Posts tagged "smash the state that smashes you"

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

(originally posted on PoliticsRespun.org)

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.

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 one hundred protestors 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 protestors 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 protestors 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 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.

iranians: “no more pinochets”

#iranelection

If you’re on Twitter (I admit it, I have an account), or on Facebook, or if you’ve watched anything approaching television news in the past few days, you’ll likely have noted that there’s something going down in Iran — especially if you’re on Twitter, where the tag #iranelection has been a trending topic for the past week.

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According to the internets, millions of people have been on the streets in Tehran and around Iran recently protesting — at first, they were protesting what they felt was an unfair and rigged election, where the results of an election in which over 40 million people voted were announced two hours after polls closed — and now they are protesting what appears to be, prima facie, extreme violence and repression on the part of a state and a ‘supreme leader‘ who has demanded that all those in the streets return home and accept the results without complaint.

While I will wholeheartedly and emphatically note that I am not an Iran expert, I will comment on the developments as I have observed them, through the media, through online sources, and through discussing the situation with members of the Iranian community at school.  There’s something big happening, and I think that we all need to pay some serious attention.

One thing that particularly strikes me is the power of the people in the streets.  The protests have been described as “amorphous and leaderless,” with some commentators using this as their indicator of an inevitable doom.  Despite these dire predictions, the protests have not waned.  Despite the orders of the Supreme Leader to accept the election results and stop protesting, millions are in the streets.  Despite the blood on the pavement, they are on the street.

Those in Iran, and many thousands and millions around the world, are watching the developments through updates from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.  While it took some time for the mass media to catch up, they have — and while CNN is continuously waving the fax it received from the Iranian Ministry of Culture prohibiting it from broadcasting from the country — the whole world is watching the protests and the violent repression from the Iranian state.

The people in the streets are chanting as they protest.  At first, it was “where is my vote?” Now it is “No more Pinochets.”  At night it is “Allah-o-akbar” (god is great), shouted from the rooftops.  See a haunting video of this here.  As the Iranians chant and protest, there are plainclothes state militia in the street — the basij — literally hunting them down.  One particularly terrifying video is apparently that of the death of a girl named “Neda” who died in the streets of Tehran after being shot by riot police.  A not-safe-for-work and graphic video is online.

(Parenthetically, in this context, there’s no wonder why anarchists cry “smash the state,” especially the one that’s smashing you.)

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