Workers Vanguard No. 999
30 March 2012
Harpers Creeping Police State
The following article is reprinted from Spartacist Canada No. 172 (Spring 2012), newspaper of our comrades of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste.
The Canadian state has a long and sordid history of violent repression, from the genocidal Indian wars of the French and English colonialists to the crushing of the 19th century Métis rebellion, the suppression of Quebec’s national rights, racist police terror against ethnic minorities and, most significantly, the unending capitalist war on labour and the left. For over a century, such repression has been carried out by Tory and Liberal governments alike and, provincially, no less adamantly by NDP [social-democratic New Democratic Party] governments in Ontario, B.C. [British Columbia] and elsewhere.
Today, as the economic crisis deepens and the working class is battered by devastating plant closures and mass unemployment, [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s now-majority Tory government is poised to bring in some of the most draconian “anti-crime” and “security” laws Canada has ever seen. Aimed at ramping up state surveillance, spying and police repression, they will put many thousands more people in jail, overwhelmingly minorities and the poor, and roll back democratic rights across the board.
Hand in hand with the Tories’ “war on crime” are mounting assaults on union rights and leftist political activity. The rulers of this country are fully aware that the grinding poverty and gross inequality produced by their system are creating a huge pool of social discontent, anger and fear. So they are sparing no expense to increase their already considerable powers of repression. The message: dare to protest, and we’ll throw you in jail too.
The scope and speed of the Conservatives’ “security” agenda is truly scary. Everyone to the left of Don Cherry [jingoist ice hockey commentator] has decried the omnibus “anti-crime” Bill C-10 as costly, mean and irrational. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) called it “unwise, unjust, unconstitutional” and a “dangerous route that is unsupported by the social science evidence and has already failed in other countries.” Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler termed its mandatory minimum sentencing provisions “ineffective, unfair, injurious.” After an Ottawa meeting on the bill, Quebec justice minister Jean-Marc Fournier fumed: “I don’t recognize myself in this Canada. This is not a government of Canada. It is a government of the Reform Party.” Of course, these bourgeois opponents of the bill would prefer a more “effective” and less costly approach to “fighting crime.”
The reality is that under capitalism the state—at its core, the cops, courts and prisons—has but one purpose: to serve and protect the handful of filthy rich capitalists in power by suppressing the working class and the oppressed. As Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin pointed out in his 1919 lecture The State: “The state is a machine for the oppression of one class by another, a machine for holding in obedience to one class other, subordinated classes.”
“War on Crime” Targets
Native People, Blacks
The most immediate victims of the “law and order” offensive will be Native people and blacks. In Western Canada in particular, Native people are the primary targets of police brutality, criminal proceedings and incarceration. The government’s own Correctional Investigator reports that aboriginals, who make up 2.7 percent of the adult Canadian population, constitute 18.5 percent of inmates in federal custody. In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this number shoots up to 60 percent! And Native women represent 30 percent of all federal female inmates across Canada. Statistics Canada reports nearly identical numbers in provincial institutions.
In Ontario, change “Native” to “black,” and the picture is starkly similar. Twenty percent of Ontario’s federal inmates are black. The Toronto cops have carried out a decades-long reign of racist terror in minority neighbourhoods, going after black youth in particular. A recent instance was the 2010 police killing of Junior Manon, an unarmed 18-year-old black Latino youth who had tried to flee a traffic check. Several witnesses saw the brutal killing, which the cops are typically trying to cover up. This is business as usual for these thugs in blue, and not just in Toronto, whether the victims are aboriginal, black, South Asian or Latino.
Under the Tories’ new law, mandatory minimum sentences will take away any hope of alternatives to jail even for minor drug offences. Chances for pardons will be eliminated or made much more difficult, and there will be more pre-trial detention. These ever more severe forms of legal retribution, combined with the habitual racism of the cops, are designed to make it even more difficult for minority communities to escape the vicious cycle of poor education, joblessness, mental illness, addiction, violence and prison. Federal and provincial governments are already planning to add close to 10,000 new prison spaces.
Other aspects of Bill C-10 have been decried by refugee, civil liberties and gay organizations. One provision could bar potential refugees from entering the country if the government deems they are “at risk” of being exploited—a definition that pretty much describes 99.9 percent of refugees. We say: full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it to this country!
One amendment to the criminal code would mean two years in jail for anyone who “wilfully does an indecent act in a public place in the presence of one or more persons.” As the Queer Ontario group noted, “People of any gender could be charged and convicted of an ‘indecent act’ for engaging in consenting sexual acts on a beach, in a park, in a parked car, at a sex party or in a bathhouse.” The CCLA also remarked that the “child pornography” provisions of the bill “criminalize, and would impose mandatory minimum jail sentences, for the consensual, legal sexual activities of youth and young adults.”
Marxists oppose all laws against “crimes without victims” such as drug use, gambling, prostitution and consensual sex, including between adults and youth. We have long warned that the “child pornography” and “anti-pedophile” hysteria, endorsed by all manner of liberals, feminists and reformist leftists, is intended to jack up state repression against everybody. While children and youth are victims of real abuse—mental, physical and/or sexual—this is most often at the hands of state agencies or within the confines of the nuclear family. The rulers’ hypocritical moral crusades are intended to further regiment society and punish youth and adults for sexual relations that do not fall within the acceptable “norms” of religious and bourgeois morality. The only guiding principle in sexual relations should be effective consent—whether those involved were agreeable at the time—regardless of gender, number or age.
It’s not surprising that the right-wing Tory regime would whip up such moral hysteria to push its racist agenda of police repression and more jails. This is, after all, a government teeming with anti-abortion bigots and death penalty advocates. While Stephen Harper keeps such ghouls in check (for now), the “anti-crime” bills are only the thin edge of the wedge. The government’s revving up of military and monarchical symbols—with the English queen in every federal building—is grotesque, but it is only an expression of the bourgeois “values” embraced by all the “honourable” members of parliament, whether in government or in opposition, the NDP very much included. These values are rooted in the capitalist system of exploitation and war.
State Repression and
Aside from C-10, a slew of “security” laws and measures will make it even more difficult to participate in any kind of public protest, including online. Left-wing activists and even mealy-mouthed environmentalists are being publicly vilified, slandered, spied on, and in some cases arrested and jailed. This reached a peak around the June 2010 G20 protests in Toronto, when nearly 20,000 cops descended on the city, arrested 1,100 protesters and held them in degrading conditions. Leftist organizers were seized and framed up on “conspiracy” charges, a device long used by the capitalists to persecute perceived opponents against whom there is no evidence of any crime.
Particularly since the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, governments around the world have used the “war on terror” as a pretext to victimize both Muslim minorities and left-wing activists. In Canada, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien (with then justice minister Irwin Cotler in tow) ramped up a series of “anti-terror” measures meant to instill fear, scapegoat minorities and curtail the right to protest. As we warned at the time:
“The rulers aim to shred the democratic rights of the whole population, starting with those who have the fewest rights to begin with—immigrants and refugees. Make no mistake: this campaign is aimed at regimenting and repressing everybody through fear, not least through fear of the state itself—and working people and their organizations are right in the gunsights…. Racism based on the terror scare is a wedge the capitalists intend to use to split and wreck any effective working-class resistance to their austerity plans.”
—“Down With the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt!” SC No. 132, Spring 2002
Harper’s Tories picked up where the Liberals left off, with vicious “anti-terror” witchhunts and legislation of their own. Another new bill, the outrageously named “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act,” would give the cops unrestricted access to anyone’s personal identity without a warrant and the capability to intercept any online activity. The outcry over public safety minister Vic Toews’ smears against critics of the bill forced the government to recalibrate its pitch, but the legislation is expected to pass without fundamental change (the Liberals earlier introduced similar measures). Also tightening the screws on the population is the Canada-U.S. “Beyond the Border” agreement, another project begun under the previous Liberal government. This promises almost limitless sharing of information among the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police], the Border Service Agency, U.S. Customs and Homeland Security—at a time when, for example, a staggering 85 percent of British Columbians are in the cops’ computer database.
The government’s “security” mania has it shooting in all directions, from the merely deranged to the outright monstrous. The spectacle of resource minister Joe Oliver going after groups like the lofty Sierra Club environmentalists as foreign-funded “radical groups” for opposing the Gateway pipeline project underlines how anyone can be a target. In a statement promoting the Tories’ “anti-terrorism” strategy, Toews promised vigilance against “domestic extremism” including “the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, environmentalism, white supremacy and anti-capitalism” (Globe and Mail, 11 February). More ominously yet, it was recently revealed that the government has instructed CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] to use information obtained under torture “in exceptional circumstances.” This is no abstraction. Just recall the case of Maher Arar, an innocent Muslim citizen of Canada who was sent by the U.S. to torture chambers in Syria based on information and acquiescence from Canadian security services.
The ultimate target of the crackdown on dissent is the organized working class. The Tory government cites “national security” to justify its attacks on the labour movement. “War on terror” measures have taken particular aim at unionized workers in the ports and airline industry. In its own way, this testifies to the immense potential power of organized labour to throw back government repression and the attacks on the rights of the population.
A number of protests have taken place against the various “security” bills, in particular the omnibus crime bill. Most were organized in the wake of the Occupy movement that emerged in most major cities last year. Many of the youthful Occupy protesters have themselves been victims of police crackdowns, and it is to their credit that they seek to protest the larger implications behind the Tory bills. Yet they are mired in populist liberal politics which obscure the class line between workers and capitalists. Some even embraced the cops as part of the “99 percent.” Such ideology is an obstacle to the necessary mobilization of the working class in its own name, rallying all the oppressed in a fight against the capitalist system.
The main obstacles to such mobilization are the pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy and its political arm, the social-democratic NDP. Despite its current posture of opposing Harper’s most egregious measures, the NDP has always supported the enforcement of capitalist “law and order.” Four years ago, the New Democrats supported a Conservative “anti-crime” law that established mandatory minimum sentencing for “gun-related” offences and raised the age of consent from 14 to 16. In the election later that year, [late NDP leader] Jack Layton demanded “tough action on crime, gangs, and guns.” Last year, the NDP again promised to hire thousands more cops, an unashamed pledge of fealty to the racist capitalist order.
The NDP has also always supported the Canadian rulers’ national oppression of Quebec. Historically under the boot of British and then Anglo-Canadian rule, Quebec experienced mass social struggle in the 1960s and early ’70s which led to throwing off the shackles of the repressive Catholic church. With the Québécois population generally more liberal on social issues than that in English Canada, bourgeois politicians of just about every stripe in Quebec have denounced the Tories’ “crime” bills.
But Quebec has its own variants of racism and state repression. It is there that the furor against the right of Muslim women to wear the niqab (full-face veil) has been most intense. In the 1990s, the nationalist Bloc Québécois was the most vocal advocate for “anti-gang” laws, which were eventually adopted. Supposedly aimed against bikers, these have been used almost exclusively to justify cop terror against minority youth in Montreal—and to go after the construction unions. Marxists advocate independence for Quebec, in part because this would create the best conditions for workers in both nations to see the reactionary nature of their “own” capitalist exploiters.
Various labour federations have come out against the Tory crime bill. On the West Coast, the BCGEU public sector union issued a February 13 statement against the bill. But the BCGEU bureaucracy’s sole concerns are about “cost” and the negative effect on screws and sheriffs! That’s right, the BCGEU (and others such as Ontario’s OPSEU) criminally organizes such forces which, as much as the cops, are enforcers of racist capitalist repression. Cops and jail guards are not workers—they have no place in the unions!
The organized labour movement has a crucial role to play in beating back the climate of racism and fear that is only getting worse amid today’s deepgoing economic meltdown. To do so, the working class must be won to the understanding that its own liberation from wage slavery and poverty requires defending the rights of all the oppressed and opposing all manifestations of state terror against minorities and the left. With its central position in social production, the working class has both the social power and the material interest to stop the creeping police state in its tracks. We Marxists fight for the forging of a multiracial revolutionary workers party, the necessary instrument to bring this understanding to the ranks of the proletariat. Down with Harper’s reactionary “crime” bills—Mobilize the power of labour!