Police repression in Hamilton, Ontario
[Contributed by Anonymous on January 28, 2009, to news.infoshop.org]
On Thursday, January 22nd, the hamilton police stormed a peaceful folk show taking place at the Mex-I-Can restaurant on James street. The show had started around 8:30, with a crowd of around thirty people come to see the traveling musicians who’d stopped here for the night. Around 11:00, halfway though the show’s lineup, word rushed through the room that there were cops outside. The show stopped, the crowd went to the street, and three people were arrested.
Just outside of Mex-I-Can’s doors, three women were talking together, one of whom had an open beer. An unmarked car pulled up in front of them, and two men leapt out. Without identifying themselves in any way, they lunged to grab the woman with the drink, who panicked and ran inside; the two men followed her and seized her in the doorway. They now identified themselves as police and were joined by two other cops. A group of about ten people from inside followed the cops back out, yelling at the pigs and trying to take their friend back. The police became aggressive, striking people with their hands, and the woman was taken around the back of the police car by one cop, three of her friends close by. A scuffle broke out near the front of the car and when the arresting officer went to join in, the woman managed to escape and remained safe for the rest of the events.
The police were now arresting another woman near the front of the car, and the crowd pressed strongly against them, not letting their friend be stolen. A man in military dress came from across the street and jumped in on the side of the cops, falsely claiming to be a cop himself. Several people were captured by police but broke free with the help of the group.
During this time, another police vehicle arrived about every thirty seconds, to a total of nineteen, including two paddy wagons.
The captive escaped, and the crowd fought a retreat back through the doors of the restaurant — all the cops were outside and most of the folk were inside. Some people stood outside between the cops and the doors trying to dialogue. The police regrouped, and sergeant John Harris arrived and took charge. The people attempting to dialogue were now roughly struck aside and the cops stormed the restaurant. James Street was a sea of police lights for a full block in either direction.
Before long, the police emerged with the woman they were holding before, and the crowd poured back out too. One man who’d been involved in the scuffle earlier was carried out by four cops, one on each limb, while two others performed pain holds on his neck and ears. His pants were pulled down and he was not allowed to pull them back up. One person attempted to provide him with the contact information of someone who could find him a lawyer, but was prevented from doing so. A third person was arrested seemingly at random, snatched from where he stood off to one side, and his clothing was torn as he was dragged off by police.
Someone dialoguing with several officers at this point reports that the cops believed someone became violent when presented with a drinking ticket — this would become the official story. Other cops thought they were reacting to a protest, and shouted ‘Go protest somewhere else’ to the crowd, and at least one cop though he was responding to a robbery or street fight. Many cops refused to identify themselves when asked, responding instead with insults.
The police reentered the restaurant lead by Harris and his lackey wielding a pepper spray canister. The musicians were packing up their gear, and the police turned their attention to the two merchandise tables where zines and music were being distributed. Some of the zines were anarchist in nature, and the cops asked many questions about them and tried to steal some, but this was resisted. Harris and his lackey now became extremely rude and abusive, mocking those packing up the tables and insulting people loudly. The concert was not political in nature, the money being raised going entirely to the musicians, but many people, including the owner of the restaurant, were questioned about their political beliefs and about political organizations that might be involved with the show.
Some folk talked to the cops and found out where the arrested were being held, what their charges were, and when they might be released or appear in court. The crowd got their things together, collected the belongings of those arrested, and left. Two people were charged with obstruction of justice (everything a cop does is justice, getting in their way is obstruction) and resisting arrest, and one with disturbing the peace, a nothing charge usually used to break up large groups in protest situations.
Apart from this being a ridiculously disproportionate response, there are several facts that lead me to believe that there is more to the cops’ actions than there seemed. Just before the initial police action, a friend had gone for a walk around the block and saw that directly around the corner on York Street, there were seventeen cop cars parked and waiting. As well, someone eavesdropping on cops after the crowd left reported that some cops were excited about the way this raid ‘played into their hands’ as part of an ongoing investigation.
These two facts, combined with the aggressive way they approached the woman with the open drink, makes me think that this raid was a planned act of disruption and provocation on the part of the police, not a response followed by escalation as they claimed. That Thursday, the police used bare-faced violence as part of an ongoing campaign against some part of the progressive community in this city. Likely, they desired to spread fear and confusion, and to force us to turn our energy inwards rather than outwards towards social change.
What else can we learn from this? I believe the most important lesson is to be prepared. The group there on Thursday had no reason to think they would encounter police that night, but because most folk had planned and practiced how to deal with police, they were able to act decisively and cohesively to defend themselves. Even in the heat of action, communication was maintained, and people who had never met found themselves working together effectively. There could easily have been many more arrests that night — more than ten people were snatched by cops only to be unarrested. And while some people fought back against the police, others dialogued and learned the ‘official’ stories, as well as information that allowed us to support our friends while they were held and to meet them upon their release.
Even if you and your group aren’t doing anything illegal, it does not mean you will not become the target of state violence. Looking at the actions of COINTELPRO and CSIS, we can see that state forces are usually not trying to make arrests in groups they consider politically motivated — they are trying to ruin people’s lives and make it impossible for activists to continue their work. Since that night, people who were present there have been followed by police and approached by undercovers in their workplaces. Be prepared. The cops’ job is to protect state and corporate interests, and laws are only some of the tools they use to do that. Intimidation, disruption, surveillance, and harassment can be as effective as incarceration in silencing dissent.
There is no one in hamilton unaffected by this issue, and those working for change need to be especially vigilant. Regardless of how you and your community intend to deal with police, have a plan and practice it. And it’s important that we support each other. We on the left should set aside our ideological differences in face of police repression — although we may have differences about what we want, we need to remember which side of the barricade we’re on.
Ministry, union strange coalition
Randy Burton, The StarPhoenix [Saskatoon, Saskatchewan]
Published: Tuesday, February 05, 2008
In the hierarchy of unpopular people to defend in the public arena, the inmates of federal prisons would be very near the top of the list.
For obvious reasons, they tend not to get the benefit of the doubt on most questions.
So it was with the recent story about the B.C. prison guard union leader blowing the whistle on what he claimed was clear evidence of babies being used as drug mules to smuggle drugs into prison.
The media generally ran the story without question, in spite of the fact that there are already a number of policies in place to prevent such things from happening. I questioned the union’s motivations in this space and was also critical of the federal government’s move to muzzle Correctional Services of Canada, whose side of the story has yet to emerge.
This prompted bleats of outrage from both the Union of Canadian Corrections Officers (UCCO) and Public Security Minister Stockwell Day, both of whom claimed in letters to the editor Friday that I have it all wrong.
What neither Day nor the union mentioned was the fact that a day after union rep Terry Leger’s press conference, there was a major demonstration at the Matsqui prison in Abbotsford, B.C. in which 170 inmates refused to leave the exercise yard to return to their cells. They lit a series of fires in garbage cans in the yard, resulting in a three-hour standoff with prison staff and an ensuing lockdown.
Not according to University of British Columbia law professor Michael Jackson, who has studied and written about prison life and law for 30 years.
He visits Matsqui regularly and was there following the union’s press conference, where inmates told him of their frustration with their inability to counter UCCO’s claims.
What they told Jackson is that they have no interest in jeopardizing access to their wives and children by using them as drug mules.
“The visits are the only connection the family has with the guy, particularly if he’s doing a fair amount of time. The last thing they’re going to do is use the child to jeopardize that visit,” Jackson said in an interview.
While babies have been exploited this way in the past, it’s extremely rare, Jackson maintains. If anything, more drugs come in on officers, he believes.
Secondly, the ion scanners used for drug detection are notoriously unreliable. They often register “false positives,” incorrectly registering the presence of drugs. Any time they register a positive, the person is checked out before being allowed in.
This is what happened in the case the union decided to make a media issue. There was no evidence of drugs on the woman or baby in question, and she was allowed in for her visit.
Jackson further reports that Leger was not the officer involved in that case but found it in the files and decided to report it to B.C. social services.
As for prison management saying this represents an invasion of the inmate’s privacy, as the union claims, Jackson says that’s simply untrue.
“The warden and his staff feel very badly about this. They would like to come out and say to Mr. Leger, this wasn’t an issue of protecting prisoner’s rights to privacy. Every visitor who comes in shares information with us. We have an obligation to keep it private except where we have information that puts a child in jeopardy, at which point we have an obligation and the visitor’s right to privacy is trumped by the obligations under the provincial child welfare legislation. It’s got nothing to do with a prisoner’s right to privacy. Leger knows that and the union knows that.”
Interesting view, that.
And you have to admit it’s a rare day when a public sector union and a Conservative cabinet minister come down on the same side of an issue, but in this case, Day and UCCO see eye to eye. Now why would that be?
Well for one thing, they both want to crack down on inmates. For the union, it’s about more staff and better equipment.
For example, UCCO has been pushing to get stab-proof vests for years — and has finally succeeded — a concession Jackson questions.
“I mean, no guard has been stabbed at Matsqui for 30 years and yet it was presented that every day, officers were in dire jeopardy. If anything, prisoners should be given stab-proof vests.”
As for the Conservatives’ motivations, there is no doubt about where they are going. During his recent visit to Saskatchewan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he intends to bring in a law and order agenda in the current session of Parliament, where he will introduce a number of justice bills, all of which will be confidence measures. Prison security issues could well be part of that.
So for the moment, the union’s claim about babies being used as drug mules is politically helpful for the government. If it helps to promote a crisis atmosphere, well so much the better.
“When they characterize something as being an emergency, it justifies exceptional measures, a little bit like mini-versions of 9/11. If you can demonstrate the prisons are out of control then you need extraordinary measures to get that control back,” Jackson says.
And who’s to argue otherwise? It’s not like the inmates can call a news conference to make their point.
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