Category Archives: Solidarity Saturday

Defining victory in activism, from #BLMTOtentcity to the Site C hunger strike

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto "tent" city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Youtube)

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto “tent” city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Flipboard)

Often, activists are met with derisive questions from opponents as to what, exactly, they think they’re trying to accomplish by (blocking off traffic/marching and chanting/occupying space/working to rule/etc). The implication often seems to be that important decisions about the division of power and resources aren’t made in the streets, but in the halls of power, and that by taking up public space and making a ruckus, advocates are misdirecting their energy and doing nothing to forward their causes. (Often, of course, these criticisms are coupled with disdain for those very causes.)

In recent years, we’ve heard these criticisms mounted, with varying degrees of self-righteous intensity, against the massive anti-capitalist demonstrations at the Toronto G-20 in 2010, against the Occupy movement and its encampments in 2011, against the Québec student strike in 2012, against Idle No More’s road and rail barricades in 2013, and against anti-pipeline demonstrations for quite some time. We’re once again hearing this rhetoric deployed against the two most high-profile protest encampments since Occupy, the Black Lives Matter Toronto tent city (#BLMTOtentcity) at Toronto Police Services’ headquarters and the protest camp/hunger strike against Site C taking place on B.C. Hydro’s doorstep in Vancouver.

To listen to the contemporary critics of each of these movements, all were wastes of time, orchestrated by “professional activists” and attended by the ignorant unemployed, employing needlessly confrontational and counter-productive tactics which would ultimately prove self-defeating.

But the simple truth is that each of these movements did have accomplishments. Some were more successful than others, to be sure, but each of them was able to boast some major achievements.

That being said, not all are remembered as successes. Continue Reading

Supreme Court to rule on whether Line 9’s First Nations consultation process was constitutional

Image description: Two people hold a large flag, featuring on horizontal white bands with a horizontal purple band above and below it. On the flag are the words "No Consultation! No Consent! No Line 9! Respect The Treaties - Support Chippewas of the Thames First Nation!" In front of the banner, a woman is speaking into a microphone, presumably addressing an out-of-the-picture crowd; to her left are two onlookers. (Image credit: Facebook/Anishnabek Rise via rabble)

Image description: Two people hold a large flag, featuring a wide horizontal white bands with narrower horizontal purple bands above and below it. On the flag are the words “No Consultation! No Consent! No Line 9! Respect The Treaties – Support Chippewas of the Thames First Nation!” In front of the banner, a woman is speaking into a microphone, presumably addressing an out-of-the-picture crowd; to her left are two onlookers. (Image credit: Facebook/Anishnabek Rise via rabble)

In a major win for pipeline resisters, the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nations which threatens to shut down Enbridge’s Line 9B.

It’s also a case with broad implications for several major pipeline projects currently under review, as well as for resource development on First Nations across (so-called) Canada.

The Chippewas of the Thames allege that they were not properly consulted on the reversal of the pipeline, which was previously transporting light crude oil from east to west. A finding in their favour could mean a cancellation or suspension of Enbridge’s approval to reverse the line, and may have an impact on several ongoing NEB reviews into major tar sands pipelines. Continue Reading

After protest camp removed, what’s next for Site C resisters?

Image: A sign reading "Keep the Peace" with the words "Site C Dam" in a circle with a line through it is staked into the ground overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

Image: A sign reading “Keep the Peace” with the words “Site C Dam” in a circle with a line through it is staked into the ground overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

A 62-day protest encampment on land set to be flooded by the contentious Site C Dam project in northern British Columbia came to an end earlier this week, after a judge awarded B.C. Hydro an injunction ordering the removal of protesters.

Now, opponents of the massive hydroelectric project are wondering what comes next.

The project is, of course, shrouded in all kinds of controversy. It’s being pushed ahead despite at least three ongoing court cases challenging its legality on various grounds, concerns about the propriety and legality of permits issued by the Harper government in the dying weeks of the election campaign, alarm over the massive costs the project will impose on B.C. taxpayers, and mounting questions about the bidding process for construction and the possibility that temporary foreign workers could push out unionized labour, to name just some major issues. (See here for a more comprehensive summary.)

The project faces intense criticism from First Nations, environmentalists, local farmers and landowners, Amnesty Internationalfood sovereignty advocates, federal and provincial politicians, and even this guy: Continue Reading

Rosie Dimanno’s coverage of the Ghomeshi trial is victim-blaming rape-shaming vitriol at its worst

Image description: The top half of the front page of the Toronto Star on Feb. 6, 2016 in a newspaper box on the street.. The main headline reads "Lucy's lawyer lashes out", with the subhead (Image credit: author)

Image description: The top half of the front page of the Toronto Star on Feb. 6, 2016, in a newspaper box on the street.. The main headline reads “Lucy’s lawyer lashes out”, with the subhead “‘Trial is about Ghomeshi’s conduct,’ not his alleged victims’ behaviour”. Note the use of witness Lucy DeCoutere’s first name, which connotes a certain lack of seriousness, almost a childishness, and also the phrase “lashes out”, which implies unfocussed anger and unreasonableness. (Image credit: author)

CW: Rape, rape apology, victim-blaming.

The Toronto Star, Canada’s highest-circulation daily newspaper, has been nothing if not thorough in its coverage of the ongoing trial of Jian Ghomeshi, disgraced former CBC radio personality. (Ghomeshi, in case you’ve been living under a rock in the Himalayas, had his career implode on him last year after several women came forward accusing him of extremely violent sexual assault.) The Star has had wall-to-wall coverage of the trial, devoting a whole section on the front page of their website to regular updates on every aspect of the proceedings.

And the most prominent of their, ahem, journalists writing about this issue is the perennially snarky and provocative Rosie DiManno.

DiManno, for those unfamiliar with her work, is a narcissistic attention-craving blowhard with a tendency to be deliberately offensive. Almost ten years ago, Torontoist briefly attempted to run a series mocking her abominable prose style and her unfailing lack of empathy; the series terminated after a mere seven entries with a scathing review of an article she wrote on another rape trial: Continue Reading

Open letter to Arif Virani, my Member of Parliament, on the TPP

Image description: A mock “Trojan Horse” with the letters “T.P.P.” written on it is at the centre of a protest scene. Many people are standing around holding signs referring to the TPP, trade, and Fast Track. (Image credit: AFGE/Flickr)

Readers: I’ve finally done something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while – I wrote a letter to my Member of Parliament, Arif Virani, about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. which I’ve reprinted in full below. (I also CC’d this letter to Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland and to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.)

Now is the time to be vocal about this atrocious deal. I’d like to urge everybody who reads this to get in touch with their MP about this issue. Unfortunately, the TPP’s approval ultimately comes down to a vote in the House of Commons, so this is one of the most direct ways you can make your opposition to the TPP clear. If you’d like, you can feel free to copy directly from my letter to Mr Virani.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I feel there’s a much more radical critique to be made of the TPP, but I’m also a big believer in speaking to your audience, and I think that people across the political spectrum have good reasons to oppose this dreadful deal, so in my letter I tried to speak primarily to the concerns that many moderates have expressed.

If you’re uncertain who your Member of Parliament is or how to contact them, you can find that information here.)

Continue Reading

Site C land defenders face injunction in battle to stop dangerous dam project

Image: A sign reading "Keep the Peace" with the words "Site C Dam" in a circle with a line through it is staked into the ground overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

Image: A sign reading “Keep the Peace” (with the words “Site C Dam” written in a read circle with a line through it) is attached to a birch tree on an embankment overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

For the past several weeks, a group of land defenders has been occupying territory in the Peace River Valley on which the government of British Columbia intends to build a massive hydroelectric dam, known as Site C.

Though their presence has been an impediment to work essential to the dam’s construction, the protesters were, up until recently, begrudgingly tolerated by the authorities.

However, on January 20, despite B.C. Hydro’s statements that they were trying to negotiate a peaceful and mutually agreeable resolution to the occupation, the utility went to court to seek an injunction that would require the land defenders to immediately vacate their encampment or else face steep punitive damages.

As these land defenders await the next phase of their struggle to block this dam’s construction, it’s worth looking back on why they’re there and what this fight is about. Continue Reading

String of prisoner strikes highlights atrocious state of jails in Canada

Image: a view of the front entrance of the Toronto South Detention Centre, a tall building with glass-panelled walls.

A hunger strike at a Regina jail last week was just the latest in a series of high-profile protests by prisoners over the past six months, and underscored the crisis facing the Canadian prison system as it struggles to deal with the legacy of the Harper-era tough-on-crime agenda.

Back in late 2010, when Stephen Harper laid out his new prison-building tough-on-crime agenda, critics were quick to point out a lot of flaws in his plan.

They questioned the necessity of building new prisons at a time when crime rates were at an all-time national low. They questioned the wisdom of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, a practice that many charge creates far more problems than it solves. They questioned the massive $2-billion price tag attached to the prison expansions and sentencing changes. They questioned the unnecessarily harsh and punitive approach taken by the Harper government, which overlooked research into proven successful measures like poverty reduction and increased support for people with mental illnesses.

Those questions – including ones raised by senior researchers in the Justice Department – ultimately went unanswered as an omnibus crime bill was pushed through Parliament in early 2012.

By the next year, prisoners across Canada were going on strike, as this VICE investigative report details: Continue Reading

In massive disappointment, Bill Blair selected to lead government’s marijuana legalization initiative

My initial reaction to Justin Trudeau’s announcement of the composition of his cabinet last November was profound relief at the omission of former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.

Long-time readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’m no fan of Blair. And after watching Trudeau’s Liberal Party do some heavy lifting to get their preferred candidates selected in their supposedly “open” nomination contests prior to the election, including having Trudeau publicly appear with Blair at a joint press conference in Ottawa long before he was selected as a candidate by his local riding association, I was concerned that a Liberal government would elevate the criminal and racist ex-cop to a prominent post in a ministry like Public Safety or even Defence. (He was selected for the seemingly low-profile position of Parliamentary Secretary for Minister of Justice Judy Wilson-Raybould.)

My relief that the rookie MP and veteran abuser of rights would be largely relegated to the back-benches was, sadly, short-lived. Yesterday, the CBC reported that Blair has been tapped by Trudeau to be the point person for the Liberals’ efforts to legalize marijuana.

For folks who have tirelessly advocated for legalization over the past several years and decades, this has to be a disappointing choice.

It seems to indicate that the government’s foremost priority is placating conservative critics of their push for legalization. By deploying a former police officer, they undermine claims that they’re being “soft on crime”, to be sure – but they’re also putting arguments about law and order, and about public safety, at the forefront of their effort.

Just look at these glowing quotes the CBC got about Blair’s selection: Continue Reading

Canada’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia moves forward despite brutal executions

Today, the Saudi Arabian government executed forty-seven people on terrorism charges, several of them by beheading and the rest by firing squad.

The most prominent of the forty-seven was Sheikh Nimr al-Namr, a Shia cleric who had been critical of the House of Saud for several years and took a prominent role in a 2011-12 protest movement against the regime in the nation’s eastern provinces.

Charged with “disobeying the ruler” and “encouraging, leading, and participating in demonstrations”, al-Namr was sentenced to death last October. His death has provoked outrage from human rights advocacy groups and in Shia-majority nations, including Iran, where protesters apparently stormed and looted the Saudi embassy.

But expect to hear little or no condemnation of the Saudi regime from our government here in Canada. One can easily imagine the outcry if it were, say, Iran, or Russia, or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad brutally executing four dozen dissidents, but when it comes to our “allies” the Saudis, most Western governments have a massive blind spot. Continue Reading

Opposition to Line 9 heats up in the weeks since its reversal

Image: a man turns a valve to shut down a pipeline behind a chain link fence

A few weeks back, I wrote about the badass direct action in Ste-Justine-de-Newton, Quebec, which shut down Enbridge’s Line 9B for several hours, as an exemplary model of how pipeline resistance can move forward in the face of a disgustingly racist and industry-captive National Energy Board review process which all but guarantees that oil and pipeline companies will ultimately get their projects approved.

And it’s heartening to me to see just how much public outcry there has been in the wake of the NEB’s final approval of the line’s reversal, which runs contrary to all evidence, common sense, treaty rights, and democratic sensibility. Folks who are opposed to this pipeline for a vast multiplicity of reasons are continuing to make their voices heard, and are both engaging in the political process and working outside of it to build momentum towards a reversal of this foolishly wrong-headed decision.

First off, let’s take a look back at those heroic anarchists who manually shut the line down before chaining themselves to the valve back in early December.

Somebody closely involved in the action wrote a fantastic piece which was published over at Earth First! Newswire which is well worth a read. The key quote:

There is a general sense that this action has breathed new life into the anti-Line 9 campaign, which NGOs long ago abandoned as unwinnable. For the first time in a long while, activists are expressing optimism that Line 9 can be shut down before it spills. We’ve arrived at a critical juncture, and the time for bold direct action has come.

It’s hard to argue with this contention. There’s been an outburst of renewed interest in this particular pipeline project, which has been overlooked in recent months in favour of Energy East, TransMountain, and the U.S. pipeline Keystone XL, which was finally shot down by President Barack Obama after more than five years of dithering. By their bold and concrete resistance, these brave folks hope to not only encourage others to help take down Line 9, but also to directly challenge the noxious and odious law C-51, as their comrade expresses in his piece: Continue Reading

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