Challenging Police Power in Surrey: An APP Surrey Event

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By Eva Ureta

Close to 60 people gathered at Surrey’s Progressive Cultural Centre on January 26, 2019, to take part in Anti-Police Power (APP) Surrey’s discussion on “Challenging Police Power in Surrey”. APP Surrey is a community based grass roots initiative to build collective resistance against police power in Surrey. Members live and work in Surrey are dedicated to challenging the current narrative of the state of policing. APP Surrey is an anti-capitalist and anti-colonial collective that support working class community struggles for survival and power. 

APP Surrey presented on a range of topics: Mayor McCallum’s safety policies; policing in postsecondary schools; moral panic and gang violence; Surrey Board of Trade and gentrification, and; layered and integrated policing. Once APP speakers wrapped up their presentations, everyone was given the opportunity to speak out about policing issues they have experienced. Not surprising the presentations struck a chord with nearly everyone. 

Discussions between community members quickly broke out and specifically around the coercive tactics used by the Surrey RCMP. Police were exposed for their strategies when it came to recruiting students (elementary to postsecondary) to act as snitches and agents of the state. Parents in attendance were concerned and felt the safety and security of their children who are under constant surveillance. 

On a positive note, all in attendance want to see change. Everyone seemed encouraged to see APP openly challenging and confronting the state of policing in Surrey. Some shared the need to get involved in some issues that directly affect them or members of their community. APP Surrey came prepared and announced that at the Civic Plaza on January 29th the Surrey Board of Trade is hosting a “RCMP or Municipal Police Dialogue” from 7:30–9:30am. 

APP Surrey will be present at 7:00am to handout leaflets to attendees. It was pointed out that this event is free and if anyone is interested they can reserve a ticket on Eventbrite. The dialogue is aimed at the transition to a municipal police force from the current RCMP and what would have better outcomes regarding public safety: the costs and benefits of a municipal police force; the costs and benefits of keeping the RCMP, and; business impacts on such a change. 

A major initiative of APP Surrey is to highlight how resources are constantly being funneled into policing initiatives (integrating police-led programming at schools or expanding the police force) which is a misappropriation of public dollars especially in light of there being a housing, homeless and opioid crisis. The consensus from the “Challenging Police Power in Surrey” was unanimous: divest from police and invest in communities.

People Who Use Drugs - Conference and AGM - Nov. 11-12, 2018


SUN,NOV 11TH & MON, NOV 12TH, 9:30 AM - 6:30 PM

Inn on the Quay, New Westminster, 900 Quayside Dr.(@SkyTrain’s New Westminster Station)

This 2 day conference, funded by the Overdose Prevention Education Network, brought together PWUD across BC to activate: democratic drug user groups; ending criminalization of PWUD; experiential worker rights.

Green Jobs Respect and Heal the Land, Fracking & Mega Dams Don’t

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By Rita Wong

Climate change is an urgent issue. 15,000 scientists have issued a warning letter telling us that we need to take it seriously. As Eileen Crist, one of the co-authors of this letter says, “Taking care of the planet is akin to taking care of one's family. We take care of our families: our children and our spouses and our parents. When you take care of your family, you don't do it because you're optimistic or pessimistic … it's because that's what you do. Our mandate is that we take care of Earth and earthlings and human beings because we're all family."

I teach environmental ethics at Emily Carr University, and something I say to my students is that when we feel like we’’re on the Titanic, it’s important not to panic. What we can do is take time to learn who’s here with us and how we can work together to build life boats.

We are lucky that BC is home to many lifeboats. We need massive reforestation, and we need to protect the land that’s already healthy and natural. These lifeboats include the Burrard Inlet (where I was arrested for opposing pipeline expansion), the Peace Valley, the Unist’ot’en Camp up north, and many other key places, sacred places. We need to protect these life boats and honour them because it’s the right thing to do. And they also happen to be crucial for our shared future.

I ask the BC Federation of Labour’s climate change working group to be careful not to accept greenwashing, to look hard at what kinds of green jobs actually help improve the health of the land.  I caution everyone to avoid the trap of greenwashing. Two examples come to mind:

(1) LNG is fracked gas; it’s not clean; it’s poisoning the watershed and contributing to earthquakes and tremors. The recent injunction threat against the Unist’ot’en Camp endangers all of us. We need to honour the healing and the assertion of Indigenous ways of living that the Unist’ot’en embody. These are crucial for humanity to respect and learn from. 

(1) There is plenty of evidence to show that mega dams like Site C, Keeyask Falls, Muskrat Falls, are NOT CLEAN AND NOT GREEN. They are methane and mercury releasing disasters that destroy the very forests we need to be increasing now. We need massive reforestation in a serious way.  We need intact carbon sinks. We need to respect the land. We cannot afford to be clearcutting huge areas of forests and flooding them, not right now. Other forms of energy and green jobs are necessary and possible.

What links both examples is water. Our future depends on protecting the health of the water, the health of the land, the health of the people. That needs to be the lens by which we build green jobs. 

As research from UBC’s Program on Water Governance shows, BC Hydro's alternative portfolio to Site C would create more long-term jobs and have better environmental outcomes. A diverse combination of wind, solar site remediation, geothermal construction and energy conservation would be better for the land, better for reconciliation, and ultimately better for people. We need the big contribution to food security that the Peace Valley can offer BC, and we need to honour Treaty 8. Now is the time to walk the talk; when Hydro has apologized for the WAC Bennett Dam’s harm to Indigenous peoples, how can it violate Treaty 8 and force the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations into an expensive battle to protect treaty rights?

Divest from Police, Invest in People: Anti-Police Power Surrey Calls for “Community Not Cops”

By Jeff Shantz

 On Saturday, November 24, 2018, Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS) held a rally against the dominance of police in our communities in Surrey and the fear politics being pushed by politicians, businesses, and police to ratchet up police budgets and the further expansion of policing in our communities, even as crime rates drop. It was also a moment to call for more support for community resources and funding of socially necessary services that are, in fact, primary reasons that crime rates drop—not police as some assume.

Almost 60 people marched from City Hall to the RCMP office in Whalley, a center of police violence against poor and homeless people. The rally heard from numerous speakers who told of experiences of police violence and the negative impacts of policing, especially on oppressed and marginalized people and communities. One young man, Gurpreet, attending his first protest, described the social forces that led him into gang activity and to being criminalized and of the need for community solutions not more policing.

The theme of the day was “Community Not Cops.” This expressed APPS’ emphasis on social resources and spending to address causes of social harms and conflict and to care and support for communities in ways that improve social conditions and relations. Police do not and cannot do this. Instead, they increase social tensions and violence (fear and alienation) while targeting specific groups and individuals for punishment (often on the basis of class, poverty, and racism).

The main call of the rally was “Divest from Police, Invest in People.” This spoke to the disproportionate amount of public resources and funding that go to police budgets rather than necessary social services (community centers, child care, elder care, harm reduction, etc.). In Surrey, at least 20 percent of the City budget goes solely to formal policing (in the RCMP). More goes to other policing functions (bylaw, etc.).

Instead APPS suggests that funding would be better spent on community initiatives that reduce social harms and build the connections that protect communities and provide real security and safety. 

Community Not Cops

Police only respond reactively to activities that are defined legally as crimes (whether the laws are just or not) and have much discretion in how they pursue their work, who they impact and how. Police do not protect communities, as some would believe, by stopping the criminal act as it occurs.

In response to the APPS rally the Surrey Now-Leader asked, “Who will protect you when the burglar comes through your window?” But that is not what police do. If the burglar is through your window it is already too late. Calling the cops after the fact will not keep you safe. We need to reduce socially harmful activities before they occur. And we need to address why certain acts occur in the first place.

Only building community solidarity and support will do that. Only resources for community care will do that.

Yet proponents of policing want to spend even more public resources and funds on reactive punishment-based approaches. At the same time they expect already overworked, under-resourced, under-supported, under-serviced communities to do essential community safety and care work with little or no support. That is wrongheaded and ideological. It is classic neoliberal practice—defunding communities to justify massive spending on forces of state repression.      

Much criminological research shows that strengthening community cohesion and solidarity, through expanded and shared resources and services reduce social conflict and harmful activities. This is where we need to go. This is a point that Anti-Police Power Surrey is trying to bring to public discussion, a discussion so far dominated by authoritarian and repressive approaches. 

On Fear and  Politics

To point out that politicians, businesses, and police use fear politics and moral panics to promote increased police spending, activities, equipment, and officers is not to say that there are not reasons for concern in our communities. Rather, it is to recognize that police will not reduce social harm or remove the sources of social harm in our societies. Structures of poverty, exploitation, racism, oppression are reinforced by and maintained by policing practices (that largely protect systems of inequality and property over and against human need).

Rather it is too show the disconnect between reality and perception and to ask why politicians are using misrepresentations rather that reality as the basis for decision-making. If crime rates are dropping, as they are in Surrey, why the loud and persistent calls for increased policing? Why the claims by proponents of increased policing that crime in Surrey is growing, even spiraling out of control?

Anti-Police Power Surrey has some answers. And they are working toward community-based alternatives. The Community Not Cops rally initiated some of that conversation

News coverage:

“Centering Black Lives”: An Evening with Desmond Cole

Desmond Cole was in Vancouver to deliver a talk at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (CBC)

Desmond Cole was in Vancouver to deliver a talk at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (CBC)

By Jeff Shantz  - November 19, 2018

Journalist Desmond Cole has been one of the most prominent voices against police violence and racial profiling in Canada. On November 16, 2018, Cole shred his experiences and insights with a standing room only gathering at the Alice McKay Room in the Vancouver Public Library in downtown Vancouver. Cole engaged in wide ranging conversation at an event hosted by Black Lives Matter Vancouver and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

The evening started with conversations among attendees at tables around one or more questions related to issues of racial profiling, white supremacy, carding, identity, etc. There were prepared questions about the responsibilities of white people in overcoming white supremacy. There were questions about racial identity and social engagements with identity.

Before Cole spoke, singer-songwriter Desiree Dawson sang several of her original songs including CBC Searchlight winner from 2016,”Hide.” Dawson proved popular with the audience who responded enthusiastically.

In an honestly emotional start, Desmond Cole began by relating his disturbing experiences of being carded by Vancouver police within 24 hours of his arrival in the city. Cole did say that the Vancouver Police Department denied they do racial profiling or even have racism on the force. Yet their own data show that while one percent of Vancouver’s population is Black, they are five percent of those carded. While Indigenous people are two percent of Vancouver’s population, they are 16 percent of those carded. And police had denied for years that this data even existed. Cops lie.

Cole asked people to think about the challenges that brought us together as communities on the evening. These were perhaps questions about what it means to be Black in Vancouver or Canada today. Maybe simple curiosity. Cole asked why people where there and what it is about communities in struggle that makes them want to attend events like this—which do not happen all the time.

The first response was from a woman who said she was working through white supremacy, as a Black woman, and having to overcome the valuation of white culture taught from an early age. Throughout the evening there were several discussions of healing and the need for healing. People spoke of the dominant social pressures to be other than they are. One person who spoke said, “Belonging is the opposite of ‘fitting in’.”

There were many thoughts conveyed on the immense strength it takes for people to get up and into the world—given all that is going on today. Self-care and care of those around us was recognized to be essential. Desmond Cole stressed that this is work that is often not looked at as The Work (capitalized) of movements. But Cole said finding time to laugh, and laughing, is The Work too.

Cole spoke of his upbringing in Red Deer (which surprised many) and Oshawa and his increasing appreciation for nature. Anyone who follows Cole on social media knows that his journalistic and political posts are often joined by lovely photos of flowers. Sadly, this is what he was simply trying to enjoy when he set out for Stanley Park and was stopped by the Vancouver Police Department officer.  

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White Supremacist Improv

One highlight of the discussion was Cole’s discussion of what he calls “White Supremacist Improv.” This involves white people making up rules that Black people have supposedly violated , as a means to keep them in their place. So white people online made up or looked for absurd bylaws that Cole must have violated for the cops to have stopped him. It could not have been, according to the white supremacist improvisers, that the police are a racist institution or practice racial profiling.

A key point stressed by Cole is the need to stop incrementalism and middling approaches to social change (that do not really change anything)—and go directly for what is needed. Cole emphasizes that Black people have the right to demand what they need on their terms. It is not impractical or unrealistic to demand what is necessary for justice. Indeed, as Cole puts it, there is nothing more impractical than believing that white supremacist systems will recognize their inequity and decide to do what is right for Black people.

Relatedly, the law, is fine not protecting Black and Indigenous people. Cole noted that police street checks are violations of multiple Charter rights. The Charter is not for Black people. It was made despite their needs. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained. Everyone has the right to be free from reasonable search or seizure.

White supremacy tells people that police acting other than they do would be unsafe. Black and Indigenous people are viewed as criminals in the making or as potential criminals. Legal systems allow many, predominantly white people, to make money building, staffing, filling the prisons and prison structures. It is a system of accumulation.

In response to a question from an attendee, Cole noted that police discretion could be exacerbated under the new cannabis regime. Stops could bee based on smell, red eyes, etc. Impairment is supposed to cover being tired, using legal substances, etc. How is and will it be applied. Historically, along lines of racial profiling. 

A Road Map to Abolition?

Cole is clear that he is a police and prison abolitionist. He suggests that we need a road map to get to abolition and has three initial steps as related to carding.

First, cops should tell people their rights up front. Cops could articulate the law to people-not make people guess what their rights are and certainly not deceive people about their rights. If any police officer cannot do that they do not get to perform that role (either as a cop or as whatever role might replace cops).

Second, police should not keep records on innocent people. Where cops are replaced with something better there might be reasons to document caregiver or safety patrol interactions with someone. But they should be given receipts with details of where they can complain and on what grounds. For Cole, current cops should give you a receipt with badge number any time police interact with you. It should say why they interacted with you.

Carding is for non-criminal behavior. It involves information on people who have not been convicted of acts involved in the stop. Does the RCMP have the information also? Does CSIS? CSEC (the secretive intelligence service in Canada)? Who do the VPD share it with? We know that information from police encounters in shared with police forces in other countries. Any of us travelling to the United States knows this.

Third. Police should have no control of those contact records.  

Cole noted that the officer who stopped him was alone driving a car with expensive equipment and weaponry. To do what? To enforce a non-existent smoking bylaw? That is a massive waste of public resources. And all of the funding for those resources could be better spent caring for people and communities. That is a point that abolitionists make. Policing drains public resources mightily while impeding efforts at social care and solidarity. Budgets are wrecked so cops can drive around harassing poor, working class people for doing little of consequence, and routinely inflicting brutal force against us and our communities.


On the whole, Desmond Cole took a very conversational approach. He wanted to hear personal experiences and reflections—about anything—from people in the room. There was no formal question and answer session.

In closing, he emphasized that the Mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, and others in power have an obligation, not to him, as they have tried to apologize, but to the Black communities in Vancouver—the people who live in Vancouver and will be here after he has returned to Toronto.

Cole announced that he has a book coming out in 2019, The Skin We’re In.” The focus of the book is on policy practices that disproportionately target Black people in Canada. It will be essential reading for anyone concerned with issues of justice in the Canadian state context.

Against Policing and the Politics of Fear: A Discussion About Moral Panic Over Crime in Surrey

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Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey. November 8, 2018

 By Jeff Shantz

 Public discussion and debate on social services and public safety are overwhelmingly framed by fear politics and policing. On Thursday, November 8, 2018, I hosted and spoke at the panel, “Against Policing and the Politics of Fear: A Discussion About Moral Panic Over Crime in Surrey,” organized by Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS), a newly formed coalition mobilizing to challenge police dominance in Surrey and develop community-based alternatives to police.

I opened the event with a discussion of layered policing and the extension of police functions throughout the fabric of everyday life in Surrey. And noted that the crime panic in Surrey is ramping up even as crime rates, including for violent crime, are falling. Harleen Gill, a Kwantlen Polytechnic University criminology student spoke about her work in a campaign @EndSurreyGangs to offer community based alternatives to police in response to concerns about gangs in Surrey. Isabel Krupp of APPS followed this discussion up by addressing moral panic, racist anxieties, and the Surrey Gang Task Force. Dave Diewert of APPS focused on the Surrey Outreach Team and the criminalization of poverty with particular attention to policing of the 135A Strip in Surrey. Lenee Son offered insights into an issue of repression given little attention in Surrey, the new immigration detention center. Son discussed migrant justice in Surrey as a crucial part of social justice. Finally Eva Ureta of APPS provided a significant reflection on community-based alternatives to policing. This is the work that needs to be done—developing real world alternatives and resources for social solidarity.

The event was extremely well attended as the Birch 250 meeting room was completely filled. Even more, participants were actively engaged with the issue as there were many relevant questions and discussions about ways to oppose police dominance and, significantly, about organizing a community alternative to police in Surrey.

As a first public meeting of APPS, following an earlier protest against a Coffee with Cops copaganda event, this was a very encouraging start. Challenging police and their multifaceted presence in Surrey is pressing and necessary work. It is good to see so many who live and work in Surrey engage with how that work can be effectively done.

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Anti-Police Power Surrey Confronts “Coffee with Cops”

By Jeff Shantz 

Coffee with the Cops is a pure copaganda (police propaganda) exercise undertaken by police and the City of Surrey to put a friendly face on the RCMP and to provide cover for the violence that police inflict on our communities on an everyday basis. The aim is the further intrusion and infiltration by police into communities that are already heavily policed and criminalized, from poor bashing of homeless people to fear mongering over youth. The program involves host businesses treating police to snacks and coffee while they chat up and try to win over customers.

On October 19, 2018, Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPS) organized an open opposition to Coffee with the Cops at Cafe Nelly in the Gateway SkyTrain station in Whalley, an area already subjected to high levels of policing. Anti-Police Power Surrey is a new coalition of people who live and work in Surrey organizing to oppose the domination of our communities by police, to support real social, rather than repressive, resources in Surrey, and to develop alternative forms of public safety. APPS opposes the policing of our communities, neighborhoods, schools, and the fear politics that businesses, politicians, and police use to expand policing in Surrey—in the interests of profit, property, and development rather than human need.

During the action against Coffee with the Cops at Cafe Nelly many conversations were held with people also concerned about the gross overfunding of police in Surrey and more than 100 leaflets were handed out. This was the first such action organized by APPS but will by no means be the last.

The message of APPS is that funding and resources need to be put into real community resources and services (housing, health, community spaces, education, child and elder care, etc.) not into police repression and violence and publicly paid for stunts like Coffee with the Cops. Notably, City of Surrey staff (also on work hours) were present throughout the event, enjoying treats from the business and chats with the cops. Public money not well spent.

There is a reason police, businesses, and governments need to rely on nonsense like Coffee with the Cops. People do not trust the police or view them as helpful community services for a reason. Coffee with the Cops needs to be called out for what it is and openly opposed. Along with the policing that dominates discussion of public safety in Surrey and which only contributes to further alienation, fear, and punishment—factors in social harm in the first place—without in fact keeping our communities safe.

Christine Boyle - One City

By Mike Ma, October 18, 2018

This week I bumped into Christine Boyle of OneCity on Commercial Drive as she was getting a bowl of Pho noodles. She is running for Vancouver City Council in the October 2018 municipal election. I liked talking to her and feel she would represent us well. Check out her short video statement. I encourage people to get out and vote on Saturday, October 20th, 2018.

National Prisoner Strike

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By Mike Ma

There has been lots circulating about the prison strikes in the USA. To know more please go to:

National Prison Strike

Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.

These are the NATIONAL DEMANDS of the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

Open Letter to Justin Trudeau by Rita Wong, annie ross, Steve Collis and Cecily Nicholson (COAST - Clear Our Air: Stop TransMountain)

By Rita Wong, annie ross, Steve Collis and Cecily Nicholson (COAST - Clear Our Air: Stop TransMountain) 

Dear Justin Trudeau,

BC has been burning this summer, and you would throw gasoline on the flames by tripling the size of the Trans Mountain pipeline. It appears that either you have not been properly schooled about climate justice, or that you have been bought out by corporate interests that are pulling your government’s strings.

In the spirit of generosity, in case we are in the first scenario, we have compiled a climate primer that we urge you to read and consider seriously in light of our shared responsibilities to care for the land, the water, and each other. These responsibilities are held deeply in Indigenous laws that are guided by natural laws, and deserve the respect and action of each and every person who lives on Turtle Island.

We do not trust a colonial legal system that grants Kinder Morgan sweeping injunctions in a matter of days, while First Nations like the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations must wait for half a year to merely get an injunction hearing against the Site C dam, while their sacred places are being clearcut and desecrated by BC Hydro. This colonial system shows a distressing bias where rich corporations are able to get injunctions more frequently than small First Nations that are trying to protect and enforce Indigenous and natural laws.

Humans can learn to adapt and respond to natural cycles and rhythms; this is why we have leap years. The calendar adjusts itself to the orbit of the earth around the sun by adding a day every four years, instead of ignoring the gap that widens over time between our calendar and the natural cycle. This is one example of how humans need mechanisms to plan for cycles that are much larger and more powerful than what we can individually perceive. This story of the leap year gives rise to the name of the Leap Manifesto, which we have included in our primer, along with a summary of the Tsleil Waututh Environmental Assessment of the TransMountain Pipeline and Tanker Expansion Proposal, a warning letter signed by more than 15,000 scientists, Pope Francis’s encyclical letter, and the Save the Fraser Declaration.

We pledge our allegiance to the Indigenous peoples who remind us that we are relatives with all life, plants and animals, and that water and land are sacred. These are crucial teachings for our times. A good relative doesn’t poison and threaten the home that we all depend on, the earth.


Rita Wong, annie ross, Steve Collis and Cecily Nicholson

COAST: Clear Our Air: Stop TransMountain

For Abolition, For a Better World: Prison Justice Day 2018

By Jeff Shantz

August 10 marks Prison Justice Day (PJD), a day of solidarity among and with prisoners and a day to remember those who have died in prison. On PJD 2018 in Vancouver, about 50 or so people gathered at the Claire Culhane bench in Trout Lake Park. This is the 44th year of PJD. Speakers noted the context of growing authoritarianism, repression, austerity, and neo-colonialism (and extreme energy extraction) driving the prison industrial complex today.

Repressing Prison Justice Day, Repressing Prisoners

Several speakers spoke to the repression inside and the clampdown on PJD within the prisons. PJD organizer Meenakshi Mannoe told the crowd that people cannot fast or refuse to work in solidarity with PJD. One former prisoner, now with Elizabeth Fry, spoke to the repression of PJD by guards and attempts to stamp out any show of solidarity. The authorities recognize the strength in numbers and try to prevent it. Joanne Wendy Bariteau, a lifer who has been out for eight years, said that this is the first time she has been able to openly celebrate Prison Justice Day in eight years because the authorities would not let her celebrate in prison. She concluded by saying people “need to know how they treat us.” In her powerful words, she said that people suffer little deaths inside all the time.

People are also being targeted for work they have done outside to support prisoners. They now need the same security clearance level as arms manufacturers (which says plenty about “crime” and criminalization under capitalism). Reliability Status Screening is required to gain access. This also includes, incredibly, credit checks (so a class-based targeting) and information is given to the RCMP and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Services). Some have allowed their security clearance to lapse in protest of these regressive and repressive policies.

The Prison Industrial Complex and State Capitalism

Joint Effort, which grew from the BC Federation of Women, has been a force of continuity behind PJD. Speaker Cecily Nicholson reported that advocates have a real struggle to access prison now. Nicholson properly positioned the prison system as an outcrop of the genocidal policies of the capitalist state, including the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. This continues as Indigenous women are over-classified in maximum security placements, solitary, etc. There is a necessary disruption to flows of capital in opposing prisons and the systems that require them.

Omar from Sanctuary Health extended this analysis of colonialism and imperialism. The criminal justice system is intimately connected to border systems. There is the detention and deportation of people even after their prison sentence ahs been served. In discussing projects for sanctuary health Omar noted that the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) will call border services, CBSA, when people try to access services, leaving migrants over policed and under protected (not protected). Omar provided an example of a Latin American man accosted by VPD on Commercial Drive and referred to CBSA, on no grounds whatsoever. 

Lenee Son spoke on the policing aspects of the prison industrial complex, with specific reference to Surrey. Son noted that austerity times have meant cuts to all programming except policing. In Surrey, police are openly and heavily weaponized. Their presence is extensive, open violence against working class communities. This relates to the class crisis imposed by austerity policies. The Strip, self-housing in tents by homeless people on 135A Street, was an example of police violence as an instrument of class crisis. In addition the gang panic in Surrey plays on fears of racialized and migrant parents about the place of their children in society and their futures. Parents are anxious about their children’s opportunities in a time of declining living standards and downward mobility among the working class.

Eddie, with West Coast Prison Justice Society, a lifer who has been out since 1989, poignantly stated that he knew many of the people listed on the banner memorializing people who died inside. He spoke to the awful medical conditions inside. People are not given proper or needed services. Staff accuse people of doing drugs rather than being desperately ill. Prison deteriorates mental health but supports are not available for people. People are moved to segregation instead of being provided with help. Much of the violence inside is a result of the daily conditions inside. Eddie concluded by telling the assembly that people are still restricted when out. He needs to get a travel warrant from parole simply to travel to Surrey.


We must not be misled or confused. As Mannoe concluded, prisons are not being misused. They are doing what they are designed and implemented to do. The fight for abolition of the penal system, of cops and prisons, is the fight for an alternative social world.

And prisoners are taking a lead. August 21, 2018 is the start of the national Prison Strike in the US. PJD 2018 in Vancouver rightly concluded with a reading of the strikers’ ten demands. They are:

1.    Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2.   An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3.   The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4.    The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5.    An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6.    An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7.    No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8.    State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9.    Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10.    The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.

“There is No Natural Death in Prison”: Prison Justice Day Film Night. August 7, 2018. Spartacus Books. Vancouver

August 10, 2018

By Jeff Shantz

Prison Justice Day (PJD) is held every August 10. This year is the 44th year of PJD. On August 7, 2018 I attended the Prison Justice Day support event and showing of the film “Visions of Abolition: From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life” at Spartacus Books in Vancouver.

The film connects abolition of prisons with the abolition of slavery through the perspectives of Angela Y Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and others. Abolitionists are continuing the work that was not completed with the abolition of slavery. The movie documents the transformation of the slave relationship into the prison system in the United States. Racist violence has been central to the capitalist mode of production in the US.

The war on poverty and the war on drugs are both wars on poor people. Neoliberal dismantling of social welfare systems from the Reagan regime on has disorganized working class communities and created crises within the working class. This has ratcheted up despair, desperation, etc. The response has been increases in the repressive apparatus: police, courts, prisons.

For Abolition: A Discussion

Event organizer, Meenakshi Mannoe of the Vancouver Prison Justice Day Organizing Committee and Stark Raven radio, spoke to the gender violence that is part of the penal system. This includes enforced heterosexism and gender binary. There is a need also to recognize harms to trans women and Indigenous women in the Canadian context.

The prison system is also a continuation of colonization. One attendee who identified as a prisoner noted the four or five recorded deaths in prison of Indigenous women each year, which receive little public attention.  The late Peter Collins, a key Prison Justice Day organizer as a prisoner, stated: “There is no natural death in prison.”

One participant, a self described lifer who was inside for eight years and only got out this year, reported that a Survivor, Abuse, Trauma councillor was going to be cut as a pure cost cutting measure. Prisoners had to undertake a grievance to stop it.

Those who identified as prisoners noted that the system does not want people you to talk about the causes that led to your crime, your social history, abuse, violence, self defense against abusers, etc. They only want to hear why you committed the crime as if it was simply some type of personal choice.

It was suggested that many advocacy groups are coopted by the state and/or depend on the government for funding and status. Programming is carried out within the logic of the prison, even on the outside. So some groups do not advocate strongly because of funding concerns.

There was an important recognition of the fact that most prisoners in Canada are in for low level, less harmful, or even harmless activities (personal consumption practices, survival strategies, nuisances, administrative issues). It was suggested that there could be some convergence between efforts to decriminalize drugs and the push for equal health care for all (which prisoners do not have access to). People inside are denied proper harm reduction supplies.

It was also noted that health care in provincial institutions has been privatized (Century Health, for example). So there are aspects of privatization of prisons in Canada.

Speakers in attendance reported that Prison Justice Day is being restricted inside in a context of a wave of repression over the last few years. PJD shirts are not allowed and work stoppages, a key component of PJD, are punished. 


On the whole this was an enriching and important event. It raised a strong abolitionist perspective and offered real world examples of work being done to address the harms of prisons and to think about alternatives to statist punitive approaches.

Prison Justice Day activities in Vancouver take place August 10 from 6 to 8 PM at the Clare Culhane bench in Trout Lake Park near Commercial Drive. See:

For one brief history of Prison Justice Day read: “Prisoner’s Justice Day: A Retrospective Montage”  by pj lilley. Freely available at: