In Defence of Religious Freedom

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Feb 212021
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

(Link to video of orthodox Jewish gathering being broken up in Montreal – https://twitter.com/i/status/1352813893039648768)

At this very moment, on Wednesday Feb 17, 2021, a pastor is in jail for holding worship services. This is a milestone in Canada’s slide into authoritarianism. Canada is now jailing dissidents. Christians are now a persecuted religious minority. So are Jews. Multiple gatherings of orthodox Jews have been broken up by police in Montreal over the last month. Not only is a clear example of oppression against a historically oppressed group, it is always telling about the times that we are living in. I don’t think that most people realize what this means. It means that we don’t have rights anymore.

Religious freedom is very clearly featured in the Charter of Rights and Freedom, which is supposedly the highest law in the land. Yet, at this very moment, a Christian pastor is sitting in jail because he continued to hold worship services when the state ordered him to stop. If this doesn’t concern you, it should. If Christians don’t have the right to assemble, it means neither do you. It means you don’t have a right to go to pow wows, or punk shows, or wherever it is that you find your community. If you are not free to do what you want to do if you had the choice, it means that you are not free. And, clearly, Canada is not a free country.

The state has now made it clear that it means business. Civil disobedience, even when very clearly protected by constitutional rights, will not be tolerated. What happens next depends on how people react to this. Will people realize that our rights are being trampled upon and stand up against this injustice, or are have people been too lulled into complacency to care?

If you have a heart in your chest that beats, and lungs that breathe and blood that pulses through you, you should realize now that you’ve got do something to stand up to this insanity. The existence of a virus does not justify prohibiting basic human activities like coming together to sing, to pray, and to affirm and cultivate community bonds. Whether or not you’re a Christian, whether or not you like Christians, it should consider you deeply when people are being prevented from practicing their religion. Need I even draw the parallels to the persecution of religious minorities in every totalitarian regime?

If you are not sympathetic to Christians for political reasons, please consider the following: this past Summer there was a Sun Dance which the police tried to break up. The Sun Dance Chief refused to back down, and the police left. Then Trudeau specifically said that indigenous ceremonies would be allowed to continue. Of course, indigenous ceremonies were outlawed for much of Canada’s history as part of a deliberate campaign of cultural genocide. That is a line that should not be crossed. To do so would to make absolutely clear that the Canadian colonial project is still genocidal. If the state is jailing Christians, historically privileged in Canada, from gathering, are we to trust they won’t also jail indigenous ceremonial leaders for refusing to cancel ceremonies?

If this is happening to Christians, it can happen to other religious groups as well. Would the injustice be more obvious if it was happening to people of colour instead of white people? Well, it may not be long before it that occurs, because there are certainly devoutly religious people of colour who feel very strongly that they have the right to worship, and will continue to hold services.

We as anarchists must stand against the forceful imposition of a police state upon us. True, anarchists have often been at odds with Christians, but there is also a strong tradition of Christian anarchists, such as Leo Tolstoy, Jacques Ellul, Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennessy.

I think that we would also do well to remember the words of Amon Hennessey said: You’re born free. Then you wait for someone to take that freedom away from you. The degree to which you resist are the degree to which you are free.

It is time for us to prove exactly how free we are. We must resist, we must raise our spirits up out of this damned lethargy and express our solidarity with our fellow people. Just think; what if the shoe were on the other foot, and it was anarchists who were being jailed for their organizing activities?

One thing that the system seems to have done really well is divide people into Left and Right, terms that no longer possess the descriptive power they once did. If most liberals are now for universal restriction of movement, then the term liberal has come to mean the exact opposite of its original meaning, and the word is useless. The new political divide is really between people who are pro-totalitarianism, and people that are contra. If this is the divide, then anarchists are on the same side as the Christians and Jews who are asserting their right to gather. If we are looking to build a revolutionary movement across cultural lines, it will involve respect for the spiritual beliefs and practices of other peoples. If we want a powerful movement to emerge, we must practice solidarity with other people.

So far, most Leftists have remained silent on the matter of religious freedom. Across the country, churches have been fighting for their rights to hold worship services. Yet anarchists have remained silent on this issue. Are people not able to see this injustice?

It is important that the Left see this as what it is. It is a fundamental human right violation to jail people just for practicing their religion. I worry that many Leftists have ceased to believe in the universal principles that classical liberalism is based upon, but to those true liberals, you cannot stay true to your beliefs and tolerate this. This is persecution. Please understand that Christians deserve the same freedom to practice their cultural practices that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and everyone else does. The pandemic is no excuse for this, and we must make a stand for what we believe in, if we are to say that we believe in basic human rights. And may we never have to lament a variation on the following:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out
—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out
—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Berlin: Rigaer94 Calls for International Solidarity – Destruction of our Space Expected

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Feb 182021
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

After the eviction of the anarcha-queer-feminist house project Liebig34 on 9th of october 2020, the offensive of state and capital against self-organized structures in the northern area of Friedrichshain and other parts of the city did not cease. The Liebig34 is since then under the control of the owner and the presence of his gang had also an affect on the local life. The so called Dorfplatz (“village square”) lying directly in front of the house was during the last months less used by residents and visitors as a common space and saw some minor confrontations with the invaders. With having taken one of the strategic points in the area and in the same time removing a political obstacle, state and capital could focus on the Rigaer94, which lies just some meters away from the Dorfplatz and has been a constant topic in the medias over the last year.

A few days ago, cops and diggers destroyed a settlement of homeless people in Rummels Bay, a few kilometers from us. The pretext here was the extreme frost, in reality it is also there to serve the profit of investors. Also expected in the next few weeks is the eviction of the Potse Youth Center – the city is in the process of removing any rebellious site.

What started with ridiculous complaints of the parliamentary opposition about the fire-security in the house became one of the central issues of the forces of order. All those who were spending their energy for years to create a depoliticized image of Rigaer94 as a house full of brutal gangsters began to speak about their worries that the inhabitants could tragically die in a fire. Their rhetoric is very transparent because it was based mainly on the fact, that the house has several mechanisms to quickly barricade the main entrances. These barricades are in fact a central piece of the safety of the inhabitants. Not only the social media is full of fascist threats to target the house but also the cops proved over the last years that they are not only capable to launch very violent legally supported actions but also to openly coordinate with parastate forces, namely organized fascists and the mafiotic structure of the real estate industry. For example the owner of Liebig34, but other companies as well, are well known in Berlin for evicting houses by setting them on fire. The message behind the fake discussion about our safety was nothing but a direct threat and a call for parastate forces to set our building on fire. In the same time it was aiming to create a public opinion and legal base to destroy the house structure without having to get an eviction title.

The legal obstacle on the way to an eviction title came up in 2016, when the Rigaer94 repelled a three weeks long major police action. Under public pressure, a court had declared the invasion in the house as illegal and did not recognize the lawyers of the owner which is, by the way, a mailbox company in the UK. Recent developements changed this condition from scratch. In the beginning of February a court decided that the police has to support this mailbox company to guarantee the so called fire security in Rigaer94. By this decision the owner is officially recognized and will now soon try to enter the house in company of a state expert about fire security and, of course, huge police forces. In similar raids against Rigaer94, the entering special police forces and the construction workers caused heavy damage to the building. It was always their goal to make the house uninhabitable before it could be evicted and luxury renovated.

We expect that the pretext of fire security will be used not only to remove our barricades but to legally raid the entire building and to evict flats to create permanent bases for the owners gang that will start to destroy the house from inside. As planned, the fire security is used now as a tool to terrorize the rebellious structures that took hold of the house more than 30 years ago and had been involved in many different social struggles as well as the defence of the area against state and capital. Generally we think that the importance of a combative community in combination with an occupied territory can not be underestimated. The Rigaer94 with its autonomous youth club and the self-organized, uncommercial space Kadterschmiede is a place for convergence for political and neighbourhood organization, giving not only home to struggling people but also the legacy of the former squatting movement and the ongoing movement against gentrification and any form of anarchist ideas. Many demonstrations, political and cultral events took its start from the house and, not to be forgotten, numerous confrontations with the state forces in the area were backed up by the existence of this stronghold. It’s for this political idendity that the Rigaer94 and the outreaching rebellious structures and networks are traumatizing generations of cops and politicians and thus has become a main focus of their aggression against those who resist. At the very moment when the last non-commercial, self-organized places in Berlin are being evicted, when the pandemic is used to spread the virus of control, exploitation and oppression, we have to take serious the threat of a very possible try to evict us in the upcoming days or weeks and therefore, we choose to continue getting organised through collective procedures to defend our ideologies and political spaces. However, there is a political importance to continue fighting for all of our social struggles of the revolutionary movement also outside of this house and not to let those in power to intervene in our political agendas and resistance.

They might evict our house but they will not evict our ideas. To keep these ideas alive and add fuel to them we invite everybody to come to Berlin to send the city of the rich to chaos. We call for any kind of support from now on, that can help us to prevent the destruction of Rigaer94. But if we lose this place to the enemies, we are willing to create a scenario without winners.

Rigaer94

for more information check https://rigaer94.squat.net/

and follow us on https://twitter.com/rigaer94

Indigenous Elders and Land Defenders Sentenced to Jail for Resisting Trans Mountain Pipeline

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Feb 062021
 
The Kwekwecnewtxw (Watch House) monitors work carried out at the nearby Burnaby Terminal, part of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Photo via Kwekwecnewtxw – Coast Salish Watch House/Facebook.

From Briarpatch Magazine

The handful of supporters in the sparsely-populated courtroom came there to bear witness and stand in solidarity with an Indigenous Elder who had just been tried for a second time and was now awaiting the verdict.

In December, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick found Jim Leyden guilty of criminal contempt of court for breaching an injunction originally brought by Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC (TMX) in March 2018. The injunction is the line that TMX has drawn in the sand, so as to stifle any meaningful resistance at the company’s worksites throughout the province – including TMX contractors and subcontractors – and all along the pipeline’s path.

It was Leyden’s second conviction, with more than 230 people found guilty of breaching the TMX injunction since 2018. Those in court to support Leyden on December 9, 2020, were unsurprised by the verdict, but they were nonetheless outraged. Leyden’s conviction represents a new strategy by TMX and the Crown that skirts established Crown policy on civil disobedience and ruthlessly targets Indigenous land defenders.

The injunction is the line that TMX has drawn in the sand, so as to stifle any meaningful resistance at the company’s worksites throughout the province.

Leyden, 68, was sentenced for his first conviction in October, along with his two Indigenous co-defendants – Stacy Gallagher, 58, and Tawahum Bige, 27 – all of whom were in ceremony at the time of their August 2018 arrests. Fitzpatrick all but ignored Leyden’s health conditions, which would normally mitigate his punishment, and sentenced him, along with Gallagher and Bige, to the Crown’s recommendation of 28 days in jail, one of the longest sentences imposed against land defenders for breaching the TMX injunction.

During COVID-19, these sentences amount to solitary confinement, much harsher than normal detention conditions. Leyden, who already suffers from pancreatitis and a heart condition, and has been in and out of hospitals since his 2018 arrest, spent much of the time between his release and his second trial in the hospital dealing with health and heart impacts from multiple spider bites he got while in jail at North Fraser Pretrial Centre.

Repressive precedents

On New Year’s Eve 2019, Leyden and Gallagher were served with notices from the Crown that they were being charged, yet again, with criminal contempt for apparent activity at TMX’s Burnaby Mountain facility (Burnaby Terminal) in November and December of that year. But no arrests had occurred at the scene, which left Leyden and Gallagher wondering why they were being charged.

After reviewing the disclosure, it became evident that Leyden and Gallagher were being targeted by TMX and the Crown. Affidavits and video footage taken by TMX security personnel identified Leyden and Gallagher near the gates of the Burnaby Terminal on December 2, 2019. Additional footage also showed Gallagher in the same general location on November 15 and December 18, 2019.

Notably, each video clip showed Leyden and Gallagher surrounded by several other, mostly white land defenders. But no one else was charged by the Crown.

It’s well known that Leyden and Gallagher are part of a group called the Mountain Protectors which, among other things, monitors TMX work carried out at the Burnaby Terminal. (I am also a member of the group.) The terminal is also known as the “tank farm,” because of the giant oil storage tanks spread out over the side of the mountain that can be seen from several kilometers away. With permission and direction from traditional Elders of the three host nations – Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam – Leyden, Gallagher, and others have engaged in ceremony and carried out monitoring activities from an Indigenous Watch House built in March 2018, which sits adjacent to the tank farm and is explicitly excluded from the TMX injunction despite its position atop the pipeline route.

Notably, each video clip showed Leyden and Gallagher surrounded by several other, mostly white land defenders. But no one else was charged by the Crown.

According to the website of Protect the Inlet, a Watch House (“Kwekwecnewtxw” or “a place to watch from” in the henqeminem language) is “grounded in the culture and spirituality of the Coast Salish Peoples” and is a “traditional structure they have used for tens of thousands of years to watch for enemies on their territories and protect their communities from danger.”

On the same day that Leyden was accused for a second time of violating the injunction, he and others were attempting to bring light to claims that TMX was improperly transporting contaminated soil from the tank farm to an industrial park in Port Coquitlam. The Mountain Protectors issued a press release a day earlier questioning whether the company was in violation of provincial contaminated soil regulations. Leyden can be seen in his disclosure footage talking to people Fitzpatrick referred to during his trial as “media types.”

On two of the three days in 2019 for which Leyden and Gallagher were charged with criminal contempt, law enforcement was not even present. At no time were they asked by RMCP to leave the area, as defined in a “five step process” laid out in the injunction, ostensibly to avoid unnecessary arrests. In fact, a Crown Counsel Policy Manual from 2014 on Civil Disobedience and Contempt of Related Court Orders puts emphasis on the need to give protesters a “clear demand to leave” the premises, referred to in legal parlance as a “dispersal order.”

Latest trials of Indigenous land defenders engaged in ceremony

Gallagher and Leyden were scheduled to be tried together in August, but due to concerns that Leyden might have COVID-19, his trial was postponed. Gallagher’s trial, however, began as planned and lasted eight days. During the trial, Fitzpatrick’s disrespect for defence counsel was palpable and she consistently deferred to the whims of the Crown. The defence explained how Gallagher follows the Anishinaabe ways of his mother’s ancestors, his grandmothers’ teachings, and the natural laws. Gallagher testified and explained that he serves the people as a fire keeper and Opwaagan/pipe carrier, and by upholding his spiritual and ceremonial responsibilities. Gallagher told the court he was engaged in ceremony on the days in question, and pointed out that he was not asked to leave.

Fitzpatrick was dismissive of and showed contempt for the basic facts of Indigenous history. Her unexamined stereotypes and uninformed attitudes toward Indigenous Peoples, cultures, and values were on full display. These were some of the points made in a 93-page complaint against Fitzpatrick submitted to the Canadian Judicial Council on December 3, questioning her ability to be fair and impartial in these cases (a summary of the report can be found here).

Gallagher told the court he was engaged in ceremony on the days in question, and pointed out that he was not asked to leave.

Needless to say, on November 13, Fitzpatrick found Gallagher guilty of all three contempt charges. Gallagher is scheduled to be sentenced on January 25, 2021, and the Crown is recommending he serve an additional 90 days in jail.

Leyden’s second trial began on December 7 and lasted three days. He, too, testified on his own behalf. Leyden explained to the court that he comes from Six Nations territory in Ontario, was apprehended during the ’60s Scoop, and was relocated outside of his home territory for adoption. After moving to Coast Salish territory, Leyden became an Elder, senior Sundancer, and the head firekeeper for Sundance chief Robert Nahanee. Most recently, he was asked to carry out the role of watchman as a Watch House Elder, keeping an eye on the work being done at TMX and reporting misconduct to government agencies and the public.

Leyden also pointed out that no one asked him to leave. In fact, when police showed up on the scene, they took part in the ceremony led by Leyden, during which police were videotaped holding hands with those gathered near the entrance to the Burnaby Terminal and passing the pipe during that part of the ceremony. Leyden and others left the scene soon after, and none the wiser.

Before finding Leyden guilty of criminal contempt, Fitzpatrick told him the injunction provides for an “absolute prohibition” and does not require police to ask him to leave. Fitzpatrick claimed that the RCMP’s five step process in the injunction is merely discretionary, and that Leyden’s opposing arguments “fly in the face” of the terms of the injunction.

In fact, when police showed up on the scene, they took part in the ceremony led by Leyden, during which police were videotaped holding hands with those gathered near the entrance to the Burnaby Terminal and passing the pipe during that part of the ceremony.

Never mind that RCMP officers were careful to adhere to each step of the five step process when they arrested more than 230 mostly white people for symbolic civil disobedience at the gates of TMX in the spring and summer of 2018. In some cases, police pleaded with land defenders to leave so they didn’t have to arrest them. One exception occurred on March 19, 2018, when RCMP officers violently attacked several Indigenous land defenders before arresting them.

Leyden is scheduled to be sentenced on March 1, 2021, and the Crown is recommending he serve an additional 60 days in jail. “The Crown has made it clear that the increased severity of these sentences is meant to stifle resistance to the pipeline,” says Leyden. “They’re using us as an example to scare others from confronting Trans Mountain.”

Using injunction law to curb resistance and free expression

Injunctions have long been used in B.C. to stifle opposition to corporate and government agendas – limiting the effectiveness of striking workers, displacing homeless encampments, and suppressing resistance to harmful environmental projects like TMX and the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Under the guise that breaching a court order “depreciates the authority of the court” and brings us to the brink of a lawless society, the B.C. Supreme Court uses injunctions – one of its favorite legal tools – to legitimize the repression of political resistance. In B.C., when one violates the terms of an injunction, the offence falls under the arcane English common law, which is based largely on the discretion of judges, cannot be found in Canada’s Criminal Code, and relies only on past decisions.

Under the guise that breaching a court order “depreciates the authority of the court” and brings us to the brink of a lawless society, the B.C. Supreme Court uses injunctions – one of its favorite legal tools – to legitimize the repression of political resistance.

A breach of the TMX injunction can occur in three ways: (1) obstruction of an entrance to a TMX facility, including facilities of TMX contractors and subcontractors, (2) destroying signage or fencing around TMX sites, or (3) coming within five metres of TMX property. A glaring hypocrisy of the TMX injunction is that a frequently used public trail on the south side of the Burnaby Terminal winds its way directly through the 5-metre zone, but only when land defenders or protesters dare to get too close to TMX property does the company, the RCMP, and the Crown take notice. Former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck, who granted the 2018 TMX injunction, consistently denied that the order violated anyone’s Charter rights to free expression and repeatedly made reference to the injunction’s abstract claim that people “remain at liberty to engage in peaceful, lawful and safe protest” as he found defendant after defendant guilty of contempt.

The most recent verdicts from Fitzpatrick set a chilling precedent on how the Crown can handle these contempt cases, without even the presence of police or an order to disperse. Apparently, all it takes to be charged, brought into the B.C. Supreme Court, and forced to endure a near-certain conviction (only one acquittal has occurred from more than 230 prosecutions) is for TMX to videotape people near or on company property and then request to bring criminal contempt charges.

The most recent verdicts from Fitzpatrick set a chilling precedent on how the Crown can handle these contempt cases, without even the presence of police or an order to disperse.

In case it needs to be spelled out, the B.C. government – in the robes of Crown Counsel – is working at the behest of TMX. There is no veil hiding the relationship between the Court, the Crown, and corporations like Trans Mountain, whether they’re owned by Texas-based Kinder Morgan or the Canadian government.

As if that wasn’t sufficient to stifle TMX resistance, the Crown recommended – and Fitzpatrick gladly ordered – that Leyden and Gallagher be prohibited from coming within 500 metres of TMX facilities as a bail condition for their most recent charges. Setting aside unaddressed land rights issues and the federal government’s arrogant disregard of Indigenous opposition to the pipeline, how is a one-half kilometer “stay-away zone” not a violation of one’s Charter rights to free expression, whether one is Indigenous or a settler?

“The 500-metre stay away order has greatly impacted our ability to monitor Trans Mountain work sites so that we can hold them accountable,” says Leyden. “And I believe that was their intent.”

Reasons mount to abandon troubled TMX project

While Leyden, Gallagher, and Bige were serving their jail sentences in October, several people – including a Secwepemc Hereditary Chief and his daughter – were arrested for allegedly breaching the TMX injunction near Kamloops in Secwepemc territory. The company had begun drilling under the North Thompson River during the salmon run and people were rightly outraged.

Rather than genuinely address opposition to the pipeline expansion project, the ongoing arrests are attempts by the federal and provincial governments to prosecute and jail their way out of the problem. Eight of these land defenders will have their first appearance on contempt charges in the B.C. Supreme Court on January 20.

Ever since the Canadian government bought TMX from Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018, costs associated with building the pipeline have risen steadily to more than $12 billion while oil prices have fallen precipitously. The federal government has not only fought legal challenges from the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and the Coldwater Indian Band in order to avoid meaningful consultation and having to seek widespread Indigenous approval; Canada is also driving at top speed in the opposite direction of meeting its commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement.

“The 500-metre stay away order has greatly impacted our ability to monitor Trans Mountain work sites so that we can hold them accountable,” says Leyden. “And I believe that was their intent.”

The existing Trans Mountain pipeline is already an environmental and public health hazard with a long history of disastrous spills. As recently as June, 50 thousand gallons of crude oil spilled from a pump station located above an aquifer that supplies the Sumas First Nation with drinking water. The TMX project would impact numerous drinking water sources along the route and lead to a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet, threatening the endangered southern resident orcas. Because of the known seismic, fire, and chemical hazards associated with the tank farm, hundreds of thousands of residents in the “evacuation zone” will be put at grave risk, not to mention the tens of thousands of students and staff at Simon Fraser University and Burnaby Mountain Secondary School.

Even internal health and safety issues are plaguing the company. On December 15, a worker at the TMX Westridge Terminal in Burnaby was hospitalized after being seriously injured, causing TMX to suspend all construction operations in the Lower Mainland. The accident follows revelations that the Canada Energy Regulator recently found “systemic non-compliances” of COVID-19 mask rules at worksites across the Lower Mainland.

Irreparable harm?

Leyden and Gallagher are committed to appealing their convictions, but it’s unclear how far the RCMP, the Crown, and the courts are prepared to go in serving the interests of TMX.

“The treatment and experience of my client in the B.C. Supreme Court is a reflection of how much work there is still to do,” says Michelle Silongan of ST Law and the Law Union of B.C., who is representing Leyden in one of his appeals. “Reconciliation requires that the Canadian legal system affirm the laws, protocols, and traditions that Indigenous people have practiced here since time immemorial. Without recognizing and paying heed to the foremost obligations and responsibilities held by Indigenous defendants, both reconciliation and justice will remain elusive.”

“They’re using us as an example to scare others from confronting Trans Mountain.”

Antiquated colonial laws are being wielded like a stick over the heads of climate activists and Indigenous land defenders, with no clear end game. Will the Crown be able to continue targeting Indigenous land defenders with impunity? How far will the courts go to repress and punish those opposed to a pipeline expansion project that seems doomed to fail?

TMX relied on questionable evidence of “irreparable harm” in order to impose an injunction and attempt to shield itself from opposition, but the impact to Indigenous Peoples and settlers alike, and the certain environmental devastation for generations to come, is the harm we should be addressing.

“How Canada is targeting Indigenous resistance to TMX” by Kris Hermes, 19 January 2021

On the Anarchist Response to the Global Pandemic

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Feb 042021
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

The Covid19 crisis has presented a challenge to anarchists and others who believe in a fully autonomous and liberated life. We write this today because we feel too many people who in better times carry these political and philosophical banners are setting aside their core beliefs – or worse – twisting and contorting those beliefs in wholly disappointing ways, conforming to the mandates of technocrats and politicians, and are convincing themselves that doing so is some grand act of solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our societies.

We say loudly that if the political tenets you promote and encourage in the best of times whither and shrink in times of crisis, then your political tenets are worthless. Any system of organization or any belief about human autonomy that needs to be set aside when history lays a challenge at our feet, is not worth keeping around when the emergency subsides. For truly, it is times of difficulty and challenge that place our ideas on the scale of utility to tell us whether or not they are as robust as we may believe.

As anarchists, autonomy over one’s own mind and body are essential to our values. We believe that human beings are intelligent enough to decide for themselves how to assess their surroundings and to make determinations on how to go forth living in a way that meets their needs and desires. Of course, we recognize that this autonomy comes packaged with genuine responsibility not only to one’s self, but to those with whom they are in community – including the non-human world. We certainly recognize that individuals may be asked for their cooperation in achieving a collective goal. But we also recognize the fundamental importance of consent in such situations, and that force and punishment are antithetical to an anarchist worldview.

That is why we write today. To reach out to our friends, our comrades, our intellectual and philosophical allies to ask that if you haven’t yet, that you please begin to seriously critique and question the state responses to the Covid19 pandemic that we are witnessing around the world. We have watched over the proceeding year, meekly, quietly, as other anarchists have toed the lines drawn by state bureaucrats. We have remained silent when witnessing anarchists act with hostility towards those who have pushed back against state mandated curfews and lockdown orders, only because those doing the most pushing are affiliated with right wing politics, unfortunately ceding this ground to the right wing, instead of forging their own critiques of state policy and thus providing an intellectual home for those who have in isolation grown antagonistic towards those in power who are trifling with our lives.

The impetus for this behavior amongst anarchists seems to be rooted in their desire to do well by those in need, and as this particular crisis is being caused by a virus, that seems to unfold as an enthusiastic willingness to accept state mandates and to shame those who would violate them. It is admirable to want to do well by the elderly and infirm, but that instinct is where the conversation should begin, not where we should resolve to set aside our fundamental principles and to justify this by taking technocrats and politicians at their words, using the pronouncements of sanctioned experts as a gospel by which to claim our lack of resistance to mandate is because the mandate makes such good sense.

Politicians lie. They select the analysis and the technicians who promote their agendas. Corporate executives line up to support them, knowing that the public purse is open to them when they do so. And the media, always wanting to be in the good graces of those with political and financial power, manufacture consent in twenty-four hour news cycles. We know this. We have libraries full of books that we have read and recommended explaining in detail the workings of this reality. Therefore, to be critical of politicians who declare that their emergency violations of basic freedoms are warranted by crisis is always a necessity. To be critical of pharmaceutical executives who tell the public that only they hold the keys to a future of freedom and safety, and of the media who act as propaganda machines in service of official narratives, is always a necessity.

Anarchists seem to know all of this instinctively when the war politicians want us to wage is a war fought with literal weapons, when the victims are more obvious, when the propaganda is more nationalist, xenophobic, and racist. But with the Covid19 crisis, the war being waged by those in power is ostensibly a war to save lives, and this shift in presentation seems to have effectively hacked the hearts and minds of so many anarchists who at the bottom of everything, carry a deep and genuine care for others.

But we must pull back and think critically about our situation. It is forgivable when in the throes of a quickly unfolding emergency, while lacking the information necessary to make confident decisions, to want to go along with the experts that are put before podiums when they ask that we all pull together for the greater good. That is no longer the situation. Much time has passed since SARS-COV-2 was a mysterious new respiratory virus infecting tens of people in Wuhan, to being a virus with global reach that has infected probably 20% of the human population*. Data has been pouring forth from researchers around the world, and there is now no excuse for fear based decision making, for accepting as gospel the perceptions and prescriptions stamped by the state and distributed by their lackeys in the media.

We believe that this crisis is like all the crises that came before it, in that it is a period of time in which those with power and wealth see an opportunity to extend their claws and to steal more of both. It is a moment of collective fear and uncertainty they can exploit to seize more control and to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses of humanity. The only thing that seems to separate the Covid19 crisis from those that came before it, is just how willing so much of the public (sadly including many anarchists) is to willingly and enthusiastically support the loss of their own autonomy.

*In early October The WHO reported an estimate that 10% of the global population had had Covid19. It is therefore reasonable that after a second winter in the Northern Hemisphere, that that number could have doubled.

The Science!!!

Right out of the gate we think it is very important to underscore the dangerous, quasi religious nature of how the media and state are pushing, and how the public is accepting, the notion of a unified scientific consensus on how to politically approach the question of Covid19. First and foremost, science is a method, a tool, and it’s foundational premise is that we must always ask questions, and we must always try to falsify our hypothesis. Science is absolutely NOT about consensus, as the right experiment conducted by one person can absolutely demolish established dogmas with new information, and that is science at its most glorious. Further, SARS-COV-2 is a virus that has been known to humanity at large for now just over one year. To suggest that there is a total and irrefutable understanding of it’s features and dynamics, and that all scientists and researchers and doctors everywhere are all in agreement as to what public policy should be to confront it, is absolutely false.

Also, we enter into very dangerous territory as a society when we allow, nay demand, that experts tucked away in labs using esoteric methods act as the only voices in the room to generate one-size-fits-all policy declarations for entire nations that span massive geographical terrain, for nations populated with vastly diverse groups of human beings who all have different needs. This kind of technocracy is a great cause for concern, as are any pronouncements that those who are skeptical of such schemes of social manipulation are somehow intellectual dullards or that that are anti-scientific.

Science is a tool to illuminate humanity through the elucidation of cause and effect mechanisms. It is a process of discovery. What we do with that illumination, how we go about our lives with the information discovered, is up to us as individuals and as communities.

And finally, it is very easy to fall into a trap of finding competing experts. One side has an expert who says X and the other side finds an expert who says Y, and then we’re at an impasse. This is not our intent, however, we feel we are in a double-bind if we do not at some level demonstrate that the narrative out forth by the state and their lap dog media is not as rooted in scientific fact as they would like us to believe. If we do not present some amount of counter evidence, we risk being dismissed out of hand as ignorant, individualists, whose true motivations are “selfish.” Cracking through a billion dollar narrative that has been crafted by state and private media around the globe for the better part of a year, all in service of generating an atmosphere of fear and thus compliance, is no easy task, and so, we will now point to some research below in an effort to help our readers build a reality-based, data-backed understanding of the current situation, not to position ourselves as possessing some secret alternative knowledge, but merely to demonstrate that there does exist research that makes many state mandates seem preposterous even from a scientific perspective.

Research

The underlying premise behind lockdowns, closures, and curfews is that these efforts can stop the spread of SARS-COV-2. But can they accomplish this? This is a nuanced question. First, we would acknowledge that if you could isolate every human in their own bubble, yes, you could burn out probably many diseases (while causing a variety of new harms). But that isn’t how a mandate functions in reality. Even excluding the shadowy scofflaws who are blamed for the failures of these lockdown efforts from California to London because of their failure to comply with perfection, the fact is that modern civilization requires a massive amount of daily labor in order to prevent it’s immediate collapse, and that labor requires human beings to come into contact with each other, and to travel great distances.

Everything from farm work, to long haul trucking. Power plant operation to plumbers making house calls. Doctors must go to hospital, as must the janitorial and kitchen staff. Fertilizer factories must keep producing for the following season, and so too must the sprawling data centers remain operational for all the white collar professionals to be able to meet via Zoom. Then there are the Amazon warehouses and Wal-Marts! How could we lockdown without our daily deliveries? The list of industries and institutions that cannot close if we expect to have heated homes, drinkable water, functional electric grids, drivable roads, and every other support system of modern life, is very long, and each of them requires human beings to keep them functional. This fact alone means there could never be a 100% lockdown of the population.

Of course, there is the obvious side note that a majority of the labor that must continue, is low wage and/or blue collar. This fact alone makes the very idea of lockdowns a classist enterprise, but this fact has been discussed widely, so we shall move on.

Remember too, these massive lockdowns were never intended (in most places, at the outset) to eliminate Covid19. They were intended to “flatten the curve,” which translates to, “slow the spread” of SARS-COV-2 so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed. It should be noted that most hospitals in most locales, never faced this threat, and that even if it is a good idea to prevent hospital overrun, plans to prevent such a scenario would need to be local, not national, or even statewide. As the year progressed, slowly, the perception of the intent of lockdowns has blurred, and politicians and their selected experts have been consistently extending shutdowns, now shifting the rhetoric to focus on the eradication of the virus. This is unacceptable in that it is likely impossible.

As to these lockdown measures and their efficacy, research has found that they do not have much of an effect when it comes to reducing total caseload:

“Conclusions: While small benefits cannot be excluded, we do not find significant benefits on case growth of more restrictive NPIs. Similar reductions in case growth may be achievable with less restrictive interventions.”

Another paper concludes:

“Higher Covid death rates are observed in the [25/65°] latitude and in the [−35/−125°] longitude ranges. The national criteria most associated with death rate are life expectancy and its slowdown, public health context (metabolic and non-communicable diseases (NCD) burden vs. infectious diseases prevalence), economy (growth national product, financial support), and environment (temperature, ultra-violet index). Stringency of the measures settled to fight pandemic, including lockdown, did not appear to be linked with death rate.”

We must absolutely understand that no intervention comes without its costs, and when an intervention involves distance, isolation, and the shut down of people’s usual outlets for social interaction and support, those costs are borne by the physical, mental, and emotional health of the public. We cannot destroy public health to save public health. This editorial from the British Medical Journal states:

“Lockdowns can also cause long term health harms, such as from delayed treatment and investigations. Delays in the diagnosis and treatment of various types of cancer, for example, can allow progression of cancer and affect patients’ survival. A three month delay to surgery is estimated to cause more than 4700 deaths a year in the UK. In the US, delays in screening and treatment are estimated to cause 250,000 additional preventable deaths of cancer patients each year.

Furthermore, a sharp decrease in the number of admissions for acute coronary syndromes and emergency coronary procedures has been observed since the start of the pandemic in the US and Europe. In England, the weekly number of hospital admissions for coronary syndromes fell by 40% between mid-February and the end of March 2020. Fear of exposure to the virus stopped many patients from attending hospital, putting them at increased risk of long term complications of myocardial infarction.”

Despite the push by the people in power to present their preferred draconian measures as totally supported by “the science,” there is much disagreement amongst researchers and doctors as to how best to move through this crisis. Scientific American writes:

“In today’s COVID-19 wars, the global scientific divide leans heavily in favor of active, and sometimes even draconian, public health interventions, including widespread locking down of nonessential business, mandating masks, restricting travel and imposing quarantines. On the other side, some doctors, scientists and public health officials are questioning the wisdom of this approach in the face of massive unknowns about their efficacy and in light of the clear and growing evidence that such measures may not be working in some cases, and may also be causing net harm. As people are thrown out of work as a direct result of lockdowns, and as more and more families find themselves unable to cover their rent or food, there have been sharp increases in domestic violence, homelessness and illegal drug use.”

When justifying harsh lockdowns and curfews, many people lean into the danger presented by Covid19, without fully understanding the actual level of threat posed by the illness. Due to the alarmist posture of the media – an industry we know bases their success on capturing attention, and which also goes to great pains to push official political narratives – many people believe that an infection with SARS-COV-2 is far more deadly than it actually is. According to a study authored by Stanford’s John P. Ioannidis, the Infection Fatality Rate globally is quite low:

“Infection fatality rate in different locations can be inferred from seroprevalence studies. While these studies have caveats, they show IFR ranging from 0.00% to 1.54% across 82 study estimates. Median IFR across 51 locations is 0.23% for the overall population and 0.05% for people <70 years old. IFR is larger in locations with higher overall fatalities. Given that these 82 studies are predominantly from hard‐hit epicenters, IFR on a global level may be modestly lower. Average values of 0.15%‐0.20% for the whole global population and 0.03%‐0.04% for people <70 years old as of October 2020 are plausible. These values agree also with the WHO estimate of 10% global infection rate (hence, IFR ~ 0.15%) as of early October 2020.”

We also are aware of a common sentiment that lockdowns could eliminate SARS-COV-2 if only they were stricter, and if only every person participated perfectly. This is the sort of unfalsifiable thinking that politicians and pundits like to push to excuse the failure of previous measures to have the desired outcomes, as well as to target their opposing politicians who they like to insist “dropped the ball,” and who should therefore bear the blame for the pandemic’s toll. Any policy that requires 100% compliance is doomed to fail from the outset. Even ignoring our earlier point about the labor required to maintain society, there will never be 100% compliance from all human beings on anything.

We think it is also necessary to make plain that a new coronavirus is not something that would be detected immediately by doctors or researchers when it makes its first jump from animal to human. Because coronaviruses are common, and because they induce similar symptoms (as well as having a symptom course similar to other forms of respiratory viruses), and as SARS-COV-2 is not symptomatic in a third of people who contract it, it is not surprising that it was circulating the Earth before anyone knew to look for it.

It has now been confirmed that SARS-COV-2 was circulating in Italy in September of 2019:

“SARS-CoV-2 RBD-specific antibodies were detected in 111 of 959 (11.6%) individuals, starting from September 2019 (14%), with a cluster of positive cases (>30%) in the second week of February 2020 and the highest number (53.2%) in Lombardy. This study shows an unexpected very early circulation of SARS-CoV-2 among asymptomatic individuals in Italy several months before the first patient was identified, and clarifies the onset and spread of the coronavirus disease 2019”

It was circulating in the UK in December:

“Professor Tim Spector, epidemiologist at King’s College London, leads the Zoe Covid Symptom Study, tracking symptoms reported by patients during the pandemic.

He said data collected “clearly shows many people had the virus back in December”.

It was also circulating in the US back in late fall of 2019:

“These confirmed reactive sera included 39/1,912 (2.0%) donations collected between December 13-16, 2019, from residents of California (23/1,912) and Oregon or Washington (16/1,912). Sixty seven confirmed reactive (67/5,477, 1.2%) donations were collected between December 30, 2019, and January 17, 2020, from residents of Massachusetts (18/5,477), Wisconsin or Iowa (22/5,477), Michigan (5/5,477), and Connecticut or Rhode Island (33/5,477).”

Other examples exist demonstrating that SARS-COV-2 was circulating in various countries around the world prior to confirmation of its existence coming out of China. As time unfolds, it is likely we will get a fuller picture of what this circulation looked like, but we can safely presume that if there are antibodies within people on various continents in December of 2019, that circulation of the virus would have begun months prior to that. And we point this fact out, again, to emphasize that there was likely no lockdown measure that could have been implemented to snuff out the virus, as it had already gotten such an incredible head start.

On Principle

As anarchists, there are principles we return to as guiding stars in the dark night of the unknown, and these include freedom, autonomy, consent, and a deep belief in the ability of people to self-organize for their maximum benefit as individuals and as communities. No one knows one’s needs better than they do themselves, and truly, most people have self-preservation instincts that cause them to select behaviors that lead to their own safety and survival, as well as that of those they care for.

At the outset of the pandemic, when information was scant, we very much witnessed people making choices to distance themselves from crowds and gatherings they did not believe were essential, while they also began efforts to support and care for those who might be more vulnerable to a circulating respiratory illness that did not have well established treatment courses within the medical field.

While we welcome information and data, even that which is unpleasant, that describes the continually unfolding circumstances, we also believe that people need to be trusted to analyze that information. The current paradigm has the state and their selected technocratic experts filtering the available data and only highlighting that which supports the policy decisions they already decided to implement without any public input. Information and analysis that can be considered “good news” has been largely ignored by the state and their technocrats, while also being blacked out by the media.

“Experts” can always be found to justify horrors. Indeed, we would likely be hard pressed to find a case in recent history in which massive crimes against humanity did not come packaged with a stamp of approval from some consortium of experts whom everyone else was asked to blindly trust. The Covid19 pandemic is no different, and as anarchists we just ask that you remember that debate, critique, and dissent are all essential components of societies that value liberation and autonomy. We ask that whatever you decide about the efficacy of lockdown measures, that you recognize no situation, no matter how dire it may seem, warrants edicts from on high that use the threat of force and violence to accomplish their aims.

Our steadfast commitment to human autonomy, and to our belief that no authority is valid without the consent of those it is exercised over, is what makes anarchism a thing apart from other political philosophies. We will not abandon this commitment, and hope that you will not either.

Anarchist Reorientation in the Time of COVID

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Jan 282021
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

Originally published March 20, 2020

The situation changes quickly. Along with everyone else, I follow it avidly and share updates, watch our lives change from day to day, get bogged down in uncertainty. It can feel like there is only a single crisis whose facts are objective, allowing only one single path, one that involves separation, enclosure, obedience, control. The state and its appendages become the only ones legitimate to act, and the mainstream media narrative with the mass fear it produces swamps our ability for independent action.

Some anarchists though have pointed out that there are two crises playing out in parallel — one is a pandemic that is spreading rapdily and causing serious harm and even death for thousands. The other is crisis management strategy imposed by the the state. The state claims to be acting in the interest of everyone’s health — it wants us to see its response as objective and inevitable.

But its crisis management is also a way of determining what conditions will be like when the crisis resolves, letting it pick winners and losers along predictable lines. Recognizing the inequality baked into these supposedly neutral measures means acknowledging that certain people being asked to pay a much higher cost than others for what the powerful are claiming as a collective good. I want to recover some autonomy and freedom of action in this moment, and to do this, we need to break free of the narrative we are given.

When we let the state control the narrative, the questions that are asked about this moment, we also let them control the answers. If we want a different outcome than the powerful are preparing, we need to be able to ask a different question.

We mistrust the mainstream narrative on so many things, and are usually mindful of the powerful’s ability to shape the narrative to make the actions they want to take seem inevitable. Here in Canada, the exaggeration and lies about the impacts of #shutdowncanada rail blockades was a deliberate play to lay the groundwork for a violent return to normal. We can understand the benefits of an infection-control protocol while being critical of the ways the state is using this moment for its own ends. Even if we assess the situation ourselves and accept certain reccomendations the state is also pushing, we don’t have to adopt the state’s project as our own. There is a big difference between following orders and thinking independently to reach similar conclusions.

When we are actually carrying out own project, it becomes easier to make an independent assessment of the situation, parsing the torrent of information and reccomendations for ourselves and asking what is actually suitable for our goals and priorities. For instance, giving up our ability to have demonstrations while we still need to go work retail jobs seems like a bad call for any liberatory project. Or recognizing the need for a rent strike while also fear mongering about any way of talking to our neighbours.

Giving up on struggle while still accomodating the economy is very far from addressing our own goals, but it flows from the state’s goal of managing the crisis to limit economic harm and prevent challenges to its legitimacy. It’s not that the state set out to quash dissent, that is probably just a byproduct. But if we have a different starting point — build autonomy rather than protect the economy — we will likely strike different balances about what is appropriate.

For me, a starting point is that my project as an anarchist is to create the conditions for free and meaningful lives, not just ones that are as long as possible. I want to listen to smart advice without ceding my agency, and I want to respect the autonomy of others — rather than a moral code to enforce, our virus measures should be based on agreements and boundaries, like any other consent practice. We communicate about the measures we choose, we come to agreements, and where agreements aren’t possible, we set boundaries that are self-enforceable and don’t rely on coercion. We look at the ways access to medical care, class, race, gender, geography, and of course health affect the impact of both the virus and the state’s response and try to see that as a basis for solidarity.

A big part of the state’s narrative is unity — the idea that we need to come together as a society around a singular good that is for everyone. People like feeling like they’re part of a big group effort and like having the sense of contributing through their own small actions — the same kinds of phenomenons that make rebellious social movements possible also enable these moments of mass obedience. We can begin rejecting it by reminding ourselves that the interests of the rich and powerful are fundamentally at odds with our own. Even in a situation where they could get sicken or die too (unlike the opioid crisis or the AIDS epidemic before it), their response to the crisis is unlikely to meet our needs and may even intensify exploitation.

The presumed subject of most of the measures like self-isolation and social distancing is middle-class — they imagine a person whose job can easily be worked from home or who has access to paid vacation or sick days (or, in the worst case, savings), a person with a spacious home, a personal vehicle, without very many close, intimate relationships, with money to spend on childcare and leisure activities. Everyone is asked to accept a level of discomfort, but that increases the further away our lives are from looking like that unstated ideal and compounds the unequal risk of the worst consequences of the virus. One response to this inequality has been to call on the state to do forms of redistribution, by expanding employment insurance benefits, or by providing loans or payment deferrals. Many of these measure boil down to producing new forms of debt for people who are in need, which recalls the outcome of the 2008 financial crash, where everyone shared in absorbing the losses of the rich while the poor were left out to dry.

I have no interest in becoming an advocate for what the state should do and I certainly don’t think this is a tipping point for the adoption of more socialistic measures. The central issue to me is whether or not we want the state to have the abiltiy to shut everything down, regardless of what we think of the justifications it invokes for doing so.

The #shutdowncanada blockades were considered unacceptable, though they were barely a fraction as disruptive as the measures the state pulled out just a week later, making clear that it’s not the level of disruption that was unacceptable, but rather who is a legitimate actor. Similarly, the government of Ontario repeated constantly the unacceptable burden striking teachers were placing on families with their handful of days of action, just before closing schools for three weeks — again, the problem is that they were workers and not a government or boss. The closure of borders to people but not goods intensifies the nationalist project already underway across the world, and the economic nature of these seemingly moral measures will become more plain once the virus peaks and the calls shift towards ‘go shopping, for the economy’.

The state is producing legitimacy for its actions by situating them as simply following expert reccomendations, and many leftists echo this logic by calling for experts to be put directly in control of the response to the virus. Both of these are advocating for technocracy, rule by experts. We have seen this in parts of Europe, where economic experts are appointed to head governments to implement ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ austerity measures. Calls to surrender our own agency and to have faith in experts are already common on the left, especially in the climate change movement, and extending that to the virus crisis is a small leap.

It’s not that I don’t want to hear from experts or don’t want there to be individuals with deep knowledge in specific fields — it’s that I think the way problems are framed already anticipate their solution. The response to the virus in China gives us a vision of what technocracy and authoritarianism are capable of. The virus slows to a stop, and the checkpoints, lockdowns, facial recognition technology, and mobilized labour can be turned to other ends. If you don’t want this answer, you’d better ask a different question.

So much of social life had already been captured by screens and this crisis is accelerating it — how do we fight alienation in this moment? How do we address the mass panic being pushed by the media, and the anxiety and isolation that comes with it?

How do we take back agency? Mutual aid and autonomous health projects are one idea, but are there ways we can go on the offensive? Can we undermine the ability of the powerful to decide whose lives are worth preserving? Can we go beyond support to challenge property relations? Like maybe building towards looting and expropriations, or extorting bosses rather than begging not to be fired for being sick?

How are we preparing to avoid curfews or travel restrictions, even cross closed borders, should we consider it appropriate to do so? This will certainly involve setting our own standards for safety and necessity, not just accepting the state’s guidelines.

How do we push forward other anarchist engagements? Specifically, our hostility to prison in all its forms seems very relevant here. How do we centre and target prison in this moment? How about borders? And should the police get involved to enforce various state measures, how do we delegitimate them and limit their power?

How do we target the way power is concentrating and restructuring itself around us? What interests are poised to “win” at the virus and how do we undermine them (think investment opportunities, but also new laws and increased powers). What infrastructure of control is being put in place? Who are the profiteers and how can we hurt them? How do we prepare for what comes next and plan for the window of possibility that might exist in between the worst of the virus and a return to economic normalcy?

Developing our own read on the situation, along with our own goals and practices, is not a small job. It will take the exchange of texts, experiments in action, and communication about the results. It will take broadening our sense of inside-outside to include enough people to be able to organize. It will involve still acting in the public space and refusing to retreat to online space.  Combined with measures to deal with the virus, the intense fear and pressure to conform coming from many who would normally be our allies makes even finding space to discuss the crises on different terms a challenge. But if we actually want to challenge the ability of the powerful to shape the response to the virus for their own interests, we need to start by taking back the ability to ask our own questions.

Conditions are different everywhere, but all states are watching each other and following each others’ lead, and we would do well to look to anarchists in other places dealing with conditions that may soon become our own. So I’ll leave you with this quote from anarchists in France, where a mandatory lockdown has been in place all week, enforced with dramatic police violence:

And so yes, let’s avoid too much collectivity in our activities and unnecessary meetings, we will maintain a safe distance, but fuck the confinement measures, we’ll evade your police patroles as much as we can, it’s out of the question that we support repression or restrictions of our rights! To all the poor, marginal, and rebellious, show solidarity and engage in mutual aid to maintain activities necessary for survival, avoid the arrests and fines and continue expressing ourselves politically.

From “Against Mass Confinement” (“Contre le confinement généralisé“). Published in French on Indymedia Nantes

Anti-Curfew March Reportback

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Jan 202021
 

From No Borders Media (Facebook)

Over one-hundred protesters gathered in east-end Montreal earlier today, to express opposition to the government-imposed pandemic curfew as well as to highlight measures to combat the pandemic rooted in solidarity and support for the most marginalized of society. The demonstration, which successfully marched through the streets of Hochelaga, emphasized the cruel negative impacts of the curfew and related police harassment on the homeless, sex workers, drug users, undocumented workers and others.

The demo organizers — an ad- hoc group called Pas de solution policière à la crise sanitaire / No police solution to a health crisis — emphasized that the protest was in favour of COVID-19 mitigation measures, but rejected the curfew as authoritarian and detrimental to an effective pandemic response. The organizers also made a point of rejecting the involvement and presence of anyone associated with far-right, anti-science, conspiracy theorists, highlighting instead a social justice-rooted pro-science approach to the pandemic (exemplified by one sign at the protest reading: “pro-science, pro-mask, pro-vaccine, anti-curfew”).

There was a large police presence at the demo, including riot police in full gear who were deployed despite the demonstration being family-friendly and respecting health measures. Protest organizers provided masks to participants, and protesters practiced physical distancing. Still, at the beginning of the demonstration at Place Valois, riot police wrongly detained one man for allegedly not wearing a mask; the man was not part of the demonstration, and was clearly in distress while waiting for a friend in the public square. Masks are not required outdoors in Quebec during the pandemic, unless participating in a demonstration, which is an irony for many protesters who prefer masks at demos anyways. Another man was improperly detained by riot police for not wearing his mask properly (it was briefly under his nose), and was not given a chance to correct it before being marched away by an entourage of riot cops.

These two detentions (and likely resulting tickets at the cost of several hundred dollars) were just more examples of the structural inability of the Montreal police to exercise the “discretion” and “good judgement” that Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, Quebec Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault and Quebec Premier François Legault naively think they do. During the pandemic, Montreal police have ticketed homeless persons for alleged health violations, and during the curfew they have asked to illegally search essential workers, as well as rejecting clear documentation from other essential workers that they can travel to-and-from work and issuing $1000+ tickets. The riot police also evicted a homeless camp in Hochelaga (Campement Notre-Dame) back in December. There are likely many more cases of police abuse during the curfew, and the pandemic in general, that have yet to emerge. The structural police abuses highlight again the necessity to Defund The Police — particularly a police force that has normalized showing up to social protests in full riot gear — and instead allocate resources and funding to health, education and social services.

Despite the police actions, today’s demonstration was successful. In conjunction with public statements by Montreal organizations in opposition to the curfew, and a press conference to denounce the curfew this past Monday by several community organizations, the protest was a modest first step towards taking up more public space — as a movement that is for social justice and pro-science — to oppose authoritarian measures like the curfew while promoting solidarity-based solutions to mitigating the pandemic. It’s a positive step away from the far-right, anti-science conspiracy theorists who are oblivious to social justice and solidarity, and perhaps a small step towards future strategic curfew defiance, if the curfew is extended later into February.

Letter from a Former Prisoner

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Jan 202021
 

We received the message that follows by email. We’re publishing it with the permission of the author.

Hello,

I don’t know if it’s your organization that passed in front of the Federal Training Center detention center (CFF600) on Montée St-François on December 31st, 2019, but if it was, I’d like to thank you.

I was in prison at the time, in the condos that face Montée St-François. I could see you from the window of the living area and from my cell. For that moment, you made me forget that I was incarcerated, and I felt important and alive. Knowing that people on the outside were thinking of me and traveling for me did me good.

I’d like to be informed of any other demonstration concerning detention centers or for immigration (where I worked as a prisoner).

I regret not joining this year as I would have liked to participate, I should have gone anyway.

Thank you a lot for your time!!

Yannick, finally almost free!!!! (I’m in a halfway house but will be home soon)

Protesting Is Now Illegal in Toronto

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Jan 192021
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

On Saturday, January 16th, the Toronto Police Service tweeted the following:

So, it’s official. The government has declared that protesting is now illegal in Toronto, and, probably in all of Ontario.

Doug Ford has essentially said that leaving your home for “non-essential” reasons is not allowed. What is and what isn’t essential?

Thankfully, Dougie helpfully clarifies: “I know essential means different things to different people … so we need everyone to use their best judgment. If you’re not sure if a trip is absolutely essential, it probably isn’t,” he said.

Couldn’t this be taken to mean that if you aren’t sure whether or not something is illegal, it probably is? Who gets to decide? Doesn’t this essentially give the police the power to arbitrarily stop and harass anyone for any number of reasons?

At which point do we call this a police state?

The Oxford dictionary defines “police state” thus: “a country where people’s freedom, especially to travel and to express political opinions, is controlled by the government, with the help of the police”.

Of course, whether or not it is actually is illegal is a different question, given that Canada is ostensibly a constitutional monarchy, where the constitution is the highest law in the land, but how much does that matter anymore?

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the constitution, explicitly states that people have the freedom of assembly, the freedom of mobility, the freedom of expression, and freedom of religion, but that hasn’t stopped the state from introducing all kinds of draconian laws this year. Is a precedent being set that basic human rights do not apply in times of crisis?

This expansion of police powers is already having tragic consequences. Consider the tragic death of Scarborough resident Moses Demian. Hours after the events of this video, which shows Mr. Demian being arrested in a parking lot after being carded* by police, Mr. Demian took his own life.

This tragedy apparently occurred because Mr. Demian refused to produce ID when the police demanded it. Perhaps he felt that he had the right to hang out in a parking lot, and chose to assert his right. Perhaps he knew that he was not legally required to produce ID (Ontario law does require you to identify yourself verbally, but not to produce ID). Perhaps he was just fed up with being harassed, and voiced his frustration. In any case, he defied a cop, and now he’s dead.

It bears mentioning that Ontario’s lockdown law, in true Orwellian fashion, is called the “Reopening Ontario Act”. So I pose the question again: Are we living in a police state? And if we are, what is to be done?

*For those unfamiliar with the term “carding”, Wikipedia defines it as “an intelligence gathering policy involving the stopping, questioning, and documenting of individuals when no particular offence is being investigated”. Activists in Toronto have long denounced it as a racist practice, as police disproportionately target BIPOC folks. To learn more about the racist use of carding in Toronto, please refer to the work of black power activist Desmond Cole.

Fundraiser for the family of Moses Demian:
https://www.gofundme.com/f/28rgs4bt6o

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that Moses Demian died in a jail cell. In fact, he committed suicide after being released from jail. The author regrets their error.

Gidimt’en Territory: Solidarity Is Inclusive – We Are One

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Jan 182021
 

From Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory (Facebook)

It has been almost one year since the call went out for peoples across so called canada for solidarity; to respect Wet’suwet’en laws and jurisdiction to our lands and to fight together against colonization, industrial genocide, and to stop CGL and RCMP from invading our yintah.

As we asserted full control over access to our yintah and brought industry to a halt, many others rose up with us. From large demonstrations to rail blockades to clandestine sabotages against the infrastructures of colonization, many nations, groups and people fought alongside us. These actions gave us strength in the face of the looming buildup of militarized police.

After the police raided four checkpoints on the yintah and stole dozens of people from our territories, Peoples across this land Shut Down Canada. From our allies in Mohawk and Haudenosaunee territory who occupied lands near rail tracks and highways in Tyendinaga, Six Nations, Kahnawake and Kanesatake and our Gitxsan neighbours and relatives, to Indigenous youth who occupied the ‘BC’ legislature to everyone in between and beyond who put their hearts and bodies on the line.

The movement grew for Indigenous Sovereignty from coast to coast. Still a fight for our lands, life-ways and the assertion of our law but also a dialogue between Indigenous nations acting in solidarity with each other. It acted as a turning point for many settlers to practice true reconciliation with the rightful owners of the lands they live on. A reconciliation that means: “Land Back” instead of empty dialogue with morally bankrupt governments.

Many of those who acted with us are still facing criminal and civil charges. Our Haudenosaunee and Mohawk allies are still being criminalized. Others in Hamilton still face charges as a result of solidarity actions there. Our Gitxsan relatives that took action are still facing charges. Recently two people in so-called Washington state were arrested on absurd, trumped-up charges of terrorism for allegedly acting in solidarity with us. We know there are likely many others who are being criminalized for supporting and respecting Indigenous sovereignty.

We see the charges for what they are: A desperate attempt by the colonial system to break the bonds of solidarity that were forged and renewed last winter. Scared of the backlash they would face from pursuing charges against our people and guests arrested on our own lands they doubled down on criminalizing and attacking our allies. They hoped to scare people into passivity and leave us, and all indigenous peoples, isolated from each other and from allies who would fight with us. They want to paint sovereignty and justified resistance as a crime. But they failed. We know the righteousness of Indigenous sovereignty and they will never break our solidarity.

We stand with our allies facing the weight of the colonial legal system and we demand that the colonial courts drop all charges!

Please support all land defenders!

Tyendinaga GoFundMe:
https://gofund.me/9d41a6b7

Six Nations GoFundMe and etransfer:
https://gofund.me/7ad24c0a
landback6nations@gmail.com

Hamilton GoFundMe:
https://ca.gofundme.com/f/hamiltonsolidarityfundraiser

For updates about criminal charges from the movement in solidarity with struggles on Wet’suwet’en territory, follow #BlockadeDefense on Twitter or check the Blockade Defense tag on North Shore