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This is a quick update to let you all know that I am in fact out of jail and all charges against me have been withdrawn as of Tuesday June 29th.
This was unexpected given the number and nature of charges I was being held on. This was largely possible because of the fast public support that was developing around the situation. So thank you to all the brave people who maintained jail solidarity and spoke out against police tactics and mass arrests despite facing police batons and tear gas; amazing legal, medic, and independent media crews who faced constant intimidation and yet worked to defend and protect the movement; all allies who spent countless hours raising awareness about the detentions and supporting arrestees in court; and to my friends, lawyer, and support committee this past weekend who offered endless love, comfort, and solidarity and a tremendous mobilizing effort.
Many of the 900 arrested have thankfully been released without charges; many others will have charges that will eventually likely get withdrawn or easily be defeated. From my conversations with women inside, it became more and more apparent how ridiculous the arrests and charges were. Damning evidence for “possession of a dangerous weapon” or “intent to commit mischief” includes being found with bandanas, black tshirts, anarchist literature, vinegar, eye solution, water bottles, or goggles, while simply speaking French landed many with the charge of “conspiracy to join a criminal organization” (presumably CLAC). Charges were constantly being changed, added, or dropped.
The largest operation of mass arrests in Canadian history will be justified, and is already being justified, by pointing to and focusing in on a few key organizers (or as they call ‘ring leaders’).
The charges and multiple counts that I was specifically facing were extremely serious and fabricated. Throughout my detention it became evident that it was largely an exercise in intimidation and political targeting. I was consistently taunted by police officers saying “We have been waiting for you Walia”, “Oh you got her, I was looking forward to getting her”, “We’ve finally got the one from BC” etc. While I was being processed, one court officer suggested to me that “they have f*ck all on you but they are out for your blood.” Even after I was ordered released, several police officers were insistent on laying further charges.
Many long-time community organizers, including several people of colour, from Ontario and Quebec continue to face ongoing incarceration on similarly serious charges, with little chance of bail for possibly another few weeks. These clearly politically-motivated arrests, with flimsy evidence, are intended to criminalize and silence particular activists who are committed, effective, and unapologetic in their daily defiance of state and corporate exploitation. The particularly serious nature of the charges is intended to demonize and isolate them by characterizing them as ‘dangerous’ within their diverse communities.
Our response should be clear: that we do not allow the courts, the police, or the media to divide us into those who were unjustifiably arrested versus those who were justifiably arrested. All those who were arrested should be released immediately, and our support efforts need to focus on those facing these serious charges - with serious consequences for their deprivation of liberty - and developing strong public support to ensure their release.
The conditions of detention are already widely known: steel cage cells with upto 30 people per cell, sleeping on concrete floors with open bathrooms, denial of food and water, illegal confiscation of medications, sexual harassment, severe threats and intimidation, being refused access to legal counsel or phones, denying access to bail hearings in a timely manner; property theft, constant exposure to bright lights, and extreme exposure to cold. I went through multiple searches which I did not consent to including a strip search and more.
While I think it is important to highlight the inhumanity and violence of our detentions, it is critical to remember that humiliation and dehumanization is the purpose of the prison-industrial complex. I was personally not expecting a better ‘experience’ than the horrific one I did have given the inherent nature of the police state. For those ‘innocent bystanders” (who were explicit about not being protestors), this is an opportunity to be made aware that the horrors they experienced at the hands of the police or while in detention are not unique moments in Toronto or Canadian history. We run the risk of exceptionalizing this moment, at the expense of normalizing the daily violence of police and prisons and the criminal (in)justice system for Indigenous communities, people of colour, low income neighborhoods, street-involved youth, and trans people.
In moments of movement repression, it is understandably difficult to develop pro-active and long-term strategies for winning. I believe our organizing to free all G20 arrestees needs to be rooted within the social movements that many of the arrestees are part of: labour, anti war, migrant justice, Indigenous self determination, anti-oppression, environmental justice, and anti capitalist. While this lends itself to the all the challenges of sustained community organizing, it has the potential of building a powerful revolutionary grassroots movement that incorporates the reality of social movement repression and criminalization of dissent within a broader analysis and experience of colonization, poverty, marginalization, and daily police violence.
“Our desire to be free has got to manifest itself in everything we are and do.” – Assata Shakur
BACKGROUND (by No One Is Illegal Vancouver)
Activist Harsha Walia Faces False and Trumped Up Charges
The violent G8 and G20 countries and their criminal corporations make most of the weapons on the planet, profit from war, subsidize oil corporations and massive industrial projects, and are responsible for displacing millions from of their homes and lands into poverty each year. While G20 leaders meet behind a steel cage and an unprecedented 1-billion dollar Fortress Toronto operation, on Saturday June 26th and Sunday June 27th, we witnessed police violence in the city of Toronto on a scale never before experienced here. Police brutality came in the form of over 800 indiscriminate arrests of G20 protestors, violent beatings, illegal searches and seizures, and random detentions. This is indicative of a heightened Orwellian police state seeking to justify a bloated security budget that benefits private security contractors.
One of those being held is community organizer Harsha Walia, who now faces extremely serious and fabricated charges. As far as we know, the chances of Harsha being released on bail within the week – if not several weeks - are slim. Harsha is a committed activist currently based in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Most recently, she has been organizing in migrant justice, feminist, anti racist, anti poverty, Indigenous solidarity, Palestine solidarity, anti-Olympic, and South Asian diasporic movements. She is also a facilitator, legal researcher, advocate, and writer in alternative and mainstream publications and journals. Though she and others have often experienced media and public backlash, she has maintained firm positions on systemic issues of capitalism, colonialism, no borders, an understanding of diversity of tactics, Israeli apartheid, and prison abolition. Over the past year, she has faced increased police harassment, surveillance, and intimidation for her daily dedicated efforts for social justice and to build communities free of exploitation, oppression, and trauma.
Despite the attempts to criminalize and silence Harsha’s voice and others voices, people are coming together to defend her and the social movements of which she is a part. Author Naomi Klein, one of several people who have put their names forward as legal sureties for her, says this: “I have known Harsha Walia for many years and am shocked by the outlandish and draconian charges being leveled against her. These charges are clearly designed to take one of Canada’s most brilliant and effective political organizers out of commission. For a decade Walia has organized on behalf of the most marginalized communities in our country: refugees facing deportation, First Nations peoples losing their ancestral lands, and the discarded people of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. These outrageous charges must be dropped immediately, so that Walia can return to her crucial work.”
This politically motivated arrest and all others are intended to criminalize our community members, our friends, and our allies. Well-known long-time community organizers, several of whom are people of colour, are being particularly targeted for their unapologetic vocal and defiant roles in resisting the effects of economic exploitation, ecological catastrophe, repressive immigration policies, war, occupation and the systems and ideas that exploit and exclude us.
We encourage our allies, especially those who are vulnerable as migrant, Indigenous, low-income, queer and trans peoples, to keep organizing despite our fears and to continue strengthening our collective struggles for liberation. Though we feel angry and saddened, we cannot let ourselves be divided or feel defeated, since that would merely serve the interests of the elite government and corporate agenda. While the media focuses on its predictable ritual of scape-goating protestors, tens of thousands of labour, anti war, migrant justice, Indigenous solidarity, anarchist, environmental justice, anti-oppression, anti capitalist, socialist, student, and community-based activists took to the streets to expose and confront the violent policies of the criminal G20. The reasons they did so - Indigenous self determination; environmental justice; a world free of militarization; income equity and community control over resources; migrant justice; gender, queer, disability, and reproductive rights - are just as relevant today as they were this past weekend.
Till all our comrades are free from behind bars and all people are free from oppression, all power to the people!
For present updates please contact No One Is Illegal via email at email@example.com or call 778 552 2099 or 778 322 5349 or 778 862 8895 or 647 894 1350
For ongoing updates, a support committee is being formed, details to follow. With so many people arrested during this weekend and the clear targeting of community organizers by the police, we will be calling upon our communities and allies to stand up in support of all of the brave people that organized and took to the streets against the G8-G20 in Toronto.
* No One Is Illegal and Indigenous Defenders of the Land at "No Fences, No Borders" press conference at the G20 fence in Toronto. Video: http://bchannelnews.tv/?p=5690
* Joint Statement of No One Is Illegal Toronto, No One Is Illegal Vancouver, No One Is Illegal Halifax, No One Is Illegal Montreal, No One Is Illegal Ottawa just prior to G8/G20 Mobilizations in Toronto: http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/newsrelease/3703