Rita Wong - Public Statement regarding Trans Mountain Injunction, Arrest & Sentencing

August 17, 2019

By Rita Wong 

I’m grateful to be here alive today with all of you on sacred, unceded Coast Salish territories, the homelands of the Musqsueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh peoples.

On 24 August 2018, while BC was in a state of emergency because of wildfires caused by climate change —breaking records for the second year in a row; putting lives at risk, health at risk, and displacing thousands of people— I sang, prayed, and sat in ceremony for about half an hour in front of the Trans Mountain pipeline project’s Westridge Marine Terminal.

I did this because we’re in a climate emergency, and since the Federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect us despite full knowledge of the emergency, it became necessary to act. We are in imminent peril if we consider the rate of change we are currently experiencing from a geological perspective – we are losing species at an alarming rate and facing mass extinction due to the climate crisis that humans have caused. This is the irreparable harm I sought to prevent, which the court, the Crown, and corporations also have a responsibility to prevent.

Everyone has the responsibility to respond to this crisis. We are on the global equivalent of the Titanic, and this industrialized ship needs to change direction. We also need to build life boats, healthy places that can support resilience in the future, such as the sacred Salish Sea.

I acted with respect for the rule of law which includes the rule of natural law and the rule of Indigenous law and the rule of international law. Under the rule of law:

·       I have a responsibility to my ancestors and the ancestors of this land to protect the lands and waters that give us life with each breath, each bite of food, each sip of water.

·       I have a responsibility to reciprocate to the salmon who have given their life to feed mine, to reciprocate to the trees that produce and gift us the fresh air from their leaves through the perpetual song of photosynthesis.

·       I have a responsibility to give back to the great Pacific Ocean, the Coast Salish Sea, Stalew (the Fraser River), and the many water bodies on which human life – and other lives - depend.

·       I have a responsibility to hold our politicians accountable when they persistently breach their international legal obligations to protect us. They should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not increasing them in ways that put the very existence of life at risk.

By breaching the injunction, I had no intention of reducing respect for our courts. I do intend to ask the court to respect Coast Salish laws that uphold our responsibilities to care for the land and waters that make life, liberty and peace possible for everyone. I sincerely ask the court to take our reciprocal relationship with the land and water into consideration because we are on Coast Salish lands, where everyone is a Coast Salish citizen.

I’m one of over 200 citizens of conscience who were arrested because, unlike our federal and provincial governments, we take the climate crisis seriously. We take the need to protect society seriously. We did what we could to maintain respect for our justice system:

·       We cooperated with Indigenous spiritual guardians, non-governmental organizations and the police.

·       We waited patiently for decades before determining —at a moment in history when time has almost run out to act —that orthodox ways of getting the federal government to act were doomed to fail.

·       The police were informed in advance and they appointed people to liaise and communicate with the NGOs in order to maintain order.

All of this is evidence of the rule of law working.

I respect the court’s concern for the rule of law. I do appreciate that obeying court orders is part of the rule of law. There are more aspects of the rule of law that I would ask you to consider before sentencing me.

Natural law and Indigenous law rely on mutual aid and cooperation, qualities that require maturity and a deep love for one’s community, recognizing that we are all equal. It is a rule of law that works primarily from a place of love and respect, not from fear of authority and punishment.

This is the aspect of rule of law that has moved the hearts and spirits of the thousands of people who’ve shown up to care for the land and waters of this place. Such an understanding of rule of law, as coming from a place of love and courage more than fear, could strengthen our sense of democracy. It could make our commitment to reconciliation a sincere one.

We can all learn from natural law and Coast Salish law that we have a reciprocal relationship with the land; and that we all have a responsibility to care for the land’s health, which is ultimately our health too. This was reinforced most recently for me by Tsleil-Waututh speakers at the Drums Not Drills gathering at the scene of my arrest, the Westridge Marine Terminal, on Aug 5 this year, which I helped to co-organize as part of the Mountain Protectors group. 

My ancestors teach me to act responsibly, to honour the water, the land and my relatives.  I feel their teachings in my blood & guts, my bones that carry their spirits within them, my heart as it closes & opens again & again with each beat.

The morning of my arrest we hung red dresses to honour the murdered and missing Indigenous women, the sisters who are made more vulnerable and victimized by the man camps that accompany pipeline expansion and massive resource extraction.  We sang the women warriors song, over and over again, for each woman who should have been there & wasn’t.

We sang for our grandparents, for people from all four direction of the earth.

Our ceremony that morning was an act of spiritual commitment, of prayer, of artistic expression, of freedom of expression, an act of desperation in the face of climate crisis, an act of allegiance with the earth’s natural laws, and a heartfelt attempt to prevent mass extinction of the human race.

As I see it, one shows respect by speaking honestly, a view shared by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To speak the truth is not to show contempt, but to hold those in power accountable for failing to protect us and for instead knowingly choosing to inflict systemic harm & violence upon us and upon the land and waters that give us life.

I pray that the urgency of the climate crisis and our responsibilities to be good relatives living on Coast Salish lands, under Coast Salish laws, will help to guide this justice system as it encounters land defenders. As land and water defenders, we do what we do for everyone’s sake.

Thank you.

“Our Space! Our Safety”: Reflections on Community Alternatives to Police

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By Eva Ureta and Jeff Shantz

Close to 35 community members gathered on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, at the nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona VPL Branch for a moderated discussion on security and policing approaches in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The session entitled Our Space! Our Safety! was moderated by Danielle LaFrance of VPL in collaboration with VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users). Typically VPL hosts monthly meetings with VANDU and this month both decided to host an event on a much needed and urgent topic: policing and surveillance.

VANDU is a group of users and former users who work to improve the lives of people who use drugs through user-based peer support and education. They’re committed to increasing the capacity of people who use drugs to live healthy lives on their own terms and according to their own needs. With over 2,000 members they are committed to challenging public policy in the face of police repression.

After some introductions and basic ground rules the discussion started with a pretty loaded question: “What has your experience been with security and policing in Vancouver?”

One community member from VANDU spoke at length about how women are under attack. She spoke about her own run in with the law at the age of 41 when she was charged with a minor drug offense. It was her first time being introduced to the process of the justice system. She is now 52 and struggles with navigating around her 13 conditions which are due to expire in 2022. In her words “we’re screwed – we’re screwed”. There was further elaboration on the pressure the police put on community members to “rat” on their friends and family during a time when “our street families are dying!”

Another member of VANDU and a resident of Vancouver’s DTES for more than 40 years followed up with a sentiment felt around the room: it feels like the government is trying to kill us and they should be held responsible. He expressed his frustration with being miss-handled and labeled which on occasion has led to police throwing him to the ground and robbing him.

A youth spoke at length about the aging out process (too young or old to access services) and the harassment she faced as a young woman with local security firms which are hired by the surrounding Business Improvement Associations (BIA). On one occasion the police were offended by the sight of her pipe and asked her to put it away. Unfortunately, she did not do so in what they viewed as a timely manner so the police used their baton to smack it out of her had which sent the pipe flying and left her arm injured.

After further discussion surrounding the experiences of long-time members of the DTES everyone got engaged in talking about survival in relation to policing and surveillance in the community. Meenakshi Mannoe, Manager of Community Education at PIVOT, pointed out that the numbers show that police are racist and target Indigenous peoples, which is not surprise when you look at the statistics, including those of the Vancouver Police Department themselves. Indigenous peoples being over represented in all aspects of the Criminal Justice System. And, in this community, Indigenous women are under constant surveillance, targeted and underserved by police and private security. Just look to see who is getting carded, sentences, incarcerated and subject to the worst probation orders. Security in this community is also hyper present in that they are an omnipresent reality that can be seen almost at all times either on foot or in a well-marked vehicle. It’s important that we see the role of security “officers” as an extension of the police and the power that they have over people’s privacy and safety. The only real distinguishing factor as far as function is that they are far cheaper than police. Private security are everywhere and the impacts of their function as an extension of the police are felt hardest in the Social Housing, non-profit and “community” spaces that are becoming less safe as a result of their presence. Their role is not to be a part of the community but to be a stand in for officers to provide information for the police when needed to “assist” in matters of community safety.

Bad apples make it hard for the good apples: Good Cop, Bad Cop debate!

The topic of there being some bad apples that unravel or undo the work of the good apples tends to rear up at most events where policing is debated or discussed at a public level. An employee of VANDU quickly intervened and explained that the police are part of a broken system. At the heart of this system was the violent removal by colonial states and settlers to remove Indigenous Peoples, therefore anything built as a result of that system, and established to maintain it, is rotten. No matter the intentions of an individual officer they all operate, respond to, and are accountable for a system rooted in colonial practices in the lands we now call Canada.

Self-Policing and Alternatives to Policing

VPD Surveillance tactics affected close to every community member in attendance. One thing community members could all agree on is that they are all capable of policing themselves and looking out for each other thanks to places like VANDU that have become a community through their lived experience. In being such an outspoken, focus driven and collective community they have discovered that they in fact police themselves quite regularly around issues that could involve the police. Instead they decide that by not turning to the police they create a safer space for people to come up with solutions that are beneficial to all parties involved. Much of the work is being done as peers and colleagues look out for a care for one another on a regular basis.

The police bring with them a whole host of problems. It was noted that police do not like to be witnessed and that sometimes police wait to get you alone so they can abuse their power such as robbing or intimidating you.

What can we do as a community to move forward?

“We have power in numbers”, mentioned one attendee. There are more of us becoming poor than there are people getting rich. The idea of forming a collective or union comprised of those most targeted by police and private security would be a great idea to discuss at a future date. This was one of the only ideas put forward that in other provinces has had great success with shifting the power and narrative to expose the practices that hurt and criminalize the most visible and underserved populations. Although VANDU has its hands full combating police, private security, and local/provincial government, it would be a powerful move if VANDU takes the lead on implementing such changes in Vancouver’s DTES.

In addition to collective care and community self defense networks, much can be done in pushing for a defunding of police and a redistribution of social funding towards meeting real needs and sustaining resources that support community well being. These discussions are happening in Vancouver, as the “Defund the Police Town Hall” hosted by the Carnegie Centre Action Project on a day after the VPL event testifies. These conversations are also happening in Surrey through the work that Anti-Police Power Surrey has being doing.

Cut the Police Budget Town Hall: Defund the Cops

By Jeff Shantz

There is a real need, across diverse neighborhoods and communities, from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver to Surrey and beyond, to confront and oppose the domination of police in our communities—in terms of their physical domination and control and in terms of their domination of public resources and public funds.

This requires organizing and building community counter-power. Groups and resources and infrastructures that can call out police structures and practices while starting to build real world alternatives to state policing models and institutions.

On June 26, 2019, Carnegie Community Action Project organized a town hall on cutting the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) budget. Participants included representatives from community groups ranging from Pivot Legal Society, Hogan’s Alley Society, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and Anti-Police Power Surrey.

This town hall offered some important insights and reflections on building community-based counter-power against police. Beginning with the very practical issue of police funding and the pressing need to defund police and redirect police resources to community care and supports that can actually address and meet real community needs. And it did so from the perspective of communities most targeted and punished by police in Vancouver.

Speakers touched on intersecting issues of poverty and class, racism, colonialism, and imperialism. It was noted that police do not serve and protect people—they protect structures of ownership and property (wealth inequality) and specific interests of property owners, businesses, and business associations. The stark deprivation that people in the DTES face (in housing, food, funding, etc.) is made even more stark with reference to the millions (about $300 million) spent on basic police operations in Vancouver.

The session started with an overview of the VPD budget. A handout showed visually and effectively the distribution of spending in the City of Vancouver Operating Budget for 2019. 

The event ended with a “community town hall” forum of open question and discussion. People were invited to come up to speak and share their ideas and thoughts about developing alternatives. Those who spoke noted the loss of resources—the theft of resources—from communities that could actually address underlying social causes of social harms and societal threats. There was agreement that funds need to be directed away from police and put into services and infrastructures that are actually needed and useful and support and care for people.

At the center of concerns were pressing questions about what can be done. Ideas and suggestions included a community police watch or counter-patrols to observe police actions in the community. There was a call to observe Police Board meeting. Building networks among groups that are doing work against police and police budget increases was identified as necessary. A call was made that people join organizations doing this work, such as VANDU, CCAP, Our Homes Can’t Wait, and Anti-Police Power Surrey. There was a call to join the emerging Cut the Police Budget Campaign in Vancouver.

Notably, given the anger directed at me by Kwantlen Polytechnic University faculty for conveying an invitation by community members that police leave an event, ironically on “prisoner justice,” the “Cut the Police Budget” event started with a strong statement that out of respect for criminalized people, and in recognition of the harms that police inflict socially, any police or VPD employees present in the room must leave. This is basic protocol in communities, even if some privileged faculty (or those who view community members disrespectfully) want to deny it or erase it.

Police are institutions for maintaining colonial capitalist social structures. Addressing police oppression means fighting against colonialism, exploitation, and repression.


Event Videos


Anti-Police Power Surrey Confronts RCMP ‘Open House’ Public Relations Stunt

By Jeff Shantz and Eva Ureta

 On Saturday May 11, 2019, Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS) went to Surrey RCMP headquarters to confront their “Police Week” open house event. The aim was to Stand openly against police domination in Surrey, British Columbia (unceded Coast Salish territories) and to oppose police public relations stunts and the wasting of public resources on policing.

While essential community services go badly underfunded or excluded by the City of Surrey, police in the city have no shortage of resources for whatever exercise they determine is useful to reinforcing their power and reach in the community. This includes for useless copaganda contrivances like “Police Week.” Complete with a “mini jail” for kids and a flyover by the police helicopter, the RCMP spared no expense to try to make repression and state violence seem like fun for all ages.

Ahead of the event APPS released a statement. It reads in part:

“You can count on the Surrey RCMP to show up at community events and festivals, take selfies, and hand out stickers to kids. This is part of a concerted effort to normalize the massive police presence in Surrey by branding police as ‘family friendly’ and ‘community oriented.’ But regardless of any public relations efforts, police remain a threat to our communities. They surveil and harass homeless people, enforce the catastrophic war on drugs, and terrorize racialized and Indigenous communities, profiling and brutalizing young people of colour with impunity.”

APPS was having none of it and set up an alternative table to discuss the harms police inflict on our communities, the massive consumption of social resources involved in policing, and the need for non-repressive community alternatives. APPS also distributed an information pamphlet discussing the RCMP killings of Nona McEwan and Randy Crosson in Surrey in March. Police do not keep us safe—too often they kill.

Many good and important conversations were had, and many people were surprised to see open opposition to police right at their doorstep on their special “Police Day.” One point that grabbed the attention of the public was the cost of policing in Surrey (33% of tax payers dollars which could go to other resources that could address real issues of crime) and further talks about the proposed switch/transition from the Surrey RCMP into a municipal force. Weather a firm believer in policing or on the fence most of public engaging in dialogue with APPS agreed that both come at a hefty price tag and at a cost to the citizens of Surrey, especially youth! More such opposition is needed.

Anti-Police Power Surrey is a group of people living and working in Surrey who oppose the domination of police, police violence and repression, and the wasteful, and wildly disproportionate, expenditure of public resources on policing in Surrey. APPS calls for social resources for communities not cops, for people not police and aims for the development of non-repressive social supports and care.

Art Versus Debt: Capitalism, Creativity, and the Commons—A Roundtable

By Jeff Shantz and Eva Ureta

On April 27, 2019, a mix of academics and artists gathered at OR Gallery in downtown Vancouver to discuss the relationships of art to financialization, debt, and capitalist markets. Speakers included, in order of presentation, Max Haiven (Lakehead University), Noah Fischer (Occupy Museums), and Cassie Thornton (Feminist Economics Department).

Haiven, began the discussion stressing the deep integration of arts within financial markets. He referred to artistic gentrification and the longstanding role played by arts in gentrification—as “value added” (for capital) in neighborhoods displacing poor residents in pursuit of investment and profit.

Haiven then highlighted the Indonesian Free Port, a collection of art held by global capital in a luxury storage space for high end art. The site is so private, and secretive, that no one knows all of the pieces held there. The artworks in the vaults are pure commodities for trade. No one, except investors, can even access them—so are they art anymore? Pieces can be sold multiple times a minute, day, week, month, year. They circulate only as value, simply by an exchange of ownership documents. This relates too to debt as it is primarily financiers who are the demand in the global art market—those who own the debt of everyone else.

Artists today represent part of the vanguard of new configurations of labor according to Haiven. They are a model for flexibilized capitalism. They are forced to pursue innovation for survival in an austere global market.

So, there are important questions. Can art and artists create autonomy and experimental spaces? What are the possibilities? How does art raise possibilities?

Next up was Noah Fischer who notes that art’s relationship to creativity and dreams are also central to contemporary capitalism. He starts with a story from Zuccotti Park in 2011—Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Fischer says he saw OWS not as a protest but as a “nation state” (his words)—curious, indeed, given the anarchist impetus and form of OWS. Explaining further, Fischer says he saw a sense of autonomy and freedom. A creative space for social art, at a visible level and outside of the financialization of art. He saw creation in the form of protest—in the form of shaming. Shaming was directed at institutions and at figures like New York’s Mayor Bloomberg.

Fischer helped create Occupy Museums out of the creative collective at OWS. Museums are sites of capital flow under a cultural cover—money laundering, brand washing of fossil fuel corporations, colonialism, and the sanitizing of leftist histories of resistance. Occupy Museums sought to re/claim the content inside museums as political. It looked to highlight the relationships within museums as spaces of the one percent. They used shaming politics which did get some media attention.

From there Fischer shifted to a “Trojan Horse” tactic—Debtfair Version 1 and the Debt Exchange. These involved special exhibitions which curated artists according to data from their financial lives. They displayed art in the walls, not on the walls. They displayed the economic lives of the artists. These included experiences of debt and evictions—and how these impact the artists and their art.

They also mapped debt and targeted institutions related to the debt. This led to the doorsteps of Black Rock. Black Rock had been relatively small before the 2008 crisis. It grew afterward as Director Larry Fink figured out how to valorize bad debt. Fink, it turns out was also on the Board of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

Fischer pointed out that eight out of ten of the most expensive schools in the US are art schools. Yet art graduates make less money than high school drop outs do on average. Capital makes money off of failure—but shows success (the few artists who make it).

Fischer noted in the discussion that museums are held out by elites as part of the deal of democracy. They are spaces where treasures can be accessed by the public temporarily and under specific conditions, Unlike the storage facility of the Indonesian Free Port.

Cassie Thornton wrapped up with a discussion or the Feminist Economics Department and Public xEducationx Transformation projects. In Thornton’s view, feminist theory must be about abolition—destroying entire structures. And developing alternatives. Her work focuses on videos that play with value and values. One project highlighted was the Desperate Holding Real Estate Agents which showed listings for the homes of capital, eviction lawyers, landlords, etc. in San Francisco. The listings gave their addresses and said they should be reclaimed—re-expropriated. The aim was to transform relations to land, property, and homes.

One issue with the discussion was the very limited political view fixated on shaming politics (not that they were not harsh enough for the task at hand—but that they are supposedly too harsh and perhaps dehumanize the capitalist targets). But direct action activists have known for some time that shame politics are ineffective because you cannot shame those who have no shame. Shame politics assumes that economic and political power holders can be embarrassed into acting against their own self interests. It assumes that they do not already know what they are doing, why, and the harms they are inflicting on people, society, the planet (Hint: They do). 

It assumes economic and political power holders share human values with those they exploit- But they are already dehumanized in relation to the human values of the exploited and oppressed. In fact, though, they have dehumanized themselves, voluntarily, willingly—in becoming and remaining exploiters and oppressors.

Digital-Debt-Empire was a suite of events, publications, media and collaborations centred around a gathering of scholars, activists and artists in Vancouver, 25-28 April of 2019.

Policing Racialized Communities - BCCLA AGM - May 8, 2019

By Mike Ma

BCCLA AGM – Wednesday, May 8, 2019, Vancouver Public Library

Last week I attended the BC Civil Liberties Association annual general meeting at the Vancouver Public Library. There were the usual agenda items you would expect: a review of activities and milestones, farewell to outgoing board members, and an election of new board members. However, what was of note was the panel discussion organized by Dylan Mazur, Community Lawyer, titled: Policing Racialized Communities. Dylan invited Andrea Glickman, Senior Policy Advisor, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Lama Mugabo, Hogan’s Alley Society, and Audrey Siegl, Musqueam Activist, to speak about street checks and the targeting of people of colour by police services. Audrey spoke powerfully about her experiences of the downtown eastside and her distrust and frustration with police services. Lama reminded us of the daily indignity of being racially profiled by police services when “driving or walking while black.” And Andrea re-affirmed the fact that indigenous peoples are over-policed and under-served by police. She sees street checks as “a tool of discrimination and institutionalized oppression.” It was a great conversation showcasing the issues that BCCLA is continuing to work on this coming year. For more click on the video links below.

Billonaire Bash - May Day Event (May 4, 2019) - Interview with Tamara Herman

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Billionaire Bash - Poster - May 4, 2019.jpg

Interview with Tamara Herman (by Mike Ma)

 Mike: What is Billionaire Bash?

Tamara: So Billionaire Bash was an event that we organized for May Day. We essentially took to the street in West Vancouver in an area known as Billionaire Row where 10 houses alone are worth $433 million. So we gathered in a park and we essentially gave people an interactive tour of the “who’s who’s” of BC’s billionaires. It was a chance for people in Vancouver to learn about BC’s wealthiest developers, resource extractors, tech moguls, landlords, and bad bosses. And the folks who attended were from community members and we heard from different organizations engaged in campaigns and organizing efforts.


Mike: One of the main features of the protest was around land wealth. Could you elaborate on this critique or issue of land wealth and how it expresses itself in British Columbia?

Tamara: Yeah, well the starting point is that most of British Columbia is unceeded territory. It is stolen land and the models of colonization have expanded and they have taken some of the old forms and some of the new forms today. So, BC has long been a resource economy and so a lot of the wealth has been based on natural resources, and that is a form of land wealth, but more and more of the wealth has started to become concentrated in real estate as well. And so there is a huge grab right now for land that is valuable real estate, and we’ve seen low income communities being increasingly gentrified and the government subsidizing wealthy developers to build rental housing that rents at rates beyond what most people can afford. So that is just some of the manifestations of land wealth. What we wanted to show is that these 10 houses alone --being worth $433 million-- is essentially a symbol of everything that is wrong in BC right now: it is a symbol of the injustice of colonization that still continues and it is a symbol of the growing wealth inequality in our communities.


Mike: What was the one thing that stood out for you during the day’s event? What was the one thing that was memorable or rewarding that stood out?

 Tamara: I think there were two things that stood out. 1) There was a billionaire who tried to drive up to his house, which was worth upwards of $40 million, and was quite frustrated that he couldn’t get there because we were blocking the road. We found that pretty amusing that he would be outraged at the small inconvenience of not being able to access the house that is worth more than most people will ever see in their entire lives. 2) The other great thing is that we had a really wonderful piñata and so when we came down from Billionaire Row we had a great BBQ where we had a piñata of the monopoly man and the kids really loved smashing it and so did we. It was a really great way to end the day.

May Day - Billionaire Bash Facebook page

Billionaire Bash calls on government to tax the rich to house the poor - Vancouver Sun

Interview with Brenna Bhandar - April 29, 2019

Forging Democratic Futures? Valerian Rodrigues on Ambedkar, Complex Marginalities, and Inclusion

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By Jeff Shantz

The work of B. R. (Bhimrao Ramji) Ambedkar remains influential, perhaps increasingly so in a period of anticolonialism and decolonizing movements—and Rightwing reactionism. On April 15, 2019, I had the opportunity to attend a keynote address on Ambedkar’s thought by Valerian Rodrigues (Visiting Professor, Simon Fraser University).

This reflection of the work of Ambedkar by Professor Rodrigues was shaped by and addressed the context of the current rise of the far Right, nationalism, xenophobia, and the further concentration of capital in fewer hands under neoliberal capitalism. It references the present period of resentments over migration and the focus on tightening borders in multiple geographic regions. And of course ecological crises. In this period humanity is challenged to support social and economic justice in a sustainable manner.

Rodrigues elects to discuss Ambedkar’s work with reference to three main considerations. First, Ambedkar’s critique of the Indian national movement and, in particular, its lack of connection with marginalized groups. Rodrigues notes that Ambedkar came from one of the lowest castes in India and spoke for them all his life. Second, his thoughts on the promise of democracy and its pragmatics. Third, the influence of his thought on resistance to modes of oppression and social exclusions today. Rodrigues notes that Ambedkar was wary of liberal democracy, Marxism, and emerging Indian nationalism alike.

In all of this Ambedkar was attuned to the underclases and excluded. He argued that certain communities and groups are caught in a “deep marginality.”


Rodrigues suggests that Ambedkar held to a commitment to democracy as freedom and equality (rather than formal procedure, electoralism, or parliamentarism). He related Indian democracy with the national liberation movement. This was a mass movement and included large sections of the working class and peasantry. It used critical memories of the past to shape visions of the future. And it emphasized non-violence.

Ambedkar pushed democracy to the forefront. Nationalism was only feasible, in his view, to the extent that it was attuned to democracy—a radical democracy. Democracy, according to Ambedkar, must guide nationalism, not the other way around.

The nation is caught in two tendencies. Nationality and ethnic bonds are fragile. Ambedkar argued against essentializing them.

According to Ambedkar, the rise of nationalism in India led to the rise of a governing class. That new class reflects the economic, political, and ideological structure of the traditional society despite the new context. Ambedkar argues that in decolonizing movements local capital will secure the governing class post-independence. The governing class shows traditions of ranking and gradation were not assailed within the nationalist movement. The movement reproduced ranks and hierarchies.

Post-colonial democracy was a divided house. There were moves toward democracy but also a maintaining of privilege and status. In Ambedkar’s view, democracy is a process of bringing social and economic changes. It is, he suggests, a redistribution of social resources without bloodshed. But democracy needs to respond to social conditions, not be based on dogma. 

Ambedkar argued for special education and employment for lower caste and Indigenous people in India. These suggestions enter the Indian constitutional document. Ambedkar insisted that protections must be put in the Constitution itself, so they are not vulnerable to future political parties with their own unequal or exclusionary aims.

In Ambedkar’s view, democracy is a resource for new possibilities.  Elections cannot be taken as the be all and end all of democracy. Ruling groups know that these will not threaten their power. Rather, it gives their power a veneer of selection.

Political democracy cannot last, according to Ambedkar unless there is a basis of social democracy. Liberty, equality, fraternity must be together at once. Fraternity, In Ambedkar’s view, is necessary to avoid the need of “a constable to enforce” the other two, as Rodrigues puts it.

Social democracy, in Ambedkar’s vision, encompasses an attitude of respect. It involves resocialization and a new likemindedness.

Rodrigues outlines Ambedkar’s critiques of liberal democracy and Marxism. Ambedkar, he says, suggests that liberal democracy is not sensitive to human needs for respect and dignity. It does not respect the need of people to pursue their own destiny. It is also not sensitive to the sociality of humans. And it is excessively focused on political democracy—not social and economic democracy. It ignores religious sensibilities (in non-religious expressions), the virtues that connect people.

According to Ambedkar, liberal democracy ignores economic inequalities and the inequality that obtains in bargaining contracts. The strong can defraud the weak. This adds to the economic ranks of the downtrodden and poor. Liberty has swallowed equality and rendered democracy a farce.

Ambedkar had critiques of Marxism as well. For one, he rejected materialist dialectics. He focused instead on consciousness. Ambedkar did endorse the Marxist understanding of class in society and the primacy of the ownership of the means of production in social relations of power—and the social architecture built up in defense of property. And, he agreed with Marx that the point of philosophy is to change the world.

 Rodrigues concludes with a consideration of modes of oppression and exclusion in these times. The promises of post-coloniality have proved elusive. Ambedkar, like Franz Fanon and Paolo Friere have mush to suggest. Some have turned to Ambedkar and Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben to understand the plight of refugees today. Ambedkar’s thought is concerned with transatlantic politics.

 This was an event that offered numerous insights into Ambedkar’s ideas. Living and organizing in Surrey, I have hosted several events in the Ambedkar room of the City Center library. I must admit having too little familiarity with his ideas. This talk made a contribution to developing that understanding. Many ask: “Can democracy be more than a contrivance to benefit elites?” Ambedkar’s work offers interesting responses.


Forging Democratic Futures: Ambedkar on Complex Marginalities and Inclusion 

Please join us for a free public lecture by Dr. Valerian Rodrigues, a visiting professor with SFU's Department of Humanities.This appointment is made possible through the Hari and Madhu Varshney Visiting Scholars Program in Indian Studies.

While India’s national movement against colonial rule traced a trajectory of its own, B. R. (Bhimrao Ramji) Ambedkar, strove to give a distinct turn to it by avowing egalitarianism, constitutionalism, and moral grounding. This turn grappled with the marginality of the socially excluded untouchable communities from which he hailed, and the deep diversity constitutive of India. While he wrote extensively on prevalent social relations that upheld graded inequality, he was deeply aware of the overladen and intersecting modes of exclusion and oppression that characterised societies such as India.

An alumnus of Columbia University, New York, and London School of Economics, in early 20th century, Ambedkar sought to anchor public life on a distinct conception of democracy that resonated a post-colonial context seeking its self-definition. The talk is an engagement with and celebration of the thought and action of an iconic figure on the day following his birth anniversary.

  • Monday, April 15 | 5:30—8:00pm

  • SFU Segal Building, Ground Floor
    500 Granville Street, Vancouver

  • Free public lecture

Collectively Building Power against Debt Regimes: A Public Discussion

April 28, 2019

By Jeff Shantz

 Over the course of four days spanning April 25-28, a gathering of academics, artists, and a few activists took part in a symposium entitled “Digital/Debt/Empire” held at Simon Fraser University and the Or Gallery in Vancouver. The last day saw a discussion on some collective approaches to building power against debt regimes. It featured Jerome Roos, Iolanda Fresnillo,  Ludovica Rogers, and Stephanie Rearick.

The session began with Jerome Roos (a founding editor of ROAR magazine) in an impromptu interview with academic Max Haiven (Lakehead University). Roos explained that his work, and ROAR magazine originated in coverage of the struggles of the squares—the struggles of the Arab Spring and the anti-debt struggles in southern Europe that drew from them. Roos spoke of the commonality between struggles for liberal democracy (as in Egypt) and against austerity (as in southern Europe). He noted that the Egyptian uprising was also about socioeconomic struggles and financialization while there were criticisms of liberal democracy in the European struggles, notably in Greece and in Spain.

Currently movements are still oriented against, and in response to, the bankruptcy of center-left social democracy. This is seen in France in the present struggles of the Gillets Jaunes (Yellow Vests). These are still, also, influenced by the 2008 crisis and French president Macron’s intensification of the neoliberal policies that led to the crisis in the first place.

The Yellow Vests have been complex in bringing together a range of social and economic issues. They have been used as rightwing symbol in the Netherlands and in Canada. Roos reminds the audience that the Netherlands was a focal point for development of the new Islamophobic far right. Earlier developments pint to the xenophobia and racism of political figure Pym Fortin and Geert Wilders. More recently are movements even to Wilders’ right. The county’s center-right president now has two far right figures pushing politics even further to the right.

Roos concluded by asking “How are emergent movements developing?” They are often outside and beyond traditional left organizations, particularly socialist parties and trade unions. Roos asks, “If no one speaks for you, how do you organize?” He suggests that in Greece and in Spain movements are orienting toward political parties. This is happening in the US too with the support around Bernie Sanders. Also, and more importantly I would suggest, are libertarian socialist forms. People are building organizations that can be more sustainable, and allow for more durable resistance, but which are not oriented toward elections. I have recently discussed these as “insurrectionary infrastructures.”

 The second speaker was Iolanda Fresnillo of the Citizens’ Debt Audit Platform in Spain. That work involves researching debt in relation to social movements in Spain. There people are looking to build something new—building economic power. She highlighted debt audits as part of that work. This involves civilian participation in auditing public debt and public policy. Fresnillo notes that such debt audits are first seen in Brazil in the 1930s but suggests here own inspiration comes from efforts in the 1990s.

The turn to debt audits in Spain coincides with the movements of Indignados and movements for non-payment of debts. It is about capacity building and political power. The audits allow for the detection of corruption, illegalities, and illegitimate debt. It allows for closer evaluation of government policy decisions. It makes injustice visible.

Fresnillo notes that illegitimacy is a political concept rather than a strictly legal one. Illegitimate policies are those that threaten human rights, economic, social, and cultural rights. This is also debt contracted without consent of the population or against the interests of the population. Audits take into account impacts of the debt and of debt payments. The debt practices could be legal—but they are unjust, unfair, harmful. Fresnillo argues that illegitimacy provides grounds for non-payment or renegotiation or cancellation of debts.

Fresnillo concludes by referencing debt audits that have happened in Greece, Italy, France, and Spain.

 Next up was Ludovica Rogers of Research for Action and Debt Resistance UK. She challenges the notion of debt as apolitical. The focus is on UK municipal debt and the impacts of debt on democracy, in particular the impacts of austerity cuts to local government (in a UK context that is highly centralized with local funds coming from central government grants, with councils also imposing cuts).

The projects involved filing objections to council financial decisions. They created a guide for people to file their own objections. They too ask about the illegitimacy of debts in terms of contracting terms, the purpose of the debts (and relation if any to benefits for the population), and the servicing of debt.

Recommendations included the suspending of interest payments and the canceling of contracts.

 The final speaker was Stephanie Rearick of Mutual Aid Networks based in Madison, Wisconsin. These started in a Restorative Justice Youth Court involving community attempts to develop alternatives to carceral systems and providing youth with alternatives that build their strengths and capabilities rather than taking a vengeful and punitive approach. A time bank for labor started to do this community justice work. This model raises many interesting questions, not least of which involve alternatives to police and steps to build transformative approaches to justice. Unfortunately, the practicalities of the network were left rather opaque and needed much fleshing out in specific terms in the discussion.

 On the whole some interesting examples were touched upon. There was perhaps too little structural analysis of class—and particularly of ownership and control and of exploitation and accumulation beyond debt. The responses were left seeming too artisanal and reformist rather than addressing issues of structured concentrations of power embodied in labor, land ownership, property regimes. And how they construct forms, practices, and outcomes of governance.


Further Reading

Jeff Shantz. 2018. Insurrectionary Infrastructures. Brooklyn: Punctum

Anti-Police Power Surrey Community Discussion: Organizing Against Policing in Surrey

Jeff Shantz and Eva Ureta

On Sunday, April 7, 2019, Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS) hosted a community discussion on community organizing against policing in Surrey and possibilities for developing alternatives to police. APPS is a group of people living and working in Surrey who oppose the domination of police, police violence and repression, and the wasteful, and wildly disproportionate, expenditure of public resources on policing in Surrey. APPS calls for social resources for communities not cops, for people not police and aims for the development of non-repressive social supports and care.

The meeting began with an overview of police dominance in Surrey by APPS. It was noted that there is a push by politicians, businesses, business associations, and the Board of Trade, for more police in the city despite Surrey already having the country’s largest RCMP detachment. It was stressed that much of “crime” that is focused on is about concerns of businesses and property owners, not matters of safety and protection. This includes the targeting of poor and homeless people and the punishing of people for survival strategies.

Those forty or so present at the meeting included people who have been harassed, abused, and arrested by police, including several who were subjected to police violence while (and for) living on “the Strip” on 135A Street in Whalley. They spoke poignantly about the violence that police have done to them. Indeed, most present at the meeting have had negative experiences with police—often extreme violence.

Policing Problems

The broader discussion started with a go around of concerns about police, with everyone speaking. There were issues of ongoing harassment raised. Cops swear at people and degrade them for being poor. One participant said she has been called “a waste of skin” by cops, being told “you should never have been born.” One person reported that an arresting officer kept driving by a homeless person they had previously arrested as a form of implied threat.

Several people reported that police regularly straight up rob them. Cops ask them to empty the contents of their pockets and then take the contents—including money (even if there are no “illicit” or criminalized objects present). These are often significant amounts of money for people who do not have much money.

There was a discussion about how the “war on drugs” gives cops carte blanche to steal from people who are cast as “constant criminals” no matter what they have done or are doing. This allows the police to contain and control people—on behalf of the interests of property owners, landlords, and businesses that want to target poor people for removal.

It was pointed out that much harassment comes from bylaw officers too. Bylaw threaten to take and destroy the belongings of homeless people.

One person noted that shelter programs are beyond the landlord and tenant act. Threats are made against residents around losing housing.

Concerns were raised about private security guards and their growing role in policing communities. They overlap multiple private contracts (malls, plazas, city venues, business districts, etc.) and police overlapping private and public spaces. And they do so with minimal regulation or oversight.

What Might Be Done?

The main part of the discussion focused on what we need to do to build an effective movement to counter police power. Many ideas were raised.

Many in our communities do not know what their rights are. They are unsure what they can and cannot do during interactions with police. We need to teach people their rights and the limits on police interactions.

Popular Education and awareness raising.

Pointing out the existing police budgets and how much of public resources they consume. Defund the police!

Networks to observe police.

Take care of each other so that people are not in positions where they feel they have to call the cops.

Develop practices of transformative justice.

Peers defending peers who are targeted by police.

These are some of the things that can be done and that are being done in other communities where people are struggling to oppose police domination in their lives. And there was, happily, some discussion by Vancouver folks of starting an Anti-Police Power Vancouver!

It was acknowledged that policing is a structure of violence. It is about maintaining relations of exploitation, oppression, and inequality. It is not about a specific force or particular officers. The discussion was an important starting point for building community strength to counter policing narratives, oppose police power in Surrey, and work toward campaigns that contribute to alternatives to policing.

Ridgelantes Put Hate on Display against “Rally for Homes Not Hate” in Maple Ridge

April 14, 2019

By Jeff Shantz

 Anita Place tent city in Maple Ridge has stood as a site of housing by and for homeless people, mutual aid, health care, and emergency response in the context of multiple crises (housing, health care, overdose, social violence). As a space of solidarity among homeless people it has been subjected to various forms of attack from economic and political leaders as well as more privileged residents of Maple Ridge.

Only this week, the mayor of Maple Ridge, Mike Morden, released a 34-minute video produced by a public relations firm in which, in a fake interview format he accused homeless people of “raping and pillaging all of our community and our businesses.” Morden has already turned Anita Place into something of a prison camp with constant surveillance and harassment, and regular acts of invasive violence by police and bylaw enforcement officers. Homeless people and advocates have long noted threats against them by anti-homeless vigilantes (Ridgelantes) in Maple Ridge.

On Sunday April 14, 2019, anti-homeless NIMBY advocates and Ridgelantes of Maple Ridge, apparently stoked by their mayor’s offensive and outrageous claims, held a rally against poor and homeless people living in Maple Ridge. Current and former residents of Anita Place tent city and their allies organized a counter rally to fight for homes now and to stand against the hate coming from politicians, property owners, and businesses.

The Homes Not Hate rally blocked the intersection at Lougheed Highway and 223 Street in downtown Maple Ridge. This elicited some honks of support but seemingly many more aggressive horn peels from angry motorists. Someone attempted to drive through a line of protesters. There were also surprising numbers of people in vehicles shouting bigoted poor bashing slurs at people and giving people the finger. Disappointingly this included some children who were clearly learning to be good neighbors from their loving parents (who no doubt view themselves as paragons of civic responsibility).

The rally then moved to a nearby empty lot where there were several speeches from homeless people and allies. These included solidarity greetings from Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and Bread and Roses and Hormones (self-organized trans defense workers).

During the speeches, a violently angry woman got out of a high end SUV to run across the street and physically confront and verbally berate several people in the rally. Not only did she spew typical poor bashing vitriol (“Get a job,” “Pay taxes,” etc.) but at a few points she struck people, including punching a woman, a VANDU member, in the face. This is a small example of the sort of poor bashing hatred and threats that Anita Place residents face in Maple Ridge by privileged residents, homeowners, and business people who are so concerned about the reputation of their city that they willingly put thuggish bigotry and violence against homeless people on display for all to see. And show that their model of self righteous, violent, proprietarian anomie is much less desirable than the community and mutual aid that Anita Place residents and supports have tried to build and sustain.

This was an important event showing the resilience and determination of homeless people in Maple Ridge in the face of Ridgelante aggression. It sent a strong message against police and bylaw violence and for housing and social care—"homes not jails,” as several speakers put it. Politicians at all levels as well as residents in Maple Ridge and beyond need to see where the real social threats are coming from and who is projecting them.

For the Peace River & the Wedzin Kwa- Its not too late to stop Site C & SNC-Lavalin

April 13, 2019

By Mike Ma

Yesterday I attended the protest against the Site C dam and SNC-Lavalin at the 745 Thurlow headquarters of the construction conglomerate. It was a great feeling to be with a group of committed and concerned people. I’m reminded that small groups of people can do real and effective actions in life. I often feel that actions are futile, but this action made me feel pretty good. It was low on the confrontation index, but high on the calm and committed index. I think it made people feel good. I certainly felt good. We also handed out many pamphlets informing readers about the importance of the Site C Dam issue.

 It was a beautiful Friday afternoon with lots of happy pedestrians walking by during the lunch hour. One of the guards of the office tower came out to ask us to leave, but finally gave up when it appeared that we were not leaving. I think he threatened to call the police, but they never showed up. For more on Site C dam:




 And being at the event made me wonder why we are not asking more about this connection between the Site C dam and SNC-Lavalin? 

For more on the connection between Site C and SNC-Lavalin read:




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“Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land, and Racial Regimes of Ownership” - A Discussion

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By Jeff Shantz 

Brenna Bhandar’s newly released book Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land, and Racial Regimes of Ownership promise to open up important ways of thinking about property within capitalist colonialism (historically and currently). Some of that promise was on display over several hours of discussion during the book launch at Simon Fraser University University’s (SFU) Harbourfront campus (unceded Coast Salish territories) on the evening of April 9, 2019.

In addition to the author, discussants included Nick Blomley of SFU, Irina Ceric of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (and member of the Social Justice Center), and Glen Coulthard of the University of British Columbia, author of the influential Red Skin, White Masks. The event was chaired by Davina Bhandar of Athabasca University.

The book broadly examines the invention of property and the formation of property law in capitalist colonial projects (emphasizing that property is a social product, not a natural category). Brenna Bhandar first introduces the new book, why it is framed as it is and what was intended with it. She relates that she had been asked at a conference by an academic legal scholar if what she referred to as colonial violence was really appropriation (not expropriation, note). She began asking what it really means to appropriate land (and all that goes with it) that is someone else’s (home). Other assumptions (racism, for example) went along with that appropriation. Science, economy, cultural production, philosophy, law—all went along with the projects of appropriation.

All of this led her to focus on the role of property law in colonial endeavors. Bhandar notes that law shapes the formation of proletarian subjects, property, racial subjectivities. Hegemonic paradigms of ownership also contain moments of rupture, refusal, resistance, though these are perhaps underplayed in the book, as the discussion would suggest.

Today, Bhandar asks, how can property be “de-propertized”—what are the ruptures of the present. How might we “dethrone” the commodity form property, in her words? These tasks need to be taken up collectively, as Bhandar suggests.

 The Respondents

All of the respondents were in agreement that this is an important work. Nick Blomley appreciates that Bhandar argues that modern property law emerges with and through colonial appropriation (and violence). He notes that under capitalist colonialism property is justified with reference to those who supposedly have the technology to use it (in which the technologies and uses of colonialism are all that count). Blomley suggests that too many property theorists elide questions of race and colonialism. And if they do mention race, they ignore the specific work that property law does.

Blomley asks how property law affects the lived realities of coloniality? Racial subjects and modern property are produced together. Blomley turns to works on foreclosure to point out that foreclosure in the colonial United States became a means of theft of Indigenous land through Indigenous debt.

Blomley refers to Frantz Fanon, who in Wretched of the Earth notes that the colonial world is one divided into compartments in which the Native learns to stay in its place. Blomley argus that in so-called British Columbia, the watchful eye of property owners backed by the state, more than agents of the state themselves, turned Indigenous people into trespassers on their own lands. Trespass is itself culturally and historically constructed. It is connected to land in the modern period—through enclosure and through colonial encounter. 

Blomley points out that we can see racialized regimes of property in the killing of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous youth, by white farmer Gerald Stanley in Saskatchewan. Stanley’s lawyer invoked intrusion and trespass (on settler occupied land, not of settlers on stolen Indigenous land) along with racist assumptions of Indigenous people as threats to white property.

 Irina Ceric kept a focus on specific legal tools—especially injunctions, her area of work. Bhandar points out in the book that settler colonialism requires flexibility in legal devices. Ceric notes that while injunctions are not part of property law, they are about property. She offers that BC has a long history of using injunctions against Indigenous people and social movements. Lawsuits are used as means to secure injunctions alone—they are not cases intended to go to trial. Ceric quotes the late Secwepemc activist Art Manual who has described injunctions as “legal billy clubs.” She reminds the audience that use of force is inherent in the public-private partnerships of extractives companies, police, and courts.

Ideas of use also underly injunctions and are part of colonial histories of property. Ideas of using or “improving” land are invoked that give corporations and industry a trump card in getting injunctions (their use is privileged). Ceric takes the discussion to injunctions against Wet’suwet’en land defenders 

Glen Coulthard also found much in agreement with the book. He begins by asking about exclusions in the text—especially around resistance to colonial regimes of ownership. The text, in his view, is not focused enough on real world alternatives.

Coulthard suggests the need for a focus on the forms of social relations, land tenure, etc. that needed to be erased by colonial violence (according to the colonizers) in order to construct colonial property, law (and property law). What were they?

Coulthard pushes the discussion in the direction of understanding the nature of the state. Are the issues identified in the book property issues or issues of territoriality more broadly (and of sovereignty through the state). How much of this is constitutive of the state form itself? Here Coulthard significantly brings in the works of the anarchist Peter Kropotkin in relation to primitive accumulation—as a constituent feature of the state as such. This is a crucial moment in the discussion that bears further development.

Debates on De-Propertization

Questions included issues of identity and law, the impacts of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, duties to consult, consent, etc.

Bhandar responded by acknowledging her need to think further about technicalities of law and how they are shaped through racial regimes. She notes that in the UK injunctions are used all the time on university campuses—to stop student protests.

Despite recognizing the limits of the law and the violence inherent in law (and its separations and containments) Bhandar says she is not ready to give up on the law. Ceric offered a bit of friendly pushback on this but I would have liked this discussion to be pursued a bit further (and to hear from Coulthard more on this given his reading of Kropotkin who wrote extensively on law). An audience member pointed out that injunctions are also most used in labor disputes to stop unions or to break strikes. This is about propertization for capital—not or the workers who work in a struck property.

Blomley returned to the fact that private property is a production of the state. A discussion began around the state-property relation which could not be fully be pursued in the time available.

There were also unanswered questions around what the de-propertization of property would entail and look like. Bhandar offered some on the ground examples. Occupations of urban sites offer examples. She noted that Occupy London argued for indefinite occupation of the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral—after they were taken to court over an injunction. This confronted property law’s emphasis on definite periods of occupation in her view. After the Grenfell Tower fire, people took over a property no longer used by an art gallery. They wanted to stay there indefinitely. Coulthard responded by pointing out that the character of these acts changes if they are transposed to New York or Oakland where they would be claims made on stolen Indigenous lands. 

We still need to work out a common politics that is anti-capitalist and anti-colonialist. Key in this are Indigenous resistance, resistance to enclosures of various sorts. The discussion based off of Colonial Lives of Property suggests that it makes a contribution to expanding our understandings of promises and problems.


Further Reading

Bhandar, Brenna. 2018. Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land, and Racial Regimes of Ownership. Durham: Duke University Press

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