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The Dark Clown: Spectacle, charade and the Dark Politics of Rob Ford November 21, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Toronto.
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Roger’s note: As a former member of the Toronto Council, I have been following the Ford fiasco with interest, but mostly disgust.  As the article below will demonstrate, it is not Ford’s drug and mafia connections or his vulgar behavior that is of primary concern; rather his mean-spirited regime, his intimate connection to the ultra right Harper federal government, and what this all means for ordinary working people and those in need of essential social services in Toronto.

 

| November 19, 2013, http://www.rabble.ca 

 

Illustration by Arlene Bishop

 

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is not an accident. He’s not a car that suddenly lost control of the steering and veered off the road.

Is Rob Ford cunning or pathetic? Or both? Is he a ridiculous political clown who got elected by fooling everyone? Ford doesn’t only show us the flaws in Toronto’s system of municipal governance. He shows us what the radical right has brought into politics.

Something that I will call Dark Politics. Political ideology that accompanies economic neoliberalism. Politics that seeks to obfuscate, misinform, change the rules of conduct and flourishes most when no light of truth is shone upon it.

It continually seeks to convince a weary public that government is the problem and that funnelling tax dollars upward and lowering taxes on wealthy corporations, while driving down wages, is the best way out of any economic slump — despite all evidence to the contrary. That rich people are “job creators” that should not be burdened with tax woes because of all the good they are doing for the economy.

 

Tax burdens shifted from prosperous businesses, corporations and the wealthy onto the backs of the average tax payer creating an ever alarming divide between the 1% and the rest of us. This created a self fulfilling prophecy about the trust worthiness of governments. Governments elected to carry out this agenda were backed by powerful financial interests that paved the way for governments to become almost indistinguishable from administrative arms of corporations.

It is pathological politics that lives by its own circular logic. Attempts to engage it with facts and logic are quickly countered with an Escher-like road around any sense of sound reason. Logical premises fly out the window and a bizarro world of normalizing the absurd ensues.

 

Just as the Christian right demands that creationism be taught alongside evolution, as though the two things deserve equal billing, Dark Politics routinely demands that equivalencies be made where no equivalency exists.

Dark Politics demands that corporate psychopathy be treated, and often with even less criticism, as organizations that desire to better society for all of us and our planet. It expects that under the guise of “balance” a far right radical should be viewed through the very same lens as a slightly left leaning moderate.

 

Only it is the moderate who ends up being labeled as some anti-business spend-happy job killing socialist. It demands that the likes of Sun TV be regarded as equally deserving of the public trust as the CBC. In this altered state, America’s Fox News portrays itself as a “real” and balanced voice in a liberal media conspiracy.

With the rise of economic neoliberalism and the Dark Politics that came with it, certain ideas took hold that became increasingly pervasive and practically invisible.

 

Ideas such as the notion that the role of government should be increasingly inched towards the ultimate goal of doing little more than reducing taxes while begrudgingly still paying for things like the military and a few other “essential” services. That government should largely divorce itself from civic engagement or from acting as an equalizing mechanism. From fulfilling the collective will of the people.

 

Governments that continued the role they had for generations, even if they had balanced books, were labelled “tax-and-spend liberals.” Meanwhile governments that cut services and turned surpluses into debt laid claim to being the fiscally responsible choice.

 

It was within this ideology that Rob Ford achieved his support. He would be the cost cutter — cutting taxes, cutting government, taking care of your money. Don’t look over there at the broader picture of multi-billion dollar multinationals getting billions in subsidies and tax breaks, look instead at how much money those lazy union protected city workers are getting! Don’t peel back the curtain on what goes on with developments in Toronto, look at the “gravy” of municipal programs for the poor.

 

 

In spite of what can only be described as “off-the-rails” behaviour of Tea Party style politicians: the crazy antics, hypocrisy and spectacle that so many Tea Party style politicians display — Ford included — the ideas behind Dark Politics nevertheless persist.

 

As though the very side-tracking with all the political entertainment allowed these ideas to sneak past the radar. To sit undetected in people’s brains, while we looked away at the three ring circus. Move the goalposts so far to the right so that less fringe ideas seem normal and rational in comparison.

 

It is politics that strays ever further from fact, evidence, reason, science and especially from empathy and compassion. It is contemptuous of these things even.

Ford was an ideal candidate for Dark Politics. His populist “everyman” persona — in spite of being a member of the 1% — meant he was successfully able to co-opt the very type of citizen that is most harmed by Dark Politics. Inspire their loyalty even. His personal failings were excused and separated from his politics and his policies. His short comings actually appeared to aid pushing through his agenda. A Dark Politics agenda that always supports increasing inequality.

But Rob Ford’s personal conduct should not be separated from his politics. His personal conduct displays a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement and so does his politics. And he certainly didn’t rise to the office of Mayor alone. He had many backers right there with him. Enabling him all the way.

 

Ford’s conduct is the politics of entitlement taken to an extreme. His addiction problems simply highlight how far you can go before you cross a line with a core segment of political and public supporters who are believers.

Whatever Ford does, no matter how out there it is, he has thus far managed to elude normal consequences. And as far as Ford Nation sees it, if anyone attempts to hold him accountable then they are the ones victimizing him.

Rob Ford may seem to be an anomaly — an outrageous example of a politician gone off the rails, but he is in fact an example of what Dark Politics allows in. Ford also demonstrates how far afield things have moved.

 

Even though most of his political supporters have now jumped ship, they do not seem to be taking any issue with the politics that brought someone like Ford to power in the first place.

 

Ford was a clear and obvious liar before he was ever elected as Mayor. He clearly had substance abuse issues before he was elected. But the right didn’t care. They supported his views, enabled him and aided his rise to power because ideology always trumps everything else in political extremes, whether it’s right or left. He was on the winning side, so he had eager members to join his gang and overlook or be in denial about his obvious short comings.

 

Now they divorce themselves from his antics and try to claim that his character is no reflection on their ideology. But it is profoundly a reflection of their ideology. For it was this ideology that gave them their willful blindness in the first place. Because there were plenty of others who could see Rob Ford for what he was right out of the gate.

We must not lose sight of the political darkness that Ford represents. Rob Ford should be an indictment of radical right-wing politics in Canada. The Tea Party and what it has wrought, should be an indictment of radical right wing politics in the United States.

How far must things go before the public starts to wake up to the political lies they have been sold?

 

Rob Ford is not a champion of the little guy. The little guy is never what politics for the rich and by the rich is about. The Rob Ford sideshow is merely Dark Politics accidentally showing it’s hand in ushering in a dark age of the decline of reason and social responsibility for government, business and citizens alike.

Heather Morgan is a writer and musician living in Toronto. She tweets @HeatherMoandCo

Illustration by Arlene Bishop

Jack Layton statue unveiled on Toronto waterfront August 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Toronto.
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Roger’s note: Jack Layton was a friend and colleague, both before and during the time he was a public figure.  We served together for several years on Toronto’s Metro Council;  together we moved the historic successful motion to close down the polluting Commissioners Street Incinerator, this in the middle of a waste management crisis in Toronto.  Jack was one of the very few people I knew in government who combined a principled approach with incredible personal warmth and humor.  I cannot remember a moment with him when he was not smiling and upbeat.  He was so open and honest and caring and hard working that he connected with people in a way that few politicians have ever achieved.  Along with millions of Canadians, I miss him dearly.

 

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Jack Layton’s daughter, Sarah, granddaughter Beatrice, widow Olivia Chow and city councillor Pam McConnell share a laugh as a statue in memory of Layton was unveiled in Toronto, Ontario Thursday, August 22, 2013.
(Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

A life-size statue commemorating Jack Layton, the late leader of the federal opposition New Democrats and former city councillor, was unveiled on Toronto’s waterfront.

The day he died after a battle with cancer, Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto City Hall was transformed into a makeshift memorial for the NDP leader with hundreds of supporters scrawling messages in chalk on the square’s walls. Now, two years’ to the day later, this more permanent memorial was unveiled: a bronze statue of Mr. Layton on the back of a tandem bicycle. The Toronto ferry island terminal has also been renamed the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.

The statue, entitled Jack’s got your back. Stronger Together: The Layton Memorial, was donated through approximately $350,000 of fundraising by the Ontario Federation of Labour. Sculptor David Pellettier worked closely with Mr. Layton’s widow, Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, to get the politician’s likeness just right.The statue depicts Mr. Layton grinning on the back of a full-size tandem bicycle similar to one he owned. It was designed to invite people to hop on the front seat.

Ms. Chow, was on hand for the unveiling. She related memories of her late husband and the time they spent on Toronto island, where they were married in 1988.

“The Toronto island is truly a magical place,” she said to applause from the crowd of hundreds who attended the unveiling.

“In many years, after all of us are gone, this bronze sculpture will endure.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford also spoke, fondly recalling Mr. Layton and some advice he gave the mayor when they were both Toronto city councillors.

“I had the privilege as a rookie councillor to sit beside Jack for the first few years,” he said.

“He taught me an important lesson about politics. He said, ‘Rob, never take things personally. It’s politics.’ I’m still trying to learn that.”

Also attending were several city councillors, including Mr. Layton’s son, Mike Layton, as well as many of his family and friends. Mr. Layton explained the significance of the tandem bicycle as not only a cherished family item but a symbol of his father’s beliefs.

“A tandem bike is about co-operation: working towards a common goal. More ground can be covered when you’re working together,” he said. “That’s how he lived his life; He worked hard, he co-operated with others in his job and he had fun through it all.”

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Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches April 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Housing/Homelessness, Religion, Toronto.
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Ontario sculptor struggled to find a home for his haunting sculpture of Jesus sleeping on a bench.

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench.

It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.

Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

“Homeless Jesus had no home,” says the artist, Timothy Schmalz, who specializes in religious sculpture. “How ironic.”

Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece and showed Schmalz possible locations, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, he says.

“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”

The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”

Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.

Bill Steinburg, communications manager for the Toronto archdiocese, says the decision not to accept the sculpture at St. Michael’s may have had to do with renovations at the cathedral and “partly to do with someone’s view of the art.”

To some who have seen it, it speaks the message of the Gospels. When theologian Thomas Reynolds came upon it he felt “the shock of recognition.” He quoted the biblical passage: “ … the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“I’m so used to seeing images of Jesus that are palatable,” says Reynolds.

But recent depictions of Jesus in political and social contexts have spurred controversy.

At Emmanuel College, the educational arm of the United Church where Reynolds teaches, there is a graceful sculpture showing Jesus’ suffering in a crucified woman. Schmaltz says he intended that his Jesus the Homeless can be interpreted as either male or female.

At Regis College, there is a small crucifix of Jesus as a landmine victim, missing a leg; another at the college shows Jesus as an Aztec.

A sculpture in a church in Uckfield, England, shows a euphoric Jesus wearing jeans and a collared shirt.

In 2011, British sculptor David Mach, created an agonized, shouting Jesus out of 3,000 straightened coat hangers that emerge like barbs from the body.

Jesus the Homeless is provocative, says Reynolds, because it ‘punctures the illusion of normalcy.

“In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.”

Schmalz, 43, roots the sculpture in his experiences in Toronto, where he trained at the former Ontario College of Art. “I was totally used to stepping over people. You’re not aware they are human beings. They become obstacles in the urban environment and you lose a spiritual connection to them. They become inert, an inconvenience.”

He now lives with his wife and family in St. Jacobs, Ont. When he returns to Toronto, he sees the city differently.

“A lot of people who don’t live in Toronto or a big urban place are shocked to see human forms under blanket on too many street corners.”

The Regis sculpture shows Jesus as a wanderer who depended on the hospitality of others, says Reynolds. “The counternarrative in Christianity is Jesus the outsider.”

Not all embrace this interpretation, as Bryan Stallings and his wife Amy discovered. They run a mission in Branson, Mo., called Jesus Was Homeless, where they serve about 1,000 people a week, many of whom live in the woods and extended-stay motels. They’ve been criticized for the mission’s name.

“People who have issue with it are usually the staunch religious people,” says Stallings, “especially those who follow prosperity teaching and doctrine that says if you are homeless or poor you don’t have enough faith.”

Critics tell him that Jesus wasn’t homeless. “Then we reference Scripture and it sparks tons of conversation.”

The Toronto sculpture, funded by Kitchener real estate developer Peter Benninger, is situated near the front entrance to Regis College. “It’s one of the most inviting and authentic representations of Jesus,” says Rev. Gordon Rixon, dean of the college. “There’s the suggestion there is the king and he is answering our culture with his poverty, vulnerability and weakness.”

Though the slender figure occupies most of the two-metre bench, Schmalz purposely left space at the end for someone to sit close to the slumbering figure, “as uncomfortably as possible.”

Regis College is holding a panel discussion on homelessness in Toronto on Wednesday. For more information email: inquiries@RegisCollege.ca

Toronto declared ‘sanctuary city’ to non-status migrants February 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Immigration, Toronto.
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Toronto has become the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.
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Supporters of a motion to turn Toronto into a sanctuary city for non-status migrants raise their arms in victory as the vote is announced. The so-called ‘Solidarity City’ motion was passed by city council by a vote of 37-3.

RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR
Published on Thu Feb 21 2013

Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter

Toronto has made history by affirming itself as a “sanctuary city,” the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.

On Thursday, City Council passed the motion by a vote of 37 to 3 that also requires training all city staff and managers to ensure Toronto’s estimated 200,000 non-status residents can access its services without fear of being turned over to border enforcement officers for detention and deportation.

The vote puts Toronto in the same league with 36 American cities, including Chicago, New York City and San Francisco that already have such policies. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner are the only council members who voted against the motion.

“It is an enormous step for the city in the right direction. We are all contributing to the city, the well-being of Toronto. It’s important that we are not making a distinction between those who don’t have rights or access to services and those who do,” said Harald Bauder, associate professor of Ryerson University’s graduate program in immigration and settlement studies.

“Distinctions are divisive. They establish second-class citizens. That leads to all kinds of other problems, not just a rift in the community, but other issues of exploitation.”

Council’s vote was significant at a time when the undocumented population is expected to surge in 2015, when many legal but temporary foreign workers will see their four-year work permits expire under a new federal law and potentially move “underground.”

Proponents of the policy argued that the city must embrace and monitor the changing reality rather than just bury its head in the sand.

Although undocumented migrants — often visitors overstaying their visas or failed refugee claimants dodging deportation — have been able to use city services such as library and public transit without hassles, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has not been consistent in other areas.

“This is a historic moment because we are saying we are a sanctuary city and that anyone who is in the City of Toronto will be able to access all the services the city offers, be it in the areas of health, in the area of parks, in the area of library, in the area of health and safety,” said councilor Joe Mihevc.

“That is the kind of city we want. We want to open our arms to anyone who comes here while they are here.”

However, Mihevc pointed out the new city policy will not address barriers faced by non-status residents for services under the provincial or federal jurisdictions such as housing, income security, welfare and labour protection.

“With the police, their policy is, ‘don’t ask.’ But if they find that someone tells them, they actually have a legal obligation to report it to Immigration Canada. That’s the nuance with respect to the police. This doesn’t change that,” Mihevc explained.

Thursday’s motion was a second attempt by migrant advocacy groups to formalize the city’s sanctuary policy; the previous administration under mayor David Miller did not commit to affirming the policy but opted to simply put a poster online to promote it.

“This is a great show of what community organizations can do. But this is only a policy . . . The only way we’re going to get changes in our community is if our community is organized and standing strong, and we keep councillors to what they said today,” said Tzazna Miranda Leal of the Solidarity City Network, a community umbrella group behind the campaign.

However, councillor Minnan-Wong, a vocal critic of the motion, said undocumented people are illegal in Canada and do not deserve government services.

“We shouldn’t encourage them. We shouldn’t help them. We should not facilitate them. They are an insult to every immigrant who plays by the rule to get into the country. They are an insult to every immigrant who is waiting to enter this country legally,” said Minnan-Wong.

“It sends a message to the world that it is okay to break the law to come to Canada and it says that the City of Toronto is an accomplice to this lawbreaking.”

Council also voted to ask Ottawa to establish an amnesty program for undocumented migrants and the province to review its policies to ensure their access to health care, emergency services and community housing.

Sanctuary cities in U.S.

 

So far, 36 American cities and three states have declared themselves sanctuaries for non-status migrants.

Anchorage, AK

Chandler, AZ

Mesa, AZ

Tucson, AZ

Davis, CA

Downey, CA

Los Angeles, CA

Oakland, CA

San Bernardino, CA

San Jose, CA

Watsonville, CA

New Haven, CN

Denver, CO

New York City, NY

Fort Collins, CO

Deleon Springs, FL

Miami, FL

Chicago, IL

Cambridge, MA

Baltimore, MD

Detroit, MI

St. Paul, MN

Newark, NJ

Bridgeton, NJ

Tulsa, OK

Albuquerque, NM

Farmingville, NY

Durham, NC

Portland, OR

Philadelphia, PA

Brownsville, TX

Salt Lake City, UT

Fairfax County, VA

Seattle, WA

Madison, WI

Jackson Hole, WY

State of Oregon

State of Maine

State of Vermont

Hundreds mark G20 anniversary with calls for Blair to resign June 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Toronto.
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Published On Sat Jun 25 2011. Toronto Star

 

A festive reveller joins the gathering at Queen's Park to mark the first anniversary of the G20 at Queen's Park.A festive reveller joins the gathering at Queen’s Park to mark the first anniversary of the G20 at Queen’s Park.

 

RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR

Sandro ContentaStaff Reporter

// <![CDATA[
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if (jQuery('.ts-main_article2_image').width() John Pruyn says the thought of returning to the site where police allegedly yanked off his prosthetic leg during last year’s G20 summit made him sick to his stomach.

But while speaking at the “G20 Redux” rally at Queen’s Park Saturday, his voice was strong and clear.

“To this day, I still don’t know why I was dragged away (by police) from Queen’s Park. I still feel like I was kidnapped,” said Pruyn, 58, recalling how he was manhandled by police and thrown in detention.

“Bill Blair should resign or should be fired for what happened at the G20,” Pruyn added, referring to Toronto’s police chief. “Mr. Blair allowed the police to beat us … In effect, he allowed the police to loot and riot.”

A retired Revenue Canada employee, Pruyn says he was resting with his family at Queen’s Park — after participating in a peaceful protest march on June 26, 2010 — when he was allegedly “attacked” by several police officers, one of whom “ripped off” his leg. He was released without charge a day later. He says police never gave him back his walking aids, or the $33 he had in his pocket. In an interview, he said he can’t discuss the settlement he received after complaining to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

He was one of nine speakers cheered by some 400 people for insisting that Blair resign, and for demanding a public inquiry into police actions during the summit. Some officers violated police policy by taking off their badge numbers and name tags while rounding up protesters. More than 1,100 people were detained — the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history. Most were never charged. Some speakers also called for charges to be dropped against 56 people still before the courts.

In an interview with the Star Friday, Blair rejected calls for his resignation. A 70-page report released by police Thursday indicated the service was overwhelmed and underprepared to respond to the “dynamic situations” the G20 posed.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty have both flatly rejected calls for a public inquiry. Nathalie Des Rosiers, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, described that as “dangerous for democracy.”

“We’re allowing a culture of impunity to develop,” she told the rally. “If we tolerate (police) illegality when we see it, we sanction abuses that go on when we don’t.”

“A truth commission is what we need,” she added.

Police kept a low profile throughout the rally. Rarely were more than eight of them visible at any one time. They sat on bicycles on the edges of Queen’s Park circle. More could be seen patrolling the streets on their bikes. Now and then a couple of officers would ride close to the crowd, but the atmosphere was never tense.

The music was live, and the signs were colourful, most aimed at police. “You were put here to protect us, but who protects us from you?” read one. “We know what you did last summer, and we’re still pissed,” read another.

Many interviewed said they suspected police officers — thousands of whom patrolled the streets during the summit — of deliberately allowing police cruisers to be burned and shop windows to be smashed as an excuse to crack down hard.

“I just want them to be transparent about the whole thing,” bartender Karen Nickel, 45, said in an interview. Nickel said she was slammed with a police riot shield while protesting peacefully.

Several speakers referred to an exclusive Star poll Saturday indicating that 67 per cent of Torontonians want a public inquiry into G20 policing, 54 per cent believe the police response to demonstrations was unjustified, and 44 per cent say their confidence in police has dropped.

“A year later, I want to know who was responsible for sending the cops at Queen’s Park to beat the crap out of citizens,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, noting police had told his union that Queen’s Park would be a designated protest area.

“You let us down, Chief Blair. You did not protect the citizens of this community, Chief Blair,” Ryan said, accusing the chief of protecting the identity of police officers who beat up peaceful protesters. “Because of that cone of silence you engaged in, we are demanding here today that you step down.”

Brigette DePape, who was recently fired as a Senate page for holding up a “Stop Harper” sign during the Speech from the Throne, equated the police response during the G20 to Harper’s Conservative agenda.

“The social chaos and pain he inflicted on this city is a microcosm of the social chaos and pain he wants to inflict on this country,” she told the rally. “But we will stop him.”

After the rally, about 100 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Toronto, heading to Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave., where a year earlier protesters were hemmed in by police in a controversial crowd-control technique known as “kettling.” The marchers later went to police headquarters and then back to Queen’s Park. Some traffic was disrupted, but police characterized the protest as peaceful and said there were no incidents.

 

Porter: For G20 accused Leah Henderson, 2010 was the year her life ended

Published On Fri Jun 24 20
Leah Henderson spent 25 days in jail before being released on a hefty, $100,000 bail. The conditions of her release were harsh.Leah Henderson spent 25 days in jail before being released on a hefty, $100,000 bail. The conditions of her release were harsh.

RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR

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By Catherine PorterColumnist

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For Leah Henderson, 2010 was the year her life ended. She was arrested at gunpoint, jailed and then trapped in a house. She lost her job and her fiancé because of draconian bail conditions.

The alleged G20 protest organizer hasn’t spoken to some of her closest friends for a year now, even when one’s mother died and another was married. She couldn’t dash out for toothpaste or milk. And most important for a person whose weeks were once packed with as many as 10 meetings to help organize political actions, she hasn’t gone to one single protest meeting.

But 2010 was also the year Henderson’s friends saved her life.

When she was still in a Milton jail awaiting bail, a team of five pals coordinated their schedules and cars to visit her. Once she was released to full house arrest, they’d drop by with the roti she was craving. They slept over on New Year’s Eve, planned wig and martini parties at her home, divided their engagement parties into shifts so she and her co-accused could come without breaching their bail conditions.

One friend moved to a new apartment so she could become Henderson’s surety and live with her.

“In all honesty, I didn’t know I had relationships this deep, this important and that I could count on in this way,” Henderson tells me as we take one of her friend’s golden retrievers for a walk.

Those close to her depict Henderson, 26, as a caring, committed den mother of activists in Toronto — cooking for meetings and mentoring new recruits. The Crown depicts her and her former common-law partner Alex Hundert, as dangerous anarchists with the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance who intended to attack Metro Hall, Goldman Sachs, The Bay and a number of consulates during the G20 weekend.

Early in the morning of the big, June 26 labour march that ended in disaster, police officers kicked through Henderson and Hundert’s apartment door with their guns drawn.

“I was contemplating getting out of bed to put my pants on,” she recalls. “But then I saw the red laser bouncing down the hall towards me. I just put my hands up and stayed in bed.”

Together with 15 other people, she was charged with three counts of conspiracy: to commit mischief over $5000, to assault police, and to obstruct justice. She spent 25 days in jail before being released on hefty, $100,000 bail. The conditions were harsh. She couldn’t leave her home unaccompanied by a surety. She had a nighttime curfew. She couldn’t help plan or attend a public demonstration. She couldn’t communicate with any of her co-accused, many of whom were close friends. She could see Hundert only if they were supervised by both his and her sureties —awkward, since they were each living with one of his divorced parents.

They broke up in October.

“It was exhausting, the navigating of schedules,” Henderson says. “It was an enormous pressure. We had been such important foundation of support for each other, and now we were going through an incredibly hard thing which we couldn’t go through together.”

Up to that Saturday morning, Henderson worked as a paralegal, making a $100,000 salary. Although her law firm sent a letter to court stating it still wanted her to work there, her bail conditions made it impossible.

Now she lives on welfare.

My question to the Crown: isn’t Leah Henderson innocent till proven guilty?

I watched in horror as stores were smashed and cop cars burned that Saturday afternoon. But there is a wide gulf separating vandalism from violence against people. The Black Block is not the Hell’s Angels. How are these bail conditions reasonable?

Henderson defines herself as an anarchist. To her, that means a commitment to “non-hierarchical locally-driven communities.” She had travelled around North America to protest at previous G20 meetings. To her, Toronto’s event was an opportunity to both protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s right-wing measures and to form new networks with activists from across the country. For the past year, she’d spent most nights preparing for the weekend.

“Hands down, the hardest part of this year has been not participating socially the way I think ethical,” she said. “I felt I was being ripped away from my community and isolated.”

In March, after Jaggi Singh — one of Henderson’s co-accused — contested his bail conditions, Henderson’s house arrest was lifted and her curfew softened. She can now go out at night with a chaperone approved of in writing by her surety.

She moved out of Hundert’s mother’s home and into the apartment of a childhood friend, who posted an additional $20,000 bail for her.

She reclaimed some of her activism in very subtle ways. While she used to facilitate events, Henderson now caters them — cooking up vegetarian lasagnas for a Council of Canadians’ meeting and quiche and cinnamon buns for a midwifery event. She babysits for friends and walks their dogs so they can go out to activist gatherings. She transcribes the jotted notes from friends’ meetings into something intelligible.

“It was really important for my self-care and survival to find ways I could support others,” she says. “I’m not going to spend the next how many years just taking.”

Henderson’s trial won’t start for another year — at the earliest. If her bail conditions were meant to smother her activism, they’ve had the opposite effect.

Catherine Porter’s column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at cporter@thestar.ca

 

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