The Legal Self-Defense Committee of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) is getting its Legal Self-Defense Fund back together. The fund aims to support people who are victims of police or legal repression for alleged acts committed in the context of individual or collective actions with an anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-colonial or anti-racist scope.
We need your contributions to help the Fund! Following the large mobilizations of 2012, several legal funds were created to support those arrested, but for the past few years, these have not been available, including the one at CLAC until now. We are starting a new legal fund to support people arrested for political activities, because it is important to support arrested people financially so that they can face the government’s biased and unjust police and judicial systems.
By cheque Write the cheque to “Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes” and send it at the following adress:
CLAC-Montréal / QPIRG-Concordia c/o Université Concordia 1455 de Maisonneuve O Montréal, Quebec H3G 1M8
Write “Legal Defense Fund” on the cheque, so that we know it’s for the Fund
By interac e-transfer Send it to: finance @ clac-montreal.net With the security question: “Legal defense”, And the answer: “fund”. If you are doing a donation specifically to the Atlanta solidarity campaign: Write the question: “Atlanta solidarity” And the answer: “stopcopcity”.
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Militarization and expansion of police power is a global threat. The fight back against the Cop City development project in Atlanta mirrors other local struggles everywhere. This solid and long standing frontline struggle represents how the destruction of natural habitats is interconnected with state violence and repression.
At the edge of Welaunee forest, every cop pushed back with fireworks and every piece of construction equipment set ablaze is welcomed with cheer from companions all over turtle island and beyond.
We made and dropped this banner in Montréal in solidarity with all the arrestees in Altanta, even the innocent ones. We will never forget Tortuguita.
Before we start, we would like to dedicate this episode to Nicous D’Andre Spring, a young black musician murdered by correctional officers this Christmas eve, while unlawfully detained at the Bordeaux prison in so-called Montreal. Rest in power Nicous.
In our surveillance societies, where our every move is spied on, controlled, calculated and recorded in huge databases, reflecting on the colonial, capitalist and oppressive role of the police and prisons is more than ever necessary.
When new videos of police interventions create scandal because of their racist violence, the leaders, the police and the politicians talk about bad apples. But if we look at the basic trend, these incidents are far from isolated, and have been repeated since the inception of police forces. Police misconduct is systematic; police violence is systemic.
In this second season of The Whole Orchard, we offer you a more specific way to think about these issues. Still in the form of interviews with passionate activists, we’re addressing, among other things, the impacts of these institutions on sex workers, policing in Indigenous communities, anti-carceral feminism, the militarization of police forces, transformative justice and migrant prisons.
It is time to put an end to the hypocritical and misleading liberal view that all police vices are the fruit of a few rotten apples. From the roots to the sprouts, police departments at all levels embody decaying apple-trees in a filthy orchard of trash.
Let’s take on the whole Orchard!
In the second episode of the second season of The Whole Orchard, we explored with Lux what carceral feminism is and laid the groundwork for an anti-carceral feminism. In this new and final episode of our series, we continue our thoughts on what justice might look like in a post-revolutionary world, but also and more importantly, how to resolve our conflicts in the here and now. To do so, we discuss transformative justice with harar v.a. hall, a queer, Black, Jamaican-Canadian multi-disciplinary creative and thinker raised in Tkaronto/Toronto and currently living, organizing, and dreaming in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. As a facilitator, event programmer and curator they have focused on carving out space for artistic expression, learning, and the production of knowledge within communities they are a part of.
Their work is rooted in an ongoing desire for healing and liberation at an individual and collective level. And so, all of it first draws on their own experiences with identity, love, lust, belonging, trauma, happiness and community. They endeavor to create work and spaces that explore these emotions and experiences honestly, in hopes of fostering spaces for radical imagination.
Q1: How does transformative justice differ from punitive justice? And where does it come from?
I think that I would differentiate them most broadly based on their goals, and so I think punitive justice’s largest outcome is punishment. I think often times there’s a lot of discussions about pilars of justice and you know, we will have discussion about rehabilitation, we will have discussions about restitutions and all of the other things that are supposed to come from imprisoning people, from fining people even, cause I think fines are also part of sort of the punitive system. I think everything that sort of is part of that criminal justice system that we see broadly within colonial societies I think falls under punitive justice, but it is to punish people and I think it has very little to do with safety. I could talk about that more later on, but in contrast I think that transformative justice’s aim is healing. I think it’s healing from the person that is been harmed. It’s healing also for the perpetrator, which is something we don’t often center as well in talking about punitive justice, but I think broadly it’s also healing for your community and your society. When an individual is harmed, when someone else is doing something that has hurt another person, harmed another person and so, integrally I think it’s really important to think about the ripple effects that that has. Trauma isn’t just felt by one person, it’s not just held by one person, it’s felt by the people that are supporting them, it’s felt by their families, it’s felt by the people that they’ve hurt in response to the harm that they have experienced, and so, transformative justice is really centered about healing everyone that has been impacted by this act. And I think it’s also really incredible because I feel like punitive justice makes people into criminals. And once you’re a criminal it’s very hard not to remain a criminal and so you become a single act that you’ve done, or maybe a couple of acts you know. And I think that transformative justice always asserts a person’s humanity first and I really appreciate that because I don’t think anyone ever wants to be labelled by the worst thing that they’ve ever done on their worst day or the impacts that were felt by the worst thing that they’ve done, but that’s what criminalization does. It turns you into the worst thing you’ve done and makes relive that and feel that and be punished for that every day of your life. And if you’re in a society that not only criminalizes you but then also when you’re released you have a criminal record, you know when you’re applying for jobs, when you’re applying for housing, this record follows you are a criminal presumably until the day you die, because of a thing that you did and so there are no room for healing, there are no room for growth, there’s no room for evolution and it’s like how can you heal from that, how can the people around you heal from that as well. So yeah, I would say that they’re really diametrically opposed on how they view people and what their aims are. And then I think the origins of transformative justice really come from abolitionist movements. But in order to speak about abolitionist movements, I think it’s actually really important to speak about the origins of prisons, but also the origins of contemporary prisons as a system, because I think it’s true that people have been imprisoned, have experienced imprisonment for like, throughout all of history, but I don’t think that punishment, in the way that is exist as a really central mode of the prisons system, has existed for as long and I think that it’s really important to remember that it’s not that old because it can very be easily taken away from the way that we think about justice and the way we think about responding to harm. And so the current penal, penitentiary movement really has its origin specifically within the US in the 1700s, and you see this large integration of very deeply religious doctrine being sort of integrated into the creation of institutions. Unfortunately it was also in the libraries, but that’s not as important. I think that thinking about the way that people then thought of long prison sentences and sort of the removal of people’s freedom and also thinking continuously even after you’re out of prison as an extended sort of punishment, as a way of making the prisoner reflect on what they’ve done. And it was this idea that you not only need to keep prisoners safe from society but prisoners themselves need to be punished and they need to punished themselves and they need to reflect and they need to think and a sort of penance makes them better people. And so, whether or not you’re a religious person, I think is beside the point, I think it’s actually really important to just remember that that piece about punishment is very deeply detached from justice. It’s very deeply detached from safety and so if we believe that our aims for whatever justice system we choose are safety, are justice, then we actually don’t need punishment to be a part of that at all, that is unnecessary, it’s quite new and it can be removed. And so I think of transformative justice and the prisons abolitionist movement, as like, best friends, I think that transformative justice comes really like, I think the abolitionist movement is a destruction of what we see, like the prison abolitionist movement as a distraction of the system that we see that is been so harmful to our communities, and I think specifically that to Black communities, to Latinx communities, to Indigenous communities, but I think society more broadly because I do think that carcerality has unfortunately infected so much of the way that we think about interactions between people. But I think what’s really beautiful and interesting about transformative justice is there is no distinct origin point, not one person created it, but it grew out of the theories of people being like : we don’t need prisons, but we need something better, we need something more brilliant, we need something that’s great. So you can trace it to to people who are psychologists, who sort of studied the impact that prisons have on human behaviour and the ways they treat each other and prisoners, so you can trace it to abolitionists, you can trace it even to Canadian Quakers who then responded to American Quaker movements by becoming abolitionists and becoming transformative justice, so, advocates for transformative justice, so obviously, you know names like Angela Davis or you know names like Ruth Wilson Gilmore, but I think that there are so many modern transformative justice thinkers. I personally really love Adrienne Maree Brown, because I think that she really centers dreaming and imagination in transformative justice movements which is what I think is really integral, it’s thinking beyond what we have been told is possible and imagining what justice can look like, what our healing can look like if we completely break down the boxes that society have sort of imposed on us through carcerality.
Q2: Transformative justice and restorative justice are sometimes used interchangeably. Do you feel it is important to make the distinction?
I love this question because I think that the overlap between transformative justice and restorative justice has actually done a really huge disservice to implementation of transformative justice specifically within community processes and I think so I will say I’m a huge advocate for transformative justice, I am not advocate for restorative justice. I think that restorative justice has a lot of strong benefits, but that’s not what I ideologically advocate for. I think that’s important to say because obviously I think everyone operates with bias and that is mine, but restorative justice is really beautiful and that’s it’s origins is often found in Indigenous teaching and Indigenous healings and Indigenous justice, specifically on Turtle Island, and I think that’s why we see a lot of integration specifically in so-called Canada of restorative justice into the criminal justice system.
But restorative justice’s largest concern is between the person that was harmed and the person that has done the harm. I think that this is really important and I think that is does a good job in moving beyond carceral imprisonment and it doesn’t simply focus on punishing someone, but ultimately it still allows the individual that has been harmed to be the sole arbiter of what is just and for them to evaluate how much harm has been caused by another person. And I know a lot of people hear that and are like : that’s great, that’s amazing, the individual that has been harmed should be the one that decides what is just and what they need, but I actually think that that is the worst time to decide what your idea of justice is, when you’ve been harmed. But I also think that the larger issue is that no one come to an instance of harm as a perfectly healed, trauma free individual, we carry all of our experiences with us, and I don’t think that, I’m not making a sort of point for standardized practice in terms of transformative justice, like every process needs to look the same, but I think it’s really bad if we are assuming that a victim or a survivor, a person that has been harmed is in the best position at that moment to hold care for the person that has harmed them and I don’t think they should have to. I don’t think they should have to be a person who thinks about the healing that has harmed them, but in a restorative justice process where we are centering these two individuals on what one person can do for the other person for them to feel that they can heal and they can move on from that situation, there is actually very little ability for the person that has caused the harm to also access healing. But I think beyond that, and I don’t think that that’s true for all of restorative justice processes, I think that there is some level of community healing that is integrated into it, but I think the difference is that community healing is not central. Social structural change is not central and I would say that that is really really huge in transformative justice, so there is a responsibility and a focus on the way the community has been impacted by that harm occurring, and I think the great thing about that, beyond the fact that everyone that has existed within that instance of harm is then getting the support to grow, and move on, and heal from that, is also that there is now responsibility taken by the community for what enabled that to exist in the first place. I don’t think it is reasonable or fair to ever attribute a thing that someone has done only to them when they are a byproduct of their environment, when they are a byproduct of their community. And so I think that transformative justice allows, and I think I would even say forces a community to constantly look inward on how they can insure that this doesn’t happen again because we know that this action isn’t because this person is a bad person that just harms people but rather because they have been put in a position that enabled them to harm someone. And yeah, and so I think that in many ways transformative justice also works to react to or I would say to prevent harm from happening in the future in the same ways, because we all take ownership of the harm and we all take ownership of the healing. Whereas I think restorative justice really isolates that to the people that have existed within that instance of harm.
Q3: What attitudes and perspectives are required prior to integrating transformative justice as part of our regular practices?
I think the first thing that we all have to do, and I think this is a really personal sort of process that everyone has to take, but it’s an understanding that we are all going to cause harm at some point in our lives and that doesn’t make us bad, but that also isn’t a thing that we should run away from and it’s not a thing that we should deny. I think if you hear you would cause harm at a point in your life and you’re like : « not me, I’m a good person », then I think that you’re probably going to engaged with transformative justice with the idea that some people are perpetrators, some people are victims, some people are harmed, some peoples are harmers, some people are perpetrators some people are survivors. And the fact of the matter is that we will all likely be these things in many different instances, and in many different configurations throughout our life. And we can’t be stuck in the roles that we exist in an instance of harm. And so I think that that require a lot of self reflection and also constantly checking back in with yourself to remember that that is something that you still hold as a belief and the reason I think that that is a first step that is really important because I think it’s gonna inform the way you treat other people when they have been harmed or when they have harmed someone. And I think that to engage in transformative justice I think a lot of us are very comfortable acting as supporters, as confident, as advocates for survivors, as for people who are in a position where they’re hurting. I think it is much much harder to act as an advocate, as a confident, as an advocate of a person that has done something that we consider wrong, because we have been brought up in a society that has let us to believe that those people are bad and bad people don’t deserve support, bad people don’t deserve advocacy. And so I think that if we can really put ourselves in a position that that could be us, and that probably will be us at some point in our life, I think it allows us to employ much more radical empathy in the work that we do. And so yeah, I think that that’s really integral. I think that we also have to… It’s hard because I say this and I also can think of a lot of times I when I haven’t shown compassion for other people and shown compassion to myself, but I think that we have to hold a lot of compassion for the fact that we grew up and were socialized within a society that taught us punishment form a very young age, most of us, that taught us about prisons from a very young age in the games we played, in the books we read as a child, the shows we watched, carcerality and punishment is everywhere and we learn it at such a young age, before we even learn to speak. These things are deeply ingrained in us and I don’t think we have to hate that about ourselves but I think we have to constantly check into that and think about when and how all the possibilities that we will bring that socialization into the work we do. And I don’t think that means that we shouldn’t try and that’s it’s going to never work, but I think it means that all the work we do is going to be imperfect and that’s ok. I think it’s ok because doing this imperfectly enough times is still going to be much better that carcerality. I will always choose imperfect tranformative justice process over imprisoning someone. But more than that, I think we have to think about this as generational work and intergenerational work. And so if I can work really hard to constantly interrogate the ways that I’ve integrated punishment, into all of my interactions in the way that is something that I’ve been socialize to do and that I’ve thought about these dichotomies with bad and good and that also impacts the way I think about people, maybe I will never completely get rid of that within myself, but I can insure that I don’t pass that down to people younger than me. I can insure that I don’t pass that down to the process that I create, to the communities I’m a part of, to the things that we’re building. We may not be perfect but we can work really really hard to insure that we’re not literally passing that trauma on, or passing that socialization on to the things that are gonna live beyond us. And I think that it’s the work that we have to do.
Q4: Can you walk us through what a TJ proces might look like in the case of murder?
Ok, so I think that often times people sort of speak about TJ processes, and they think about you know this person stole from this other person but you know they’re a low income person and that we all know that stealing is usually based on socio-economic factors and so we already operate with a lot, I think a lot more compassion for the person that has done the thing that we consider bad. So I’m gonna start with an example of murder, because I think that is something that is pretty irreversible, I would say, and has for sure caused harm and we often think of that as a really unforgivable act. And I think forgiveness is really important to transformative justice, but I don’t think it is necessary for every single person to forgive a person that has harmed. I think that the difference between forgiveness and actively blocking a person for living their life and growing is actually a huge gap. It is the difference between an inaction and active opposition and I think that sometimes we have to sit with our inaction, like the fact that we hurting, but we don’t get to oppose someone else’s freedom.
And so the reason I’m speaking about murder is because I think it happens a lot, obviously, but I also think that instances of violence also happen a lot within marginalized communities and I think that we see disproportionate incarcerations for these things, for these crimes, and also, just huge amounts of harm that occurs to everyone involve. So I think that in instances of murder within a carceral system, it’s pretty cut and dry. You call the cops on them. This person is usually then held and detained until their court date. That often times happen very very very far down the road and so people are often held and detained whether or not they’ve have actually been proven guilty. But let say for the sake of this example this person has definitely done it, we know they’ve done it, and so eventually they’re incarcerated and they receive their sentence, and obviously sentencing is not objective and is based on lots of things that have nothing to do with whether or not the person was guilty but often times their race, their socio-economic status, how much access they have. So for whatever reason this person then goes to jail and they wait out their sentence until they’re released.
And when they’re released, they have a record, and because murder is a violent crime, that is something that will never go away from their record. They can sometimes apply for a pardon, but pardons are really really expensive and so if they aren’t wealthy they will be labelled a murderer and therefore will probably not be able to get a job, probably will no be able to secure housing. And so most people with violent crimes on their records end up committing a lot of other crimes. I’m taking, I think it’s really important to go through the carceral process, because I fell like it’s just the most devastation thing to think about the fact that single actions literally impact peoples lives and everyone around them for like 60, 70 , 80 years and then generations beyond because it impacts their children, it impacts their families. And so yeah, in that if they have children, their children grow up without a parent, their parent grow up, you know, maybe pass away, live without their child, their community, loses a person. I think a lot of people will also dedicate a lot of resources to try to make life as comfortable as possible for people that are incarcerated, so you also see a direct money coming away from the family that already has lost a bread winner to go towards trying to support someone that has been incarcerated. So I think that has really devastating impacts. But I think on the side of the person that, the family and the community that has also lost someone, once the person goes to jail, they receive nothing. They do not receive support from the state, in terms of healing. They have to pay for their own therapy. They have to, you know, pay for their own funerals. They have to deal with their own mourning. I think that the state and the world tells them that they should direct all of this sadness in hatred towards the person that took this person away from them, and that all that pain they’re feeling is that person’s responsibility. And so, I say that all of this harm has occured from a single instance that can really be addressed more thoroughly in a transformative justice process.
So going back to I think the initial instance of murder, a person is gone and another person has done it. I think that, I think first of all you have to really speak to this person and I think you have to ask them why they did it. Because very very very few people just go around and murdering other people for no reason. And I’m not saying that whether or not… the reasoning doesn’t matter in terms of whether a transformative justice process is applied to them, but I think reasoning can actually help us find a lot of solutions for all of those other harmful impacts that we see rippling, so I think say this person is engaged in other criminal activity through organizations like gangs or like other criminal organizations and that’s the reason that they did it, I think that there is actually a lot of work that needs to be done then as to why this person felt the need to kill another person within their sort of gang organization. I’m personally not anti or pro gang, I think the gangs can provide a lot of support to people that don’t have it anywhere else. And I think that itself is also a failure of a community, that people don’t find themselves accessing family, they don’t find themselves accessing monetary support, they don’t find themselves accessing community or people that see them or recognize them as human and so then they turn to gangs.
But say it’s not a gang, say it was an accident. Often times people still go to jail for manslaughter charges. I think if it’s an accident, then that person doesn’t need to be imprisoned for several years. They probably need a great deal of therapy. They need a great deal of support in healing because most people don’t want to have killed someone and most people don’t brush that off as no big deal. And so I think that the trauma that comes from also knowing that you’ve killed someone is something that needs to be addressed. And the worst possible way to address that, or the worst possible place is in a place where you’re experiencing more violence and where you will likely be coerce to do something like that again.
Say it’s due to mental illness, say it’s due to uncontrolled things that are out of the persons control. I think that they also need support and healing and again prison is going to be the worst possible way to address that. But I think beyond that instance and what to do with that person, because I think it’s also about addressing everyone else that has been impacted. So I think the transformative justice approach doesn’t just look at how do we punish this person or how do we deal with this person that has done something wrong. It’s like, ok, the harm isn’t only that a person has died, a harm is that another family is going to exist without resources or community support. So instead of pouring money and time into lawyers and into, I don’t know, imprisoning someone, let’s pour that money and time and support into allowing this family to heal from the fact that they’ve lost someone, to ease the pain and the financial strain of needing to bury someone, of, you know, dealing with the fact that a lot of times people have to lose someone and they have to go back to work immediately, that they have to restructure their whole lives. A transformative justice process around murder would think about all of the ways that we can support the people that have lost someone, that isn’t focused on punishment. And I think that the great thing about that is you’ll see that people don’t hold onto their anger and sadness in the same ways, or they aren’t constantly feeling the effects of that lost over time. I’m not saying that they ever have to forgive the person that did it. But I don’t think that they’re actively seeking out vengeance in the same way because, vengeance, they’re not, they’re not feeling all of the other things that they have to deal with around their sadness. Which is really the only thing we should be addressing at that point, because, that’s so hard, right?
Q5: TJ processes require a lot of time, skill, and emotional and mental energy. How can we work towards building sustainability and making them largely accessible (and ensure this isn’t left to non-men and survivors or potential victims of similar harm)?
I think that moving through and supporting people through TJ processes is a skill, and is a skill that we all should be interested in building. I think that the reason that often time this work is left to non-man, is often left to survivors, to people that have experienced harm is because they already know what it is to be left down by the carceral process and because they have a vested interest in an alternative and so I think that the way that we have this sustainable is through having as many people with this skill set as possible. I think the reason that often times it is really draining, it can be really costly is because there aren’t a lot of practitioners within our communities that have a lot of experience doing this work. I do think it is a thing that you have to do a lot to get better at, I think it is one of those things that’s the only way because you learn from experience, you learn from examples. If we are thinking about the mental and the emotion energy, I think it is easier when we have support from a large team, and I think that most transformative justice processes that are effective and go well are supported by large teams, so they are supported by pods for both the perpetrator and the survivor — the person that was harmed. They have multiple facilitators and multiple people that can sort of trade off on the emotional labor. They account for the fact that these processes can take years and that one person can’t do this over several years without any breaks or any support. We need to build capacity in our communities so that it isn’t mentally exhausting, so that it isn’t emotionally exhausting, and that we have as many people as possible that are able to do this work. I also think that that allows for more people to take ownership of TJ and really build upon it. I think it’s harmful if any sort of community process that is based in the healing of everyone is left to certain people, and they’re the only ones that can be considerate the experts on it. I think that we all have to be equally invested and I think that also means that men and people who may be sometimes like “Oh, I am more interested in actions, or tearing down the system” and I am like well “if we are tearing down the system this is what will replace it, and you can’t just be interested in tearing, you have to be interested in building”. And so I think that making this a practice that everyone is skilled at is how we deal with those issues of sustainability.
Q6: How much does TJ hinge on voluntary participation from a person who caused harm? What happens when they refuse to be held accountable or don’t want to participate in the process?
I really love this question, it made me think a little bit because I think it’s central to the process, but I don’t think it is necessary. And the reason I say that is because I think it can be a little bit of a cop-out for people to be like well “the person that did the harming doesn’t want to sit down, so I guess no transformative justice and they are an abuser now and we are going to discard them”. I think that’s actually really easy and still leans toward punitive thinking. I think we need to create TJ processes that exist in absence of a person who has done harm contempting to be a part of that process. It doesn’t mean forcing them to be in the process but it means what does our healing and care look like when one person that is in part of this puzzle doesn’t want to be part of it. How do we still turn inwards and reflect on our community and say “okay but how did we enable for this to happen?” or “do we decide that this person is an abuser and abusers are just gonna be abusive and if we get rid of all suddenly our community won’t experience harm”. Are we still going to offer the same support for a person that does not just hinge on them taking vengeance on the other person or we are going to offer healing for them outside of that harm that occurred, are we gonna hold space for their healing if that does not focus on blaming the other person, that does not make that person central to all further experiencing. I think that having that person is great and I love the idea of people taking accountability for their actions but I also think that we need to be compassionate and realistic about the fact that it is hard to hear that you’ve hurt people in ways that you never thought you would hurt people. I think if we want people to run towards accountability we need to create a process that people can also come back and be part of this TJ process even after they refused. Do we allow for people to run away from accountability and then run back towards it. Are we gonna say no, “you missed your chance and now no one wants to offer you healing, you missed your chance and now you are an abuser forever”. I think that that is like I said it is a cop-out and I think that we have to be more imaginative and create more robust processes for support and for healing that go beyond one person because I don’t think that one person not engaging should be enough should be enough to blow up a whole process, and if it is, then it wasn’t strong enough to begin.
Q7: Are there ways in which transformative justice can be miss-used for punishment (e.g. applying sexual violence accountability methods and principles to situations that aren’t that, demanding exclusion from spaces out of retribution rather than safety, etc.) and how can we build robust processes to avoid this?
I think that this happens a lot, it happens that people apply carceral thinking in sort of punitive measures to TJ processes a lot. But I’m also gonna say I don’t think they do it intentionally. I think that it kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier where we were socialized under this process and we don’t even realize how deep it runs until we are perverting or ruining this beautiful thing that we are imagining with those same ideas that we have not interrogated yet. I think it happens a lot within instances of sexual violence because we want to support survivors and we want people to feel safe and we want people to feel held and we believe that that somehow runs oppositionnal to the healing of an other person that has done that harm. So I think that in terms of avoiding it, I think it’s scary because it happens a lot but I think also means that we have to call it out, like in a really kind way. I think it is so hard to call-out, and people do calling-in versus calling-out, I think we need to call out with kindness. I think we need to be really loud about the fact that we see something happening that’s really wrong, but also being like : “I don’t think you are doing this because you are bad, I don’t think you are doing this because you are a fake TJ practitioner, I don’t think you are doing this because you’re trying to ruin this thing, I think you are doing this because maybe you don’t realize it or I think you are doing this because you’re hurting and you don’t have enough support and you don’t have enough resources, and you also need to pay rent and you also need to do your job”, and all of those things are really really hard while also trying to support a person that you don’t like because they just sexually assaulted your friend. It is okay that you’re struggling with this, but we have to find a better way.
It does mean that we need to call these things out. I think that demanding exclusion from spaces is really interesting. I find that this is kind of where restorative justice and TJ get a little prickly, and used interchangeably. And I see often times restorative justice principles where we prioritize a victim or a survivor (or a person that’s harmed) above all else, and I think that that can’t be actually sustainable in TJ. I think that say banning someone, or excluding someone from a space, does make sense within a restorative justice. That’s what a sense of justice means to a survivor, to a victim or a person that was harmed; that is what they need for justice to be restored. I think that the problem is that when we exclude people from space, specifically communities, we forget about why we have communities in the first place, that is to keep people safe, to allow people to grow, to provide people healing and support, often times community also takes the place of family for people that don’t have biological families or who are estranged from biological families or aren’t being held or seen by their biological family. And so to cut someone off from community is going to replicate that harm to other people that don’t have community, to other people that are parts of other communities. I think that if we want to create robust practices, we always have to think what is the goal of our action. It’s not enough to give someone what they say they need because they’ve been harmed, we have to be like what is the goal, what is the impact. It’s like “does this person not need to be in this space or do you need to be feel supported and helped when you are part of your community. Okay, you have proposed a solution of not having this person around, we don’t think we can really do that, but how can we support you and hold you so that this person’s presence doesn’t bother you. Maybe it’s that you both have access to the space but you’re gonna be on separate days so you don’t have to run on each other and be re-traumatized. Maybe it’s that this person is gonna operate in a different role in that space. I think that we have to be more innovative about how we think of meeting peoples’ needs beyond, one, just giving them what they think they want but also beyond taking the easy route, because I think that when we return to punitive measures, when we return to carcerality, it is often the easiest thing to do, it is the thing that is hardwired in our brain, it is the quick solution, and I don’t think TJ is built on quick solutions. It is usually long and exhaustive processes and trying a bunch of things until it works; until all have what we need.
Q8: When is transformative justice not needed?
I think that in instances of harm, TJ is probably always needed. I think that sometimes we don’t always have the resources or we don’t have the time to create an effective or honest process. But I don’t think that means that we don’t need it, I think it means that we’re lacking something to make it the best thing it can be. I think though, that in instances of hurt, TJ isn’t needed and I think that it can be really hard to look inward and say “did this person harm me or did this person hurt me?”. And sometimes harm and hurt overlap, I don’t think it’s cut and dry, but I do think that we all have to do that work of not bringing justice or calling for justice or calling for accountability for really human interactions like someone broke your heart or your friend was not a good friend to you or someone was unkind in a way that made you not trust them. I think that these are parts of having relationships with people, it’s part of intimacy, it’s part of closeness. I think it’s actually really impossible to be close with people, to have intimate relationships with people and not experience hurt. I think it’s part of human experience, and when we try to rectify hurt with TJ, I think we actually make it so that people close themselves off to others because they’re so worried that every instance of hurt is going to be met with an accountability process or a public call-out, that they’re not opening themselves up to people. I think that our communities are built on our relationships and our relationships are built on trust and they’re based on emotional growth. And so if we’re not allowing ourselves to be hurt if we are not allowing ourselves to grow emotionally and to differentiate between those two things that are happening, I thing we run the risk of ruining the really beautiful thing that TJ can be for our community.
Q9: What are the possibilities and limits of transformative justice under carceral capitalism?
I think it’s really important to remember that transformative justice wasn’t meant to exist under capitalism and our idealized form of TJ is always going to be in a world without capitalism, colonialism and imperial powers because I think that is the only way we can really thrive. With that in mind, I feel like it is so important to build this into our liberation movements, into the work that we are doing now, because it’s actually really hard in any sort of revolution that has ever happened throughout history to suddenly flip the switch. It’s really hard to be like “we’ve burn it all down and now we’re just going to create something new”, if no one has ever practice at working on things. And so I think we should always think about the integration of TJ into our communities, into our organizations as practice towards application in a better world. The only way we are going to know how it works, and I mean not perfectly, I don’t really believe in perfection, but better or in an idealized form, is by stumbling, by seeing ourselves fai, by seeing ourselves mess up, by seeing us maybe conflate harm and hurt, by seeing us run towards carcerality when we see extreme sort of harm and then running back towards TJ. All of this work is really necessary because no good system that works for everyone (and I think TJ needs to works for everyone) was built exclusively in books, it can’t just be talked about, it can’t just be a thing we hold in our hearts until the time when we are free from capitalism. I think we have to constantly be putting it into practice, we have to constantly be work-shopping it so that it can be better. So yeah I think that’s why it is both a tool for liberation but it’s also something that will grow under our process of liberation, if that makes sens. I think it’s hard because, and I feel this way all the time when I think about the fact that specific people who are TJ practitioners, so much of the work is convincing people that something else is possible. So much of it is constantly reminding people that you have to think beyond what we have been told is possible, what exists currently, the circumstances of the world in which we exist today, and then we have to apply this thing that should never really exist in the system, within the system, so we can get there. But I think that that sort of work is really really necessary because I don’t believe that we can just continue chugging along in the system and do what we need to do until one day we’re free of it and we’re gonna operate in that world perfectly or we’re gonna operate in that world without bringing all of the things that we are currently carrying into that world. I think it’s care for our future selves and for the people that come after us to do this work now. So that when we get to a point of liberation, that they don’t have to do that work for us. I think this is really iterative.
Though transformative justice can’t be fully nor widely functional under capitalism, it’s important to implement it to the best of our abilities as we build towards a revolution, in the fight for liberation and against oppressive systems and institutions. We want communities and movements to be resilient and not fall apart when internal harm occurs and isn’t deal with properly. Enemies and the state can also weaponize instances of harm within movements or communities to either discredit them or justify their own violence against them. By putting in place mechanisms to deal with those situations early we are making resistance communities better places and showing that our solutions are effective at creating better and more just communities, contrary to state policing.
A strong social movement isn’t only a matter of mobilizing, but also a matter of dealing with the mess we leave sometimes. Let’s grow up as a social movement and let’s take care of ourselves.
Lastly, we would like to invite you to this years protest against police brutality that will start in Girouard Park in NDG at 6PM on march 15th.
A brief overview of modern forensic linguistics methods for determining authorship, translated from German from Zündlumpen n°76 (2020)
The following article tries to give an overview from a non-technical perspective and to make a corresponding evaluation. There are some academic publications on this topic that could be evaluated for a better assessment. However, my main purpose here is just to raise the issue, not to provide a sound and conclusive view so if you know anything more, publish it!
Avoiding traces that could be your undoing down the road – perhaps even after years or decades – is probably of interest to most people who occasionally commit a crime and come into conflict with the law. Avoiding fingerprints, avoiding DNA traces, avoiding shoe prints and textile fiber traces or at least disposing of clothing afterwards, avoiding surveillance cameras, avoiding tool traces, avoiding recordings of any kind, recognizing surveillance, etc. – all this should be a concern for anyone who commits crimes from time to time and wants to protect themselves from identification. But what about those traces that often arise only after a crime has been committed, out of the urge to explain one’s deed anonymously or even by using a recurring pseudonym? When writing and publishing a communiqué?
My impression is that in many cases no special attention is paid to these traces despite a rapid technological development of analytical capacities. This may be intentional, negligent, or a compromise of competing needs. Without wishing to make a general suggestion here on how to deal with these traces – after all, everyone must determine that for themselves – I would like to outline the methods the investigative authorities in Germany and elsewhere are currently (probably) working with, what seems possible in theory, and what could become possible in the future.
Perhaps I should note in advance that everything or at least most of what I present here is scientifically as well as legally controversial. I am also less interested in the legal validity of linguistic analyses – and not in the scientific one either – than in whether it seems plausible that these investigations could guide a surveillance effort, because even if a trail is not useful in court by itself, it could still lead to other, useful trails.
Author Identification at the BKA [Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany]
According to its own information, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) maintains a department dedicated to identifying the authors of texts. The focus is on texts related to criminal acts, such as responsibility claims, but also “position papers” from the “left-wing extremist spectrum,” among others. All collected texts are processed by linguistic studies in a so-called collection of communiques and can be compared and searched with the Criminal Information System for Texts (KISTE). According to the BKA, the texts are classified according to the following biographical characteristics of their (alleged) authors: origin, age, education and occupation.
All incoming texts are also compared with previously saved texts to determine whether several texts may have been written by the same author.
In the context of case-specific investigations, the stored texts can also be compared with texts whose authorship is known in order to determine whether they were written by the same author or whether this can be ruled out.
This is the official information from the BKA about this department. What does this mean in practice?
I think that one can assume that at least all responsibility claims are recorded in this database and analyzed to see whether there are other responsibility claims by the same author(s). The finding that they also record “position papers” allows us to draw further conclusions: at the very least, it seems possible that in addition to texts with criminal relevance, they also store other texts that are thought to come from a particular scene. For example, texts from newspapers, statements from political groups/organizations, calls, blog posts, etc. In the worst case, I would assume that all published texts on known “left-wing extremist” websites (after all, it is quite easy to get hold of them), as well as texts from print publications that appear interesting to the investigating authorities, would be fed into this database.
This would mean that for each responsibility claim, the BKA would have a cluster of texts that they presume to have the same author. These can consist of other claims as well as texts that have been fed into the database. In addition to series of crimes, further clues to perpetrators can be obtained, such as pseudonyms, group names – or, in the worst case, names – under which an author of a claim may have written other texts, but also, depending on the text, all kinds of other information that it provides, often including clues to a person’s place of residence and activity, thematic focus, biographical characteristics, educational background, etc. All of this information can at the very least be used to narrow down the circle of suspects.
What remains unclear in all of this is what other comparison samples the BKA might obtain. For most people, there is certainly a whole series of texts to which investigating authorities (could) have access and which could be fed into the database in the event of suspicion or possibly also partly as a precaution – if a person is on file with an entry such as “violent left-wing extremist”, etc. This could be anything with your name under it, from a letter to an authority to a letter to the editor in the newspaper. I will intentionally name only the most obvious sources here, so as not to inadvertently provide the investigating authorities with decisive inspiration, but I’m sure you can answer for yourself which texts of yours might be accessible. If the profilers of the BKA succeed in narrowing down the circle of suspects to a specific characteristic, which allows the comparison with masses of available text samples (for example, if it is assumed that a scientist of a certain discipline is responsible for a letter, all publications in this field could be used as comparison samples). This would, for example, be a possible (partial) explanation for how it might have gone with Andrej Holm in the case against the militante gruppe (mg), at least if one assumes that the BKA did not just Google “gentrification”, so I think it is quite possible that such analyses are also carried out.
Methods of author recognition and author profiling.
All this, however, only considers what the BKA claims to be able to do and takes these considerations to some logical conclusions. But how does author recognition or author profiling actually work?
Who hasn’t felt the fear that maybe the German teacher will expose you after a mocking poem about a teacher appeared in the washrooms and the whole school is making fun of how only you could have written “vacuum” [Leerer] instead of “teacher” [Lehrer]. Fortunately, the entire German faculty fell for it, adopting the narrative of a spelling mistake and turning a blind eye to the all-too-accurate pun. Forensic linguistics does seem to require a bit of practice, or at least a criminological motivation, who knows. In any case, error analysis, which most have probably heard of, was one of the BKA’s most important analysis tools around 2002 along with style analysis, according to a promotional article by language cop Christa Baldauf. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, punctuation, but also typos, new or old spelling, hints on keyboard peculiarities, etc., all this serves the language cops to collect clues about the author. For example, if I write “muß” instead of “muss”, that could be a clue that I missed some of the more recent spelling reforms when I was in school. If, on the other hand, I constantly write terms that, according to spelling rules, use “ß” and not “ss”, it could mean that there is no “ß” on my keyboard. For example, if I speak of “dem Butter” [rather than “die Butter”], it could be a reference to the fact that I grew up in Bavaria, etc. But I could also be faking all these things just to mislead the language cops. The plausibility of my error profile, is also part of such an analysis. Similarly, stylistic analysis examines peculiarities of my writing style. What kind of terms do I use, does my sentence structure show specific patterns, are there repeated constellations of terms that may even appear in different texts, etc.? I think everyone who takes a closer look at his or her texts will recognize some stylistic characteristics of their own.
Such qualitative analyses primarily serves to profile the authors. While it is certainly possible to match different texts in this way, the real value of such analyses lies in being able to determine things like age, “level of education”, “scene affiliation”, regional origins, and sometimes perhaps even indications of occupation/training, etc. Attempts to determine things like gender are also heard of, but generally do not seem to be quite as straightforward.
In contrast, there are also more quantitative and statistical analyses that examine everything from word frequencies to word constellations to syntax sentence structure that can be measured in this way. These methods, known as stylometry, are sometimes very controversial because it is not possible to say exactly what they are meant to measure, but they sometimes deliver astonishing results, especially in combination with machine learning approaches. I think that these approaches are therefore likely to be used primarily to cluster different texts according to their similarities.
The clear advantage of such quantitative analyses is that they can be performed en masse. All digitally available or digitizable texts can be analyzed in this way. From social media posts to books, texts can be captured using these methods. Although the success of these methods is currently still relatively modest, and it has often turned out that supposedly similar texts are often more similar in their genre than in their authorship, if one assumes that individual writing styles could certainly leave behind quantitative patterns, this means that once these patterns are known, a mass assignment of texts to certain authors will be possible.
And now what?
There were and are, of course, various approaches to dealing with this knowledge, one not better or worse than another. Those who do not write communiqués anyway largely avoid this problem, but are still affected by the problem of participation in publications and authorship of other texts. Whoever obscures texts before publication, for example, by having several people successively rewrite and rephrase passages from them, etc., runs the risk of also developing exploitable linguistic and stylistic characteristics in repeatedly similar constellations or also of failing to successfully conceal characteristics. Whoever thinks that they can dismiss the whole thing because none of their text samples are available or also because they are convinced that the legal value of author recognition is too shaky, risks that in the future text samples might somehow be available (for example because they are successfully convicted of authorship) or the legal assessment of the procedure changes. Those who trust that technology is not (yet) good enough may be surprised by future developments. Those who use technical solutions to obscure their authorship run the risk of leaving new characteristics and traces, and also of producing poorly written communiqués that no one wants to read anyway. If you never write any texts regardless, you just don’t write any texts.
So do whatever appeals to you most, but do it from now on – if you haven’t already – keeping these traces in mind and the queasy feeling in your stomach, which is said to have saved many a person from making a careless mistake at the crucial moment.
Comments Off on What we know so far about Montreal’s proposed new women’s prison
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
Quebec recently announced the construction of a new provincial women’s prison in Montreal, with work slated to begin this fall (2023). The new prison is intended to replace Maison Tanguay, which was closed in 2016. Since then, women have been imprisoned in Leclerc, which was initially a mixed-gender facility, in Laval. The provincial government’s plan is to demolish Tanguay in 2024, and to build the new prison between the old Tanguay site and the still operational Bordeaux prison, in Ahuntsic-Cartierville. The whole project is billed at $400 million.
We want to share some cursory research into the construction plans, in hopes that it will be helpful to anyone considering organizing against the construction of this prison in the coming months and years.
As it stands, construction will begin in fall 2023, with the new prison opening in summer 2029.
The prison will have 237 beds.
The approximate location of the prison is indicated on the map below:
The following four contracts have already been awarded by la Société québécoise des infrastructures for work on the project. For each contract we have included a link to the contract details, but downloading associated documents requires an account.
1. Professional services in mechanical and electrical engineering
This contract was awarded to Groupe TT / BPA / ÉDFM, for a total of 7,285,762 $. Their mandate began on January 15th, and will likely end in April 2029.
This contract was awarded to Parizeau Pawulski + Pelletier de Fontenay + NEUF architectes en consortium for a total of 13,393,780$. Their mandate began on January 15th, and will likely end in April 2029.
Over the past few months, several sections of the coastal gaslink pipeline have been vandalized. Financially, the consequences of each act were minor: a few holes in the pipeline here, some corroded welding seams there, damaged concrete here. Our goal was to contribute to the small delays in a project that was already well over budget.
We drilled holes less than a penny wide in a section of pipe that had not yet been lowered into the trench. We covered the holes with fiberglass film, which temporarily prevents leaks in the pipes, but only lasts a few months. We know that welded sections of coated pipe are assessed before being lowered into the trench. After the trench is backfilled, they are tested under pressure. The holes were sealed in the hope that they would pass the first pressure test, but will have to be excavated and repaired before the pipeline is completed. This occurred during the last week of October on section 8 of the pipeline, between Kilometers 610 and 613.
Between 585 and 588 kilometers of the pipeline, we found a section of pipe that had been dug out, so we damaged the coating at the joints by chipping and sanding it off in less visible places. This coating is needed to protect the pipe from corrosion and rust. We did this in early November. We liked this approach because the damage is not visible, but can still have a significant long-term structural impact if corrosion and rust show up, so it will need to be fixed.
We drilled very small holes and filled them this time with an epoxy putty, somewhere between Kilometers 605 and 608 of the pipeline route (that’s in section 8.) We did this in the second week of November. We weren’t sure if the sealant would withstand the pressure test, but decided it was worth a try since this sealant is easier to source and use than the fiberglass coating.
At the end of November, we drilled and filled holes in the pipe string before it would be lowered into section 6 of the pipeline between Kilometers 486 and 489.
In early December, we chipped and busted the welds on a section of pipe that had not yet been lowered into the trench between Kilometers 606 and 609.
We damaged the protective coating on a section of pipe by chipping and grinding, and chipped a welded seam on several sections of pipe before they were backfilled between Kilometer 377 and 380 of section 5 of the pipeline. This work was performed in early January.
Near Kilometer 27 of North Hirsch forestry road we damaged welds and coating on a pipe section in the middle of January.
We poured hydrochloric acid on the concrete pipes we knew were meant for the tunnel under Wedzin Kwa and used a concrete drill inside the pipe to weaken them even further. The concrete pipes are designed to protect the pipe itself from the pressure of the surrounding soil. Given the heightened security and surveillance of concrete pipe storage, we can’t say when this happened.
In early December, we grinded and chipped the coating on the welded seams of the pipe sections between Kilometers 598 to 601.
In mid February, we scraped and chipped large portions of the pipe coating of the string between Kilometers 626 and 629.
Or is that in fact what happened? Only some of these activities have actually taken place. We waited to share this information all at once, complete with some additional false reports, so the only way to know where repairs are really needed is to excavate and re-examine all the above-mentioned pipes. Cracked concrete or rusted and patched pipes can lead to small leaks and large-scale spills, which is why every action, whether genuine or falsified, is being brought to the attention of the public long before the pipeline is operational.
While we would prefer to write only completely honest report backs, we also believe that we should be resourceful and use every means at our disposal to delay construction as best we can. We apologize to those involved in the struggle for not being able to give you an accurate picture of what we have really accomplished. CGL we wish you all the best in your treasure hunt.
Comments Off on Tenants’ Union March into the Offices of Transport Québec
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
Monday, February 20th, members of the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union (SLAM-MATU) stormed into the offices of Transport Quebec. Any plans for a future eviction of the Ville-marie encampment must be cancelled, and encampment members need to be given housing that fits their needs. We marched on TQ’s offices, just as we march on the offices of landlords, because direct action gets the goods.
We’re calling on members of the public, supporters, and unhoused comrades, to take to the streets this coming Monday, February 27th, 5:30pm, Atwater Metro (Cabot Square) to help put an end to these evictions.
These evictions are not solutions to homelessness and do not improve the lives of people who are homeless. Homelessness is caused by our broken shelter system, the predatory rents and evictions of landlords, and the modern austerity politics of capitalist governments who underfund and mismanage mental health, social, and housing services. The housing crisis affects us all! Defend your neighbours!
Music is once again from Action Sédition. Go check them out.
Comments Off on Message to Those Who Do Wheatpasting and Postering in the Streets of Montréal
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
Hello to y’all,
This message is addressed to people who do wheatpasting in the streets of Montreal. Please feel free to spread the word, I think it’s important for everyone to know this.
Recently, the city of montreal sent a warning to the DIRA anarchist library, in relation to posters that were put up near the library. The city demanded that the DIRA library remove this “promotional material” under threat of legal action and also that an invoice for cleaning the posters would be sent to them. These posters have no connection with the DIRA, and were not put up by the DIRA itself, so the DIRA is not going to remove them. However, this may be an indicator that the city of montreal is changing its policies regarding wheatpasting.
Wheatpasting have been allowed since the Singh ruling in 2010, which follows an arrest in 2000. You can see more details here (in French only) and the text of the Singh judgment here (especially paragraphs 41 to 45). Basically, this ruling allowed wheatpasting because the city did not have enough billboards, they were not in all neighbourhoods and they did not cover major streets. Note that this ruling does not authorize postering: it authorizes postering as long as the city does not provide enough places to place them.
It is possible that the city now considers that there are enough places to post, and is now trying to crack down on people and organizations that post on the streets of montreal outside of billboards. It is possible that we are facing a new form of repression from the city of montreal. We are not going to stop placing posters on city materials, but I would recommend that you :
* If you are placing posters, make sure you have at least one person to “copwatch”, i.e. someone to look around for cops or city employees, * If you are arrested or know someone who has been arrested, contact the LDL (Ligue des droits et libertés) and send them the message: https://liguedesdroits.ca/a-propos/contact/ * If you know of an organization that has been penalized by the city because of its posters, contact the LDL: https://liguedesdroits.ca/a-propos/contact/
This new episode of repression underlines the importance of defunding the police: when the police doesn’t know what to do with their money, they use it to crush the most vulnerable and those who oppose their established order. Any social housing that is not built because the city wants to keep its poles black, boring and depressing should be seen as what it is: a fucking scandal.
Love and rage,
Don’t hesitate to check out our posters section and to submit your creations in pdf format.
A year ago now, on February 13, 2022, Ottawa residents blocked convoy vehicles on Billings Bridge and held it for hours. Since then, muchhasbeenwrittenabout this mass mobilization from left and liberal commentators. This generally celebrates it as an immense, glorious victory over the convoy, and the beginning of the tide turning in the convoy’s occupation of Ottawa—and don’t get me wrong, it was. But in speaking to friends outside of Ottawa, it feels more and more necessary to complicate this narrative by adding some of my and my comrades’ experiences on that day.
The purpose of this piece is to add to that collective memory contained through this patchwork of publicly available accounts. An entire year has now passed, and people learn and grow. Some (though certainly not all) of the people I critique here, I consider comrades. I share this not to reopen those discussions, but because I think it is politically valuable for our memories of these events in and of themselves to be as complete as possible. While first person is used throughout, multiple people contributed their own perspectives to this write-up.
As a bit of necessary context, the main author is a cisgender and straight-presenting racialized woman. I am also a militant antifascist with a non-zero amount of experience predating the convoy.
I have never experienced peace policing so intensely, before or after that day, as I did on Billings Bridge. Like the author of that article in The Breach, I arrived to the site early in the morning after having planned to support a different blockade further along the convoy’s route.
I spent the first few hours blocking a truck. During that time, numerous strangers (all white—a recurring pattern—and including even a local politician) came up to me. They asked after me, checking in, again and again, if I was alright, something that was mundane on its own. And then they expressed concern, again and again, that I was putting myself in danger of being run over—as though blocking trucks was not what we had all come there to do. They tried, again and again, to convince me to move away from the truck because itwasn’t safe, because they were scared for me—as though I was not well aware that I could be in danger, and they were compelled to explain this to me. They milled around at such a safe distance away, doing seemingly little aside from making the rounds.
It quickly became clear to me that all of these interactions were not just expressions of genuine concern, but a peculiar white liberal anxiety about confrontation or other even remotely militant tactics. And, specifically, confrontation when done by racialized women—that whole time, a white couple was holding it down next to me (the only strangers that day I interacted with and didn’t resent), and somehow, as far as I saw, no one felt the need to patronizingly inform them that that truck might try to move.
As the day went on and the numbers grew, I circled through the crowds with friends who arrived later. I saw the wide spectrum of politics one might expect at a mass demonstration like this—everything from eager patriots giving supplies to the police, to other radicals linking this white supremacist movement to the larger colonial project. Unfortunately, the crowd seemed to me to by and large lean more towards the former sort. Probably most people were enraged at the police, and I witnessed so many residents berating them for how they were facilitating the convoy (or, in the liberal view, the “lack of police response”). This, though, was usually couched in a sense that as white citizens, they were owed protection from the state, and came along with obnoxiously snarky signs like “I’d f🍁ck Trudeau.”
Tired of seeing people thanking the police, one friend I was with then, also a racialized person, began a chant of “fuck the police.” Pretty much immediately, an older white woman in the crowd cut them off, physically grabbing at both of us. She lectured us about how she found it inappropriate and wrong; if anyone in the crowd had a problem with her starting a physical altercation, there was no indication.
This was not even the only time a white woman physically laid hands on me at Billings Bridge. As word went out about what was happening, convoy participants tried to mobilize their supporters to come out. Not many showed, but the crowd had no idea how to react to the few who did. Seeing fascists trapping people in useless debates to invade our space, I went about trying to crowd them out. I was not arrestable that day; I simply stood as close as I could to them, pressuring them to either back up or use force to get through me. And it worked—until liberals in the crowd, again, somehow took offence.
At least three or four times—I lost count—(white, of course) strangers suggested, sometimes demanded, that I back down and “deescalate.” Again, I did not say a single word to the fascists; I did not ever touch anyone; I simply stood there, even as they yelled insults and sexual harassment at me. (I am well aware of how criminal charges work, and I had no intention of doing anything that could get me arrested, especially while surrounded by hundreds of white people who would proudly and happily snitch.)
One woman on “our side” harangued me while taking hold of my arm, trying to physically force me to stop blocking a fascist. Amusingly, another politician there, the local MPP, tried to guilt-trip me about it—talking about how they didn’t want violence in their ward; they would feel like it was their responsibility; as long as I was off to the side there with the fascist, they would feel obligated to remain too. Somehow this was the least enraging interaction of the bunch—at least they were honest that it was about their own feelings. Of course, every time (because this happened often enough that there were multiple times!) I became too exhausted to argue with the liberal peace police and left, the fascist retook any ground I had gained on him within seconds. It did not seem to occur to the people angry at me for “escalating” that it was far more risky for convoy participants to be roaming freely through the crowds, baiting exhausted and traumatized people into arguments with them.
Those attitudes were an ongoing theme through the course of the convoy, and I had so many infuriating exchanges that they’ve largely blurred together. Peace policing is a classic hallmark of liberal civility politics, but it was out in full force in particularly bizarre ways at Billings and other responses to the occupation. On another occasion, I mentioned antifascist militancy to a group, only for a white stranger (who had no idea what I looked like) to lecture me about how they had learned in an anti-oppression workshop that militancy was for white men. (I responded that I was already getting threatened by fascists in the street, and if I was going to get attacked or worse, it might as well be on my own terms.) I began joking that if I had a nickel for every time a white person peace policed me, I would be rich by the end of it. It was a particular strain that usually went something like this: a white person is afraid of confrontation, or risk, or getting hurt. All of these feelings are, in themselves, legitimate; I believe in choosing your own risk, and there’s no shame in having a lower risk tolerance. But then, that white person builds a sense of pride around being a White Ally who “listens to people of colour” and “puts their body on the line.” They see a racialized woman taking risks that they themself are not comfortable with, espousing politics that they want to dismiss as extremist, and it hits at their ego. And in response, instead of acknowledging their own limitations, it turns into this overwhelming sort of paternalism as they decide to make it my fucking problem.
Returning to Billings, one of the most striking scenes may have been that of the crowd surrounding a truck, demanding that its driver remove his Canadian flag, mounted on a hockey stick, before allowing him to go. People chanted “flag down!” and, once the flag was gone, “no sticks, no flags, no go!” One person shouted “this is community policing! This is what it looks like!” as he removed that stick. And then, in celebration, the crowd followed it all up with “our flag!” For probably most of the participants, that moment was not about the Canadian flag as a representation of white supremacist, colonial violence, but of the sullying, to them, of a beloved national symbol.
Many people designated themselves “organizers” or spokespeople for the action. Often this took the form of trying to encourage the groups further down the road to leave their posts and join with the main group gathered towards Bank Street—whether for “safety,” because “the police were coming,” because “more convoy are coming,” or just because they wanted to make sure you knew how much food, and fun, was being had. Usually, these self-appointed people would leave to go find a more receptive audience upon being rebuffed. However, one stands out for their especially offensive tactic of both collaborating with the police and actively lying to everyone there in an effort to take control of the situation.
As the afternoon wore on, the aforementioned MPP approached us in our position further down the off-ramp with their megaphone to declare that they had conversed with the police, and they had pinky promised that if we left, they would get the trucks to turn around and leave. This was, quite obviously, ridiculous—and they were told such, repeatedly. They then tried the tactic of telling the group that the larger gathering up by Bank Street had agreed to these terms—but, in their magnaminity, this politician would not go ahead with telling everyone to disband unless all groups agreed. They were, again, told that there was no way in hell anyone was going to just leave, and left to return to the main group.
I was a bit suspicious, because for all their asks to rejoin with the main group, no one else had seemed keen on leaving. I asked a friend who had been up with the larger group at the time, and learned that they had in fact told that person the same thing we had—and that “spokesperson” had, in turn, pretended that we (the other group, with whom they had not yet spoken to at all) had already agreed with them.
The author of The Breach piece had said also that he and a few others took it upon themselves to “liaise with police and politicians, deescalate both the convoyers and residents, and figure out a safe exit strategy for everyone.” I won’t pretend that I had any answers worth offering, and certainly it could have been worse, but I think anyone reading this here can guess how such “deescalation” from labour and community leaders might go south.
As the afternoon drew on, dozens of cops had come together in lines facing us. Throughout the day, there had been moments where police had gotten lightly physical with demonstrators. But once most of the vehicles had been let out and the sky was growing dim, it seemed like their patience ran out. The police wanted us to clear the streets—and rather than challenging that, the leaders on the megaphone just repeated that demand. I saw those rows of cops physically shoving people off onto the sidewalk all the while those self-designated spokespeople stood with their backs to the police, also facing us, and just echoed that we should all do as we’d been told. This is how the “battle” actually ended.
On February 8, 2023, three days ago as I write this, hundreds of people once again came together to defend our communities from fascist organizing. I saw so many people now stepping up to do their part in that collective self-defence, including some of the same who had, less than a year ago, shied away from any confrontation or even lectured me for “provoking” police. I share this to again say that this is not a condemnation of the Ottawa left; people learn, grow, and change. And still, at the same time, I will always feel embarrassment more than anything else when I hear people celebrating “the Battle of Billings Bridge.”
 Remembering, of course, that until it is wholly returned to the Algonquin Nation, Ottawa remains occupied territory.
 I was later told that police had warned them that if the crowd didn’t begin to allow the trucks to leave, the police would begin making arrests. I sympathize—perhaps more than some people reading this will—with the difficulty of the decisions made in the moment there. I am also certain that, if I had not known some of those people personally, I would have concluded that they were police sympathizers who would blame me or justify any racist violence I might be subject to. I add this to reiterate that I am not writing this to push any vendetta against specific people, only to get across what I saw happen then.
Comments Off on McGill Wintemute Blockade Report & Analysis: A bloody nose for the TERFs, but where to from here?
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
The protest and blockade against the UK anti-trans campaigner Robert Wintemute at McGill on Tuesday 10th Jan 2023 is potentially a moment of polarisation for the queer and trans liberation movement in Montreal. It is also a serious blow against the ability for anti-trans campaigners to freely build support for their ideas in the city. Further, the militancy of the rally clarifies some of the current contradictions in our movement and demonstrates the movement’s interest in moving in a more radical direction.
This report intends to assess the different forces of the protest. It will explain who Robert Wintemute is, what his ideas are and why they represent the thin end of the wedge on attacks against (trans) women and queer people internationally. It will provide an account of the rally itself, demonstrating how the movement is being pushed in different directions. It will also provide some brief information on the far-right personalities who attempted to break the picket and attack the protesters. Finally, it will make an argument for where we should take the movement from here – that the radical, anarchist and socialist elements should be willing to take this opportunity to organise and mobilise.
Who is this Wintemute guy exactly and why does he suck so much?
Wintemute is a King’s College London law professor who has become the fresh posterboy of the UK anti-trans movement after he denounced support for gender self-identification in the UK conservative magazine The Critic in 2021. He withdrew his support for the drafting of the Yogyakarta Principles, which outline best practices for legally protecting gender and sexual orientation, stating “nobody was thinking about males [read trans* women] with intact genitals gaining access to women’s spaces”. The baseless conflation of genitals and rape with trans women has been expanding recently in popular discourse in the UK and globally. If they weren’t thinking about it, it’s probably because their heads were somewhere other than in the general public’s underwear.
This shift has led him to making fast friends in the anti-trans movement, notably through the right-wing front group LGB Alliance, of which he is now a trustee. The LGB Alliance spends all its energy campaigning against transgender people, and lists amongst its financial and political supporters the US conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation. Wintemute is gay, and a professor of human rights law; this coupled with his soft support of Palestine and with his claims that his new anti-trans(femme) position is because he “listened to women” gives him apparent left-wing credibility.
This credibility is important for groups like the LGB alliance because they play a role as wedges against the left in the international drive against transgender rights. This wedge is led by a narrow sector of radical feminist NGO bosses and academics who gained status by following the New Left in the 70s. They are now garnering opportunistic support from the conservative and far-right to promote anti-trans ideas, ideas they are happy to support as they confuse, disorganise, and deflate the left. These ideas, and radical feminism generally, are essentially a petit-bourgeois analysis of gender and sexuality (this meaning: coming from NGO and business owners and bosses, and well-paid academics, rather than working-class people). At its core, it claims that women and men have universal, natural differences that self-identification or gender transitions cannot alter. Gender transition in their view represents the possibility of sexism entering places where women have organised together to fight for their distinct interests. The subject of Wintemute’s talk – the separation of transgender from the rest of queer rights – is a classic example of this radical feminist politics of division.
This attack line is the thin end of the wedge for broader policing around gender and sexuality in society. Today the attack is against transgender people, but tomorrow the attack is against lesbians and dykes for looking too much like men, and ultimately against anyone who does not live in a traditional family structure. This is something Wintemute’s friends at the Heritage Foundation know too well, given they’ve recently celebrated their victory in overturning Roe v. Wade in the United States. It’s of interest to all queer people and workers generally to stand against transphobia to stop this attack in its tracks.
The cries by the right around free speech for TERFs are largely a distraction by conservatives to deflect criticism of their ideas. It deflects from the fact that bourgeois and petit-bourgeois speakers have access to the levers of social communication that working class people lack. Wintemute is not voicing confusion in a discussion with friends or colleagues, he is hosting a presentation proposing the queer and trans movements separate with the support of a major university – who celebrated the occasion by providing a light lunch. The real attack on academic freedom is coming from austerity-hungry governments and university managements. Trans* people are locked out of the workforce and their ideas are marginalised, while ‘free-speech advocates’ and speakers like Wintemute are centered and paid cushy salaries to shit on trans folks. This is not a conversation between equals, but a conflict between classes.
The Protest Itself
The protest against Wintemute’s event was called after it came to the attention of well-known Montreal activist and micro-celebrity [name removed following request], who then put out a call to protest a little under a week before the event. Other supportive organisations such as Queer McGill and RadLaw McGill were brought on-board to promote the event. The event planning functionally ended at Instagram and Facebook posts, with [name removed] doing a media tour, including several media interviews the day before the rally. Meanwhile outrage about the defence of the event by Wintemute’s allies in McGill law spread the rally information widely.
The rally was essentially disorganised on arrival, and began only when a few members of the crowd took the lead in bringing people to the front doors of the event chanting. McGill security had not made any preparations to guard the room or prevent students from protesting. There were a few speeches at the front of the door by crowd members and rally organisers. The crowd had easily swelled to around 200 people and the hall was full of chanting people. LGB – With the T! / 1, 2, 3, 4, kick the bigots out the door! – 5, 6, 7, 8, no right to discriminate!
At the end of her speech, [name removed] called a press conference for media interested in talking to her in the foyer starting in one minute. Soon after however, other members of the crowd started blockading the door with a banner, shouting down the few TERFs who were still attempting to break through. The action was just starting. The crowd was chanting in an effort to disrupt the event and holding the blockade for about half an hour. McGill law staffers–including the Dean himself– blocked the door to avoid the protesters getting inside, where less than ten people were gathered for the conference.
The door to the conference (now being held on zoom) was opened, and a member of the crowd took the opportunity to move in on the event. The McGill Law staffers tried to physically block them from entering but were greatly outnumbered, and the crowd began surging at the door. Once a few people entered the room and started chanting, much of the crowd followed. Someone walked inside and immediately unplugged the projector to stop the talk. Someone in the crowd had prudently brought a cup of flour for the event and covered Wintemute clean. He was covered head to toe with white flour like a sad and confused ghoul. The few people present at the talk retreated to the following room – the dean’s office – and were trapped there until the rally ended nearly an hour and a half later. Someone loaded the food and bottles of Perrier in the room onto a cart and wheeled it into the main foyer – light lunch was served.
After a further half an hour of eating and sitting around, more than 100 people were still in the original conference room, functionally preventing Wintemute and his supporters in McGill Law from leaving, as there was no other exit. There was discussion about whether to start an occupation or to end with a march. Some potential demands for an occupation were discussed, including increased trans healthcare support for students and an expansion of the student health centre, but it was eventually agreed to have a march to a major McGill intersection and finish the rally there. Meanwhile, [name removed] kept part of the crowd at the original location to try again to hold a press conference. Around 50-70 people joined the march, which concluded with words from a few members of the crowd.
Who Were the TERFs Who Tried to Break the Blockade?
Around 4 people made an organised attempt to break the blockade and enter the event. These were not naïve feminists who were interested in a debate, but far-right agitators attracted to the event in hopes of building their profile.
Annie-Ève Collin is a Quebec far-right personality who has built a profile as a covid sceptic and anti-trans campaigner. She arrived (wearing a “I <3 JK Rowling” shirt [cringy]) with two people, and collectively they were the most aggressive in trying to break the picket, elbowing and body-slamming those who had formed the picket line. After the event she immediately got an article published in the Journal de Montreal saying that she was attacked by the protesters. She’s written for the far-right magazine Le Quebec Sceptique, has spoken on panels in support of Bill-21 campaigning organisation Mouvement laïque québécois and hosted a public talk on January 21st called “Woke” where she intended to argue against cancel culture. This talk is alarmingly hosted by the Société Gilgamesh, seemingly a front group in Montreal for the ideas of the powerful pro-Assad Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
Malcom Clarke arrived with a full camera set-up to film the event for far right publications such as Rebel News. He travelled from London, Ontario in order to crash the event, and has since been campaigning against the event organisers and providing footage to far-right and radical feminist organisations capitalising on the event.
These two far-right agitators are example that the TERF movement is acting in conjunction with the far-right movement at large. Their collaborations are also not solely based in Montreal nor Canada, but are intertwined in an international network that radical left needs to dismantle.
The political significance of this rally was not only that it was overwhelmingly successful in mobilising people and shutting down the event, but that it clarified the existing contradictions in the queer liberation movement today in Montreal. The current official leadership of the movement, although politically putting forward decent views on gender and queer rights, views rallies as being primarily symbolic and relies on the press as the locus for building and maintaining our power. This trans-liberalist strategy has been prioritized in the Quebec LGBTQ+ movement for the last decade, perhaps to its own detriment. In terms of its message, it trades trans autonomy and power for visibility and recognition by the state and media. It also prioritises a kind of trans-exceptionalism rather than solidarity with all oppressed people.
This tendency, which could be gleaned in the unfolding of the protest, represents a wider tendency towards the de-mobilisation and disposability politics within the movement. The current structure of activism has emerged more through the absence of an alternative rather than through its own cohesiveness and organisation. This is likely due to the difficulty of organising throughout covid-19, an over-emphasis on the “communautaire” or non-profit sector, a culture of political purity and capitalistic micro-social-entrepreneurship. This Neoliberal era in which the current queer community is embedded has been blunting the momentum of previous queer liberation groups.
Here in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal, most long-term radical activists are either retired, cancelled, or in burn-out. This is especially true for trans women and femmes, who are often marginalised even within the liberation movements that purport to serve them. The exclusion of the trans* woman from our movements makes obvious what is always true of the encroachment of liberalism on radicalism. She is heard until she is too loud, centered until she is perceived as a threat, righteous until her politics transcend identity and demand liberation – this is why we find a 19-year-old with enormous drive, little experience in militant organising, and insufficient support, placed in the spotlight of a movement in dire need of measured strategy, disruptive tactics, and a solidaric commitment to universal liberation.
Where to from here?
The blockade has shown that the movement is confident and ready to take further action to advance trans and queer rights, despite the practical liberalism of its leadership. Militants should be confident and willing to intervene in events like this in the future to demonstrate an alternative political strategy. This means being loud and organised at rallies and events, bringing leaflets and megaphones to spread out ideas widely, and intervening to raise these events’ militancy. Further, the medium-term goal of socialists, anarchists, and radicals should be to become the prevailing voice of the movement, with the organisation and confidence to notice opportunities like these and call the rallies ourselves, in a way that is democratic and builds a base of militant support. This means building open and democratic political organisations that give members of the movement a voice, provides an opportunity for political education, and develops their capacity to engage in militant action.
The far-right and their radical feminist friends have been quick to take this event and use it to agitate their base of support. Nearly every far-right publication internationally has written about the event, including a glowing write-up in the Daily Mail calling us ‘transgender zealots’ and many trash articles in the Quebecor media empire. We cannot let them use this opportunity to grow their base without also using it as an opportunity to grow and develop ours. Liberalism is incapable of providing the framework to fight against the far right and create the solidarity we need to fight against oppression and exploitation. It’s our job to provide an organised and cohesive alternative.