Conspiracy in the Age of Austerity

By Alex Hundert

Sept. 12, 2011 was the first day of what is scheduled to be an 11-week preliminary inquiry for what the Ontario Crown Attorney’s office call the “G20 Main Conspiracy Group Prosecution.” This prosecution will require that, myself, along with 16 other community organizers, spend almost three months in court every single weekday. Here, we will watch and listen as the Crown Attorneys from the Provincial “Gangs and Guns Initiative” present evidence, collected by a series of undercover cops who infiltrated community organizations across the country. This permeation took place over a period of nearly two years prior to last year’s G20 (an event which saw the city converted into ‘Fortress Toronto,’ as the heads of state from the world’s 20 richest countries, along with more than 10,000 cops, occupied the city’s downtown).

The Crown will allege that we are somehow responsible for the confrontational demonstrations, including those of the black bloc, which occurred on Jun. 26, 2010. It will not be alleged that any of us actually participated in those demonstrations, broke any windows, or burned any cop cars, nor will it be alleged that we physically caused any damage to anything or anyone, or had any part in coordinating that day’s demonstrations. In fact, several of us were already in jail hours before the day’s protests even began. Their only allegation will be that we ‘conspired’ to do things. For this they want to give us serious jail time. If things go badly, I could realistically spend up to six years in jail (given that I face several ‘counsel’ charges in addition to the conspiracy charges faced by all 17 co-accused).

But the truth is, that the details of this case are not what are most important. It is true that facts will come out about the scary extent to which the state has gone to infiltrate legitimate community organizations; about the state’s willingness curb freedoms and civil liberties; and that this case could potentially set very dangerous precedents concerning people’s ability to organize and speak politically in their communities. It is true that all of these issues are important here… but what I think is most important is the timing.

This is the age of austerity. The Ford budget cuts for which this city is bracing itself are the local manifestation of the austerity agenda that was at the center of the G20 meetings hosted last summer by Stephen Harper. It is the same austerity agenda that people are rising up against all across Europe, which is not entirely unconnected from the uprisings that are still ongoing in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

It is no coincidence that here, people’s inherent right to organize is under attack at the same time that the need to organize is so important.

The so-called “G20 Main Conspiracy Prosecution” is a quite frightening infringement on various freedoms and a precedent attack on an assortment of rights that are presumably constitutionally protected. It is an explicit criminalization of dissent. Because of the precedents that this case has the potential to set, it might be recognized that this prosecution is, in and of itself, an attack on the very idea of community organizing, and it is designed to prevent us all from being able to fight back against the austerity agenda. They do not want us to fight back. They want us not to organize.

Austerity is an attack against already targeted communities. The coming cuts in this city are going to make most people’s lives worse and our city less livable. But for many – undocumented people, Indigenous people, poor and radicalized people, people with disabilities, queer and trans people – services are already insufficient and inaccessible; these are people who are going to be the most impacted by the coming cuts. All working people who reside in this city will feel the cuts. People will resist.

While the 17 of us are tied up in court over the next 11 weeks, people in communities across this city will be organizing against austerity.

Just this past Saturday, more than 500 people participated in a mass meeting at Dufferin Grove Park to organize against Ford’s planned cuts. Over the next few weeks and months we will see what comes out of such inspiring processes. The “Toronto Stop the Cuts” campaign is a coordinated network of autonomous neighbourhood committees across the city, creating a growing chorus against the cuts. The voices of this movement are a multitude far more representative of the people who reside in this city, than found in any electoral process. By the time the preliminary hearing for the “G20 Main Conspiracy Prosecution” is over, we will know whether or not City Council will have listened to those voices.

The reason that the state so badly needs to effectively criminalize dissent and community organizing is because, if they choose to ignore the voices of the people who live in this city – similar to what is happening in Spain, Greece, and England – resistance is likely to look more like the riotous scenes from the streets of last year’s G20, than it is to look like the beautiful scenes from the mass organizing meeting in Dufferin Grove Park.

*****

Postscript:

I want to send my love and respect to Kelly Pflug-Back, Ryan Rainville, and Byron Sonne. They’re not allowed to hear from me, but that does not prevent me from sending a message for them into the world. I also want to recognize that there are many people who are still dealing with the consequences of the G20 legal crackdown; there are people in jail right now on G20 charges, all of whom deserve our support.

If people want to offer their encouragement, while I can’t speak for those co-accused with me, what I want most is for you to stay involved, or get more involved with the Stop the Cuts campaign, or with anti-tar sands work, or supporting Indigenous sovereignty, land and treaty rights, or organizing to stop the mega-quarry, or for queer liberation, or against violence against women, or against the gross racism of the Harper government’s anti-immigration policies. The best support you can offer is to be more active than one otherwise might, in the very campaigns and for the very issues that the state seeks to prevent us from organizing around.

And finally, thank you to everyone for all the support.

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The YU Free Press is a new and exciting alternative monthly newspaper produced by volunteer graduate and undergraduate students at York University. Our principal objectives are to challenge the mainstream corporate media model as well as to provide a fundamental space for critical analysis and commentary of the news around us – both on and off campus – to a community of student,s faculty, and staff alike. We are firmly opposed to oppression in all its possible forms (gender, sexual orientation, race, ability, religion, creed, etc.) and are dedicated to upholding and promoting a clear vision of social justice through the publication of labour, union, and activist-positive material.

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