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For Prisoners Justice Day I am finally posting my Sentencing Statement from June 26, 2012

August 8, 2013 1 comment

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

against

ALEX HUNDERT

************

SENTENCING

BEFORE THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE L. BUDZINSKI

AT TORONTO, ONTARIO, ON JUNE 26, 2012

**********

APPEARANCES:

 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.

**************

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Support Six Nations Land Defenders: an open letter to all those who have supported me

This is a letter I am writing to everyone who supported me over the past two years, since our arrests brought to light the massive police operation against a group of solidarity activists and community organisers.

In that time I have received such an incredible amount of support from friends and family, from allies, from “movement” organisations, and also from civil liberties organisations, academic and journalist associations, and unions. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude and appreciation for all of it.

As I head back into jail on Tuesday, lots of people have been offering renewed support, and having seen how substantial that support can be, I am asking that the support people are hoping to give to me over the next year, be instead extended to the new Legal Defence Fund recently established for Six Nations Land Defenders.

The type of targeting, repression, manipulation, intimidation and harassment that were directed at anarchist and other activist communities in the lead up to the Olympics and the G20 are realities that are standard fare in Indigenous communities where resistance to colonialism is a part of daily life.

However, in the years since the Reclamation action in 2006, people from Six Nations have not always seen the same kind of support that I and some of the other G20 defendants received.

Part of what is sadly ironic about the contrasting levels of support is that those who were most directly targeted by the intelligence/security operation against activists in the lead up to the G20 were those whose primary organising work includes building linkages and relationships with the strong network of Indigenous Sovereigntists and their allies, migrant justice organisers, and anarchists. The policing operation was largely designed to disrupt those relationships and that movement building. These are standard tactics used against the resistance movements that arise from Indigenous and other racialized or otherwise targeted communities.

I would like to propose that we now strengthen those linkages by turning the massive capacity for support that we have developed over the past two years towards supporting front line land defenders from Six Nations.

Since 2006 there has been a particularly insidious wave of criminalisation and demonisation aimed at Haudenosaunee people who are asserting the sovereignty of the Six Nations Confederacy and defending the land. The tactics used in everyday policing operations against Six Nations, like with other Indigenous nations, are exactly the type of oppressive state security that the rest of the southern Ontario “activist community” got a taste of around the G20.

I would strongly encourage you to consider formally supporting the new Six Nations Land Defenders Legal Defence Fund.

The fund is currently being administered and coordinated by the April 28 Coalition which includes organisers from Six Nations as well as established allies from various unions and activist organisations. If the fund is successful, a formal board of directors will be established and procedures codified. For now, the immediate concern is fundraising for Francine “Flower” Doxtator and Kevin “Sleeper” Greene, though the goal is a sustainable fund that can cover legal costs for people from Six Nations who are charged while engaging in land defence actions.

Support for the Six Nations Land Defenders Legal Defence Fund could include a formal endorsement, a public statement of support, promotion within your organisations or networks, and/or making donations. Please contact the April 28 Coalition (kanonhstaton@gmail.com) for more information, or visit this link to donate directly: http://bit.ly/K39HCN.

Thanks again so much for your continued support

Sincerely,
alex hundert

#June26, Get on the Bus: Court Support vs Criminalisation

June 14, 2012 1 comment

UPDATE – Official Callout: June 25+26: Solidarity w Six Nations Land Defenders
Community Solidarity Network (CSN) Callout: Remember the G20 by supporting criminalized Indigenous Land Defenders and solidarity activists

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An invitation to support front line activists

This June 26, exactly two years after the police kicked in my door for a pre-emptive arrest, two years after the burning cop cars and the black bloc riot, two years after the egregious police crackdown, i am finally going to be sentenced by an ontario court. We’ve know for months exactly what my sentence would be as it arises from a plea deal made in order to get the charges dropped for several of our co-accused, but in less than two weeks it will be official and i will be back in jail.

On the same day, a friend and ally, Fran Doxtator, also known as Flower, will be up in court in Cayuga on charges stemming from a February 18 incident at Kanonhstaton, the Six Nations reclamation site at Caledonia. Flower is a Haudenosaunee land defender, grandmother, and a member of the April 28 Coalition. Her newest charges are yet another instance of the criminalisation of Six Nations land defenders and their community, and must be challenged accordingly. For more info on Flower’s case see this link.

Support Flower: Get on the Bus

As luck would have it, Flower’s hearing is at 2pm and mine is at 10am, which means there is time for people to go to both. The April 28 Coalition is charting a bus that will bring people from the courthouse at 2201 Finch W in toronto (after my hearing) to the courthouse in Cayuga (for Flower’s hearing), and then back to toronto [more info, and a callout coming soon]. I want to strongly encourage people to fill that bus and to pack the court for Flower, to show solidarity with her and other Six Nations Land Defenders.

If i were not going to jail on #June26, i would be going to Cayuga to support Flower and the efforts and intents of Six Nations land defenders.

Since the g20, “criminalisation” and support have been a hot topics in activist and social movement circles. However, the criminalisation of Indigenous land defenders and sovereigntists has been a long standing practise in this country (and other colonial states), as has the criminalisation of migrant communities and other racialised and poor communities.

Resisting criminalisation as well as legal/jail support have increasingly become cornerstones of contemporary activist activities amongst settlers on ‘The Left’. Now it is time that we practice this at a level deeper and more meaningful than the simple support of our friends and closest comrades; it is time we shift our support to those whose communities are most targeted by the state, those whose struggles are at the root of the broader anti-colonial resistance on Turtle Island.

Resistance against austerity, colonialism, and criminalisation

There is more connection between these two cases than the simple criminalisation of front line activists, land defenders and organisers. There is also more connection here than the fact that, while our charges are seemingly unrelated, Flower and I have known each other for the better part of a decade now, and more than a few times we have stood on the same side of a line together.

Alongside the solidarity of anti-colonial activists, perhaps the most meaningful connection here lies in the fact that it is not our methods that the state seeks to criminalise, but our ideas and our stories and our bodies; they seek to crimialise both dissent and dissenters, in and of themselves.

The reason both dissent and the bodies and lives of those who would resist need to be criminalised by the state is because our resistance to colonialism and capitalism (of which austerity is but a face), fundamentally undermines the authority with which they govern and rule. When we challenge austerity we challenge the very notion that capitalism is an appropriate form of economic management. When we challenge colonialism we challenge the very legitimacy of the state and its mythologies.

When we insist that “we are all treaty people”, like when we insist that these are “our streets”, we tell the state as we tell the world, that we will not be ruled by those who exploit people and the planet for profit. We will be guided instead by treaties made between autonomous nations, and we will be guided by our historical connections to the earth and the lessons that have been learned through generations of relationships.

We will continue to resist, in part, because we know that this–this era of colonlialism and capitalism–cannot last. We will keep fighting for survival and for a better world that we all know is possible.

Fight on all fronts

The most important thing we can do, is almost always, to keep fighting on all fronts, from the locations that make sense for us.

June 26 is also the anniversary of the arrest of Mohammad Mahjoub who is one of the Secret Trial 5. He has been detained on secret information for 12 years, and is holding a rally in Toronto on this day. He was arrested on the basis of racial profile and has never even been charged, under a “security certificate” regime that only applies to non-citizens where the court has ruled that the presumption of innocence does not apply

Also on June 26, is a local fight in the Downtown East neighborhood of toronto for a men’s harm reduction shelter that the city is trying to cut and close down. This is a key example of how austerity is being brought down in this City – targeting the poor by shutting down a homeless shelter in the midst of a housing crisis and overcrowding in the shelters.

All of these struggles are deeply and intimately connected.

For people who are not able to get on the bus to Cayuga to support Flower and Six Nations Land Defenders in general, i would strongly encourage people to attend the morning City Council meeting to support the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s fight for the SchoolHouse, and to attend the rally for Mohammad Mahjoub, rather than just coming to court for me and skipping these other events.

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*more info about getting on the bus will be available here and at April 28 Coalition soon*

G20 conspiracy prosecution and the criminalisation of mass organising.

October 11, 2011 2 comments

Update, November 22 2011: This blog post faced much bullshit. The Crown Attorney’s office threatened to throw a few charges at me for it had I not made some edits and redactions.  With the Preliminary hearing over,  I am now able to return this post to its original form. Unredacted sections are in italics. 

I will have a new piece, about the deal we took today, up shortly. 

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G20 Charges in Toronto, Tar Sands Arrests in Ottawa, and Occupy Wall Street

On Monday September 26, more than 100 people were arrested when they engaged in an act of mass civil disobedience on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. They were there to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, and to send this message to the Harper Government: The Alberta tarsands are environmentally destructive and socially irresponsible, and the extraction project there should be understood as “ecocide”.

Some reports indicate that as many as 1000+ people rallied in Ottawa to protest, listen to speeches, and to support almost 200 people who risked arrest.

The Ottawa action followed a prolonged action earlier last month in Washington, where, in a two week period, more than 1000 people were arrested out front of the White House, in an attempt to urge President Obama not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline when he has the opportunity in November.

Both of these actions were highly coordinated by professional activists, with the backing of large NGOs including Greenpeace, 350.org, Indigenous Environmental Network, and others. The arrestees in both actions included a number of celebrity activists. In both places, most of the arrestees and many others attended professionally facilitated trainings and workshops to prepare themselves for the actions and the arrests. The organisers met and planned for months in advance.

In many ways, minus the celebrities and the NGO funding, much of the work that went into planning the week long convergence against the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 was very similar; months of meetings and workshops were held, as well as training series conducted in several different cities. Unfortunately, unlike in Ottawa and Washington, many of the over 1000 people arrested in Toronto during the G20 had not prepared for the experience of being arrested, nor did not they volunteer for it. In Toronto, people also had a much more real version of what being arrested more often feels like: violent, scary and uncertain. In staged acts of civil disobedience like the ones in Ottawa and Washington, the experience of arrest tends to be more, well, “civil”.

There is tremendous amount of space already devoted to critiquing the tactics employed in these two very different actions—the marches and the accompanying black bloc tactics in Toronto, the staged arrests in Washington and Ottawa—but what I’m interested in here is the organising and the threats posed to this kind of organising by the type of prosecution that the Ontario Crown Attorney’s office is perpetrating against me and 16 others in the “G20 Main Conspiracy Group Prosecution”.

While the Crown is likely to present to the court, all kinds of inflammatory comments, including quotes from my blog, for most of those accused, the only suggestion of any “conspiracy” on their part, will be the allegation that they were merely present at protest planning meetings when “unlawful acts” were discussed. That is to say, the Crown will say that they agreed to be part of a conspiracy to, for example commit mischief, merely because they were present at a meeting where someone said that windows would likely get smashed during a given rally or march.

While some of the unlawful acts that get mentioned over months of protest organising may be inflammatory and distasteful to some, it should be stressed that it is the “unlawful nature” of such acts that creates the alleged “conspiracy.” The fact that some of these acts that get discussed may be considered by some to be over some arbitrary line of acceptability should be inconsequential. The type of “criminality” is not what is relevant; what is important is that the acts discussed at these meetings are technically against the law.

If this is enough for “conspiracy” charges to stick to organisers, the future of protest organising is actually in jeopardy.

Conspiracy law is inherently confusing; that’s part of the problem. In Canada, the current conspiracy laws exist on the books mostly for the purpose of prosecuting gangsters, such as mobs and biker gangs. However, occasionally, the state has tried to used these charges against activists; there was a case in Quebec after the 2001 FTAA summit in Quebec City, and another one right here in Ontario after the so-called “OCAP riot” in the same year. Ten years later, they are trying again.

In the United States, conspiracy charges have been used similarly, however there they also get conflated with pseudo-fascistic domestic terrorism laws. The RNC 8 and the SHAC 7 are two examples of cases where counter-terrorism laws have been conflated with the application of conspiracy law against protest organisers.

In Canada, the application of laws designed for the Hell’s Angels and the Mafia against political organisers and community activists is the same type of dangerous slide towards fascism that we have seen in the US with the types of cases mentioned (and unfortunately, many others as well).

The G20 Main Conspiracy Group Prosecution is yet another attempt by the Canadian government to manipulate the laws so that they can use the so-called criminal justice system as a weapon against political organisers. This is a very dangerous road to travel.

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The meetings to plan the g20 protests happened over the course of 2009 and 2010. Now flash forward to 2011, and imagine the planning meetings for the recent Ottawa and Washington anti-tarsands actions. What do you imagine those meetings to have looked like? Obviously in the meetings to plan these acts of mass civil disobedience and pre-arranged arrests, organisers put forward a plan that included coordinated unlawfulness.

According to the precedent being set in our case, if we lose on the conspiracy charges, the implication will be that organising for mass civil disobedience will be similarly criminalised alongside more “confrontational” mass actions. The crime that could be alleged against such organisers would likely be conspiracy to commit mischief and conspiracy to obstruct justice, potentially indictable offenses that carry potential serious prison time.

And there is more. In addition to the “conspiracy” charges that all 17 of us have, I have an additional six counts of “counselling” to commit various indictable offences. All of these charges stem from workshops that were conducted over the course of preparing for the g20 protests; facilitating workshops for new activists has been one of my primary sources of income over the last few years. One ramification of these charges is that these workshops—one of the primary means by which activists share skills with each other, and a primary activity for building movements—may become understood by the courts as inherently criminal. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Let me clear one thing up; I was not teaching people how to fight cops—not even close. I was facilitating discussions about what people could expect at major summit protests. Most of the workshops consisted of talking about what happened at past summits and about the policing tactics used at the types of protests that people could expect to take place on the streets of Toronto.  And for the record, what we told people to expect was pretty much exactly what happened. Maybe they’re just mad at us because we were right.

Most of the workshops in question were nearly identical to the same “Direct Action 101” workshops that I and many others have been conducting together for years with student groups, grassroots organisations, activist groups, NGOs, unions, etc. They are nearly identical to the same “Direct Action” workshops facilitated by experienced action trainers and coordinators across the continent and even the globe. They are likely very similar, in fact, to the trainings that more than one thousand people received before the Washington actions and more than 200 before the Ottawa actions. I feel that I can safely make that assumption because several of the trainers and coordinators for these actions are some of the very same people who trained me. 

These types of trainings and workshops are incredibly important at this current political moment in history. There are thousands of people across North America who are engaging in street activism for the very first time, as they are inspired by the incredible #OccupyWallStreet movement (also not without some very serious and necessary critiques).

Trainings demystify protest tactics and strategies, teach people the skills necessary to participate effectively in consensus processes such as the general assemblies that are the cornerstone of this new “occupation” movement, prepare people for the experience of potential arrest and other forms of police violence as well as their strategies and tactics, teach people skills to talk and interact with media, help people develop and hone political messaging and analysis, and many other really important things that are crucial to developing effective social movements. The state wants to prevent us from developing these movements.

The state is going to try to conceal what is really going on here by making their case against us all about the inflammatory comments made about tactics that the broader movement is not in consensus around. But disagreement about appropriate diversity of tactics has nothing to do with this case; it is a smoke screen. The important fact here is that they are trying to develop a structural weapon to criminalise organising in general.

Conspiracy in the Age of Austerity

September 12, 2011 5 comments

Some thoughts at the outset of the preliminary inquiry
Sept 12, 2011

Today is the first day of what is scheduled to be an 11 week preliminary inquiry for what the Ontario Crown Attorney’s office calls, the “G20 Main Conspiracy Group Prosecution.” This prosecution will see myself, along with 16 other community organisers spend almost three months in court every single week day, watching and listening as the Crown Attorneys from the Provincial “Gangs and Guns Initiative” present evidence collected by a series of undercover cops who infiltrated community organisations across the country over a period of nearly two years prior to last year’s G20 (an event which saw the city converted into “Fortress Toronto,” as the heads of state from the world’s twenty richest countries, along with more than 10 000 cops, occupied the city’s downtown).

The Crown will allege that we are somehow responsible for the confrontational demonstrations, including those of the black bloc, which occurred on June 26 2010. It will not be alleged that any of us actually participated in those demonstrations, or that any of us broke any windows or burned any cop cars, nor will it be alleged that we physically caused any damage to anything or anyone, or that any of us even had any part in coordinating that day’s demonstrations. In fact, several of us were already in jail hours before the day’s protests even began. Their only allegation will be that we “conspired” to do things. For this they want to give us serious jail time. If things go badly, I could realistically spend up to 6 years in jail (given that I face several “counsel” charges in addition to the conspiracy charges faced by all 17 co-accused).

But the truth is that the details of this case are not what is most important. It is true that facts will come out about the scary degrees to which the state has gone to infiltrate legitimate community organisations, about the state’s willingness to curb freedoms and civil liberties, and that this case could potentially set very dangerous precedents concerning people’s ability to organise and speak politically in their communities. It is true that all of these issues are important here, but what I think is most important is the timing.

This is the age of austerity. The Ford budget cuts that this city is bracing itself for are the local manifestation of the austerity agenda that was at the centre of the G20 meetings hosted last summer by Stephen Harper. It is the same austerity agenda that people are rising up against all across Europe, which is not entirely unconnected from the inspiring people’s uprisings that are still ongoing in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

It is no coincidence that here, people’s inherent right to organise is under attack at the same time that the need to organise is so important.

The so-called “G20 Main Conspiracy Prosecution” is a quite frightening infringement on various freedoms and a precedent setting attack on an assortment of rights that are presumably constitutionally protected. It is an explicit criminalisation of dissent. Because of the precedents that this case has the potential to set, it might be recognised that this prosecution is, in and of itself, an attack on the very idea of community organising, and it is designed to prevent us all from being able to fight back against the austerity agenda. They do not want us to fight back. They want us not to organise.

Austerity is an attack against already targeted communities. The coming cuts in this city are going to make most people’s lives worse and our city less livable. But for many –undocumented people, indigenous people, poor and racialised people, people with disabilities, queer and trans people—services are already insufficient and inaccessible; these are people who are going to be the most impacted by the coming cuts. The cuts will also be felt by all working people who reside in this city. People will resist.

While the 17 of us are tied up in court over the next 11 weeks, people in communities across this city will be organising against austerity.

Just this past Saturday, more than 500 people participated in a mass meeting at Dufferin Grove Park to organise against Ford’s planned cuts. Over the next few weeks and months we will see what comes out of such inspiring processes. The “Toronto Stop the Cuts” campaign is a coordinated network of autonomous neighbourhood committees across the city, creating a growing chorus against the cuts. The voices of this movement in the city are a multitude that is far more representative of the people who reside in this city than any electoral process. By the time the preliminary hearing for the “G20 Main Conspiracy Prosecution” is over, we will know whether or not City Council will have listened to those voices. Then will come the trial.

The reason that the state so badly needs to effectively criminalise dissent and community organising is because, if they choose to ignore the voices of the people who live in this city, like is happening in Spain and Greece and in England, resistance is likely to look much more like the riotous scenes from the streets of our city during last year’s G20 than it is to look like the beautiful scenes from this past weekend’s mass organising meeting in the park.

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Post script:

I want to send my love and respect to Kelly Pflug-Back, Ryan Rainville and Byron Sonne. They’re not allowed to hear from me, but that does not prevent me from sending a message for them into the world. I also want to recognize that there are many people who are still dealing with the consequences of the g20 legal crackdown; there are people in jail right now on g20 charges. All of those people deserve our support.

If people want to offer their support, while I can’t speak for those co-accused with me, what I would want from people is for them to get involved, stay involved, or get more involved with the Stop the Cuts campaign, or with anti tar sands work, or supporting Indigenous sovereignty, land and treaty rights, or organising to stop the mega-quarry in Melancthon county, or for queer liberation, or against violence against women, or against the gross racism of the Harper government’s immigration policies; the best support people can offer is to be more active than they otherwise might, in the very campaigns and for the very issues that the state seeks to prevent us from organising around.

And finally, thank you to everyone for all the support.

Ongoing Resistance to the G20 Agenda

Toronto Community Groups Fight Back
June 25, 2011
The Spoke

While the tens of thousands of people who took to the streets during last year’s mobilisation against the G20 were there for many different reasons—migrant justice, Indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, worker’s rights, queer liberation, anti-capitalism, civil liberties and more—the so called leaders of the world’s 20 wealthiest nations met behind the closed doors of a fortified downtown Toronto with one thing at the top of their agenda: austerity.

The “austerity agenda” is a consensus amongst G20 states that, in order to keep the current capitalist system afloat, over the next ten to twenty years, public spending on things like social services, education and health care, will be sacrificed for financial sector bailouts, so that banks and large corporations can remain profitable and viable. The austerity agenda will ensure that the costs of a failing capitalist system will be felt by poor communities.

In Toronto, momentum from last year’s mobilisation against the G20 is being put into coordinated neighbourhood based campaigns against the austerity agenda that is being implemented in this city by the Ford Mayoral regime and nationally by the Harper Government. The “Raise the Rates” campaign is meant to build “a provincial movement to raise social assistance rates to where people can live with health and dignity,” according to the website of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

A joint statement that reminds people of the connection between last year’s anti-G20 mobilisation and the ongoing struggle against the austerity agenda was released yesterday by a group of community-based organisations.

The statement, June 2011: Our Streets are Still on Fire, says “We supported the week of protests against the G20 in June 2010 because we refused to be silenced. We refused to be pushed to the margins as the so-called leaders of the world made decisions on our behalf. We insisted that the world would hear our stories through our voices. And just as in the years before the G20 came to Toronto, we remain committed to fight back, to mobilize, and to organize.

“Today, we demand freedom for all those still facing charges from June 2010 and we commit to fighting the age of austerity that the G20 leaders have imposed on us. We know that the cuts, and the attacks on our communities will increase over the next few years. We plan to meet these challenges head on because we know that through organized collective resistance the power of the people will prevail.”

Out of Jail

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Drafted in the Toronto West Detention Centre,  January 19

[Updated and Published on January 26, TMC, http://toronto.mediacoop.ca
Released from jail on January 24
]

After nearly five months in jail, I will finally be walking out of the Toronto West Detention Centre having taken a plea bargain with the Crown.

The deal required that I plead guilty to a single count of “breach recognisance” stemming from a single presentation amongst many presentations at the September 17 event at Ryerson University titled “Strengthening Our Resolve: Movement Building and Ongoing Resistance to the G20 Agenda”.

The plea was in exchange for having the breach of bail coming from an almost identical event at Wilfrid Laurier University dropped, along with two counts of breaching my probation (which is left over from an older charge in Cayuga resulting from a blockade in Cayuga) dropped. They have also stopped the proceedings to collect a hundred and twenty thousand dollars from my sureties. More importantly, I finally got a new bail, including being able to post to the internet, having no curfew, and being able to leave the house with designates. This allows me to once again be a contributing member of my community and to the movements I am a part of.

Some people will be quick to judge this as a “sell out,” as exchanging a platform to fight for a potentially meaningful victory in court for my personal freedom. That possibility has haunted me. But I do sincerely believe that position to be a hasty and narrow judgement.

As it stood, I found out that my trial date for the breach was moved from January 31 to March. Regardless of the outcome of the breach trial, I would still not be released until a separate bail hearing to be held in April at the earliest. At that point, I would have been in jail for over seven months with no reasonable prospects of even being released on bail given the pending allegations of “intimidation of a justice participant” and the original conspiracy charges.

To remain behind bars would have been the obvious choice, even if a hard decision. Previously in October, I had made the decision to refuse my bail which included a media gag and punitive non associations. Staying in jail this time around would also have been relatively easy because I had been doing just fine in there. But at the same time, I was a serious drain on those who have done such wonders in supporting me, helping me stay strong and to feel connected to community. Incarceration is a weapon designed to affect the communities that people are a part of; to suck resources, energy and emotion out of them and not just the individuals held in dungeons.

And while being willing to sacrifice oneself might be noble in theory and sometimes the only right decision to make, in this circumstance I feel it is far more important to be in my community, contributing, giving back, fulfilling my responsibilities. This is who I want to be in the movement right now—a participant, not a symbol.

And what would the point even have been, if I had sat in the cage until after we were able to get our victory in court? The truth is, the only point that can ever be proven in a court is that the courts are a legitimate source of authority in our lives. I would like to deny them that power.

We could have fought them, on their own battle ground, and tried to establish that the OPP’s and the Crown’s position that what took place on the Ryerson and WLU campuses did not constitute “public demonstrations.” I’ve had a long time to think about it, and I realised that I don’t really care how panel discussions are classified by the courts. What I care about is that we are able to defend the spaces in which those free discussions take place and that we do not depend on the state to provide them for us. That defence happens every day, with our unity in the streets, and in those spaces themselves, not in a courtroom.

And if we had won the trial it would merely have established that I had not breached my bail conditions on those particular days. It would not establish that the cops and the Crown would never be able to treat another campus-based discussion as a “public demonstration.”  The fight is not whether a panel discussion is a public demonstration, the fight is over the existence of such a bail condition itself and it will hopefully be found “unconstitutional” as a result of a challenge that has been put forward by one of my coaccused.

For those who do prioritise such legal victories, I actually think that we have come closer to establishing that such discussions are not to be legally defined as demonstrations than we would have by winning at trial. The charges for the Laurier event were dropped, and I only plead guilty for one part of the event at Ryerson as contravening my bail condition not to participate in a public demonstration.

In the statement of facts agreed upon at court during the plea hearing, what was specifically defined as constituting a breach was just a single presentation by three Indigenous women at Ryerson. They used props, and the opening line included the statement, “I am not here today as a panellist.” In such a twisted world that wants to hold people in jails and put on shows in courtrooms to argue over such semantics, I can accept that such a presentation, in a room full of nearly three hundred people, might need to constitute a “public demonstration.”  Nothing in my plea suggests that there was anything “unlawful” about that presentation, just that under this regime, it counts as a “public demonstration.”

I would like to add though, that I whole-heartedly support every word that those women had to say that night. The content was both poignant and necessary, and also perfectly in line with panel discussions. By no means in itself did the content of the presentation constitute a public demonstration. It was not the Indigenous language, nor the possession of traditional eagle feathers; it was merely the use of plastic handcuffs as props. These props served to demonstrate the ways in which Indigenous people’s participation in academic, activist, and broader society has been handcuffed by racist and colonial practices and structures. Also far too often, Indigenous people find themselves in literal handcuffs as a result of the patterns in this legal system, especially pre-trial incarcerations, over-prosecutions, and unjust convictions. I thank those women for making that presentation that night, and if it makes me “guilty,” again, so be it. Nyaweh, miigwetch to them.

I would like to write a new narrative, one other than the tired and damaging narrative of martyrdom whereby one isolated person sits in a jail cell becoming a symbol against injustice. We need to tell a new story—one that does not insist on suffering from those committed to our movements.  While this is often necessary, we also need a discourse that speaks to us about commitment as meaning that we are actually part of the daily struggles that strive to build communities and networks that can sustain our visions for better lives and for spaces where real freedom and safety are possible. This is the type of story that I want to be telling.

I don’t think that people should be any less outraged now that I am out of jail. The injustice of the system has been laid bare again like so many times before. It is the inherent functioning of an explicitly oppressive system that is designed to perpetuate power and propagate its own order, especially against targeted communities including Indigenous people, people of colour, poor people, queer and trans people. This system cannot be vindicated by courtroom victories. Be outraged and let’s struggle on our own terms.