Which way forward for Ontario teachers?

By Richard R

It has been over a month since the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) held their one-day protest of the provincial Liberal Party leadership convention, mobilizing some 15,000 people on the streets of Toronto and then sending them all home again around 4:00 PM. The protest was part of the trade union response to Bill 115, which enabled the provincial government to circumvent collective bargaining and mandate the terms of new “collective agreements”. Within the bill were draconian provisions for any attempt to challenge the legislation, through the courts or in the workplace. It is worth noting that while the union leadership were pushing for this day of action, they were also cynically hedging their bets in the form of thousands of dollars in union dues being funnelled into contributions to Liberal leadership candidates. In one case $10,000 was donated to Eric Hoskins, a leadership contender who had in fact voted in favour of Bill 115.

There is No Justice at Grand Valley

By Tammy Lee

On the early evening of January 28th protestors gathered outside of the Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVI), a federal prison in Kitchener, ON. Approximately 30 people came out to show their support for the women inside, and to draw attention to the ongoing abuse at the institution, which in recent months has garnered substantial media attention in the wake of a drugs-for-sex scandal.

A little over a week before the protest, Kinew James was found unresponsive in her cell at a psychiatric prison in Saskatoon, and later died in hospital of an apparent heart attack. Kinew, 35, had been serving a 15-year sentence, and was set to be released this August. Fellow inmates had heard Kinew shouting for help from her cell, and repeatedly pushing the distress call alarm. Despite the calls for help, guards ignored the alarm and allowed over an hour to pass before responding with the health care unit. A prompt response to the distress alarm could have been the difference between life and death for Kinew. Her family and several prisoner rights’ advocate groups are demanding an inquiry into her death.

Observers have been quick to draw parallels between the experiences of Kinew James and that of Ashley Smith. Both Kinew and Ashley had histories of struggling with mental illness and self-harm, had their sentences extended for charges incurred while in prison, were routinely placed in solitary confinement, and died while incarcerated. In 2007 Ashley who was 19 and an inmate at Grand Valley Institution, died of asphyxiation after tying a cloth around her neck as guards watched, but did not intervene. An inquest into her death is ongoing, and continues to reveal exceedingly disturbing facts about the practices and conditions at Grand Valley.

Anarchists and Wobblies Support Striking Refuelers at Toronto Island Airport

By Paul M

The IWW and members of Common Cause Toronto have been hitting the picket lines in support of striking refuelers employed by Porter Fixed Base Operations (FBO) at the Toronto Island airport. The strike has been bravely fought by a mere 22 workers fed up with unsafe working conditions and low wages. Injuries due to poor training and heavy turnover have not been uncommon, and the workers currently earn an abysmally low 12 dollars an hour. As the workers continue their fight against their bosses at Porter, anarchists must keep up the support until the dispute is won.

Working with COPE (Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union), a largely white collar union, refuelers have shown tremendous initiative in escalating disruption at the airport in their fight to win a first contract. The initiative shown by these workers has been a refreshing change from other recent labour disputes. Disruptive action has been consistently hobbled in recent labour disputes in Ontario. Teachers, librarians, postal workers, and many others have been hemmed in by a bureaucratic union machinery adhering to a rigid set of passive tactics in a failing strategy to broker labour peace. Unlike in these larger disputes, the recently unionized Porter workers have shown a willingness to escalate tactics and to collaborate closely with other militant workers, including anarchists.

London's Prisoner Justice Film Festival

On the weekend of February 8th, London, Ontario is hosting a Prisoners Justice Film Festival. The wide ranging festival features short films and presentations on topics that are problematic with how humans are treated when they are forced into government detention.

On Friday, February 8th, the focus is on Queer, Trans, and 2 Spirit perspectives. This evening will have 5 films shown, and also will contain presentations from speakers who work with people who face discrimination within the Prison Industrial Complex. The event will be held at the Central Library (251 Dundas) starting at 7pm.

On Saturday, February 9th, the location shifts to Old East Studios (755 Dundas), and will begin at 1pm. There will be 3 different series presented on this day, starting with films based on Immigration and Indigenous people, and the state violence that is perpetuated against them. 5 films will be shown in this segment, which is hosted by No One Is Illegal London.

The next session that begins at 4:30, will be on Women and Mental Health issues, with a focus on the death of Ashley Smith. There will be a film detailing the issues surrounding the process which led up to her death, a discussion on the inquiry, as well as two written pieces from women who are currently detained within the prison system.

The final presentation on Saturday will begin at 7pm, and will shift its attention to Political Prisoners and the criminization of dissent within Canada. The films shown will be about G20 resistance activists who were pre-emptively arrested before the summit in Toronto.

Community picket line held at Hamilton high school

Around 30 people walked the picket lines at Sir John A. McDonald highschool in Hamilton Wednesday morning. Rather than representing an official union on strike, the picket was organized by an assortment of community members acting autonomously. Cars were held for 2 minutes each, snarling morning rush hour traffic on Cannon Street, and created a line up which lasted into first period that day. The action served to demonstrate the potential for acting outside of official bodies meant to represent workers, and the laws that inhibit them.

Wednesday January 16th had been slated for a one day strike by the Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation (OSSTF). The action had been called by the union as a result of a rank-and-file petition demanding the leadership respond to the imposition of Bill 115. Following the announcement of a similar action by elementary teachers for January 11th, the provincial government went to the Labour Relations Board to have both declared illegal. Unfortunately the unwillingness of labour leadership to openly defy such a ruling meant that both unions backed down from the threatened job action.

The complicity of the state and the official channels meant to mediate labour conflict in acting against workers is a defining feature of our current era of austerity. Bill 115 and other such legislation have implications beyond the workers which they target, and therefor are in the interests of our entire class to find creative and militant ways to defy. The pickets at Sir John A McDonald exemplified an effective and easily reproducible tactic capable of, if they are to spread geographically and transcend particular workplaces or struggles, seriously throwing a wrench in this process.

Kitchener-Waterloo Anarchist Bookfair

On Saturday, February 16th the 1st annual Kitchener-Waterloo Anarchist Bookfair will be held at the Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work. Taking place on Six Nations of the Grand River territory, the bookfair will welcome anarchists and non-anarchists alike- from seasoned organizers and activists, to those simply curious about anarchism for a day of workshops, presentations, film screenings, info tables, and social events. The bookfair will introduce anarchist ideas, histories and practices, as well as provide a space for more in-depth conversations about the ongoing relevance of anarchism, and its implication for on-the-ground organizing and everyday struggles.

Acknowledging the importance of fighting where you stand, a large focus of the event will be on presenting ideas that are grounded in and relevant to local organizing efforts. The bookfair aims to foster a growing anarchist movement, contribute to action-oriented dialogue and facilitate strategic discussion. The event will provide a venue for independent publishers, activist groups, community organizations, infoshops and DIY booksellers to showcase and distribute literature and goods. A jammed-packed schedule of workshops, presentations and activities will take place throughout the day.

From the practical to the theoretical and everything in between, the bookfair will offer programming that covers a diversity of topics, is offered from a variety of perspectives and geared towards people of different experience levels. Topics to be covered include: introduction to anarchism, indigenous solidarity, gentrification, anti-racism, class-consciousness and intersectionality, radical parenting and family inclusivity, ecology, challenging the prison industrial complex, queering anarchism, forms of political organization, and alternative media to name but a few.

Why you should support Idle No More

a pamphlet from Common Cause Hamilton

You have most likely heard of the Idle No More movement that has sprung up across Canada recently. The most publicized element is that Chief Theresa Spence (of the Attawapiskat Nation) is on a hunger strike until Stephen Harper meets with her and other Indigenous leaders. What gets lost in the news cycle is that this meeting is supposed to be a real discussion and not just a symbolic gesture.

This movement is not just about getting individual leaders into a room and talking: the demands for autonomy for all Indigenous nations are what this movement is about, and this movement is resisting corporate destruction of the environment, at the same time. These issues affect white workers and immigrants (old and new), so supporting the Idle No More (INM) movement is also supporting all communities and future generations.

Bill C-309 and its Discontents

By: Eric Jacobs

On October 31, 2012, Parliament voted to approve Bill C-309, an amendment to Section 65 of the Canadian Criminal Code also known as the Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act. Following a formal rubber-stamping by the Senate, this bill will establish two new criminal offences, each with alarmingly harsh sentencing provisions. Once Bill C-309 becomes law, individuals charged with wearing a mask or other disguise while participating in a riot (defined as “an unlawful assembly that has begun to disturb the peace tumultuously”) will face an indictable offence carrying a maximum sentence of ten years; those charged with concealing their identity while participating in an unlawful assembly could face either an indictable offence—carrying a maximum sentence of five years—or a less serious summary offence. The crime of rioting currently carries a maximum two year sentence, whereas participation in an unlawful assembly is a basic summary offence.

Remembering Ashley Smith

By: Shannon Balla & Ian Stumpf of the We Remember Ashley Smith Campaign

October 19th marked the 5th anniversary of the death of Ashley Smith. She died at age 19 in a segregation cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener. In the days leading up to her death, despite being on ‘suicide watch’, Ashley’s request for transfer to a psychiatric facility was denied, as was access to her family, lawyer or advocates.  On the day she died, Ashley tied a ligature around her neck and, while staff watched from outside her cell, asphyxiated to death.

Ashley spent most of her teenage life behind bars- first in youth detention facilities, and later in federal institutions.  This experience was defined by segregation and brutal treatment, including forced injections, frequent physical restraints and repeated exposure to tasers.  Without appropriate mental health care and exposed to conditions amounting to torture, Ashley turned to self-harming and ‘acting out’ behaviours, including choking herself. These actions have since been recognized as desperate attempts for human interaction. Studies have demonstrated the severe, damaging effects of prolonged segregation on human beings, and recently Canada's correctional investigator reported that cases of serious self-injury by federal inmates has nearly tripled in the last five years - almost one-third of them in segregation units.  Women are disproportionately represented in these cases.

A provincial corner’s inquest was launched in Ontario in 2011, but was adjourned due to legal challenges and logistical obstacles.  A new inquest is now underway, with formal hearings to begin in 2013.   Again, federal correctional authorities, and now doctors tasked with Ashley’s therapeutic-care, are filing motions to seal key evidence from the inquiry. The motion to seal the video evidence, called a “state cover-up” by Smith family’s lawyer, was struck down on October 24th.

Out of the Classrooms & Into the Class Struggle

By: Devin K

With the recent resignation of Dalton McGuinty and the decision to prorogue the Ontario legislature, the future of the Ontario Liberals fight with the teachers’ union may be uncertain. The Premier's decision comes amidst the ongoing dispute with elementary school teachers and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), which has lead to the imposition of Bill 115. Cynically named the “Putting Students First Act”, Bill 115 bypasses the collective bargaining process forcing a 2-year wage freeze and ban on strikes, along with a host of other concessions from on the teachers’ union. In the current context of austerity measures being imposed by all levels of government, Bill 115 is part of the now routine use of anti-strike legislation in both the private and public sector.

Bill 115 came under heavy criticism from a number of major unions, but teachers found their options limited in responding to the attack once it was passed on September 11th. While the OSSTF and other unions went forward with a legal approach to challenge the legislation, teachers in a number of regions across Ontario bypassed official union control and withdrew their unpaid extra-curricular work, and stopped participating in select meetings.

These small-scale actions provided teachers with a means to demonstrate dissent, however without escalating tactics or shutting down classes by withdrawing their labour fully, pressure mounted on the government has been minimal. High school students, on the other hand, proved willing and capable of shutting down classes on their own. Beginning in mid-September a wave of walkouts swept the province, shutting down classes as students rallied and marched with bristol board placards against the Liberal government. These walkouts eventually involved dozens of high schools (and 1 elementary school) culminating in a protest at Queens Park on September 29th, and a citywide walkout in Windsor on October 3rd.