muslims, politics, war on terror

Canada’s Disturbing “Solution” to Alleged Islamic Extremism

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Not a terrible lot has been written about the global consequences of 9/11 on Western Muslim communities. For example, almost immediately after the deadly events of September 11th 2001, Canada adopted its own version of the Patriot Act: Bill C-36, the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act. This piece of anti-terror legislation is so broad in its scope and language that legal experts had difficulty picturing exactly how such legislation can and will be applied.

That all changed after 2006, when several suspects in a high-profile case dubbed the “Toronto-18 Case” were convicted under the act. Of the eighteen men and youth arrested, several had their charges dropped/stayed while other pled guilty and are awaiting sentence. Of those convicted, one has been sentenced to life in prison. Indeed, there was a bomb plot planned, but the more sensationalist slogans like “beheading the Prime Minister”, so often proliferated by Canada’s corporate media, were nothing more than “big talk”. These events made Muslim communities in Canada doubly paranoid. On the one hand, they feared the dangerous stereotyping of their religious identity and practices by the “outsiders” that were sure to be a result of this case. On the other hand, they have been “forced” to keep an eye out for the “extremists” in there midst, as if scouting out lepers.

In an effort to tend to the latter (and overrated) paranoia, numerous community leaders and security agencies in Canada have come up with a solution to “de-radicalize” young “Muslim extremists”. The idea has now come into fruition thanks to the work of Sheikh Ahmed Amiruddin of the Al-Sunnah Institute in Toronto, Canada (his mosque is the Masjid El-Noor). Commonly known as the “Islamic Ideological Detox” program, Amiruddin has supposedly devised an effective twelve- step “de-radicalization” program aimed at turning angry Muslim youth away from the path of “extremism”. The initiative much resembles a kind of self-help guide for alcoholics in its structural make-up. By now, the Canadian intelligence agency, or CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Services), has shown interest, as well as another Sheikh Robert Heft of “Paradise4Ever”, a Muslim organization that helps Muslim converts settle into their new faith-based lives.

As rosy and good-hearted as this all sounds, the very idea of a theology-based “de-radicalization” program is problematic. The worldview that underscored this “ideological detox” program is congruent with the tiresome post-9/11 tendency to put extremism at the centre of any potentially substantial discussion. The alleged and much touted subject of “Islamic extremism” becomes de-contextualized politically, and all suggested solutions point to the perceived problem as being completely borne out of religion. In fact, there is nothing “Islamic” about them at all. As stated by numerous studies around the world, the phenomenon of committing violence in the name of religion is usually borne out of political indignation. Robert Pape of The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism has done more work than most on the subject of suicide bombing, and has concluded that imperial ambitions by world powers precipitate backlash, some of which take the form of terror in the name of religion.[see his new book here] Despite much (undeserved) publicity, Canada has exhibited only one case that remotely exemplifies such a case: members of the “18” were outraged by Canada’s participation in the Afghanistan war, among other things. The root of their anger was deeply political, and pertained specifically to policies carried out by their government. This is true for all NATO allies, especially the United States.

As individuals who were unfamiliar with the avenues of political activism (something their mosques and role models should have provided for and invested in), the “18” took matter into their own hands, and began to search for interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah (way of the Prophet Muhammad) which were akin to Osama bin Laden’s worldview. In other words, the political woes and the “jihadi rhetoric” that dually inspired the “18” should not be viewed as detached influences. The former reinforces and lends false credibility to the latter. The post-9/11 “West” is so obsessed with the apparently Islamic iconography used by “extremists” that they often forget to look at the bigger picture. Any solution that seeks to invest in so-called “terror-prevention” must realize this vital point. Unfortunately, Sheikh Amiruddin’s twelve-step “ideological detox” program falls terribly short of such a realization.

Another sinister characteristic of the “de-radicalization” program pertains to how exactly such a program would play out on the ground. The details have yet to be hashed out, but the way in which a program like this functions as a pre-emption to terror is worth discussing. Let’s pretend for the moment that so-called “Islamic extremism” is actually a problem in Canada. Presumably, members of a certain community will be asked to be “vigilant” about their fellow community members. If they notice any suspicious activity or behaviour by an individual/group, they will be asked to report, or “red-flag” the person(s) involved. Those reported will then be recognized and marked off by CSIS for later “treatment”. This logic in itself is questionable, with the obvious question being exactly what “behaviour” constitutes a need for suspicion. Moreover, how would such a program deal with dishonesty? If a person is reported by another individual simply out of spite and not for any substantial reason(s), what would the safeguard be? These unaddressed queries constitute concerns regarding civil liberties that will inevitably arise.

By now, the alleged problem of “Islamic extremism” has been positioned as a central concern in the 21st century. Of course, prevention of violence in the name of Islam is in everyone’s interest. However, Western democracies must realize that these problems will not be solved through Guantanamo-styled strong-arming, or through the on-going stereotyping of Muslims in society. It will be vital in the future to realize that if “extremism” is to be avoided, one must first de-fang those involved by giving them nonviolent and activist avenues to vent their anger. If such a program can be devised with the help of security agencies, participating governments must guarantee the rights and liberties of all those who are involved.

While the Anti-terror legislation came into being under the previous Liberal government, the civil liberties-bashing Conservative Harper regime has continued to hunt for “terrorists,” such as the Toronto-18 case. The regime, like much of Canada’s media, has tried very hard to inculcate a climate of fear. The government-media nexus has engaged in a campaign of demonization aiming to insert into the Canadian psyche that “deradicalization” is needed, and that an “Islamic Detox Program” will solve the problem. This ill-informed and racist position will produced unworkable and problematic policies. “Islamic extremism” is not the problem, despite what the current discourse suggests. Insofar as society wants to prevent “Islamic extremism”, the root of the problem must be hacked at: foreign and imperial ventures undertaken by Western regimes must stop at once.

middle east, politics

“Passing” in the Jewish State

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Just when you thought things in Israel couldn’t get much worse for its Arab citizens, it was recently announced that Sabbar Kashur, an Israeli Arab, has been sentenced to 18 months of prison time for posing as a Jewish man in order to have consensual sex with a Jewish woman.

“When the woman found Kashur was not a Jew but an Arab, she filed a police complaint that led to charges of rape and indecent assault,” reports Haaretz, Israel’s largest news outlet. The verdict came as the judge presiding the case frankly admits that “If she [Kashur’s sexual counterpart] hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated.”

Since his arrest in 2008, Kashur (married with two kids) has been under house arrest.

Also since 2008, the Israeli High Court has set a precedent (in an earlier case) regarding these types of cases—ones involving deception and sex. As reported by Haaretz: “High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said a conviction of rape should be imposed any time a ‘person does not tell the truth regarding critical matters to a reasonable woman, and as a result of misrepresentation she has sexual relations with him.’”

The application of this principle has elicited a mixture of responses from Israeli civil society, many of whom believe that the approach take by legal officials in the case of Kashur was much too severe. It is quite true, as stated by Dana Pugach of Israel’s Noga Center for Victims of Crime, that an individual deserves the truth before going into a sexual relationship or a fling with someone. This principle should apply across the board: diseases, class, occupation, etc. However, Kashur’s case is useful in the sense that it is illustrative of the unveiled racism present in Israeli society today.

It is quite obvious that the Jewish woman who sued Kashur would not have been so indignant if Kashur, who used the moniker “Dudu” when talking to the woman, was actually Jewish. The lady has a right to have sexual relations with whomever she chooses, but the fact that she decided to have Kashur arrested due to a lie based on his ethnic background is highly illustrative, if not exceedingly disturbing. Had the issue been one of say, HIV/AIDS, a stiff sentence would have been understandable.

But this woman, although deceived, certainly thought that Kashur looked Jewish enough to have sex with him. It was only after that the two went to bed together, when she found out the horrific truth that the man she just shagged was—gasp—an Arab, that she reported this “criminal travesty”. One cannot help but think of the numerous women who were tricked into the sack based on lies of say, social status or even money. After all, what’s Vegas good for anyway? This is not to whitewash deception, but to tease out the racist connotations of the contemporary Israeli social and legal systems.

The court ignored the community service option, and gave Kashur 18 months in prison, in addition to the years of house arrest.

Juan Cole of the massively popular “Informed Comment” blog draws the analogy between Kashur’s case and the phenomenon of “passing” during the Jim Crow era of American history.

The similarities are troubling to say the least.


Opposition Mounts as Harper Guts Census

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A census is a tool used by a country’s government and major businesses to respectively tailor services and products to the corresponding population. In Canada, a democratic state, the census holds utmost importance in that regard as a vital communiqué between the people and their elected officials. Taken every five years, it is, as noted by Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “The mother ship of all surveys.”

Given the weight of such a public survey, it wasn’t surprising that many veterans in the Canadian “statistics community” were baffled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to no longer make the census a mandatory obligation, but a voluntary one. The head of Statistics Canada (Stats-Can), Munir Sheikh,  arguably the country’s top statistician, has resigned over the matter, and rebuked the Harper administration in a highly publicized letter, stating that a voluntary census won’t work. The statistics that a voluntary census yields will be the consequences of “self-selection”, making it incomparable with previously collected statistics. The same goes for Ivan Fellegi, Sheikh’s predecessor, who also rebuked the Tory decision.

“Others upset include: the Federation of Canadian Municipalities; Atlantic Provinces Economics Council; City of Toronto; Canadian Association for Business Economics; Canadian Economics Association; Canadian Association of University Teachers; Canadian Institute of Planners; Canadian Council of Social Development; even the National Statistical Council (that acts in a consultative capacity for StatsCan),” according to Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star.

The official reason for the decision to make the census voluntary came from Industry Minister Tony Clement, who calls the census “coercive and intrusive.” Another stated reason was to “protect the privacy of Canadians.” However, Harper has had a difficult relationship with Stats-Can since in the past, gutting or changing several other smaller surveys, including the The annual Workplace and Employee Survey, The Survey of Financial Security, and The annual Survey of Household Spending. These were all political decisions, congruent with the Harper administration’s apparent habit of secrecy and obfuscation.

Moreover, ever since Stephen Harper came to power, Stats-Can employees have privately confessed that the agency had shifted in focus, “away from social issues and towards more economic subjects,” reports the Globe and Mail. This certainly points to a more coercive way of managing information by the Tory establishment, who are tilting the methodology of Stats-Can’s data-analysis, thus changing its analytical objectives altogether.

The decision to basically gut the census is just another extension of how the Harper government likes to fiddle with the machinery of government, tailoring its dynamics to fit a “Tory mindset”, so to speak. The Harper administration has gutted numerous NGOs, prorogued parliament (twice), and  spent $1 billio- plus on the G8/G20 summits,  among other deeds. Eliminating a key pillar of Canadian democracy almost seems to make sense when seen in context, and hardly surprising.

middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Israel at a Crossroads: the Iranian Threat

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With the recent formation of “The Emergency Committee for Israel”, the neoconservative and Likudnik characters on the American right have yet again stepped up their lobbying efforts. The usual characters from the Christian hard-right like Gary Bauer have again joined forces with neoconservatives Bill Kristol, Noah Pollack, Michael Goldfarb, etc. to stand up for Israel. Among other things, they have yet again brought up the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran, and how such a nation will tear the region apart with its fanaticism.

Israel’s obsession with Iran is real. While some genuinely perceive a nuclear Iran as a major threat, others on Israel’s far right recognize the much more pragmatic, if not cynical reasons for Israel’s rancid rhetoric. With the occupation of Gaza (and blockade) and the West Bank continuing to destabilize the region, Netanyahu’s administration is undoubtedly trying to use the Iranian threat to create a climate of fear. Such a climate will not only pull the world’s attention away from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also reiterate Israel’s “scared bond” with the United States in a war against “Islamic Terrorism”.

Considering that Israel’s American-backed arsenal of nuclear weapons do not receive nearly as much attention in the corporate media as compared to Iran’s alleged attempt to acquire nuclear capabilities (still short of actual nuclear weapons), one should look at things form Iran’s perspective. Both Israel and the US have been talking nonstop about containing or attacking Iran. Iran has some rather weak (but still damaging) sanctions implemented on it by the US, and a genuine nuclear power in Israel constantly shouting about attacking it. Recently, the US navy just shipped missiles and over 300 “bunker busters” onto the African island of Diego Garcia, within striking distance of Iran. Furthermore, several of the countries that share borders with Iran have US troops in them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, etc.).

Considering these factors, along with the threats from Israel and the United States (Israel is also not a signee of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty), even hawkish analysts within the Israeli establishment have noted the need for Iran to at least have the option of a nuclear deterrent. Israeli strategist Martin Van Creveld, for example, has noted that Iran’s president is “Not crazy at all,” and that he would essentially do what Ahmedinejad is doing right now if he were in his position. On the other hand, UN Resolution 1887 states that threats of force are illegal when settling nuclear disputes. Also, it goes without saying that a war with Iran would cause the entire region to destabilize.

For the United States, Iran’s Islamic Revolution ushered in regimes that did not conform with its imperial designs in the region. Both Russia and China do business with Iran, which has emerged as the true beneficiary of the Iraq War, and backs both Hizbullah and Hamas. None of this is in the US’s interest, let alone in Israel’s. However, these “threats” are still rather hollow, given the military and economic capacities of both the US and Israel. Although Hizbullah has on occasions embarrassed a stronger Israel, its threats (along with those of Hamas) are far from existential.

Therefore, Israel’s paranoia with Iran mirrors Iran’s rhetorical backlash. By making the Islamic regime look crazy, Israel draws attention away from the Palestinian question. By now, after the Gaza Massacre and the Flotilla incident, it has become clear that Israel is becoming a strategic liability to the United States. The Israel Lobby in the US is trying (with great success) to conceal this fact, but Israel is very much at a crossroads. It seeks to reinvigorate the US-Israeli alliance by exaggerating the Iranian threat, while not answering for its own nuclear arsenal. But Israel has very little choice. Although its only chance of preserving a Jewish state is through a two-state solution with the Palestinians, settlement-building throughout the years have pretty much destroyed that option. It has effectively dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is so protracted that it inevitably shakes up the whole region, precipitating hatred aimed at both the US and Israel. Given the US’s need for oil in the future, a lack of allies in the Middle East would prove disastrous. But Israel’s unpopular presence in the region is costing the US all kinds of strategic leverage. Confronted with the reality of having no friends in the world, the Israeli regime is desperately trying to use the Iranian threat to illustrate to the US its “strategic worth”.


Sense and Nonsense of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

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This past Canada Day, both Ontario and British Columbia joined Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick as the latest provinces to accept the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) system. The HST combines the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) into one, single sales tax. For Ontario and B.C., the tax comes to 13% and 12% respectively.

The reason for harmonization is threefold: (1) To increase investment in provincial businesses, thus making them more competitive, (2) to create more jobs, and (3) to eliminate hidden taxes incurred throughout operational costs. Adopting the HST will also mean that products that were exempt form the PST will now incur the 7/8% “PST” under harmonization, although some products will be exempt altogether. This process of exemption/inclusion, however, is highly arbitrary, and lacks a democratic basis.

Reactions to the HST have been mixed at best. The NDP have roundly condemned the tax, claiming that it is a tax grab that will help provinces accumulate up to 3.5 billion dollars in revenue, the purpose of which is unclear. Public opinion in both Ontario and B.C. have been vastly negative, with estimates of 90% in both provinces against the tax.

The more conservative-minded C. D. Howe Institute has long been advocating for an HST, citing the aforementioned reasons, and claiming that the HST is harmless to average households given that it is “revenue neutral”. However, the most interesting report probably comes from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think-tank that has done extensive research on the HST, and the role that it is likely to play in Canadian provinces.

The CCPA believes that the HST will hurt modest to middles class income households. Consider that “The BC government is proposing an HST credit of a maximum $230 for individuals with income up to $20,000, and $230 per family member for fami­lies with incomes up to $25,000.” This means that “an individual with $20,000 or less in income would have to spend more than $3,285 per year on the previously ex­empt goods and services listed below in order to be worse off.” These low thresholds may benefit some of the poorest citizens, but middle class families will incur much more tax with the HST.

The CCPA also believe that having increased jobs and business competitiveness as a result of the HST is greatly exaggerated. Cutting operating costs does not necessarily increase investment in businesses, especially when the tactic also includes laying off workers. Rather, investment is based on the future estimations of profits and sales.

It is most important that the revenues incurred with the HST be used for progressive purposes, much like the Scandinavian models. In the Nordic countries, the HST is a progressive tax that helps to build communal infrastructure and social welfare. What Canada intends to do with the HST is still largely opaque. Moreover, the provincial governments should increase the threshold for credit, and decrease it in a slower fashion as incomes increase.


Islam, Canada, and the Journey of Faith Conference

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The weekend of July 2nd to 4th 2010 saw the 3rd annual Journey of Faith: Annual Islamic Conference (JoF) take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the third year in a row. Claiming to be the largest Islamic conference in North America , JoF hoped to amass around ten thousand attendees over three days.

One of less than a handful of large Islamic conferences in North America, JoF’s arrival onto the Canadian scene was met with the usual post-911 epithets, full of suspicion and xenophobia . This year was no different. Labeled a “hate-fest” by media outlets like the Calgary Herald , JoF was, generally speaking, not described with the rosiest of terms by the Canadian media—not that it received a lot of coverage in the first place.

It is both tiresome and somewhat predictable to see that old and played-out post-9/11 hatemongering is still alive today, and ready to pounce on an Islamic gathering, even one as big and popular as JoF. Speakers at the conference, without going into too much detail, spoke on a wide variety of topics from spiritual guidance to civic participation. This year, a spark of controversy was initiated when the top-billed Indian Muslim “televangelist” Zakir Naik was denied a visa to speak at the conference. Canada, in this case, followed in the footsteps of the United Kingdom, which also denied entry to Naik, claiming that Naik’s presence would “not be conducive to the public good” .

Naik, a physician by profession, heads up Peace TV from Mumbai, India, one of the world’s largest Islamic television channels. He has spoken out against the Western media’s portrayal of Muslims, especially in the post-9/11 era. His fiery rhetoric regarding the plight of Muslims in the world today was what in the end provoked the ban from the UK, setting a precedence to be followed later on by Canada. Naik claims that his words have been taken out of context, and that the UK government caved into internal pressure from advocacy groups that wanted to see him banned. One piece of evidence that allegedly exemplifies Naik’s “hatred” is an occasion where Naik claims that “Every Muslim should be a terrorist”. This statement supposedly illustrates Naik’s sympathy with terrorism and Osama bin Laden.

However, if one were to listen to the entirety of the statement within its contextual framework, what Naik said doesn’t seem so scary: “When a robber sees a policeman he’s terrified. So for a robber, a policeman is a terrorist,” says Naik. “So in this context, every Muslim should be a terrorist to the robber. I am aware that a terrorist is more commonly used for a person who terrorizes and innocent person. In this context, no person should even terrorize a single innocent human being.” This is hardly a statement calling for terror and destruction of non-Muslims.

On the other hand, proving what Naik said or didn’t say is not really the crux of the issue here. A nation has the right to reject entry to persons or elements that they consider dangerous and will elicit harm onto its people. Given the weak evidence produced by the UK and Canadian policy makers, Zakir Naik does not qualify as such a dangerous element. He has the right to express his opinions, regardless of who may or may not agree with him.

The overall attitude and perception of both the Canadian media and government toward the JoF conference is illustrative of Canada’s inability to fully accept its Muslim population without xenophobia and suspicion. Be it for political reasons or cultural/religious ones, Canada’s multicultural character cannot be correctly exemplified until, as a nation, it embraces the whole of its Muslim citizens.


G8/G20 Summits 2010 Toronto, Canada—A Brutal and Unprecedented Weekend

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Simply put, the G8 and G20 Summits that took place in Huntsville and Toronto from June 25th to 27th 2010 were resolutely overshadowed by the unprecedented police brutality that took place in  downtown Toronto.

By Sunday June 27th, 2010, it is widely reported that around 800-900 arrests were made, with the detainees held in a make-shift detention facility at 629 Eastern Avenue. By as early as Saturday evening, parts of downtown Toronto looked like a warzone.

How did this all transpire? The story is both complicated and unprecedented.

The weekend of protests organized by large civil society groups like the Canadian Labour Congress, the Defenders of the Land, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, etc. remained largely peaceful.

On Thursday June 24th, 2010, the indigenous rights rally, although heavily monitored, went almost without a hitch. However, it was also on this day that most people found out that the Public Works Act had been passed in secret on June 2nd, 2010 by the provincial legislature, which allows for anyone five metres away from the G20 security fence to be searched and questioned. Dave Vasey, who refused to show his ID and who claims to have had no idea of the legislation, was arrested. Astoundingly, Toronto police chief Bill Blair admitted openly that he lied about the existence of such a law to “keep away the criminals”. This, rightly, has caused a firestorm of protest and discontent, even with the National Post.

Friday, June 25th, 2010 saw few confrontations at the anti-poverty rally organized by OCAP, but the protests were largely peaceful. However, Emomotimi Azorbo, who is deaf and did not hear the police’s call to clear the street, was beaten and arrested. For the larger public, this incident was perhaps the first sign that the conduct of policing bodies throughout the weekend would raise loud alarm bells.

The major turning point came on Saturday, June 26th, 2010. The largest protest of the week, organized by “big labour”, saw dozens of civil society groups marching in downtown Toronto at a number of around 25,000 or so. Remarkably, this colossal demonstration went peacefully. However, occurring simultaneously with this huge demonstration were acts of vandalism by a small number of people, who tore through Yonge Street, Queen Street, and other parts of the downtown core, smashing shop/bank windows (there have been no reports of injuries from these acts, as they were mostly symbolic). The collective identity of these “protestors” are largely unknown, although they have been clumsily labelled “The Black Bloc”, a supposed “anarchist” body, by most of the corporate media. Furthermore, the hype that these “riots” have caused should be put into context by reminding people of events such as the hockey riots Canada saw a couple of years ago. In other words, they are not unprecedented.

What transpired later on in the day throughout downtown Toronto will live in infamy in the memory of this city. Riot police, part of the ISU that cost $930 million in tax payer dollars, used tear gas for the first time in the city’s history. In fact, it was clear that at one point, the police simply stopped distinguishing between peaceful protestors, rioters, and bystanders. The exact time of this shift in policy cannot be accurately pinpointed, but the change in atmosphere was nonetheless thick in the air.

As the violence took on a life of its own, two police cruisers were smashed and almost flipped over on the intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Street. A number of police cars were also set on fire. Curiously, all these cruisers were left unattended, a rather careless act in light of the violent atmosphere that enveloped much of the city. In fact, Naomi Klein described the very next day on Democracy Now the nature of this police absence as a “police strike”. The ISU, trying to justify its usage of the summits as an ATM machine, used the rioting as an excuse to flex their muscle, thereby hoping to show their city how important and money-worthy they were. It even got to the point they appointed undercover agents to join in the rioting.

Numerous streets were also blocked off by riot police, who moved to different sections of the city without warning. The Queen’s Park area (University Street and College Street) was occupied by around 20,000 police officers, and one university student was almost trampled by police on horseback, as tear gas was shot for the first time in Toronto’s history.

Sunday June 27th, 2010, the last day of the summits, saw more of the same, as peaceful protestors were dispersed violently with tear gas and batons as they gathered around the detention facility calling for the release of over 500 detainees. On the same day, at least 70 people were arrested from the University of Toronto Graduate School Union, with the police claiming that they were illegally-housed “anarchists”, mostly coming from Montreal. Furthermore, the G20 convergence area on Queen Street West was raided, with around 30 arrests being made. The day eventually ended with a stand-off at Spadina Street and Queen Street, were peaceful protestors were again arrested and dispersed.

This unprecedented weekend put large question marks on the state of Canadian democracy. Many will have to answer for the violence that tore through the streets if Toronto. While the summits are now over here in Toronto, it has also been over-shadowed.

Please attend this rally to call for a public inquiry into the police actions during the G20 summit weekend.