Tag 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.

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A Better World is Needed: The oh-so ‘Canadian’ style of dissent

It’s Canada Day, which is apparently a day for Canadians all across the country to dress up in red and white and wave flags and yell “Oh Canada” and paint their faces and humbly comment on what a polite and kind country we are, because we’re number one!

For me, Canada Day is an interesting holiday.  I certainly acknowledge that this country — this state, this creation of lines drawn on a map — is a nice place to live.  I’m lucky to have been born here.  There are places in the world where I wouldn’t be able to write things like this.  But even as I acknowledge the relative comfort in which I live, I find myself acknowledging how much of a better world we could live in.  There is exploitation and subjugation and destruction in the world.

To echo and twist the oft-repeated phrase, a better world is not only possible – it is needed.  And Canada Day highlights this for me, as we celebrate the popular myth of Canada: the benevolent state that engages in cultural genocide, the peaceful state embroiled in foreign and domestic wars, the free state that does crushes basic human rights.  Yes, a better world is needed.  And we need to get there.

But thinking about how we do that and putting those thoughts into action is just as confusing as it is liberating.  To me, one thing is simply obvious: the oh-so ‘Canadian’ way of dissent, that which is so polite, so pleasant, so quiet and careful, is rendered nearly meaningless when it comes face-to-face with the Canadian state, emblazoned with maple leafs but carrying shotguns.  A better world is needed, and we need to actually work for it, not just hope that someone powerful might take pity on us.

My original idea for this piece was to question why so many activists in Canada see a desperate need to ‘play by the rules’ that the state sets out for dissent.  This comes after the Toronto G8/G20 protests, where a fury of righteous indignation erupted after people happened to take to the streets, inconveniencing some commuters while police either encouraged property destruction or police agents provocateurs actively engaged in it themselves.  A flurry of self-described progressives rushed to condemn protesters and support the police, because some windows got smashed and some police cars burned.

Later, after the ‘left’ spent large amounts of time condemning itself, stories emerged that the Toronto Police Service was enforcing a law that it knew didn’t exist in order to illegally search, question, identify, and detain activists, marchers, or residents who strayed within five meters of the military-style fence erected in the Toronto downtown.  Stories emerged of horrid conditions in the temporary detention camp built in a movie studio.  Stories of threats of violence and rape emerged.

This is all part of the plan of the neoliberal state: impose policies that enforce capitalist expansion and exploitation, remove social programs, and delegitimize dissent.  Capitalism may be protected, but nothing remains of liberty or democracy.

A better world is possible.  A better world is needed.  But we won’t get there through the oh-so-Canadian style of dissent that so many left activists take to heart.

(more after the break… click ‘read more’ to continue)

Continue reading A Better World is Needed: The oh-so ‘Canadian’ style of dissent

Protecting the people elected to do the peoples’ work from the people who want them to do their work

Three days, a fake lake, and $1 billion dollars in security costs later, the G8/G20 meetings will have wrapped up by the afternoon of June 27.  Over five hundred protesters will have been arrested, and as of the time of writing, at least three police cars have been burned.  Hundreds of police officers will have marched and massed and beat back people protesting the (in)actions of the G8/G20 and so many other causes.  Some reporters noted today that protests seem to happen everywhere the G8/G20 meetings go.  Perhaps that is indicative of a broader problem with the system itself.

Sitting here in Burnaby, it’s interesting observing the protests in Toronto on television or through social media.  Were I in Toronto, I would have been on the streets.  It would have been terrifying.  But it would have been liberating.

Yes, the protests and actions smashed some windows and burned some police cars.  Yes, the black bloc tactic was employed.  Yes, there were thousands in the streets.  But there’s a reason for this.  The people who are meeting in the downtown core of Toronto as part of the G8 and G20 are our “leaders,” our “politicians,” and they are the people who, according to the popular mythology, we have elected to do the peoples’ work.

But they’re not doing that work.  And the people are rightfully unhappy.  And they want to protest this lack of work.  And they do. And the police put on their riot gear and pick up their batons and pepper spray and beat back the people in the streets.  Why? They’re “protecting” the people in the meeting from the people in the streets.

The protesters in the streets of Toronto, of Vancouver, of Genoa, of Buenos Aires, of Santiago, of Johannesburg, and of so many other cities and towns and places around the world are demanding a different world.  And they’re demanding a different world, a better world, in the only way that might be left.

Emma Goldman famously said, “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”  So many of the people in the streets of Toronto today were there because they voted for a difference.  And no matter who was in power, promising that difference, it has yet to come.

The media argue that the protesters in the streets have resorted to “violence.”  Smashing a window is not violence.  It is destruction of property, certainly, but not violence.  And the property being destroyed when someone smashes a window of a bank or a transnational corporation is but one manifestation of an inherently violent system, capitalism, which requires subjugation and exploited labour and alienation.  The window of a bank is one manifestation of a system with forcibly enclosed public spaces, which removed people from lands and removes the product of peoples’ work from their own control merely because they must work to survive.

The smashing of a window is an act of freedom, as it smashes the manifestation of the violent system and strikes at its heart.

And our “leaders,” the politicians, know the violence of the system and its inherent contradictions.  The capitalistic desire to profit more created the commercial ‘products’ and predatory lending and so forth that caused the economic crises that hurt so many.  The crises that the G8/G20 meetings are struggling to address, in order to restabilize capitalism.

And the people don’t want this.  They want their education system to be free and of high quality.  They want public health care. They want equality and freedom.  This is the peoples’ work, and it is what so many of us vote for, when we are permitted to vote.

But our “leaders” aren’t doing this work.  And so the people are in the streets, protesting.

And the fences go up, and the police march in, and the boots come down, to protect the people who have been elected to do the peoples’ work from the people who elected them.  Who want them to do their work.

Friends, we have a choice.  We can continue to hope that the people that we vote for will actually do the work that we want them to do.  Or we can do it ourselves.

I’ll see you in the streets.