Across so-called Canada this week, there were five documented deaths at the hands of police – a bleak start to a month that follows the deadliest month for police killings so far this year. This week also saw new actions in response to residential school mass graves, and youth worker solidarity actions in the GTA.
This week, we also dug into some COVID policy changes as both vaccination numbers and Delta variant case numbers rise.
We’re also keeping our eye on the east coast, where Mi’kmaw fishers had lines cut on their fishing boats overnight this week. This continues a pattern of repeated harassment faced by Mi’kmaq people, who have been targeting for exercising their treaty right to fish as a livelihood. This act falls into a pattern of targeted and sometimes violent harassment by commercial fishers, and negligence by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the RCMP. This ongoing conflict last reached a heightened point in October 2020, and it is clearly time again to stand in solidarity with Mi’kmaq people.
Repentigny Cops Kill Black Man Jean René Junior Olivier During Mental Health Crisis, Family Calls for Action
Family of Jean René Junior Olivier are calling for “this to be like George Floyd” after the fatal shooting of their loved one by police in Repentigny, a suburb outside of Montreal. 37 year-old Jean René was in the midst of a mental health crisis on the morning of August 1st when his mother called 911 to seek help bringing him to the hospital. Instead, police showed up and shot him three times in the stomach, killing him. His family immediately and consistently since has spoken out about the anti-Black racism of the police and are calling for mobilization in response.
Marie-Mireille Bence, Jean René’s mother spoke to the media following the shooting to describe her lack of faith in the police, saying: “Tomorrow, if I have something, do you think I’ll call 911? Never, I would rather die in my corner than call them again.”
Family and other Black community members organized a vigil and sit in on August 4th at Repentigny City Hall. Many present spoke about Jean René but also about racial profiling in the city more generally.
TOMORROW. Join us in demanding justice for Jean René Junior. We are so devastated for his family and friends. Enough is enough; disarm and defund now. Sit-in outside Repentigny City Hall at 6. #defund #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/6CQyOKeuN9
— #DefundTheSPVM (@defundthespvm) August 3, 2021
According to the CBC, the death of Jean René is the first fatal shooting in the history of the SPVR (Repentigny City Police Service). However, it is far from the first time the Black community in the city has spoken out about police profiling and harassment. In July, the human rights commission ruled against the City of Repentigny in a case of racial profiling for the fourth time.
Mainstream media reports are already making moves to co-opt the family’s anger towards reforms that end with more money and more officers for police forces – lauding, for example, the hiring of a racialized police chief proud of sending “officers into mosques and homeless shelters to better understand the communities” in another suburb of Montreal as an example Repentigny should follow.
Since Jean René’s death, at least 4 other people have been killed by Canadian cops. On August 1st, a man fell to his death from his balcony during a police action in his home in Coquitlam, BC. Also that day, a 34 year old woman died in RCMP custody in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories after being arrested for public intoxication. On August 5th, a man was killed by police in a campground in Enderby, BC and a woman was killed by the OPP in Burks Falls, Ontario. The Media Coop recently reported that July was the deadliest month for police killings so far this year, with 11 deaths directly attributed to police violence. If police killings continue at the rate they have been for the rest of 2021, that will mean a significant increase in deaths over recent years.
Thanks to the website Killer Cops Canada for their project of documenting all police killings in Canada, and solidarity with the family and friends of Jean René Junior Olivier and others murdered by cops as well as all those fighting to abolish the police.
Young Workers Unite to Protest Wage Theft in Brampton
In Brampton, a truck driver whose wages were stolen by a former employer has gotten a boost of solidarity from the Naujawan Support Network (NSN), a group of young workers and international students. The group acts in solidarity with workers facing exploitation across the GTA. In this case, the driver, Gagandeep Singh, is owed $5,552.82 by his former employer, Flowboy Haulage. The NSN has taken a series of escalating steps to pressure the owner of the company, Buta Singh, to pay the stolen wages. After a letter sent by the network in early July was ignored, they brought the fight to Buta Singh’s doorstep on July 24 with a home demonstration.
Yesterday, young Panjabi workers protested in front of a wage thief’s home in Brampton to demand that he pay his former truck driver $5,552.82 for his labour.
I don’t think the streets of Brampton have seen self-organized workers do besti of their employer like this before. 🧵 pic.twitter.com/eOhe39tDww
— Simran (@dhunnasim) July 26, 2021
At the demonstration, a number of workers spoke to the crowd about the exploitation they face in the trucking industry, particularly as young racialized workers. In a comment for Baaz News, professor Navyug Gill connected the rising worker solidarity in Brampton to the ongoing Farmers Protest in India:
Saturday was the most amazing expression of popular anger and initiative on the streets of Brampton in recent memory…I think it’s taking inspiration from the creativity and determination of the kisan morcha…[One] has to confront the forces that are aligned against them, one has to rise to that challenge.
Despite legal threats from Buta Singh, the NSN has continued to apply pressure through letters, phone calls, and a social media campaign.
Responses to Mass Graves
On August 2, an estimated 3000 people participated in a March for Missing Children, organized by the Penelakut Tribe. In July, 160 graves were confirmed at the Kuper Island residential school on Penelakut Island. The Tribe has been working on surveying the grounds with ground-penetrating radar for a number of years, and has stated that it expects more graves are yet to be confirmed. The march took place through Chemainus, a small town on Vancouver Island. A solidarity march took place in on the same day further down the coast in Central Saanich, largely attended by people of the W̱SÁNEĆ nations. This march was attended by about 200 people and included a one-hour stopping of traffic on the Patricia Bay Highway, leading to delays for traffic heading to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. The same intersection has been used to block traffic on prior occasions, including solidarity with Mi’kmaq fishers last fall, and Wet’suwet’en land defenders in February 2020.
— Charla Huber (@CharlaHuber) August 2, 2021
On the flip side of mass grave responses, on Tuesday, a memorial for residential school victims was set on fire in Calgary. The memorial included a collection of children’s shoes and toys, assembled outside Calgary City Hall. The hateful act of vandalism took place on the heels of a rally at City Hall on July 31. The rally, led by members of the Piikani Nation, called on the federal government to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate deaths at residential schools.
— John Clarke (@JohnOCAP) August 6, 2021
Changing COVID Regulations Prompt Fears Over Health, Safety, and Privacy
As more of the population becomes fully vaccinated against COVID-19, (60% as of July 31), many provinces have been responding with an easing of restrictions.
The Alberta government in particular has come under fire for the recent announcement that as of August 16, those who test positive for COVID-19 will not be mandated to quarantine. They further plan to eliminate COVID testing as of August 30, except for those who need to go to the hospital or see a physician. The end of the month will also see the end of mandated mask-wearing while on public transit. While Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has claimed responsibility for and defended the plan, other medical professionals have expressed concern over the removal of measures with a coming Delta variant wave, and lower-than-national average vaccination numbers.
The policy change has also provoked a strong response among the public, with protests taking place at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, and a government office in Calgary, every day since July 31. The protests are planned to continue until August 16, in an attempt to pressure Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party to drop the policy change. Protests have occured in other cities across Alberta as well, including Grande Prairie and Red Deer. In Edmonton, the protests have been met by counter-protesting crowds of anti-maskers.
Antimaskers are out in huge force today pic.twitter.com/qCzDOh2P1F
— Z 🌾🇨🇦🇵🇰🏳️⚧️☭ ✊🏽🧡🇵🇸 🏳️🌈 (@DunningsBooger) August 6, 2021
In Manitoba, as of August 7, masks are no longer required in indoor public spaces, and capacity limits have been removed for most businesses. The policy is set to apply until at least September 7, when it will be reassessed based on the latest COVID and vaccination numbers. In a public appearance, Premier Brian Pallister gave a nod to the likely true motivations of the policy change, with the comment, “This is great for our economy. It’s great for our communities as well.”
Other provinces have continued to debate the implementation of vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations. Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced this week that in the event of a fourth wave, proof of vaccination will become mandatory to access non-essential services. Part of the rationale provided is that passports will allow businesses to stay open and available to those who are vaccinated, instead of closing during a fourth wave. No other province has announced similar measures as of yet.
With a coming fourth wave, COVID restrictions and policies are likely to be a reality for the foreseeable future, as are more deaths. Wherever these policies land on the scale of tradeoffs between personal freedoms and public health, it is important to understand how they impact the context in which we operate. In general, it is important to consider whether policies are creating more freedom for those who already have a greater amount of choice, for example, related to where one wishes to work or live. Policies that prioritize “individual freedom”, or business interests, without a view towards equity, are likely to in fact entrench inequalities for those with less choice to begin with.
Content note: the following story includes descriptions of sexual assault
Take those Piggy Paychecks
Women in st. johns newfoundland are joining those calling for the defunding of police departments. At least 15 women have shared stories with a lawyer indicating nine cops with the royal newfoundland constabulary have sexually assaulted women. Eight of the cops are now retired and one is still on active duty. It appears on duty cops have been cruising downtown st. johns and offering women rides home. One cop, Carl Douglas Snelgrove, with the RNC, was convicted of sexual assault after offering a woman a ride home and raping her in 2014.
One woman interviewed by the star said she would never feel safe getting into a police car and also added “Until there is some sort of investigation or some sort of insight from somebody that’s not already tarnished…. They’re not needed to be patrolling downtown, in any way.” The same woman also mentioned that there is a network of women working downtown that check in with each other at the end of their shifts to ensure everyone has made it home safe.