This has been a grim week for Canadian protesters.

Accross the country we saw evictions of encampments associated with the Occupy movement. Occupy Toronto in St. James was evicted Tuesday after a judge’s ruling Monday ordered them to leave. Eleven people were arrested and all structures were removed. This morning Occupy Edmonton was raided by 45 police, resulting in a cleared park and three arrests for tresspassing (all later released). Similar evictions have also happened in Montreal, Quebec City (Tuesday), Vancouver and Victoria.

This sweep, mirroring raids in the US, demonstrates that there are clear limits to the patience of our overlords. Freedom of assembly, like all other rights in our constitution, can be deemed not withstanding at any point, officially or otherwise. What were the crimes of the Occupy movment? Beyond calling attention to injustice and inequality, these encampments disrupted the “normal flow” of civic life for over a month. They allowed people to sleep somewhere they weren’t paying for and accepted with open arms people were were homeless or drug-addicted, where others wouldn’t. These actions weren’t started or sanctioned by the government, and the protesters didn’t readily bend to the state’s will when asked (what kind of ‘protest’ would it be otherwise?

Another round of losses swept the movement locally this week as the conspiracy trial of G20 defendants concluded, sentencing many to lengthy jail terms. Though 11 had their charges dropped, 6 faced sentences of 3-16 months for their role as “ringleaders”. This trial exposed years of intelligence-gathering and undercover work targeted at activists across Ontario, which has only now been released from a heavily-enforced press ban. Many of those convicted were already in jail before the protests began, following pre-dawn house raids, and the evidence against them mostly related to their anarchist beliefs and alleged ‘counselling’ of criminal behaviour despite a lack of evidence tying them to any of the actual rioters.

Cases like this show the long-term, serious consequences of repression like this. Not all politically motivated arrests involve short incarceration and quickly-dropped charges. Officials are often quite vindictive in how they respond to protests which effectively challenge their positions or policies, whether or not anything illegal actually happened. Guilt in these cases can come in the form of organizing a protest where something illegal happened. It can happen because you share political views with the presumed criminals, or simply views which sound “dangerous”. Guilt can be shown by gruesome jokes you make at the bar, or things you “like” on Facebook.

There’s a convenient myth that “violent” protests bring police repression on themselves. The G20 showed how little police attention gets turned toward rampaging rioters, and how much gets pointed toward softer, “easier” and more peaceful targets. Most of my friends who were arrested were tiny, female, and not involved in the riot, which only goes to show the actual purpose of the cavalry charges and mass-arrests. By terrorizing individuals who dare to support or organize protests like these, the state sends a message to others who would consider joining them. If that doesn’t shake the confidence of a few die-hard radicals, that’s ok. The point is to scare away everybody else. Over the years I’ve seen municipal governments threaten to go after people’s homes, I’ve seen lengthy pre-trial detentions on absolutely baseless charges. I’ve witnessed almost a solid decade of court cases, and the anguish this causes the defendants along with their friends and families. I’ve seen people sued for many times their total net worth. I’ve seen sexual assaults, death threats, and know plenty of people who’ve been shot at. Very few of these people ever had anything to do with any violent actions, and more often than not there were none to speak of throughout the campaigns.

Now do you see the violence inherent in the system?

I’m not writing this to scare anybody, I’m writing it to piss people off. If we stop fighting because of this kind of repression, they win by default. We may need to change our tactics in the future, and we most certainly need to be a lot more careful about how we do things. We cannot, however, give up. Doing so would prove in no uncertain terms that these tactics work, and that they should keep employing them against us. If, instead, we turn these arrests and incarcerations into big, ugly, stinking public messes, they’ll think twice in the future. The G20 proved clearly enough that there are no effective legal ways to deal with police brutality, but also that this doesn’t stop an entire nation of people from getting very upset. They wouldn’t be attacking us this way if we weren’t actually making some progress, and despite the countless instances of police brutality and state repression over the last year, these protests have continued to grow.

“They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. Not my obedience.” – Gandhi

Advertisements