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https://i0.wp.com/media.guelphmercury.com/images/53/e4/b92d8f3e4938947de7ee30d06494.jpgToday marks a day of celebration for anarchist in Ontario, one of the last and longest-held prisoners from the G20 summit, Amanda (Mandy) Hiscocks, was finally released. She served 11 months at Vanier, one of 20 charged with “conspiracy” for organizing protests against Toronto’s G20 meetings in 2010, one of the longest sentences awarded in the now-notorious trial. This leaves Alex Hundert and Kelly Pflug-Back inside, along with almost forty thousand others across the
country.

During her time inside, Mandy managed to author one of Ontario’s most popular radical blogs, Bored But Not Broken, chronicling her incarceration. This wasn’t easy, having to get posts out by mail or over the phone and rely on friends to post them online. Soon enough, though, her writings were being reposted across many newsfeeds, and her voice started resounding far beyond the walls and bars. I encourage everyone to read back through them, as they provide some amazing insights into her plight, and the even uglier situations facing those she met inside (also, Alex and Kelly’s blogs). She also recently filed a Human Rights complaint against the Vanier jail over their arbitrary and unchallengable decisions which divide prisoners between “medium” and “maximum” security.

Bored But Not Broken – Mandy’s Blog
Kelly Rose Pflug-Back – Kelly’s Blog
Narrative Resistance – Alex Hundert Writing from Jail

The G20 represented a number of important milestones for political policing in Ontario. Aside from their billion-dollar-budget, police utilized mass-arrests, house raids, years of undercover investigations and pursued organizers with an unfamiliar zeal. In stark contrast to most of the actions I’ve been apart of before, the infiltrators weren’t universally older-larger-white-men with horrible moustaches, and went as far as living with people who’d later become defendants.

http://denverabc.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/occupyvanier2012scowl-300x300.jpg?w=468Some of these tactics, like “kettling” and conspiracy charges have since become very common, used against movements like “Occupy”. Others haven’t, like the specific targeting of some of the brightest and most articulate anarchist organizers. One need only look at the “Cleveland Bridge Five” to see what kind of anarchists they now prefer for their show-trials. Why the shift? These charges accomplished two things. They put some of the province’s best anarchist organizers in the middle of some of it’s largest prisons. That, in turn, made anti-police and anti-prison activism into a leading priority of un-incarcerated anarchists across Southern Ontario. Mandy was a prime example here, bringing all the wrong kinds of attention to the prison system with her well-syndicated blog. I doubt they’ll be sad to see her go.

Unlike most of those accused or jailed, I never met Mandy, and I still curse myself for never getting around to writing to her. Though I know her only through her writings and the friends we have in common, I’ll be having one in her honour tonight. This concludes another ugly chapter in a saga which has now plagued activists across our province for at least four years now. Looking back, for all the suffering I saw, I take solace in the fact that these strategies of repression ultimately failed. The G20 protests, like all great anarchist actions, may have been a tactical disaster, but strategically they were something of a success. The mass-arrest of over a thousand protesters started a national discussion about police brutality. Chief Bill Blair’s reputation lies in tatters. And if nothing else, it’s safe to say that Toronto won’t ever host another G20 summit.

Ever.

Last night around 300 of us marched through the streets of Toronto, from George Brown over to Ryerson banging pots and pans. About 40 of us made the trip from Hamilton in a chartered bus, something that’s becoming quite a trend of late. Both Hamilton and Toronto are holding further “Casseroles” tonight. See ya tonight, 8pm in Gore Park, for my new favourite kind of ‘pot march’.

These marches started out as a statement of solidarity with striking students in Quebec and against the draconian anti-protest legislation they’re now facing. As the mobilization starts taking hold, it’s starting to become to become about much more than that. Ontario students pay some of the highest tuition fees in Canada, where 5% yearly increases are becoming the norm. Far too many are leaving school with few job prospects and enormous debts, much like young people who’ve been taking to the streets around the world. Student organizers with the Canadian Federation of Students and others are starting to return from Quebec where they’ve seen first-hand what’s possible. Plans are afoot for a serious organizing drive next fall, with a possible strike vote coming as early as next winter. Whether that’s possible in the dramatically different political culture of Aglophone Canada remains to be seen, but the fact that people are attempting it shows how quickly an action like the Quebec strike can spread to neighbours. Resistance is contagious, and that’s always one of the best reasons to take to the streets.

In the wake of the release of the OPIRD’s recent report on the G20 summit in Toronto, condemning police for their actions, “around five” ranking officers and 28 front-line cops are being charged with “misconduct” relating to “unlawful arrest”, “excessive force” and other violations of the Ontario Police Act. After almost two years of trials, videos, complaints and denials, the Police are finally acknowledging that they did something wrong. Though these charges are likely to be more spectacle than substance, the symbolic victory here is quite satisfying.

The G20 security effort spent a billion dollars and mass-arrested over a thousand people to protect a meeting of world-leaders. In so many ways, what went on that weekend foreshadowed the last two years of austerity and uprisings, but at the time it seemed beyond shocking. Despite a thoroughly militarised police presence which occupied most of Toronto’s downtown, stopping, searching and arresting anybody they chose, a small contingent of black bloc rioters still managed to break a bunch of windows and two police cruisers were set alight with barely any interference from police. Since then, we’ve seen the scale of this destruction dwarfed by everything up to and including Vancouver’s hockey riots, yet almost never with anywhere near this number of arrests.

Those arrested included peaceful protesters in the “designated protest area”, bystanders and pretty much anybody downtown at the time, as well as a host of “organizers” swept up in targeted arrests for “conspiracy” before and in the weeks after the summit. Many I knew awoke to police raids before dawn the day protests began, and others I know were picked up in the weeks afterward (yes, even in Hamilton). Their trials revealed years of extensive surveillance and infiltration directed at anarchists in a number of Southern Ontario cities. The files they gathered were massive, covering all kinds of actions across the province. Though I had no involvement in the G20 protests (at least until “jail support” became a priority), I’d met at least one of the under-covers and was noted in court disclosures for attending an environmental action over a year before. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve seen him in Hamilton, too.

This crackdown imposed an atmosphere of terror and paranoia on activists all over the province. It’s hard to be open and to engage the community when any new person could be an undercover cop. It’s even harder to organize (or even relax) when anything you say could end up played back before a courtroom. “Incriminating phrases” included “kill whitey” and “Molotov cupcakes” (for a bake sale), recorded during meetings, car rides and long nights of drinking. This is exactly why infiltration tactics are used – beyond any useful data brought back, they make it very hard for people to trust each other in any kind of protest.

If this crackdown was meant to crush dissent, though, it failed. Utterly. In the years since we’ve seen a global reawakening of protest movements like little the globe has ever seen. As anarchist communities became consumed with (still ongoing) legal support work, we began to turn our attention to police and prisons. This, it turns out, was a very popular move, and it’s been a part of an enormous backlash against police brutality in the years since (with many marches held in Hamilton and elsewhere). Even in North America, massive protests are now becoming routine, with massive arrest tolls coming in almost daily from Quebec and elsewhere (over a hundred Wednesday, BTW). As for the anarchist movement, we probably haven’t seen this much attention or support in a century.

In other G20 news, Byron Sonne has been cleared of all charges! Sonne, a hacker and amateur rocketeer was locked up for 11 months on trumped-up charges which portrayed him as a terrorist and cost him his marriage. Also, keep an eye out for “Who’s Streets?“, a recently released anthology of academic works relating to the G20, such as Shailagh Keaney’s excellent (and horrifying) work on the way police targeted women during the protests.

The response now coming from the OPIRD is too little, too late, but at least it’s something. These processes move at a glacial pace, ensuring that they won’t interfere with post-summit demonization of protesters. Yet, with all that’s going on right now, it couldn’t be coming at a better time. This weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago and Charest’s new attempts to outlaw the student strike in Quebec are both likely to fill our papers with further “chaos” in the streets. The lessons of the G20 need to be learned – the “Miami Model” of militarized protest policing does not work – it only encourages rioters and brutalizes countess others. We need to take a hard line on police brutality before it takes a hard line on us.

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

In a stunning new investigation, the Toronto Star has made a number of extremely troubling and all-too-familiar allegations regarding police in Ontario. Looking into the affairs of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Star has found that, not surprisingly, police in this province exist above the law.

In twenty years and 3400 investigations three officers have gone to jail. That’s a pretty sad number, even among the police. The star has turned up plenty of evidence of obstructing SIU investigations (as a general rule, promoted by their union) and judges refusing to sentence those found guilty. Despite this, questionable incidents, including shootings, beatings and traffic deaths which simply go without punishment on a very regular basis.

There’s a blatant contradiction and double standard here, and it’s not hard to understand. When we commit crimes, cops are justified in doing anything (even breaking the law) to punish us. When cops break the law, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Hypocritical? Yes, but it makes sense in the twisted logic of power. Since police (as armed enforcers of the state’s will) are higher up “the ladder” than us, they are more “people” than we are. They are entitled to special character considerations, sympathy and doubts that we just aren’t. Moreover, as enforcers of the state’s will, they take part in one of the deadliest components. While we don’t officially have “the death penalty” in Canada, the option to use deadly force on those “resisting” means that you could die for nearly any crime. because crimes like “obstructing justice” or “resisting arrest” or “contempt of court” exist, you can be charged, beaten or shot at even if you’re found completely innocent. And as anyone who’s familiar with assault-cop charges knows – they tend to come along with assaults BY cops much more often than assaults ON them.

If police are really so noble, why are they so afraid of being investigated?

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.

This might my favourite article ever from the Toronto Sun. It certainly ain’t known for breaking stories, but this one is just…golden. The mainstream press directly cites insider police sources stating that cops were told to “stand down” during the G20 protests in Toronto, while the Black Bloc smashed up Queen Street and trashed a few cop cars.

“The officer said that eventually there was “a clear order from the command centre saying ‘Do not engage’ ” and, at that point, smelling weakness and no repercussions, the downtown was effectively turned over to the vandals while police, up to 19,000 strong, were ordered to stay out of it.”

Of course we all know what happened next. Over a thousand virtually random arrests, massive human rights violations, and an almost unbelievable number of clear violations of Canadian law. There are still people in jail on trumped-up “conspiracy” charges – why is nobody investigating the police? Who will police the police?

At the time of this posting, the top comment is from a restaurant worker who was arrested, beaten and witnessed some ugly stuff. He concludes with “I will protect myself from police from now on even if it means prison or death. I am not alone.” I don’t know that I’d ever have the stones to post something like that online – I know people being accused of bomb-making for baking cupcakes.

This kind of repression does not work. It only enrages people. If the bloody and violent history of our species shows one thing, it’s that people eventually compensate for fear with anger and aggression. 19000 cops can easily handle some anarchist rioters – admittedly, most of us ain’t that big. There’s a few million more people in Toronto, though, and many of ’em are a lot bigger, and a lot tougher (look at the Stanley Cup Riots). They gave these cops a billion dollars to stop rioters, and not to go overboard on everyone else. Not arresting people at random with make-believe charges is a basic request of police – they’re trained for it. And now that the summit’s over, they have to walk the streets without a Roman Legion backing them up. How will they, personally, be able to make this up to everyone who trusted them?

More News updates:

The Federal Conservatives are fillibustering to prevent the the opposition (a majority in parliament) from launching an inquiry into policing during the summit, and their role in particular. Link.

A Globe and Mail Timeline of the Make-believe “five metre rule”.

Provincial liberals backpedal, claim they gave the police no extra powers, and are condemned by the conservatives.

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