Category Archives: Terror Panics

Breaking the General Strike: The Mounties Kill Strikers Mike Sokowolski and Mike Schezerbanowicz in Winnipeg (Activists Killed by Cops Series)

The Winnipeg General Strike of May and June 1919 stands as perhaps the signal moment of working class resistance and open class conflict in the industrial Canadian context. It remains a still resonant example of working class militance, organization, resolve, solidarity, and vision. It stands too as an unmistakeable symbol of the violence, repression, and racism at the core of the Canadian state. The Winnipeg General Strike offers a clear reminder of the state connection with and willingness to act in support of capital, and to do so using all means in its monopoly of violence. It also shows the racism of the Canadian state and its willingness to divide and conquer workers on the basis of ethnic background and/or national origin. Finally it shows the readiness of the state, and its major cultural symbol (the RCMP in its earlier incarnation as the Northwest Mounted Police), to kill. Labor historian Edward Seymour describes the reaction to the strike by government authorities at all levels as simply “vicious” (1976, 19).

 

Class Rule in Winnipeg

Labor historian David Bercuson suggests that business in Winnipeg was anti-union from the start, with unions viewed as an impediment to the climate in which business and investment could grow and prosper in the emerging industrial center (1975, 1–2). While this was certainly true of virtually all other cities, Bercuson argues that what was somewhat unique in Winnipeg was the extent to which the city was run by business associations and the particular costs of trade with national and international markets given the city’s isolation and distance and the associated higher transportation costs compared with say Toronto or Montreal. This great distance from both supply sources and markets impelled an obsession with keeping costs (labor particularly) unsustainably low (Bercuson 1975, 2).

In addition to these factors, Bercuson adds another, more curious one. This, he says, was the history of Social Darwinism prevalent among the ruling elite in Winnipeg. He notes that many of Winnipeg’s industrial and political leaders were nouveaux riches who had humble beginnings but had made it rich in the growing boom town. They took their success as a sign of personal strength, even superiority, and saw this as a sign that they were natural, and legitimate, leaders. The self-made man could not sympathize with those who, because of personal weakness, needed to organize collectively with others (Bercuson 1975, 2).

Winnipeg had experienced many, often bitter, strikes in the first decades of the twentieth century. Workers sought recognition of unions and collective agreements while bosses were largely successful in keeping unions out of workplaces. Throughout, local government dominated by businesspeople, invariably sided with employers and owners.

 

 

The War Economy and Class Struggle

Economic pressures and political dissatisfaction contributed to growing tensions between labor and management by 1918, the last year of the war. While workers were making the sacrifices of the war, employees did not want to share any of the benefits of economic gains within the war economy.

Bercuson suggests that inflation during the war period played, in his view, the most important part in stoking industrial conflict over the war years and in the period immediately following the end of the war (1975, 4). Inflation meant that those workers outside of the war industries and munitions manufacturing especially who could not achieve significant wage gains were faced with declining standards of living and rising costs (Bercuson 1975, 4). In Winnipeg, few workers worked in the arms industries so most were faced with declining living standards throughout the war years and beyond.

At the same time, labor shortages among skilled workers in particular meant that conditions for union organizing were favorable. This was also fueled by general anger among workers over conscription, the compulsory military service program initiated by Prime Minister Robert Borden in 1917. Indeed the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC) came to advocate a national general strike against conscription in 1917 (Bercuson 1975, 5). While the planned general strike did not come off, it planted the notion of the tactic of mass opposition to government and capital in the general intellect of workers across the country.

This was a period before full legal standing and recognition for unions and employers could routinely seek and receive court injunctions against picketing during strikes. This allowed bosses to bring in scabs and continue production contributing mightily to the regular defeat of strikes. In Winnipeg in 1917 alone, three strikes had been defeated in this very manner (Bercuson 1975, 6).

 

The 1918 “General Strike”

In April 1918, strikes of three unions of civic employees generated discussions of sympathy strikes of all civic workers (Bercuson 1975, 6).  When the unions reached a tentative agreement with a committee including the mayor and members of council, the city council, through Alderman F.O. Fowler sought to add an amendment that city employees take a no strike pledge for the future. The “Fowler Amendment” looked to take away city workers’ right to strike and was supported by the Winnipeg Board of Trade and the Free Press. It was vehemently opposed by the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council (Bercuson 1975, 6).

In response to the Fowler Amendment, city firefighters stopped work the very next day. Ten days later, 13 trades, amounting to 7000 workers, had joined in the work stoppage. Water, fire, light and power, telephone, railway maintenance, and public transportation were impacted (Bercuson 1975, 7).

The Board of Trade futilely tried to keep operations running by supplying scabs. Desperate, and facing growing momentum for workers and a rising movement the city government turned to a new private grouping to negotiate with the unions. This Citizens’ Committee of One Hundred came to an agreement with the workers that was almost the same as the initial one of May 13, 1918. This new agreement was accepted by a somewhat chastened city council and the strike ended on May 24. According to Bercuson the “workers’ victory was almost complete” (1975, 7).

The conclusions of this 1918 general strike were unmistakeable. The general strike had won the day in a context in which unions acting alone were always losing. It was only this combined and coordinated power that had allowed the workers to win, let alone to win so convincingly. It was well recognized that each union acting on its own would have been defeated (Bercuson 1975, 7). Another outcome was to radicalize workers who now saw greater possibilities for gains and were not as willing to accept less. The employers had the government and courts on their side and could use them. Yet workers united in a general strike could defeat even that combined force of elites.

This was further reinforced when a hoped for general strike in support of the Metal Trades Council in July of 1918 did not materialize and the metal workers were defeated. And this even as the Metal Trades Council had achieved a combination of unions in the industry. The civic workers had gained support of workers in all industries.

In recognition of this fact, in December 1918 the Trades ad Labour Council passed a motion that gave it the power to call out on strike every union member in the city based on a straight majority of all the city’s union members (Bercuson 1975, 8). This mechanism would come into effect only a few months later.

 

A Radical Period and the Rise of the One Big Union

The end of the war brought new and renewed hopes that the sacrifices made by so many would be rewarded with a new social foundation of justice and improved social equality. Yet the hopes of most were soon dashed by governments that sought a return to the pre-war status quo. This led to growing discontent and resentment. Not only among industrial workers but among a cross section of Canadian residents, including returning veterans who felt cheated and lied to.

Another factor of inestimable significance in this context was the revolutionary wave sweeping Europe in the post-war period. Revolutions in Russia in 1917 and Germany and Hungary in 1918 suggested that real social change was no pipe dream and could be had for those willing to fight for it. There was no need simply to wait or be patient. Waiting was now seen as a chump’s game, a boss’s dream.

At a Western Labour Conference held in Calgary on March 16, 1919, participants moved for secession from the conservative, craft dominated TLC. They called for a new national labor body organized on industrial lines, rather than by each craft within an industry. The new grouping would be called the OBU, the One Big Union. In structure and approach it resembled syndicalist organizing as in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The OBU was an explicitly radical formation, not anarchist, supportive of the Bolshevik revolution and influenced by Marxism.

They sought a referendum to see if Canadian workers supported a national general strike beginning on June 1 in demand of the 30 hour work week (Bercuson 1975, 12). The OBU was formally launched during the first week of June at a founding convention in Calgary. At that point the Winnipeg General Strike was into its third week. The OBU provided the nightmare figure for government and employers in Winnipeg even though it had played no direct part in the strike to that point.

 

The Winnipeg General Strike

The Winnipeg General Strike was founded in conflicts in the metal and building trades during April and May of 1919. Lack of progress in making gains in wages, for the buildings trades, and union recognition, for the metals trade, led to a call for a general strike vote under the Trades Council motion of December 1918. Facing a stalemate the Building Trades Council called for a strike of their members for May 1, Mayday, 1919.

The Metal Trades Council, a grouping of craft unions representing workers in contract shops, auto repair, etc. had waged and lost nasty strikes in 1906, 1917, and 1918 (Bercuson 1975, 14). In 1919 they again pressed their attempt for higher wages and the 44 hour work week but were rebuffed by contract shop owners who felt every reason to be confident they could win against yet another union effort. The contractors had benefitted from use of injunctions and had deployed professional strikebreaking firms against the metal workers in the past (Bercuson 1975, 14). The recalcitrant metal works companies were Darwin Bridge, Vulcan Ironworks, and the Manitoba Bridge Company. The MTC sought a nine hour work day and full recognition for unions. On May 2, 1919, the metal workers responded to employers’ intransigence, especially that of the big employers, with a third strike in three years. They sought a shorter work week, wage parity with workers in the railway shops, and union recognition (Bercuson 1975, 15).

At this point the broader union movement in the city was ready for action in defense of their interests. Three trades were on or facing strike action. Others had recently concluded nasty negotiations and were left angered by the process. During the weekly Trade Council meeting of May 6, it was reported that a visiting worker of German origin, attending metal trades shops on behalf of his local, had been arrested. Upon release he spoke to the meeting of government backing employers (Bercuson 1975, 16). The Trades Council meeting decided to poll every union member in the city on their support for a general strike with a decision to be taken at the meeting of May 13. The results of the voting would show more than 11,000 workers in support of the general strike while only a tiny number of 500 were opposed (Bercuson 1975, 17). Thursday, May 15 at 11 AM was decided upon as the start time for the strike.

A Strike Committee was formed that would include three delegates from each of the unions represented on the Trades Council. They would act as the representative body for future negotiations during the strike.

The situation in the metal trades was dire as employers refused even the slightest hint of compromise. Efforts by Premier Tobias Norris and Mayor Charles Frederick Gray to avoid the strike were unsuccessful. A last ditch effort of May 14 by Gray, Norris, and the provincial attorney-general also failed.

At 11 AM on May 15, 1919, Winnipeg was on strike. The response to the call was near total. Within the first day more than 22,000 workers were out on strike (Bercuson 1975, 17–18). Participation by workers was unanimous in 94 of 96 unions involved in the strike (Bercuson 1975, 18). As Bercuson illustrates:

 

“Firemen left their stations, telephones were shut down, the city’s electrical workers left turbines and transmission equipment unattended; telegraphers and others responsible for keeping a modern city in touch with the world refused to work. At the waterworks a skeleton staff remained behind at the request of the Trades Council to provide a meagre thirty pounds pressure, sufficient for single-story dwellings. Commercial establishments of every sort, from moving-picture houses to restaurants were closed.” (1975, 18)

 

In British Columbia 60,000 workers walked out in sympathy strikes. Alberta railway shop workers walked out. Support was also strong in Ontario with 15,000 workers going on strike (Seymour 1976, 19).

To understand the participation of workers requires appreciation of the decades of bitter struggle preceding it and the sense among workers that there was no alternative option. This was a context of open class war and bitter hostility between labor and capital. Yet only one side was ready and prepared to use force.

Most strikers did not see themselves as a revolutionary force. For their part the strike leaders took a cautious approach, refusing even to condone peaceful pickets (Bercuson 1975, 20). To allow for distribution of essentials like milk and food the Strike Committee took the advice of J.W. Carruthers, owner of the Crescent Creamery Company, and issued cards to delivery workers informing the public that those doing bread and milk deliveries were not scabs (Bercuson 1975, 20–21). The Strike Committee issued cards stating: “Permitted by authority of Strike Committee” (Bercuson 1975, 21). For local government this was portentous, raising the prospect of workers taking over and managing effectively public services.

The mayor did not want civilians realizing that necessities of life could be provided by a structure outside of the government or its authority. Government did not want to allow the appearance that city administration could be taken over by city workers, who knew how to do the work and did it well, with no need for the government as a middle manager. In an error of strategy the Strike Committee succumbed to a vote of council on May 20 and complied by removing the cards the following day.

Prime Minister Borden, insistent in sending a strong anti-communist message and securing the Canadian state some recognition as a reliable emerging imperialist convoy, would not accept even a settlement that gave the appearance of some success for the striking workers. He would only allow total defeat for the strike or a capitulationist settlement that made clear the workers had been forced to swallow employer demands (Bercuson 1975, 22). Indeed the federal government would play an active and central role in the defeat of the strike. Commissioner A.B. Perry and the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) would be a major player in those government actions against the strike.

 

Police Force

Concerned that the regular police were not reliably anti-workers, anti-strike forces led by Brigadier-General H.D.B. Ketchen, commanding officer for the Manitoba military district proposed formation of an alternative force of “special police” to replace or add to the regular force (Bercuson 1975, 22). The city at the behest of Ketchen and Citizens’ Committee recruited the special police drawing primarily from anti-strike veterans and middle strata students. The “specials” were actually paid $6 per day, a wage that was higher than that paid to regular police, showing the hypocrisy and political character of the government and employers alike. It also showed the real lack of concern with legitimacy and the ease with which elites jettison such pretensions when their class interests are up against the wall. When the newly recruited special force was around 2000 members, most of the regular force, nearly 240 officers, was fired. From June 10, Winnipeg was under control pf thousands of men who were openly hostile to the strikers and the strike and who were entirely incompetent and untrained. The specials constituted a gang, a thug force, on city payroll. They immediately set about using physical violence to break up even small public meetings of strikers.

The connection of the police to the military and the engagement in social war by government were unmistakeable. A militia composed largely of volunteers was organized with about 5000 volunteers (Seymour 1976, 17). Ketchen coordinated activities of the NWMP and set up a training program for the newly recruited militia. Former officers were brought in to command the militia. The willingness of the federal government to use lethal force against civilians was clear. Ottawa secretly shipped machine guns to Winnipeg under cover of “regimental baggage” among the freight of the demobilizing 27th Battalion (Bercuson 1975, 23). Ketchen also had an armored vehicle made available for forces in the city. An armored car fitted with three machine guns and holding six sharp shooters was ready and available at Fort Osborne Barracks (Bercuson 1975, 23). The NWMP were issued four machine guns mounted on trucks (Bercuson 1975, 23). They had 60 mounted forces ready for quick deployment. Two mobile militia troops with a motorized machine gun section with two guns apiece, mobilized infantry escorts and a company of motorized infantry were also available (Bercuson 1975, 24). Ketchen had at least 800 troop forces available in addition to the specials and other militia members.

 

There Are No Neutral’s There: State and Capital United against Workers in Winnipeg

Opposition to the strike consisted of the powerful alliance of employers and government. They were supported by Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand, an anti-union, anti-strike grouping positioned as the voice of “neutral” residents but which was anything but. The Citizens’ Committee was based on the Citizens’ Committee of One Hundred and included members of the Board of Trade, the Manufacturers’ Association, and the Winnipeg bar (Bercuson 1975, 18). Notable members included elites such as H.B. Lyall, an official with Manitoba Bridge and Board of Trade member; A.L. Crossin, a broker with Oldfield, Kirby, and Gardner, an insurance and loan firm, who was also a member of the Board of Trade; J.E. Botterell a senior partner in Baird and Botterell, a grain and stock brokerage, who was also with the Board of Trade; and Isaac Pitblado, a senior partner of the law firm, Pitblado, Hoskin, and Company, that handled the personal business affairs of the federal Minister of the Interior, Arthur Meighen (Bercuson 1975, 18–19).  The Chair of the Committee was A.K. Godfrey, an executive with the Canadian elevator company who was the president of the Board of Trade in 1917 and 1918.

The Committee supported the employers against the workers and provided thousands of volunteers to scab on the strikers (Bercuson 1975, 18). They also waged an ideological battle against the strikers, branding the union leaders as Bolsheviks. In the words of one striker: “The man who goes out to fight for his master is a brave Briton. The man who comes home to fight for his Mrs. is a bloomin Bolshevik” (quoted in Seymour 1976, 21). With access to secret government conferences they also advised the contract shop owners over the course of the strike (Bercuson 1975, 18).

The Winnipeg General Strike made clear in unquestionable terms the role of the state as an active, forceful supporter of capital rather than a neutral arbitrator. Rather than being disinterested players in disputes, as much criminology and legal studies of the liberal democratic state insist, the state acted in an interested manner on behalf of capital. They actively and consistently took sides. Both the federal and provincial governments immediately intervened on behalf of employers. Striking workers faced the combined efforts and forces of employers and governments. This meant that they faced the legal, political, and military force of the state acting on behalf of the employers they sought to gain concessions from.

Gideon Robertson launched an ideological campaign against the OBU blaming it for trying to foment revolution. He also set a deadline for a forced return to work of post-office workers. Postal workers were ordered back to work under conditions that they sign a pledge not to strike in the future. As the deadline passed the majority of postal workers in Winnipeg were fired and replaced with scab volunteers (Bercuson 1975, 19). The federal government fired 190 postal workers in Winnipeg when they refused to sign the anti-strike pledge. This mechanism of ultimatum and imposed deadline became the preferred means for treating all government employees. It was used against railway mail clerks, provincial telephone employees, firefighters, clerks, and waterworks workers at the city level. Most refused the ultimatums and were fired.

The federal government under Borden was unified in their opposition to the strike and in their commitment to defeat the workers on behalf of capital and the national (bourgeois) interest. They condemned the strike as a revolution. As in other cases like On to Ottawa two decades later the Prime Minister and cabinet expressed a fear that workers would overturn the established (exploitative) order, and pose a real alternative to existing structures of authority. Minister of the Interior, and future Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen saw in Winnipeg the possibility of a single union in Canada with the power to call a single general strike. This was clearly a sign of the immense power of labor if it ever organized jointly and in a united manner.

And working class unity was key. In virtually every lengthy strike there is an attempt by employers and/or government to split the membership. Often this involves targeting some members as militants and blaming them for intransigence. This often happens through efforts to make a minor offer that might satisfy some conservative demands, gaining some member support, while ignoring or overlooking other significant demands. So-called radicals are then posed as being unreasonable or asking for demands that cannot be granted at the expense of the discomfort of other members who have to endure an unnecessarily long strike.

Four weeks into the general strike Senator Robinson made a move to divide strikers and isolate radicals on the strike committee. On June 16 he secured an agreement from the contract shop employers to recognize craft unions in their workplaces. This did not include recognition of the Metal Trades Council. Robertson published this agreement in the newspapers to move public opinion against the strikers. At the same time the Senator ordered the arrests of Strike Committee radicals under dubious circumstances. Unfortunately moderates on the committee fell into Robertson’s trap and began negotiations to end the strike under the June 16 offer conditions (Bercuson 1975, 25).

 

The Violence of Law: Pernicious Legal Action then and Now

At this point one of the shameful episodes in Canadian state history unfolded. Legislation was introduced in the House of Commons to amend the Immigration Act to allow for the deportation of British subjects not born in Canada. On June 6 the federal government had, in only one hour of discussion, passed amendments to the Immigration Act to allow easier arrest and deportation of so-called “enemy aliens.” In another attempt at divide and conquer the government sought to split workers on the basis of ethnicity, heritage, or national origin. The legislation passed three readings without debate in 20 minutes. It was granted approval by Senate and given Royal Assent in under an hour, which was the quickest passage of legislation in the history of Canadian parliament (Seymour 1976, 20).

Amendments were also made to the Criminal Code section on sedition. The infamous Section 98 was passed which made it a crime to belong to an association that had as a purpose the change of government, industry, or economy through use of force or through advocacy or defense of the use of force (Seymour 1976, 20). Note that this could punish someone simply for defending the use of direct action or armed struggle. The offense was punishable by a maximum sentence of twenty years. One could be imprisoned for up to 20 years simply for printing, importing, distributing, or selling any material that either advocated or defended the use of force (Seymour 1976, 20). The Section 98 was an explicitly anti-communist amendment aimed at criminalizing working class struggle, peoples’ resistance, and anti-capitalism.

Anyone targeted in this way could be subjected to seizure of any property belonging to or even suspected of belonging to such an association. The property could be seized without warrant and forfeited to the Crown if it had simply been shown that a person had attended meeting of such a group, distributed its literature, or spoken publicly in support of it in some way (Seymour 1976, 20). Notably there was a reverse onus in play, counter to legal standards in liberal democracies, such that an accused had to prove they had not acted in defense of such a group rather than, as is regular legal practice, the state carrying the burden of proof.

Significantly, and of great note, these measures are precisely the same as have been restored since 2001 in Liberal and Conservative federal government Anti-Terror Acts. This should be troubling to the contemporary reader.

In the early morning of June 18 several strike leaders and supporters were arrested including some under authority of the newly amended Immigration Act and taken to Stony Mountain penitentiary where they were held while the government worked to deport those it could. The arrested included R.B. Russell, secretary of the MTC, George Armstrong, a streetcar motor person, William Ivens, editor of the Western Labour News and a key spokesperson for labor, A.A. Heaps, a labor representative on Winnipeg Municipal Council, and John Queen, alderperson for Winnipeg’s Ward V (Seymour 1976, 20). The arrests provoked outrage nationally. The MTC in Toronto called for a general strike to release the strike leaders. Miners in Cape Breton wired Ottawa to say: “We pledge ourselves to do all we can to bring about a general strike all over Canada (quoted in Seymour 1976, 20). Meighen sought their immediate deportation. Others, including A.J. Andrews, were concerned this would turn public opinion against the government and it was decided the men would be released on bail if they agreed to participate no longer in the strike (Bercuson 1975, 25).

 

Not What They Fought For: Veterans Support the Strike

By this point, however, the flow of events was beyond the grasp of the Strike Committee and other forces were taking center stage. Among them were thousands of World War One veterans who, disillusioned by the lack of improvement in working and social conditions, which they believed they had fought for, after the war, were solidly in support of the strike and its aims. Returned veterans rejected a Citizens’ Committee request to oppose the general strike and the strikers. Quite the contrary, a mass rally of 10,000 ex-soldiers demonstrated at the provincial legislature to demand an immediate settlement to the strike, legislation to protect collective bargaining, and withdrawal of ultimatums to striking public sector workers (Seymour 1976, 19).

As the general strike went on these veterans groupings became more and more vocal and militant (Bercuson 1975, 25). They began organizing lively public demonstrations of support for the general strike. Starting at the end of May they undertook mass parades throughout the streets of downtown Winnipeg, often marching to the legislature, City Hall, or the Headquarters of the Citizens’ Committees (Bercuson 1975, 25). This was an open show of strength, solidarity, and resolve on behalf of the strike and in opposition to the forces of the government, business, and reaction. They also held loud rallies and assemblies in Victoria Park hosting speakers from the Strike Committee and others in support of the Strike (Bercuson 1975, 25).

In response to this reactionary veterans organized counter-demonstrations against the strike. The Mayor came to issue bans on parades on multiple occasions during the strike, bans which more negatively impacted strikers given the size and strength of the pro-strike veterans’ groupings.

In response to the arrests of radical strike leaders and the threats of deportation, and the restarting of street cars, the strike supporting veterans decided on June 20, in a mass rally outside City Hall, to hold a protest the following day.

The next morning, Robertson, Gray, and NWMP Commissioner A.B. Perry met with delegates of the veterans groups to try to avert the demonstration. They could not or would not agree to meet the veterans’ demands of removing the street cars from the streets, settling the strike within four hours, and speaking with the Citizens Committee to convey this (Bercuson 1975, 25). For his part Andrews threatened the veterans with resorting to “other measures” to stop the parade, a clear implication of possible force and violence by police (Bercuson 1975, 26).

 

Bloody Saturday

As mass crowds gathered across from City Hall in preparation for the march, Acting Police Chief Newton informed Mayor Gray that the force of specials was not prepared to deal with a crowd of that size. Newton agreed with Gray’s assessment that the NWMP be called in and Gray was off to the Mounties’ headquarters to ask Commissioner Perry to intervene. Perry was more than happy to oblige and directed 54 mounted officers and 36 in trucks to take the streets.

By the 2:30 PM parade start time several hundred people had already taken to the streets in an attempt to stop the street cars that had foolishly been driven into the area (which could only be taken as a provocation). Two cars were stopped near City Hall with one taken off its wires and its windows broken

It was at this point that the NWMP arrived on scene and charged the crowd. On multiple runs through the assembled gathering they swung batons on veterans and strikers. The police were met on the second charge with rocks and bottles from the crowd. On a third charge the Mounties brandished cocked revolvers (Bercuson 1975, 27). At 2:35 PM Mayor Gray entered a parapet at City Hall and gave formal reading of the Riot Act. He gave the assembled protesters 30 minutes to leave the streets or face arrests. Before he could even return back inside City Hall he heard the NWMP officers fire into the crowd of civilians.

The order to shoot was given by NWMP Inspector Mead who, perhaps in a moment of panic, had determined to put down the crowd following the second mounted charge. The first shots were fired only moments after Gray had given protesters half an hour to disperse and the shooting by police continued over a terrifying period of several minutes

In the volleys of shots striker Mike Sokowolski was killed instantly, shot in the heart. On the whole around 100 people were injured in the police assault. Striker Mike Schezerbanowicz, shot in the legs, would later die of gangrene resulting from his injuries as inflicted by police gunfire.

Police and the City tried in the aftermath of the police assault to blame protesters for firing a shot but it has been determined that no shots came from the crowd, the only shots came from police. The RNWMP officer in command provided the following account of the assault: “About 120 bullets in all were fired into the crowd of men, women, and children. They were not marching around the streets but standing in front of the City Hall. Many were running away when we fired on them” (quoted in Seymour 1976, 20).

Indeed the police claim of initial fire from their targets is a common and ongoing ploy used to justify shooting and killing civilians. It is an excuse that is used falsely in cases right up to the present day. Not a single NWMP officer was hit by any gunfire. Even Inspector Mead acknowledged that he gave the order to fire out of a desperate desire to disperse the crowd, not because he was responding to any shots fired by anyone in the crowd.

As fearful members of the crowd attempted to disperse they were set upon by NWMP officers and specials who took advantage of the situation to brutalize fleeing marchers and take out their animosity toward strikers and the strike. As if this were not enough the state piled on further. General Ketchen released the militia who arrived in the city’s downtown within minutes thanks to auxiliary transport provided by the Citizens’ Committee (Bercuson 1975, 27). The militia brought the militarized machine gun section supported by cavalry. More than 80 marchers were trapped by police and arrested.

By evening the NWMP, militia, and specials had secured several blocks of the downtown area and kept the scene clear until the next day.

After Bloody Saturday Winnipeg was placed under military control. Four days after Bloody Saturday the Strike Committee called off the general strike, effective June 26. After six weeks, the largest General Strike in North America at that time, the strikers had gained none of their demands. Thousands of workers were blacklisted after the strike. Union meetings were banned in Winnipeg (Seymour 1976, 21).

The violent alliance of state and capital had proven too much to overcome, even as the strikers could have won the day had capital not been able to rely on the force of the state.

And this is the key lesson. While many talk of the separation of state and market, the capitalist “free market” or invisible hand of the market, in Canada as elsewhere there has never been a capitalist market without the sustaining power of the armed monopoly of the state. And no such market could even exist without it.

 

Lessons Learned

The failure of the strikers was in failing to move to a dual power situation in which they would maintain and provide essential services on the basis of their control of labor power and knowledge and capacity of the services in question, outside of government or business. Furthermore, they underestimated or misunderstood the role of government, at all levels, in violently buttressing capital and the state’s willingness to deploy lethal force to maintain capitalist social order. The strikers never seriously considered the necessity of armed defense of the strike and left the military field to police alone. This despite the great support they held among veterans.

The Winnipeg General Strike posed a real material alternative to established state capitalist order. This frightened business and government both. Unfortunately the general strike requires that workers, as those who produce and deliver goods and services, assume some of the roles of economic and social service provision. In doing this in a spirit of solidarity rather than social service or charity, they can show a better way of social organizing and justice. They can also build relationships of solidarity with other civilians that social service and charity providers cannot. This is a basis of mutual aid as the organizing principle for social relations.

As David Bercuson suggests: “The rapid increase of labour’s power in Winnipeg was a shock to the cozy arrangements and alliances that had existed between capital and government for at least four decades” (1975, 29). Unfortunately the strikers failed to understand or assess the role of the state, taking a fatally liberal approach that the state would serve merely as honest brokers or reasonable arbitrators.

As Bercuson notes: “The leaders of the strike urged their followers to hold to a non-violent course so they could avoid open confrontation with the government and its police and military forces. They did not realize that this confrontation actually began at eleven A.M. the morning of May 15” (1975, 29). This was social war but it was only being waged fully by one side, that of capital and its allies in state.

Historian Irving Abella suggests that decades of trauma for the labor movement in Canada followed from the suppression of the Winnipeg General Strike (1975, xii). While the movement had high hopes and solid prospects prior to Winnipeg, the actions of the state and capital left the movement in disarray and started a process of declin

While union membership union membership and organization had expanded quickly during the war, after the state violence in Winnipeg, membership declined dramatically throughout the 1920s with organizations paralyzed and leadership divided against itself (Abella 1975, xii). This decline would not be reversed until the years of the Second World War when labor again made significant gains. And the decline was impelled by the force of the state and the use of police to attack, and kill, working people simply organizing to improve their lives.

 

References

Abella, Irving. 1975. “Introduction.” In On Strike: Six Key Labour Struggles in Canada 1919–1949, Irving Abella (ed.). Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, xi–xv

Bercuson, David. 1975. “The Winnipeg General Strike.” In On Strike: Six Key Labour Struggles in Canada 1919–1949, Irving Abella (ed.). Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 1–32

Seymour, Edward E. 1976. An Illustrated History of Canadian Labour 1800-1974. Canadian Labour Congress: Ottawa

 

 

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Anonymous No More: The RCMP Killing of Anonymous Activist James McIntyre (Activists Killed by Cops Series)

The first decades of the twenty-first century have seen new strategies and tactics of social resistance and activism. Among these have been the largely online actions of groupings like Anonymous, a decentered manifestation of people using online strategies and tactics to confront real world injustices. A global phenomenon Anonymous has inspired and involved activists in the Canadian context as well. While Anonymous is viewed as an online grouping its members live and organize in specific locales where they are active in their communities working on issues of social and environmental justice. And it is in such locales that some have been killed by police and security forces. Such was the case of James McIntyre, a 48 year-old man shot and killed by RCMP, an Anonymous activist who was protesting a destructive BC Hydro megaproject, the Site C Dam. Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, a popular mask worn during protests, McIntyre, who worked as a dishwasher at a local restaurant in Dawson Creek, was claimed by Anonymous as a comrade. In response to McIntyre’s killing the online activists promised actions against the RCMP and the agency’s national website went down on Sunday, July 19.

McIntyre, a Métis man, who expressed concern for the land and opposition to destructive development projects was described by his cousin Keith LaRiviere as sharing a deep concern for “the soil and our ancestral values” (Trumpener 2016a). McIntyre was opposed to the Site C dam project which is understood by Indigenous communities to be an assault on the land as well as a destroyer of culture and a threat to communities. For McIntyre, as for many activists, the project is simply another example of state and business acting in pursuit of shared interests in profit against the health and wellbeing of nature and Indigenous communities. According to LaRiviere, McIntyre was worried impact of the Site C dam on local Indigenous communities and landowners (Trumpener 2016a).

This killing by RCMP occurred in a twenty-first century context in which much concern has been raised about police violence and repression against protesters, particularly those who oppose environmentally harmful projects. Earlier in 2015 the Canadian government passed new legislation giving police institutions increased powers under a rubric of “anti-terrorism.” This is also a context of growing mobilization, organizing, and activism against ongoing colonialism and for Indigenous sovereignty and against ecological crisis and climate change.

 

The Killing of James McIntyre

On Thursday, July 15, 2015 RCMP officers in Dawson Creek, B.C. shot and killed a man, later identified as James Daniel McIntyre. McIntyre was killed while standing outside of a local restaurant, the Fixx Urban Grill, where a BC Hydro open house on the contentious Site C dam project was being held. Police were responding to calls about disruptive behavior involving another man but encountered McIntyre instead, shooting him after minimal engagement. The incident was at least partly recorded by a witness, Mike Irmen.

Initial reports suggested James McIntyre was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask at the time he was shot. The Guy Fawkes mask (representing the English rebel involved in a plot to blow up parliament) has become a popular and recognizable symbol of protest, particularly as the public symbol of hacktivist grouping Anonymous. The mask has been adopted by activists since its appearance in the popular film V for Vendetta a futuristic, dystopian movie about anti-corporate activism based on the graphic novel of the same title penned by the anarchist Allan Moore. Curiously, McIntyre’s sister, Wanda McIntyre suggested afterward that her brother disliked wearing masks. In her recollection: “He didn’t really like masks. Maybe that’s one of the reasons he didn’t pursue his welding (career), just that claustrophobia of having something on your face. I know that he had a mask that I ordered for him [a Phantom of the Opera Halloween costume]. That’s the only mask I knew he had” (quoted in Wakefield 2016). While there has been no formal confirmation, witness accounts suggested the mask was a Guy Fawkes mask and this would fit with McIntyre’s identification with Anonymous.

Before the protest James McIntyre tweeted from his twitter account @jaymack9:

“Ready 4 our little showdown? Our people r going 2 b in place at that meeting in Dawson Creek(BC Hydro).”

— jay mack (@jaymack9) July 16, 2015

As in other cases, police first gave priority to restraining McIntyre in handcuffs, as he lay dying, rather than offer any medical assistance.

The Independent Investigations Office initially reported, apparently following police, that the man who caused the disturbance at the Site C dam event was McIntyre. Yet it was afterward revealed that McIntyre was not the man who caused the disturbance that apparently led to police being called in the first place. It appears too that police had a mistaken assumption about McIntyre when they encountered him, believing him to be the person who had acted out during the event in the restaurant. This sort of misidentification is a common occurrence in many cases of police causing harm to civilians leading officers to believe someone poses a threat they do not pose and reacting with higher levels of aggression or violence. There is an assumption in such cases that force must be deployed immediately and police act in a prejudicial way in confronting a non-threatening victim.

No further details have been given or clarification offered regarding what threat, if any McIntyre might have posed. For example, it is not clear why, if he posed a threat, no one viewed it as serious enough to point out beforehand or to contact police, while police were contacted simply for someone being loud and apparently wrecking some displays at the meeting. No details have been provided publicly even to clarify how police came to target McIntyre or what led matters to move quickly to a killing by police.

Police claim they took appropriate steps to de-escalate the encounter. Yet witnesses reported hearing only screaming by police and suggested the encounter was fairly brief before police shot the victim.

There has been no independent confirmation that McIntyre carried or displayed an actual knife at the time police encountered him. The IIO did conclude that a knife was at the scene but did not confirm its connection to James McIntyre. Nor has there been any information provided publicly by police or witnesses to suggest that if McIntyre had a knife he used it in a threatening manner toward police or moved in a threatening way toward the officers.

The man who actually disrupted the Site C event later came forward as Terry Hadland, a Peace Valley wheat farmer who has opposed Site C for decades. He reported that he did not know McIntyre and had not even met the young man prior to the event at Fixx Urban Grill. Yet he now feels a debt to the young man killed in a police intervention meant for him. According to Hadland: “(McIntyre) created a diversion so I could get away. He stepped up and took that shot for me, that’s for sure” (quoted in Wakefield 2016). A terrible and stark realization. And why should anyone be executed by police simply for protesting environmental harm and destruction and in defense of land and communities?

A year after the RCMP killing of James McIntyre and the initiation of the IIO investigation, Terry Hadland says he has never been interviewed by investigators from any service. With disbelief he says: “They have never gotten ahold of me. No, never” (quoted in Trumpener 2016b). Hadland finds this particularly strange given that his actions in tearing up maps and tipping tables triggered the call to RCMP that would result in McIntyre’s killing. In Hadland’s account: “I triggered the whole darn thing because I didn’t want Hydro to get away with smooching up to the public” (quoted in Trumpener 2016b).

After being escorted from the meeting Hadland reported getting in his care and driving directly home. He only heard about the killing the following day. The news hit him hard. In his recollection: “Oh, I was devastated. I felt awfully guilty. I could hardly believe that … it was surreal, especially as I began to realize it was me they were out for” (quoted in Trumpener 2016b).

The lack of any interview with Hadland was not for his lack of trying to provide one. Upon hearing of the killing of McIntyre Hadland says he immediately rushed over to the Dawson Creek RCMP Detachment and spoke with an officer for around 20 minutes (Trumpener 2016b). In his telling: “I said, ‘look it, you guys have been duped, because I didn’t do anything down there for you to go down there and shoot somebody” (quoted in Trumpener 2016b).

Incredibly the police wanted to hear none of what he had to say. He remembers vividly that the police “patted me on the back and sent me home” (quoted in Trumpener 2016b). Police tried to present McIntyre, who had given some cover to Hadland as a threat to him. In classic fear panic language RCMP claimed: “It’s a good thing you were there because maybe this guy was really dangerous. And if you hadn’t been there, and a 911 call made, maybe something else would have happened” (quoted in Trumpener 2016b). This is a revealing commentary and it shows the “us versus them” view of the world in which everyone is a dangerous threat or a victim that so strictly frames police perspectives and impels their often lethal actions.

Terry Hadland still has no idea why he has been neither charged for his actions that evening nor interviewed despite his efforts to have his account heard. He says: “I haven’t heard a word. The investigation, I don’t think it can be thorough until they have spoken to me, and they haven’t” (quoted in Trumpener 2016b).

The long-time Site C opponent, who describes himself as a technically challenged old farmer says he has had no association with Anonymous and did not know McIntyre. Sadly, he acknowledges: “But we are now linked forever, he and I” (quoted in Trumpener 2016).

While still under investigation by the IIO for killing McIntyre, the RCMP undertook a separate investigation of McIntyre. They searched his apartment and seized a variety of personal items. For some reason these included model trains according to Veronica McIntyre. The RCMP E Division did not provide any comment on the status of that investigation in response to inquiries from journalists.

Another Anonymous tweet, from Anarcho Anon, on the Saturday following McIntyre’s killing reported that the apartment at which his family lived was raided by police following the shooting. Police claimed that that raid was unrelated. They offered no explanation about why the raid was carried out so close in time to the killing of James McIntyre or what it involved.

The IIO has refused to identify the officers involved in the shooting. Unlike cases of police killings of civilians in the United States, in the Canadian state context police officers who kill are rarely, if ever, identified publicly. Only in cases in which charges are formally brought by the Crown, which are also extremely rare, will officers be named. This is an issue that critics of police brutality and advocates for greater accountability have long raised.

IIO spokesperson Kellie Kilpatrick has stated that the IIO has not dealt with a case with “as many moving parts and changing landscapes as this one” (quoted in Bein 2015). Kilpatrick suggests that the shooting of James McIntyre is one of the most difficult cases the IIO has ever examined. In her words: “This is the first time that we’ve had such a significant change in the information we’re reporting” (quoted in Baluja 2015). Yet apart from the facts of misinformation from police about McIntyre’s conduct at the event and the misidentification of another person who was the actual reason police were called to the scene, Kilpatrick has not said why the case is so difficult.

The officer who shot McIntyre was reportedly assigned to administrative duties, returning to active duty after a period of six months. An April 7 letter from the Ministry of Public Safety that appeared in a Dawson Creek city council agenda noted that three officers took off-duty sick leave after the shooting Wakefield 2015). The Dawson City RCMP has a total of 25 members.

 

A Climate Change Disaster and Threat to Indigenous Communities: Site C

The Site C dam project is a BC Hydro megaproject planned for development in the Peace River Valley in northeastern British Columbia. The proposed 60 meter high mega dam at Site C would flood more than 100 km of the river valley. In addition to the obvious immediate impacts of flooding critics point to the risks of landslides as banks of the reservoir erode with the passage of time. The Site C dam would be the third dam in the valley, added to two existing dams on the Peace River. A major investment for industrial capital the Site C dam project is valued at $8.8 billion.

The Peace River Valley is the home of Treaty 8 First Nations, their hunting, fishing, and trapping grounds. The area is one of the most significant wildlife corridors in the migration corridor from Yellowstone to Yukon (Wilderness Committee n.d.). It is also the site of important old growth boreal forests. The development of the Site C project represents a direct threat, an assault really, on Indigenous communities, cultures, lives, and survival.

The land under threat of flooding is also among the most important agricultural land in northern British Columbia. It is noted for having the only class one soil north of Quesnel (Wilderness Committee n.d.). Many farms will be destroyed if the project goes through. The destruction of such significant agricultural land has raised serious concerns in a period of growing encroachment on agricultural lands. This concern is added to broader concerns about food security particularly for Indigenous communities, and given the destruction of wildlife habitat and food sources on which Indigenous people rely. The project will also submerge valuable carbon sinks (Wilderness Committee n.d.). Mainstream environmentalist David Suzuki has identified the Site C project as a climate change disaster (quoted in Prystupo 2016).

The British Columbia Liberal government claims that it needs the energy provided by Site C to meet provincial needs. Yet this is a political claim. The needs being met are not those of local or provincial residents (regular individual civilians) but rather the desires of multinational capital in the province. In particular the project is about meeting the energy demands of extractives industries, the oil, gas, and mining companies. BC Hydro reports conclude that current demands can be met through energy conservation. Attention can also be given to alternative energy forms. Site C is a public subsidy to the extractives companies. As the Wilderness Committee puts it: “It’s an $8 billion taxpayer subsidy to a dirty fossil fuel industry that needs cheap energy to expand” (n.d.). Incredibly, the federal/provincial Joint Review Panel found that not only was the need for the electricity to be generated by the project not clearly demonstrated but the alternatives to the project had not been assessed. Critics suggest that they were not even considered because the interest is not in meeting residential demands but rather is solely concerned with industrial demands of corporations.

Site C was granted environmental assessment approval by the governments of British Columbia and Canada on October 14, 2014. This despite the fact that the Joint Review Panel concluded that Site C would cause irreparable damage to local First Nations communities and fish and wildlife populations (Wilderness Committee n.d.). The BC Liberal government approved construction of the dam on December 16, 2014.

As the prospects of legal challenges from multiple constituencies arose the Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark stated, in anti-democratic fashion, her intention to get construction on the dam “to the point of no return” before a political election in May 2017 could lead to a change in government and possible repeal of the project. BC Hydro has estimated that by the time of the election around $4 billion of construction contracts will be locked in place (Hunter 2016). As of September 2016, construction has moved well along despite opposition.

Scholars and scientists have also raised grave concerns about the Site C project, in terms of environmental impacts and in terms of government obligations to seek and achieve informed consent from Indigenous communities prior to any possible development and to meet Treaty obligations more broadly. In May of 2016 more than 200 high profile Canadian scholars signed a letter expressing their deep concerns about the Site C approval process. The elite Royal Society of Canada wrote a separate letter directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on the federal government to halt construction on the project. The letter from “Concerned Scientists” outlined their intersecting concerns in the following language: “Our assessment is that this process did not accord with the commitments of both the provincial and federal governments to reconciliation with and legal obligations to First Nations, protection of the environment, and evidence-based decision-making with scientific integrity” (quoted in Cheadle 2016). The federal government rejected the appeal and the Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced that the government had “no intention to revisit the Site C environmental assessment” (quoted in McCarthy 2016).

The Treaty 8 First Nations from the Peace River Region are actively and courageously opposing the Site C project. They are defending their communities, cultures, land, and Treaty rights against interests of major multinational capital, local corporations, and provincial and federal governments in Canada. In April of 2016 BC Treaty 8 First Nations filed a legal challenge to the project with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Both the BC Treaty 8 First Nations and the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association have undertaken legal challenges to the project in the federal court of Canada. BC Hydro attempted to have these cases expedited to allow them to continue on their 2016 construction schedule. The court dismissed their request. Court challenges are also being brought by Alberta Treaty 8 First Nations. The Blueberry River First Nation has brought forward a “sweeping challenge” which gets to the heart of Canadian state and Indigenous relations in Canada. Their case cites “a century of broken treaty promises to be able to continue practicing their traditions on the land” (quoted in Gillis 2015).

These are some of the stakes in this important twenty-first century struggle. The battles over Site C raise current issues of colonialism and decolonization, land claims, Indigenous sovereignty, ecological integrity and climate change, and social justice. These are the issues that motivated James McIntyre to oppose the Site C project and to take an active stand in doing so. Inevitably these are the struggles that he put his life on the line for. In the support of government and corporate interests and against Indigenous, social, and ecological justice the RCMP were willing to kill. And did kill.

Keith LaRiviere has continued to act and speak out against the Site C dam since his cousin’s killing. LaRiviere has participated in protest events such as the Paddle for Peace, a canoe demonstration against Site C in 2016. And this matters to him, not only for James but for the land and community. In his view: “It’s not just a family issue, this is an environmental issue” (quoted in Trumpener 2016a). And it is an issue that has galvanized broad support in defense of the land and communities and against Site C. Against the community opposition the supporters of Site C are largely the state and capital.

This is a message that James McIntyre was working to get out. The RCMP silenced that particular voice but the message continues as has community organizing against Site C. As LaRiviere suggests: “He was worried about the Peace country being destroyed by another dirty project. If that’s Jim’s message, don’t stifle his voice” (quoted in Trumpener 2016a).

In response to the killing of McIntyre, BC Hydro postponed several scheduled job fairs for Site C that were to have been held in northern British Columbia that month. The postponed job fairs were scheduled for the communities of Chetwynd, Fort St. John, and Tumbler Ridge. They also said they would review their policies and procedures around public meetings. In public statement BC Hydro announced: “BC Hydro is currently evaluating its policies and procedures for public meetings. The postponement of the job fairs will give us time to complete this task…Our intent is to ensure the safety of our staff and members of the public” (quoted in CBC News 2015b). This move was viewed by many commentators and opponents of Site C alike really as a measure to keep opponents out and critical voices from being heard.

A moderate environmental group, the Wilderness Committee, also decided to cancel a protest planned for the week McIntyre was killed outside of BC Hydro’s Vancouver offices. This was a strange choice given that McIntyre was killed opposing a project the Wilderness Committee also opposes. A better option might have been to protest at an RCMP detachment in the Metro Vancouver area. That would have honored McIntyre’s commitment and sacrifice.

 

On Anonymity

Anonymity has become a marker of modern life in industrial capitalist society and the mass politics of liberal democracy. Anonymity is built right into the key structures and institutions of everyday life in modern capitalism. In work, people are anonymous producers playing a part that is often indistinct, general, replaceable, lacking the uniqueness of skilled, artisanal work. This is an aspect of the alienation from labor that Marx so famously addresses.

In politics, mass democracy renders political action, by definition, an anonymous, nameless, unidentifiable, indistinct activity behind a screen at a ballot box every four or five years. The political actor, rendered as a voter, is further made anonymous between elections in the mass regurgitation of incessant, nameless poll results.

In the urbanity of capitalist life, which has now, for the first time in human history, compelled most people on the planet to live in cities, residents live in close proximity to people they do not know, who do not know them, and experience literally thousands of anonymous interactions with people every year, from buying a newspaper, to getting on the bus, to attending a concert, to simply passing in the street.

Anonymity finds perhaps its most idiomatic or iconic moment in time spent online in which people can post intense, intimate feelings or thoughts in forms, such as online comments, twitter, or websites and blogs, which are strictly anonymous.

It is perhaps characteristic of the age and social structure of contemporary capitalism then that activism has taken the form of anonymity and the anonymous. Indeed, perhaps the most striking political formation or manifestation online is quite literally known as Anonymous. This makes sense both because the internet allows for anonymity but is also representative of the surveillance powers of the capitalist state and corporations that seek to destroy anonymity and name and identify anyone who goes against the state capitalist consensus of accumulation, exploitation, and compliance. Anonymity offers the activist the mask of secrecy and privacy that the state is so determined to deny.

Anonymous is the name of a decentered, loose affinity group of online activists and hackers. Their decentered nature means they are largely formless and structureless. As communications scholar and McGill University Professor Gabriella Coleman suggests: “Anonymous is a little bit hard to define, because it’s a collective name that anyone around the world can take” (quoted in Early Edition 2015).  They share mostly an action orientation and an identity, important narrative practices, and symbolism. It is a banner that can be adopted by diverse users as needs and circumstances arise (Shantz and Tomblin 2014).

By their nature in being an anonymous grouping that seeks privacy and avoidance of security their members are largely unknown, nameless, unidentifiable. Gabriella Coleman suggests that what is known of the demographics of the grouping places most of its members as youth between the ages of 15 and 35. Much of the demographic information known about Anonymous comes from those members who have been arrested. Thus, that information might say more about the people who are caught than about the broader participant group.

Anonymous provided James McIntyre an ideal expression for political action. It reflected his introverted nature and love of privacy. It reflected his preference of being alone, unidentified, rather than being a public figure or socially recognized. Keith LaRiviere identified his cousin’s major characteristics as “isolation and [a] huge brain” (quoted in Trumpener 2016a). This, it would seem are major characteristics of many who find affinity with, and/or act on behalf of, Anonymous. For LaRiviere: “Making a statement with that mask makes all the sense in the world to me for Jim, because he was alone in his life,” (quoted in Trumpener 2016a).

Anonymous activists approach activism through a mix of new and old tactics from denial of service attacks and hacks to whistleblowing or public shaming.  Coleman notes that Anonymous was initially known primarily as a prankster grouping gaining notoriety for internet pranks. Since 2008 they have turned to direct action and political campaigns, projects, and interventions. Among the issues they have become known for taking involve state or corporate intrusion on privacy, issues of censorship, opposition to surveillance, and matters of free speech.

With the emergence of Black Lives Matter and movements against police brutality since the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the group has actively supported civilians opposing police violence. Operation Ferguson provided support for protesters speaking out and mobilizing against the racist policing practices of the Ferguson force that killed Michael Brown. They have worked to see the names of officers involved in the killing of civilians released publicly. They have also brought attention on disruptive and interfering police officials and police association representatives who have operated to shield police who kill civilians or who eek to blame the victims. Since Ferguson this work has continued in cases involving police harm to civilians in the United States and Canada.

In terms of activism Anonymous has been most well-known for DDOS, or distributed denial of service, attacks in which overwhelming traffic is directed to a target website causing the server to shut down. The site becomes inaccessible. This is a way to shut down an offending institution’s online venues and potentially cost money, supporters, and/or sponsors. Anonymous has also publicized confidential documents and publicized information in a form of whistleblowing to the public (Shantz and Tomblin 2014).

More recently the group has turned to doxing. This practice has been used to “out” offending individuals by releasing their names and private information such as phone numbers or home addresses. This particular tactic has been used in cases of police violence to name relevant officers involved. Anonymous usually follows through on its threats in cases like the policing killing of James McIntyre. Although it might be noted that the impact is usually one of publicity or shaming more than severe consequences for government or corporations. As Coleman suggests: “They don’t usually make a call and then do nothing. Many times they will exaggerate what they will do” (quoted in Early Edition 2015). In Coleman’s assessment, in a case like this the most credible and impactful threat would likely be doxing.

In one particularly significant action against Canadian government and security forces Anonymous took responsibility for shutting down the websites of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Canadian government’s spy agency, in an appeal for Canadians to oppose Bill C-51 in 2015. C-51 is a repressive piece of legislation that became law as the Anti-Terror Act of 2015. It contains provisions that give CSIS investigative powers, allow for the criminalization of so-called bad thoughts only (rather than terrorist actions), and allows for the criminalization of economic activity such as strikes, boycotts, or blockades. It also extends possibilities for criminalization of protests, particularly those against energy projects. The law also gives police additional powers to arrest people pre-emptively.

While primarily viewed as an online phenomenon, every once in a while we are reminded that any activism also occurs in the real, material world where all activists must live, work, love, and play. This fact is violently reinforced when, as in James McIntyre’s case, an Anonymous member is killed by a security force. After the RCMP killing of James McIntyre, Anonymous claimed that McIntyre was the fourth of its members to be killed by security forces around the world in four years.

 

An Anonymous Life

McIntyre’s friends and family described him as a gentle, quiet man who did not interact much with people directly. He was said to be quite intelligent and thoughtful. McIntyre was said to be very close with his family regularly attending family gatherings. He had only moved out and into his own apartment a few years before police killed him. Even then, a devoted son and family member, McIntyre rented his apartment a floor above his mother’s apartment. McIntyre’s mom, Veronica, said he often talked about the Site C project which greatly troubled him.

James McIntyre was raised along with four siblings by Veronica, a single mother. He spent his early years in the Dawson Creek area attending elementary school in Pouce Coupe and Central Middle School in Dawson Creek. The family moved to Grande Prairie, Alberta where McIntyre graduated from St. Joseph Catholic High. Following high school James joined his brothers in the trades, working several years as a welder primarily at mills in northern British Columbia and Alberta. (Wakefield 2016). McIntyre returned to Dawson Creek in 2008. He worked at Chances Casino and Le’s Family Restaurant.

An afficionado of model trains from an early age, McIntyre used the internet to connect with model train enthusiasts from all over. In the words of his sister Wanda McIntyre: “He was train crazy. His apartment was kind of small so he couldn’t have a big layout. He got a computer I think probably for the train aspect” (quoted in Wakefield 2016). His interest in model trains and use of online media to discuss them may have opened new venues for his broader interests in environment and land.

Unassuming and a dedicated worker, McIntyre had received notice in the local newspapers only once, for winning an employee award for his work as a dishwasher, before his sensational killing by police garnered international media attention. McIntyre worked as a dishwasher at a local restaurant and casino and apparently loved the job as it afforded him time to himself away from the attentions of others.

Family described McIntyre as “straight edge,” eschewing smokes, drugs, and alcohol. According to his cousin Keith LaRiviere: “He didn’t go out and play. He didn’t join the baseball team with us. He didn’t drink. He didn’t have a girlfriend. He didn’t drive a car. He wouldn’t cross the road except at a crosswalk. He was soft” (quoted in Trumpener 2016a). McIntyre was a hard worker who saved his money largely to attend model train conventions, attending events in Prince George, Berkeley, California, and Reno, Nevada (Wakefield 2016). The owner of Le’s Family Restaurant, Le Nguyen described McIntyre as a “normal guy” (quoted in Wakefield 2016).

Committed to environmental care, McIntyre developed his own recycling program to sort bottles and cans at work in the absence of an employer developed program. McIntyre recycled the materials at Chances Casino taking them to bins outside a Walmart near the casino. According to his sister Wanda McIntyre: “He was very much an environmentalist, he was always trying to recycle and do stuff like that, but he wasn’t an extremist. I don’t know how he even found out about it, whether he knew someone who was into it and brought him into the fold, I had no idea. He never talked about it to me” (quoted in Wakefield 2016). His mother shared this perspective. She knew her son was concerned about the environment but did not speak with him about how and why he came to be actively concerned about the Site C project specifically. In her recollection: “I don’t know why he got involved with that Site C dam. He was concerned about that. I guess it was just the environment, and he felt for the people there. (That’s) why he voiced his opinion” (quoted in Wakefield 2016).

 

Anonymous Responds

Anonymous identified McIntyre as a “fallen comrade.” The response by Anonymous to the police killing of James McIntyre was named “Operation Anon Down” and was designed to achieve “justice (and vengeance if necessary) for our fallen comrade in Dawson Creek” (Early Edition 2015). They released statements calling for accountability for the officers involved. They tweeted messages directly to the RCMP.

“Ohai @rcmpgrcpolice we would like to report a murder of one of our comrades by some of your officers. Shall we expect justice or cover up?

7:45 PM – 17 Jul 2015”

The Anonymous statement after the killing of James McIntyre went further:

“In their statement, Anonymous also said that “an RCMP officer mercilessly shot and killed a masked anon without provocation or cause,” and “if Canadian police were as brave as Canadian nurses they could deal with people with knives without hiding behind bullets.”

“We will most certainly avenge our own,” the group said, adding that they will also fundraise to cover the costs of the burial of their fallen comrade.

“If we do not receive justice, rest assured there will be revenge,” they said. “Behind this mask is an idea, and ideas are bullet-proof.” (Bein 2015)

 

In response to the RCMP killing of James McIntyre, Anonymous called on people to protest at RCMP headquarters in every province. The day after Anonymous released a statement on McIntyre’s killing, the RCMP’s national website was shut down for several hours. RCMP sites in British Columbia and Dawson Creek also crashed on the Sunday following McIntyre’s killing (CBC 2015a).

Then Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the threats were taken seriously but offered little insight into the government response. In a public statement he offered this platitude on passive democracy: “There are many ways this country enjoys freedom to express our democratic views. I invite those who want to express their views to use democratic ways. Those who don’t expose themselves to face the full force of the law” (quoted in Kane 2015). The government said it would leave matters of investigation to the Independent Investigations Office, a strange response since that agency only looks into harms caused to civilians by police. It has no mandate to investigate perceived threats to government websites.

Indeed, the RCMP did carry out some investigation into social media activities of Anonymous following their threats on the RCMP website. Minister Blaney did note that the government viewed security issues as a priority and dedicated funding to work with capital (private businesses) to target electronic threats. This made clear the role of government in acting as a security service for capital (at working class taxpayer expense). For the government, according to Blaney: “We are constantly monitoring cyber security and cyberattacks” (quoted in Kane 2015).

 

Conclusion: The Death of Truth

According to Keith LaRiviere: “Jim didn’t deserve to die in a brutal manner. The man lying on the ground was not a criminal. He was a victim of police violence” (quoted in Trumpener 2016a). Wanda McIntrye cannot say what the family would hope to get from any investigation into her brother’s killing. Regardless of the investigation’s outcome, her brother will still be as dead. In her words: “We’re still in shock. I guess the outcome is what the outcome is, whatever we say or do. It’s not going to change the fact” (quoted in Wakefield 2016).

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead appears to share the perspective that this killing did not need to happen. In his words” Somebody lost their life yesterday, senselessly in my view, and I just hate the fact that it happened in my community” (quoted in Baluja 2015). People in British Columbia have long raised questions about the disproportionate use of lethal force by police, RCMP in particular, in small towns and especially small northern towns.

The details of his killing by police, as is typically the case with regard to police killings of civilians in Canada, will likely not come out publicly. As James McIntyre’s cousin Keith LaRiviere is left to conclude: “The truth is with Jim. The truth is with a dead man” (quoted in Trumpener 2016a). Wanda McIntyre is left with a similar feeling. In her view: “There’s no answers, and the only person with the answers is gone” (quoted in Wakefield 2016).

While appreciating the sentiment involved, that is not entirely true. RCMP officers involved in the shooting, and certainly those who killed James McIntyre, surely have some answers as to what happened that night in Dawson Creek. But, as is typical in the Canadian context when police kill civilians, the police are not required to provide those answers and there are virtually no mechanisms for a thorough, truthful reporting of events anyway.

 

Further Reading

Baluja, Tamara. 2015. “Dawson Creek Police Shoot Man Who Refused to Throw Away Weapon, Witness Claims.” CBC News. July 17. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/dawson-creek-police-shoot-man-who-refused-to-throw-away-weapon-witness-claims-1.3158360

Bein, Sierra. 2015. “Everything We Know about the Death of an Anonymous ‘Comrade’ in RCMP Shooting.” Vice News. July 20. http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/everything-we-know-about-the-death-of-an-anonymous-comrade-in-rcmp-shooting

CBC News. 2015a. “Activist Group Anonymous Vows to Avenge Dawson Creek Shooting.” CBC News. July 18. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/activist-group-anonymous-vows-to-avenge-dawson-creek-shooting-1.3159093

CBC News. 2015b. “Site C Job Fairs Postponed after Man Shot Outside Dawson Creek Meeting.” CBC News. July 22. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/site-c-job-fairs-postponed-after-man-shot-outside-dawson-creek-meeting-1.3162600

Cheadle, Bruce. 2016. “Royal Society of Canada, Academics Call Site C Dam a Test for Trudeau Liberals.” The Canadian Press. May 24. http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/royal-society-of-canada-academics-call-site-c-dam-a-test-for-trudeau-liberals-1.2914588

Early Edition. 2015. “Anonymous: What Is It and How Serious Are Its Threats?” CBC News. July 21. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/anonymous-what-is-it-and-how-serious-are-its-threats-1.3160906

Gillis, Damien. 2015. “Landowners Launch Site C Dam Court Challenge, First Nations Next.” Common Sense Canadian. http://commonsensecanadian.ca/VIDEO-detail/landowners-launch-site-c-dam-court-challenge-first-nations-next/

Hunter, Justine. 2016. “Site C Not the Best Choice for B.C.’s Energy Needs, Report Author Says.” Globe and Mail. March 4. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/site-c-not-the-best-choice-for-bcs-energy-needs-report-author-says/article29024804/

Kane, Laura. 2015. “Safety Minister Says Anonymous Threats against RCMP Taken Seriously.” Canadian Press. July 21. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/safety-minister-says-anonymous-threats-against-rcmp-taken-seriously-1.3162661

McCarthy, Shawn. 2016. “Ottawa Pushes Ahead with Site C Dam amid Opposition among Academics.” Globe and Mail. May 24. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/royal-society-of-canada-academics-call-on-ottawa-to-halt-site-c-project/article30127279/

Prystupa, Mychaylo. 2016. “Site C is a Climate-Change Disaster, Says Suzuki.” The Tyee. February 23. http://thetyee.ca/News/2016/02/23/Site-C-Climate-Disaster/

Shantz, Jeff and Jordon Tomblin. 2014. Cyber-Disobedience. Re://Presenting Online Anarchy. London: Zero Books

Trumpener, Betsy. 2016a. “Unmasked: The Face of Anonymous Activist Shot Dead by RCMP.” CBC News. July 14. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/anonymous-activist-was-gentle-innocent-metis-man-says-cousin-1.3677750

Trumpener, Betsy. 2016b. “Retired Farmer Whose Site C Protest Triggered RCMP Shooting Never Interviewed by Investigators.” CBC News. July 18. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/retired-farmer-linked-to-r-c-m-p-shooting-of-anonymous-james-mcintyre-never-interviewed-by-iio-1.3684141

Wakefield, Jonny. 2016. “’I Will Never Know What Got Into Him’: One Year Later, Family Members Masked Man Shot by RCMP.” Dawson Creek Mirror. July 14. http://www.dawsoncreekmirror.ca/dawson-creek/i-will-never-know-what-got-into-him-one-year-later-family-remembers-masked-man-shot-by-rcmp-1.2297766

Wilderness Committee. n.d. “Stop the Site C Dam.” https://www.wildernesscommittee.org/sitec


When is a Terror Bomb Something Else?: On the RCMP Killing of Aaron Driver

The killing of Aaron Driver by RCMP on August 10, 2016, in what police have claimed was an anti-terrorism sting has raised a number of serious questions about the nature of the RCMP operation, the police relationship with Driver beforehand, the timing of the police intervention, and the seriousness of the threat, if any, actually posed by Driver. The only information circulating publicly is based on the word of the police and the lone known witness the cabbie, Terry Duffield, called by Driver before the police ambush and in whose taxi Driver was killed by an RCMP bullet.

RCMP claim to have intervened against Driver on the basis of a tip by the FBI that someone in Canada was planning an imminent terrorist attack in a public space. Yet their actions in approaching and killing Driver call into question the response taken to what police are claiming was a real, imminent, threat.

 

What Manner of Terror Bomb Explodes Killing No One?

Police initially intimated that Aaron Driver had been killed by a bomb that he held and which he detonated upon seeing police approach the cab he was sitting in. Yet an autopsy released by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), who are investigating the actions of the RCMP has apparently revealed that Driver was killed by police bullets. The autopsy showed that several police bullets struck Driver, piercing vital organs (Rieti 2016).

Aaron Driver’s father, Wayne Driver, reported that his son was killed by a police bullet that struck his heart. The supposed bomb he carried could not have killed him. According to Wayne Driver:  “It was the police officer’s bullet that killed him. The bomb that exploded he could have walked away from with minor to severe injuries they said” (quoted in Bell 2016a).

According to police Driver was even allowed to leave the vehicle after the explosion. In the words of RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana: “Subsequent to that he came out of the cab and was standing up and was not following the direction that was provided” (quoted in Bell 2016b). And police had no opportunity to act before then given the imminent peril they claim?

This raises one rather large, fundamental, question. How could a bomb that was supposed to pose an imminent threat to broad public safety not be powerful enough to kill even the single person holding it on his lap? Now it is possible that Driver simply messed up in making it. It is also possible, especially given questions raised below about the police actions and the timing of their intervention that they had some knowledge of the bomb beforehand and had reason to expect that the bomb would do little or no harm. Perhaps because police had designed it and helped prepare it, as a dud, in much the manner they did for John Nuttall and Amanda Korody in entrapping that unfortunate couple.

 

Danger to Whom?: Why Not Protect the Cabbie?

The Strathroy, Ontario, taxi driver in whose cab Aaron Driver was shot and killed would certainly like to know why the police did not act sooner to protect him and to intercept the supposed terrorist before he entered the taxi carrying what RCMP have claimed were two bombs. RCMP officers already had Driver’s home surrounded when Terry Duffield drove his taxi cab into the driveway around 4:30 PM. According to police they swarmed the cab within seconds of Driver entering the back seat. Police claim that with the approach of police Driver detonated one explosive. RCMP claim that it was only in response to that detonation that they shot and killed Driver. In addition to the questions about the nature of a bomb, and its potential to cause mass harm, which could detonate in someone’s lap and not even kill that person directly, there is the question about why police waited, if they really believed Driver carried a serious bomb that posed substantial threat, until he was inside a car with an innocent bystander before approaching him. Why would they give him a chance to detonate the supposed bomb or bombs at all?

For his part Terry Duffield is furious with how police acted, risking his life if their account is true, and is promising legal action against the force. Duffield claims he is still dealing with the shock of that morning’s events and is taking medications for the resulting back pain and stress. In his words: “There will be legal action taken on this. They put my life in jeopardy” (quoted in CBC News 2016). Duffield, like many observers, is perplexed, to say the least, that police, if they really believed they were dealing with a terrorist carrying explosives and out to launch an “imminent attack,” would not stop the suspect before he put a bystander’s (the public’s) life in danger.

In Duffield’s view, police could have and should have done more to protect him than they did. In his words:

“I don’t think police handled it very well at all. They did absolutely nothing to help me. At no time did they try to warn me. At no time did they try to stop my vehicle from entering the address…This gentleman was allowed to walk in front of my car, down the side of my car, get in my car and all of these sharp-shooters, all these SWAT teams and all these people who were supposed to be around, nobody did anything until after the bomb went off.” (quoted in CBC News 2016)

This raises real, significant, questions. It makes the critic wonder if police had reason to believe that Driver’s bomb was a phony, incapable of exploding, much like the one that RCMP helped to build for John Nuttall and Amada Korody in their infamous entrapment case of two poor, marginalized, people dealing with addition and mental health issues in Surrey, British Columbia three years before the river case. Perhaps police believed the bomb was no bomb at all (because they had assisted in or directed its’ making). Perhaps the cabbie was part of the public anti-terror takedown gone wrong (there is no evidence of this at this point and Duffield would seem sincere in his claims). In initial reports it was said that Duffield jumped from the taxi before the bomb was detonated. More recent reports (CBC News 2016) say that police ordered him to leave the car after the bomb had already been detonated.

Duffield had a follow up interview with police and specifically asked why the force did not offer him any protection in their operation that morning. The cabbie remains dissatisfied that police offered him no explanation. The public seeks one as well. Duffield, who has retained a lawyer and intends to pursue legal action, and curious observers alike, are left to ponder.

 

Maintaining Secrecy and Unaccountability in Anti-Terror Cases: No Independent Investigation

Confounding all of this is the fact that there has been, and there will be, no independent public investigation into the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver and any or all of the questionable circumstances surrounding it. Provincial police have been tasked with the investigation into Driver’s shooting at the request of the Strathroy-Caradoc Police Service (Rieti 2016). The OPP and Strathroy-Caradoc police “continue to jointly investigate the incident” under direction of the head of the OPP’s criminal investigations branch. That is, the police, and only the police, are “investigating” the police in this case. That has been a consistent recipe for cover up, hush up, distortion, and distraction. And legitimation.

All of this is in keeping with the secrecy, lack of transparency, obfuscation, and disassembly that have been the hallmarks of anti-terror practices in Canada. This includes the secretive actions of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment Canada (Canada’s NSA) as well as notorious instruments like security certificates which violate all notions of due process and allow for the state to detain people for indefinite periods while subjecting then to “trials” without disclosure or even a reading of charges against them, ad without proper representation or defense.

 

Further Reading

Bell, Stewart. 2016a. “ISIL Supporter Aaron Driver Was Killed by Police Gunfire, Not Explosive Device He Detonated, Family Says.” The National Post. August 16. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/isil-supporter-aaron-driver-was-killed-by-police-gunfire-and-not-explosive-device-he-detonated-family-says

Bell, Stewart. 2016b. “Aaron Driver’s ‘More Powerful’ Bomb Never Exploded, RCMP Says, Revealing New Details of Tense Confrontation.” The National Post. August 20. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/aaron-drivers-more-powerful-bombs-never-detonated-rcmp-says-revealing-new-details-of-tense-confrontation

CBC News. 2016. “Aaron Driver’s Cabbie Plans Legal Action against Police.” CBC News. August 18. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/aaron-driver-taxi-bombing-1.3726701?cmp=rss

Rieti, John. 2016. “Aaron Driver Autopsy Shows RCMP Bullet Killed ISIS Sympathizer.” CBC News. August 16. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/aaron-driver-autopsy-1.3722972


Invasive Policing, Thought Control, and “De-Radicalization”: Fear Politics after the Police Killing of Aaron Driver

The shooting and killing of Aaron Driver (24) by RCMP in Strathroy, Ontario on August 10, 2016 has, as expected, served as a launching point for a variety of government trial balloons on increasing and expanding repressive state policies and practices under the panic conditions of publicly stoked fear over domestic terrorism within Canada. Some of the early proposals from the government may suggest to the concerned observer the manifestation of a sequence on re-education or de-programing from A Clockwork Orange. In any event it is clear that the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver has served the function (perhaps intentional from the point of view of the state) of providing the necessary cover to bring forward a new regimen of repressive anti-terror governance and social regulation. Even as more questions are being raised by the circumstances of someone being killed for planning a terror attack despite the fact that the bomb he supposedly detonated on his lap was not strong enough to kill even himself (as this week’s coroner’s report showed Driver was killed by a police bullet as he was shot twice by police) (Ballingall 2016).

 

Fear Politics and New Regimes of Repression in Canada

The police operation that ended in the killing of Driver was carried out within a specific context of growing calls for review, revision, or repeal of the Canadian government’s controversial and widely opposed Anti-Terrorism Act (better known as C-51). The timing of the Driver killing, in a period of public review and criticism of anti-terror legislation is not unique. Indeed previous recent cases, such as the police shooting of supposed “lone wolf” Michael Zehaf-Bibeau at Parliament Hill in 2014 and the announcement of the arrests of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody in 2013 (in a case since ruled in court to be entirely police entrapment), occurred within a context of discussion over the Canadian state’s anti-terrorism regime and policies.

Jeff Shantz and Hisham Ramadan (2016) have outlined the political mechanisms by which fear is converted to repressive policy, particularly within the context of even events associated, even falsely, with (imagined) terrorism. Their discussions detail and explain the manipulation of state involved “terror plots” and the public discussion of responses (by police, courts, government) to them in dramatizing the need for more repressive regimes to address supposed “home grown terrorism.”

Only a week after the RCMP shot Aaron Driver, a young man already processed through the courts and released on an anti-terror peace bond restricting his movements and access to cell phones and the internet, and the federal Liberal government is already, again as expected, making noises about new repressive policies which would allow for increased surveillance as well as intrusive measures to control people’s “bad thoughts.”

In a presentation to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in Ottawa, on August 17, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale revealed that the federal government is looking to make so-called counter-radicalization counselling mandatory for anyone under an anti-terrorism peace bonds. Notably, this provision has been part of C-51 but was struck down by a Winnipeg judge in the case involving Aaron Driver.

Goodale has insisted that a federal consultation on national security must be undertaken and he expects it to conclude by the end of 2016. Notably, Goodale has positioned this consultation as a means to innovate new repressive and intrusive measures rather than as a mechanism of ratcheting down anti-terror policies and procedures (such as ending security certificates which have been used to hold racialized, migrants under vague government claims of some association with terrorism, under conditions that violate due process or by abolishing the anti-terror list which is used to criminalize resistance movements that oppose ally states of the Canadian government).

Tellingly the Liberal government is using the police killing of Aaron Driver to openly promote the idea of counter-radicalization, which, in fact, they had raised before the Driver shooting and which had, at that time, raised obvious red flags for critics.  The federal government actually views the establishment of a federal office of counter-radicalization as a centerpiece of their anti-terror regime. The office of counter-radicalization would serve as “a national focal point for research, counselling and intervention services” (Bronskill 2016a). Goodale, in speaking to the chiefs of police re-stated the government’s prioritization of this center for controlling “bad thoughts” and re-education. And despite Goodale’s simultaneous claim that consultation and reflection are key to the government approach going forward he unapologetically presents this initiative as one that must happen without public consulation or review before the end of this summer. According to Goodale: “We are in the process of recruiting the person that will lead the effort. And we are determined to get this office up and running toward the end of the summer, the beginning of the fall. The incident is Strathroy demonstrates how very important this priority is” (quoted in Bronskill 2016a). Note that the police killing of Aaron Driver is openly asserted as the impetus for rushing the “bad thoughts” center into existence. Interestingly Goodale acknowledged that there had been efforts to de-radicalized or counsel Driver but they had not been systematic.

Goodale again referenced the Aaron Driver case, and what he supposedly represents, in justifying the de-radicalization, re-education center. According to Goodale, the government views as among its greatest security concerns the so-called “lone wolves” who are drawn to “extreme ideologies (Bronskill 2016a). In his words: “We need to understand what positive messages can counteract the insidious poison that draws people in, especially young people (quoted in Bronskill 2016a). No word from Goodale what the positive messages involve but one might guess from Liberal government practice they should include the benefits of war in Iraq and Syria and the selling of arms to the brutal terror regime in Saudi Arabia.

Minister Goodale has also raised the prospect of putting people released on peace bonds under constant surveillance. He noted that Driver was not under constant surveillance, something the RCMP bemoan. According to Goodale:  “That is obviously a lesson that one needs to look at very carefully, as a result of the incident in Strathroy. And we are examining very carefully what we need to do to make our police and security activity more effective” (quoted in Bronskill 2016a). Again, we should remember that peace bonds can be and are placed on people under virtually no evidence at a threshold much lower than would ever lead to successful prosecution. So the real result of the government proposal would be to allow constant surveillance of people who show no or minimal signs of actually engaging in a terrorist act. Such would have been contentious to say the least before the killing of Aaron Driver. It is now a supposed necessity, a lesson learned from that case. Goodale refused to comment on whether surveillance has in fact been stepped up for the dozen or so people who are currently under anti-terrorism peace bonds (Bronskill 2016a).

 

Turn Over Your Password: Invasive Policing and the Terror Panic

Minister Goodale was not prepared to stop there however and has raised the prospect of giving police what they want in terms of invasive policing. In his meeting with the chiefs of police Goodale also gave notice that Canadians “need to think about how far police should be allowed to go in accessing their electronic devices and communications” (Bronskill, 2016b). Indeed, following the Driver killing, the government is going to use the occasion of a federal review of cybersecurity to discuss a proposal prepared by the country’s police chiefs for a new law that would compel people to reveal their passwords with the court’s consent (Bronskill 2016b).

At his meeting with police chiefs, Goodale “acknowledged that smartphones contain a wealth of personal data and can reveal much more about a person than an ordinary physical search might” (Bronskill 2016b). While conceding that people do value their privacy, Goodale also suggested that people would be willing to compromise that concern in order to give police more tools, particularly to pursue terror related activities. According to Goodale: “I think Canadians recognize the imperatives on both sides” (quoted in Bronskill 2016b). Yet this is not a matter of weighing equivalences. Either police have access to deeply personal private information or they do not. And one must always ask under what circumstances they gain access. Again, connecting this access to a peace bond would be connecting it to potentially nothing in terms of real evidence or legitimate concern. Civil liberties groups and privacy critics have suggested that such legislation would be unconstitutional (something that has certainly never deterred police chiefs or their supporters in government).

While the public has shown no desire for such legislation or interest in debating it, Goodale is using the Driver case to suggest that debate on this policy is now needed. According to Goodale:

“This is a critically important subject area, and one that — for one reason or another — has not been subject to adequate public discussion. I think over the course of the fall, it will. And that will help us as a government and it will also help police forces and security agencies to define the parameters.” (quoted in Bronskill 2016b)

 

Never mind that there has been much public opposition to similar proposals from the former ruling Conservative government. He RCMP killing of Aaron Driver has changed the terrain of operations for the Liberal government. How fortuitous indeed.

Minister Goodale also used the occasion to raise the panic figure of the lone wolf in a basement. In his words:

“The hackers and scammers who are constantly trying to break into our information systems are a motley but potent combination of foreign states, militaries, terror groups, organized crime, petty thieves and vandals, and even that lonely computer geek in his underwear in the basement.” (quoted in Bronskill 2016b)

 

Goodale also noted that this is also a real opportunity for investment or profit for small and large firms alike. Again this is a further convergence in the anti-terror trajectory of neoliberal accumulation.

 

Conclusion

All of these utterances, musings, and proposals for repressive and invasive state policies and practices have been presented within the space of only a single week following the police killing of Aaron Driver. For those of us observing and commenting on government anti-terror regimes, fear politics, and state regulatory frameworks more broadly such moves by the government after the Driver killing were, far from being surprising, actually expected at least generally if not in these specifics (see Shantz 2016).

In this the police killing of Aaron Driver, within the context of an as yet unconfirmed attempt at terrorism, stands with other cases such as the Germinal collective set up in 2001, the Zehaf-Bibeau killing, and the Nuttall and Korody entrapment. We should expect that further, more extensive, invasive, and punitive policies and practices will emerge and be brought forward under the guise of public consultation (framed and shadowed by the Aaron Driver case). Such is the position of the killing of Aaron Driver within the manufacture of social phobias and fear in the current social and political context within the Canadian state (a state that is, remember, active in war).

 

Further Reading

Ballingall, Alex. 2016. “Terrorist Suspect Killed by RCMP Bullet, Family Says.” Toronto Star. August 16. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/08/16/terrorist-suspect-killed-by-rcmp-bullet-family-says.html

Bronskill, Jim. 2016a. “Feds Eyeing Mandatory Counselling for Terror Suspects under Peace Bonds: Goodale.” Winnipeg Free Press. August 17. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/feds-eyeing-mandatory-counselling-for-terror-suspects-under-peace-ponds-goodale-390442731.html

Bronskill, Jim. 2016b. “Should Police See Your Data? Think about it Says Goodale.” Toronto Star. August 17. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/08/17/should-police-see-your-data-think-about-it-says-goodale.html

Shantz, Jeff. 2016. “Degradation Ceremonies: Fear Discourses, Phobic Production, and the Military Metaphysic in Canada.” In Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice, Hisham Ramadan and Jeff Shantz (eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Shantz, Jeff and Hisham Ramadan. 2016. “Phobic Constructions: Psychological, Sociological, Criminological Articulations.” In Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice, Hisham Ramadan and Jeff Shantz (eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press


Deceptive and Repressive Force: The Aaron Driver Killing, Police Distortions, and Anti-Terror Cases in Canada

Serious questions need to be asked in the wake of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) killing of supposed terror suspect Aaron Driver (24), shot by RCMP officers on August 10 following an apparent tip from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). RCMP claim Driver detonated an explosive device in a cab and that he was killed because he had access to another device.  Among the questions that require answers are how someone who was on a terror peace bond which restricted his actions and access to the internet could compile information and materials to build a bomb and build it under such conditions. It must also be answered why someone under watch by RCMP as a terror suspect was able to leave his house with two supposed bombs with no intervention beforehand (and after the supposed tip was received).

These questions, and questions about RCMP anti-terror operations more broadly, are particularly pressing given that the killing of Driver comes within a month of a major court decision finding that the RCMP had entrapped two poor people, dealing with mental health and addiction issues, in a phony police created and directed “terror threat.” In that case the RCMP spent millions of dollars in labor and resource to target and prime two poor residents of Surrey, B.C., John Nutall and Amanda Korody, lavishing gifts and attention on them in an attempt to get them to go along with a fake terror plot instigated and planned by the RCMP. The court decision confirmed that the threat came only from the RCMP, who conceived it and provided all of the means to carry it out (the supposed bomb had no detonator), and who manipulated the reluctant and confused couple to go along, even as they offered resistance, for fear of losing the newfound benefits being provided by the RCMP (in meals, companionship, etc.).

Given this context the real, and fundamental, question is why anyone should trust and accept the RCMP version of events. This case has the markings of distortion and deception that mark other so-called anti-terror investigations in the Canadian state context from the Germinal Collective case (even before 9/11) to “Project Thread,” through the “Toronto 18,” to the entrapment of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. In the Germinal Collective, “Toronto 18” and Nuttall and Korody cases in particular, the police were actively, centrally, involved in the instigating, planning, encouraging, and operationalizing of terror acts that were never carried out (and never would have been in the absence of police). As Shantz (2016) writes, these cases are primarily designed and carried out to give the police justification for continued or expanded resources and to stoke social fear, social phobias (particularly Islamophobia, fear of migrants, and fear of poor people).

 

The Killing of Aaron Driver

The killing of Aron Driver by RCMP officers apparently began with a tip from the FBI that a person in Canada was possibly planning to carry out a terrorist attack. There have also been reports that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which operates the city’s subway, buses, and trolley cars, received a threat against the transit system. In response to the FBI tip, details of which are not known, the RCMP descended upon the home of Aaron Driver, a young man who had been arrested and released on an anti-terror peace bond for attempting to justify the actions of ISIS as acts of self-defense in a time of war. Driver had not been observed or charged for engaging in any activities related to terrorism. He had been targeted solely for his ideas and social media presence.

On the surface the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver, if one is to believe events as the police describe them, is fairly straightforward. On Wednesday, August 10, 2016, the federal RCMP converged on the house in which Aaron Driver was living in the community of Strathroy, a small city of around 20,000 people in southwestern Ontario. Sometime after 4:00 PM police observed Driver leave his residence and enter a taxi waiting in his driveway. Police report that shortly thereafter, as police approached the vehicle, Driver detonated an explosive device injuring himself and causing minor injuries to the taxi operator. The police also claim seeing a second device and responding by shooting Driver, killing him.

So far all of the details provided have come only from the RCMP who have been the only ones to claim to be witnesses to these events. Yet why should we believe the RCMP account? And what sorts of questions need to be asked about it? A closer look at the Driver case leaves many questions hanging in the air.

 

Punishing Bad Thoughts: The Aaron Driver Case

Of note, Driver had been initially targeted for punishment by police not for any suspected actions but simply for attempting to justify the actions of ISIS in online venues. That is, the police targeting of Aaron Driver was an early effort by the state to criminalize people simply for expressing “bad thoughts”—a repressive policy approach, in violation of civil and human rights, which Conservative and Liberal governments alike have pursued and sought to expand in the Canadian context (on the policing of bad thoughts see Shantz 2014).

Aaron Driver had come to the attention of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in October of 2014 when he was reported to be tweeting support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria under the online name of Harun Abdurahman. Driver had also justified the 2014 attack on a ceremonial officer at Ottawa’s War Memorial and run to Parliament Hill (seat of federal government) by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, as a military response to Canadian military actions in Iraq and Syria. For this Driver was arrested and brought before the court in Winnipeg.

Driver was released on an anti-terror peace bond. Under its terms he was not allowed to associate with any terrorist organization and was under prohibitions against using a computer or cellphone. Driver was also required to live at a specified address in Strathroy, Ontario and to notify a specified RCMP sergeant should there be any changes in his address (Canadian Press 2016).

The peace bond allows for intermediate constraints on a person’s liberty on the basis of evidence that would not be sufficient to prove an actual terrorism offence (Forcese 2016). As one can see there are real spaces for abuse and unjust application with such an instrument. Indeed the court is unlikely to turn down any request by the federal government to apply an anti-terror peace bond.

And recall that John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, who had spent three years incarcerated under what was nothing other than an RCMP entrapment scheme, were re-arrested mere hours after being released following the finding of entrapment. That was clearly a punitive (and mean-spirited) attempt by the government, and RCMP, to save some face or recoup some losses.

After Driver’s killing his former lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, stated publicly that there was no evidence that the young man was in any way directly affiliated with ISIS or with any other supposed terrorist organization (Canadian Press 2016). He found the claims of police against Driver to not fit with the man’s character as he knew him. According to Tailleur: “It’s shocking. Absolutely shocking, actually. He was generally looked to be low risk as long as there’s certain things that had been dealt with” (quoted in Canadian Press 2016)

Tailleur suggested that the killing of Aaron Driver raises some significant questions. He notes that Driver was almost certainly under regular police surveillance (Canadian Press 2016). In Tailleur’s words: “If he was doing his thing, it was kind of ridiculous because I’m certain he was going to be under scrutiny beyond his peace bond. Police would always monitor his whereabouts … They’d make him a priority” (quoted in Canadian Press 2016). So how could he compile materials and instructions to construct two bombs? How could he leave his house with the two bombs in hand? Why was he not stopped before entering a cab and putting a cabbie at risk?

Even from a liberal perspective many questions arise from the killing of Aaron Driver. Legal scholar Craig Forcese outlines some of these:

“How did someone known to authorities and subject to a peace bond get as far as posing a credible (and perhaps actual) suicide bomb threat?

“Why was the police intervention 11th hour, in the nick of time (and perhaps after it, given that there was a reported explosion causing injury)?

“Given the presence of a weapon and that there was apparently a computer video involved, Driver was in clear violation of his peace bond terms (and so basically automatically subject to imprisonment for up to 4 years). So why was there no arrest much earlier?

“Why was there no public warning?

“All of this is to say: Where was the early detection? Was this a resource issue? Did something go missing? Will be discussing a failure to ‘connect the dots’?” (Forcese 2016)

 

All of this leads inexorably to the question: “Was the Aaron Driver killing part of yet another entrapment case, like Germinal and like Nuttall and Korody, which somehow went too far or took an unforeseen turn?” Or: “Was it a dangerous game of chicken in which the RCMP miscalculated?” Regardless of one’s view on the matter of this killing by police, it is clear that answers will not be provided by RCMP or CSIS accounts alone.

 

What Comes of It: Fear Politics and Continuing Repression

To properly understand the real impact and consequences of the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver socially we need only look to current debates over anti-terror laws, particularly the controversial and widely unpopular Anti-Terrorism Act (better known as Bill C-51) initiated by the then-ruling Conservative government prior to the 2016 election, and the recent rebuke of RCMP practices in the Nuttall-Korody decision. This includes a call that emerged immediately in response to the Driver killing to review, and stiffen, terror related peace bonds, the same control mechanisms notably that the government seeks to impose on Nuttall and Korody and for which cause they were re-arrested shortly after their release following the entrapment decision. After the Driver killing the calls are to make the peace bonds even more restrictive and punitive.

The Driver killing comes as critics have been calling for the Liberal government to finally follow through on their election promise, prominent during the campaign, to revise C-51. Now the discussions of possible C-51 revisions will be shadowed by the Driver case and its use by security forces and politicians alike to defend the legislation and perhaps even build upon it.

The cynic will certainly note that on two other occasions in which C-51 and anti-terror laws were set to be debated in federal parliament the discussions were inflamed by highly visible so-called acts of terrorism. Perhaps ironically, the most recent one included the shooting of Canadian Forces soldier Nathan Cirillo by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the online justification of which brought river to the attention of the security apparatus in the first place. It might be noted that, in terms of definitions of terrorism, Zehaf-Bibeau only sought military and government targets and did not target or harm civilians even as he had ample opportunity to do so during his adventure in busy downtown Ottawa.

The reactionary Conservative Party of Canada, authors and shepherds of C-51, have already made this connection of the Driver case to the maintenance of intrusive anti-terror laws explicit. In the words of the Conservative Party’s interim leader Rona Ambrose the morning after Driver was killed:

“I salute and thank the law enforcement and intelligence officers who put their own lives on the line to stop this potential attack on innocent Canadians. Unfortunately, the Liberal government campaigned on a promise to strip these officers of some of the essential investigative and enforcement tools to do this work, which the previous Conservative government provided through Bill C-51, and which have already been wisely used to disrupt terrorist activities nearly two dozen times since last fall. I call on the Liberal government to ensure all of Canada’s security and intelligence services keep the tools they need to do their jobs.” (quoted in Wherry 2016)

 

Numerous concerns were raised by a broad cross section of the public in Canada immediately upon the announcement of Bill C-51. Concerns were raised that provisions in the legislation criminalize acts of civil disobedience, such as a protest or demonstration because these could be viewed as “unlawful” (in the absence of a permit, or in cases of trespassing, or marches in roadways). Other essential activities, such as a workplace strike or occupation or boycott could be viewed as terrorist acts on the basis that they impact economic structures or practices. Worries have also been stated about provisions that allow for the punishing of bad thoughts or propaganda rather than actual activities related to terrorist acts.

During the federal election of 2015 the Liberal Party, then seeking to succeed the Conservatives as ruling party, promised legislation that would address key concerns within C-51. Yet approaching a year later after taking power the Liberals have still not tabled even proposals on how they might transform C-51, leaving some critics to believe that the election promises were simply appeals for votes on the basis of countering widely unpopular legislation (which seemed emblematic of the authoritarian and repressive Conservative Party approach). The Liberal government has said in general terms that any new legislation would: “guarantee that all Canadian Security Intelligence Service warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; ensure that Canadians are not limited from lawful protests and advocacy; narrow overly broad definitions, such as defining ‘terrorist propaganda’ more clearly;” as well as “limit Communications Security Establishment’s powers by requiring a warrant to engage in the surveillance of Canadians” (quoted in Wherry 2016).

At the same time there is nothing to suggest, despite the intimations of the Conservative Party and their leader Rona Ambrose, that C-51 provisions played or could have played any part in a case like that of Aaron Driver. The RCMP supposedly acted on the basis of a tip coming not from their own surveillance or intelligence but rather from the FBI. In addition Driver was already subject to a terror peace bond which have been in operation since before C-51 took effect. Notably Driver’s legal team mounted a successful challenge which resulted in a Manitoba judge ruling against the provision in C-51 that allowed the courts to mandate religious counselling for an individual on a peace bond (Wherry 2016).

Another line of pursuit for repressive forces in the Canadian context involves calling into question the anti-terror peace bond, not on grounds that it threatens civil liberties and is too broad, but on obverse grounds that it is too lenient. On one hand there are calls for imprisonment of people simply on the basis of the low threshold evidence used in securing the peace bond. This would mean criminalizing bad thoughts, which, in fact, many police and politicians desire anyway. As law professor Craig Forcese suggests: “Incarceration depends, however, on a crime. And our terrorism criminal law already sets the tripwire for terrorism crime very far from actual acts of violence. (None of the two dozen or so persons in prison for post-9/11 terrorism crimes got further than plotting before they were charged and convicted)” (2016). Calls for incarceration on the low level of evidence provided for a peace bond will put many people in prison who pose no material threat to anyone (except perhaps to themselves). It will, however, give an opportunity for expansion of the security, surveillance, and policing apparatus as well as the prison-industrial complex, which is precisely what many police agencies and politicians alike desire.

Furthermore, some hawks will call for greater integration of security and intelligence services. This will include not only calls for tighter integration or greater communication and information transfer between agencies within the Canadian state (among local police forces, the RCMP, CSIS, perhaps the military). It will also include calls for greater integration and/or communication between the Canadian agencies and external agencies like the FBI or MI5. This will be highlighted especially given the apparently lead and crucial role played by the FBI in the Driver affair. Indeed even liberal critics like Forcese have been quick to proclaim that coordination between police and CSIS, as in the Driver case “is welcome” (proclaiming even before all the facts are known that “the system worked” in this case) (see Forcese 2016).

Menacingly the Liberal government has suggested a focus on counter-radicalization strategies. While they have provided not even general notions of what this might entail there are examples from other liberal democracies that open ominous possibilities, including the case in the UK in which legislation requires post-secondary faculty to report to police instances in which students appear to be radicalizing. Notably some have used the Driver example to argue that the so-called religious therapy provision in anti-terror peace bonds, deemed “deprogramming” by the court and struck down, should have been upheld and should now be imposed in future cases.

Following the Aaron Driver killing the Liberal government is clearly open to additions to the apparatus as part of the C-51 discussions. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, addressing questions after the Driver killing said the government will now “consult Canadians about what else they want to see in their national security framework” (quoted in Wherry 2016). What else indeed.

 

Conclusion

In all of this the RCMP killing of Aaron Driver provides another example of the political production of fear for purposes of state, particularly police, expansion. It provides another opportunity for the dramatization of evil by state authorities at various levels. This can in turn be used to shore up or develop new mechanisms of surveillance, criminalization, and punishment. It can be used to reinforce legislation, like C-51, that faces criticism and possible revision. It can provide the impetus for new, more repressive, legislation. It can be used to increase the flow of resources to agencies like the RCMP. In addition such moments of manipulable terror panic can be used to spread policing practices into other sectors. Such is the case in legislation, as in the UK that seeks to turn professors into spies, snitches, or cops.

All of this must be resisted. Police must always be challenged and countered on their exclusive descriptions of events (and monopoly on knowledge about the circumstances of such cases). Police accounts should never be accepted at face value. There must also be public mobilizations against any and all attempts to expand the security state apparatus. Furthermore, public manipulation of terror panics must be called out and attempts by state and media actors to manufacture social phobias confronted.

 

Further Reading

Canadian Press. 2016. “FBI Tip Led RCMP to Thwart Possible Terrorist Act by Aaron Driver in Strathroy, Ont.” CBC News. August 10. http://www.cbc.ca/news/terror-threat-arrest-rcmp-1.3715969

Forcese, Craig. 2016. “Aaron Driver Matter: Questions Awaiting Answers.” National Security Law. August 11. http://craigforcese.squarespace.com/national-security-law-blog/2016/8/11/aaron-driver-matter-questions-awaiting-answers.html

Shantz, Jeff. 2016. “Degradation Ceremonies: Fear Discourses, Phobic Production, and the Military Metaphysic in Canada.” In Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice, Hisham Ramadan and Jeff Shantz (eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Shantz, Jeff 2014. “Punishing Bad Thoughts: Next Generation Canadian State Repression.” Red Sparks. http://jeffshantz.ca/node/69

Wherry, Aaron. 2016. “What Aaron Driver Means for the Debate on Amending Bill C-51.” CBC News. August 12. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/wherry-aaron-driver-c51-1.3716909