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“The Canadian law enforcement and security intelligence community have noted a growing radicalized environmentalist faction within Canadian society that is opposed to Canada’s energy sector policies,”

This quote comes from a 2011 marine ‘threat assessment‘ compiled by the RCMP with help from CSIS, Fisheries and Oceans and Border Services. A “heavily censored” version of was recently obtained by the media through the Access to Information Act, causing renewed outrage at our government’s ongoing attempts to repress dissent.

The report itself details the actions of groups like Greenpeace. “Criminal activity by Greenpeace activists typically consists of trespassing, mischief, and vandalism, and often requires a law enforcement response,” it states, and goes on to warn that their actions “unnecessarily risk the health and safety of the activists, the facility’s staff, and the first responders who are required to extricate the activists”. This is some heavy language – if you weren’t familiar with typical Greenpeace actions, you might never know they were talking about dropping banners.

I suppose this comes down to how one defines “radical”. For Stephen Harper, CSIS or the RCMP, it probably includes everyone to the left of Genghis Kahn, or anybody who disagrees with the Prime Minister. If so, then “radicalism” has a very solid majority in the polls, which only goes to show that extremism is relative. Harper’s views are hardly typical for Canadians and utterly hostile to nature, making his politics a horrible reference point. If any environmentalist thought (or opposition to national energy policy on other grounds) is considered “radical”, then why use the word at all? All environmentalists will be more radical than some, but some will be far more radical than others. Greenpeace hasn’t been on that end of the spectrum in decades, long-since replaced by groups like Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front. Attempting to use veiled eco-terrorist imagery to describe Greenpeace or the David Suzuki foundation is a little like lumping in the NDP with the black bloc (an allegation Harper Conservatives have also made).

If there has been a dramatic upsurge in “radical environmentalism” over the past few years, then I’ve totally missed it. It’s certainly grown, but so has every other kind of activism. I wouldn’t deny a general rise in radicalism and environmentalism, but to point a finger toward “radical environmentalists” sounds more like the paranoid delusions of Stephen Harper than any objective assessment of the state of activism in Canada.

If anything, truly radical ecological theories have lost ground in the past few years. From the mid-eighties until a few years ago, philosophies like Deep Ecology and green anarchism were on the cutting edge of most North American militancy. Nearly all “occupations” were blockades, aimed at stopping highways, logging, business parks or other development projects. The ALF and ELF waged a long quiet war against fur farms, ski resorts and SUV dealerships, eventually becoming America’s most wanted “terrorist groups” (without ever killing anyone!). Even the more militant side of anarchism was caught up, the best example of this probably being the associations between John Zerzan (notorious anarcho-primitivist in Eugene) and the black bloc at the Seattle WTO protests in 1999. Since about 2010, though, the pendulum had swung back toward social, labour and urban issues (think “Greece”) and it’s now a safe bet any black-clad rioter you can keep up with is far more likely to explain their broken windows with a cryptic quote from Bonanno than Zerzan.

What has seen a real and dramatic upsurge is moderate environmentalism. That’s exactly what one might expect given the direction our government’s taken. Groups like 350.org and Greenpeace have been staging an enormous number of entirely peaceful protests. At their height, thousands lined up for days to be arrested outside the White House and Parliament Hill. None of these groups are calling for anything much more radical than the Green Party, and it’s generally a safe bet that they’ll inform police themselves before they attempt much civil disobedience. Targeting them for police surveillance is beyond inappropriate, and sets a very dangerous precedent.

If they can go after David Suzuki, they can go after anyone. If you like rivers or trees, you too may now be an “enemy of Canada”, because of course, Stephen Harper is Canada. This isn’t about a crucial national energy policy, this is about the oil-fuelled ambitions of our Prime Minister, coming straight from Calgary Centre, the heart of oil country’s financial district. He has sought to dismantle, demonize and criminalize an entire side of a very important national debate. Beyond his petty corrupt despotism, though, are departments full of people who know better. The RCMP and CSIS are well aware that Greenpeace poses no “threat” to our country, but they’re still more than happy to take part in this witch hunt. This has nothing to do with “crime” and everything to do with money and power. As our government moves further to the right, everybody else begins to look more “radical” in comparison. There’s no question that this points toward a truly dangerous group of “extremists, but they certainly aren’t environmentalists.

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As it prepares for the upcoming 2012 Olympic games, London is implementing harsh measures to protect the brand image of the games and their sponsors. This campaign of corporate censorship will feature an online presence, heavily monitor athletes as well as having “branding police” scour the area for unapproved logos.

These laws apply to athletes, spectators, local businesses and anyone else nearby. Sharing pictures of yourself inside the Olympic village or venues on social media has been banned. Athletes can’t mention unapproved brands in public or on social media. Local businesses will be prohibited from launching Olympics-related promotions The “branding police” themselves will sweep the area, with tasks such as scouring bathrooms for logos on toilets or towel dispensers then blacking them out. Even numbers are feeling the heat, as “2012”, “two-thousand and twelve” or “twenty-twelve”, which could land you in hot water if they’re used in the same sentence as “games”.

The point of this repression, possibly the most stringent ever seen at the Olympics, is to protect sponsors and those who’ve bought broadcast rights. There’s a paranoia of “ambush marketing” campaigns in which companies might use spectators’ tee-shirts or Facebook pages to promote their brands without permission. Since official Olympic sponsorship is so expensive (Adidas, for instance, paid 100 million pounds), the stakes here are enormous.

In theory, cities (grudgingly) agree to host the Olympics in order to share the benefits of being at the centre of the world’s largest sporting spectacle. London’s new rules seem determined to prevent anybody from getting an extra customer or Facebook “like” without paying for the privilege. To justify this, they’re threatening that any costs not covered by sponsors will have to be made up by taxpayers. Leaving London in debt for years or decades wouldn’t be unusual for the Olympics, which more often than not turn out to be financial disasters for host cities. This contribution (usually billions), apparently, doesn’t entitle anybody to any of the rights they might have enjoyed on an average day if the five-ring circus had never arrived.

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

We do not have freedom of speech in Ontario. Late last week, police arrested Alex Hundert. His crime – violation of bail conditions for speaking on a panel discussion at Ryerson University. He’d already been warned once – last time for speaking to press outlets like the CBC and Toronto Sun.

This is the second time, recently, that an activist has been arrested following a speaking engagement. The last one was dragged out of a bar on James St. North, right here in Hamilton, and wasn’t out on bail. The G20 may be over, but the arrests and persecution have continued for months now.

All of this sets a horrifying precedent. Arresting people for organizing and public speaking, or based on the colour of items of clothing and subject of books in their backpacks. I’ve been an activist for a long time, and this kind of repression goes above and beyond anything I’ve seen in many years. I’m no stranger to arrests, bail conditions or undercover cops, and I know the relevant law in these matters very well. What they’re doing right now is not legal under Canadian law. And I’ve spent enough time in court to know that most of it won’t last long when it hits real judges, as happened recently when the crown attempted to appeal the granting of bail to Hundert and his partner, Leah. Almost everything to this point has been done by “Justices of the Peace”, who have most of the powers of a Justice/Judge under Canadian law, but do not actually need to have any legal training at all – it’s a patronage appointment for people with friends in government.

An injury to one is an injury to all. This isn’t just some feel-good hippy platitude – it’s how state terrorism works.. Every act of violence and repression sends out a threat to anyone who might consider the same. The more people fear police “snatch squads” and infiltrators, the less people will be brave enough to actually participate in political actions. By targeting speakers and facilitators of meetings (the bulk of the “conspiracy” charges), they make it very dangerous to take anything but a very passive role. It isn’t about targeting people logically or rationally – it’s about doing it with a kind of randomness that means anybody, anywhere, who might look like an activist is in danger.

This isn’t about throwing rocks or burning police cars. They are targeting people for the very kinds of community activism they accuse us of rejecting, because it scares the hell out of them. That’s why those arrested, raided or harassed included so many Freeskool organizers and academics, and why police in Hamilton keep going after our Bookfairs and Folk shows at Mexican restaurants. Those of us who’ve been hardened by years of this bullshit won’t be intimidated or scared off, but that’s not the point. It’s to attack the vibrancy and freedom of the anarchist scene – the singing, dancing and free discussion, so that we seem more “militant” to the public.

As enraging as all of this is, it points directly to what they’re most afraid of. They can deal with rioters, but what to do about anti-government agitators teaching free Spanish courses? Selling books? Playing fiddles? No matter how hard they try, riot tactics don’t work against this kind of activism. For every innocent person they arrested and accosted, there are now several people who were never radical before, who are mad as hell. By engaging communities directly we undercut the control they hold over the media and education systems, and people get to see directly, for themselves, what we’re all about.

And that’s exactly why freedom of speech is so dangerous.

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