Browsing Category 'Youth & Students'

Welcome to Canada: Growing up Latino in Toronto

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.

Hundreds rally in Toronto to support a democratic Venezuela… and reactionary riots

by Pragash Pio and Hassan Reyes

Several hundred people gathered at Toronto’s Dundas Square on February 22 in response to violence in Venezuela which started at the beginning of the month.

1966100_650859198301763_1185137017_oTwo sharply divided groups formed and faced off across Yonge Street.  On one side, a group of 100 activists responding to the call from the Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front rallied in support of the Bolivarian revolutionary and socialist process, the Maduro government and Venezuelan sovereignty. While denouncing the violence that has claimed 10 lives thus far, they agreed with the calls from Venezuelan popular movements that the violence and rioting is being organized by right-wing extremists. This pro-Maduro pro-’Bolivarian’ group held signs saying #WeAreMaduro and #HandsOffVenezuela.

On the other side, a larger group of 500-600 people rallied against the popularly elected Maduro government, denouncing the supposed “human rights violations” taking place there. The group, mostly comprised of Venezuelans who have left Venezuela since the Bolivarian Revolution and students in Canada to study English, not only held signs saying #SOSVenezuala and #PrayForVenezuela but also held signs denouncing socialism and the influence of “Cubans.”

Initially the conflicting slogans and the abundance of Venezuelan flags may have been confusing, with even veteran activists walking into the wrong group, but the underlying message were as different as day and night. It was a standoff between those who wished to defend and preserve the popular gains in Venezuela under Chavez, and those who were calling for American intervention in Venezuela.

Mistaking riots for popular democracy

The declared grievances of anti-Maduor ‘anti-Bolivarian’ protesters could be broken down into two parts: first, that President Maduro is a dictator, repressing peaceful opposition students and media; and secondly that problems of social and economic insecurity are a result of the administration’s “corruption” and “mismanagement.”  Incidentally, these arguments mirror the language of the anti-Chavista Western media as well as Venezuela’s extreme right-wing.

These claims may emotionally resonate for some recent Venezuelan emigrès, who often came from the wealthy elite who immigrated to Canada to keep their economic privileges from being redistributed in Venezuela, but the facts on the ground are completely reversed.

Following the attempted coup d’etat against Chavez in 2002, in which corporate media played an active role in organizing, the government and grassroots movements have placed significant emphasis on the democratization of media. This has included the creation of hundreds of community radio and TV stations. Nonetheless, the private corporate media still controls over 70% of the all media. Not surprisingly, the private media outlets are often openly against the government.  Still, the only restrictions placed on media, similar to those placed on media in Canada by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), relate to not falsifying information, calling for violence, displaying nudity at certain times, etc.

More importantly Maduro, and Chavez before him, have both had resounding popular electoral mandates that have been repeatedly tested through free elections. Out of 19 elections in the last 15 years, 18 have been resounding victories for the ‘Chavistas’, including two elections in the last year.  Former US President Jimmy Carter even classified the election process in Venezuela as “the best in the world” following the 2012 re-election of Chavez.

On the other hand leaders of the opposition, such as Leopoldo Lopez, Antonio Ledezma and Maria Corina Machado cynically claim to be in favour of democracy and human rights, while glossing over their history of involvement in the 2002 coup as well as human rights abuses and corruption before the Bolivarian process began. Today they also reject the democratically-elected administration and structures, calling their supporters to engage violence instead to topple a legitimate government.

1602112_650858374968512_1358186563_o (1)Pro-Maduro activists noted that Venezuela is one of the few countries to actually have an electoral recall mechanism by which citizens can remove the president. Note that Canada doesn’t even have such a democratic tool, even for likes of Rob Ford. This was an option that the opposition actually tried to use against Chavez in 2004, but failed as the majority (58%) voted to not recall Chavez. 10 years later, the very same opposition has abandoned all democratic options and turned to violence because it knows it cannot win against Maduro’s popular mandate.

Several pro-Maduro activists declared is the reasons for this record of electoral success is  that the administrations of Chavez-Maduro have empowered and drastically improved the living conditions of the majority of Venezuelans. Under Chavez, and now Maduro, Venezuela has made incredible economic and social progress: halving unemployment and poverty; more than doubling GDP per Capita; creating free public universal healthcare system; and doubling access to higher education through free tuition, according to the Guardian’s “Data Blog.”

While access to goods and insecurity remain a problem in Venezuela, the Maduro administration has also begun to tackle these problems with new controls against hoarding and withholding of goods (as many store owners were caught doing) as well as price controls and initiatives against price gouging of the public.  These have also begun to show positive results, according to scholar George Ciccariello-Maher.

The vast majority of Venezuelans, especially the poor, have continually shown that they approve of the Bolivarian process. At the same time, most observers and even opposition politicians acknowledge that the majority of Venezuelans have very little in common with and connection to the wealthy, pro-American right-wing opposition. As concerned Venezuelano Nico put it, “If the pro-democracy opposition is actually pro-democracy and popular, then they should go and win an election instead of rioting after losing every election.”

Rejecting the riots in favour of popular democracy

Pro-Maduro/pro-Bolivarian activists also pointed out that the riots had all the markings of another American sponsored attack on Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. The Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front’s statement, supported by a number of different anti-imperialist and progressive groups in Canada, condemned “the violence perpetrated by a small sector of the fascist right-wing in different cities across Venezuela in the last days, in an attempt to destabilize the country in a similar fashion as it was done with President Hugo Chávez, on April 2002.”

Of the 10 people killed in violence thus far, nearly all have been victims of the violence being organized by sectors of the extreme right.  In addition, protesters have attacked public property including primary schools and food supply trucks. With strong evidence of continued U.S. State Department involvement since the first 2002 coup against Chavez (Wikileaks release), there is also growing evidence [here & here] that opposition activists are exaggerating claims of “repression,” to support further American intervention in Venezuela.

Police informed BASICS videographer Camila R. that the anti-Maduro group had secured a permit for Yonge and Dundas Square beforehand and that no other political groups could use the space. Activists raised questions about the amount of funds and behind-the-scenes direction that would have been needed to accomplish this.

As activists with Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front chanted, “Viva Chávez! Viva Maduro!”, it was clear who they stood with, and why. Their only question is where all the other pro-socialist, pro-revolutionary, and pro-democracy Canadian groups stood: With the popularly elected administration of Venezuela, or the emissaries of American intervention?

KW Spot Collective Relaunches its Peoples Programs

by BASICS Team Kitchener-Waterloo 

On Jan 3, 2014, the Kitchener-Waterloo Spot Collective announced the relaunching and professionalising of their people’s programs.

The people’s programs, which include the serving of free food, programs for those dealing with addiction, and literacy programs, have come out of the need to deal with the problems the community faces by mobilising the community, says organizer Amber Sinson.

Serving free food and coffee downtown. Photo: DIANNE HARTMAN

The Spot Collective serving free food and coffee downtown, November 2013. Photo: DIANNE HARTMAN

“Our children need food, warm winter clothing and basic needs that are not provided by the state,” Amber continues. “It’s obvious that we must rely on ourselves to solve our own problems.”

The Spot Collective, created in 1998 by street youth and socialist students looking for for solutions to the problems they were facing, has always focused on balancing the immediate needs of the community with solving the root causes of poverty by attacking systemic problems, according to Sinson. The relaunching of the people’s programs is a continuation of this combined approach.

When asked about food banks and other social agencies that provide such services she replied, “They humiliate you and make you feel like garbage, and that it’s your fault you’re poor. They also do nothing to address the issues behind poverty.”

Wesley Gibbons, a person who uses the peoples programs, also added, “You can only get one or two boxes a month from the food bank and most of the stuff is expired.”

Those interested in participating are invited to come out to meetings Wednesday nights at 6pm at 43 Queen St., after the free food servings. Contact: 226-289-2559.

Terror in Dixon: Behind the Rob Ford Scandal

‘Project Traveller’ and the struggle to defend our communities

Police lead a woman away in Project Traveller raids. MATTHEW SHERWOOD/NATIONAL POST

By: Kabir Joshi-Vijayan

Rob Ford might be the most (in)famous politician in Canadian history. Every other week a new intoxicated blunder is revealed while the entire local political establishment tries to force his resignation.

Despite the hundreds of hours of sensational reporting, the story is actually unimpressive: a ‘public’ official abusing drugs and alcohol, threatening personal rivals and flaunting his racist and homophobic views is pretty normal.

The tale of a crack smoking Mayor pales in comparison with another municipal controversy, a scandal which has faded from headlines since Rob’s escapades began to dominate.

This involves a force that has committed the most blatant violations of human rights, one that has paid over $27 million in civil lawsuits since 2000 and is now facing two new litigations totalling $65.4 million. This is a force the entire city watched taze the lifeless body of a frightened 18-year old after they shot him nine times – the latest in dozens of killings of largely Black, Brown or mentally-ill victims.

The force being described is of course the Toronto Police Service.

The incident that should have drawn the most outrage in relation to the Ford scandal was the heavily armed attack on the neighbourhood of Dixon and Kipling in June 2013. Over 100 officers with bullet proof vests, flash grenades, battering rams and automatic weapons stormed into three buildings at 5am to arrest 19 men and women.

Doors were broken down, apartments were torn apart and mothers, grandmothers and youth were terrorized and assaulted, including a 67-year-old woman kicked in the face, told by officers to die, and forced to watch as police tried to handcuff her 96-year old mother who had fallen violently out of bed.

This paramilitary operation was called ‘Project Traveller’ and it was targeted primarily against the Somali community. The raid was praised and lauded as having cleaned the neighbourhood of supposed gang members. Police announced to several residents they were there because of Rob Ford, and the Police Chief later revealed that a videotape of the Mayor had been found during the operation.

This is only the latest in dozens of similar operations conducted by Toronto Police, every one of them directed at working-class, racialized communities and arresting primarily young Black men and women. In most cases it is later revealed that well over half of those arrested are completely innocent, (as in ‘Project Flicker’ in Ardwick in 2005, or ‘Project Kryptic’ in Driftwood in 2007). These raids have proven to do nothing to end violence, and in the case of Driftwood, police were back four years later (Dec 2011) to lock up a new generation of youth.

These projects allow police to pose for photo ops in front of seized weapons, drugs and money and attempt to prove to city residents that their $1 billion annual budget isn’t going to waste.

Cops grab any cash they find in raided units without any proof of their illegal origin. Communities which face high levels of poverty, such as Somalis, Jamaicans and South Asians, often keep quantities of money at home. Thousands of dollars are taken – by the police. In ‘Project Traveller’ over $575,000 was looted.

The Rob Ford scandal is also a perfect example of the hypocrisy associated with policing in this city. Although police used incriminating evidence to humiliate Ford and try and force his resignation, they made not one move to charge him.

In Dixon meanwhile, the basis for violently rounding up many of the accused, some of whom are still languishing in jails, was nothing more than them having supposed criminals as relatives, friends or contacts in their phones: this includes senior-aged parents arrested and charged for not knowing that their children were allegedly keeping illegal items in the house.

The Mayor brazenly bought and used packages of drugs in public parking lots and washrooms, spoke for hours on the phone about his criminal activities, and yet police claim they did not have the grounds to arrest, search or even make him answer questions.

In working-class communities like Dixon, even outside of raids, youth are stopped and searched for simply being outside too late or being in too large a group. They are arrested and assaulted for having small amounts of marijuana or for trespassing violations.

From a larger perspective, the same Canadian state that is now spending $12 billion over the next 4 years to build new prisons (such as the new $540 million South Toronto Detention Center), to lock up people at the lowest levels of the drug trade, is the same country where local politicians are charged with actively collaborating with the mob. It is the same country that props up narco states like Colombia through ‘free-trade’ deals and cozy diplomatic relations; the same country that helped build Afghanistan into the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world.

 The fact is the Toronto Police are not a group unto themselves. The physical attacks such as the raids, brutality and daily harassment, go hand-in-hand with social and economic attacks on these same communities from other branches of the system. In Dixon economic warfare means imposed conditions of chronic unemployment, low paying jobs and criminalizing industries such as Khat (a mild stimulant plant leaf no more harmful than coffee or shisha, but widely used among East Africans).

 The sitcom/crime drama which City Hall has become over the past year has left us misinformed and distracted from the real issues at hand. Many working people have developed a liking for the slow-witted millionaire in the Mayor’s office, thinking the political establishment’s opposition to him is proof that he is somehow on our side. Bill Blair has been able to look like the poised and honest chief after the public outrage following the G20 and the killing of Sammy Yatim.

It is clear that neither side in this conflict are on our side! We as oppressed and working people shouldn’t have to rely on the Fords of the world bribing us to get us funding and social programs. We must also recognize that violations like the June 13 attack on Dixon are only able to happen because we are disorganized and divided.

 It is time to build real mass movements in our neighbourhoods and communities to solve our own problems, raise and educate our children and oppose state violence. Police raids, carding, harassment, violence and mass incarceration will not end by suing, begging or reforming that structure but will only be the result of a strong, united and organized community prepared to defend itself.

Does CLASS get in the way of EDUCATION?

by Sadia Khan & Noaman G. Ali

by Sadia Khan and Noaman G. Ali "fix the class system to fix the school system"

“fix the class system to fix the school system”

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, or visit the Facebook page,

Not Happy Talking to the Police? Try Collective Struggle

by Christopher Williams of the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence

 In the 19th century, Frederick Douglass had a firm vision of how social injustice, stemming from unjust exercises of power, should be combatted. Isn’t his standpoint applicable to the 21st century?

In the 19th century, Frederick Douglass had a firm vision of how social injustice, stemming from unjust exercises of power, should be combatted. Isn’t his standpoint applicable to the 21st century?

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.


Protestors in Toronto affirm their commitments to collective action against oppressive policing.

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.

No matter how law-abiding they may be, hundreds of thousands of people have been entered into the contact card database over the past several years.

No matter how law-abiding they may be, hundreds of thousands of people have been entered into the contact card database over the past several years.

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.

Comandanta Hortensia reads the EZLN communique in the Oventic Caracol on January 1, 2014

by Pablo Vivanco

'The Originales from San Andrés' livened up the first evening of New Year with their revolutionary 'corridos' (Mexican folk music), tracing the history and struggle of the EZLN and their struggle.  Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

‘The Originales from San Andrés’ livened up the first evening of New Year with their revolutionary ‘corridos’ (Mexican folk music), tracing the history and struggle of the EZLN and their struggle. Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

On January 1st, the governments of Canada, US and Mexico marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  In Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, the day was being commemorated for very different but connected reasons.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas, was celebrating 20 years since the start of their armed uprising.  With the words “Today we say ‘enough is enough’”, the EZLN declared war on the Mexican government on January 1, 1994.

Among the Zapatista’s three basic principles were the defense of collective and individual rights historically denied to Mexico’s Indigenous peoples. NAFTA attacked the rights of working people in all three countries, but especially attacked the traditional communal land rights of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.

The Zapatistas’ social base is the mostly rural Indigenous people in Chiapas.  Roughly 957,000 out of 3.5 million people in Chiapas speak one of 56 different Indigenous languages.  One third of these people do not speak Spanish at all. Out of 111 municipalities, twenty two have Indigenous populations over 90 percent, and 36 municipalities have native populations exceeding 50 percent.

Chiapas has about 13.5% of all of Mexico’s Indigenous population. Most of Chiapas’ Indigenous groups, including the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Ch’ol, Zoque, Tojolabal, and Lacandon, are descended from the Mayans.

This past January 1st, the EZLN accused the federal government of maintaining a war strategy against them and wanting to take the land recovered by the Zapatista’s during their uprising, leading to a renewed call to rebellion.

Comandanta Hortensia reads the EZLN communique in the Oventic Caracol on January 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

Comandanta Hortensia reads the EZLN communique in the Oventic Caracol on January 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Marta Molina.

In front of several thousand guests and hundreds of grassroots members, Comandanta Hortencia, a Tzotzil woman and spokesperson for the EZLN, read a statement that emphasized the struggle to maintain autonomy and self-government. “We are learning to govern ourselves according to our ways of thinking and living. We are trying to move forward, to improve and strengthen together, men, women, youth, children and the elderly. About 20 years ago, we said enough is enough.”


“We are sharing our experience with the new generation of children and youth. We are preparing our people to resist and to govern. In our Zapatista areas we no longer have bad government, nor do parties rule and manipulate.”

In fog and constant drizzle, the EZLN celebration lasted all day and well into the night, as it was attended by thousands of young people from almost every state in the country as well as students from other countries attending the two courses at the Zapatista school.

To these visitors, Comandanta Hortencia spoke of the possibility of the Zapatista experience of autonomy and self-governance applying elsewhere.

With notes from

Coroner’s report into Villanueva’s death ‘blames citizens’

by M. Cooke

Remembering Fredy (Photo-BASICS Community News Service)

Remembering Fredy (Photo-BASICS Community News Service)

“I hated that part, blaming the citizens. If the police hadn’t intervened, Fredy would still be alive” said Will Prosper, a community organizer in Montreal Nord, about the coroner’s report in the death of Fredy Villanueva.

The inquest by Quebec Court Judge Andre Perrault investigated the events of August 9, 2008, that led up to a Montreal police officer firing on three unarmed youths and killing Villanueva.

The coroner’s report states that what likely took place on the day Fredy was killed was a simple police intervention and a series of unfortunate events.

“The police officers saw a group of youth playing dice. Without being certain of who’s doing what, officer Lapointe infers that all the individuals were playing dice, including Dany Villanueva [Fredy's brother]. He decides to intervene to apply a municipal law, which allows him to identify each of the individuals,” states the report.

The report ignores larger issues of racial profiling and police brutality. Nowhere is the seemingly benign municipal law against gambling in parks questioned. The law provides a justification to harass and intimidate youth, particularly in the racialized working-class community of Montreal Nord.

The report goes on to recommend a handful of relatively weak changes to the police force and other government institutions.

Astoundingly, it recommends that youth should be trained in schools on how to behave when they are being questioned for a criminal infraction and informed about the consequences of not providing an officer with identification when under arrest.

Will Prosper speaking to a rally and march on October 11, 2008 through Montreal Nord (Photo-BASICS Community News Service)

Will Prosper speaking to a rally and march on October 11, 2008 through Montreal Nord (Photo-BASICS Community News Service)

“Sure, youth should be taught what their rights are,” says Prosper in an interview with BASICS. “But even if they act within their rights, oftentimes the police will provoke them.”

Disarming the police, or just slowing down how quickly they shoot?

The coroner’s report recommends that police officers be equipped with firearms that fire rounds at a slower pace.

However, Prosper believes that it’s essential to remove firearms from the hands of police officers.

“We never talk about taking away firearms from the police, but I think it’s something we need to talk about,” Prosper told BASICS.

Prosper went on to say that “the police are too fast on the trigger. They are using their guns more often and faster. Their first response in situations is to use their guns, instead of taking the time and talking.”

In “Enquête sur la police”, Stephen Berthomet, an ex-police officer and technical adviser with the union of police officers, states that between 2000 and 2013, 189 people have been killed or severely injured by police officers in Quebec. And 106 of those people were either killed or severely injured by police firearms.

A Special Investigation Unit in Quebec

Since 1999, there have been 416 coroner’s inquests in Quebec. To date, only three officers have been indicted, and not a single one has been convicted.

Community groups have been putting pressure on the government to address this lack of justice. In response, the Parti Quebecois (PQ) is proposing to establish a  ’Bureau des enquêtes independantes,’ something similar to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) that exists in Ontario.

Prosper is skeptical of the PQ’s proposed changes.  He says that whether you have police officers or ex-police officers investigating police killings, “it’s the same mentality. You need citizens.”

Prosper isn’t the only one who thinks the SIU isn’t working in Ontario. The Ombudsman of Ontario came out with a report critical of the SIU. The Ombudsman reported that “[the SIU's] credibility as an independent investigative agency is further undermined by the predominant presence and continuing police links of former police officials within the SIU.”

The Ombudsman’s report continued: “the SIU has not only become complacent about ensuring that police officials follow the rules, it has bought into the fallacious argument that SIU investigations aren’t like other criminal cases, and that it is acceptable to treat police witnesses differently from civilians.”

New mayor pays lip service to addressing root causes

Denis Coderre, the new mayor of Montreal, was quoted as saying that Montreal Nord has changed a lot since Fredy’s death. He says that as mayor, he hopes to reduce the poverty and marginalization in that area.

But Coderre has been in Montreal Nord all along. He was the federal representative of the Bourassa district, which is in Montreal Nord, from 1997 to 2013.

“What has Coderre done? He’s talked a lot. He’s on twitter, but he hasn’t done anything concrete that helps people in Montreal North,” Prosper told BASICS.

“There have been cosmetic changes, such as new soccer fields, but nothing that addresses the root of the problem. The unemployment rate for youth is steadily increasing,” he adds.

“To fight poverty, it takes political leadership,” says Prosper. “Hopefully, the population will organize themselves. If we can work on these issues, we could make a difference, but if we wait for politicians, nothing will change.”


Community seeks to organize against inequality

by Noaman G. Ali

“It’s shocking! I am shocked!” said a parent attending a community meeting in Thorncliffe Park held last Sunday, December 22.

Sadia Khan, a teacher and organizer with the Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In group addresses parents and students about education inequality. (Photo: Azfar Zaheer)

Sadia Khan, a teacher and organizer with the Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In group addresses parents and students about education inequality. (Photo: Azfar Zaheer)

She was responding to a presentation by Sadia Khan, a teacher and community organizer, about educational inequality between public schools in Thorncliffe Park and those in neighbouring Leaside—schools that are about ten minutes apart by car.

Over 30 parents, students and other community members attended the meeting, organized by Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT), about the causes of educational inequality and building community power through solidarity in order to address the issues that face the community.

Read more…

CUPE National squashes unionizing effort at Carleton U.

Workers lose jobs after successful union drive turned away by Paul Moist’s office

by Priscillia Lefebvre

Ottawa | Female Residence Fellows at Carleton University in Ottawa were met with blatant sexism and were told to “calm down” and to “stop blowing things out of proportion” when they approached Housing and Conference Services in October of this year with accounts of being actively harassed and intimidated by a male coworker.

Earlier this fall, another Fellow had brought concerns to management about being targeted by a student through physical intimidation ,verbal threats, and cyberbullying since early September. The floor she lived on was trashed and the door to her room was tagged with sexually derogatory slurs, but it fell on deaf ears. Management allowed the harassment to continue, undermining her authority to issue sanctions to students. According to sources consulted for this article, the situation finally spun out of control two months later resulting in a brawl breaking out on the floor involving approximately 50 students.

Residence Fellows are among the most overworked and precariously employed on a university campus. They are the front line workers for students living in residence and are expected to maintain a high level of visibility. Carleton University describes the Residence Fellow position as encompassing a scope of roles including “leader, administrator, facilitator, and educator.”  The position is usually reserved for upper-year undergraduate student-workers who deal with a multitude of issues in their jobs from underage drinking to sexual assault and suicide intervention.

residence commons pic - carletonResidence Fellows had been organizing to form a union for several weeks since early November, putting themselves at great risk in the process. A union could have raised awareness of the issues Residence Fellows face as university employees, pressured the University to sit down and negotiate a fair collective agreement, and allowed workers to grieve Housing Services’ failure to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Residence Fellows were succeeding until they received shocking news on December 1 of this year from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – which boasts a membership of over 627,000 workers – that the union would not be accepting them after all.

The decision came from on high: the President’s office at CUPE National. Once the news surfaced the organizers were outed to management at Carleton. Workers were threatened with being fired for even mentioning the word “union.” Organizers were cut off from any support, leaving them to deal with potentially volatile situations on their own. Isolation and retaliation made their working conditions intolerable.

By December 7, three workers, including Marina Tronina and Miranda Moores, resigned as a result.  Because their employment was tied to their room and board on campus, this meant losing their homes as well. Moores explains, “We can’t work there anymore. Understand we didn’t resign simply because the environment was hostile; we resigned because we could not work there safely. It is too dangerous.”

A union campaign squashed… by a union

CUPE Local 4600, already representing Teaching Assistants and Contract Instructors on campus, had been working with the Residence Fellows to push for their inclusion into the Local. Their membership of about 2500 workers shares many of the same concerns including overwork, harassment, and job security. On November 21, Colette Proctor, CUPE National Organizing Representative, sent an email stating, “as long as the Local is fine with the possibility of having to cover the group I think we can organize them.” Thirty-one union cards were signed by November 24 reaching the certification requirement, before the President’s Office at CUPE National killed the campaign a week later.

When asked by Local 4600 on December 12 why the go ahead to sign cards was given before an official decision had been made, Proctor responded, “I didn’t foresee National having a problem organizing the group.” If staff at the Organizing Department was so certain that the campaign would be approved, why did CUPE National ultimately decide to turn its back on these precarious workers?

Their reasoning was weak, nonsensical, and indicates a clear lack of understanding of the experiences of young student-workers in the post-secondary sector. According to Francois Bellemare, Assistant Director of Organizing and Regional Services, CUPE National feels that the union would not be able to maintain appropriate services and “make a big difference” to these workers since they work on limited one-year contracts. Nor are they considered to be in an employer-employee relationship with the University since they work for room and board.  This is rather alarming considering members of Local 4600 only work four-month contracts and Residence Fellows are members of the Residence Life Staff who do indeed work for the University and pay income tax.

Workers left behind now have to deal with the aftermath. “We can no longer work there and Housing Services are now free to exploit workers who are still there. All the organizers are gone,” says Tronina.

Dan Preece, Vice-President of Unit 2 at Local 4600, elaborates on the situation, “There were options before. Now they are abandoned and this has created a poisonous environment. Workers are either too scared to say something or they have absolutely no faith in unions… Nobody should be signing a card if the decision from National could go either way. CUPE National needs to consider the human cost here.”

Paul Moist: Not so young, and not really paid like a worker, with a salary at almost 160k in 2012 alone.

Paul Moist, CUPE National President: Not so young,  not really paid like a worker (with a salary at almost 160k in 2012 alone), and so probably not so in tune with precarious young workers.

The “Year of the New and Young Worker”

It is no secret that the deteriorating conditions for young workers have them struggling to keep up with rent increases and the cost of living as well as lumbered with student debt. CUPE’s own statistics they show a 30% drop in full-time employment among young workers. CUPE named 2013 the “Year of the New and Young Worker” and states that it recognizes young workers as especially vulnerable to exploitative working conditions through precarious contract positions characterized by minimum wage and no benefits.

CUPE National is on record as saying that “the issues facing young workers need to be connected to all aspects of the labour movement.” In light of the Residence Fellows, this statement is reduced to empty rhetoric and fist waving for the cameras.

Solidarity For…Never? The sad state of bureaucratized unions

With the right to collective bargaining under attack by anti-union governments and bosses, fighting back matters and there is strength in solidarity. The labour movement has a strong history of workers who risked their lives demanding respect, safety, and fair treatment in the workplace. CUPE National’s recent actions puts that history to shame and serves as a harsh reminder of how bureaucratized union institutions can actually impede workers fighting for their rights.

The Residence Fellows at Carleton University deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by their employer. It should not be too much to ask that the same be expected of Canada’s largest union, which claims to be “committed to improving the quality of life for workers.”

At the time of writing CUPE National President, Paul Moist has yet to agree to meet with either the Residence Fellows or Local 4600 about this matter. Nor has he taken any responsibility or offered compensation of any kind to the three workers who lost their jobs and their homes as a direct result of this debacle.