Here’s why we can abolish most of the criminal justice system now without endangering public safety

Image: Larry Farr/Unsplash

Image: Larry Farr/Unsplash

Properly assessing calls to defund the police and other carceral institutions means a proper reckoning with what these systems are actually doing — not what we imagine them to be doing.

If more people were aware of these realities, they would realize we can start abolishing most of it right now with little threat to “public safety,” and with community resources for care and support instead to improve social well-being.

Police and penal preservationists (police, politicians and some criminologists) insist that these systems are all about keeping us safe. And they especially wield fears of personal threats of physical violence and responses to physical violence of various sorts.

In fact, however, most crimes in Canada do not involve physical violence or harm.

We can look at crime records over several years (while recognizing that many criminologists have come to conclude that “crime” is not an especially useful way of talking about social harms).

Crimes against property: 88,664 charges or 22.87 per cent in 2013; 85,301 charges or 22.50 per cent in 2014; and 76,356 charges or 23.28 per cent in 2015.

Most of the activities processed through criminal justice systems in Canada do not fit the image of fear and personal threat that preservationists portray. Most crime involves property offenses (typically low level or low cost), victimless crimes, consumption offenses and administrative offenses. These might involve no physical harm, and may, in fact, have no victims at all.

In 2018, non-violent crime accounted for 79 per cent of police-reported Criminal Code incidents (excluding traffic).

While obviously these will involve activities that are of concern to people, they do not involve personal physical injury. There are other ways to deal with property crimes than policing and incarceration. We can also think about ways to address what are often issues of class, poverty, or economic need in relation to property crimes.

Another 13 per cent of criminalized activity in Canada is made up of drug offenses, and a further 13 per cent involves traffic offenses.

Crimes against the person: 91,033 charges or 23.49 per cent in 2013; 87,887 charges or 23.19 per cent in 2014; and 76,888 charges or 23.44 per cent in 2015.

These are overall numbers, but 14 per cent of this is common assault and uttering threats. These may not involve any physical harm to the person at all.

Only 0.7 per cent consists of “homicide and related.” And as we know, many of these are singular events that will not be repeated by the person responsible in the absence of police. Locking them up is not about keeping us safe (which is not to say no harm occurred, only that the carceral systems cannot necessarily claim to have stopped additional such harms).

Among these cases are also instances of women who are incarcerated for defending themselves against a violent partner.

Addressing sexual assault is often put forward by preservationists. A study of criminal justice outcomes over a six year period (2009-2014) found that around one in 10 (12 per cent) of police-reported sexual assaults led to a criminal conviction, while seven per cent resulted in a custody sentence. Only 21 per cent total went to court. It is well known that many victims do not report at all due to mistrust of the system.

Administration of justice offenses: 85,554 charges or 22.07 per cent in 2013; 84,213 charges or 22.22 per cent in 2014; and 74,811 charges or 22.81 per cent in 2015.

Many criminalized activities involve administration of justice offenses. These are matters of systems maintenance, not harm to individuals or society.

Administration of justice cases involve matters related to case proceedings (such as failure to appear in court, failure to comply with a court order, breach of probation and unlawfully at large). They account for more than one-fifth of cases completed in adult criminal courts.

In addition to administration of justice cases, theft and impaired driving are the most frequent cases in adult courts in Canada.

The financial costs

This is the basis on which the Canadian state has built a vast infrastructure of containment and control — to punish people for acts that involve no physical harm to persons, have no victims, involve personal consumption choices, or restrain people who have not been convicted of anything. These are hardly the structures of public safety or security that preservationists make them out to be.

At the same time, containing and controlling people on this basis requires that incredible social wealth, labour and services be diverted from community resources and infrastructures.

In 2014-2015, expenditures on federal corrections in Canada totaled approximately $2.63 billion. Since 2005-2006, expenditures on federal corrections have increased 55 per cent, from $1.63 billion to $2.63 billion. This represents an increase of 51.5 per cent in constant dollars.

Provincial and territorial expenditures totalled an additional cost of about $2.21 billion in 2014-15. This represents an increase of 52.7 per cent since 2005-2006. In constant dollars, this is an increase of 49.3 per cent.

Abolitionists have long pointed out that social resources would be better used supporting community care, harm reduction, health care, housing and community centres.

Carceral institutions are a social transfer

Social resources used to punish people in the way the Canadian state does represent a social transfer away from necessary social services that can make society and our communities healthier, safer, and more secure, towards institutions and practices that reproduce social inequality, and often reflect lobbying priorities of boards of trade and business improvement associations locally — a transfer away from resources that might be most useful for poor and racialized people and communities.

Systems of racism, colonialism and class

Carceral systems in settler colonial states like Canada are not institutions of justice as preservationists claim. In reality, they are institutions of domination and control which operate on a basis of racialization and social stratification within a context of social class inequality. As only one example, the prisoner population in Canada had increased by 7.1 per cent over the five-year period up to 2013, with much of this increase coming from oppressed groups, such as Indigenous and Black people.

We can see this too if we look at incarceration rates for women, which increased by 60 per cent between 2003 and 2013, with marginalized Indigenous and Black women again being disproportionately represented in the Canadian prison population.

The majority of Black women are incarcerated for drug offenses, including so-called drug-trafficking, which many of them pursued, according to interviews with prisoners, in an effort to rise above poverty.

Indigenous women are Canada’s fastest growing imprisoned population, with the rate rising by over 100 per cent between 2001 and 2016.

Conclusion

Abolitionists emphasize that penal systems (police through prisons) do not do what they claim they do. They are not institutions of public safety, they do not protect us. Realizing that a very small proportion of criminal justice activity actually deals with stopping or even responding to violence should help us better contextualize calls for defunding.

Decriminalizing drug use, survival strategies, sex work and other activities authorities view as nuisances would allow for defunding and dismantling large parts of carceral systems right now.

Knowing that the carceral system serves functions other than those preservationists claim for it should be at the forefront when we think about defunding those systems, including police. And, it should cause us to ask what exactly we are funding in the first place.

SOURCE

Eva Ureta is a founding member of Anti-Police Power Surrey who lives and works in Surrey, helping educate abolition politics through various actions/demos demanding the dismantling of policing in Surrey. With an education in criminology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Eva continually focuses on racial injustices across cultures manifested in the lives of women in the Downtown Eastside.​

Jeff Shantz is a longtime union member, currently with Local 5 of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE, B.C. Federation of Labour). He is a founding organizer with Anti-Police Power Surrey (APPSurrey@gmail.com), a grassroots community group in Surrey (Unceded Coast Salish territories). He teaches on corporate crime and community advocacy at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His publications include Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice (University of Toronto Press), and the Crisis and Resistance trilogy (Punctum Books).

73% IN B.C. SUPPORT JUST, SUSTAINABLE TRANSITION

James Wheeler/Pixabay

The majority of British Columbians support a more just, sustainable transition into a post-pandemic economy, according to online poll results released last week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“We see a strong majority saying as we look to the recovery, we don’t want to simply rebuild the economy we had, but rebuild a more equitable and sustainable economy,” CCPA economist Alex Hemmingway told CBC. “73% want to see that.”

Support for a more equitable, sustainable economy crossed party lines, earning a thumbs-up from 85% of NDP supporters, 60% of Liberals, and 90% of Greens, CCPA reports. Among provincial Liberals, the poll found a 60-to-36% split between respondents who wanted to build back better or just rebuild the existing economy.

CBC says 83% of respondents supported a shift to universal public senior care, 77% backed paid sick time for all workers, 70% supported higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and 67% agreed with increasing social assistance rates to above the poverty line.

“People are recognizing, as part of the result of the pandemic itself and the economic difficulties that it’s created, how connected all our fates are and how dependent we are on each other,” Hemingway said.

I think one thing that suggests that these results will be robust over time is that you see consistency in the appetite to tax wealth and corporations during the pandemic and also pre-pandemic,” he added. “It may be a case that those issues have been brought to prominence and those opinions will crystallize over time.”

The survey focused on a range of health, community, and social service supports, not the elements of a green, low-carbon recovery. But CCPA says 53% supported and only 19% opposed a transition fund for fossil workers unlikely to recover from the oil price crash.

On Medium, meanwhile, 350 Canada is out with a list of six better ways for the federal government to spend the C$16 billion it’s currently lavishing on fossil companies, according to the recently-released Energy Policy Tracker.

Digital Organizer Jennifer Deol and Senior Digital Specialist Atiya Jaffar call for $5 billion for emergency transit funding, $5 billion per year for affordable housing, $3.2 billion to end boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves, $200 million to address the opioid crisis, $300 million per year for local programs to replace policing and “ensure no more Black and Indigenous lives are lost to state-sanctioned police violence”, and $150 million to kick-start 100 Indigenous-led renewable energy projects.

SOURCE

TAXPAYER FUNDS COULD TRIGGER PANDEMIC RECOVERY LOANS ABOVE $100 MILLION PER FOSSIL COMPANY, EDC SAYS

ptra/Pixabay

Loan guarantees and other forms of financial risk management from Export Development Canada (EDC) could clear the way for bank loans well in excess of C$100 million to help individual fossil fuel companies weather the financial storm produced by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving taxpayers to help cover the banks’ losses if the companies can’t make good on their borrowing, The Energy Mix has learned.

Last week, a backgrounder released by three leading climate and energy advocacy groups pointed to the 12-month mission EDC had been handed to funnel dollars into the fossil industry, in addition to the C$16 billion already documented earlier this month by the global Energy Policy Tracker. “EDC is not the sole vehicle through which the government is offering bailout money to oil and gas firms,” the backgrounder stated. “EDC’s role is significant, however, and bears scrutiny given the agency’s track record of providing vast sums of support to oil and gas with minimal disclosure.”

Now, the EDC itself says the “risk-sharing agreements” it plans to negotiate will be capped at $100 million per company, but deliver more than that amount to the oil and gas exploration and production companies they’re setting out to support.

“If a financial institution and/or a syndicate of FIs provide a credit facility (i.e. a loan) fit for the needs of the company, then the FI(s) would apply to EDC for an amount of the guarantee up to a maximum amount of $100 million,” a spokesperson told The Mix in an email late last week. “Therefore, if EDC was providing a guarantee for the maximum amount of $100 million, then the total value of the loan that the company would receive from their banks/FIs would be more.”

The actual amount of financing “will be based on a range of considerations such as the company’s size, liquidity needs, etc.,” the email added.

“This is the way guarantees work,” the spokesperson explained. “It’s a risk-sharing structure that allows the company’s banks/FIs to extend the amount of financing [beyond] what they would otherwise provide on their own. This enables companies to access the working capital they need to keep their operations running and to support their employees during the crisis.”

Like any other loan guarantee, taxpayers’ funds don’t flow if a fossil meets its financial obligations.

But “if a company fails to repay and the bank/FI is unsuccessful in reclaiming the money owed, the bank/FI could at that point initiate a process to request a reimbursement from EDC,” the spokesperson said. At that point, “EDC would reimburse the FI for the guaranteed amount.”

Recent news reports have had Canadian tar sands/oil sands producers “piling on debt” while they wait and hope for a resurgence in oil demand, while at least one international news outlet speculates on whether the coronavirus has “killed” the sector. “The spectacular collapse in oil prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic has brought the costliest—and most polluting—oil projects such as tar sands to a standstill, a development some analysts say could be definitive,” Euractiv writes, citing the London-based Carbon Tracker think tank. “Even though oil prices have partly recovered from the April market crash, they have not returned to pre-crisis levels yet, and market analysts wonder if they ever will.”

Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden admitted earlier this month the economy won’t get the “V-shaped” recovery economists have been hoping for, while a surge in new coronavirus infections drove new lockdowns in many parts of the world, including Donald Trump’s health science-challenged United States. Analysts like Rystad Energy have been predicting fossil company bankruptcies this year in the dozens or hundreds.

The EDC spokesperson said agency will rely on financial institutions to assess companies’ creditworthiness, rather than conducting its own review, but had input into criteria for the loans. Among other factors, “upon signing of the guarantee agreement, companies must have suspended dividends, including share buybacks and redeemable securities, and must also demonstrate that they have not increased executive compensation,” the spokesperson said. They’ll also need to issue climate risk assessments consistent with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

The agency’s interview comments focused mainly on the added vulnerability Canadian fossils face during the pandemic, without directly addressing the heightened risk taxpayers will incur by pouring loan guarantees into the sector. “In times such as these, access to financing through traditional sources can be more difficult for companies of all sizes and in all sectors,” the spokesperson said. “By working together with the private sector banking industry through this risk-sharing structure, EDC is helping provide much-needed liquidity to the market, and ultimately to companies who need it to maintain their operations and to support their employees during this challenging time.”

That’s partly because the exploration and production companies on EDC’s radar “represent the foundational upstream segment of the Canadian oil and gas industry. Importantly, they support an ecosystem of companies operating in midstream and downstream activities, such as engineering, transmission, storage, construction, refining, and oilfield service and equipment providers, extending their significant and positive impacts on the Canadian economy.”

EDC “recognizes the considerable strain on Canada’s oil and gas sector that is resulting from the economic impact of this global pandemic and other market-based conditions.,” Chief Business Officer Carl Burlock said when the agency introduced the program April 17. “We will support Canada’s energy sector during these incredibly challenging times. In doing so, we are supporting the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who work in this sector and their families.”

SOURCE

Offshore wind power now so cheap it could pay money back to consumers

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The latest round of offshore wind farms to be built in the UK could reduce household energy bills by producing electricity very cheaply.

Renewable  projects, including onshore and offshore  and , have so far been subsidized by government support schemes. This has led to some to complain that clean energy is pushing up bills.

However, the most recently approved offshore wind projects will most likely operate with ‘negative subsidies’ – paying money back to the government. The money will go towards reducing household energy bills as the offshore wind farms start producing power in the mid-2020s.

This is the conclusion of an analysis by an international team led by Imperial College London researchers published today in Nature Energy.

Lead researcher Dr. Malte Jansen, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Offshore wind power will soon be so cheap to produce that it will undercut fossil-fuelled power stations and may be the cheapest form of energy for the UK. Energy subsidies used to push up energy bills, but within a few years cheap renewable energy will see them brought down for the first time. This is an astonishing development.”

Negative subsidies

The analysis for five countries in Europe, including the UK, focused on a series of government auctions for offshore wind farms between February 2015 and September 2019. Companies that want to build wind farms bid in the auctions by stating the price at which they will sell the energy they produce to the government.

These are known as ‘contracts for difference’ or CfDs. If a company’s bid is higher than the wholesale electricity price on the UK market once the wind  is up and running, then the company will receive a subsidy from the government to top up the price.

However, if the stated price is less than the wholesale price, then the company will pay the government back the difference. This payback is then passed through to consumer’s energy bills, reducing the amount that homes and businesses will pay for electricity.

The UK’s September 2019 auction made the headlines as winning companies said they could build new offshore wind farms for around £40 per megawatt hour (MWh) of power. This was a new record set by these wind farms with bids 30 percent lower than just two years earlier.

While this was an impressive reduction, researchers could only speculate whether this meant offshore wind had become subsidy free or even subsidy negative, because that depends on how future wholesale electricity  evolve.

The team analyzed likely future electricity price trends and found that contracted price is very likely to be below the UK wholesale price over the lifetime that these wind farms would produce electricity, from the mid-2020s onwards.

The team say that these wind farms are likely to be built and run with these costs, since financing is now accessible at lower costs for such projects, owing to trust in the now mature technology.

A cheap tool for decarbonisation

The researchers analyzed similar offshore wind auctions held by governments of five European countries. They found that Germany and the Netherlands have seen some zero-subsidy offshore wind farms winning auctions, but that the UK projects are likely to be the world’s first negative-subsidy offshore wind farms.

Dr. Iain Staffell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “The price of  has plummeted in only a matter of a decade, surprising many in the field. The UK auctions in September 2019 gave prices that were around one-third lower than those of the last round in 2017, and two-thirds lower than we saw in 2015.

“This amazing progress has been made possible by new technology, economies of scale and efficient supply chains around the North Sea, but also by a decade of concerted policymaking designed to reduce the risk for investing in offshore wind, which has made financing these huge billion-pound projects much cheaper.

“These new wind farms set the stage for the rapid expansion needed to meet the government’s target of producing 30 percent of the UK’s energy needs from offshore wind by 2030. Offshore wind will be pivotal in helping the UK, and more broadly the world, to reach net-zero carbon emissions with the added bonus of reducing consumers’ energy bills.”

Mega turbines and hydrogen fuels

One reason the price of  has fallen so rapidly is technology development, in particular the ability to build larger wind turbines further out at sea. Larger turbines can harness more wind energy and have access to more consistent wind speeds at higher altitudes.

The biggest wind turbines under construction have rotor diameters of 220 meters—twice the diameter of the London Eye. At the same time,  are getting larger; the newest wind farm at Dogger Bank has the same installed capacity as Hinkley Point C and is expected to produce about two-thirds of its annual electricity.

The success of UK offshore windfarms, which are now primarily built in the Dogger Bank region of the North Sea, also means the UK has considerable skills and expertise than can be exported around the world.

The researchers also say this success means even more ambitious projects may now be attempted at , such as producing hydrogen fuels using the wind power on site, out at sea. Hydrogen fuels could be another key technology in helping decarbonise the UK, by replacing petrol used in transportation and natural gas used for heating homes.

SOURCE

Land reclamation industry concerned with delays in Alberta’s $1B well cleanup program

 

Only 2.7% of remediation applications approved, according to industry survey

Of the $1 billion from Ottawa to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells, the Alberta government had awarded about $76 million, as of mid-July. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

When the Alberta government began accepting applications May 1 for the first phase of its $1-billion program to clean up old oil and gas wells, Adam Dunn and his colleagues at Earthmaster Environmental Strategies spent more than 500 hours preparing and filling out the paperwork.

The Calgary-based remediation business also began hiring extra staff with the expectation of increased work resulting from the government program.

In total, Dunn and his colleagues submitted 372 applications. But so far, they have received 20 approvals, 340 rejections and a dozen remain outstanding.

The program was designed to provide work for the service sector during the downturn and put a dent in the tens of thousands of inactive oil and gas wells throughout the province.

Still, the process has been tough, said Dunn, because all the effort spent applying for the program is time that was largely wasted.

Many staff at Earthmaster have since had their hours reduced, and unless improvements are made to the program soon, Dunn said there may be layoffs.

“I get the ‘back-to-work’ aspect of the program, which is the frustrating part. We’re three months from Phase 1 opening applications and we’re just getting through that process now,” he said.

Many other companies in the reclamation and remediation industry are in a similar position and want the provincial government to pay more attention to their sector.

Alberta launched the site rehabilitation program to distribute the money it received from the federal government as part of Ottawa’s $1.7-billion program to clean up oil and gas wells in Western Canada, which was announced in April.

The program has been plagued with delays as the government was overwhelmed by the response of industry. It has struggled to process more than 35,000 applications.

Some complaints by the remediation industry are similar to those by oilfield companies, including the confusing application process, poor communication by the government and long wait times.

On average, those in the remediation sector say only 2.7 per cent of their applications were approved, according to a survey released on Thursday by the Environmental Services Association of Alberta.

Many companies are receiving rejection letters like this, listing the problems with their application. Still, those in the industry say the issues could have been avoided with better communication from the government, among other measures. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Many companies aren’t sure why some applications were approved and others were denied. Dunn said the same wording was used for all his applications, which doesn’t explain the inconsistent results.

“We really don’t know why they were rejected because there’s no direct response saying specifically what the issue was,” said Dunn. “That’s a concern for us. We want to make sure that we can get this right.”

More than 80 per cent of respondents to the survey also said they have lost work because of the program, since the companies that own the oil and gas wells are holding back on spending their own money on cleanup efforts, as they first try to get a piece of the government funding.

Delays, confusion and little work as Alberta government disburses $1B to clean up old wells

First Nations worry they’ll lose out on cash to clean up old oil and gas wells in Western Canada

 

Some concerns are unique to the remediation sector, including the provincial government’s decision to include only oilfield industry groups as part of its industry advisory committee for the program. In addition, the government also decided to prioritize any leftover money from the first phase of the program to go toward oilfield companies that do the downhole work required to clean up a well.

The well would still need to be reclaimed, which includes testing the soil and groundwater for contamination and returning the site back into a productive property for farmers and landowners to use once again.

“Our membership does have some concerns,” said Kelly Zadko, president of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association. The organization has written letters to the government, including one last week.

“The [government’s] industry advisory committee is made up of well servicing companies and companies that specialize in downhole abandonment and we feel that they’re missing that professional environmental rehabilitation piece that we can contribute,” she said.

About 150 government workers are assigned to help administer the program.

“Abandonment and reclamation work go hand in hand while cleaning up an inactive well — one cannot be done without the other,” said Kavi Bal, the spokesperson for Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, in an emailed statement.

Bal said the Environmental Services Association of Alberta will be added to the program’s industry advisory committee.

In addition, grants for reclamation efforts were awarded in the first phase of the program, he said, and the third phase remains open for new applications.

SOURCE

Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC’s network business unit. He’s covered stories across the country and internationally.

Solidarity after the Pandemic: Basic Income or Basic Services?

People are struggling. As front-line workers in emergency rooms, isolation shelters and clinics, we see how the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated health and livelihoods. We’ve witnessed the toll that the last several months has taken on workers, families, and marginalized communities.

It’s clear that COVID-19 remains a grave danger, but it’s also reawakened our true priorities. Values of solidarity, resilience, and equity have emerged as cornerstones for a healthier future, heard in national surveys and cheers for workers alike.

The pandemic has also shown us how governments directly affect our lives. Policy decisions taken now can either lock in further insecurity and inequity or lay foundations for a sustainable recovery.

If internet searches are any indication, a national basic income is gaining attention. Some say the $2,000 a month Canada Emergency Response Benefit has opened the door to this idea, and a well-timed new parliamentary budget report adds hard numbers to the debate.

Indeed, the CERB has helped many and fostered self-sufficiency through hardships, but the pandemic has also revealed the necessity of strong social safety nets. The question of what comes next has a high level of urgency.

Income is vital, but only gets you so far. Money still needs to work within a patchwork market. While conventional markets may be convenient for books and board games, they fall short for life’s essentials. Health care, long-term care, or access to clean drinking water, for example, do not follow the simple precepts of supply and demand taught in introductory economic courses.

Meeting universal basic needs for participation, health and independence is not a simple consumer choice. Rather, it’s a minimum condition to ensure a vibrant and thriving democratic society. Sadly, personal income alone cannot create more space in a child-care centre, more beds in a well-staffed care home, or more rail and bus routes. You may have more money, but are you empowered to live and sustain a richer life?

What if more income wasn’t the only path to a better life? A basic service we’ve all experienced is so deep-seated that we take it for granted: we pay taxes for our public health-care system, but it’s free to use when we need it and supported as a matter of civic pride. Our health systems are further supported by monitoring and standards to address the variety of ways the benefits of health can be achieved. As our neighbours to the south know all too well,  trying to purchase a public good like this, out of your own pocket and through private markets, can quickly become expensive in a life-altering way. Yet we haven’t carried this lesson over to other basic services.

The truth is that Canada lags other rich countries in social spending for public programs that improve health, assist children and seniors, and protect us from poverty and unemployment. Research shows that we stand to reap large rewards from boosting our basic health and social services. In their absence, COVID-19 has exposed these long-standing gaps as a precarious reality for too many of us in Canada.

Broadening the scope of what might transition from the CERB, a national approach to public “basic services” complements the undisputed importance of income by ensuring our shared needs are securely met in an uncertain world. It’s already supported by experts in the UK and Canada. They point out that the greatest needs are those that form a basic standard of living and support the determinants of health: clean water, pharmacare, safe and affordable housing, good-quality child and long-term care, and transportation and internet services that rapidly connect this vast country, among others.

Calling them “basic” recognizes that these services are building blocks for a strong society, as essential for a thriving nation as roads and bridges, and an essential responsibility of governments to deliver. For workers stranded by changing trends in labour conditions and the economic shutdown, expanding access to basic services may provide lasting support while maintaining impetus for better employment standards. Ensuring access to high-quality basic services for everyone can also begin to address existing injustices, particularly to Indigenous peoples, with inclusive design and adequate funding from the start.

Like Medicare, basic services would form the “tangible expressions” of our solidarity. And like public health advice, they’re designed to prevent crises before they happen. The tragedies of COVID-19 are not unique: this is neither our first nor last pandemic. Just as how we flatten the curve matters, so too does how we chart our recovery.

A move towards meaningful universal basic services is no small task. Canadians are ready. Only 12 per cent of us think we will return to our pre-pandemic way of life. As Nik Nanos has put it, the old status quo of consumerism and individualism is dead.

It’s no wonder. As we help each other through unexpected layoffs and illnesses, we develop a greater appreciation for our priorities. Instead of going “back to normal”, leaders can enable greater health and resilience for all by investing in national basic services to strengthen our social infrastructure. COVID-19 remains a threat that’s best defeated through solidarity. This is our time to transform that vision into action.

SOURCE

Edward Xie is an emergency physician working at the intersection of inequities and health and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. 

Danyaal Raza is a family physician, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and Essential Solutions Project member of the Broadbent Institute.

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Why the Superrich Keep Getting Richer

As more areas of our lives become subject to the power of big tech, the fortunes of people like Jeff Bezos will continue to mount. (Wikimedia Commons)

Billionaires like Jeff Bezos aren’t obscenely wealthy because they work harder than everyone else or they’re more innovative. They’re obscenely wealthy because their corporate empires drain society’s resources — and we’d all be better off without them.

This week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw the largest single-day increase in wealth ever recorded for any individual. In just one day, his fortune increased by $13 billion. On current trends, he is on track to become the world’s first trillionaire by 2026.

Those on the right wing of politics argue that extreme wealth is a function of hard work, creativity, and innovation that benefits society. But wealth and income inequality have increased dramatically in most advanced economies in recent years. The richest of the rich are much wealthier today than they were several decades ago, but it is not clear that they are working any harder.

Mainstream economists make a more nuanced version of this argument. They claim that the dramatic increase in income inequality has been driven by the dynamics of globalization and the rise of “superstars.” Firms and corporate executives are now competing in a global market for capital and talent, so the rewards at the top are much higher — even as competition also constrains wages for many toward the bottom end of the distribution.

According to this view, high levels of inequality are a reward for high productivity. The most productive firms will attract more investment than their less productive counterparts, and their managers, who are performing a much more complex job than those managing smaller firms, will be rewarded accordingly.

But here again the narrative runs aground on contact with reality. Productivity has not risen alongside inequality in recent years. In fact, in the United States and the UK productivity has flatlined since the financial crisis — and in the United States, it has been declining since the turn of the century.

There is another explanation for the huge profits of the world’s largest corporations and the huge fortunes of the superrich. Not higher productivity. Not simply globalization. But rising global market power.

Many of the world’s largest tech companies have become global oligopolies and domestic monopolies. Globalization has played a role here, of course — many domestic firms simply can’t compete with global multinationals. But these firms also use their relative size to push down wages, avoid taxes, and gouge their suppliers, as well as lobbying governments to provide them with preferential treatment.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon are a case in point. Amazon has become America’s largest company through anticompetitive practices that have landed it in trouble with the European Union’s competition authorities. The working practices in its warehouses are notoriously appalling. And a study from last year revealed Amazon to be one of the world’s most “aggressive tax avoiders.”

Part of the reason Amazon has to work so hard to maintain its monopoly position is that its business model relies on network effects that only obtain at a certain scale. Tech companies like Amazon make money by monopolizing and then selling the data generated from the transactions on their sites.

The more people who sign up, the more data is generated; and the more data generated, the more useful this data is for those analyzing it. The monetization of this data is what generates most of Amazon’s returns: Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the most profitable part of the business by some distance.

Far from representing its social utility, Amazon’s market value — and Bezos’ personal wealth — reflects its market power. And the rising market power of a small number of larger firms has actually reduced productivity. This concentration has also constrained investment and wage growth as these firms simply don’t have to compete for labor, nor are they forced to innovate in order to outcompete their rivals.

In fact, they’re much more likely to use their profits to buy back their own shares, or to acquire other firms that will increase their market share and give them access to more data. Amazon’s recent acquisition of grocery store Whole Foods is likely to be the first of many such moves by tech companies. Rather than the Darwinian logic of compete or die, the tech companies face a different imperative: expand or die.

States are supporting this logic with exceptionally loose monetary policy. Low interest rates make it very easy for large companies to borrow to fund mergers and acquisitions. And quantitative easing — unleashed on an unprecedented scale to tackle the pandemic — has simply served to raise equity prices, especially for the big tech companies.

As more areas of our lives become subject to the power of big tech, the fortunes of people like Bezos will continue to mount. Their rising wealth will not represent a reward for innovation or job creation, but for their market power, which has allowed them to increase the exploitation of their workforces, gouge suppliers, and avoid taxes.

The only real way to tackle these inequities is to democratize the ownership of the means of production, and begin to hand the key decisions in our economy back to the people. But you would expect that even social democrats, who won’t pursue transformative policies, could get behind measures such as a wealth tax.

“Building back better” after the pandemic will be impossible without such a tax — and the vast majority of both Labour and Conservative voters support such an approach, according to a recent poll. And yet it appears that Labour’s leadership are retreating from the idea.

In an interview the other day, I was asked why we should care about Jeff Bezos’s wealth if it makes everyone else better off. But the extreme inequalities generated by modern capitalism are making obvious something that Marxists have known for decades: the superrich generate their wealth at the expense of workers, the planet, and society as a whole.

In a rational and fair society, the vast resources of a tiny elite would be put to use solving our social problems.

SOURCE

Want to End Systemic Racism? Then Abolish Prisons

COVID-19 has highlighted our indifference to the fate of people — many Indigenous and Black — that we lock up.

PortCartierPrisonCell.jpg

A cell in the Port-Cartier Institution in Quebec, the first prison in Canada to report cases of COVID-19. Photo from the Correctional Investigator of Canada.

Global uprisings in response to anti-Black police brutality have prompted demands to defund policing and reinvest in communities. But it is not just policing agencies that have a systemic racism problem. Canadian prisons do too.

Prisons are densely packed. Social distancing and adequate hygiene are impossible. Advocates suggest that depopulating them during the pandemic would reduce harm and save lives.

Yet the Ontario government recently announced it would funnel an additional $500 million over five years into maintaining and staffing prisons — despite anticipating a $20.5-billion deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Saskatchewan government also recently announced it would spend $120 million to expand the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, while predicting a $2.4-billion deficit.

These developments are regressive. It is time to look at alternatives to imprisonment and set our sights towards abolishing prisons.

As soon as COVID-19 spread to North America, health professionals, scholars and activists expected widespread outbreaks in prisons. Advocates pleaded with governments to release prisoners.

One province, Nova Scotia, heeded this call.

Nova Scotia’s approach

In Nova Scotia the judiciary, corrections officials and Crown and defence lawyers, along with community organizations, collaborated to cut the provincial prison population in half. As of June 16, Nova Scotia’s jail for women had only eight prisoners.

The quick action resulted in only one case of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia’s prison system.

Prison systems that did not heed the warnings of experts — like those in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec — saw widespread outbreaks.

We spoke with Ashley Avery, executive director of Coverdale Courtwork Society, a non-profit organization that supports women, girls, trans, non-binary and two-spirit persons affected by the criminal justice system.

She reports the people they support are mostly arrested for public intoxication, homelessness and mental health crisis. Imprisonment should not be the answer for these people.

The movement to abolish prisons is a creative project that replaces punishment, widely considered ineffective in reducing violence.

Instead, transformative approaches prioritize health and well-being.

Decarceration is the effort to limit the number of people who are detained behind bars, either by limiting who is sent to prison in the first place or by creating avenues to release people already in custody.

Every person who isn’t sent imprisoned requires housing, adequate income and health services.

In Nova Scotia, community groups (Coverdale Courtwork Society, Elizabeth Fry Society and John Howard Society) report it costs them $150 per person per day to keep someone housed in a hotel with legal, health and other services. Compare this with the $255 per day cost of keeping someone in a provincial jail.

Prison expansion is a step backward

The mass incarceration of racialized communities in Canada’s prisons reflects the country’s racial profiling and over-policing of Black and Indigenous people.

Decarceration offers a direct way to address the systemic oppression Canada has imposed on those communities.

More than 30 per cent of Canadian prisoners are Indigenous (they are five per cent of the Canadian population), and 9.6 per cent are Black (they are 3.5 per cent of the population). Indigenous women account for 42 per cent of women in federal custody.

Black people are six times more likely to be street checked in Halifax, and more likely to be charged than white people for the same behaviour.

Indigenous confinement has been described as “a national travesty” by the Correctional Investigator of Canada and prisons as “the new residential schools” by criminologists. African American literary and cultural historian Saidiya Hartman calls the high rate of imprisonment the “afterlife of slavery.”

As COVID-19 loomed, few prisoners were released

About 800 people in the federal prison system have tested positive for COVID-19. Several prisons had massive outbreaks, and two people have died.

While the federal government claimed it had released hundreds of people during the pandemic, in reality there is only evidence that it released one person.

The government had options. Minimum security prisoners could have been released. Those close to parole could have had board appearances expedited. The elderly and unwell could have been released on compassionate grounds. Prisoners in mother-child programs, where young children live with their imprisoned mothers, could have been relocated to their communities. None of this happened.

The recent announcements about Ontario and Saskatchewan investing more dollars into prisons come amid pressing need for investments in health. Despite its promise, Nova Scotia’s decarceration initiative is at risk of imminent defunding.

Time for change

The Parliamentary Black Caucus, including MPs and senators from various parties, called for public investment community justice strategies as an alternative to prisons.

Indigenous leaders in British Columbia called for the release of as many people as possible, with support plans for housing, financial aid and community safety.

Prison abolition may sound like a radical new idea, but people have been working toward it for decades. Black feminist theorists including Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Mariame Kaba helped put this vision into practice by providing language, organizationsinitiatives and resources.

We can defund police and prisons instead of ticketing people for being outside in this pandemic, snitching on our neighbours, tearing down tents, criminalizing people in mental health and addictions crisis and profiling Black and Indigenous peoples.

Prisons are too broken to reform. If Canada is serious about dealing with racism, then the abolition of both policing and prisons is the way forward.The Conversation  [Tyee]

SOURCE

By Martha PaynterLinda Mussell and Nataleah Hunter-Young 

Martha Paynter is a PhD candidate in nursing at Dalhousie University.

Linda Mussell is PhD candidate in political studies at Queen’s University.

Nataleah Hunter-Young is PhD candidate in communication and culture at Ryerson University.

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Indigenous Lives at Risk: Prisons and COVID-19

The RCMP is broken

The iconic force is fraying under the strain of its rural policing model, tragic mistakes, an ugly past and a controversial present

An RCMP police car in front of Parliament in Ottawa (Marc Bruxelle/Alamy)

Leon Joudrey shuts his phone off before he goes to bed, so when he awoke in his Portapique, N.S., home early on the morning of April 19, he had no idea that 13 of his neighbours, including some of his closest friends, had been murdered while he slept.

When he awoke at around 3 a.m., Joudrey had texts from friends asking if he was okay. He didn’t understand what had happened, so he decided to jump in his truck and drive around the community for a look. In the darkness, he didn’t realize that some of the houses he drove past were no longer standing, that they had been burned to the ground.

He came across an RCMP vehicle on the road. Through a loudspeaker, the officers directed him to go to the end of the road but did not roll down their windows to talk to him about what was going on. Joudrey instead went home to check on his dogs. The killer was by this time kilometres away in the community of Debert, but the RCMP didn’t know that.

August 2020 cover of Maclean’s

Joudrey would like to know why the officers didn’t talk to him. “They could have saved a lot of troubles in my life if they would have put down their window. Didn’t they wonder who I was and where I came from?”

Joudrey went home, took out his shotgun and sat in his bedroom with his two dogs. At about 6 a.m., the common-law wife of the killer knocked on his door. She was barefoot and distraught. The night before she had been assaulted by the killer and escaped. Joudrey gave her a pair of running shoes and called 911. The RCMP showed up soon after. “They roll in three vehicles, jump out, they come toward my house. They didn’t call me out of the house. I could have shot all of them.”

Joudrey’s dogs, Basil and Yzerman, ran up to the police.

“The guy had his gun right against the back of my dog’s neck, just standing there. He wasn’t paying attention. And these are the Ninja Turtles, the SWAT guys. I said, ‘Get your gun away from my f–king dogs.’ He said, ‘We’re not here for dogs.’ ”

They took the killer’s common-law wife away, but still he says nobody told him what had happened. Only when a friend called did Joudrey learn that his closest friends had been murdered. He is haunted by that, and has had to abandon his home and move away to cope with the stress. “I drove around for two or three hours, the most confusing two or three hours of my life, with all my friends dead and I didn’t know it. Now that I know what happened, it was like driving through a graveyard.”

Joudrey, a forest technician, can’t understand why the RCMP didn’t evacuate the tiny community while the killer was at large. “I fight forest fires. The first thing you do is get people out of their houses. You don’t leave them, see if the fire gets them.” He is unhappy with how the RCMP handled him that night, and upset that no one has followed up with him. “They didn’t do anything right.”

Joudrey, with dogs Yzerman (left) and Basil, wonders why the RCMP didn’t evacuate Portapique (Photograph by Darren Calabrese) 

Joudrey, with dogs Yzerman (left) and Basil, wonders why the RCMP didn’t evacuate Portapique (Photograph by Darren Calabrese)

Relatives of the victims have similar feelings about the RCMP. After the killer left Portapique a smoking ruin, he gave the Mounties the slip and drove on back roads in his replica RCMP cruiser to a welding shop, where he parked for the night. In the morning, dressed in a Mountie uniform, he killed a couple he knew, then four random strangers, including two nurses, Heather O’Brien and Kristen Beaton, who was pregnant.

Her widower, Nick Beaton, like many Nova Scotians, thinks the RCMP should have used the provincial emergency alert system to warn the public. “The RCMP are as responsible for my wife and unborn baby’s death as much as that low-life,” says Beaton. “I can 100 per cent guarantee that with a warning my wife would be alive today. I can promise you that with every existence of my soul. She would not have went out the door.”

O’Brien’s daughter, Darcy Dobson, is furious that it took the Mounties seven hours to notify her family that her mother had passed away. “I pray that they f–king learn something,” she says. “If nothing else, they learn something because they made some horrible, horrible mistakes. I’m trying to tread lightly . . . but they dropped the ball in Nova Scotia.”

Dobson’s father is one of the people who has proposed a class action lawsuit against the RCMP and the province, saying the authorities failed to “protect the safety and security of the public.” The lawsuit alleges that the RCMP returned a vehicle to one family with gun casings and human remains inside, and that the initial RCMP response was hampered by understaffing.

The Nova Scotia shooting looks like a disaster for the Mounties—a slow-motion wreck that will grind on for a decade as inquiries, investigations and lawsuits move through the courts. It was the beginning of a miserable spring for the force and its new commissioner, Brenda Lucki, the first woman to ever hold the job. Lucki will likely face difficult questions about how the force responded in Nova Scotia for as long as she is in her job. Twenty-two people were killed—including beloved officer Heidi Stevenson—one officer was injured and an unknown number are off with PTSD after sorting through the smoking ruins left by the killer.

While that disaster was still fresh, Lucki had to face a long-overdue racial reckoning, as Black Lives Matter protests in the United States put the focus on police methods on both sides of the border. In the midst of that once-in-a-generation social revolution, Lucki struggled to respond to complaints about systemic racism in the RCMP. Some First Nations leaders called for her resignation, while others called for the abolition of the RCMP. It is a political moment that creates a generational opportunity for politicians who have for decades let the RCMP manage itself rather than insisting on fundamental change.

Throughout, 20,000 officers across the country continued their work, most of them patrolling the back roads, their morale hurting. And while activists in cities called for the defunding of police, in rural areas, where crime rates are higher and response times longer, many worry that there aren’t enough police to keep them safe.

This is the structural problem at the heart of the RCMP, an instantly recognizable symbol of Canada around the world. Its essential work as a federal force is undermined by its obligations as an underfunded rural police force working on contract for provincial and municipal governments. Increasingly, it looks like the Mounties are struggling at both of these competing missions, and are too often a danger to both themselves and the people they are sworn to protect.

Since 1885, there has been one place where Mounties are made—a sprawling facility on the outskirts of Regina, the RCMP Academy, which is known within the force as Depot. It was here, in 1885, where the Mounties hanged Métis leader Louis Riel in front of the mess hall, which was later converted to a chapel.

The RCMP’s critics say the intensely hierarchical and change-resistant culture of the force comes from the paramilitary structure, which is drilled into the heads of “cadets” when they spend six months at Depot, where they are formed into “troops,” taught how to march, shoot, and arrest suspects, and learn the traditions of the RCMP.

“The task of the Regina Depot is, without a shadow of a doubt, the inculcation of RCMP values,” says Robert Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University (SFU). “It’s a standard military practice of taking a group of people and . . . you strip them of all their previous humanity and rebuild them so . . . when the officer blows the whistle, they will go over the lip of the trench. It worked 100 years ago. But policing is far more complicated now and I don’t think the military model is viable anymore.”

A recruit is subdued during training at the RCMP Academy in 1957 (Metro/BIPs/Getty Images) 

A recruit is subdued during training at the RCMP Academy in 1957 (Metro/BIPs/Getty Images)

The roots of the system are in the force’s history—the North West Mounted Police—a paramilitary force created to extend eastern power into the plains. Sir John A. Macdonald ordered the force created in 1873, modelled on the Royal Irish Constabulary, after American wolf hunters massacred more than 20 Assiniboine people in the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. And in 1877, the force gave sanctuary to Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, who was fleeing the genocidal U.S. Army.

But the North West Mounted Police was soon involved in military campaigns to repress Indigenous uprisings, both Métis and Cree, helping colonial authorities to force Indigenous people onto reserves, where many starved. It enforced apartheid-style pass laws and helped force Indigenous children into residential schools, where many were abused and an untold number died of preventable diseases exacerbated by malnutrition.

Indigenous leaders say this bitter legacy of genocidal colonialism continues now. Since the RCMP polices much of rural Canada, and also is responsible for national security, Mounties are typically called on to clear blockades and to gather intelligence on Indigenous activists that resource companies consider a threat. They have brought snipers to blockades in British Columbia and New Brunswick, military-style shows of force—“lethal overwatch” in the words of the RCMP—that Indigenous people consider a calculated attempt at intimidation.

This painful history means that community policing carried out by the RCMP in Indigenous communities is hampered by mutual suspicion. Consider the case of Chief Allan Adam, who was knocked to the ground and repeatedly punched by an RCMP officer as he and his wife were trying to drive away from Boomtown Casino in Fort McMurray, Alta., on March 10.

READ: The Nova Scotia shooting encapsulates all that’s wrong with the RCMP

Adam, the chief of nearby Fort Chipewyan, was stopped because of an expired licence plate on his truck, which he had picked up earlier that day from the RCMP, who had impounded it. Adam was upset that the RCMP, which earlier called him to pick up the vehicle, was now stopping him and his wife. He took a confrontational tone, swore at the officer and removed his jacket. Tempers got higher when the officer, for unknown reasons, put his hands on Adam’s wife, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Another officer, Constable Simon Seguin, tackled Adam, knocking him to the ground, and repeatedly punched him, putting him in a chokehold, while Adam complained of police brutality. The Mounties charged him with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer and locked him up overnight.

Senior RCMP officers, after reviewing dash-cam video of the incident, say the officers handled it properly. “It was determined that the members’ actions were reasonable and did not meet the threshold for an external investigation.” When the video became public a month later, most people who saw it did not think the members’ actions were reasonable. It went viral, shaming Canada around the world. Climate activist Greta Thunberg, who had met with Adam, denounced the attack: “I’m shocked by this shameful abuse by the RCMP.”

Chief Adam in his doctor’s office after his March 10 arrest (Courtesy of Ben Parson) 

Chief Adam in his doctor’s office after his March 10 arrest (Courtesy of Ben Parson)

When the RCMP dropped charges against Adam in June, it was revealed that while Seguin was working, he was himself awaiting trial on assault charges. His bosses, the same hierarchy that decided there was no problem with the way he handled the arrest of Chief Adam, had approved him to keep working while he faced charges. The RCMP says it is “reviewing” the question of why Seguin’s charges were not publicly disclosed.

In an interview with Maclean’s, Adam says for him the brutality of the arrest was not unusual. “I guess in the ordinary world of First Nations people, this is just a day-to-day arrest by the RCMP.”

Adam is not universally popular in Fort Mac, because he has spoken out about the environmental damage caused by the oil industry and met with activists and celebrities who oppose the oil sands. He is suspicious that the Mounties want to get him for political reasons. “History shows that John A. Macdonald put up the RCMP to go and make way for the settlers and the extraction of the resources,” he says. “Coming from the 1800s, they did that to the Scottish and Irish peoples, and what they did is brought that same tactic to Canada. They used the same tactics to get us away from the land and the RCMP has been imposing systemic racism right from the day they were founded here in Canada. They took action against Louis Riel and it continues to grow. When does Canada say, maybe it’s time to look at the police?”

The RCMP says the incident started as a routine traffic stop and has referred it to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team for an independent investigation. “The employees of the Alberta RCMP have built positive relationships with Indigenous and visible minority communities across the province and we continue working to make those relationships better,” says Fraser Logan, Alberta RCMP media relations manager. “While we understand that at the moment this relationship is strained, earning the trust and confidence of Indigenous communities in Alberta remains a top priority for us.”

Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of the vast Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario, called Chief Adam after the incident to check in on him. Fiddler, who helped build an Indigenous police force that polices 35 communities with 160 officers, went across the country listening to witnesses of abuse at residential schools with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He says a common theme was bad feelings about the RCMP. “And it goes way back, you know, to the Indian residential school system. They were the ones that came and snatched the children away from their parents’ arms, from their communities. Many of them are now in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even now they’re still pretty traumatized, whenever they see an RCMP officer, because they remember they were the ones that came to get them away from their families.”

After the video of the Adam beating came to light, the Alberta deputy commissioner denied systemic racism within the RCMP, and then Commissioner Lucki said she was “struggling” with the question. Under political pressure, she later acknowledged that it exists. Within hours after she reversed herself on the question, Rodney Levi, a New Brunswick Mi’kmaq, was shot to death by RCMP officers.

Lucki appears to still be struggling with the concept. At a meeting of the Commons public safety committee on June 23, Gatineau MP Greg Fergus, a Liberal, asked her for an example of systemic racism in the RCMP. She discussed a fitness test that is difficult for people under six feet. “That would be systemic discrimination, but I’m trying to think of systemic racism,” said Fergus.

She could have mentioned that, according to an analysis of crime statistics by CTV, Indigenous people are 10 times more likely to be shot by RCMP.

Fiddler was disappointed with Lucki’s response. “Her first instinct was deny, deny, deny, then wobbling for a couple of days, ‘Maybe there is systemic racism.’ You know what? As a leader, you know, whenever you’re asked a tough question, your first response, that’s your response.”

Lucki declined an interview request for this story.

It has been a tough spring for the RCMP, which followed a tough winter, a tough year, a tough decade. The force seems to reel from crisis to crisis, repeatedly studied, analyzed, audited, sued, charged, convicted, found wanting by anyone asked to sit in judgment of its sprawling community policing empire.

And everyone—even the most faithful retired staff sergeants, whose identities are so closely tied to the red serge and the stetson that they bridle at any criticism—thinks the force has allowed community policing, the relentless demand for bodies in detachments, to drain the organization of the resources it needs to address its core function: federal policing.

The RCMP is responsible for human trafficking, drugs, national security, organized crime and money laundering. Enforcing those laws is demanding, technical work and not a good fit for the many officers who are promoted after spending a few years in the sticks.

One former Mountie who worked on specialized money-laundering and national security investigations, who could not use his name because of concern for his current employment, says he often worked with officers who were not equipped to handle the demands of the job. “We’d get guys . . . who came out of the north, who just spent two years in one of the communities, and they were suddenly in the drug section or the market enforcement team or something, but [with] no particular skills to work in those settings.”

Officers without the background for the work would try to avoid it, he says. “If you’re writing a wiretap warrant, you get a [person] with a Grade 12 education, they’re probably not equipped to do that level of writing. And so they’re going to try not to do it. They’re just going to do whatever they can to get out of doing it.”

Canada is widely seen as a safe haven for money launderers, both because of legal loopholes and because the RCMP is not willing or able to put the resources into the demanding and technical investigations necessary to track and seize dirty money. In testimony at the Cullen Commission into money laundering in British Columbia this spring, police witnesses testified that they don’t have trained people doing the necessary work to stop criminals from washing their money in that province, where it is estimated to be a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Lucki on Parliament Hill in April; the force is facing questions about systemic racism in the RCMP (Sean Kilpatrick/CP) 

Lucki on Parliament Hill in April; the force is facing questions about systemic racism in the RCMP (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

In committee on June 23, Liberal Brampton MP Kamal Khera asked Lucki about calls to remove contract policing from the RCMP’s mandate and to rename the force. “Under our modernization efforts, like I said, no stone will be left unturned,” said Lucki. “And one of them is a review of contract policing, but I have to say, having now been in this position, and being exposed to police agencies from around the world, our model, as much as it’s sometimes criticized, is the envy of most police agencies because of its flexibility and nimbleness in times of crisis.”

Experts do not agree.

“The people who get shortchanged on this is actually the federal government, because its federal police force spends most of its time, effort, energy and resources on contract policing, and what I might call distractions from federal priorities,” says Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada, who wrote an in-depth report on the Mounties for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

The model—with the federal government subsidizing the force in rural areas while municipal forces police the cities—means that the RCMP is stuck doing the policing nobody else wants, driving officers into the ground.

In Ontario and Quebec, where provincial forces are under the same regulatory umbrella as municipal forces, they train and work together more easily than the RCMP works with municipal forces.

While the Portapique shooting was under way, for example, the RCMP called in officers from Moncton, two hours away, rather than asking for help from the police in Truro, 30 minutes away. The officers did not know the area. Call logs released under access-to-information law by the Truro Police Department show that one RCMP officer had to ask if there was a hospital in Truro. A Truro officer had to give directions to an out-of-town Mountie who was having a hard time finding the local RCMP building.

A review of the Robert Pickton murders blamed, among other things, the division between the RCMP and the Vancouver police, which meant Pickton was picking up his victims in one jurisdiction and killing them in another.

In Surrey, B.C., the mayor has a mandate to get rid of the RCMP and start a municipal force, but the RCMP, which is about to lose its most urban jurisdiction, is fighting back, with former Mounties leading the charge. In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney is considering starting a provincial force.

If the politicians do not stop them, the RCMP and its allies—including the union and retired RCMP officers—are likely to fight tooth and nail to hang onto Surrey rather than let it go and use the opportunity to beef up understaffed detachments across the country.

Tom Taggart is the municipal councillor for District 10 of Colchester County, the sparsely populated rural area west of Truro, including the quiet seaside village of Portapique. His constituents rely on an RCMP detachment in Bible Hill, a 40-minute drive from Portapique.

Taggart was already raising questions about the adequacy of the policing service in his community before the mass shooting. After the shooting, he asked the RCMP to brief him on whether there were six officers on that night, as there are supposed to be, or whether there were four. The RCMP answered the question, but he is not permitted to share the answer with the public because the RCMP will only share with municipal officials on condition that they keep it secret.

“There surely was not a full complement of officers on duty and able to respond that night,” he says in an interview. “There were minimums that they are permitted. I can’t say whether they were there or not.”

Taggart thinks the Truro Police Department might provide better service for his area. “Most of my concerns prior to April 18 were around value for money. That’s not the case anymore. I want a service review. I want to understand. And we deserve, if we pay for six officers a shift, that we get six officers a shift.”

The problem for Colchester County, Taggart says, is that even if he convinced council to increase its tax rate to add several officers, to allow for more regular patrols on the back roads, the county can’t be sure they would get them. “The issue is that the RCMP cannot—I am absolutely certain in my mind—they cannot provide that service, because they’ll be stealing people from somewhere else.”

Taggart was raising questions about policing in his Nova Scotia community before the shooting (Photograph by Darren Calabrese) 

Taggart was raising questions about policing in his Nova Scotia community before the shooting (Photograph by Darren Calabrese)

Taggart calls this “musical badges,” where the RCMP move Mounties around to backfill vacancies in detachments, robbing Peter to pay Paul. “When the whistle blows, what badge is in what chair?” Insiders have long complained that the force will list names on detachment rosters of officers who are off on medical leave, serving on peacekeeping missions overseas or backfilling in other detachments. The result: on paper the force is at full strength, but in reality, rural detachments are chronically understaffed, which means the officers on the ground are overworked. Darryl Davies, a criminologist at Carleton University, says when he used to work in the law-enforcement directorate of the federal Public Safety department, they called it “Mountie math.”

“When I said, well, what’s Mountie math? They said, well, Mountie math is the RCMP. They never tell us how many officers they have in any location at any given time. So I say, well, why? They say for security reasons? Bulls–t.”

Even when detachments are at full strength, the RCMP relies on fewer officers per person than municipal forces. A 2018 Globe and Mail investigation found that in suburban Vancouver, the most urban part of Canada that the RCMP still polices, some detachments relied on one officer for every 956 residents, while the Vancouver Police Department has one officer for every 494 residents. That means individual Mounties carry heavier caseloads and are more likely to patrol alone in a squad car, which is especially dangerous in rural areas where backup is far away. An officer in Great Village, next to Portapique, is recovering from serious injuries after he was assaulted in June by a distraught man.

An internal Public Safety memo obtained by access-to-information law by the Canadian Press found “growing dissatisfaction” with contract policing from other levels of government. “Public Safety Canada and the RCMP have confirmed there are systemic sustainability challenges impacting the whole of the RCMP,” the memo said.

To encourage municipalities and provinces to use the RCMP, the federal government subsidizes the force by 10 to 30 per cent, at a cost of $750 million a year. For cash-strapped local governments, that is too good an offer to turn down; 153 municipalities have contracts with the RCMP, as do three territories and all the provinces but Ontario and Quebec. But it is about to get more expensive. In 2019, the National Police Federation won the right to unionize 20,000 officers and reservists, and members voted 97 per cent in favour of certifying. They are seeking improvements to pay, higher staffing levels and better equipment and training.

RCMP pay and training, once the envy of other police forces, have lagged for decades. A starting constable makes just $53,000. In Vancouver, where RCMP officers and municipal police regularly cross paths, Vancouver constables out-earned their Mountie counterparts by $14,000 a year in 2019. A 2015 RCMP pay study found that RCMP officers in isolated fly-in communities received a $14,524 hardship allowance, compared with $21,502 for members of the Sûreté du Québec and $32,000 for Ontario Provincial Police.

Much of rural Canada is policed by overworked, underpaid RCMP officers. They are also not always as well-equipped as their counterparts in other forces. In 2005, four “heavily outgunned” RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alta., were murdered at a remote farm. The force was told to get rifles for officers, but in 2014, when a Moncton, N.B., man started shooting Mounties, killing three, officers were forced to respond with pistols. “You’ve heard of bringing a knife to a gunfight,” one Mountie told Global News. “Here we are bringing a hand pistol to a rifle fight.”

Davies, the Carleton criminologist, was hired to help the Mounties buy new rifles. He says when Bob Paulson was appointed commissioner, he was skeptical about the plan, out of a fear of militarizing the force. Davies was chilled by how quickly other senior Mounties changed their view to align with the boss’s position. He has since become a persistent critic of the RCMP, pointing to a management culture that is excessively secretive and authoritarian. “The politics of the RCMP is a major problem when it comes to trying to decipher and understand what’s happening in places like Mayerthorpe, Moncton, Portapique and so on because of the secret, subterranean nature of this organization.”

Video stills show the shooter at Brink’s making a $475,000 withdrawal on March 30 

Video stills show the shooter at Brink’s making a $475,000 withdrawal on March 30

Months after the Portapique rampage, the RCMP has yet to answer many questions about the killer, the RCMP’s failure to act on previous complaints about him and the fact that for 13 hours, he was able to travel around the province while the RCMP looked for him in the wrong places. The force has declined to answer repeated questions from Maclean’s about a $475,000 withdrawal that the killer made from a Brink’s cash depository, which experts say has the hallmarks of a payment to an informant, something the RCMP denies. In interviews with the Toronto Star and the CBC, the RCMP denied having a “special relationship” with the shooter, but did not explain the source of the funds.

The RCMP points to an ongoing investigation into the source of the killer’s guns as the reason why it won’t reveal more information about the killing. It is unlikely that we will learn more unless there is a public inquiry, which is in the hands of the attorney general of Nova Scotia, Mark Furey. Furey, a former RCMP staff sergeant, has yet to act.

The management problems that left Moncton Mounties with handguns bravely running at a shooter with an assault rifle is no one-off. Senior officers have repeatedly been found to have mismanaged other vital issues, often at great expense. A 2019 investigation by Global News found that “$220 million has been spent in the last 20 years on everything from sexual harassment lawsuits to human rights complaints and federal inquiries into nepotism, workplace bullying and turf wars with other police agencies.” A few months after Global’s investigation, the force paid out another $100 million to settle a sexual harassment class action suit.

The force has a long history of denying wrongdoing, aggressively rebutting and smearing whistleblowers, before being forced into humiliating reversals in court. When Cpl. Catherine Galliford, a high-profile British Columbia spokesperson for the force, sued after being subjected to sexual harassment by several officers over two decades, to the point that she developed post-traumatic stress disorder, the RCMP responded by filing a statement of defence alleging she was an alcoholic. RCMP lawyers forced her to go through 11 discovery sessions, quizzing her about her sex life and other personal matters. It ultimately settled with thousands of female Mounties and civilian employees.

“Harassment remains a serious and persistent problem for the RCMP,” said a 2017 report from Ian McPhail, chairperson of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. “Despite some efforts, the RCMP has failed to effect the necessary changes in a meaningful or systematic way.” McPhail said the RCMP has a “dysfunctional organizational culture.”

The report also notes: “The senior leadership of the RCMP has therefore demonstrated over the last several decades that it is incapable of making the systemic reforms necessary to effect cultural change on its own.”

The last real overhaul of the RCMP was made when Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre, ordered a royal commission, in 1977, after rogue Mounties were found to be playing dirty political tricks, burning down a barn, for instance, to prevent a meeting from happening between American Black Panthers and Quebec separatists. The Trudeau government eventually stripped the RCMP of its intelligence arm, creating CSIS, the national spy service. Since then, governments have tinkered, but none have had the will to force real reform on the national police by imposing a civilian board or separating federal and contract policing.

“No federal government and no federal minister has seen a benefit in getting engaged in what is bound to be a very complex and divisive national conversation about the RCMP,” says the RMC’s Leuprecht. “Because if it goes pear-shaped, they have to own it.” In his report, Leuprecht contrasts that with the approach Jean Chrétien’s government took after Canadian soldiers beat a teenager to death during a deployment to Somalia in 1993. “Unlike the political direction received by the Canadian Armed Forces post-Somalia, which entailed sustained monitoring of implementation for several years, politicians have preferred to defer to the commissioner to fix the problems in the RCMP without subsequent monitoring.”

Leuprecht and other experts say it’s time for Ottawa to stop pushing its police on jurisdictions and get the RCMP out of contract policing. And Indigenous leaders want the federal government to properly fund Indigenous police agencies, and encourage more First Nations to police themselves.

Lucki did praise the RCMP’s model when asked about contract policing, but she didn’t answer Liberal MP Khera’s other question, about whether it’s time to change the force’s name.

The force has a global brand, with the most recognized police uniform in the world. “That’s the attitude that has served them well for years, so long as people in the country kept Dudley Do-Right at the front of their minds,” says SFU’s Gordon. “It’s not a paramilitary organization that has a history of suppression of Indigenous peoples in order to further imperial conquest in North America. It’s a Hollywood image that’s survived and that prevails.”

That brand, the powerful image, which is so closely bound to our history, good and bad, seems to also prevent politicians from acting on rational bureaucratic analyses of the force. Leuprecht says Canada should look to Northern Ireland, where the Royal Ulster Constabulary was renamed after the Good Friday Agreement, to distance it from its colonial roots, and is now called the Police Service of Northern Ireland­­—an important step in the reconciliation process.

And experts all agree—have all long agreed—that the RCMP needs civilian oversight, a police board of worthies, at arm’s length from the government, to run the service, like the ones that run every decent police service in developed countries. The previous public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, went halfway, bringing in an advisory board (which Trudeau has incorrectly called a “management board”).

The government could also reinvent the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP, or replace it with a more powerful body. The CRCC only reviews about 250 of 2,500 complaints a year, leaving the rest to be investigated by the Mounties. Under the current structure, when the commission completes a review, it sends its report to the RCMP, which can sit on it for as long as it likes. The force now has 181 reports awaiting release. The oldest one—almost four years old—has to do with a strip search of a female prisoner. A report on the RCMP’s response to the 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie was delivered to the force in January. Lucki says she plans to release it in the fall.

There are signs, however, that the patience of Canadians is wearing thin. During Lucki’s appearance at committee in June, MPs were polite, but they did not look like they were buying what she was selling.

The names of those killed by the gunman appear on a flag at a memorial in Portapique, N.S. (Photograph by Darren Calabrese) 

The names of those killed by the gunman appear on a flag at a memorial in Portapique, N.S. (Photograph by Darren Calabrese)

Tom Taggart, who has lost faith in the Mounties’ ability to keep Portapique residents safe, plans to take a resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities calling on the RCMP to modernize contract policing, and stop playing games with rosters. He wants fully staffed detachments, and officers who know the area.

“I do not care if it is Truro [Police], RCMP or OPP. But I want change. I do not want someone who drives in here from three hours away, works a couple days, fills a position, then throws his gear in the trunk, slams it shut and goes home, who doesn’t know anybody in the community, good guys or bad guys, or if there is a hospital in Truro.” Taggart says rank-and-file Mounties know the force needs to be fixed.

History suggests that only politicians can force the RCMP to change, that it will not change itself, but that is risky territory for governments. RCMP investigations into Airbus, the sponsorship scandal, Mike Duffy’s expenses and SNC-Lavalin have all posed existential threats to Canadian prime ministers. That may explain why governments have not acted, and why they may be reluctant to act, even though everyone ought to be able to see that this is an institution that needs to be torn apart and put together again.

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Are the Wet’suwet’en on the brink of destruction? I went to find out

I knew I was journeying into a war zone of sorts.

I had watched from afar — online — following play by play the standoff between the traditional Wet’suwet’en People and a multibillion-dollar pipeline project backed by the B.C. and federal governments with armed RCMP enforcement. And I visited this place once before in winter 2019 to meet briefly with a Hereditary Chief named Na’Moks, a.k.a. John Ridsdale.

When I visited last time the conflict from the first wave of the RCMP arresting the Wet’suewet’en land defenders and enforcing an injunction to put through the CGL pipeline had just happened. There was a raid of the Unist’ot’en healing camp in January 2019. I arrived in March on the heels of the first collision the community had with police.

Back then ‘Wet’suwet’en’ was a new name slipping into the headlines. For many Canadians it was the first they had heard of the people, and the place. In the mainstream news they were called protestors. On social media they were calling them terrorists.

Now I was here for a second time. And this time I came this time when the conflict wasn’t dominating the headlines, a sort of calm between uproars. The COVID-19 pandemic had arrived in the world on the heels of the Wet’suwet’en crisis that shut down Canada in February. I arrived when humanity around the globe was – literally – sheltering for our lives during the worst pandemic in the last 100 years.

But while the world went on hold the pipeline conflict didn’t end, it’s just not in the headlines.

TC Energy is forging ahead with its Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in its quest to feed power from northern British Columbia to its facility in Kitimat and then to Asia across the sea.

I’m discovering what’s at stake for the Wet’suwet’en. It’s both simple and complex. It’s not an issue someone can understand just by reading an occasional news article.

And the cost is high.

That cost is the livelihood of the sovereign Wet’suwet’en.

You see, Canada, the province, and the pipeline weaving through the mountainous terrain of the vast, pristine and extraordinary lands of the Wet’suwet’en are on a path that, unchecked, could wipe them out.

It sounds shocking? Not in Canada, right?

Well, this same struggle for survival has been going on for a couple of centuries here.

But the Wet’suwet’en, like all our Indigenous relations, know how to survive. They’ve survived through attempted annihilation via genocide; through colonialism’s oppressive assimilation tactics; land theft; residential school; sixties scoop; racism; and murder via way of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Despite this, from what I’ve seen here, the Wet’suewet’en are thriving. They are reclaiming. They are healing. And they are reviving hope, traditions, and land.

The Wet’suwet’en and its five member nations are divided into clans, houses and traditional leadership systems. It’s a way of governance they’ve used to sustain their culture, laws, language, spirituality, families and the caretaking of their lands and resources since time immemorial.

If the lands of the Wet’suwet’en are threatened then so are the lives, spirits and futures of the people says Hereditary Chief Na’Moks. Photo by Brandi Morin.

The land is Wet’suwet’en

Chief Na’Moks explained to me the Wet’suwet’en are the land and the land is Wet’suwet’en, so if the land is threatened, so are the very lives, spirits and futures of the people whose ancestors walked this land for thousands of years before them.

The water systems here are all connected. The Morice River, which runs mere metres from the path of the pipeline, connects to the mighty Skeena and Bulkley rivers in Wet’suwet’en territories in northern B.C.

Those waters flow to the Pacific Ocean. It’s a highway of intricate ecosystems inhabited by various types of migrating salmon that the Wet’suwet’en have always utilized for sustenance. And the waters flow through other allying tribal territories, such as the Gitxsan Nation.

Those same waters eventually flow to join the salt waters that reach the shores of the Haida People across the ocean.

And in those waters are the salmon that are a part of the land and crucial to the land’s survival.

The Wet’suwet’en have ancestral libraries of knowledge running through their veins about this land. And one way they pass knowledge down is through storytelling.

Chief Na’Moks walking towards the Hagwilget suspension bridge over the Hagwilget Canyon on the Bulkley River approximately 460 feet above the water overlooking a spot where his Wet’suewet’en ancestors have fished for time immemorial. Photo by Brandi Morin.

The journey of a chief

“The salmon are in the trees.”

That’s what Na’Moks told me when we walked to see the convergence of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers on a cloudy Monday afternoon in early July. He pointed across the water to an area that’s been a gathering place for his relatives in the summertime for as long as their stories have been told him.

He camped there as a child. It was a celebration. And clans and families would meet to harvest fish, trade and feast, sometimes for months on end, he said.

In traditional Wet’suwet’en governance, chief names are given or inherited through the matriarchal line. Holding a name also requires a sacred obligation to uphold the laws of the Wet’suwet’en and protect the land.

According to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, “Before non-native contact, a Wet’suwet’en heir began their journey to becoming a hereditary chief while still inside the mother’s womb. Elders, shamans and chiefs would often feel the womb of an expectant mother and determine if the baby was destined to be a future chief or shaman. From the time of birth, the child would be groomed or tutored to be a wise, strong and responsible leader.”

When the individual is trained or groomed a decision is made inside the feast hall, which in western world terms may be understood as similar to a parliamentary system, to appoint them to step into their name. A ceremony is held and from then on, a Hereditary leader becomes the name, the values, the responsibilities, the knowledge, the territory assigned to oversee.

It’s not taken lightly. It’s a lifelong responsibility with implications that last into the next seven generations.

Na’Moks, 63, is tall, dark-skinned, with slicked-back brown-grey hair, tinted eyeglasses and wears a plaid, button-up cowboy shirt and jeans. He’s well-spoken and easygoing.

Na’Moks received his name 12 years ago.

“When my grandmother passed, it was to go to my mother. She decided her brother was better prepared, so she requested he carry it until his death. He was to train me in his lifetime, which he did,” explained Na’Moks.

“When it came time for me to lift the name, it was decided by our clan as well as other clans to agree that I was prepared and would carry it properly and protect our territories.”

Since then, Na’Moks has travelled across Canada to raise awareness of threats to the lands here. He helped stop the Enbridge pipeline, and he’s been at the forefront of the current pipeline conflict, although there are four other hereditary chiefs representing the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en.

Na’Moks is the type of man who makes friends easy — or puts people at ease, I guess you can say. His personality is a connector, a storyteller, a joker.

And Na’Moks is fiercely proud of where he’s from.

He’s travelled to the United Nations dressed in his dazzling Tsayu (Beaver) Clan regalia adorned with headdress to plead the case of the Wet’suwet’en and helped negotiate with governments about the land disputes here.

He’ll do whatever it takes to help save the Wet’suwet’en from destruction. Yes, it’s that dire of a situation. Lives are on the line.

The convergence of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. This is where Chief Na’Moks shared the stories of his ancestors with the author. Photo by Brandi Morin.

The salmon are in the trees

“The salmon are in the trees,” he told me. I looked at him puzzled.

He went on. “When the eagles catch the salmon from the river, they take them to eat on the land, by the trees,” he points again and my senses are overwhelmed with the expanse of the scenery I’m standing in.

The diversity is like no other on Earth, he explains. Here you can find cedar trees, spruce and other deciduous plant life adjoining the ridges of the mountains and rivers.

The smell here is indescribable and something you have to experience to truly understand. It’s green. It’s invigorating. And your lungs will take in its fresh gift with thanks.

The towering, snow-capped mountains set against a blue sky painted with fluffy, white clouds is a feast for the eyes. Not to mention the wild flowers and medicines bursting with enchantment and clothing the summer months in their colourful beauty.

The sound of the rushing water, which to Wet’suwet’en and Indigenous cultures is a symbol of life (“water is life” is a common adage we live by), is thunderous, gentle, refreshing and pure.

“When the eagle leaves the salmon bones at the base of the tree, they decompose and go back to the earth.The salmon bones feed the trees, they provide nutrients for them,” said Na’Moks.

I had never known that sort of knowledge and it hit me how it was simple to understand once you see it.

When someone explains it to you, your eyes open. The connection to the circle of life, its sacredness, fragility — the knowledge the First Peoples of their own territories have in their DNA is powerful, it’s healing.

The ancestral wisdom passed through the ages to the Wet’suwet’en is crucial to the maintenance and survival of these lands, waters and everything they’re connected to outside here. Including the people.

Wet’suwet’en traditional leaders like Na’Moks stand against the CGL pipeline because it’s a matter of life and death.

It’s not just one pipeline, Na’Moks explains.

Once they come in, it opens a “Pandora’s box” and other resource developers are waiting in line, he said.

Industry and governments are vying to turn that pipeline route into an energy corridor, he said. A powerhouse of untapped natural resources awaits an incessant hunger for greed, power and unsustainable development to be divided up amongst the world.

It’s not a matter of “if, it’s a matter of when” the pipeline will burst, explained Na’Moks as we continued to walk along the river and back towards an ancient, vivid red and black carved Gitxsan village called Ksan that he took me to visit.

Once that happens, the land will be destroyed. It’s not just a “little accident” when a pipeline spills, he said. That’s what they (industry, governments) will try to make you believe. But once the land, the ecosystems, the waters are contaminated and “poisoned,” it can’t be remediated.

Chief Na’Moks’ salmon smokehouse in his backyard in the Wet’suewet’en village of Hagwilget. Photo courtesy of Chief Na’Moks

It’s heavy. It’s heartbreaking.

These are the last of the territories of the Wet’suwet’en that haven’t been stolen by colonial governments who sold off the land to European settlers or auctioned them off to industries such as mining and logging that then stripped the earth of her bounty, and they “take too much,” explained Na’Moks.

What’s left is worth protecting now and for future generations, he explains. There’s no other place on Earth that has the ecosystems that exist here.

Wet’suwet’en ancestors drank of the same water, they walked trails and trade routes that are still traceable in the woods, along with ancient village sites and gravesites — gravesites that CGL has already bulldozed over in its initial phases of construction.

“They (CGL) don’t care. I would go to jail if I went and bulldozed a gravesite. They’re bulldozing a people … they don’t care.”

It’s heavy. It’s heartbreaking.

“It’s our (Wet’suwet’en) right to stand here. If I want to drink that water, I will, because it’s clean. All it takes is one spill and everything collapses.” Photo by Brandi Morin.

To protect and stand for the territory.

Na’Moks knows about resilience. When he was 19, he worked at a sawmill in Houston, about an hour’s drive from Smithers, B.C. His work ethic got him promoted to foreman, which “for an Indian” at that time was a big deal.

Some other workers there didn’t like it, he said.

They were white.

One day after work, they “knocked him out,” tied him up to the back of a pickup with a rope and dragged him along the hard, frozen ground. It broke almost every bone in his body.

They left him there to die.

Crawling naked, because his clothes had been ripped off during the dragging, he made his way under a barbed wire fence and into a ditch.

A woman driving who lived nearby came driving along and saw steam rising from the ground. She pulled over and took her shotgun out because she thought it was an animal needing to be “put out of its misery.”

She aimed and took a closer look — it was John.

She was white, she was a friend, he said. She got him to the hospital.

Na’Moks says he was paralyzed for two years from that incident and had to learn how to walk again.

When he was well, Na’Moks used his savings to buy a fishing boat and moved to Prince Rupert, where he became a fisherman like his father before him. Now he’s retired and dedicates all his time to his purpose: “To protect and stand for the territory.”

He doesn’t hold animosity and forgives people who have wronged him. Like the men who tried to kill him and left him in a ditch. This is the Wet’suwet’en way, to forgive.

“That experience I went through is very singular to what those few guys did. I wouldn’t want what I went through to happen to anybody… they live with the guilt. Right now, they’re probably good parents, good grandparents.”

But it doesn’t mean “we roll over and play dead,” he said.

“It’s our (Wet’suwet’en) right to stand here. If I want to drink that water, I will, because it’s clean. All it takes is one spill and everything collapses.”

Hereditary Chief Na’Moks has travelled across Canada and to the United Nations to plead the case of the Wet’suwet’en. Photo courtesy Chief Na’Moks.

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