A brutal week

Natural disasters are always exacerbated by social ones. On the one hand, there is what Naomi Klein argues in “The Shock Doctrine”, that elites exploit disasters of any kind to reorganize society in their own interests. On the other, there is what Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize for: revealing that undemocratic regimes with unfree presses have disaster-level famines, where democratic regimes with free presses (still capitalist) can only get away with chronic hunger deaths (this last is certainly not his wording!) The regime in Myanmar is one of the worst in a world of terrible regimes, and the people’s suffering is so much worse for it. And then there is the global regime that is destabilizing the climate to make the natural part of such disasters more and more likely for more and more people. Like so much out there, it feels beyond inadequate to write something about this.

Another topic where writing in a little blog can’t begin to make sense of things: yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the day Israel became a state, and while some “supporters of Israel” were “partying like it was 1948”, Palestinians saw “no cause for celebration”. My friend Rafeef explained as much for those who came to a press conference last week and the demonstration in Toronto yesterday. Another friend, Dan Freeman-Maloy, prepared a long piece about Canada’s role in the creation of Israel, drawing from work by Israeli scholars like Benny Morris and Canadian scholars like David Bercuson and bringing different values to bear (which is to say, Dan does not have the contempt for Palestinians that both Morris and Bercuson, and Canada’s Prime Minister Harper, show). 60 years is too long for a people to be denied the right to return to their homes, too long for a people to be occupied and colonized and subjected to intensifying genocidal policies. It is generations of people growing up in refugee camps that are themselves being starved and bombed.

And in a week of massive disasters and 60-year occupations, there are under-reported injustices in this part of the world (Canada) as well. Mohawk activist Shawn Brant was re-arrested (I’ll republish the statement by his wife Sue Collis below, but it’s linked here) on charges that will probably fall apart again, like the previous sets of charges. But by arresting him again and again, they not only punish him de facto by putting him in jail for months at a time, but also help create the image of him and the Mohawks they are trying to put forth.

And in another jail, one of the Toronto 18, Steven Chand, was beaten up in jail by guards, according to his lawyer (the CBC report):

Michael Moon said his client, Stephen Chand, was taking a shower at Maplehurst provincial jail in Milton west of Toronto. When he tried to rinse soap from his hair, Moon said, a guard smashed Chand’s face into a wall, then dragged him naked along a hallway by his hair and threw him into a bare cell smeared with feces and smelling of urine.

The lawyer is demanding that surveillance videos of the incident be released by the Ontario government, though internal investigations at the facility found no wrongdoing by guards.

“These videos capture everything that goes on on the range,” Moon said, “If he [Chand] did anything wrong, it will be shown on the video. If what he says is accurate, that will be shown.”

Moon also says that when another inmate complained about the treatment of Chand, he too was thrown into the bare cell, known as the hole.

A spokesman for the Ontario government had no comment because the case is before the court. But he added that provincial corrections officials were committed to the just and humane treatment of inmates.

Below is Sue Collis’s statement:

Shawn Brant’s Arrest – Statement by Sue Collis, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory

(May 4th, 2008) Eight days ago, on Friday, April 25th, 2008, my husband, Shawn Brant, was arrested and detained on assault and weapons charges. Since that time, Commissioner Julian Fantino and the Ontario Provincial Police have issued public statements that have, it seems, misstated the events leading to my husband’s arrest.

I believe it is important to the public good for people to understand the circumstances that have lead to Shawn’s incarceration at this time. Those circumstances are as follows:

On Sunday, April 20th, 2008, the community of Tyendinaga responded to threats from a Kingston developer to bring “a crew of 25 to 30 guys”, in order to begin development on a property which falls within in the Culbertson Tract land claim. Mohawks from Tyendinaga did peaceful road closures on Highway 2, adjacent to this proposed development site on Mohawk land.

My husband Shawn has been living and complied with very strict conditions imposed when he was charged in relation to community rail and highway blockades on the June 2007 Aboriginal Day of Action. One of his conditions is not to attend protests. During the evening of Monday, April 21st, 2008, my husband was some distance away from the road closures erected in response to the Kingston developer, talking to a Tyendinaga community member, while he also checked a nearby creek for fish.

During this conversation, Shawn became aware of some commotion down the road, and made his way towards the commotion, parking his car some 50 feet away from where a small group of people was gathered on one side of the road. The first thing Shawn saw a 10-year-old girl shaking and crying uncontrollably. He had no idea what was going on. As he approached the scene, someone yelled “Shawn help us!” The little girl screamed, “They hurt my Mommy! They’re gonna hurt my Mommy.” Someone else yelled, “He has a ball bat!” At this time, Shawn noticed two trucks were parked facing the people who were in obvious distress. Shawn returned to his car and retrieved his fishing spear. By the time Shawn returned to where the people were gathered, the occupants of the trucks were back inside their vehicles. Shawn shouted at the occupants of the trucks to leave. The windows were so tinted that he could not make out their faces. The drivers of the trucks sped away with such force that one of their truck tires was raised in the air, spraying much gravel and stone at the women and the child, some of which they later discovered was imbedded in their skin.

Shawn turned his head to avoid catching stones in the face, and held out his spear in an effort to create some distance between the group of Mohawks and the trucks, out of concern that those in the vehicles would strike those on the road with their vehicles. The trucks then sped away. That is the extent of Shawn’s interaction with the individuals he is now charged with assaulting. To be clear, he is charged with assaulting the men in the trucks.

A 911 call was made during this incident on April 21st, 2008, in which the trucks’ licence plates were recorded. Shortly thereafter, the women made statements to the police, identifying the men driving the trucks as known Deseronto inhabitants, subsequently identified as Jamie Lalonde and Mike Lalonde. The women also testified in police statements that one of the men swung a club at them, drove one of the trucks into them, and threatened further violence. The women also described being injured by flying stones, and described the trauma endured by the young girl. No one but Shawn has been charged.

The men from Deseronto sought out this group of people, deliberately caused them injury and issued threats of further violence. They were targeted for assault and abuse for no other reason than that they are Native. The actions taken by the men from Deseronto were driven by bigotry and racial hatred. By definition, these were hate crimes. Again, no one but Shawn has been charged.

The men are presumed to have filed a complaint against my husband, resulting in a police search of his car on Friday, April 25th, when his fishing spear was taken from his car, and charges of assault and possession of a weapon – the spear – were laid. My husband remains in prison, in maximum security, as a result.

It is our understanding that the prosecution is seeking yet another publication ban on all future court proceedings in this matter. A pattern has emerged with respect to my husband, Shawn Brant. The police and prosecution make sensational and vilifying statements about Shawn in the media, and then seek a publication ban during court proceedings, when the actual evidence is introduced. The starkly different narrative of events that emerges in court is withheld and the public forbidden from hearing it. The version of events I have just presented will all but disappear.

Less than a month ago, my husband was acquitted of charges he carried for more than 18 months. When issuing the ruling in this acquittal, the judge described the investigative practice and evidence employed and presented by the cops and the Crown as “problematic” and “troubling,” as they related to Shawn. During this same period, CBC Radio aired a documentary in which several Mohawk people recounted conversations with OPP Commissioner Fantino that occurred during the 2007 Aboriginal Day of Action, in which they say he threatened to “ruin” Shawn. During Shawn’s detention at the Napanee OPP detachment last week, several different police officers threatened to “slit his throat” and “cut off his head.”

As I deal with the tears of young children who have been robbed of their father once again, Commissioner Fantino claims the OPP is an apolitical and professional organization, dedicated to upholding the rule of law. The events of the past week indicate it is anything but.

– Sue Collis
Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory

Author: Justin Podur

Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.