Category Archives: Anarchism

As can be “justified” in a “free” and “democratic” society?

The G20 protests, bail, and rights restrictions: a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ society?

According to internet reports, after having been threatened with solitary confinement in the Toronto East Detention Centre’s “hole” (likely not a euphemism) without being permitted any communication and after having been refused contact with legal counsel, G20 arrestee Alex Hundert has been ‘released’ on bail.  Alex’s bail restrictions are nothing short of incredibly restrictive: amongst other conditions, he is not to directly or indirectly post anything on the internet, he is not to associate or communicate with any number of fellow community organizers and activists, he is not to attend or plan any public meeting or demonstration, and perhaps most tellingly, he is not to express views on political issues.

Bail conditions and restrictions are supposed to be a way for someone charged with an offence to be released with a restrictions to prevent further alleged crimes from being committed.  The restrictions in Alex’s case beg the question: what are the Crown prosecutors and courts concerned about?

Restricting Alex’s freedom of expression – taking away his human freedom, his human right, to have an opinion and share it – shows that the threat that he poses to the Canadian “public order” is not any action that Alex could take, out on the street with a sign, but his very thoughts and opinions.

Here’s what happens in an allegedly “free” and “democratic” society when your opinions and your thoughts and your political stances threaten the dominant order.  You get your rights restricted.  Speak truth about power? Now you’re not allowed to speak.

‘Constitutionally’ guaranteed rights?

Alex is not the only activist facing charges or restrictions of their civil liberties, but his bail conditions seem to be the most restrictive.  Importantly, his bail conditions significantly infringe on his theoretically guaranteed rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – part of Canada’s constitutional law – notably those found under section 2, labelled as our “fundamental freedoms.”  Alex’s bail conditions expressly and clearly violate his freedoms of opinion, expression, and assembly.

At first blush, readers would be forgiven for wondering just how the courts could impose such restrictive conditions, especially restrictions that so clearly and flagrantly violate fundamental freedoms.  Especially those that are supposedly guaranteed under the constitution of our country, which takes great pride in publicly trumpeting its fairness and its democracy to the rest of the world.

Well, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms opens with an important clause: all of the rights contained within are subject to “such reasonable limits, prescribed by law, as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”  So, folks, your rights contain a very important expiry clause in the fine print.

According to the Toronto Star, York University Osgoode Hall Law School professor Alan Young says

[T]he court has gone too far.

“It’s basically putting a gag order on a citizen of Canada, when it’s not clear that the gag order is at all necessary to protect public order,” he said, of Hundert’s restriction from speaking to the media.

“People have to be able to air grievances, and the media is a primary tool in which people can air grievances effectively.”

Young called the strict bail conditions “astonishing” — something unheard of in modern-day Canada.

This means that the government and the courts can – and do, regularly – infringe on your rights.  In order to do this, they just have to plan to meet what’s called the “Oakes test,” judicial jargon for an analytical test applied to the situation to see if the restrictions are permitted under the constitution.

(more after the jump) Continue reading As can be “justified” in a “free” and “democratic” society?

The Anti-Thanksgiving: Criminalizing Dissent in Canada

This is no day for thanks. It is neither glorious, nor free.

Canadian governments have criminalized dissent to the point where we have become a shell of a sensible democracy. And we, like the frogs [or beavers] in a slowly boiling pot, are too complacent to do anything about it.

I have already written about our governments’ political harassment of Alex Hundert and Betty Krawczyk. Below are some updates that should motivate you to realize that thanksgiving is not a passive holiday, but a call to action to protect what we are thankful for.

I don’t know Alex Hundert personally, but while his treatment encourages us to think he may be a criminal terrorist mastermind justifying his pre-emptive arrest at gunpoint before the G20 in Toronto, I seriously doubt it. $1.1 billion in security funding leads to surreal behaviour.

Last Wednesday was the beginning of his bail hearing to determine if the police were justified in re-arresting him last month for breaking his bail condition by appearing at public demonstrations. He was a member of a discussion panel at a public meeting at a public university. The police alleged that such an event constituted a demonstration. How absurd.

I know demonstrations. They involve signs, rallies, loud speakers, chants, marches, and the like. Public meetings at local universities or activist churches are meetings. Sure, dissent happens at both, but the first is an active assertion of attitudes designed to demonstrate to the public a certain political value. A meeting is a meeting.

I fully, yet it turns out naively, expected the judge to throw out the arrest within five minutes of the bail hearing beginning. Not so. His bail hearing will continue this week.

So the police have asserted a new definition of a demonstration. This is designed to chill public dissent.

What happens if a faith group invites a social or political activist to speak at a service or weeknight prayer group? Is that a demonstration?

I fully knew that 6.5 years ago I was conducting a demonstration when I organized the Vancouver chapter of Poets Against the War to protest the Iraqi invasion and occupation.

Today, attending such a demonstration could be considered a violation of someone’s bail conditions.

But what if I have a meeting in my house with 6 friends to discuss post-party socio-political mobilization? Is this something I should now be worried about?

This is a chill on public dissent.

What do you call societies that outlaw public dissent?

What do you call societies that issue bail conditions that prevent people from:

The answer:

“It’s an attempt to silence our voice. I don’t believe they are scared of what Alex and I will do … they are concerned about our voice.”

Naomi Wolff’s spectacular book about the rise of soft fascism in Bush’s America is useful here. It warns that we need to watch for signs that our open society is closing. Elements of numbers 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10 have been in Canada since before the G20 in Toronto:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
  2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
  3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
  5. Harass citizens’ groups.
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
  7. Target key individuals.
  8. Control the press.
  9. Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
  10. Suspend the rule of law.

We lost the rule of law when hundreds of people were arrested and abused, and released without charge or after being charged under non-existent laws.

Not all political dissidents are considered to be traitors right now, but the rhetoric is that they are anti-Canadian. How much more of this tone can we safely tolerate? None. We have already tolerated too much.

Key individuals, the protest “ring-leaders,” are suffering under conspiracy charges. Conspiracy has a connotation of doing something illegal or harmful. Protest is not illegal. But perhaps that’s naive too, now.

Arbitrary detention and release? Ask the hundreds of people rounded up in Toronto.

Harassing citizen groups is what happens when people who organize public meetings at public universities have one of their panelists arrested, or when a group of peaceful protesters met with a line of riot police in the street spontaneously sing the national anthem, only to find that the moment they finish singing, the riot police rush the crowd.

All I know now is that it is no longer as legal in Canada to hold a Poets Against the War reading at a restaurant as it was 6.5 years ago. I also know that organizing such an event with another person can lead to conspiracy charges.

Should I fear arrest if I book a lecture hall at a local university to discuss liberty and screen the film based on Naomi Wolff’s End of America along with some YouTube videos of protesters terrorized and snatched by riot police in Toronto during the G20?

Ultimately, the government is now asserting that this tone of terror created by the riot police, especially beginning at the 7:30 mark of this video [the most disturbing documentation of the G20 protests for me since I routinely bring my children in strollers to demonstrations], is a new benchmark for people to expect if we wish to express dissent.

So what can we do about these abuses and erosion of our social contract, democracy and free speech?

Firstly, the House of Commons Public Safety Committee has committed to an inquiry to explore the G20 abuses starting two weeks from today. They will “hear a maximum of 30 witnesses or groups on G8 and G20 issues on October 25 and 27, November 3 and December 1 and 6, 2010.” You can contact the updated list of MPs on this committee to express your commitment to democracy and the right to free speech and protest without government abuse.

You can follow the Committee meetings with live or archived audio webcasts, meeting minutes and witness testimony to hear which MPs and political parties support or obstruct an authentic inquiry into the abuses to democracy at the G20.

Secondly, challenge your favourite media outlet to cover this Committee inquiry when they inevitably don’t report on it, its potential for supporting democracy or implications if it is ineffective.

Thirdly, participate as a citizen. Research the Alex Hundert bail hearing this week to make sure you find out what happens. Talk with your people about what liberty and the right to protest means to you. Then be vigilant.

Democracy is a muscle. Not exercising it leads to atrophy.

We do not deserve a democracy we don’t fight for.

In an era where the stakes are insanely high [climate change, peak oil, peak water, crisis in capitalism, the simplistic and simple-minded lure of totalitarianism], we cannot afford to simply trust that our leaders are benign.

They’ve demonstrated that they are not the guardians of democracy countless times. For citizens to refuse to be the guardians is a moral crime unto each other.

We must expect more from ourselves and our peers.

I Think GG Jean Supports Electoral Reform

I think the soon to be former GG Michaëlle Jean supports electoral reform.

I can’t prove it, but I think there is room in some of her outgoing remarks that indicate her deep understanding of the malaise in Canadian democracy.

But the Governor General has remained tight-lipped about that cold Dec. 4, 2008 morning at Rideau Hall, which some have suggested was a power move by Jean to show her interests were different than that of the PMO.

“In those hours, all of a sudden, people were frozen, time was frozen and everyone was wondering, ‘Hey, what might happen here? And why are they taking so long?’” Jean recalled. “History will decide . . . but I believe that, collectively, we participated together in something that will take us a step forward, maybe, in the necessity of understanding our institutional realities . . . and our political system.”

via Outgoing GG sought to ‘send message’ before proroguing Parliament.

What does it mean to understand our institutional realities? I think it means that we’ve had 6 years of minority governments [4 years as of that sleet day at Rideau] and a handcuffed Westminster parliamentary system that may have succeeded best in a 19th century reality of two motherhood political parties.

Today? The two motherhood big tent parties are not adequately representative of Canada. We have the Bloc, we have the Greens and NDP. We also have the Conservative party being the current manifestation of the Reform/Alliance party with its marginalized ideology.

Our electoral system, our political system, all the assumptions upon which our political institutions rest are variables now.

I like it this way.

We have actual debate and dialogue in the House. We have opposition parties uniting on an issue, right or wrong, to save the long gun registry. We have the same group of outnumbering MPs starting the process of endorsing the long-form census. [There is a joke about the word “long” here, but someone funnier than me will have to make it.]

We are seeing de facto electoral reform because we have been spared for over half a decade the tyranny of a majority government. In time, Canadians will expect more engagement from politicians since majority whipped votes no longer guarantee anything.

When the GG sat around pondering for two hours, making the prime minister waste his time worrying about being WLM King, we were all wondering if she’d pull a Bing and shock the system.

It turns out that with almost two years of history to reflect upon, a bit of melodrama stalling let us know that the GG is not a rubber stamp and that there was reason to pause and reflect. Personally, I was hoping that she was going to deny proroguing parliament and Harper had to actually convince her, over that long time, to do it.

It also turns out that the stalling was all she needed to do to play her hand. It sanctioned the uncertainty in our current political institutions. It thereby empowered all the rest of us to explore new expectations of our public servants.

And we’ve seen that in recent months.

And we’re not alone as the UK, USA and Australia are caught in electoral parity that cripples traditional power arrangements.

Everything is on the table now, and while GG Jean may never speak another word about her era and that sleet day in 2008, she has said enough already to make us all wonder the legacy of her two hour metaphorical walk in the snow.

Those two hours may end up being an historical trigger for great electoral reform to manifest.

I certainly hope so.

The Police State Infects An Apathetic Canada

Not to sound too alarmist or impolite, but what do you call a country with governments that do the following:

  1. arrest peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders in/near a designated free speech zone under non-existent laws, then beat, intimidate and abuse them,
  2. declare a panel discussion at a public university to be a demonstration to arrest someone for a probation violation,
  3. define protest to be a mental or personality disorder to lock up an 82-year-old devoted protester for the rest of her life.

I would call this a totalitarian, authoritarian, gulag-loving police state. Welcome to the Canada and BC of Stephen Harper and Gordon Campbell in 2010.

I’m not making up this nonsense.

Number 1 happened to hundreds of people in Toronto during the G20 in June. Numbers 2 and 3 happened in the last 4 days in Toronto to Alex Hundert and in BC to Betty Krawczyk, which you can read about here and here.

What are we supposed to do to get people’s attention to the arbitrary suspension of civil liberties?

  • use all caps?
  • write a sensational editorial title like “The Police State Date Rapes Canada”?
  • spam everyone?
  • scream at people at train stations and bus stops?
  • stop whining, and just join the apathetic masses?

This police state has slipped into Canada without significant criticism from the mainstream corporate media or the governing Conservative-Liberal coalition in Ottawa.

The goal is, of course, for the political leadership in Canada and BC to intimidate and terrorize the population so much that we choose to avoid public dissent, protest or even assembly.

The rule of law is an ass this year in Canada.

Our leaders openly mock it.

My hope is in Don Davies, NDP MP and vice-chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. They will continue meeting soon to discuss the G20 debacle which threatened the fabric and principles of Canada’s democracy, and as of Friday night, is obviously a continuing threat. Contact him by email or here.

My other advice is for all of us to contact all the members of the House of Commons Public Safety Committee and let them know that the police do not have the right to arrest people under fictional laws. Nor are police allowed to arrest someone because they declare a public meeting at a public university to be a protest just to violate that person’s parole.

Charges were never even filed for hundreds of people arrested at the G20. This parole violation arrest Friday night will also not stand up in court.

Here are their email addresses for easy pasting [new members updated 10.11.10]:

We should also contact the BC Liberal premier and attorney-general and let them know that protest is a vital part of a democracy, not a mental or personality disorder.

We should also spread these stories to our people, our networks, our social media existence.

We should also send these stories to the journalists in the country that we respect. It doesn’t matter if they are local, provincial, national, tv, newspaper, online, or magazine.

We must make the bad people stop. Right now, they are counting on the terror of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment to keep more of us from rallying.

So we need to change the climate before we take to the streets. Calling out a bully is a critical tactic. We have to call out our political leaders to keep Canada from becoming more of a gulag that it is already slipping into.

Politics, Re-Spun on Coop Radio, Labour Day 2010

Imtiaz Popat and I celebrated Labour Day on “The Rational” last night. The video podcast is below.

We discussed:

  • Labour Day
  • my Labour Day article today: “Labour Day, Dignity and Doubling the CPP”
  • volunteer labour
  • dignity for seniors
  • doubling the CPP because $11,000/year is unacceptable
  • BC’s pathetic minimum wage
  • a fall federal election could lead to a Liberal minority government and time to leverage them for economic dignity
  • student poverty is a result of right wing ideological choices: post-secondary education is seen as an income boost and the government wants its cut
  • the government is managing our CPP funds by investing in tar sands and privatized highways
  • BC’s Gateway Project and the North American transportation infrastructure vs. Peak Oil
  • workers and unions need to engage in society by working in coalition with community groups and climate justice
  • corporations and government employers are not taking the lead on greening our society, so workers need to
  • extremism, xenophobia and skapegoating
  • increased corporate profitability, how productivity gains aren’t trickling down to workers: class war
  • all majority governments are bad right now, especially considering how much of the social conservative agenda being introduced by Harper with just a minority government
  • BC Conservative party’s increasing viability, along with the BC Greens means more of a chance of a BC minority government in 2013
  • what will it take for a BC political party to say they’ll actually get rid of the HST?
  • and we would have talked about this intensely if I had read it in time!

The video podcast of the conversation lives at Vista Video.

You can watch it in Miro, the best new open source multimedia viewing software:


You can watch it in iTunes: itpc://


The podcast file is at


Understanding Violent Olympic Protests

Friday’s anti-Olympics rally and march was a virtually fully peaceful event with some clear, powerful and coherent messages inserted into the global communication stream.

But then Saturday turned violent. But it is really not that simple.

Friday was the Olympics 2010 Welcoming Committee. Saturday was the 2010 Heart Attack, designed to stab the core of global corporate capitalism. While both events are related and orbited the protest convergence happening in Vancouver this week, their goals were quite different.

The Heart Attack was intended to invoke a seizure in the corporate masters who run the world through their well-subsidized politicians, funky psychologically-gripping marketing wing, and places like the World Economic Forum.

So it is not surprising that the Black Bloc anarchists from all over converged on Vancouver to take advantage of a chance to smash windows of Olympic sponsor corporations.

But before everyone gets too comfortable and over-simplifies Saturday’s violence, let’s explore a few things.

  1. The open source software movement and virtually all instances of non-profit altruism on the internet are a form of anarchy; one does not have to smash a window to be an anarchist. While anarchy can mean confusion, disorder and chaos, it also means “a theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society.” You may be surprised that you too agree with at least elements of this form of anarchy. Global corporations and their comprador politicians may repulse you in the same way they repulse the activists and anarchists on the streets on Saturday.
  2. Global corporations use the Olympics and their nasty lawyers to secure unprecedented marketing space for their largely crappy products. Have a Coke and a Big Mac, why don’t ya! The Olympics are helping destroy the social fabric of BC through a massive funding shift; the corporations that force the athletes to pimp themselves in order to compete on the world stage are reprehensible. If you have read or seen The Corporation, you understand the psychotic nature of corporations. Do you condone their behaviour here, or here, or here?
  3. Various people have been dissecting the meaning of violence after Saturday’s activities. They rightly distinguish between property damage and violence against humans. Corporations are not humans. Their shareholders are, but I would argue that most shareholders have no or virtually no awareness of the social ill their corporation visits upon the world. So we at least need to understand why some argue that there are different kinds of violence. Is it the same kind of violence to throw a newspaper box through the window of The Bay as it is for Coke’s involvement in the murder, kidnapping and torture of union activists in Columbia?
  4. If you think the Olympics are for regular people and not the corporate elite, did you see any corporate media reporting on the fence that keeps people away from the Olympic flame? How’s that for disenfranchisement that symbolizes how there are first class citizens with access to the grand Olympic party while the millions of British Columbians who will pay for their party can’t even get close to the torch, which is supposed to symbolize…I don’t know anymore…something idealist?
  5. For more disenfranchisement, did you know that leading up to the next municipal election, our anti-social, neoLiberal premier has floated the idea of letting business owners vote in municipal elections? In the premier’s words: “There’s an opportunity to adopt principles of the provincial Election Act including: disclosure, spending limits and other changes that will improve fairness, accountability, transparency and public participation. Perhaps it’s time to restore the voting rights for industrial and business property owners in our communities.” In the same breath that he mentions enhancing accountability and public participation, he wants to let corporations vote along with human beings. What is to stop me from forming an, I don’t know, internet consulting business, paying for a business license in every municipality in and around Vancouver, then voting in future municipal elections all over the lower mainland? If you think democracy should be reserved for real human beings, you may want to actively oppose this drift towards corporations getting even MORE human rights. Can you get a sense of the depth of a threat corporations are to human being culture, society, economics and politics?
  6. The Bay has hundreds of years of history oppressing and violating people, complicit and instrumental in European colonization of North America. They happen to be an Olympic sponsor. They also happen to now be owned by NRDC Equity Partners, an American holding company, the great neo-colonial power of Canada [tar sands, anyone?]. You don’t need to wonder why they’re a target of anarchists along with RBC, the main financier of the tar sands devastation.
  7. BC Solicitor General Kash Heed waxes ironically on the rule of law: “One of the hallmarks of any civil society is respect for the law. The very laws that protect our right to free speech and the right for peaceful demonstration are at risk when a small group in society think they are above the law.” One way to understand the Heart Attack and the severe opposition to the global corporate elites is to explore the hypocrisy in this statement, from a government known for undermining the rule of law. VANOC is above the law. Its accounting is secret. They are not subject to freedom of information requests. VANOC instructed the provincial government to legislate the striking ambulance paramedics back to work last fall. The IOC is an international organization that is above the laws of all nations. It pays tax to no one, obeys no democratic political constitution or charter. It rejected women’s ski jumping from the Olympics by criteria it derived itself; in doing so, it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The BC courts ruled that this gender-based discrimination is illegal, but that it has no scope of authority over the IOC. The global corporations that fund and steer the IOC on its rampage around the world profit from these violations of the rule of law. How can they be punished or sanctioned? Do we really have the guts to use existing or enhanced legislation to revoke their corporate charters? Here is a longer list of corporate activities that are opposed to the social good. If you oppose the violent methods protesters used on Saturday, how would you prefer to reign in unacceptable corporate behaviour?
  8. Kash Heed continued: “The [police] will continue to ensure that athletes and the public are safe from unlawful activity and able to enjoy the Games without concern.” In reviewing the difference between kinds of violence, is it reasonable to equate property crime with threatening athletes? Is that what was actually happening on Saturday?
  9. VANOC and corporate greenwashing: consider the realities of climate change staring us in the face, requiring us to act in the next few years to avoid irreparable harm and violence to the livelihood of billions of the people. Examine the real record of environmentalism in the Vancouver Olympics. Put up a few green-only Olympic rings, spew some chatter about carbon offsets, then helicopter snow from Manning Park to Cypress Bowl and conveniently don’t count a variety of dirty energy sources and you’re ok. Since the Olympics has become a monstrous PR campaign anyway, truth takes a backseat to optics and marketing. Where is there corporate accountability?

So regardless of who was doing what on Saturday, criminal behaviour definitely took place. Smashing windows is a crime, but did it serve a larger political purpose? Was that purpose valid or not? Was it civil disobedience for a greater moral good? Are corporations committing crimes against humanity to a degree that we choose not to punish? And if you find the objects being protested on Saturday to be guilty of anything, what steps are you willing to take to reign in their aberrant behaviour if smashing RBC/Bay/McDonald’s windows is not acceptable to you?

And in the end, has the window smashing helped you move to a more informed place about the nature of unacceptable corporate behariour in the world? If so, there has been some social good that has come from the violent behaviour, whether anyone condones it or not.