Filed under: Canadian Tire Fire, Featured
This week we bring you an in depth look at migrant justice struggles in Canada. We cover a Homes Not Cops rally in Halifax, fires and a police killing in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, and some prison updates as well. A couple of these stories will discuss sexual assault.
In Ottawa, folks disrupted the Pride flag raising ceremony at Ottawa City Hall. In a tweet, one of the protesters explained, “We engaged in this disruption to call out the corporatization of pride + the hypocrisy of pride being celebrated by the same state agents which pride started as a riot against.”
In so-called BC, police repression continues against land defenders. On August 12th, three land defenders were pepper sprayed by RCMP CIRG officers on the yintah, outside the home of one of the land defenders. Two of the land defenders were arrested as well. You can read the full report on Gidimt’en Checkpoint’s website.
Read on for the full stories!
A Look at Racist Policing, Canada’s SAWP, and Attempts to Stop Deportations
This week a decision was made by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that the group Justice For Migrant Workers calls a historic victory. The decision is about a 2013 police investigation into a disgusting sexual assault of a rural Ontario woman. The woman identified her attacker as migrant farm worker due to his accent and dark coloured skin. While investigating the assault, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) conducted what they called a voluntary collection of the DNA of dozens of migrant workers, all believed to be from the Caribbean, who were working on a nearby farm.
The migrant workers on the farm were employed through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). This program is well know for its exploitative structure of tying workers to the employer that hires them for the season and can fire/deport them with no reason. The human rights tribunal referred to testimony given by an international policy and governance expert, Dr. Hennebry. Quoted from the decision Dr. Hennebry said this of the SAWP:
[It is] “textbook definition of structural racism” in that it is embedded in colonial histories, and relies on cheap racialized labour with workers who are deemed needed for the economy but unworthy of settlement. As such, the SAWP reinforces “anti–migrant rhetoric” and the exclusion of migrant workers from the social fabric by preventing their integration and inclusion into communities, by design.”
Leon Logan, the applicant in this case, testified that although the police were quite polite and clear with him, the farm owner was expecting all the workers to cooperate with the police investigation and accept the DNA collection. Mr. Logan feared exercising his right to not volunteer for the collection would put his employment in jeopardy, and he was right. An excerpt from a letter written by the farm owner to the police after the main suspect was identified states:
“When I was informed that three of our off–shore workers had refused to take a DNA test regarding the tragic occurrence of a man (who fits the physical description of a number of our workers), violated a woman in her home … I made the decision that none of these men would be invited back to work for our company in the future unless they consented to take a DNA test, as had been asked for by the Investigation Police Force.”
The investigation found that when workers were screened by police, very few factors were considered, such as the suspect’s age, height, facial hair, or whether the workers had an alibi. Ultimately it became clear that the workers’ skin colour alone was used as the deciding factor in whether they would be considered a suspect. During the tribunal, police explained that other aspects of the physical description of the suspect were disregarded due to the unreliability of memory around traumatic events, although they used this description when talking with local farm owners and in media releases. In the end the tribunal decided the OPP discriminated against the Caribbean workers based on this fact. That skin colour and place of origin was the sole determinant in collecting and storing their DNA information. The tribunal awarded monetary damages to Mr. Logan and set the precedent for another 53 workers to receive damages. A separate case will need to be conducted for the workers to have their DNA information destroyed and wiped from police record and database.
Delving Deeper into the Realities of the SAWP
Migrant farm workers on two different farms wrote an open letter to the Jamaican labour minister this week. While the letter was written by Jamaican workers, they say other workers from Mexico and the Philippines feel the same way. The letter states that rats eat their food and they have no way to dry their clothes after a rainy day, leaving them to work in damp clothing and footwear. The state their rooms are crowded and they are surveilled by cameras in their houses. They call the SAWP systematic slavery, giving a visceral image to Dr. Hennebry’s more academic comment of “colonial histories.” When discussing the realities of trying to live under this policy structure, they say, “We work for eight months on minimum wage and can’t survive for four months back home.” The letter states they are subject to verbal abuse and “treated like mules” as well as being “exposed to dangerous pesticides without proper protection.”
Underscoring these horrific conditions is the deaths of four workers in the past two weeks. One of which was noted and confirmed by the CBC the other 3 were mentioned in the letter to the Jamaican labour minister. The letter calls for the establishment of anonymous reporting lines to report unsafe conditions, as well as the removal of government agent deduction fees as the agents are of no help in changing condition on the farms. Further demands made in the letter are for enforcement of housing standards and, of course, STATUS FOR ALL!
Migrante Fights Deportations
The Alberta chapter of a global migrants rights group that started to assist migrants being deported from the Philippines has been fighting multiple deportations in the last few months. The groups says they have received multiple requests for help throughout June and July of this year. The group was able to have the deportations paused for two different families in Edmonton.
Two other public campaigns are underway by the group now. One campaign hopes to prevent the deportation of a family to Mexico after having fled that country due to targeted violence and now being rejected as refugees in Canada. The other is to prevent the deportation of Migrante’s national chair, Danilo de Leon. Migrante points out that the federal government is supposed to be working on a program to regularize undocumented migrant workers, yet these workers are still getting deportation orders.
Halifax Homes Not Cops Rally
On August 18th, hundreds gathered in downtown Halifax to demand solutions to the city’s housing crisis. The rally and march took place on the one-year anniversary of an encampment defence action. In 2021, when police moved to evict two small shelters on public property, hundreds of community members pushed back, and the protest escalated, with police pepper spraying the crowd and arresting 24 people. 18 were charged, and six people’s charges are still outstanding.
This year, people marked the day with renewed calls for a moratorium on all encampment evictions in Halifax, and an end to police involvement in the housing crisis. They also had demands on the provincial government, who they called on to invest in affordable public housing and to strengthen tenant protections.
The crowd gathered in front of the Old Memorial Public Library to hear speeches before marching to City Hall and the Nova Scotia legislative building.
Fires and Police Violence Continue in Vancouver’s DTES
It has been another particularly difficult stretch for residents in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. A fire in an SRO (single room occupancy) building on August 22nd caused the building’s roof to collapse, and spread to a neighbouring SRO. All in all, the fire displaced at least 60 of people, into even more precarious housing situations or onto the street where they are at high risk of being pushed out by ongoing Vancouver Police Department street sweeps.
As if it wasn’t enough to be displaced from their homes, whether from the already under-maintained SROs destroyed by fire, or from tents and other structures on Hastings Street targeted by violent street sweeps, the DTES community also witnessed the killing of Chris Amyotte by police on August 22nd. Chris was an Ojibway father of 8 from Ditibineya-ziibiing (Rolling River) First Nation in Manitoba.
Chris was in Vancouver visiting family when he was bear sprayed one morning. He went into a convenience store in the DTES and took a jug of milk to pour on himself to relieve the pain. VPD arrived and shot him multiple times with a beanbag gun, killing him. Organizers with VANDU are conducting a community investigation into the killing.
Vancouver MLA David Eby recently threw his hat into the ring to be BC’s next premier by running for the leadership of the provincial NDP. He recently announced desire for a policy of involuntary care for people who have suffered severe or repeated overdoses. VANDU and countless others including addictions doctors have spoken out against his idea. They say that is is likely to kill more people if put into practice, citing increased stigma, hesitation to seek care, and a higher likelihood of overdose following forced treatment.
VANDU and other organizers with “Our Streets” have been calling for David Eby to meet with them to discuss the housing and street sweeps crisis in the neighbourhood. He has not responded to their calls.
In happier news related to David Eby, his MLA office was recently painted in solidarity with Gidimt’en land defenders. The front of his office read “David Eby is a colonizer,” “Solidarity with Sleydo,” and “Save Old Growth.”
Solidarity with all those working to make David Eby’s life a little harder, all those fighting police violence and anti drug user policies, and everyone doing their best to survive in the DTES.
Since his death at the hands of prison guards in Ontario’s Central East Correctional Centre in 2016, Soleiman Faqiri’s family has been demanding justice. This past week, for the third time, Ontario Provincial Police announced that no guards would be charged for his death. This announcement came as a result of new findings from Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist that concluded that the actions of the Correctional Officers led to Soleiman’s death. Yet, after reviewing the findings, the OPP determined that there was insufficient evidence to lay criminal charges.
In Nova Scotia, a former prison guard was sentenced to three years in prison for sexual assault against three women who were prisoners at the Nova Institution for Women in 2018. The court found that there was no possibility for legal consent given the imbalance of power between the individuals involved.
While the above cases involve different outcomes, the takeaway is the same: prisons are an irredeemable institution. A situation where some human beings hold complete power over others will be abused and is itself abusive. Justice for Soleiman Faqiri, for the former prisoners of the Nova Institution, and for all those who have suffered abuses of power at the hands of guards and the prison system itself.
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