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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.

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

Theresa “Toad” Jamieson vs Gary McHale at the colonial Cayuga courthouse

A forwarded callout from the Two Row Society
#SovSummer  #FreeToad

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.

-alex.

#SovSummer #Solidarity

ps. Please do read the callout (here) and join the FB event (here)

#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

***

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.

***

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

A Response to Judy Rebick

February 27, 2010 17 comments

The Black Bloc and the 21st Century anti-Colonial Movement at the Olympics

Judy Rebick, from her office in downtown Toronto, complained that “when a spontaneous anger against the Black Bloc emerged on social media, people berated us for ‘dividing the movement.’” She says that, in fact, “it is the Black Bloc that is dividing the movement.”

She is wrong.

I have been involved in a wide array of coalitions on various issues over the past half-decade, and never have I witnessed cross-movement solidarity like I have in the anti-Olympics campaign. In southern Ontario, as in Vancouver, radical groups from a variety of locations in the broader movement have come together to start to develop a shared anti-colonial analysis. This solidarity and unity, on the anti-colonial front, is deeper and stronger now than it has been at any point in the last ten years.

A strong example of that solidarity was on display during the February 12th “Take Back Our City” march. That march saw upwards of 2000 people march on BC Place during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. That march was lead by Indigenous women. When the march reached the police line outside of BC Place that night, the cops started pushing and shoving the front line of the stalled march. Indigenous women called for the Black Bloc to move to the front to hold the line. When the elders amongst that leadership group decided that the crush from the police was too much, the Black Bloc made space for them to move to the back of the crowd.

21st century anti-colonial analysis is one that is able to identify commonalities between the struggles of the urban poor and those of Indigenous sovereigntists. Where colonization is ongoing against First Nations, we are also able to see gentrification and the criminalization of homelessness and poverty as a form of urban colonialism. In Vancouver (and elsewhere) there is often no distinction between Indigenous soverigntists and the urban poor; they are often the same people.

This 21st century analysis is finally moving beyond political philosophies rooted in 19th and 20th century Eurocentric intellectual traditions (such as those fostered by anarcho-socialists like Mick Sweetman of Common Cause in Ontario, who still choose to see the world through the lenses of an industrial workers struggle). This new anti-colonialism is one that seeks to push out the old colonial patterns of European intellectualism to make space for fundamentally different cultural ideas rooted in places other than Europe.

This 21st century analysis is moving beyond the empty rhetoric of “revolutionary acts.” We no longer wish to seize the machinery of the State to use it for our own ends; we wish to see it dismantled, to be replaced by something other than a new Euro-American colonialism. A better world than that is possible, but it cannot come about until we move beyond the dominant paradigms of our culture. Statism and white supremacy must be resigned to the dustbins of history.

Part of the strength of the anti-Olympic campaign, as a watershed for the new anti-colonial movement, has been the solidarity and unity around a “diversity of tactics.” Part of that solidarity is rooted in the idea that you cannot attack one part of the movement without attacking the whole. When we remember to defend each other, we also remember to work together to build the movement and our communities. This cannot be done by succumbing to the classic colonial tactic of divide and conquer. Diversity of tactics means that one day we smash the system and the next we build alternatives. The Black Block is a wrecking ball tactic that makes space for more mainstream or creative tactics. The anarchists who participate in the Bloc are for the most part solid community organizers and people who are at the forefront of making space for creative alternatives to capitalism and colonialism. A diversity of tactics is meant to be complimentary—different tactics demonstrate different values and objectives, and all must be viewed in sum.

***

The highlight of the anti-Olympic convergence in Vancouver, for me, has been to see a coming together and mutual solidarity between Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and Indigenous sovereigntists (and their allies)—two demographics whom have been especially under attack by the Olympic and State machines. In fact, on the streets of Vancouver, increasingly it would appear that the sovereigntists and the anti-poverty activists are often the same people.

Working as allies, not just in a supporting role, have been a wide array of activists from many sectors. Prominent amongst the organizers in the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) and throughout the convergence have indeed been anarchists who participated in the Black Bloc actions during the “Heart Attack” march on February 13 2010.

What Judy Rebick, and many other critics who have had little to do with the anti-Olympic movement, have entirely failed to notice is the fact that the Black Bloc was supported by almost every constituency of the ORN. This show of solidarity was not divisive—it brought us together and has built deep trust between activists who, in the past, have often had very little to say to each other.

Organizations that were publicly represented include (or had individual members present and unmasked): No One Is Illegal, the Council of Canadians, PETA, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), StopWar.ca, Gatewaysucks, the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee, Food Not Bombs, and many more. None of those organizations have denounced the actions of the Black Bloc that day. And they can’t, because their members know that on that day, they were there to support the Black Bloc. Anyone who says that they didn’t know what was going to happen is lying. There were 200 people in black with masks on, and “Riot 2010” has been a rallying call for the movement for more than two years now. Everyone knew what was going to happen, and they all marched anyway.

For Judy Rebick to claim that the Black Bloc had “come into the middle of a demonstration with black face masks [to] break up whatever takes their fancy when the vast majority of people involved don’t want them to,” is either dishonest, or a sign that she has stopped paying attention to what actually happens on the ground. The Black Bloc is not dividing the movement—people with aspirations for mainstream acceptance who distance themselves from other activists are.

Judy Rebick is going to have to decide whether she wants to be a celebrity, acceptable to the CBC and their mainstream audience, or work on the ground with people who are fed up with capitalism, with colonialism, and also with the paralyzing cult of non-violence. It is time to realize that there are people who are ready to fight back, and that it is time to support them.

***

After the police clashed with the Bloc that day, and affinity groups were forced to scatter (the Black Bloc doesn’t do peaceful arrests—the tactic dictates mutual protection from the police instead), the majority of the “non-violent” marchers continued in support. Some of them allowed themselves to be arrested by the frustrated police. Blaming anyone other than the police for the conduct of the police is merely a legitimization of the police presence on our streets—it would be like blaming the poor for the criminalization of homelessness. I expect people to know better. Cops are no more than armed thugs-for-hire.

In fact, the willingness of unarmed activists to battle with heavily armed riot cops, in order to de-arrest people they may have never met before and may never be able to identify, is one of the strongest forms of solidarity I have ever witnessed. We have to be willing to physically protect our own communities, no matter the cost, by any means necessary.

This is the type of message that the Black Bloc sends. The point is that we don’t need or want your cops or your capitalist colonial system. The point of such actions is not to convince bystanders or any particular audience to join us in the streets. The point is to put people on notice that there exists active insurrectionary resistance, right here in the belly of the beast.

For Judy Rebick to suggest that Black Bloc tactics “put other people and the issues we are fighting for in jeopardy,” is just preposterous. The mass audiences that dismissed the “Heart Attack” march are consistently the same mass audiences who generally dismiss every form of direct action and every radical cause. Judy may be too used to her celebrity status to notice, but most people aren’t paying attention to start with. So-called “nonviolent direct action”, with rare exceptions, is also summarily dismissed by most people, most of the time. They want us to go through so-called proper channels, not understanding that the system exists to perpetuate itself, not to accommodate change or the empowerment of communities under attack. Begging the government for change merely legitimizes their claim to be the rightful authority over land and people. Too many, enamoured with the cult of nonviolence, have too easily parroted the conservative media narratives that so predictably hamper our movements.

Further, it is not unity under a commitment to a “diversity of tactics” that stifles debate within our movement—that is what we call solidarity. It is a zealous adherence to dogmatic “non-violence” that shuts down any meaningful dialogue.

***

An important point that nobody seems to have picked up on, is that the targeting of the Hudson’s Bay Company actually opened up space for Canadians to stop and think about the colonial history of HBC, if only briefly. Those citizens still capable of critical thought were left with little choice.

Two days after the “Heart Attack” march, there was an anti-poverty march which was attended by many liberals and so-called progressives—MP Libby Davies, for example. A group broke off from that march, hopped the fence to an empty lot (owned by condo developers, under lease by VANOC) and cut the locks from the gates, opening them up for people to set up the Olympic Tent Village which will still stand at least until the end of the Olympics. Many activists who participated in the Black Bloc at “Heart Attack” have been there ever since, volunteering almost around the clock cooking meals, working security shifts, helping set up tents and keeping them dry, working the medic tent, organizing new actions with members of the DTES community, etc., etc. Meanwhile, more liberal folks (like Dave Eby of the BCCLA) showed up once or twice for photo ops without ever setting foot inside the camp or talking to any of the people without homes whom they build their careers speaking on behalf of.

It is not the champions of civil liberties, the democratic reformers or academics who are down at the Olympic Tent Village. While they are in their offices, it is community organizers and radicals who are on the ground working side by side with neighbourhood residents, participating in real community building. At the Tent Village the State machine has been shut out from the site. Inside, residents of the DTES are rising up.

I’ve been at the front gate doing security, for more hours than I have not, over the past ten days. In that time many conversations with Vancouverites or Olympic tourists who pass by have turned to discussions of the “violence” on the 13th. I have watched multiple individuals take off their HBC red mittens and toss them in the garbage. While these people may not take any further action, in the face of the gross poverty on the DTES, they had no choice but to be ashamed. It was the broken windows which identified HBC’s Olympic merchandise as an appropriate symbol to bear that shame.

Stella August, an Indigenous elder and a member of the DTES Power of Women group has publicly defended the Black Bloc’s actions during “Heart Attack.” Those who have chosen to denounce the action without any appreciation of the dynamics on the ground in Vancouver should be just as ashamed as the people wearing those mittens.

People and communities are under attack and it is time to fight back. If you’re not willing to stand up and fight, or to support those who are, please at least get out of the way.

2010 Riot.

February 13, 2010 9 comments

Understanding “violent” protest in vancouver

According to Vancouver Police, today’s anti-Olympic march was “taken over” by “criminal elements.” The mainstream media has dismissed the day’s actions due their qualification as violent protest–much of the coverage has featured the reaction of random bystanders on the street, who believe that the violence diminishes the validity of the entire protest movement.

If people remember correctly, in the immediate aftermath of both the Seattle protests in ’99 and Quebec City in ’01, the response was exactly the same. In Quebec, even the catapulting of teddy-bears was prosecuted as violent crime. Window smashers at both were labelled by many as terrorists. Today, we remember those summits as cornerstones of the contemporary social justice movement.

Today’s “protest turned violent” was part of a larger convergence–5 days of organized protest and direct action against the Olympics. Activists across the country have already stated that the No2010 Olympics movement is, in its own right, a watershed moment for the Canadian social/environmental justice movement.

For one thing, as Harjap Grewal from the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) said, “It’s a unique moment in history, because a call for a convergence normally happens at the G8, WTO and World Bank summits that happen around the world, and this time organizers have actually called for a demonstration against the Olympics industry. We don’t see the Olympics industry as being that much different from these other institutions that are unaccountable to the people of the world. The IOC is like the WTO. The IOC is like the IMF, is like the World Bank. And it encourages the transfer of wealth from public hands to private pockets.”

In an article for The Dominion by Shailagh Keaney, I was quoted as saying that organizing across the country against the Olympics has been “a major step where various forms of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist resistance that were rooted in very different places and different issues along those common themes have come together physically in several places.”

Today in Vancouver, the anti-capitalist and anarchist militants of the movement had their moment.

The callout for the “2010 Heart Attack” stated the goal simply: “to disrupt business as usual.”

Mission accomplished.

Alissa Westergard-Thorpe (ORN) has been quoted in news sources around the world today. In some of the bullshit corporate media out there, it has been claimed that she and the ORN “condemned” the so-called violence today. I highly doubt she did that. After all, the ORN’s Statement on Solidarity and Unity says:

“Our organizing is based on the recognition that the Olympics is taking place on unceded Native land, and exists to create a movement for all anti capitalist, Indigenous, anti poverty, labour, migrant justice, housing, environmental justice, civil libertarian, anti war, and anti colonial activists to join forces. We come together on the basis of anti-oppression principles and with a respect for diversity of tactics.”

What Westergard-Thorpe actually said, well reported by Canadian Press, is: “Protesters have never been violent toward human beings… Property damage is not the same as violence, and it certainly is nothing compared to the tools that police have, manhandling them, pushing them, hitting them with bicycles.”

First, I agree that comparing the violence of the protesters to that of the police is preposterous. Protesters used mostly sticks, pylons and newspapers boxes to break windows and block roads. There were reports of some tools present–a couple hammers, and one person with a bike chain wrapped around their hand, but there are no reports that they were used in attacks on anything other than targeted corporate property.

The police on the other hand, were on the streets with fully automatic machine guns, amongst other weaponry.

The protesters never hit cops with weapons other than plastic pylons. And my understanding, is that protesters were not attacking police. In some cases they were likely trying to push the police line to avoid being surrounded by heavily armed riot cops. In most cases though, clashes with police occurred where people were ‘dearresting’ their friends; that means preventing the cops from beating and arresting their friends. We call that community protection.

The police on the other hand, were beating people with batons and took more than a dozen hostages.

It is not untrue that there was some confrontation with bystanders. But from what I can tell, in all cases, it was mutual and no one got hurt. One overly patriotic bystander seemed to have tried to challenge the entire block to a fist fight. I think he might have been arrested for his own protection.

Westergard-Thorpe also talked about “property destruction” not being “violence.” Lots of people say that all the time. While I understand where they are coming from, but I haven’t taken that perspective. [edit, 1am feb14]

Property destruction is violent. So fucking what?

There are lots of kinds of violence that occur in a vast array of contexts. Violence is not dichotomous or binary. Personal physical assaults are violence, property destruction is violence, verbal abuse is violence, discrimination is violence, displacement is violence. There is no hierarchy. Systemic actions that deprive people of, for example adequate housing, food and water, are morally far more heinous than an act of physical violence employed to prevent an attack on someone who cannot defend themselves.

Sometimes it is ok to use violence.

Why is it ok to use violence to disrupt the Olympic celebration and “business as usual” for the capitalist system in Vancouver? Because the capitalist system is one of the greatest purveyors of violence in the history of humankind. The Olympic Games are the paradigmatic symbol for so much of the violence wrought by that system in this city over the last decade. A little bit of anarchist violence was employed to prevent the Olympic Games from presenting a narrative that whitewashes all the capitalist violence that has been perpetrated here. That should be just fine by anyone who prioritizes social justice over law and order.

Perhaps the most important contribution I can make to understanding what went down today is to look at the target of the violence. As all the media have reported, the Hudson’s Bay Company superstore received the brunt of the damage today, with most of its windows being smashed out.

The media reported that HBC was targetted because it is an official Olympic supplier and the store is one of the primary spots in Vancouver where official Olympic merchandise is sold to tourists.

There are lots of Olympic sponsors. HBC, however, is one of the primary corporate targets of the anti-Olympic movement, and was clearly singled out today. They deserved it.

Here is why:

For almost 350 years the Hudson’s Bay Company has been a primary instigator and propagator of the colonization of (so-called) Canada. HBC is a perpetrator of genocide. So please take those stupid mittens off. [edit 1am Feb 14] Complacency is complicity.

No Olympics on Stolen Native Land.

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For more info on HBC’s brutal history of colonialism, check out: