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Occupied Canada: Indigenous & Black Lives Matter Activists Unite to Protest Violence & Neglect

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We host a roundtable discussion in Toronto about how indigenous and Black Lives Matter activists in Canada are working together to address state violence and neglect, and media coverage of their efforts. Last month, First Nations people occupied the offices of Canada’s indigenous affairs department to demand action over suicides as well as water and housing crises in their communities. The protests came after the Cree community of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over attempted suicides. Protesters set up occupations inside and outside the offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in Toronto, Regina, Winnipeg and Gatineau, Quebec. Among those who took part in the occupation of the office here in Toronto were local Black Lives Matter activists who just weeks earlier had launched a 15-day encampment outside police headquarters following news there would be no criminal charges for the police officer who fatally shot a South Sudanese refugee named Andrew Loku last July. Among those who turned out in force at the encampment outside Toronto police headquarters were First Nations activists. We are joined by Erica Violet Lee an indigenous rights activist with the Idle No More movement and a student at the University of Saskatchewan; Hayden King, an indigenous writer and lecturer at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy in Ottawa; LeRoi Newbold, a member of the steering committee for Black Lives Matter Toronto and director of the Black Lives Matter Toronto Freedom School Project; and Desmond Cole, a journalist and columnist for the Toronto Star and radio host on Newstalk 1010.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re on the road in Toronto, Canada, as we turn to look at how indigenous and Black Lives Matter activists here in Canada are working together to address state violence and neglect. Last month, First Nations people occupied the offices of Canada’s indigenous affairs department to demand action over suicides as well as water and housing crises in their communities. The protests came after the Cree community of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over attempted suicides. The community of 2,000 saw 28 suicide attempts in March alone, and 11 on a single night in April. Protesters set up occupations inside and outside the offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in Toronto, Regina, Winnipeg and Gatineau, Quebec. Among those who took part in the occupation of the office here in Toronto were local Black Lives Matter activists, including Yusra Khogali.

YUSRA KHOGALI: This is our family. We know that the only way we can be free and fight against the systems working to kill us is to stand with each other and stand by each other. We’re both targeted by the state in similar ways—the ways in which there is mass incarceration in our communities, police violence, a lack of access to proper housing.

CATHY TSONG DEH KWE: You’re dealing with so much more than just, you know, cuts and scrapes or lacerations. You’re dealing with a whole 500 years of genocide that these people are having to deal with on a daily basis. And we’re basically making sure that the people of Attawapiskat and James Bay, in general, and northern Manitoba, that they know that people are hearing what’s going on, and that they know that people are backing them.

PROTESTER 1: These children feel like their only way out is to take their own lives!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

PROTESTER 2: The suicide crisis in Canada needs to stop!

PROTESTER 1: We have shut the office down. There will be no phone calls, no deliveries. Nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters occupying an indigenous affairs office here in Toronto, Canada, last month. Just weeks earlier, Black Lives Matter activists in Toronto launched a 15-day encampment outside police headquarters. The protests followed news there would be no criminal charges for the police officer who fatally shot a South Sudanese refugee named Andrew Loku last July. A police watchdog said Loku, who had a history of mental health problems, was wielding a hammer when he was shot. But a witness said Loku’s hands were at his side. Among those who turned out in force at the encampment outside Toronto police headquarters were First Nations activists.

Well, to talk more about this coalescing of movements, we’re joined now by four guests. Erica Violet Lee is with us. She’s an indigenous rights activist with the Idle No More movement and a student at the University of Saskatchewan. Hayden King is an indigenous writer and lecturer at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy in Ottawa. LeRoi Newbold is a member of the steering committee for Black Lives Matter Toronto and director of the Black Lives Matter Freedom School Project. And Desmond Cole is a journalist and columnist for the Toronto Star and radio host on Newstalk 1010.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now!

HAYDEN KING: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Erica, why don’t we begin with you? And talk about the protests and the occupation you were engaged in, and the issues you feel are critical to raise for people, an audience that’s global.

ERICA VIOLET LEE: I think that recognizing that we’re on stolen indigenous land is the key to understanding solidarity between these movements, to understanding why indigenous youth are being pushed to kill ourselves in a colonial context, and to recognize that police violence is impacting black lives, indigenous lives and racialized lives in this country, and sometimes we don’t even think about the history of resistance. And so, to see the occupation of INAC and to see the occupations of the police department is an example that we’re taking back this land and we’re taking back our lives.

AMY GOODMAN: And INAC is, for people not in Canada, the Indigenous and Northern Affairs department—

ERICA VIOLET LEE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —of the Canadian government. And what were you demanding at that moment? And ultimately, why did you leave?

ERICA VIOLET LEE: So the occupation was in response to youth suicides in Attawapiskat and all indigenous communities in Canada. And the reason that people wanted to take over these offices is to say these are government offices that are benefiting off of indigenous resources, indigenous land, and yet we live in poverty, and yet we’re not represented in education. Things are dire, and it shouldn’t—we shouldn’t be poor and helpless on our own lands.

AMY GOODMAN: LeRoi, you are a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. You’re joining together with First Nations people. Talk about this coalescing of movements.

LEROI NEWBOLD: So, with the 15-day occupation of Toronto Police Headquarters, we were really aware that the issues that we face in the black community in terms of the lack of value of black lives in the eyes of the state and the police is very parallel to issues that indigenous communities face. When we were occupying Toronto Police Headquarters, we were conscious of the fact that this is a space that is occupied by indigenous activists many times around the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. And the similarities of issues that both of our communities face in terms of interventions by the state around CAS, in terms of education—

AMY GOODMAN: CAS is?

LEROI NEWBOLD: It’s—the American sort of version would be Child Protective Services. And the issues that we face with police violence, the issues that we face in terms of when we lose community members and the police don’t have any reaction to that, were—

AMY GOODMAN: And the particular occupation that just took place, or the protest outside police headquarters, talk about who Loku was and what you came to understand about what happened?

LEROI NEWBOLD: Andrew Loku was a refugee to Canada. He was from South Sudan. And his family came here for what many immigrants come here for: protection or a better life. And he was shot by the Toronto police on Eglinton West. He was somebody who was living with mental health issues. And the police shot him within 60 seconds of arriving at his apartment complex. So, that was something that was deeply disturbing to our community and that we’ve been working with that family for the past couple of years to seek justice. So, directly before the occupation of Toronto Police Headquarters was when we found out that the officer who killed Andrew Loku would not be charged, and that there would be no justice there.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the case of Jermaine Carby, who was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in September of 2014. He was a passenger in the car. This week, a coroner’s inquest into Carby’s death revealed Carby had been subjected to a street check known as carding. This is Carby’s cousin, La Tanya Grant, speaking to a reporter.

LA TANYA GRANT: The officer said he was done, his highway traffic stop, when he finished with the driver, so he had no reason to speak to my cousin after that, nor did he have a reason to ask for his ID. I don’t know what got them pulled over. I just know that they weren’t supposed to be pulled over. And if they were pulled over, they weren’t supposed to be talking to my cousin, Jermaine Carby. If they did not speak to him and card him, Jermaine Carby would still be here today.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Desmond Cole, who is a columnist for the Toronto Star, as well as a radio talk show host. Desmond, can you talk about the Canadian media’s coverage of the issues of, for example, the killing of Carby, as well as Loku?

DESMOND COLE: Well, I remember that Jermaine Carby was killed in September of 2014 in Brampton, which is a suburb of Toronto, and there was very, very little media coverage at the time of this event. And I remember it so well because a couple of months later I actually took a trip down to Ferguson, Missouri, and I was covering the backlash after Darren Wilson was not charged in killing Mike Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old teenager there. And I saw thousands of people from Ferguson marching here in Toronto in solidarity with Mike Brown, but also talking about our own issues, talking about Jermaine Carby and talking about other people in our communities here who have been killed by police. And so, the movement is an international movement. The movement is one where people are feeding off of each other. They’re watching and learning and taking inspiration from one another. It’s taken a lot of time, but I think that Black Lives Matter Toronto and many other groups in solidarity have been much more successful in recent months of raising this as a local problem. And the media has been very slow to respond. But I think the persistence of the activism is forcing more media coverage as time goes on.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote an article about your own experience with racism. Can you talk about what you wrote and the reaction to it?

DESMOND COLE: Well, I wrote about growing up in this part of the country, in the greater Toronto area, and facing systemic racism, being a second-generation Canadian—my parents are from Sierra Leone—and facing anti-black racism every day, facing it in school, facing it at work, and talking about how normal it really is. The reaction was an interesting one, because a lot of people in our city, which prides itself on being multicultural, they acted surprised. They acted surprised that this level of discrimination is so common. Those of us who experience it are not surprised by it at all. And I think what was revealed is a certain naïveté in Toronto, where we ignore very obvious problems of racial discrimination and systemic racism because we want to tell ourselves that it’s not happening here, and we especially want to tell ourselves that we are not the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back to this discussion. Our guests are Desmond Cole, who is a columnist with the Toronto Star. We’re also joined, as well, by LeRoi Newbold, who’s with Black Lives Matter here in Toronto. Erica Violet Lee is with us, as well as—and we’re going to hear from Hayden King, talking about indigenous issues in Canada and how they’re dealt with by the state. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Mother” by Ulali, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re on the road in Toronto, Canada—I’m Amy Goodman—looking at how indigenous and Black Lives Matter activists here in Canada are working together to address issues of state violence and neglect. Earlier this month, Canada announced it would back a United Nations declaration to protect the rights of the world’s more than 370 million indigenous peoples. Four countries opposed the declaration when it was first adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007. Those four countries were Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Canada was the last of the four to finally embrace the statement. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett made the announcement at a U.N. forum in New York, drawing a standing ovation.

CAROLYN BENNETT: Today we are addressing Canada’s position on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am here to announce on behalf of Canada that we are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification. We intend nothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now by four guests: Erica Violet Lee, indigenous rights activist with Idle No More and a student at the University of Saskatchewan; Hayden King, indigenous writer and lecturer at Carleton University. We’re joined by LeRoi Newbold, member of the steering committee for Black Lives Matter Toronto. And we’re joined, as well, by Desmond Cole, a journalist and columnist for the Toronto Star.

Hayden, I wanted to turn to you. You wrote a piece about how people—raising the issue of “Can Trudeau deliver on his First Nations promises?” Your point?

HAYDEN KING: The point I think I was trying to make in that article was that Justin Trudeau and his government have made some very impressive promises during the campaign and after the campaign, everything from, you know, allowing indigenous peoples to say no to development in their territory they oppose, to creating a missing and murdered indigenous women’s inquiry, to—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the missing and murdered indigenous women’s issue.

HAYDEN KING: Right. Well—

AMY GOODMAN: Because this is something I don’t think people understand in—outside of Canada, maybe even inside of Canada.

HAYDEN KING: I think—

AMY GOODMAN: How many women are missing?

HAYDEN KING: I don’t know if you can put a number on it. Many hundreds, thousands of indigenous women have been taken away from their communities, their families, murdered. And this is a phenomenon that is not unique to Canada. In the United States, indigenous communities face epidemic levels of violence against indigenous women. So, in Canada, I think activists have been able to push governments and politicians and their own community leadership to address this issue, and that’s resulted in the government committing to creating an inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. So that’s actually the one commitment that the government seems to be following through on, on the many promises they made during the campaign and thereafter, including implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to free prior and informed consent, including significant investment into education, child welfare, which has been lacking in this country for 150 years.

AMY GOODMAN: LeRoi Newbold, on the issue of transgender people in this country and how you’re treated, how people are treated by the police and the general community, the issue of carding, which I think in the United States is sort of like stop-and-frisk, and how it differentially impacts on transgender people?

LEROI NEWBOLD: So, with carding, there’s a lot of focus on the experiences of young black men in carding, which are very problematic and horrific. You mentioned earlier the case of Jermaine Carby. Jermaine Carby would still be alive today if it were not for carding. So it does really impact young black men, but also impacts women, also impacts queer and trans people in the black community.

And so, with carding, you might be pulled over, stopped and frisked, and it might go very quickly from something seamless, like a traffic violation stop, into something that looks more like a criminal investigation, where you’re being held by police, you’re being detained, but you haven’t been read your rights. And for trans people, that can be something that is very additionally of a concern, because when you’re asked for your ID, the ID that you provide, your name might not—your sex and your gender on the ID might not match your gender presentation. So, at that moment, that interaction with police can quickly become violent and dangerous for transgender people.

AMY GOODMAN: Erica, if you could talk about what it means for Black Lives Matter and First Nations people, Idle No More, to be working together, what you’re hoping to achieve in this coalition?

ERICA VIOLET LEE: Yeah, I was actually in Toronto when there was the giant rally about Black Lives Matter after the death of Andrew Loku, and recognizing, you know, these issues are interconnected. The fact that black people on this land are subject to extreme police brutality is directly related to the fact that the North-West Mounted Police, now the RCMP, were started to police indigenous bodies, to keep us on reserves, to keep settlers safe.

So this is the history of this land that we’re living with, and I think that the general Canadian public doesn’t understand the type of violence that we face every day. You know, it’s scary to walk down the street as an indigenous woman, as a queer two-spirit indigenous person, and it shouldn’t be. We should—we need to connect, you know? And it’s not just about positioning ourselves against white Canadians, either. It’s about recognizing our own histories and our own histories of resistance.

AMY GOODMAN: Desmond Cole, as you cover these issues, do you feel there’s a change in attitude?

DESMOND COLE: There’s a huge change happening right now. There were a series of attacks against Muslim people in Toronto last winter, immediately after the attacks in Paris, France, and Muslim women being accosted on the subway, being attacked while picking up their children from school. And a solidarity rally took place. And while people were marching in that rally, they were saying, “Whose streets? Our streets!” But they were also saying, “Whose land? Native land!” And I’ve never heard that at a protest in Toronto. The protest was about Islamophobia, but it was opened up by indigenous people talking about how they understand also the oppression that the state has enacted on people in this land. And then, of course, Black Lives Matter Toronto being in that historic protest in front of the police station, indigenous solidarity there was unbelievable with the black community. And I think that that’s really the change that’s happening in Canada, is that different groups who are experiencing police brutality and oppression are really coming together in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: I have to leave it there, and I thank you so much for being with us on this day’s broadcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation here in Toronto, Canada, Erica Violet Lee, Hayden King, LeRoi Newbold and Desmond Cole.

That does it for the show. Tonight I’ll be speaking in Toronto here at the Hart House at University of Toronto Great Hall, second floor. Saturday night at 7:30, I’ll be in Troy, New York, at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, then at the Free Library of Philadelphia Monday at noon.

Oh, and a huge shout-out to Miguel Nogueira, our audio engineer, our engineer. He and Inga have just given birth to Alexander and Sofia. Welcome to the world, kids!

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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