Filed under: Canadian Tire Fire, Featured
cover image: @laylastaats
This week, we share updates on resistance to the Coastal Gaslink project being pushed through Wet’suwet’en territory. We also take a deeper look at recent changes to Canada’s temporary foreign worker policy. Finally, we share the call for justice for Ezra Amos, a Hamilton and Toronto-based organizer who passed away in late March.
So in January 2021, Disco Distro was born: a traveling material resource centre based out of a 1981 GMC Vandura. It’s now grown to 24 volunteers & a network of donors. https://t.co/1YGTKPrHR3 pic.twitter.com/vvoQ5BHPoL
— Margaret Fine JD, PhD (@margaretfinephd) April 10, 2022
We also want to give a shoutout this week to Distro Disco, a mobile free store distributing material resources to unhoused community members on unceded Squamish Musqueam and Tsleil-waututh land (Vancouver, BC). They distribute supplies in the Downtown Eastside most Saturdays, and hold donation drives on the first Saturday of each month, with the next coming up May 7.
Updates from the Struggle Against Coastal Gaslink
The struggle against Coastal GasLink, led by Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters at the Gidimt’en Checkpoint, continues to deal blows to the pipeline and its investors. Repression continues as well, against the many across the country who have participated in the fight.
In happy news, Vanessa Gray, an Anishinaabe land defender based in Toronto, has had her charges dropped. The charges had been laid in November 2021 by the Canadian Pacific Railway Police Service in connection to a Wet’suwet’en solidarity action in Toronto. As Vanessa explains, “This event was attended by hundreds of people. The charges included three counts of mischief, interference with property, causing disturbance, loitering, unlawful assembly, trespassing, and failure to give way.”
Our vehicle gate was broken upon @BCRCMP entry @ 1140 this morning. 6 officers trespassed into camp, offering no reason beyond "checking in", and now we have no privacy from the 24/7 #cgl security parked outside.@jjhorgan enough is enough.#rcmpofftheyintah#wetsuwetenstrong pic.twitter.com/NIPAGYPF2x
— Gidimt’en Checkpoint (@Gidimten) April 12, 2022
“Canada continues to wrongfully target and arrest Indigenous community members for showing our solidarity with one another and enacting our responsibilities to protect our land. The criminalization of Indigenous land defenders is a strategy to enforce the colonial law that is fueling war and the climate disaster our present and future generations face. Gary Wassaykeesic still faces charges of trespass and mischief for attending the same event I was charged for.”
Repression and surveillance of land defenders on the Yintah continues as well. On April 8th, APTN published an article detailing the particular concern the federal government has expressed regarding relationships between Mohawk and Wet’suwet’en land defenders. The government specifically feared that the relationships of solidarity would continue to develop and that the situation would escalate to the level of the #ShutDownCanada movement in 2020.
On the Yintah, police continue their campaign of harassment and surveillance against land defenders at the Gidimt’en Checkpoint. They conduct daily visits to the camp, breaking through gates and sneaking around in the surrounding bush.
And a heli fly-over.
— Gidimt’en Checkpoint (@Gidimten) April 10, 2022
While the legal and repressive fallout from the years long struggle against the pipeline continues, so to do actions against investors. Multiple RBC branches were targeted recently in Southern Ontario.
From a communique published on North Shore Counter-Info:
This week across southern ontario and quebec, we’ve lost count on how many RBC branches were targeted (we estimate 10+) for disruption and attack. So-called toronto, hamilton, montreal… friends in places as small as orillia and as distant as nanaimo. These actions respond to a need to target investors in the Coastal Gaslink pipeline project – which is currently behind schedule thanks to the direct attack that took place in february as well as the successful campaigns to block the project thus far lead by Gidimt’en Clan – but is still rapidly being constructed on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.
RBC is one of its largest financial backers, and in the past week and preceding months, has been the subject of pressure tactics ranging from direct action interfering with bank branches, to pushing elites/clients to pull their money out of RBC accounts, to organizing to disrupt RBC’s Annual General Meeting in Toronto. The message is clear: the Royal Bank of Canada needs to divest from CGL immediately.
In hamilton, where we’re writing from, bank branches were vandalized, had their locks glued, and ATMs damaged. We chose these methods to directly interfere with the operations of the bank, hurt them financially and in their public image, and to contribute to the spread of easily-replicable, anonymous actions.
On April 7th, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were in Toronto to attend the RBC AGM. But in response to their presence, the in-person portion of the AGM was cancelled.
RBC canceled the entire in person part of their AGM in Toronto today, in order to prevent Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs from attending. https://t.co/alMdiXcVBq
— Unist'ot'en Camp (@UnistotenCamp) April 7, 2022
Outside of where the in-person AGM was supposed to happen, a large demonstration took place in support of the Wet’suwet’en pipeline resistors.
Hundreds of people have gathered just blocks away from @rbc’s headquarters to tell them to stop financing the destruction of Indigenous lands on the day of the banking giant’s Annual General Meeting. pic.twitter.com/T0nktvbzMA
— Indigenous Climate Action (@Indigenous_ca) April 7, 2022
In Montreal, a small solidarity demonstration was held on April 7th outside an RBC branch.
— quit.RBC (@QuitRbc) April 7, 2022
RBC has been the focus for many anarchists and others organizing against the pipeline, but they are not the sole financier of the pipeline, and many groups are targeting other banks as well. On April 5th, a Greenpeace Canada action targeted the Scotiabank AGM for its funding of fossil fuels including the CGL project.
💥BREAKING: We’re at Scotia Plaza for @scotiabank’s AGM + their 190th with a cake & a birthday card with a message: STOP funding fossil fuels, RESPECT Indigenous rights & CUT TIES with @OilGasCanada.
Scotiabank, they're #WorseThanYouThink#NoMoreDirtyBanks https://t.co/l0dDAjIiSx pic.twitter.com/UvmoYyXVKc
— Greenpeace Canada (@GreenpeaceCA) April 5, 2022
With ‘Labor Shortage’ Giving Workers an Edge, Changes to Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) Reignites Tensions
Through the fall and winter we have seen labour battles on the rise. Strikes, lockouts, worker solidarity and unionization attempts were regular news over the past many months. At the same time, businesses were trying to create a narrative of people not being willing to work. Pandemic assistance programs were blamed, whether correctly or not, with letting people realize they deserve to have financial security. That people deserve to have shelter and food and that life should not be a daily struggle for survival. Union coverage was already on the rise before the pandemic, hitting a peak in Canada of 32%. But beyond union representation the current “labour shortage” has given workers some bargaining power for better pay and conditions on their own.
On April 7th, the Canadian government came out with its 2022 budget, which included many economic related immigration changes. The budget alters the temporary foreign worker program as well as creates a new foreign labour program for agriculture and fish processing. In addition to potential impacts to agricultural workers and food processing workers, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) increased the percentage of TFW’s allowed on staff, to up to 30% in the hospitality industry. We could not find the exact details of all the changes but we feel this shows another expansion of the TFWP. The timing of these changes suggests to us that this is being used as a way to curtail a growing labour movement, migrant, immigrant and citizen alike. Service workers have been organizing and making more gains then has been seen in a while and gig workers have been taking more actions as well. As pointed out by Syed Hussan of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change:
Canada keeps making it easier for employers to hire migrant workers without ensuring migrants have basic rights and protections that can only be accessed by those with permanent resident status. We do not have a “crisis” of labour shortage, we have a wages and work conditions crisis.
The TFWP was created in 1973 and at that time was supposed to focus on high skilled jobs. In 2002, a low skilled pilot program was started under the Chretien Liberals. That program was vastly expanded under the Harper Conservatives in 2006. The TFWP tied migrant workers to their employers in many cases. Exploitation and abuse was prevalent. The stories of some workers exploited under the program began to be featured by corporate media, giving most people in Canada a glimpse into the working conditions migrant workers face.
Union Response to TFWP
In addition to undermining labour struggles by creating a sub-class of workers who have much more to lose by challenging abuse in their workplace, the use of foreign and often racialized workers for less pay or in precarious positions often inflames racist beliefs among Canadians, by pitting two groups of workers against each other.
Unions in Canada have historically been racist institutions, supporting restrictive immigration and viewing immigrants as competition for Canadian jobs. The initial reaction among most Canadian unions when the TFWP was expanded to low skill workers followed that mentality, implying TFW’s were willing to work for less, driving down wages. An attitude that blames migrant workers, who are trying to survive like any other worker, rather then blaming the exploitative TFWP.
After the stories of abuse of workers under the TFWP emerged however, unions began to alter their statements a bit. After seeing the exploitation and abuse people were being exposed to, unions seemed to take a more paternalistic approach, saying TFW’s must be protected, and putting more blame on the Canadian government for the situation. However, when the 2008 recession took place, union leadership began to revert back to its racist competing worker narrative, while still sympathizing with foreign workers’ employers.
Eroding the Two Tier System and Giving Migrants Agency
A lack of permanent residency status (PR) is the biggest obstacle workers under the TFWP have in accessing protections. In 2021 the western producer reported that the federal government created a program to offer 90,000 permanent residencies for TFW and international graduates. That number was well below the migrant work force at the time and the criteria excluded many, such as many with gaps in employment.
“Without permanent status, temporary workers in Canada aren’t entitled to the same rights as others making a living in the country. Access to alternative work, health care and education are often limited.”
The lack of general union support makes it unlikely that the labour movement will rally behind migrant workers, and certainly not when push comes to shove. The solution being proposed by many migrant justice groups is quite simple: permanent residence status on landing. Giving migrant workers PR would remove the threat of deportation, untether them from their employer and provide the stability to allow them to act according to what they feel is the best course of action for them. Whether that is unionizing, participating in workplace solidarity, attempting to use the state justice system or just finding a different job. Again quoting Syed Hussan:
The solution is decent work and full immigration status for all. Where there is a labour shortage, it is clearly for low-waged essential workers, they should be able to come to Canada with permanent resident status instead of on employer controlled permits with few rights.
If you want to learn more about the changes to immigration, government racism and control check out Migrant Workers Alliance.
Justice for Ezra Amos in Hamilton
This week, we echo calls for justice for Ezra (Vanessa) Amos, a young organizer based in Hamilton and Toronto. Ezra was a dedicated housing justice organizer, and was among the Black youth arrested in Hamilton in late 2021 for encampment defence and protesting police brutality. Following their death in Toronto on March 31st, Toronto police have continued to deny their family transparent information about the circumstances around their death.
It is with broken hearts we announce that our comrade Ezra Amos passed away on March 30th. Their family has many questions and not been allowed to see the body.
— Hamilton Encampment Support Network (@HamOntESN) April 3, 2022
Their loved ones have been forced to piece together a timeline of the hours leading up to their death, that included an arrest, hospitalization, and an early discharge from the hospital. This week their friends have called for continued public pressure on authorities to release information, holding a press conference in front of a Toronto police station as well as a vigil at the site of their death in downtown Toronto. Their family has also started a GoFundMe to cover funeral and legal costs.
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