Posts in "activism"

Jasmine Revolutions, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Francis Fukuyama’s still wrong

Francis Fukuyama argued that the “end of history” was the emergence of liberal democracy – and, of course, capitalism – as the predominant ideological force in the world. According to Fukuyama, the shift to liberalism was inevitable – it was just, quite simply, better than anything else. When he wrote this, in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, democracy was breaking out across the world, and it was indeed ‘liberal’ in many cases.

Some commentators have suggested that the recent uprisings across the Middle East are the ‘proof’ of Fukuyama’s argument that has been, for so long, elusive. This is a suggestion that the popular, people’s movements for democracy show that liberal democracy is still the ultimate stage in human political development, with its focus on the individual and its attendant trappings of capitalism.

With that in mind, I find it absolutely fascinating to read and to hear “market concerns,” or “business worries,” reflected in stock market trading and commodity prices, that these popular uprisings might spread across the region. The markets are afraid that this democratic uprising might spread.

If Fukuyama was right, and if liberal democracy and capitalism is the ultimate stage in human development, that elusive ‘end of history,’ then shouldnt the markets be embracing these uprisings and revolutions?

They’re not, though. For a good reason. The popular uprisings in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya, and nascent ones in China and Yemen and in so many other places are taking s different form. These uprisings are based on communities of action, they are leaderless, they feature collective action and mutual aid as ways that they operate. They’re not calling for democracy and the right to freely trade their stock options and derivatives, they’re calling for democracy and human rights.

These popular uprisings show that Fukuyama’s thesis is far from being confirmed – indeed, it’s again being shown to be just as preposterous as it always has been. Liberalism isn’t the end of history. Any number of these regimes that have fallen or will soon fit perfectly well into the liberal mode. The people are demanding something else – something beyond Fukuyama’s “end of history.”

They are demanding – actually, they are going beyond the demand and they are actively creating – their capacity to collectively decide their own futures. Something that liberal democracy and capitalism deny them.

And the markets and the stock traders and the businessmen know this. Which is why they are afraid of these uprisings spreading. Which is why Fukuyama is still wrong. And why the people in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya and Yemen and China and Wisconsin are right.

A letter to the Simon Fraser Student Society regarding the Goldcorp donation to SFU

Dear members of the Board of Directors of the Simon Fraser Student Society,

Hi! Greetings from Tropical Toronto. Long time no talk. As many of you are likely aware, my name is Kevin Harding and I am an alumnus of Simon Fraser University (BA Hons. Political Science and Labour Studies ’10), and someone who looks back very warmly on my time as an active member of the Simon Fraser Student Society, and even warmly-er on my time working for and with the organisation as both an active member of student unions at the university and as a staff person at the SFSS.

I’m writing to you today about the recent Goldcorp donation to the university, and the coalition that I’ve heard (and observed, long distance) is in formation in opposition to this particular ‘gift’ of ten million dollars. In particular, I’m writing to you to take a stand in this matter – while it is an absolute shame that SFU is so cash-strapped that it needs to seek out private funding in this way, it’s an absolute outrage that the university takes funds (and names buildings!) from a corporation that is allegedly* engaging in practices that destroy environments and violate workers’ and human rights.

In particular, I’d like you, as members of the Board, to consider one thing that particularly bothers me: students in the SFU contemporary arts program have absolutely no choice as to where they engage in their learning, it’s at the Goldcorp Center for the Arts. Goldcorp donated ten million dollars to the university to name that building and ‘support’ its programming. While it’s impossible to say, dollar-for-dollar, where that money came from, there’s a very good chance that some or all of it came from the mining operations in Guatemala — in effect, the money that Goldcorp donated to the university may well have come into the hands of SFU could easily be the result of horrendous and exploitative practices in Guatemala and other locations. Because that money is paying for the name and operations of the fine arts centre downtown, the students who take fine arts courses — and by extension ALL SFU students, SFSS members, and members of the university community — are indirectly and involuntarily benefitting from the exploitation and horrendous practices that Goldcorp is (allegedly*) engaged in.

When the situation isn’t gold but diamonds, we call the product blood diamonds and ban them. It seems that there isn’t a recognized equivalent of blood gold or blood donations, but perhaps there should be.

Now, while any number of fine arts and general SFU students may well be rather strongly opposed to the practices of Goldcorp, because the university accepted the funding and renamed the building, everything’s tainted. It sounds polemical, but it’s kind of the case — consider it a giant ethical picket line that students MUST cross, each and every day that they enter the Goldcorp Center for the Arts to do some contemporary dance, choreography, filmwork, or any of the other amazing things that they do down there.

I spoke to Andrew Petter when he was in Toronto, meeting alumni. Presidents of universities, as they eye alumni wallets, like to say that alumni have a responsibility to help the university develop and grow. I told him that this wasn’t the way to do this. He asked me if SFU should then just stop accepting donations, and told me that it wasn’t possible to start sorting out the ‘bad’ corporations from the ‘good.’ While I like Andrew, and was on the committee that hired him, I don’t think this is an acceptable answer and I told him so.

But I’m just one alumnus. And the Simon Fraser Student Society represents over twenty thousand current students of SFU. Your voice is louder than mine. And you’re in Burnaby.

I would encourage the Simon Fraser Student Society to join the coalition of students and other concerned community groups that is opposing the Goldcorp donation.

There’s any number of reasons why. The transformation of culture into capital that can then be capitalized upon. The privatization of the university piece by piece. Expanded reproduction, accumulation by dispossession. The ‘cleansing’ of Goldcorp’s dirty reputation by funding the arts — and the consequent ‘tarring’ of the arts at Simon Fraser. The, in my mind, unconscionable consequences of indirectly and involuntarily benefitting from Goldcorp’s (allegedly*) exploitative and harmful practices as a student of Simon Fraser University.

The university will ask you what you think they should do. Should they just give the money back? Should they just stop accepting donations? To respond to the first question, I think that they should certainly think about it, or perhaps SFU could be generous and fund some projects in Guatemala, perhaps to the tune of $10 million. To answer the second, well, the university quite likely can’t just stop taking donations — we’d likely do as well if we decided to stop breathing.

However – and this is a big however – the university MUST develop a policy that will outline the ethical commitments of the university community when it comes to donations, publish this policy, and then evaluate every offered donation against these ethical commitments. Combine this policy with the proposed ethical procurement policy. If SFU is committed to changing is purchasing towards buying only ethically produced and fairly traded supplies and products, then why can’t it stick to the same ethics when it comes to accepting corporate cash?

There are any number of ethical investment funds in the world — Vancity has some, and other credit unions do to. Find out their policies and how they determine whether or not a company is ‘ethical’ and apply the same, or better, guidelines to donations to the university.

SFU, as a university that is forever thinking of the world (but perhaps not doing anything about it) needs to step up to the plate and do something about that world of which it is thinking.

And the SFSS and the SFU administration need to work together to make the provincial government fund the university in a sustainable way in order to ensure that the university doesn’t have to limp along, seeking out and accepting corporate cash.

I will suggest to you that a majority of students at SFU would not support the practices that Goldcorp (allegedly*) engages in. And meekly sitting by and not pointing out the contradictions between SFU’s claims that it thinks of the world and its actions makes the students indirectly and involuntarily complicit.

I would strongly suggest that the SFSS take a stand and support the coalition opposed to the Goldcorp donation. It’s the ethical — and right — thing to do.

I am happy to help in whatever way I may be able to from Toronto, with advise or so forth.

Thank you for your time,

kevin harding
ma candidate • political science
york university • toronto, canada
SFSS Member 2005 – 2010
SFSS Forum Member 2006-7
Chairperson of the Labour Studies Student Union 2007-8
SFSS Student Employee 2006-2009
SFSS General Office Coordinator 2009-2010

* – allegedly is the term you use when the allegations haven’t been proven in a court of law, to cover your ass.

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

(originally posted on

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.

The Oakes test is generally stated as follows: any restrictions to Charter Rights must be prescribed in law in order to realize a “pressing and substantial objective,” the restriction must have a “rational connection” to that objective, there must be a “minimal impairment” of rights in order to accomplish the objective, and there must be “proportionality” between the effects of the restriction and the objective that the restriction is intending to achieve.

Working through this not in a straight line, it is obvious that Alex’s (and others) rights are being infringed.  He’s not allowed to attend public meetings or express views on political issues.  There’s the infringement right there, plain as day.

The infringement is indeed prescribed in law – the Criminal Code of Canada allows for “interim release” before trial (bail) to be granted, with effectively any restrictions imposed by a justice on the recommendation of a Crown prosecutor, provided that they are ‘reasonable.’

However, in order to think about whether or not the restrictions in Alex’s case have a rational connection to an objective, a minimal impairment of rights, and whether or not there is any proportionality, we need to first tease out the objective.  What is it that the Crown and government are trying to do, in order to impose these restrictions?

The answer is effectively provided by the law – bail restrictions and conditions can be imposed in order to maintain public order and prevent crimes from being committed.  Seems simple.  But it’s not.

How is Alex speaking or expressing political views committing a crime? This isn’t a crime.  In fact, it’s a protected activity under the Charter.  So it’s an infringement.  And it’s not a pressing or substantial objective, unless Alex was inciting violence with his public opinions, which he wasn’t (and he’d be charged with something other than conspiracy if he was).  And since there isn’t really a pressing or substantial objective to be achieved, invoking this part of the legislation to restrict Alex’s freedoms through bail would fail the Oakes test.  No need to think about proportionality or the other bits.

However, the Crown could argue that ‘public order’ was threatened, and the Criminal Code allows the justice impose conditions if s/he finds them “desirable” in this case.  So let’s walk through the test again: is the infringement prescribed by law? Yes, the Criminal Code.  Is there an objective? Yes: protect ‘public order’ by preventing Alex from expressing opinions or attending public meetings.  Rational connection to the objective? If the objective is to maintain public order by preventing Alex from speaking, yes, this is a rational connection.  Minimal impairment of rights and proportionality? These are connected to the objective: if Alex’s opinions threaten public order, then his expressing those opinions must be prevented, and arguably, this is as minimal an impairment as one can get.  Proportionality? Arguable.  But it seems to have been argued and accepted.

What’s really terrifying here is the concept that the Crown could – and seems to have – argue that allowing Alex Hundert to express his political opinion threatens the public order or safety.

When opinions are so dangerous they threaten public order [read: ‘hegemony’]

Now, I come to this conclusion through some entirely untrained legal analysis.  Any second-year law student might be able to poke holes in my analysis above.

But here’s the deal: there is really only one way – with two sides – that the restrictions being imposed on Alex and others can be justified under the Canadian constitution and legal framework.  And it’s this: Alex Hundert, and his opinions and actions, threaten the “public order.”  The two sides are at odds: either this threat exists because Alex is out inciting violence daily and would do so again if released, or that Alex’s opinions, which are shared by so many, are so dangerous to “public order” that they can’t be shared.

The Crown prosecutors have argued the first side, that Alex and other activists are thugs that are just out for ‘smashy smashy’ and destroying everything in sight.  But that’s not the case – and the prosecutors know it.  What’s more dangerous to the public order – and by this I mean capitalism, neoliberalism, colonialism, and so forth – is the opinions and views that Alex and so many others hold.

These opinions and views are dangerous to the hegemony in which we find ourselves.  These opinions and views threaten the happy complacency of capitalism.  This is why Alex isn’t allowed to publicly, or even loudly, have political views.

The danger, of course, is that if they were widely spread, that if people heard what we – Alex and so many others – know and feel and see every day, then maybe we’d change something.

And that’s a threat to public order.

And that’s why Alex was pre-emptively arrested in a pre-dawn raid before the protests happened.  Before any streets were closed.  Before any windows were broken.

And that’s why the government wants to silence him.

And so many others.

And you.

Rights aren’t things ‘granted’ by ‘governments’

An important thing to remember here is that rights aren’t things that government deign to grant to us.  The rights that are enumerated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms aren’t things that Trudeau and Levesque and other politicians thought up and put on paper and had ol’ Liz II sign off on in Ottawa on Parliament Hill.

Our ‘right’ to have an opinion, to associate with the people we choose and love, is a condition, a facet, of our humanity.  Deny our ability to think, and you deny our humanity.  Deny our ability to dream of a better world, and you deny our ability to dream.

Rights aren’t things handed down from our political masters on high.  They’re truths and realities that we have to fight for.  They’re truths and realities that Alex fought for, and dared to share – and now he’s not allowed to share these views. These opinions.

These truths and realities.

It’s not any actions that Alex and others could take that threaten the “public order.”

It’s our thoughts.  And our views.  And our opinions.

A better world is needed.  We need to dream of it, we need to build it, we need to work for it.

And we can’t let them silence us.

Support the G20 arrestees, support freedom, support each other

By now, many of the readers of this website will have read about the ongoing legal battles faced by any number of activists involved in the G20 protests in Toronto.  Community organizers who had planned marches and protests in Toronto to resist the ongoing neoliberal agenda pushed by the G20, along with the governmental calls for ‘austerity’ measures, were preemptively arrested and charged with conspiracy charges.  Arrests, which often involve plainclothes Toronto Police Service officers grabbing people off of the streets and throwing them into unmarked vans, reminiscent of the ‘disappearances’ in military dictatorship era Argentina and Chile, are ongoing.

Legal restrictions on organising or even communicating are one facet of a broader campaign to quell dissent, chill organising, and silence people who think outside of the bounds proscribed for them by capitalism, neoliberalism, and the dominant order.

If you’re concerned about this, like I am, I encourage you to support the G20 arrestees  – financially, if you can, because defending against ridiculous and eventually-to-be-proven-as-illegal charges is incredibly expensive – or in person. On the street. However you can.

Visit the Community Solidarity Network’s website to learn how to donate online. And speak up.