reasons” warrants its own questions, but whatever…) Scrawled in pen on the page were the letters “FYi” (sic).
On November 13 I received three letters that each had material removed from them. They all had the standard “CNCC Inmate mail opened by:” stamped on them, accompanied by a message written in pen indicating that they had been forwarded to Security, and a second stamp, this one reading, “Cleared by Security.” Postage marks on the envelopes indicated that all three had been sent in the closing days of October. One of the envelopes had the message written on it, in red pen, in all capital letters, “ANARCHIST MATERIAL REMOVED.”
All three of the letters indicated that they had originally included photocopied material—of which I receive much—though the envelopes arrived containing only the handwritten letters. From one was removed an article from Mother Jones magazine and the transcript of an interview from Democracy Now!, both featuring Shane Bauer, one of the American hikers who had been imprisoned in Iran, comparing his experiences there with what he learned about prisons in the United States. Another was missing a zine composed of a chapter from the book, “The Secret Life of Plants.” The last envelope, the one with the message about “anarchist material” being “removed,” was missing a couple of articles forwarded to me by one of the editors of Iconoclast magazine—probably articles about anarchism.
Shortly after receiving these letters sans articles, I went to speak with one of the guards. I told him that content (rightly or wrongly) being deemed as “anarchist material” did not seem like a legitimate reason to prevent me from receiving it, and that I was pretty sure that this could be construed as discrimination based on creed. He told me that he does not care what I read, and that he would have a Security Manager come talk to me. A little while later he brought me a printout of an e-mail he’d received from Security. Here is the entirety of the text: “Please see excerpt of the ADI’s and pass along information to Mr. Hundert… In order to maintain the security, safety and good order of Institutions, restrictions will apply to material which: portrays excessive violence and/or aggression which is likely to incite violence or other criminal acts; contains information on the fabrication of weapons or the commission of criminal acts, or could endanger the security of the institution or the safety of any person; depicts or describes procedures for brewing alcoholic beverages or manufacturing illegal drugs; glamorizes or condones substance abuse; glamorizes self-injury or suicide; or endangers the security or safety of an institution or the community (e.g., by describing escape methods or containing blueprints or technical information relating to security devices, etc.).”
Now, I’m quite certain that to suggest content violates any of these conditions simply by virtue of its having been deemed to be “anarchist material,” and for that reason disrupting my mail and preventing it from reaching me, is a pretty flagrant example of discrimination against creed.
The printed e-mail had an electronic signature: “Martin Krawczyk, Manager, Security and Investigations, CNCC, 705 549 9470 ext. 2863.” Since November 13 I have sent him another three requests in an attempt to discuss the matter. As per usual, Security has been unresponsive. I encourage people to call him to express their reaction to all this. For my part, I am in the process of filing an application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
My “human rights” aside, this situation reveals a much deeper and more structural problem. Imprisoned people are not being told when their mail is “interrupted.” And this is not a problem because of the Orwellian nature of screening people’s mail (this is after all a maximum security prison and some Big Brotherish behaviour is to be expected, I suppose). It is a serious problem because not telling imprisoned people that their correspondence has been disrupted is a real sabotaging of their connections to family and community.
If that wasn’t bad enough in principle, in practice, the broken bridges that are resulted from this type of disruption are major contributors to the patterns of recidivism that are so endemic amongst imprisoned people. It is all but impossible for people getting out of prison to rebuild their lives when the foundations of community support and family connections have been damaged by the institution’s refusal to do something as simple as letting people know when and why their mail has been intercepted and disrupted.
Further still, when people who are imprisoned think that their loved ones (or others that they are depending on, or who depend on them) are not responding to their letters, their personal frustrations and stress levels obviously become elevated. Elevated personal stress in here leads to heightened interpersonal tension, which inevitably leads to increased conflict and violence. Given that many of the degradations of our quality of life in here—for example, being locked out of our own cells all day—are ostensibly premised on allegedly reducing violence, and given that one of the primary goals of “corrections” is purportedly to prepare people for “reintegration into the community,” the disregard for these concerns in this matter merely points back to the arbitrary abuse of authority that is so characteristic of these institutions.
The guards are not the problem in this case; they do not care what I read. But my name is on a list that relegates me to enhanced security protocols, including more rigorous screening of my mail, which sometimes gets forwarded to the Security and Investigations office. It would seem that it is in this department, or perhaps even higher up the hierarchy, that being an “anarchist” marks me for targeted discrimination. This is especially unacceptable in a system that denies that it has political prisoners.
Now, all imprisonment is inherently political. The criminalization of poverty and mental health disability, the racist over-policing of targeted neighbourhoods and communities, binary gender categorization in prisons, the persistence and widening of economic disparity, and the inclusion of imprisonment as part of a so-called justice system—these are all inherently political decisions. The criminalization of political ideology is also, obviously, a political decision.
But, since I have not had conferred upon any designation as a political prisoner, therefore the categorization of my mail as “anarchist material” and for that reason alone deeming my receiving it as a threat to security, that is an explicitly political decision and also a clear form of discrimination, and therefore a violation of the promise in the Ontario Human Rights Code that all people be free from discrimination based on, amongst other things, creed.
The screening of mail, assignment of maximum security designations, denial of parole—these are not the only ways that anarchists have been discriminated against by Ontario prisons and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, nor by any means are anarchists the only ones discriminated against in this system. I hope that last point is obvious.
Endemic to these places (and to the broader system) is day-to-day racism and deeply entrenched systemic discrimination against poor people, against migrants, against trans people, against disabled people, and others. And therefore the recrimination that I will be seeking in my application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will most likely be a system-wide audit of all provincial prisons with respect to the Ontario Human Rights Code. We’ll see what happens.
Post-script: This has been a post about mail. I want to extend my most sincere and humble gratitude to everyone who has sent me mail while I’ve been in here. To family and friends, to allies and supporters, and especially to other imprisoned people, thank you all so much for your continued relationships and solidarity; it makes it easy to be here in what could otherwise be a quite horrible place.