The Global African: Canadian Elections & Protests in Baltimore

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This week Telesur’s The Global African will talk to Janaya Khan about the impact of the recent elections in Canada and Tre Murphy about recent protests in Baltimore. Watch more on teleSUR

Story Transcript

BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African we’ll talk to protesters here at Baltimore about their demands on the city. We’ll also talk about the recent elections in Canada.

That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us. Don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: Canada’s recent election exposed how far removed both the Conservative and Liberal parties are. The election cycle had the highest voter turnout since 1993.

On the Conservative side, incumbent prime minister Stephen Harper campaigned on the slogan “That’s not how we do things here” in a not-so-veiled attack on Islamic culture. In September this year, the Harper-led government announced that they were looking to overturn an appeals court ruling that had allowed for Muslim women to wear hijabs while performing their citizen oath. Harper made it a point to prey on Islamophobia, saying, quote, “the international jihadist movement has declared war”, unquote. This was also coming at a time in which the Harper government passed statute C-51, a shadowy piece of legislation that criminalizes political expression.

Justin Trudeau, the Liberal candidate, addressed Harper’s cynical tactics in his acceptance speech, saying, quote, “My friends, we beat fear with hope. We beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together”, unquote. But while Trudeau has rightly condemned the Conservative Party’s racist demagoguery, he has isolated communities of color, blaming black culture for violence against women. He has cited the influence of, quote, “certain kinds of music”, unquote, and single-parent homes in certain communities as the cause of Canada’s violence against women of color and trans women. His campaign has also failed to set any goals to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and his party supported the passage of statute C-51.

Today we will be looking at the impact of Canada’s elections on the Canadian people, and the Canadian people of color in particular. So join us.

We’re joined by Janaya Khan, who is a cofounder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, an organization committed to black liberation, transformative justice, and indigenous sovereignty.

Well, let’s talk about the Canadian elections. I was following the leadup. The Canadian elections were longer than normal for Canada, very short by U.S. standards. I just wish that I was in Canada to experience that. And there was a great voter turnout. And Harper got his rear end kicked. What’s your analysis of what happened?

KHAN: I think that what I saw was–I mean, you could see this leading up. The last voter turnout was around 61 percent, and before that it was in the 50s, which is a dramatic drop from the 80s in the late 1950s.

We were anti-Harper mania in Canada. I think really looking at the legislation, his foreign policy, his rampant Islamophobia, I think those things made it really clear. Trudeau definitely got elected largely because people did not want to vote for Harper. And the NDP has turned into a very central group, as opposed to owning the left in the ways that they should have.

And so Trudeau mania definitely took over in a lot of ways. I’ve seen more memes coming out on social media around how attractive he is more than his actual platform, political platform and policies he’s looking to implement.

So I think the voter turnout, yeah, was largely due to fear of what Harper would be bringing about.

I think the other major thing to bring up, though, is the reality that Harper didn’t lose by that much in the major scheme of things. And one of his major platforms was very anti-Muslim. And the fact that that is not something that’s been widely contested in Canada is very, very telling.

FLETCHER: Where were there surprises either way, good or bad, in the elections?

KHAN: The surprises were around how many visible-minority MPs got elected. I want to be really clear on that. I think it’s important that we have representation. But two major things really stand out for me around our visible-minority MPs. One is it didn’t happen as a conscious effort. It happened largely because–it happened more by happenstance. In switching to Liberals, more visible-minority MPs ended up entering into Parliament, as opposed to a concerted effort. And two, of those visible minorities, they’re largely not black. And so it’s very telling, I think, of antiblack racism in Canada. It’s very telling around the ways in which the black experience in Canada differs than any other racialized group, aside from indigenous people.

FLETCHER: What are–when you say they’re largely not black, what are they?

KHAN: South Asian, East Asian, Atlantic [incompr.] islander, but largely South Asian. And I think those are also representative of the particular regions that they’re in. But the fact that overwhelmingly we have not seen historically black MPs is responsive to the types of antiblack racism that exist in Canada. And, like, we need to be really critical of the types of successes that are happening when they’re incumbent on the continued erasure of black people.

FLETCHER: Now, once upon a time in the British Commonwealth, and actually in parts of the United States, it was not uncommon for South Asians to identify as black. Is that not the case in Canada now?

KHAN: Certainly not. I actually had a–I was part of a caravan for justice out here, and we had people from the U.K. come through. And I’ll be going out to the U.K. in November. And I know that that’s very much still–people still think people are identifying politically as black in order to sort of further the movements. But that’s not been the experience in Canada.

I think that within a narrative of people of color, it is black people who are continuously misrepresented or not represented at all, who exist on the very bottom of the lower-archy, if you will. And realistically, it’s black folks who are most marginalized in the country, alongside with indigenous folks. We need only look to incarceration rates, we need only look to who is being brutalized by police in order to sort of deduce that something is happening in a way that is not conducive to social justice.

FLETCHER: So let’s talk, then, about the ramifications or potential ramifications of the election. And I’m interested in actually a couple of things. One is the legislation C-51, which when I first read about it and heard about it, I was amazed that something so authoritarian and so openly authoritarian was able to pass your parliament. And so I’d like to know a little bit about that and if you could explain to the audience about that. But the other is the ramifications of the election on communities of color in Canada.

FLETCHER: So Bill C-51 is our anti-terror bill. It’s draconian. It is very much anti-Muslim. It’s anti sort of protest. It allows for citizens to have their status revoked.

Now, even in the United States, when you’re looking at terrorism charges, it’s not part of the policy that you would lose your citizenship. And here that can happen for immigrants who receive permanent residence and citizen status. And it can also happen for first-generation Canadians. It’s terrifying. The way that the language has shifted along Bill C-51 also indicates that they don’t need to have a large platform of suspicion in order for you to be sort of interrogated and charged with terrorism in the country.

What is really alarming is the NDP is the only group that was directly in opposition to Bill C-51, and they are also the only group that promised to have it sort of removed immediately within ten to 100 days. And so it’s not been a platform of the Liberal Party, necessarily, to have it removed entirely, or even have it altered. The anti-terror bill as it is needs to be completely abolished.

The impact of the elections on people of color in this city, it’s complicated. I think that, to be honest, for the black vote, for black Canadians in the country, it has very little impact, outside of one thing. I think we are at a pivotal point in Canadian history. What we saw recently is the promise to end carding. Now, carding is a practice that is consistent with United States’s stop-and-frisk. It allows for arbitrary and random checks of individuals and allows for police officers to stop and detain you, and to also collect your information and put that in a system, which, ironically enough, hasn’t worked in our favor around data collections. But we do know that black people are three times more likely to be carded than any other population of people. But it disproportionately targets indigenous people and disproportionately targets racialized people.

And so we’ve had lawyers from the top down fighting that. We’ve been fighting carding on the ground. And now we’re getting a promise that it is going to be amended. I think it’s too soon to call it a success or a win yet, until we see what the policy actually looks like. But I do believe that that was as a direct result of the elections. I do believe that was a direct result of the pressure that Black Lives Matter Toronto and a few other organizations have been putting that–on the–pressure that has been happening on the ground, and also the pressure that has been happening on a parliamentary sort of level, where lawyers and advocates exist.

So I think we’re at a precipice where we can really push reform and push change in a way that is transformative, or continue to exist in this sort of erasive colonial past that Canada is deeply, deeply invested in.

FLETCHER: I heard incoming prime minister Trudeau’s, I guess, acceptance speech. And then I subsequently heard that he had made statements or has made statements that are anti-black. What’s that about?

KHAN: So, I mean, for one, in Trudeau’s acceptance speech, he talks about different sort of anti-oppressive issues, but never once names and mentions racism. I think (a) that’s an incredibly important blind spot.

And the other thing is the comments that he made were specifically around single-parent households and domestic violence, and he specifically said that the reason they exist in the way that they do and in the numbers that they do is because of rap music. And as we know, there’s lots of ways in which antiblack racism manifests itself. Nowadays you can talk and be very much in cahoots with antiblack racism without ever having to say the word black. And so we know that rap music is specifically talking about black populations. I think that is a very problematic statement. It’s definitely, like, deeply, deeply misinformed at the least. And what it really does is it suggests that the black family is inherently violent and tragic. And so his inability to see that and make those kinds of connections led to him being directly challenged in particular ways. But I think he’s very, very consistent with the type of antiblack racism that we see in Canada, which is friendly contempt in a lot of ways.

FLETCHER: Communities of color–are there alliances between major organizations in the various communities of color, the First Nations, the people of African descent, Asians, etc.? Are there alliances?

KHAN: They’re very much in development. They’ve always existed, those histories of resistance in Canada. But with the ways in which Black Lives Matter Toronto is shaping the narrative around antiblack racism and also aligning ourselves directly with what indigenous sovereignty can look like, I think we really shifted the game a lot.

I do believe that change is coming. I don’t believe it’s going to come at the governmental level. I think that people on the ground are really waking up. I think we’re focusing on critical connections over critical mass.

So the objective, though Toronto can mobilize really easily, where we can have a callout and get thousands of people on the streets, what we’re really understanding is the type of coalition building that needs to happen so that we’re not continuing to operate and exist in silos. The reality is whether or not we’re making the connections we need to. Governmental levels, the imperialist, white supremacist state that we live in, they are making those connections. And we have to be more ardent and provide vigor in our work in ways that we never have before. So alliances, coalitions, solidarity movements, they are happening.

The advent of Black Lives Matter as an international movement has really lit a flame all around the world. And I’m very excited for what’s going to be happening. I know that with indigenous and black people, there’s a narrative that tends to exist around stolen land versus stolen labor. That type of singularity of our movements has immobilized us in the past, and I think we’re really moving beyond that and seeing that the ways in which antiblack racism looks at the specific historical, socioeconomic, and political conditions of black and indigenous people has really shifted the narrative and aligned us in ways like never before.

FLETCHER: Alright. Well, Janaya Khan, thank you very much for joining us on The Global African.

KHAN: Thank you so much for having me.

FLETCHER: And thank you very much for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. We’ll be back in a moment.

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FLETCHER: Activists in Baltimore have been in a constant battle to address police brutality and other forms of institutionalized racism. On October 14, young protesters occupied City Hall during and after City Council’s official approval of Kevin Davis as police commissioner. Kevin Davis became interim police commissioner in July after the firing of Anthony Batts. Davis has come under fire for his support of aggressive policing, particularly over the last several months.

On October 17, 16 protesters were handcuffed and arrested for occupying public grounds. This sparked a greater need for change, with one protester shouting, quote, “you probably thought to yourself that you were going to change these things, and here you are keeping things the same”, unquote. That’s what we’re going to explore in a moment.

Our guest here is Trey Murphy, who is a student at Bowie State University and an organizer with the Baltimore Algebra Project. The Algebra Project is a nationally known effort, a youth-run organization committed to promoting math literacy and changing the education system to meet the needs of all students.

Trey, welcome to the program.

TREY MURPHY: Thank you for having me.

FLETCHER: Great. Oh, it’s our pleasure.

So things in the mainstream media, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, Baltimore has sort of moved off of the screen. But you’ve been involved in an effort that has been pushing Baltimore back into the news. So what is the struggle around the police commissioner?

MURPHY: So I think a part of it–and actually, first and foremost, thank you again for having me.

One of the interesting things is that under this police commissioner’s predecessor, Anthony Batts, who was the former police commissioner of Baltimore Police Department before he got fired by the mayor, under his tenureship and his leadership, we haven’t seen such agitation or overaggressiveness to our protests. Right? When Kevin Davis took over as interim police commissioner, one of the first things that we noticed was peaceful protesters began to get arrested and charged and overcriminalized and charged with ridiculous charges that just didn’t make sense.

FLETCHER: Give me an example. That’s people mean by aggressive policing?

MURPHY: Correct. So one example was Kwame Rose in particular. So folks may have heard the story around him. It was this nationally blown up thing where he got arrested during one of the protests, at the pretrial hearings for the Freddie Gray case. And he was charged with the assault of a police officer when on video you can clearly see that he didn’t resist an arrest or anything like that.

And one of the things that was said to Kwame directly, Kwame Rose directly when he was arrested, was that they had received a direct order from higher up to make an example out of protesters. Right? And that’s troublesome for community organizers, youth organizers, activists inside the city, who see themselves as insurgencies, as insurgents for change. Right? I mean, so that begins to trouble us.

And so what we’re saying is that if you are going to accept this job, if you’re going to be inside this position where your job requires you to preserve the rights of individual people, individual citizens in the City of Baltimore, that’s not how you do it, by overcriminalizing protesters, by trying to deter and demean protesters out of Baltimore.

FLETCHER: So that’s interesting. So, aggressive policing, then, has nothing to do with going after criminals. It’s about stomping on people who are protesting.

Now, this movement advanced, what, 19 demands something? So explain. How did that happen?

MURPHY: Inside of Baltimore it was three demands. One, the first one, was that the Baltimore police commissioner, interim police commissioner, who was then interim, now police commissioner, Kevin Davis, implement 19 rules of engagement. The second one was that the mayor fire the housing director, housing commissioner, Graziano, for the sexual assault cases that are pending his department and the fact that he has not been effective inside of his position, that he’s been there for over a decade now. And then a third one was that $20 million be reallocated to educational programming, that that money is institutionally controlled by grassroots groups who have been involved inside of the protests, who understands what is going on, so talking about the four groups who was a part of last week’s protest, the Algebra Project, the Baltimore Bloc, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and City Bloc. Right? So those four groups would be the hub for figuring out where that money go to.

So what we said was that there are 19 rules of engagements that we feel are adequate that are not without of your reach to implement. And so here are these 19 rules of engagement, and very simple stuff, ranging from the preservation of human life over property to not using riot gear, right, and teargas only as a last resort for the preservation of human life, to making sure that there’s a community liaison that works directly with a police liaison so that there’s constant communication flowing and we can try to get a hold of situations as they emerge, as opposed to you guys coming in guns blazing, which provokes a response from everyday citizen, led us to people who they trust and who they know best and who they have developed relationships with to be the ones to talk to them, to make sure that whatever situations arise, that we can deal with it in the most strategic way that preserves human life and does not deepen the conflict that already exist inside of our community as it relates to the police department, right, so all of these various–19 of them–all these various different demands that was not without of the police commissioner’s reach to implement, to say, hey, this is [incompr.]

And that ultimately did not happen. For a number of reasons, the police commissioner chose to disrespect the young people’s voice and go back on his word after he had committed to implementing the 19 rules of engagement, and even added one on to them himself.

FLETCHER: So wait a minute. So the police commissioner accepted the 19, adds one, and then blows the whole thing off? But what did he say? I mean, how did he explain going back on his word?

MURPHY: So he hasn’t put out a statement since his first one, as I understand everything to this. When we called one of the representatives, one of his lieutenant, Russell–I’m forgetting his first name, but Lieutenant Russell, who had set up the meeting with us, what was conveyed to us was that he didn’t understand. Right? And to me that makes no type of sense, because you added a rules of engagement on and you committed to sending us a press statement by noon, even if you didn’t understand, to make sure that everything was in understanding amongst both sides. Right? So it’s just–it’s lie after lie. It’s what it feels like to me. And I’m sure I speak for the protesters who was there. It’s disrespect after disrespect. It’s what it feels like. And it’s ultimately deepening the divide that already exists between community and police.

FLETCHER: Okay. So one of the things that’s interesting here is that this movement is bringing together–it’s not just a movement around police lynchings and police abuse. It’s your bringing together other issues, like this issue of housing. And so how did the decision come about to link these issues?

MURPHY: One of the things that we said is that all of these things stem from a human rights framework, right, and people should have basic necessities because they’re human and because they are humane. Right?

And so one of the things that we recognize is that with the movement for black lives nationally, being out there, being a thing that’s talked about around race relations inside this country, we know that race relations extend far beyond just police, right, and just the police department, extends into all of these other systems that create this structural racism system that was created by a white supremacy framework. Right?

And so what we said was that it’s not enough for us to just try to talk about one issue without talking about how it relates to all of these other issues that disenfranchise people of color every day.

So the housing issue is one thing that we recognize that if people don’t have access to basic housing, right, to quality housing, they’re more prone to fall to the streets, right, or more prone to fall to some of the negative factors that we try to prevent every day. And so there, so the fact that the housing department, the Baltimore City housing department has taken advantage of people and public housing in poor and impoverished neighborhoods is a direct attack on people’s humanity.

What we’re saying is that these are basic humane issues, right, things that everybody should be paying closely attention to, because all three of these things are connected under that human rights framework, because it all plays a part in structural racism.

FLETCHER: Trey Murphy, thank you very, very much for joining us on The Global African and talking with us about this.

MURPHY: Thank you for having me.

FLETCHER: It’s our pleasure.

Thank you very much for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time. Take care.

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