by Steve da Silva
One of Toronto’s inner suburbs has become a focal point in the ongoing struggle in Venezuela between the Bolivarian transition to socialism and the fascist resistance that has been developing over the last month.
With its face to the bustling city moving past it on Dufferin, just a little south of Lawrence, the quaint little church of San Lorenzo appears as a modest sight to unwitting passersby. But the small church, and its Latin American Community Centre to the rear, are more than simple sites of worship.
Since its establishment in 1997, the San Lorenzo parish has become a beacon for many in the Latin American community who have fled fascist dictatorships and military juntas over the decades from places like Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala. But its message and ministry amount to more than a salve for the restless migrant soul, more than a home away from home. In the words of the Church’s patron saint, San Lorenzo: “The poor are the treasures of the church.”
That this church actually treasures the poor (as opposed to seeing the poor as a source of its treasures) can be seen in the day-to-day activities that drive the vibrant community organization that has built up around San Lorenzo. Its community centre is home to Radio Voces Latinas 1660 AM, Canada’s only 24-hour Latin American radio station and a key alternative to commercial news, views, and music that dominate the spectrum.
San Lorenzo is also the organizer of the annual “Inti Raymi – Festival of the Sun,” which draws thousands into Christie Pits under the summer sun to to mark the celebration of the summer solstice in the tradition of the Andean region’s Indigenous peoples. The festival routinely raises thousands of dollars for the church’s solidarity missions and charity drives.
Among those programs include fundraising drives for disaster relief in Haiti, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela; as well as the community centre’s “Caravan of Hope,” which drives decommissioned ambulances and wheel-trans buses to El Salvador annually.
However, over the years, San Lorenzo and its priest Hernan Astudillo, have courted more controversy than one may think such acts of humanitarianism would invite. When charity becomes solidarity — when one proceeds from charitable handouts to morally and materially supporting struggles to emancipate people from their class oppression — some hearts simply stop bleeding for the poor.
As the old proverb has it, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if this man is violently dispossessed of his fishing rod? His family chased away from his lake-side community and into the urban slums? What if the rivers are being poisoned by large corporations?
It is the understanding that such social inequalities are the basis for poverty and suffering that drives San Lorenzo’s and Hernan Astudillo’s theology, which is part of the liberation theology tradition in Latin America that has prioritized the poor and their emancipation and which is seen as reflecting historical Jesus’s lived practice.
This past March 9th, San Lorenzo held a mass to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — a tradition in keeping with past ceremonies held by the church for Latin America’s champions of the poor, with masses marking the deaths of various fighters for freedom, from the assassinated Che Guevera to the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was the Catholic bishop in El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 in wave of terror that targeted thousands of leftists, including many clerical elements. Romero is also a key figure in Latin America’s liberation theology tradition.
“I did the mass in honour of Hugo Chavez, who I consider with all humility, a very holy man,” priest Hernan Astudillo told BASICS. The result was predictable and sadly not unfamiliar to Astudillo and the church.
“I received a fax saying they would ‘eliminate’ me personally… basically, a death threat, they will kill me. We have received death threats over the phone. We have received two messages: One sent by email from an anti-communist organization insulting our people who work on the radio station, saying that they are going to take out our [radio] antenna.”
On March 6, the church received a letter from an organization calling itself “Contracomunistas” in which the Radio Voces Latinas was cited as a target. On March 12, the fax threatening Father Hernan’s life came in.
But the threats are nothing new for Father Hernan: “This reminds me how when 14 years ago I performed a mass for Monsignor Oscar Romero in this same church, I had also received death threat letters because I was holding a mass for a ‘communist bishop’.”
If only this was all just some verbal aggressiveness from the Latin American community’s right wing, the threats could perhaps be dismissed as posturing from disgruntled elements anxious about their oligarchic families and classes losing their grips on power back home. But a history of these threats actually materializing on the Church gives great cause for concern.
In 2006, the antenna of Radio Voces Latinas was discovered to have been shot after having experienced some unknown technical problems for a period of time.
BASICS asked Father Hernan if the threats have ever translated into bodily harm: “I’ve received death threats more than ten times and on two occasions, a group has stolen money from us during our summer festival at Christie Pits park. In September 2008, they even came to my office, hit me, and dislocated my right shoulder. They were trying to instigate me to react violently, but I refused to.”
Father Hernan drew out the irony and hypocrisy of the attacks on his church’s concern with the poor and their social struggles: “I’ve been meditating over how during this time of Lent [the season of penance and prayer leading into Easter], I might receive even more letters like this [death threats] as I prepare mass for Jesus Christ, because he was really far stronger than Monsignor Oscar Romero and many other martyrs and prophets in the world. His actions, his life, his decisions were always with the poor people.”
BASICS asked Father Hernan if he’s seen any of this opposition or resistance to the church’s pro-poor messaging and its socialist sympathies from within his own parish: “This is from outside. This parish knows what kind of theology we have. We don’t practice the theology of the conquerors. We follow the theology of the historical Jesus Christ, a man who gave his life for equal rights, a man who was fighting the Roman Empire.
“Jesus Christ was not a person who was faking his spirituality in his life. He was a wonderful human being with a pure and transparent identity, to rehumanize the world he was living in at the time in Nazareth and Galilee.”
BASICS correspondent and San Lorenzo parishioner Pablo Vivanco was also in attendance at the March 9 mass for Chávez, which brought out a single anti-Chávez protestor.
“One individual brought out a placard in the mass that stated something to the effect of honoring the ‘student martyrs’ in Venezuela,” Vivanco commented.
“Of course, the names he had on there (some of them incorrectly spelled) were of Chavistas and others killed by the violent opposition in Venezuela. One of the names this individual was hailing as a ‘martyr’ was Juan Montoya [killed in mid February], who was actually a prominent member the Tupamaros.”
The Tupamaros is a decades-old leftist guerrilla organization with a strong base in some of Caracas’ poor neighbourhoods that has been supportive but independent of the Venezuelan government.
“So it’s entirely disingenuous to claim Montoya’s death for the opposition cause, and equally dishonest to not acknowledge that the vast majority of people who have been killed in the last month are the result of the opposition and their actions,” a fact of the reality in Venezuela that is being assiduously documented by independent researchers.
“But the right wing sectors in the community unfortunately do not have this sort of tolerance,” Vivanco elaborated. “This isn’t the first time that threats have been issued against Father Hernan for his principled stances. What’s more concerning is that the violent right wing opposition in Venezuela is killing people and has also attacked media and journalists, so who knows if those allied with the opposition in Venezuela will try something like that here.”
In 2010, Father Hernan Astudillo visited Venezuela to learn about the vast expansion of popular media projects in the country and to deliver the community-generated funds to victims of landslides.
From his own experiences in the country, Father Hernan shared with BASICS his view that: “The opposition in Venezuela is fighting not because they want to help the poor people, but because they want Venezuela’s oil wealth to themselves. They are not fighting because they want to help the poor people, like President Hugo Chavez did. That finally poor people have hope is beautiful.“
The evidence of the threats against San Lorenzo and Hernan Astudillo are now in the hands of Toronto Police Services. BASICS contacted 13 Division’s Criminal Investigations Bureau on the morning of March 19, but the assigned detectives were not available at the time of publication for comment.
With the legitimacy that the Canadian government has given to the violent opposition and the blame for violence that is has misattributed to the Venezuelan government, we shall see if the threats against San Lorenzo will be treated with the same severity that such threats would be met with if they threatened a corporate leader or a Canadian politician. Updates on this investigation will be made here.
by Zainab Syed and Arsalan Samdani
“They tortured me. They punched me on the head, they slap[ped] my arms and they beat me with a stick,” said Kareem Khan to journalists after his release from detention on February 13th.
Khan, a vocal anti-drone activist from FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), was kidnapped (allegedly by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence – ISI) from his home in the outskirts of Islamabad on February 5, 2014. This was just days before he was due to testify in front of European parliamentarians to further expose the impact of the US-led drone attacks in the northwestern Pakistan. After eight days of torture in an underground cell, he was released by being thrown out of a vehicle blindfolded.
“Some armed men in police clothes and plain civil uniform came in my house after midnight and took me with them,” Khan said about the identity of his captors.
After losing his teenage son and brother to a drone strike in North Waziristan in December 2009, Khan had launched a case in Pakistani courts implicating CIA members, including the CIA’s former station chief, in their deaths. Khan’s abduction was no surprise considering his role in exposing the atrocities committed by the US-led drone operations in northwestern Pakistan, and the collusion of the Pakistani authorities in this program. His kidnapping is further evidence of the extent of this collusion and the measures that Pakistan’s authorities are willing to take to suppress any voices that break through the barriers of silence placed on the people of FATA for the last six decades.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as of 2014, millions of people have been displaced and at least 2,500 have been killed in drone strikes. Pakistan, being a ‘strategic ally’ of the US, has received more than $15.8 billion as security assistance in return for their compliance and support for US intervention in Central and South Asia.
After a renewed offensive launched in December 2013, which saw the bombardment of several neighborhoods in North Waziristan, the Pakistani government entered into negotiations with the Taliban under pressure from the people of Pakistan, allegedly to “give peace a chance.” These “talks” were unsuccessful, but many analysts have alleged that the government was not serious to begin with, and used the failure as a means to justify an alleged major offensive that would have resulted in the displacement of several thousand people, and many casualties.
The Pakistan army has entered into negotiations with the Taliban in the past, but these talks have been disrupted on numerous occasions. In June 2004, just two months after entering a peace deal with the Pakistan military, militant commander Nek Mohammad was killed in an attack for which the Pakistani military accepted responsibility, but it was later revealed that this was, in fact, the first drone strike of the region. Similarly, in November 2013, chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in another drone strike just days after he had agreed to peace negotiations. This attack coincided with a US congressional hearing of drone victims that incited much public outcry and made international headlines.
FATA is a region which is still ruled by colonial laws that were meant to subjugate the local population, deny them any representation whatsoever, and legalize collective punishment by the state. As such, the area remains largely underrepresented and underdeveloped. Any voices, such as Kareem Khan’s, that venture to speak about the plight of the people of FATA are often violently suppressed by the authorities. This lack of voice and opportunity has contributed to radicalization and support for radical groups, that were once created by the state itself. Instead of addressing the causes of this radicalization, the state is resorting to violence to further silence the people of FATA.
Pakistan’s mainstream media is complicit in this suppression as they ignore the voices of the people of FATA. In response to these circumstances, organizers in Toronto have launched the Campaign Against Drones in Pakistan (CADiP). CADiP is a pro-people, anti-intervention and anti-imperialist campaign that seeks to shift public opinion and mobilize communities to take a stand against drone strikes in Pakistan and the imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan in general.
To learn more or to get involved:
This is an interview by Camila Uribe-Rosales of BASICS with Oscar and R (who prefers to remain anonymous), two Latin American youth who migrated to Canada from El Salvador and Mexico, and their experiences in the Canadian education system.
O: I was born in El Salvador. My parents migrated here. I didn’t speak the language at all as a youngster, and I remember I was about 7 years old. You definitely feel outcasted. I remember feeling that the only people that really knew me and the only place where I felt safe was at home amongst my family. I would go to the classrooms. Kids would laugh at me.
R: The first school I went to, there was no ESL program at that school. There was one Latina. Actually she was from Spain, she wasn’t Latina, and she refused to speak to me. I remember very clearly that she said she would be considered low class if she was to speak Spanish to me.
O: There was one particular incident where there were these two girls that were speaking and they were talking about my skin colour. Something along the lines that “We shouldn’t judge him because of his skin colour, like it’s not his fault.” And I was like “Really? Like why is that even a problem?” I didn’t even know that that was an issue.
R: I remember being picked on a lot. People would come to me and sing Daddy Yankee songs, like that was cool or that I would feel at home or something, and people bullying me. It was very hostile. A lot of people tried to fight me and I didn’t really know why.
At one point, I went to Mexico to celebrate Christmas. And so when I came back, the teacher had a set-up with chunks of desks, like she had four here, four there, whatever. And when I came back, my desk was at the corner closest to the door. And everyone else’s was at the opposite corner, packed away from me. And so when I walk into the classroom the teacher says to me, “Look, we just really feel you shouldn’t be here, because you’re Mexican and we don’t want to catch swine flu. And so we wanna ask you not to come back to school.” I got completely bullied. I was harassed. People wrote this on my Facebook and made videos about it.
R: I got kicked out of the school because, well, I was in a classroom and the priest walked in and he started to ask people the commandments. And so I didn’t know them in English and so he threw a set of keys at me. And I picked them up and I walked to him and I gave them back to him in his hand. I mean, he was a priest and I was just coming from Mexico. And so he once more asks me for a commandment which I don’t know how to say. And so he throws the keys at me for the second time, and I pick up the keys and I throw them at him. And so I was like arrested [sic] by a teacher, and they took me to the office and they were just screaming at me. Like I understood what they were saying. They were saying I was stupid or I was gonna burn in hell, that Mexicans were violent, that it was all because I was Mexican. That Mexican people were horrible.
Then I arrived at Downsview which is where I completed my high school. There was a lot more Latinos at Downsview and things were a lot more enjoyable in the sense of students. I remember at one point we had a group of like 30 friends and we would help each other out. But as soon as I got there I was told by the principal that I would never be able to go to university, and that I would never achieve to graduate high school, because I would never be able to pass Grade 12 English.
And I was bashed out of many classrooms by teachers because I was called a communist, simply because I wanted to speak about things. I remember one time, this teacher wanted to give us a lot of homework for Thanksgiving. And I said to him, “No, this is a holiday.” And he started to argue to me and I said, “Look, this is not a dictatorship. You’re not an ultimate power. You are in a sense elected by somebody and if we all work as a collective and decide to walk out on you, you will be fired.” And he bashed me out of the classroom. He called me very nasty things and started to relate me to a lot of nasty characters in Latin American history. He started saying “Oh, don’t call Pablo Escobar on me,” and stupid things like that.
O: I remember this one professor, he was white, but I remember one of the first slides. He showed a little caricature, and he said, “Oh its scientifically been proven that those students that wear hats backwards, there is a correlation with lower grades.” So I purposely would bring in a cap. I wouldn’t always put it on backwards, but I would always bring it in, as a form of resistance. And you know, that’s bigotry right to the end because it’s based on absolutely nothing, and yet you’re claiming it to be scientific evidence, as a professor. I don’t know if he was joking but even if he was, like who jokes around about that? Why, out of everything, pick that? And I think that’s definitely targeting racialized groups. They don’t understand the culture that it even comes out of.
R: I was incarcerated [sic] by a principal. It was in high school and the teacher said we could do whatever we felt like doing, but our teacher had written on the board that we had to do a shitload of work, like a crazy amount of work. He had been absent and he hadn’t taught any of the material he wanted us to do, and so I was like “Wait a second, this guy never comes to class, never teaches the material and expects us to perform like a super student.” And so I said to the students “Look, if we all walk out of this classroom, the teacher can’t fail us all. If all of us get up and walk out right now, he’s screwed.” And so, we all got up… Well it took some convincing, took me a little more convincing. And so we all got up and started walking out, and the principal grabs me. Grabs me by the shoulders and yells, “Everybody get back into the classroom!” Everybody gets freaked out. Everybody started heading back in. And he says, “You’re coming to the office with me!” By the way, that class was very crucial to me. That was Grade 12 English and if I didn’t pass I wouldn’t graduate. And so he took me to the office and made me sit in a corner of his sketchy office. And so I said, “No, I’m an adult. You’re not gonna treat me like this. You’re not gonna segregate me, you’re not gonna outcast me because I was speaking about my rights.” And he was literally like, “Shut up, I don’t wanna hear you, go in your corner.” And so he locked the door and locked me in. And he left me in that office for two hours, just sitting there. And I remember kicking the doors and getting angry and screaming. I started writing step by step how I was segregated, and comparing it to acts of genocide which have happened in our society. Like I was locked in an office as a student for fighting for my rights! And I drafted this to the director of education. He looked at the paper and said, “Oh yeah, this is a good principal, don’t worry about it.”
At one point in my life, I was like, “Fuck this. These guys are all racist. I’m never gonna win against them. There’s no one like me. I’m a nobody. I’m not gonna go to university,” and I started believing it. And it’s really hard without teacher support, it’s really hard as a student. And it’s quite frustrating because you don’t have control over them. If a teacher wants to be racist to you, he will be racist to you. And to know that you can’t do anything about it, that you report it to the Director of Education and he does nothing about it. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking.
You don’t feel like you belong in the school, all your teachers are white, and they talk about white behavior, and they’re all racist towards you, and it’s like well, what am I? A fucking alien? Am I the weird one? We talk about why there is so much violence in youth, why there is so much anger…fuck, what do you think this frustration builds to?
O: I feel like a lot of times we have to resort to those things [violence], or fit into the stereotype that was being projected onto me. As a young Latin American male, you’re like cholo, gangster, like you have to do that. You have to be a drug dealer, beat people up, treat women like shit, be a scumbag, machista. Even with all the bullshit that we have to go through, I imagine it’s much, much more difficult for a Latina.
R: My girlfriend was told to take parenting classes five times because she was told by a guidance counselor that all she needed to do was go to university to find a husband. And that once she found a husband that what she would do for the rest of her life was be a mom, so she might as well take a lot of parenting courses. And so it took her two extra years to graduate high school because of that, because the courses she was supposed to take were not given to her because she didn’t need to be smart. All she needed was to find a good husband, so she was given almost a semester and a half of the same subject. Just because she was Latina.
R: There was definitely a lot of pride in the land where we came from and I never wanted to turn my back on mi gente and my community. I was blown away by the lack of community that I experienced here. Coming from a little colonia back home, it was all like one family and that was something that I lost. Every time you try to explain to people who we are as Latin Americans, we aren’t listened to. Like I feel that we are a minority and not even recognized…things like the constant need to remind people that we’re not Spanish but Latin American, and the constant need to remind people that we’re not all Mexican. We’re not all the same. It’s important for us to come together; I remember one of the chants in El Salvador that is used all over Latin America. “El Pueblo unido jamás será vencido” [The people, united, will never be defeated] and I truly believe that.
As we approach the 10 year anniversary of Canada’s invasion of Haiti, Ajamu Nangwaya of the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity & Toronto Haiti Action Network explores humanity’s debt to, and imperialism’s crimes against, the Haitian people.
by Ajamu Nangwaya
February 28th/March 1st will mark the 10th anniversary of the coup in Haiti that was orchestrated by the French, American, and Canadian governments, resulting in the kidnapping and downfall of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. According to journalist and writer Yves Engler:
“On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.”
Just over a year after this pivotal meeting of the three Western states in Canada, the democratic government in Haiti was overthrown, President Aristide had been kidnapped and exiled to the Central Afrikan Republic, hundreds of Fanmi Lavalas’s (FL) supporters were killed, immediate occupation of Haiti by 2,000 Western troops (latter replaced by the United Nations’ military intervention), repression against grassroots organizations, filling of the jails with political prisoners and abandonment of the FL government’s investment in education, job creation, healthcare, public services and preoccupation with increasing the minimum wage.
People of good conscience across the world, especially those in the Americas, should take the upcoming anniversary of the coup to not only learn about what has transpired in Haiti these past ten years, but more importantly, develop and strengthen our ties of solidarity with the popular organizations within and serving Haiti’s working-class and peasantry.
People-to-people solidarity based on mutual respect and principled collaboration will assist the Haitian people in their long struggle to rid themselves of the United Nations’ (MINUSTAH’s) occupation force that has been implicated in gross human rights abuses over the past decade, including the UN borne 2010 cholera outbreak that killed 8,300 deaths and infected close to 650,000 Haitians.
Our solidarity could support the demand put forward by kidnapped and deposed president Aristide that France repay Haiti the 90 million gold francs (over $23 billion today) ransom that was extracted from the latter as the price for diplomatic recognition and freedom from the threat of re-enslavement.
Our awareness can help end the cycle of Western military interventions, coups and/or propping up of anti-democratic, anti-people regimes that has plagued Haiti throughout the entire 20th century up to the present; and help Haitians put an end to the local elite’s and foreign capital’s exploitation of the people. Based on Haiti’s contribution to humanity, it should hold a special place in the internationalist programmes of progressive forces across the world.
In the annals of history, the enslaved Afrikans in Haiti were the only people to have successfully overthrown a system of slavery. They defeated the strongest military forces of the day, that of France, Britain and Spain, in order to free themselves from the servile labour regime and boldly assert their freedom and humanity.
This historic feat, the Haitian Revolution, was significant beyond the victory that the enslaved Africans registered in using armed struggle to effect emancipation-from below. These Black Jacobins etched the fear of revolution in the hearts and minds of the enslavers or agricultural capitalists in the other slave-holding territories in the Americas.
Haiti’s role in Simon Bolivar’s wars of independence in Latin America is not widely known. In the spirit of principled international solidarity, Haiti provided a place of refugee to Bolivar and his comrade Francisco de Miranda in 1815 and gave them material aid in the form of schooners, printing presses, fighters and as well as guns for several thousand troops.
Haiti’s only condition for its contribution was Bolivar’s commitment to abolishing slavery, which he didn’t vigorously and speedily implement. Haiti was still living up to the ideal of universal freedom from slavery and colonial domination and it was there during a crucial movement in the Latin American struggle for self-determination. It is rather instructive and ironic today to see Latin American military forces serving in Haiti in occupation army under the United Nations’ banner (a force that includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay).
Haiti’s legacy of defying and exposing the farcical nature of the racist characterization of Africans as sub-humans by defeating the best European armies of the period, taking its freedom in its own hands, contributing to the liberation of Latin America and threatening the continued viability of slavery has probably earned the country the unenviable economic and political status it currently holds in the region.
I believe the poet William Wordsworth’s was right in declaring to the fallen and deceived Toussaint L’Ouverture (and by extension Haiti), “Thou hast great allies / Thy friends are exultations, agonies, / And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.”
Our anti-imperialist obligation to Haiti and its people for their contribution to universal freedom entail the provision of political, moral and material support in fighting our common enemies of social emancipation and justice.
As the 10th anniversary of the coup d’etat and occupation of Haiti approaches, the least you can do is inform yourself about the situation in Haiti by attending Toronto Haiti Action Committee’s February 24 public education event with Haitian human rights lawyer, Mario Joseph and Dr. Melanie Newton of the University of Toronto.
The abolitionist, former enslaved Afrikan, feminist and statesman Frederick Douglass had this to say about Haiti’s role in promoting “universal human liberty” and a reminder of our debt of gratitude and obligation to its people:
“In just vindication of Haiti, I can go one step further. I can speak of her, not only words of admiration, but words of gratitude as well. She has grandly served the cause of universal human liberty. We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy to-day; that the freedom that eight hundred thousand colored people enjoy in the British West Indies; the freedom that has come to the colored race the world over, is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons [and daughters], of Haiti ninety years ago. When they struck for freedom, they builded better than they knew. Their swords were not drawn and could not be drawn simply for themselves alone. They were linked and interlinked with their race, and striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man [and woman] in the world.”
by Sadia Khan & Noaman G. Ali
Please see full article: Education inequality shocks Thorncliffe Park residents.
To get involved or to learn more about Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT)’s community organizing efforts to challenge these inequalities, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ThorncliffeRT/
by Christopher Williams of the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence
Poor Frederick Douglass apparently had it all wrong when he famously stated, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” According to a recent National Post opinion piece on contentious police practices in Toronto, sitting down and chatting with power, rather than demanding anything from it, is the key to progress.
Jamil Jivani, in his piece entitled “Not happy with the police? Try talking to them,” implies that those who “turn to law and policy to improve policing” or who make use of “human rights complaints or class action suits to demand changes to policing” are misguided souls who fail to recognize the value of “mediated conversations” as drivers of police reform. Having disparaged collective struggle in favour of bourgeois hyper-individualism, he recounts how he arranged to have a December 2013 conversation with two Toronto officers who, five weeks earlier, grilled him based on his (supposed) resemblance to a drug-dealer they were (supposedly) targeting. The conversation was enabled by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and, all and all, he derived satisfaction from the fact of having an amicable talk with the officers.
One of the supreme ironies of Mr. Jivani’s anti-law, anti-policy argument is that his mediated conversation took place under the auspices of a public body that came into existence through law: a 2007 amendment to the Police Services Act (Part V) initiated the 2009 opening of the OIPRD. He is therefore a beneficiary of the same police-related legal processes that he derides. Another irony: the OIPRD affirms the relevance of policy given that they accept complaints about “a policy of a police department,” as the “Complaints” section of their website indicates. Tangentially, he mentions the police killing of Sammy Yatim without considering that the resulting second-degree murder charge was issued by the Special Investigations Unit, founded in response to – god forbid – collective agitation, particularly on the part of the black community and youth.
The propositional foundation of Mr. Jivani’s overall stance is best summed up in his claim that “individual officer discretion largely determines how people will experience policing in their city.” While it is true that the low-visibility nature of policing gives cops a good measure of on-the-street decision making power, police discretion never unfolds in a vacuum. Organizational imperatives, police sub-cultural norms, prevailing public sentiments, asymmetrical power relations (between the police and the policed) and other factors establish the functional parameters within which such discretion is exercised.
If, for example, we take a look at a Toronto police practice mentioned by Mr. Jivani, namely, contact carding, it is a fact that blacks are more likely to be carded than whites in every patrol zone, it is a fact that officers are pressured by their superiors to engage in carding and it is a fact that when the contact card receipt system was implemented rates of carding plummeted. The old quip about those who never let facts get in the way of a good story applies to anyone who tries to explain carding (and numerous other police practices) with primary reference to individual officer discretion. Attempting to address large-scale violations of the law (the Charter, the Ontario Human Rights Code, etc.) as committed by “law enforcers” requires large-scale activism, not cathartic cop-meets-civilian conversations.
Check out our PODCAST of our interview with Young Lords founder, Jose Cha Cha Jimenez on Radio BASICS
Ontario Court of Appeal says communities of Ecuador affected by Chevron can enforce Ecuadorian rulings in Canada
by Santiago Escobar
As the Unist’ot’en continue their protracted battle against Chevron and other companies in resistance to the Pacific Trails Pipeline in northern B.C. over unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, Indigenous peoples of the Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador are pursuing Chevron in Canada for damages in one of the largest oil-related catastrophes in history.
This past December 2013, after twenty years of legal battles with America’s third largest corporation – ranking 11th in the world – the 30,000+ Indigenous plaintiffs of Ecuador made a small step forward when an Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that they could pursue Chevonr for damages they were awarded in the Ecuadorian courts. But the battle is far from over.
by Tyler Shipley
It’s never a good sign when the papers carry a picture of Gary Bettman grinning like an idiot.
The multi-millionaire commissioner of the National Hockey League is the human representative of the collective soulless greed of the extraordinarily wealthy owners of NHL franchises, and if they’re happy, it usually means that they’ve found a new way to squeeze money from their workers, their players, or – more likely – everyone else.
Sure enough, the announcement of a massive $5.2 billion broadcasting deal between the NHL and the Rogers corporate colossus is a victory for the rich, at the expense of we who make them rich. Though most of the attention this story received was about the fate of Hockey Night in Canada and the CBC more broadly, what was ignored was the effect this will have on working people in Canada. Read more…
We interview two long-time organizers around the issue, whose positions though not necessarily contradictory somewhat reflect the long-standing debate between those pushing for “decriminalization” and those advocating “abolition”. We speak to Chanelle Gallant from Maggie’s-Toronto, a Toronto-based sex workers action project; and Suzanne Baustad, co-founder of Grassroots Women – an anti-imperialist women’s group that was active in Vancouver between 1995 and 2010 and worked to address the systemic marginalization of working class women. Baustad also wrote in to BASICSNews.ca with an Op-Ed that you can read here.