C/O Adam Thomas
Repeal of the 2020 encampment protocol sparks disapproval across the community
In fall of 2020, the city of Hamilton worked with a number of activist groups to develop an encampment protocol agreement. This protocol allowed unhoused individuals to remain in encampments for up to fourteen days and in some cases, to remain indefinitely. The protocol also called on the city to assist these individuals in moving to shelters or housing.
On Aug. 9, 2021, Hamilton City Council held an emergency meeting in which they voted to repeal this protocol and return to pre-pandemic policy, which disallows all encampments on city property. According to a media release, the decision came because the protocol was deemed ineffective.
“Following today’s Council decision, the City will return to the pre-pandemic approach to services, which includes continued dedication to helping those sleeping rough find safe and humane options while enforcing its bylaws prohibiting camping on public property,” City Council stated in its media release.
The council held this meeting as a closed session in a private video conference room. Activist groups who were a part of the development of the protocol were not included in the discussion. The motion to end the protocol was moved by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr.
Many activist groups have criticized the city’s decision to prohibit encampments once again. Keeping Six, one of the activist groups that first worked with the city to develop the encampment protocol, released a statement on Aug. 10, detailing their position.
“For the city to walk away from this negotiated settlement unilaterally and without even the courtesy of any communication with us, or any apparent consultation with those on the front lines, is deeply anti-democratic and repressive,” wrote Keeping Six.
HESN is a volunteer-run activist group that supports and advocates for unhoused Hamiltonians. According to their Instagram, HESN advocates for the principle that housing is a human right and they seek to make housing accessible to all Hamiltonians. Their methods, as stated on their Instagram, include site monitoring and check-ins, supply drop-offs and observation and de-escalation during teardowns.
In their open letter, which has amassed a number of signatures from both organizations and individuals, they stated the following: “Encampment evictions have been and continue to be dehumanizing, insidious displays of violence in a sustained municipal war on Black, Indigenous, racialized, disabled, poor and unhoused communities, both in so-called Hamilton as well as across Turtle Island.”
The open letter goes on to detail how encampment evictions are currently a public health crisis and how the national and provincial governments have been lacking in addressing this issue.
According to Vic Wojciechowska, a volunteer with HESN, even the previous protocol did not adequately protect people from encampment evictions.
“People [were] displaced from park to park, often faster than within a 14-day framework. That's because the city was initiating that 14 day process the moment that a tent would appear in a green space. This was not public information; this is something we learned by showing up to encampment teardowns.”
Further, the letter emphasizes how the current pandemic has exacerbated the public health threat that encampment evictions pose.
“We also know that houseless community members are at far greater risk of contracting COVID-19 under current overcrowded shelter conditions and that encampment evictions physically prevent homeless community members from accessing resources, supports,and medical care through routine displacement,” stated the open letter.
According to Wojciechowska, the open letter is an important way to create awareness about encampment evictions.
“It was one thing that [could] be done to bring people together, to talk about what it means for the protocol to happen, [to be] repealed and to just create some sort of initial conversation,” said Wojciechowska.
According to Wojciechowska, there are many reasons why shelters may be inaccessible for some unhoused individuals or why they may choose encampments over shelters. They explained that, due to COVID-19 precautions, shelter space has decreased dramatically. As well, Wojciechowska said that shelters can restrict the autonomy of their residents in multiple ways, such as through implementing strict check-in and check-out times.
“People have shared with us that they actually look forward to the summer months when they can stay in an encampment and can actually create their own communities and ways of keeping each other safe,” stated Wojciechowska.
When discussing the city’s response to encampments, Wojciechowska emphasized the importance of listening to unhoused individuals in the community.
“Let them choose to stay outside. Let encampments exist. If people are telling you that they feel safer in encampments, listen to them and build that into your response,” said Wojciechowska.
When the Silhouette reached out to Councillor Jason Farr, they were not available for an interview.
On Feb. 20, the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Muslim Students Association sent a letter to Canadian ministers Chrystia Freeland and Ralph Goodalech, asking the government to investigate the Chinese government’s role in directing students to silence human rights activists on campus.
The letter follows an event organized by MMPJ and McMaster MSA on Feb. 11 where Rukiye Turdush, a Uighur Muslim activist, spoke about the Chinese internment of Uighur Muslims.
According to the Washington Post, a group of students created a WeChat group chat to oppose the event.
During the event, a student filmed Turdush and cursed at her. After the talk, the students say that they contacted the Chinese Embassy in Canada, which directed them to investigate whether university officials or Chinese students attended the event.
A few days later, five Chinese student groups, including the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, released a statement condemning the event and stating they contacted the Chinese consulate in Toronto.
The internment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China has been confirmed by multiple news outlets and the international community.
Approximately one million Uighur Muslims have been detained by the Chinese government, according to the British government.
The Chinese government has denied any wrongdoing, suggesting the camps are constructed for counter-terrorism purposes.
On Feb 16, the Chinese Embassy released a statement defending the actions of the Chinese students on the principle of free speech and dismissing any accusations of misconduct as ‘groundless accusations’ and ‘anti-China sentiment.’
Representatives from McMaster MSA and MMPJ say this is not a free speech issue.
“I do not think this was ever a conversation about freedom of speech. I think it always has been a conversation about human rights violation and speaking up against that,” said representatives from the McMaster MSA and MMPJ. “It’s blatantly obvious that the government is supporting these attempts to quell discussion about these human rights violations.”
The CSSA did not respond to multiple emails from The Silhouette about the situation.
McMaster MSA and MMPJ said the government acknowledged their letter but has yet to engage in any formal action on the matter.
“It’s important that we help people understand the university’s commitment to free speech and to the sharing of views and opinions, even those that might be controversial,” said Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s director of communications.
It is worth noting that these events come amid growing concerns about Chinese government involvement in Canadian universities to oppose any criticism against the Chinese Communist Party.
Following the protest at Turdush’s talk, an unnamed McMaster student created a Change.org petition in hopes of removing the CSSA from the MSU. As of March 2, the petition has amassed 461 signatures.
McMaster MSA and MMPJ said they did not start the petition.
“We definitely have mixed feelings about this petition simply because I think we somewhat recognize that these students these Chinese students are also victims of surveillance and they are victims of a form of control,” McMaster MSA and MMPJ representatives said. “It has never been a priority for either of our organizations to go and attack them, to take revenge.”
The MSU clubs department is aware of the situation but will not take any action without instruction from the government and/or university administration.
"As the clubs department is not a formal investigative body, its governing policies state clearly that any punitive action taken towards a club or individuals inside a club are done so after federal, provincial, municipal and/or University judicial bodies (as appropriate) render opinion and/or action. Therefore, the Department would certainly act on the advice of investigative professionals in this matter," said Josephine Liauw, the MSU clubs department administrator.
This article was clarified on March 12, 2019 to include a direct quotation from Liauw.
By: Drew Simpson
On Feb. 26, the Green is not White environmental racism workshop took place at the Hamilton Public Library’s Wentworth room. The free, open-to all workshop, garnered intrigue from attendees interested in learning about environmental racism.
Presenters sat on a raised platform and the room was filled with chart easel pads, activist posters and resources. The Green is Not White workshop, which is organized by Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces in partnership with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion started its seven-hour agenda with a land acknowledgement, icebreakers and then laid down foundational knowledge.
Environmental racism is originally defined by Prof. Benjamin Chavis as the racial discrimination and unequal enforcement of environmental policies. The types of environmental racism have expanded since this 1987 definition and currently encompass air pollution, clean water, climate migration, extreme weather, food production, gentrification and toxins in the community and workplace.
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The crust of the issue is that ethnic minorities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards. Black and Indigenous populations are most affected by environmental racism, yet this makes it no less of a collective issue. Local case studies were highlighted to drive this message close to home.
For example, most of Hamilton’s waste facilities are clustered just north of and within residential areas. This includes a proposed electronic waste processing facility, which can cause lead and mercury exposure, and an existing chemical wastes facility that is known for chemical explosions causing evacuations and serious injury. Loads of biosolids have been trucked through neighbourhoods posing disease risks from pathogens, concerns of terrible odours and ammonia use for steam filtering.
Studies show that Hamilton neighbourhoods with single-parent families and low education are the most exposed to air pollution. Since these neighbourhoods have fewer resources and are systematically marginalized, they are targeted by acts of environmental racism. The hashtag #EnvRacismCBTUACW continually discusses case studies across Canada.
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Along with the extensive examples of Canadians and Hamiltonians living in dire conditions due to environmental racism, as well as the government’s oversight of this issue, various Hamilton organizations have taken it upon themselves to drive change.
This workshop was the third part of a four-phase action research initiative on environmental racism by ACW, which develops tools to better the environmental conditions of jobs and the workplace and CBTU, a coalition that breaks the silence on African-Canadians’ labour issues. While this third stage involves community engagement, the fourth and final stage involves a joint report and video that will be housed on both the ACW and CBTU websites.
The slogan “Green is Not White” highlights that green jobs and environmentally safe conditions should not be reserved for white people. People of colour are most likely to work and live in dire conditions, and therefore deserve economic justice and access to clean water and land.
On Feb 1, the Hamilton Student Mobilization Network, a local activist group, hosted a rally at Gore Park in downtown Hamilton to protest the government’s proposed changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
The event featured various speakers including Angie Perez, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3096, and Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.
“Students have gone to strike for less,” HSMN organizers said at the event.
— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) February 1, 2019
Beyond the issue of OSAP, various speakers advocated for completely free tuition. All stressed the need to support grassroots student activism.
The protest downtown followed a protest in the McMaster University Student Centre on Jan. 31, where the HSMN called out the McMaster Students Union for failing to advocate for the student body effectively.
Multiple musicians and poets were also featured at the two-hour long rally, performing pieces on the issues of capitalism and gentrification.
Hudson stresses the power of students, pointing to the success of Quebec student organizers.
— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) February 1, 2019
“It is a strong sense of solidarity, a strong sense of agitation, and a strong sense of annoyance,” one protester said when asked why he attended the rally.
After an hour of speakers and performers, the protest took to marching on the streets, stopping traffic around the downtown area.
The HSMN was launched in the first few weeks following the government’s announcement on Jan 17.
The organization strives to equip activists to mobilize against shared struggles and is mostly run by students and workers from McMaster University and Mohawk College who had already been organizing separately.
“We started having conversations about what it would look like if we came together on campus across campuses across the city and really bolstered a more cohesive body of resistance,” a HSMN organizer and McMaster student said.
Though the rally was centred on the changes to OSAP, the HSMN is also focused on the adverse effects that cutting tuition and student fees will have.
The student organizer pointed out that McMaster is set to lose $22 million in funding next year, with no additional funding from the government to offset the loss.
“We are looking at suffering quality of education given that there will probably be increases of class sizes. We are looking at part-time staff, faculty associate professors being made vulnerable, anyone that really does not have security or stability of tenure or status in the organization,” they said.
“There are a lot of communities being affected by this, not just students on OSAP,” they added.
Nonetheless, changes to OSAP will not make it easier to afford tuition anyway, according to the student organizer.
“The tuition cuts are very misleading,” they said. “If you cannot afford the tuition even with it reduced, you are still taking out higher loans, which means higher debts, higher interest rates, and in the long run, it is going to cost more.”
The HSMN is also very concerned that the option for students to opt-out of certain student fees will jeopardize some student services.
“We need to really come together as a community and realize that services we do not use today we might need tomorrow. We need to support services for each other and recognize that student fees help build a stronger, healthier community,” the student organizer said.
For the HSMN, the rally represents only the first step in what they hope will be sustained student mobilization and advocacy.
“It represents an entry point for a lot of students to mobilize around these changes and we are going to be having a sustained campaign,” they said.
The HSMN has not released any other planned actions to the public at this point.
By: Amber Faith Miller
To begin, you should know that I'm a third year student studying English and Theatre and Film. While I enjoy my program for the most part, some of my classes make me feel uncomfortable.
In mandatory film classes, I've been assaulted by disgusting images without warning. I had no way to protect myself from visual and emotional disturbances brought on by razor blades and guttural screaming. What would possess a professor to actually force students to experience this? My professors use these films as examples of contemporary art. In other words, I have to sit through the good or bad gruesome scenes for the sake of higher learning. I'm sure you could think of a time when an idea, image or activity in class made you feel uneasy. How do we deal with course content that we don't like but cannot avoid?
Sometimes, when faced with an image or idea that they don't like, some people choose to protest, and that's good. The great thing about university is that varying opinions can coexist peacefully, and even interact respectfully.
How does one engage in productive discourse with an argument that they don't approve of? It starts with acknowledging the person before judging their opinion. Imagine how dignified our debates would be if we actually listened to understand our opponent, instead of cutting them down while trying to have the last word. We are losing our ability to debate with friends, and our ability to stay friends with people whose ideas differ from our own.
"What do you think about abortion?" I genuinely want to know. It's okay if your opinion differs from mine; the important thing is that we respect each other, while holding firm to our core values.
This past Thursday Oct. 9, McMaster Lifeline's information table was set up in hopes of sparking a good conversation. Pro-choice advocates began to protest at the table beside us, which generated even more buzz. We engaged passers-by in interesting discussions focused on basic biology and human rights. Unfortunately, not all the protesters were willing to engage in any discussion about abortion. Instead, they summed up their views in four-word phrases and had some choice words to speak about the pro-lifers next to them, including the phrase "f--- these people."
"They have fetuses!" You probably don't hear this phrase very often, unless you're a medical student. As a group advocating for human rights, we show plastic models of humans in their earliest stages of development, from blastocyst to embryo to fetus. These 3D models by no means depict a gruesome image, but are a tool for learning how the pre-born develop in the uterus over the span of nine months.
If any of the pro-choice protestors wanted to know where we got these models, we gladly would have told them. Yet, they refused to speak with us, or even look at the images they were protesting. This makes me wonder whether these protestors wished to teach us or shame us.
You may disagree with some or all of the things I said in this article, but thank you for reading it regardless. I heard once that "everyone [in Canada] has the freedom of speech, but that doesn't give one the right to be heard." Expression of opinions and active listening are invaluable tools for expanding our horizons as students, and making our campus a true medium for free speech.
Political activist, author and five-time candidate for President of the United States Ralph Nader visited McMaster this week speaking at an event sponsored by OPIRG McMaster and Bryan Prince Bookseller. Among many other things, Ralph Nader was responsible for founding the PIRG movement. He sat down for a face-to-face with assistant news editor Tyler Welch.
The Silhouette: Why are you here? Other than selling books, what message are you trying to get across?
Ralph Nader: The message basically is Canadians have to learn why they have to remain independent of U.S. control. Which is swallowing Canada in so many ways—foreign military policy, corporate policy and so on. And this is why years ago we wrote this book Canada Firsts, it’s all the things Canada led the way with: the first daily newspaper is North America, first credit unions, on and on, science, technology. A lot of it would not have happened if, you know, Canada were just five states or something.
Also, it’s good for the U.S., because we look to Canada as rational to change things in the U.S., like Medicare.
After that, I want to talk about how citizens can become sovereign again, and redirect the country away from its downward slide. It’s almost following the U.S. except in the banking area.
The indicator is more poverty, exporting jobs, shredding public services, cutting back on necessities, giving more tax breaks and subsidies to corporations.
Power is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. That spells decay and decline, if not worse.
Are things like citizen sovereignty and maintenance of Canada’s independence really possible, or are they just wide-eyed ideas?
It’s easy. What if, suddenly, you were driving on the highway and all the cars stopped because there was a boulder blocking the way, and they all got out of their cars and nobody lifted a finger, and then someone said “Oh this boulder, it’s impossible to do anything about it.” Then everyone agreed except for one, who said, “Have you really given it a try?” Then he tries, and the big boulder doesn’t move. Then everyone says, “See, it doesn’t move!”
But then what if six or them try to move, or sixteen? And they all give it a shoulder, and the boulder rolls away.
See, it’s all about how many people get involved, how smart they are and what the agenda is.
How many people does it take for real change?
One per cent, for real change, that would be about 330,000 people in Canada, connected together, in all the ridings, with a full-time staff. They can raise for themselves a few bucks each and have a full-time staff coast-to-coast.
Then they’ve got to ask what institution can make the change the fastest, and seek to influence them. In our country [U.S.] it’s the Congress. In your country, it could be Parliament or Provincial Parliament. But one thing is certain, three hundred thousand people is a lot more than the number of MPs.
Let’s talk about the emotional change that is needed for that. Many students focus on earning something marketable and seeking a good career, but you got a law degree from Harvard—pretty marketable, if you ask anyone—yet you still chose the activism route.
There’s a certain immaturity that modern industrial nations ascribe into their citizens until they’re almost 30. In a more simple society, people become adults and take on adult responsibilities at a much younger age.
People have to unlearn a lot of things. Like the free market. Free? It’s rigged in all kinds of ways. Corporations are on welfare—tax breaks, bailouts.
You’ve got to ask: “Is it a strong democracy, a weak one, a middling democracy, or is it really just a democracy in name?”
They have to unlearn a lot of things that have been controlling them, controlling their expectations, teaching them powerlessness and encouraging them to wallow in cynicism. There is nothing that the ruling classes need the most to stay in power than widespread public cynicism. Because that involves a withdraw. The more you become cynical and powerless, the more power you give away to the few.
Many say that young people are the most withdrawn from public life. True?
People say “That’s for the student government to do” or “This other club will work on that.” They wallow in their own narrow routine, everyday. That tends to magnify personal problems, they don’t have a larger framework—they’re looking through a smaller lens—and that makes them more susceptible to addictions, distractions and to that lethal little thing in their hand called and iPhone.
You just have to talk to one another more, that’s how students rose in the 60s—they talked to each other. They didn’t send telegrams to each other. It’s personal, a conversation. It develops a maturity that develops self-respect. They have to believe that they can reshape their country, because they can.
Were you ever tempted by the other route? The good job, nice house, nice car, nice family?
No, it just trivialized your life, that route. So what, you get paid more, big deal. You want to make zillions? What’s the point? The price for that is to further the ruling class. Harvard Law School is like a finishing school for corporate supremacy.
There’s been a lot written about you living below your means, and giving away most of your income—living on a budget that many people think is impossible.
First of all, when you work as hard as I do, you don’t have time to squander all kinds of money. When you do buy all these extra things, is distracts from the focus. This is serious business, taking measure of these large corporations. A yacht, a fancy car, a fancy house, they’re not compatible with that.
I know somebody that had all these things and more and one day he sold them all. He said, “I bought a lot of things and they began controlling me.”
People are trapped in this pursuit. You know this Snapchat thing? It’s worth $3 billion and they turned it down—they think they can get more. In the meantime, the necessities of life and being ignored; people are going hungry, their housing is bad, their retirement security is shot. You’ve got to get serious, and when you do, you have an incredible increase in quality of life—gratification, joy, challenge, find a different definition of friendship, and by time you’re 65 you don’t have regrets when you look back.
You can’t do this forever. For the next generation of activists, what are the most important issues they will face?
There is too much economic wealth in too few hands, and the few decide against the interests of the many. And, of course, there are the global issues: war, peace, poverty, and climate change. There’s a lot of backlog here—centuries to catch up on.
But the biggest thing is to structure community and civic values so that corporate values are subordinate to them. Another way to put it is “Markets make good servants, but bad masters.” Markets need to be servants or a larger framework of human values and human livelihood.
Where do they start?
To do that, you have to start with young students. Give them civic values and civic skills. Teach them about town halls, how the courts work, elections and institutions. You’ve got to start at that level. Otherwise, education is just vocation—just trade school with different names.
What is something that you wish someone had told you in university?
I wish that people told me, or all the law students, that they were heading for highly rewarding, trivial and damaging work.
Instead, they were told that they were heading for highly prestigious law firms where they would be architects of a dynamic economy, and do all kinds of important and good things.
Many of them are now greasing the way for corporate criminals, allowing the exploitation of fossil fuels, blocking the courtroom door for negligently wounded workers, making us sign fine print contracts, stripping us of any semblance of freedom of speech.
Photo Credit: C/O Wikimedia Commons