Red Sparks Union in Vancouver launches campaign to scrap Canada’s so-called “terrorist list”
by Aiyanas Ormond and Tom Warren
“The use of words like ‘savage’, ‘brutal’, ‘dangerous’, ‘subversive’ and ‘terrorist is nothing new. It’s always been done by those in power against those who do not have power,” said Charlotte Kates, kicking off a forum on Canada’s terrorist list in Vancouver on November 15, 2013.
“And they’ve always used mechanisms of media and the state to popularise those terminologies in order to glorify settler and imperial violence, while demonizing popular violence in the name of resistance, defense of rights and resisting occupation, oppression, colonization and injustice. The fact of violence itself is not what is being interrogated when people talk about ‘terrorism.’ It’s not a question of violence and it’s not a question of public safety. If it were a question of violence we’d be looking at the actions of the RCMP, we’d be looking at actions of the Canadian Armed Forces, we’d be looking at the actions of the US Army around the world, we’d be looking at drone strikes, we’d be looking at F-16s dropping bombs on Gaza. But we’re not looking at those things. Instead there’s creation of moral panic, the negation and labelling of resistance, of guerrilla struggle, of popular liberation movements, of people claiming the right to resist, as immoral, beyond the pale and unacceptable.”
Following up on back-to-back forums in Surrey and Vancouver, B.C. last November, the Red Sparks Union has now launched a public campaign calling for the scrapping of Canada’s terrorist list altogether.
“While this list is framed as being about protecting Canadians from terrorism, many of the listed groups have never engaged in actions that target Canada or Canadians,” said Red Sparks Union spokesperson Martha Roberts. “These are legitimate national liberation and anti-colonial resistance movements that challenge the interests of Canadian corporations and Canada’s right wing foreign policy objectives by defending the interests of the poor and oppressed in their countries. They are listed in order to undermine their international legitimacy and support, and to give cover to the repressive actions of Canada’s allies.”
Roberts acknowledges that some of the groups listed are indeed indefensible, but she argues, “One of the functions of the list is to create a false equivalency between groups fighting for national liberation and groups who use violence to oppress women and national minorities or pursue other right-wing agendas. But it’s really the revolutionary groups that are the target. For example, in Colombia, where Canadian mining and oil companies have major investments, both leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries are listed. But in practice the right-wing paramilitaries are really just the extra-legal arm of the Colombian state, which Canada supports both diplomatically and economically. Or, take the fact that every single organization of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and colonization is on the list, while Israel is offered unconditional support.”
While Stephen Harper spent some time this past January in Israel declaring eternal support for Israel, Red Sparks Union is instead advocating for an end to the so-called terrorist list that criminalizes and isolates virtually all of the Palestinian factions.
Within Canada’s borders, Indigenous groups have not been added to the list, but nonetheless face similar labeling and have been targeted under other provisions of the ‘anti-terror’ legislation.
According to Kerry Coast, author of the recently published book The Colonial Present, terrorist labeling of Indigenous people is nothing new. Speaking at the forum on November 15, 2013, she recalled how terrorist labeling was used to justify the massive RCMP paramilitary operation targeting Indigenous Sundancers in the ‘Gufstafsen Lake Standoff’ in 1995:
“They called them terrorists. ‘Militants.Thugs. Rebels. Insurgents. Rebellion. Terrorists!’ One of the headlines [during the 1995 standoff] was ‘ [Attorney General] gives greenlight to shoot to kill terrorists’. So no longer were these people Sundancers, conducting a sacred ceremony. No longer were they Secwepemc sovereigntists with a very legitimate, some would say true, legal argument. They can’t respond to the legal argument. They can’t create amnesty or shelter or refuge for the people having a sacred ceremony. No, they try to kill them! So the use of the word ‘terrorist’ is incredibly important in that formula because the cops needed to convince the public that the only solution was to kill these people.”
Members of the West Coast Warriors Society, a militant Indigenous sovereignty organization were the first people targeted under the post-911 terrorist legislation in Canada. More recently the terrorist tag is being applied to Indigenous land-defenders resisting oil and gas development.
Hereditary Chief Toghestiy, part of the Unis’tot’en Camp resisting pipeline development on their lands in B.C., also spoke at the event. He turned the tables on the terrorist labelling:
“Keep in mind there are indigenous people here who’re struggling, there’s a whole history of terror that we’ve experienced. A lot of indigenous people who’re still experiencing that terror, don’t know how to deal with it, they’re sitting there going ‘Damn it, I want to stand up but this is going to happen to me, you know, my children, what am I going to do. I’ll end up in jail or they’ll end up in the welfare, in the Ministry’s care.’ You know, these threats are there. These threats and the real results of those threats are terrorizing our people today. The terrorists are out there and we need to defeat them as grassroots people. And we’re not going to do it by ourselves. We need people like you and all of your friends to come and join us.”
RSU spokesperson Roberts acknowledged that shifting the parameters of the debate is going to be difficult after more than a decade of the war on terror and given the strong interest of Canadian corporations (especially in mining, oil and gas) in suppressing groups that assert a popular and collective right to their national territory and resources, whether inside or outside Canadian borders. But she views this as a critical and timely task for the left:
“As a left we have an important history of internationalism and solidarity. Movements in solidarity with Spanish resistance to fascism (see BASICS article from March 2008, “Mackenzie-Papineau Brigades of the 1930s: Yesterday’s Heroes Would be Today’s ‘Terrorists’), with the Chinese revolution, against the Vietnam war, against intervention and counter-revolution in Latin America and in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle have at various times been at the core of what it means to be progressive, or ‘left’. We need to reclaim this terrain of struggle. If we can’t as a ‘left’ defend the right of oppressed and colonized people – including Indigenous people resisting the genocidal colonial policy of the Canadian State – to wage struggles for national and social liberation by whatever means they decide is necessary, then what are we standing for?”
For a full series of videos of speakers from the November 2013 forums in Vancouver and Surrey, visit the Red Sparks Union Youtube Channel here