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“Effet de la Confédération.” From La Scie (Quebec), Dec.24 1864

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“Canada has come under fire for a lack of transparency in its immigration detention system and its practice of detaining vulnerable groups, including children and those with mental health conditions.

“The lack of independent national and international oversight bodies significantly contributes to the culture of secrecy surrounding the Canadian immigration detention system,” said a report by the Geneva-based Global Detention Project, an international research group that promotes the human rights of migrants in detention.

“There remain critical gaps in public information, including concerning which prisons are in use at any given time for immigration-related reasons.”

Immigration detention in Canada has been in the spotlight over the last two years with a series of deaths of migrants held in facilities for immigration violations. As of last November, the report said at least 16 people have died in immigration detention while in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency since 2000.

On Wednesday, more than 2,000 Canadian health-care organizations and health-care providers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and midwives, signed an open letter calling on Ottawa to stop detaining children and end the Canada-United States bilateral agreement that restricts refugees to seeking asylum in the first country of their arrival.”

– Nicholas Keung, “Canada slammed for ‘culture of secrecy’ over immigration detention.” Toronto Star, June 27, 2018.

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“How then can settler allies move beyond being sympathetic beneficiaries of colonialism? What approach is legitimately decolonizing?

The resilience of settler privilege is a barrier. Gestures toward allyship can quickly recolonize Indigenous peoples. Some people have tried to create bonds of allyship by believing that Indigenous wisdom and spirituality are so profound that Indigenous people have always lived in ecological harmony. This is the romantic approach. Other allies have tried to create solidarity through claiming that Indigenous and non-Indigenous environmentalists should not distinguish their efforts. In this view, environmental issues threaten us all, and we should converge around common problems that affect all humanity, instead of wasting dwindling time on environmental racism. This is the same-boat approach. 

The romantic approach assumes that lifting up Indigenous wisdom and spirituality constitutes action. But this approach does not necessarily confront ongoing territorial dispossession and risks to health, economic vitality, lives, psychological well-being, and cultural integrity that Indigenous people experience. This is why scholars Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang say decolonization is not a metaphor. Yet, the empathetic responsibility to support others’ self-determination and well-being is a major lesson in many Indigenous environmental traditions. Subscribers to the romantic view are unprepared to respond to criticisms of supposed Indigenous hypocrisies, like the alleged contradiction of tribally sanctioned coal industries. Responding to these critiques requires an understanding of colonialism, yet some romantics are unwilling to take the time to learn how the U.S. forcefully re-engineered tribal governments to facilitate extractive industries. This understanding is key if one’s goal is to undermine the levers of power that undermine Indigenous self-determination and well-being today.  

Nobody can claim to be an ally if their agenda is to prevent their own future dystopias through actions that also preserve today’s Indigenous dystopias.

The same-boat approach also misses the colonial context. The conservation movement has been as damaging to Indigenous peoples as extractive industries. National parks, ecological restoration projects, conservation zones, and even the uses of certain terms—especially “wilderness”—are associated with forced displacement of entire communities, erasure of Indigenous histories in education and public memory, economic marginalization, and violations of cultural and political rights. Though certain sectors of conservation have improved greatly, newer movements, such as the international UN-REDD+ Programme, still repeat harms of the past. Almost every environmental achievement in the U.S.—such as the Clean Air or Clean Water acts—has required Indigenous peoples to work hard to reform these laws to gain fair access to the protections. 

A decolonizing approach to allyship must challenge the resilience of settler privilege, which involves directly facing the very different ecological realities we all dwell in. Sometimes I see settler environmental movements as seeking to avoid some dystopian environmental future or planetary apocalypse. These visions are replete with species extinctions, irreversible loss of ecosystems, and severe rationing. They can include abusive corporations and governments that engage in violent brainwashing, quarantining, and territorial dispossession of people who stand in their way. 

Yet for many Indigenous peoples in North America, we are already living in what our ancestors would have understood as dystopian or post-apocalyptic times. In a cataclysmically short period, the capitalist–colonialist partnership has destroyed our relationships with thousands of species and ecosystems.”

– Kyle Powys Whyte, “White Allies, Let’s Be Honest About Decolonization.” Yes! Magazine, April 3, 2018.

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Evolution of police tactics

The researchers said it’s clear Idle No More, a national Indigenous movement that arced between late November 2012 and January 2013, shook the security establishment and influenced their future approaches to Indigenous-led dissent.

“We see the security state commenting on Idle No More and the effectiveness and this new way of organizing. ‘How do we deal with it? How do we get ahead of it? How do we respond to this leaderless movement that used social media in the way that other movements had?’” said Crosby.

“They were dealing with something different and evolving and they were evolving their tactics.”

One of the book’s most striking findings comes from handwritten notes by a Canadian Security Intelligence Service official from a Jan. 15, 2013, meeting held when Idle No More was at its apex.

Moving to Tier III from Tier II

The notes, written under Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre letterhead, reveal that Ron Hallman, then a senior assistant deputy minister with Indigenous Affairs, discussed raising the Government Operations Centre’s (GOC) emergency response level to its highest category.

The GOC is the information nerve centre for national-scale emergency response.

“Ron Hallman,” reads the handwritten notes. “GOC//Native — moving from Tier II → Tier III.”

CBC News provided the notes to Public Safety Canada seeking comment. Public Safety said in a statement that the emergency response level was never moved to the second or third level during Idle No More.

– Jorge Barrera, “Federal officials discussed raising alert level to highest level during Idle No More, book says.” CBC News, March 1, 2018.

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I was thinking, as a historical researcher, about Black History Month and how best to commemorate it. I’m conflicted – not only because I’m very aware that these are not my stories to tell, and that there are better equipped people to tell them. What is the responsibility of someone who studies the history of criminality and incarceration in Canada – especially as that history risks becoming a parade of “suffering black bodies” (Marianne Noble). Writing something, relating something, seems better than keeping silent, especially when we consider the historic continuities of the penal system, and its ongoing expression of white supremacy in Canada.

There’s no question, even sticking to the period I’m most familiar with – 1895-1945 – that the criminal justice system, from police to courts to prisons, fell hard on Black folks in Canada. My familiarity with legal trials is…not as good as it should be, so I highly recommend Barrington Walker’s excellent monograph “Race on Trial” (which I discovered while helping the descendants of the Freemans – one of the cases studied closely by Walker – do research into their ancestors) for more information. Looking just at the Dominion penitentiaries, there are the raw statistics – discrimination is visible just in the higher percentage of Black prisoners compared to their total percentage of the Canadian population. Certain communities – Chatham, Halifax – specifically accounted for a high proportion of prisoners arriving at Dominion penitentiaries (and provincial prisons).

Beyond the use of numbers – why repeat the process by prisoners were already having their identities stripped to numbers? – it is clear that the disciplinary and coercive regime of the early 20th century penitentiary fell especially harshly on Black prisoners. To cite a specific example, William Smith, a British immigrant from Manchester, was sentenced in the summer of 1914 to two years at Kingston Penitentiary for stealing a watch from a pawnbroker in Toronto – and despite the newspaper claims that he had “a bad record,” his only previous experience with any sort of criminal sanction or incarceration was a few months in Toronto’s Central. Once inside the prison, Smith became a disciplinary problem to the authorities – his “violent temper,” “gross insubordination” and construction of improvised weapons – a lead pipe club especially – caused “a lot of trouble” to the police staff, who sentenced him first to the Prison of Isolation (long-term solitary) and then, after Smith destroyed his cell fixtures there, to be lashed in August 1915.

Always, according to the reports, the prisoner brings these punishments upon themselves, but the limited evidence of Smith’s record suggest that he was harassed by staff and white inmates – and it is evident, too, from the records of other inmates that Black prisoners understood they were being targeted excessively and acted accordingly. In 1901, as he was being dragged to the Dungeon, for yet another count of ‘insolence’, William Wallace accused – an analysis as accusation – the Chief Keeper, William St. Pierre Hughes, of “being down on all the Colored people” at Kingston Penitentiary. Hughes, brother of Sam Hughes and later the Superintendent of Penitentiaries, was barely exonerated, during a Royal Commission no less, of the shooting death of a Black convict named Hewell in 1896. At Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick between 1900 and 1920, a species of official neglect reigned instead – Black prisoners were not recommended for parole as often as other prisoners – the odd “unfortunate young boy” that could be removed from the prison notwithstanding – but very rarely do Black prisoners figure in the Warden’s reports on disciplinary problems, either.

In the early 20th century penitentiary, the “endless, monotonous, unvarying, un-movingly eternal stretch” produced what novelist and former prisoner Chester Himes called a sort of “bare equality.” At times, the demands of the penal regime – for universal labor and “ceasless toil” – as well as the frugal, chaotic, capricious and incompetent administration – upended the expected racial hierarchy of the prison. Prisoners, whatever their background, were put to work where the prison needed them, manufacturing mail bags, cobbling shoes, cutting stone, carting coal and farming produce. In 1900, a white prisoner named Geo. Shipman was recommended against for parole due to “bad conduct” and constant insubordination – “his trouble arose from the fact that a colored convict was…a sort of Deputy Instructor” in the Mason department, and “was not well liked by Shipman”. The documentary record is silent as to who this inmate was, but the fact that he managed a work gang of 30 to 40 inmates was itself an unremarkable fact in the Warden’s report – the prison could not operate without the experience and skills of inmates at all levels of the administration, and indeed many inmates were far more knowledgeable about their trade than the staff instructors.

During the 1930s, the fraternity of agitators, rabble-rousers and “barracks room lawyers” included people of colour – both Charles Cross at Kingston Penitentiary and Chester Crossley at St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary were instrumental in the political riots that erupted at those prisons in late 1932. The latter’s rallying cry was ‘Hurrah for revolution!’ – and Crossley was considered so popular at the Laval penitentiary that he was eventually transferred to Kingston in 1934. While on trial in 1937 for the murder of a guard during a “psychotic” fit – a complicated and horrific example of the concatenation of race and racism, self-defence, staff harassment, madness, and systemic neglect – the prisoners at Collin’s Bay Penitentiary staged a sympathy strike for Crossley. Attempts to smuggle out a petition for clemency from a number of ‘incorrigible’ prisoners were thwarted at Kingston Penitentiary.

There’s much more to all these histories – especially with the great changes in Canadian prisons of more recent decades – and hopefully more histories will be brought to light and retold. I’m certainly not the best equipped to do so, nor should I be the only one. Finally, it’s always worth remembering that Black prisoners, like most other prisoners, could look forward to eventual release and returning to their families and communities – and putting prison behind them. These lives were not just prison, nor should they be reduced to just prison. Smith’s story was arrived at through genealogical research, and is presented with permission of the (some) of his descendants.  

Documents show, from top to bottom: mugshot of William Smith, Kingston Penitentiary, 1914; punishment entry for William Wallace, Kingston Penitentiary, 1901; one of a number of documents attributed to Chester Crossley, St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary, 1932.

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“The ONDP is seriously in danger of losing the plot. They have communicated next to nothing on the minimum wage recently. Nothing congratulating workers on the win, informing them of the changes, nor defending the raise against a slew of attacks in the media and by employers.

This fits a pattern where ONDP refused to endorse the $14 minimum wage called by the movement in the runnup to the 2014 election, opting to call for $12.

Then a full year after the launch of the Fight for $15 and Fairness they finally came around to supporting the call for $15 – but gave no timeline. They equivocated on most of the other demands of the movement. It was true it was better than the Liberals, but the ONDP never really championed these ideas. They never aimed to organize support for these ideas, help build the movement, and stump the message across the province.

Their fundraising emails and communication were mostly empty. They said one thing here and then turned around and talked about cutting red tape and providing offsets to business there. They spoke at the Chamber of Commerce and the Empire Club talking about how they were good for business and that the Liberals were rushing these changes.

Again they have better policy positions, but Wynne and the Liberals have taken over the ground the ONDP ceded. They have message discipline on the issue, they frame it along class lines, talk about bully bosses ,and champion the low-wage workers. They are Liberals so we know this is opportunistic, but who gave them this opportunity? The ONDP leadership has to only look in the mirror.

Time is running out for any ONDP course correct, but this is all very bad.

If Horwath thinks critiquing Wynne for being all talk is going to play well with workers when her government just passed Bill 148, while the ONDP has done nothing but support these issues in hushed tones, the ONDP is in for a world of hurt.”

– DB on the failure of the Ontario New Democratic Party to speak or move on the $15 minimum wage increase

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EARLY in September, 1940, two men rented a room

in the home of Dr. Samuel Levine, research associate in geophysics at the University of Toronto, who has worked at Princeton, Pennsylvania and Cincinnati Universities in the United States and at the University of Cambridge in Great Britain and who is an authority on the forces controlling the stability of coloidal solutions. The men obtained permission to use a table in Dr. Levine’s dining room for typing. Two weeks later, the police staged a midnight raid on the house and arrested the two roomers as Communists, also seizing a few pamphlets they found in the dining room. One of the arrested men, named Ehrlich, testified that these pamphlets were his property and not that of Dr. Levine. Nevertheless, the police two days later arrested Dr. Levine in his laboratory at the university for ‘possession of documents intended or likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty.’

Dr. Levine was tried before a police magistrate and without a jury. His roomers testified that Dr. Levine knew nothing of their affairs, nor of the pamphlets. In spite of this testimony, the judge on October 10, 1940, sentenced Dr. Levine to six months’ imprisonment. An appeal, heard on December 11, 1940, and again without a jury, was denied. At the appeal Professor Samuel Beatty, dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the department of mathematics, and Professor E. F. Burton, head of the department of physics at the university, testified on Dr. Levine’s behalf.

When three months of the sentence had been served, a request was made for remission of the sentence, supported by four leading professors at the university, all of whom had been Dr. Levine’s teachers. These were Professor A. T. DeLury, retired dean of the Arts Faculty; Professor J. L. Synge, head of the department of applied mathematics, and Professors Beatty and Burton. President H. J. Cody, of the university, and A. W. Roebuck, Member of Parliament for the district, also supported the request, which nevertheless was denied. Dr. Levine was released from the Ontario Reformatory at Guelph on May 15, 1941. He was immediately taken into custody by mounted police and sent to an internment camp, without being permitted to communicate with his family.

A determined struggle to obtain the release of her husband was then undertaken by Mrs. Levine. Editorials and articles on behalf of Dr. Levine appeared in many Canadian papers and he received the sympathetic support of many individuals in academic and public life. The American Association of Scientific Workers began to investigate the case following a request for aid by Mrs. Levine, and entered into correspondence with the Dominion Minister of Justice. According to the latter, Dr. Levine was interned on the Minister’s orders, by virtue of powers granted under the Defense of Canada Act, ‘to prevent him from acting in a manner prejudicial to the public safety.’

In spite of all protests, nearly three months elapsed before there was held the first hearing on the internment, and another month before the character hearing, both hearings being held ‘in camera.’ Finally, still another month later, Dr. Levine was unconditionally released. Additional support was received at these hearings from Professor H. Eyring, of Princeton University, and from Dr. Levine’s former colleagues at Cambridge. The importance of Dr. Levine’s scientific work was stressed as an added reason for his release.

Sir William Mulock, chancellor of the University of Toronto, and former Chief Justice of Canada, presented at these hearings a brief summarizing his study of the original trial. He characterized the evidence as inadequate and criticized the conduct of the trial judge.

Therefore, it appears that Dr. Levine was sentenced to prison, and to have remained with his internment a prisoner for nearly a year, because the trial judge and the Minister of Justice committed acts leading to a miscarriage of justice. They were enabled to act thus because the Defense of Canada Act, adopted in war hysteria, is harsh and undemocratic. Great Britain, closer than is Canada to the war’s dangers, has not found such laws necessary. For example, possession in Canada of Communist pamphlets freely printed in Britain is an offense, as is membership in the Communist Party. American scientists are well aware through reading Nature of the free and active discussions on Marxism, socialism and dialectical materialism which are engaging the interests of British scientists. It is ironical that Dr. Levine incurred the enmity of the Fascists interned in the camp so that he was in danger of physical harm, and was transferred to another camp by the authorities.

Dr. Levine’s devotion to his work is exemplified by the fact that he continued as best as he could under at times brutal treatment his research work in geophysics and practically completed the mathematical treatment of a complex problem in the theory of electrical transients as applied to the exploration of subsurface formations. He is now seeking reinstatement, which rests with the Board of Governors, is not yet assured in spite of support by eminent colleagues.

The injustice to which Dr. Levine has been subjected through a year of baseless imprisonment may be continued unless the pressure of scientific opinion is exerted in his behalf. The success of the previous efforts by scientists in obtaining Dr. Levine’s release augurs well for success in obtaining his reinstatement. The continuation of Dr. Levine’s scientific work is particularly important now, since his geophysical researches promise to contribute significantly to the success of the Canadian war efforts in the international fight against Fascism. The scientists of the United States, as citizens of a country which is also pledged to cooperation in this fight, have the right to expect that Dr. Levine’s training and abilities will be fully utilized by Canada in the aid of our joint efforts.

– Harry Grundfest, Office of the National Secretary of the American Association of Scientific Workers, Science. Published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Vol. 94, No. 2446 (Nov. 14, 1941). pp. 461-462.

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