September 7, 2021
From It's Going Down
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cover image: @MCKennedy_

This week, groups across so-called Canada gathered to remember loved ones lost to overdoses, call for policy change, and directly intervene in the overdose crisis on Overdose Awareness Day. It was an especially active day in Vancouver, one of the cities hardest hit by the crisis.

Of course, overdose is not a standalone issue but one tied closely to poverty, mental health, housing, and other issues. This week Halifax politicians publicly grappled with the fact that they evicted encampment residents while having no alternative housing solutions, while a housing-advocacy community group called for an eviction moratorium.

A protest against the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline was held in Toronto at the office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on August 27.  Following the event, Kanahus Manuel of Tiny House Warriors was arrested at the airport on her way back to Secwepemc territory, apparently for “failure to comply with conditions or recognizance contrary to section 145(5)(a) of the criminal code” tied to previous charges. She was released a short time later, with a court date set for November.

Overdose Awareness Day Marked by Safe Supply Distribution, Vigils, and a Class Action Lawsuit

August 31st marked Overdose Awareness Day, an international day to fight the stigma around drugs and addiction, remember those who have died of overdose, and acknowledge the grief of friends and family members who have lost a loved one.

Across Canada, at least 19,355 people died opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and September 2020. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the conditions leading to fatal overdoses, with the rate of deaths going up 74% in the first six months of the pandemic compared to the six months prior. This in part has been attributed to border closures leading to street drugs being tainted with higher levels of fentanyl or benzodiazepines.

“COVID-19 has only exacerbated the conditions leading to fatal overdoses, with the rate of deaths going up 74% in the first six months of the pandemic compared to the six months prior.”

In Vancouver, the day included a march, cop-free block party, and the distribution of safe, tested, drugs. This was the third organized handout of safe supply by the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), who hosted the event in partnership with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). The day began with a ceremonial handoff of 14 grams of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine between VANDU and Moms Stop the Harm, another advocacy group of family members of those lost to drug and substance-related deaths. The handoff took place outside the office of BC’s health minister, a call for government to follow the lead of drug users and their loved ones in regulating a safe supply for all who need it.

On the same day, DULF and VANDU requested an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow them to continue to distribute safe supply. An exemption would allow them to operate more consistently using a “compassion club” model, allowing members to purchase tested drugs from a legal producer. The exemption request letter asked for a response from Health Canada by October 15th.

In so-called British Columbia, deaths reached record numbers in the first half of 2021. According to CBC, “1,000 people died of an illicit drug overdose between January and June, the highest rate ever recorded in the first six months of a calendar year.” In late 2020, the City of Vancouver announced a plan to decriminalize drug possession, which would be a first for a Canadian city. The plan is currently awaiting federal approval. However, it has been criticized for not going far enough to ensure a safe supply. If approved, people in Vancouver would be able to legal possess a limited quantity of drugs. However, advocates have warned that the limit applied for does not reflect many drug users’ reality, further risking their criminalization, and could lead to the proliferation of more dangerous synthetic mixes. The flaws in Vancouver’s proposed decriminalization plan once again exemplify the need to prioritize drug users’ and their communities’ lived experience in formulating policy.

Vigils and awareness-raising events were held in other cities as well. In Kitchener, community members erected crosses in Victoria Park, while in Regina, over 1,600 crosses were erected on the grounds of the provincial legislature.

On September 1st, the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs launched a class action lawsuit against the federal government. The lawsuit asserts that in criminalizing drug use, the federal government has forced drug users to buy unsafe drugs, and has created the current overdose crisis. It aims to strike down sections of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, including section that criminalize the possession of drugs.

Community Space in Park Emerges After Halifax Encampment Evictions

Following a violent day of encampment evictions in Halifax on August 18th, housed community members set up in a green space at Dublin and Chebucto streets to support and connect with unhoused community members living there. They have since established an ongoing camp, dubbing the space People’s Park. In the park, community members share food, do art, hold workshops and discussions, and work together to keep each other safe. A group called P.A.D.S. Community Network has emerged from the space, and on August 25 published a press release stating that they plan to continue holding the space at People’s Park for as long as they are able.

The release also included two demands: for the Halifax Regional Municipality to provide permanent, accessible, dignified, and safer housing for all unhoused residents, and, until the first demand could be met, for the municipality to continue to allow unhoused residents to reside in public spaces across the city without fear of repression. On August 31, they released a further call for the City to declare a full moratorium on encampment evictions. Since the day of evictions on August 18th, some city councillors have also admitted that the City does not have the proper capacity or plans in place to assist unhoused residents in finding permanent or even temporary shelter, and have said they will not support further evictions. The Mayor has also since admitted that not all residents who were evicted on August 18 were offered alternative housing, as the City had previously claimed.

For ways to support the P.A.D.S. encampment, go here.

Toronto Tiny Shelters Update

Last winter in Toronto, carpenter Khaleel Seivwright built tiny shelters for those living outdoors amidst COVID-19, overcrowded shelters and a housing crisis. The shelters were placed in public spaces like parks, attracting the attention of City of Toronto staff who asserted that the shelters were illegal and unsafe. The City filed an injunction against Seivwright in February, ordering him to stop placing structures on City property. This week, he announced he had settled with the City and would no longer be building structures for public parks. His statement read in part:

The City’s practices of violently removing people living in encampments is a demonstration of its fundamental mentality towards homeless people. The future of our city doesn’t depend on ruthlessly enforcing policies that have no regard for the human beings who live here. It does not depend on squeezing out anyone who finds themselves unable to afford rent. The future of our city depends on cohesive, sustainable solutions that address the real issues: poverty, lack of affordable housing, and a broken shelter system…Although the City decided to file an injunction against me, there is only one name on this application. I hope that others continue to do what they are inspired to do to support people living outside, until the day comes when the people who run this city step up and do their job.

Far-Right and Anti-Vaxxers Hold a Day of Protests

The anti-vaxx/anti-mask/anti-lockdown movement held a day of action against healthcare workers and hospitals this week. Far-Right figures who live off grifting and/or family money, as well as a group called Canadian Frontline Nurses (CNF) have been calling for a general strike and walkout to protest vaccine passports. CNF’s website showed locations for rallies in nearly all major cities across Canada. It seems their hope was that various health care workers would feel moved to walk off the job in support of them. Instead many health care workers were subjected to insults and verbal abuse as they came and left from work, and at least one assault was reported.

The movement has also been holding protests at school board offices and at least one school in Toronto was targeted with posters saying teachers are responsible for crimes against humanity because of students wearing masks. But despite the absurdity of their protests their movement continues to grow thanks to an unchecked disinformation campaign online. Furthermore, they are given some legitimacy from various far right politicians, such as those with the “People’s Party of Canada.” PPC candidates were present at many of the CNF rallies and the rally in st. johns was partially organized by one.

“Despite the absurdity of their protests their movement continues to grow thanks to an unchecked disinformation campaign online.”

The Canada Anti-Hate Network has discovered that the PPC riding director for Eglin-Middlesex-London has multiple social media accounts posting white nationalist content. As well, the candidate for that area, daughter of Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, Chelsea Hillier wears “Canada First” merchandise and also speaks of fascist conspiracies and shares white nationalist content through her social media.

In other news regarding fascists seeking political power, Calgary mayoral candidate and prominent anti-mask/vax/lockdown figure Kevin Johnston has plead guilty to promoting hatred against Muslims in an Ontario court. A local legend also added Maxine Bernier to the list of politicians being humiliated with food when they egged him during a campaign event in Cochrane, Alberta.

And finally, in a concerning and predictable pattern of what allowing fascists to recruit through conspiracy groups and political parties will lead to, the Islamic centre in Langley, BC was given a ransom style note telling them to leave or expect a Christchurch style attack on the center. The note was also signed with “deus vult,” a phrase referencing the catholic crusades against Muslims, the words “Heil Hitler,” and “1488.”

Arson of Ray-Mont Logistics Equipment in Montreal

The struggle against the development of a wasteland and forested area often called the Terrain Vague in the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood in Montreal heated up last week. On the night of August 25th, an anonymous communique claims, a mechanical digger and bulldozer were burned on the property of Ray-Mont Logistics, “under the sleepy eyes of the night watchman.”

The Terrain Vague has long been a site enjoyed and defended by a wide variety of groups. In its forested areas, some of the last of their kind in the city, residents of tent encampments have lived and been evicted by police. Activists and community groups hold events there, and many others pass through everyday experiencing it as a far less controlled space than municipal parks.

One of the latest threats to the Terrain Vague is the development of a Ray-Mont Logistics container yard. The project would see 1,000 trucks per day pass through the site as well as a rise in rail traffic. Legal and administrative challenges have been unsuccessful in stopping the project, with Ray-Mont winning court victories to continue the work. The Terrain Vague is not threatened by just this project. The area is also envisioned as the site for a new viaduct for the Port of Montreal. In the face of these and other threats, citizens groups, community members, anarchists and others have been resisting in a variety of ways, imagining different possible futures for the area.

As concludes the communique for the recent action:

Evidently, the tireless workhorse that you are is not greatly affected by the loss of a couple machines. We see that the work is carrying on regardless. You are making a mistake. Construction must stop immediately, and we will put ourselves to this task tooth and nail, whatever it takes. May the invitation be heard for a hot fall!

Read the full statement posted to Montreal Counter-Info.

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Source: Itsgoingdown.org