It Matters: sexual harassment and silence.

This was first published here and I think appeared in Red Pepper, though i can’t find it now. But I wanted to archive it here to not lose track.


“Are you a hooker?”

Street harassment is ubiquitous enough to usually be little more the white-noise of living under patriarchy but, this morning, stepping outside into quiet, semi-suburban street I’m staying on, a distant horn honk brought those words back into focus.

“Are you a hooker?”

Who said that?

I walked home alone, late, despite suggestions to the contrary; the night was lovely. The downtown music almost drew me into other venues but I wanted night air and stars more than music and drunken stranger companionship. All weekend I had chosen much-needed personal space and peace over protests, parades and parties.

With some ambivalence but a vague acknowledgement of ‘safety I chose a route through well-lit streets rather than through the shadowed park I used to hang out in day and night. In retrospect, it didn’t matter. I was on a well-lit city street when first heard the words:

“Are you a hooker?”

‘Maybe they’re looking?’ I give benefit of doubt. But with all that Canada’s new proposed prostitution legislation will make it harder for people to hire sex workers and make sex-work much more dangerous, no one is going to be soliciting here, on a quiet residential street, a few hours past the resident’s bedtime. Beside that car, I was the only sign of life. Their inquiry was disingenuous so i didn’t respond. Whether or not I’m a hooker doesn’t matter.

“Are you a hooker?”
A different voice; he has a friend.

I’m silent. Out of speechlessness as much as safety. What response is there to this question, hurled like slaps across the peaceful night? What would convey the deep respect i have for sex-workers, the utter contempt I have for men who harass isolated women*, let alone for anyone who thinks the best attack is the word ”hooker”? Asking if I’m a ‘hooker’ does not hurt me—-‘hooker’ signifies an important, often valiant, and dangerous profession–-but I can infer insult and threat in their intention. What can i say to counter their use of that word to erase a right to safety?

“Are you a hooker?”
They slow down, just enough to make sure the words carry.

Despite best intentions, I inventory myself. What a person is wearing doesn’t correlate to harassment: I have been followed, harassed, even stalked wearing platform heels or rubber crocs. My shoes don’t matter. Harassment is not the fault of the harassed. Nonetheless, I check. My platform wedges are tucked in my bag; my feet hit pavement in bland, functional sports sandals. Not that it matters.

I’m at the driveway, reaching for my keys when I realize their attention is still on me. I keep walking, slowly but deliberately, past the house, not wanting them to see where I live. I am grateful for the sandals as I prepare myself to run.

”Are you a hooker?”

Why run? I should yell, curse; chase them down and fight. If it were daylight, I might. But I am still at a loss of words. What sound bite would convey how deeply violent their attitude is towards sex workers; how dangerous such an attitude is for all of society? What words are there to express the anger I feel with the absolute knowledge that if i were, indeed, a ‘hooker’; in fact if i were not holding keys to a door nearby that i could almost certainly reach before they got out of the car, that this twinge of anxiety and readiness–-another background noise of living under patriarchy–-would be panic and fear?

“Are you a hooker?”
Staccato horn honks accompany their words.

I regret that I’m not a good fighter. I have gotten out of many situations by righteous indignation, false confidence, privilege, and luck. Any of those incidents could have turned more violent – even deadly. For many they do. Women sex-workers are 18 times more likely to be killed than other women; 4 times more likely than cops to be killed whilst working and are frequently targeted by serial killers. Aboriginal women*, immigrant women, racialised women, trans women, disabled women, homeless women, queer women are all disproportionately targets of violence and murder, more so when multiply oppressed.

“Are you a hooker?”
The car stops at the corner, 40 metres away their voices and horns still reach me.

They’ve stopped too far to see me clearly but they might back up or turn around. I stop walking. I won’t confront them, wanting to stay safe but quiet, not disturb anyone else. Not prepared to deal with the anxiety it would produce. Knowing that talking about this is less-likely to lead to fighting sexual harassment than it is to lead to more cautions for women not to walk alone at night. For months I’ve supported others who’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted in communities that don’t want to be disturbed by its reality. If I can’t even get my anti-sexist community to deal seriously with sexual harassment or assault, how can I expect others will react?

“I didn’t hear/see anything”
“Did you call the police?”
“Can you prove it?”

Who said that? Was that you?

I double-back, cut along the side to the rear, relieved i have a key for the back door. I stop in the backyard , look up at the night sky. I don’t hear them anymore. I try to let everything go but the stars. It doesn’t work. Not quite, though the breeze is cool and the sky is familiar and comforting. I go inside.

And I look in the mirror.

I know it doesn’t matter that my dress is form-fitting. I’ve gotten catcalls as often wearing oversized waterproofs as when wearing halters and mini-skirts. I’ve been oinked at as a well-coifed size 7 and a disheveled size 20. I have had my breasts commented on, gestured about and groped (unconsensually), in various states of couture and stature, by strangers, acquaintances, co-workers and bosses, since I was 12.

What I’m wearing doesn’t matter but i can’t keep myself from searching nonetheless.

I assess. Is it revealing? Not really. No cleavage. The skirt nearly hits my knees. And a cardigan hovers loosely, hiding the jersey-hugged curves that feminists say i ought to, anyway, be proud of.

“It doesn’t happen to strong women”
“What do you expect if you wear that/ smile at strangers/walk alone”

I disgust myself with these thoughts. For all I’ve done to fight the notion that what you wear, how you look, matters; for all I’ve done to insist that harassment is not the fault of the harassed, i still checked, listening to the past voices echoing in my head.

On principle I’ve long-since made it a point to talk openly about sexual harassment I experience.

For this i am sometimes accused of bragging. Sometimes, but not always in jest; often, but by no means always, by cis-men.

“Are you trying to make me jealous?”
“At least you got some attention”

Who said that? Do you know them?

The news is peppered with politicians talking about “legitimate rape”, with pundits blaming women not just for wearing too little, but also for wearing too much, as when women wearing hijab or niquab are assaulted or attacked. Every complaint of harassment or assault is meticulously scrutinized. Every word, act examined. So much so that we, or at least I, now do it myself.

I fell asleep with my own silence tonight mingling with my friend’s silences around known sexual harassment and assaults that have occurred in my communities. I write this today wondering how many people will doubt my story, or think i am over-reacting, or, indeed, boasting.

What do you say?
“Those guys were assholes”

Do you know them?”
“Not me. Not my mates. We’d never…not really”

Those blokes were friends of someone. How do you know they’re not friends of yours?


* Nearly 700 aboriginal women have gone missing in Canada over the lasts 30 years; despite international pressure, the Canadian government has ignored this crisis.

Since writing this a week ago, I’ve learned that the proposed new Canadian legislation against prostitution is being debated in the House of Commons this week. Find out more about the critiques of Bill C-36 and why prohibition/ciminalization of sex-work is dangerous from the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Reform.

Maggies and Stella are both organizations run for and by sex workers with good resources about violence against sex workers.

Here is some info on violence against sex workers in the UK, though i know less about groups who organize around such issues please do include other links if you know of them.
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – 17th December


No persecution in Bahrain or the UK: Let Isa Al-Aali stay.

This was an update from my piece which originally appeared in Slaney Street.

“The youth in Bahrain are victims of unfairness and injustice by the regime… Many have been calling for the release of relatives, improvement of the human rights situation and democratic rights. Our demand is to seek justice for impunity in torture cases. If I return, I’m returning to death and torture.”

Isa Al-Aali, in an interview with John Lubbock, May 23 2014 Vice

Sign petition here to keep Isa from being returned to torture.
Sign petition here!

Hopefully by now you’ve heard of Isa Al-Aali, the 19 year old torture survivor fighting to remain as a refugee in the UK, against fears of repeated judicial torture in Bahrain. He got an 11th hour reprieve last week from deportation back to Bahrain, but his struggle is far from over and he could face a renewed deportation order as early as next week. We are asking people near and far to sign and share this petition, calling on the Home Office to release this torture survivor from detention immediately and to grant him leave to stay as a refugee. Letters of solidarity and support for Isa to the Home Office are encouraged and can be cc-ed to: sayed[at]

According to a recent statement made by Al-Aali to Vice following news of a legal injunction against his removal, “I’m still not confident about the next steps for the Home Office. My experience has been miserable, so it’s just a temporary decision”

Part of the peaceful pro-democracy movement in Bahrain following the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising, Al-Aali was first detained by police in 2013 where he was thrown from a moving vehicle whilst shackled, beaten, threatened at knife- and gun- point, including being threatened with having his genitals cut off.

He was detained twice more and fled his homeland after being threatened with death for refusing to turn informant on fellow protestors. Bahrain has a well-documented history of political repression and human rights violations, including using weaponized tear gas and bird shot against protesters and using torture. Bahrain security forces have killed at least 95 people since the 2011 uprisings. Bahrain’s Prince Nasser has recently been accused of participating in torture himself. It should be noted that the UK, in the face of clear evidence of growing human rights concerns, continues to defend Bahrain.

Since coming to the UK, he was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 5 years prison in Bahrain. When the Bahrain government somehow learned that Isa’s asylum claim was turned down, they were quoted in their newspaper heralding his return to Bahrain, claiming that people like him were not political refugees but terrorists who needed to be deterred. They celebrated the UK’s “reason” in refusing his asylum claim. The on-going media attention surrounding his case and the rising exposure of Bahrain’s repressive state put him at greater risk.

He came to the UK seeking asylum from a judicial system that is widely recognized to use “Arbitrary Detentions, Ill-Treatment, and Torture” only to be taken into custody upon landing in the UK and put in detention at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre for the last 3 months. Harmondsworth has been the site of on-going campaigns against poor conditions and negligent-to-violent staff, including the detainee hunger strikes at the beginning of May. A 2014 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found Harmondsworth to be deteriorating, rather than improving, in its care of vulnerable people.

He was put into the Detain and Fast Track (DFT) system, which has been widely criticized since 2006 for not allowing people proper time or resources to adequately represent their claim; Isa certainly lacked proper access to legal support or even translation when first detained. The Home Office also has explicit rules against holding people who have been tortured under DFT and yet here is where Isa remained. Medical Justice calls detained torture survivors “second torture”.

Imagine the torment one would feel after fleeing from psychological and physical violence to the promise of security, only to find that the notion of the UK as a welcome space for democracy and freedom and a refuge for those subjected to persecution at home, is a myth.

This hope of sanctuary from torture is systematically taken away: by being not welcomed but detained at the airport, faced with an obfuscated and Kafkaesque bureaucracy in a foreign language, held in a detention centre known for its neglect and violence, with every hope of freedom shattered in the outcome of his successive asylum hearings. It’s still much better than what Isa faces in Bahrain. After all, who would subject themselves to such a system in the UK if they weren’t at risk of grave physical danger where they came from? But it must come to an end nonetheless – an end that sees Isa finally walking free; free from detention and guards, free from torture, free from persecution, free from fear.


Please help him achieve this. Call on the UK to release Isa immediately from this arbitrary and harrowing detention and grant him leave to remain in UK without fear of persecution or return to torture. Sign and share this today

For those unfamiliar with the case, you can visit the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy for a full background and updates. You can find a piece with broader context, including information and links about Bahrain’s human rights record, The UK relationship with Bahrain, and the UK trajectory on migrant rights on Slaney Street

You can also find out more about the UK’s cozy relationship with Bahrain, as well as more coverage on Isa’s case, human rights in Bahrain, migrant detention and the growing xenophobia of the UK in this annotated list below.


Vice Interview with Isa


Update on Isa’s current situation at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Update from Bahrain Watch


Initial articles about Isa’s removal order:


Pieces putting Isa’s case in context of Bahrain human rights record, Bahrain/UK relationship and the Fast Track system  for asylum claims in the UK:
Facebook group
Twitter #SaveIsa #SaveIsaAlAali

Migrant strikes against conditions in detention and “detain and fast track” system

Piece on migrant detention and fast-tracking, following hunger strikes by migrants in detention centres, including Harmondsworth, where Isa is being held

June 7th protest at Harmondsworth against Fast Track and Detention

“second torture” of detaining migrant torture survivors

UK Home Office notes on Rule 35 prhibiting vulnerable people from being detained and fast tracked

Deaths of migrants in custody

High Court on DTF for torture survivors


Exposé on allegations of torture by Prince Nasser by the Financial Times (behind a paywall),Authorised=false.html?

and in the Independent

UK’s analysis of Bahrain, including acknowledgement of use of torture and repression of freedom of expression

UK “mission” and “priorities” with regard to Bahrain

2014 Human Rights Watch report documenting “regression” of human rights in Bahrain

Experience of other Bahraini dissidents living in the UK

Critiques of the UK relationship with Bahrain and Isa’s removal order ;


15 year old boy killed last week by police with birdshot in Bahrain
Torture of journalist Nazeeha Saeed

Account of torture from Bahrain

Release of political prisoner from jail in Bahrain
Bahrain Watch

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

(more links coming soon)

Who cares for the cargivers

[first pubilshed in a cook ‘zine “from farm to fork” by  le frigo vert collective circa 2009 More recent info on canadian migrant workers can be found here

Part nanny, personal care attendant, health care worker, maid and cook, we can’t forget aboutdomestic workers when we talk about food and health. The majority of domestic workers arewomen, from the Philippines, but also from Caribbean countries who enter Canada through theLive-in Caregivers Program. And though they work tirelessly to feed and care for their employers,they often have little access to food or care themselves.

Coming to Canada because of conditions ofpoverty in their homeland, created by programsof global capitalism, women often leave behindtheir own families to come and take care ofsomeone else’s here in Canada, all for the hopesof being able to send home money, andpotentially, eventually being able to move herewith their families.

One of the biggest difficulties for Filipinaworkers entering Canada through the LCP isthat of immediate forced integration.“With children,” says Evelyn Calugay, a memberof Pinay, a Montreal-based Filipino women’sorganization that focuses particularly onworking to organize and empower Filipinodomestic workers, “ it’s recognized thatintegration should be done gradually rather thanabruptly, but workers are expected to integrateimmediately. It has a huge effect on yourphysiological system to be immediately forcedto eat an entirely different diet.”

Generally, when they do shopping for theiremployers, they shop in places that don’t carrythe type of food they are used to, so they areonly able to access their own food on their dayoff, and some aren’t even allowed to bring theirown food back if, for example, doing so wouldviolate a dietary mandate (such as kosher law).Room and board is supposed to be part of thedeal for domestic workers, but many are deniedaccess to their employers food.

Employers will keep track,” says Calugay, “They will look in the fridge and ask about every morsel that is missing”. Calugay says some members of PINAY admit that they live on bread and butter, while others admit to keeping

food under their bed.

But often, food is the least of their worries.The wages are low and although on paper, thesewomen are entitled to days off and privaterooms, in practice, they rarely have privacy andare often on call 24-7. They receive no benefitsand in Quebec, are not even covered by CSST(Quebec’s workers comp), which means thatthough they take care of other people’s health,they have no resources to take care of theirown. Indeed, many who become injured, ill orpregnant while in the LCP find themselves firedfrom their jobs thereby losing their workpermits and being at risk of deportation.When asked to describe the treatment oflive-in caregivers over all, Evelyn said they aretreated as “disposable objects; not human


We are hailed as ‘modern-day heroes,’ butin fact, we are ‘modern-day slaves’,” said YolynValenzuela, of Siklab, a Filipino migrant workersgroup, in a recent speech about the LCPPeople in the LCP program can, after working24/36 months, apply for landed immigrantstatus, but the criteria are so restrictive andthe conditions so harsh few make it that far.A main barrier to this being that as soon as adomestic worker changes employment forwhatever reason, (be she fired, fall ill or leave,even if she leaves an abusive or dangerousenvironment) she must apply for a new workpermit. Though permits can be issued withinweeks, it often takes upwards of 6 months, and,in some cases, over a year.In the meantime, mostwomen find work, but without a valid workpermit, they not only have no legal rights butbecause these jobs are not documented, theirtime is not counted towards requirements ofthe program. Simple math shows that if the bureaucratic wheels turn too slowly, the workerwill never make the 24/36 month requirement,and will be deported..

Calugay describes this as “…a cycle [predicatedon] survival of the fittest”

Unbelievably, these conditions are better thanthey were. In the past, workers would have toreapply for permits periodically even if theyremained with the same employer. A long foughtcampaign demanding that LCP workers begranted a work permit for the full 3 years andnot be tied to a specific employer had a partialvictory: 3 year permits are now issued. The factthat the permits remain tied to a particularemployer, however, renders this victorysomewhat hollow in that most workers changeemployers throughout this 3 year period andthen are stuck with the problem of not beingable to document work until their newpaperwork (permit) has come through.LCP workers in Quebec won a moresubstantial victory through the Quebec HumanRights Commission recently. Currently,domestic workers in Quebec are not coveredby CSST (Worker’s Compensation in Quebec).A report done by McGill professor and co-founder of the Montreal Immigrant WorkersCentre, Jill Hanley, found that 30% of domesticworkers experience a job-related injury. In November of 2008, the Quebec Human RightsCommission ruled that this exclusion wasdiscriminatory on the basis of gender, ethnicityand social status. Of course, the ruling is onlythe first step and to date it is unknown howthe CSST will interpret and manifest this newstandard. [having left the jurisdiction shortly after writing this, i have no idea how this has affected the terrain]

[another update: Montreal Immigrant Worker’s Centre launched an association of temp agency workers in order to fight and organize for themselves for better work conditions and dignity…and struggle for basic things that we all take advantage of… such as minimum wage, holiday pay, dignity and respect, and also against their own injust situations of fighting for status and against deportations..The struggle continues

  • Amanda Dorter is a frigo collective member

For more info or to stand in solidarity with workers in the Livein Caregivers Program

check out the Pinay website at

Tainted food: The politics of food production and its labour in Canada.

[first published for le frigo vert’s cookzine: From Fork to Farm – circa 2009]

There is a constant and understandable concern about the quality of the food that we eat. Frequent recalls due to contamination, the decreasing nutritional value of non-organic and industrially farmed food, and new studies discussing relative benefits or dangers of various products keep many of us on our toes. “Buy local” trends have also been on the rise as people believe that it is safer, more ecologically sound and ethical or at least neighbourly to support small, local producers. But the most profound issues of food politics go beyond ecological and health concerns to the consumer. Behind the food we consume is the taint of colonialism, racialized and gendered oppression, and exploitation of workers throughout the world.

At times, it is impossible to make choices that are affordable, nutritious and just; indeed it’s often impossible for consumers to find out about the conditions under which a particular piece of food is grown, picked, processed and served, but the more information we have, the more conscientious our choices can be. Just as we might commit to doing an herbal cleanse after a binge of take out meals and junk food, we can commit to fighting for workers’ rights even though we might consume the food brought to us by worker exploitation.

People need to move from personal health consciousness to holistic human consciousness,” says Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justicia (Justice) for Migrant Workers (J4MW)in an interview with me a few days ago.

Throughout Canada, all food industries, from farm to processing to food service rely heavily on migrant labour to do difficult and often dangerous work at a low cost to the employer yet a high cost to the worker. The majority of these workers are are not entitled to permanent status in Canada nor to many basic rights, such as minimum wage, overtime laws or basic health and safety coverage. In some cases, people participating in the program can, after a long period of time and the meeting of many requirements, apply (with no assurances) for landed immigrant status, but the criteria are so restrictive and the conditions so harsh that few workers make it that far.

Many people enter into these programs because of poor access to food and basic necessities in their homelands. These conditions, due to decades of imperialist exploitation through policies of global capitalism like the IMF and World Bank, force people into coming to places like Canada either under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or more specific programs such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP)and the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) that are designed to maximize profits for Canadian employers (Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program pdf.).

Though there are differences with all these programs, what they have in common is that the workers essentially have few rights and no recourse. Minimum wage and overtime laws do not apply. People are often forced to work without breaks. Workers are housed by their employers with little, if any, privacy or safety. In the case of farm workers, access to food, clean water, and basic sanitation such as toilets is not even a given (J4MW, December 2, 2008). D

When asked about the treatment on such farms,Ramsaroop recalls something told to him by a worker when he first because involved in migrant worker justice. ‘To the local (white) people, we are invisible.’ That’s always stuck with me,” he said. “They’re straight up…and they all say the same three things: indentureship; slavery; treated as less-than human,”

In “The Real Dirt on Farm Work” by the Centre d’Appui (2006) a 69 year old worker has spent 20 years working 8 months per year through the SAWP program and “is still no closer to getting residency status or claiming the Employment Insurance benefits he’s paid into than the first day he arrived” describes his experience in similar terms:

[T]hey treat us like slaves”, he says of SAWP. “The Mexican government sells us and the Canadian government exploits us”

Such a system harkens back to the way in which Turtle Island came to be colonized. After mass theft of land and slaughter of indigenous people, European settlers cleared the land, started large-scale plantations, and maintained elaborate households, with slave labour.

It’s also interesting to note that, in addition to migrant labour, large-scale food production (from farms to abattoirs) relies heavily on prison labour. Prisoners have no labour rights, not even on paper. In Guelph, prison labour was used throughout most of the 20c for farming and slaughterhouse work firstly owned by the department of corrections, but eventually privatized with Better Beef. Slaughterhouse workers have higher overall mortality rates than the average worker.

Inmates at the Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana, known as The Farm, work plantations of sugar cane, cotton and corn earn 4-20 cents an hour, sometimes working 17hours without a break. 85% of prisoners at The Farm will never leave, even being buried on prison grounds. Many of the prisoners working there today trace their roots back to slaves who worked the same fields during the antebellum, while many guards and administrators trace their heritage back to plantation owners from the same time

And while prison labourers have no avenues of escape from the toil, migrant workers are bound not only by having no other options, but by fear of physical and emotional violence, sexual assault, violence towards their families, and a constant fear of deportation.

Many of the requirements of the various programs are tied closely to work permits, which are often short-term and offer no real protection, as people find themselves fired and immediately deported without cause or notice, and forced to pay their own ticket home. And if a worker’s permit expires, or s/he leaves one employer, they must reapply for a permit which is both costly and involves time delays. Though permits can be issued within weeks, it often takes upwards of 6 months, and, in some cases, over a year. In the meantime, in order to make ends meet, these people have to take under the table jobs, which means no rights or protections at all. Additionally, because these jobs are not documented, they do not count towards requirements of the any program.

The majority of undocumented workers,” says Michael of the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal, “are asylum-seekers waiting for their work permits. It can take 6 weeks, it can take more than 18 months, and people are not given any idea of which it will be, or why.” In order to live, they have no choice but to work under the table to make ends meet. Not only are they not protected by any labour laws, but they fear any complaint they make might reflect badly on their asylum review, that they might be pegged as “trouble-makers”.

Furthermore, undocumented workers may be here without status for a number of reasons: fleeing war, poverty, violence and discrimination in their homeland but not recognized as refugees by the Canadian state. In such cases, too, the workers have no legal rights, just a great fear of being exposed and deported if they stand up for their rights.

Michael describes conditions in meat packing plants around Montreal:
Quebecois workers leave the plant after their 8 hour day while the migrant workers remain. Male workers are kept for 10 hours and then sent home before the women, who are then moved to an area of the plant unmonitored by cameras, locked in and not allowed to leave the room until quotas are met.

And again, there is no recourse. Complaints of such conditions, and of abuse, or sexual harassment are commonly met with indifference at best. In many cases, the complainant is forced into resignation.

In some cases, migrant workers who have tried to organize for better conditions have faced fears beyond their own personal safety, when their families back home began to be threatened.

Canada relies on undocumented workers to fill labour shortages in “low-skilled” (read low-paid and unsafe) jobs—essentially jobs that anyone with status would refuse to take. Many foreign workers are actually highly-skilled professionals, but their accreditations are not recognized in Canada.

There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers across Canada without labour rights and in constant fear of deportation. Earlier this spring, the Canadian Boarder Services Agency conducted raids on migrant worker communities in southern Ontario, a tactic used against such communities periodically.

“The purpose of these raids is to heighten a climate of fear and insecurity in immigrant communities. These raids are part of Canada’s revolving door immigration policy where workers are used and disposed of with little or no rights”, says Mac Scott of the Law Union of Ontario (toronto:nooneisillegal, April 4, 2009).

Despite numerous public campaigns to regularize undocumented workers, conditions have only worsened, and the resources to fight them are scarce, with the larger unions and social movements failing to support this vulnerable population.

“Bluntly, it’s racism,” said Ramsaroop about the phenomenon. “It’s how we view Black bodies”, he continues, explaining that people have just come to accept that people from Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean—the vast majority of the population in the SWAP—having fewer rights and security is just part of the Canadian context.

Problems remain where workers are part of a union in that collective agreements tend to favour local workers over migrant ones. In cases of dismissal, foreign workers are often immediately deported, which makes filing grievances against wrongful dismissal all but impossible.

Earlier this decade, in Montreal, an organization called the Workers Solidarity Network formed to promote solidarity between workers, particularly precarious workers. On a few occasions, the network would take on plights of individual workers. In some cases, the network would confront the employer demanding redress for a particular problem, such as payment of wages owed (Star, October 19, 2005). Though these cases were successful, they are individual success stories within an inherently flawed system, and one that is unlikely to be reformed. [update: recently, the Immigrant Worker’s Centre in Montreal started an independent Migrant Cleaners Union, which has the potential to fight back in a way similar to the Workers Solidarity Network]

There have been a few gains won over the years, but these are always tenuous [now, in 2012, as the Harper government just passed the Refugee Exclussion Act, conditions for all people without citizenship are worse than ever]. For example, when farm workers in Ontario won the right to unionize, Rol-land Farms, Canada’s largest mushroom producer, fired nearly 200 migrants from Mexico, Jamaica and Guatemala and evicted them from company housing (Rol-land Farms Limited, 2009). Many had gone into debt to come to Canada through the SAWP program and were laid off after having completed only 4-8 months of a 24 month contract, meaning they were subject to deportation

Over all, there is little hope for justice in the near future regarding any of these conditions.

Ramsaroop describes the trend to be “a consolidation of power […] and accentuation of exploitation” and does not see that changing, though there does seem to be growing awareness and support.

What impact this support has on the conditions remains to be seen.

As Ramsroop puts it, “We can’t afford to be trendy. This cannot just be another sweatshop movement [that loses momentum and interest within a few years]. The movement has to be a sustainable and long term movement, fighting to ensure that workers have respect and justice here”

While being conscious of what you eat and where it comes from is one step towards this goal, getting behind the organizations and workers involved in the struggle is much more important. Consumer politics may show small shifts in the industry, but only large-scale movement will bring about any lasting reform.

Please visit the websites of PINAY, the Immigrant Workers Centre and Justacia 4 Migrant Workers for more information and ways of getting involved.


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Fritschi, L., Fenwick, S., & Bulsara, M.. (2003). Mortality and cancer incidence in a cohort of meatworkers. Occupational and Environmental Medicine Retrieved May 6, 2009 from

Harris, S. (2009, May). StraightGoods: Shut down Alberta’s temporary worker program: report Alberta labour fed says fads reshaping immigration policy by the back door. Vue Weekly Retrieved May 6, 2009, from

Hodge, J. (2006). Unskilled labour: Canada’s live-in caregiver program. Undercurrent, Vol. III, No. 2, 60 – 66. Retrieved May 6, 2009, from

J4MW (2009) Seasonal Agricultural Workers. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from

No One is Illegal. (2009). Over 100 Migrant Workers Arrested; Communities Demand Their Release. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from

Pratt, G. Assessing Canada’s live-in caregiver program Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from

Rol-land Farms Ltd. Retrieved May 7th, 2009 from

Star, P. (2005) (en) NorthWest America, Unfinished Business #3 – Montreal’s Workers Solidarity Network: Class Struggle Unionism. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from

NOII-Toronto Over 100 Migrant Workers Arrested; Communities Demand Their Release. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from

Stead, H. (2002). Guelph, apeople’s heritage1827-2002. Guelph, ON, Canada: City of Guelph.

ufcw. (2009) Rights for Ag Workers. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from

Social strike and solidarity in the streets of Montreal

As a montreal ex-pat of sorts, I’ve been following the student/social strikes and the widespread anger and defiance against the intensified state and police repression. Personal reasons demanded my presence in Toronto within 48 hours of landing in kkkanada but it’s been incredible to move from the facebook/media voyeurism onto the streets, if only briefly. I want to take a minute not just to share my brief encouter, but to give folks unfamiliar with Montreal a better sense of what is going on. This first part is more a “this is what the streets were like” account; the second, if i get to it, gives a bit more analysis and context for the strikes and why it has blossomed in Quebec.

My first evening in Montreal i wasn’t on the streets. Whisked directly from airport to BBQ, you’d hardly even know there was a social struggle of epic proportion going on. I expected my ears to ring with at least the  echos of casseroles, but of course i arrived a little late; i expected my nose to twitch against he acrid smell of tear gas, but then i was visiting pretty far north of any major sites of insurrection. Of  course after more than 50 connective nights of demos, 4 months into the student strike, and a week after the massive convergence against the Grad Prix, I was aware that energy must be waning. Students have been calling for less-frequent marches, saying they are burnt out and need time to pause, reflect, and build for the strike votes coming again in August.

The BBQ and my following day was populated with friends, old and new, who have been doing deeply important work long before the two + years these strikes have been building. I wanted to be part of the street demos, but  i also wanted to understand from people i trusted and shared context with, what their perspective of it all is (plus i just wanted to see people whom i miss and love). To be honest most of my best mates have not been heavily involved in the strike, busy as they are fighting the same day-to-day fights they have been for years: “working non-stop trying to race bill c-31 [the horrific new Refugee Exclusion Act] ”; standing in solidarity, day in and day out, with indigenous commuities doubly colonised in Quebec; fighting against Bill C-38; raising young children and building families and communities; doing day-to-day, frontline street outreach.  But they’ve probably all made it to a number of cassaroles and demos and have thoughts about the shape of this student-cum-social movement.

Keys were left for me at my mate’s flat so i could settle in while she was working – doing street outreach into the early morning hours. The key was tucked away in an envelope and cushioned by a lovely red square. The next morning, at my breakfast date, the first words out of another mates’s mouth was – “do you need un carré rouge?” and he pulled out a swath of red felt, “I find it’s good to have a few on you. We’ve been having a lot of visitors lately so i just keep them on hand”.

Walking throughout the streets red squares in windows and on fellow pedestrians were less-present than i had hoped, but still pretty ubiquitous and imbued the city with a feeling of hope and communication.

My second night in town, my one and only chance to be on the streets with the masses, whatever that might look like. 8:30pm at Berri Square I wondered if I had truly missed the wave, as there were a just a handful of people milling about. Some casseroling, some (but very few) selling newspapers, waving Quebec flags (and I will talk about separatism/nationalism in part 2) one or two with anonymous masks and a few crews pacing the periphery; mostly it was folks just hanging about, like any other night in Berri Square, though with a heavy police presence.  And then something amazing happened. A few bike-cops lined the edge of the square as the Orwelian recorded announcement declared the gathering illegal. the moment the announcement started, the milling about stopped, and, like the well-rehearsed act this has surely become, people lined up in front of the police, waving flags, recording cops, starting to chant and in a seemingly spontaneous yet cohesive act, taking the streets.

It was about 100 people, mostly chatting or casseroling, as cops diverted traffic and made futile attempts at intimidation. There were no marshals to the march. No scouts or comms team. Certainly some people remained towards the front and others followed, but it felt as spontaneous and fluid as lovers going for a stroll. Walking west on René Léveque (a dual-carriageway), the police had already diverted traffic and the lanes were free. And then, like osmosis, the march flowed across the barriers into the vehicle-laden lanes. And there was not an angry honk to be heard. Not one person rolled down their window and gobbed on us. Several did roll down their window to accept red squares being doled out.

Through residential streets again and, like a small town, people called out to each other and stopped and chatted, some joining in the march, others going on their way. Waves came from windows and doorways. Most marches I have been to are met with the distant gaze of the spectator at best, more likely mistrust and hostility from the vast majority of non-participants. This was different. This felt as though the march was just one limb of a body that might be multi-tasking at the moment, but ultimately working as a whole.

Brief talks with a few folks on the streets in my very broken French gave me an impression similar to what kept Occupy going for so long. There is the political necessity for this movement, but as well there is the affect. The community that is being built through these actions, be they neighbourhood casseroles or the nightly marches.

As we approached the FracnoFolies festival area (not a week in the summer goes by without a festival in Montreal), the numbers swelled (reaching into the many-thousands after the Los Locas show finished).  Earlier in the week Cindy Milstein described the night demo being blocked from the festival crowd by a thin line of police but, contrary to the typical us/and them on either side of the blue line, people talk of the festival crowd cheering and chanting with the march. Last night the security actually approached the march and said “people like you here, you are welcome to come in”. And later in the evening, the biggest feeder march to the night demos was the Loco Locass show <;, which invited CLASSE spokespeople on stage to co-perform Libérons-nous des libéraux, and then encouraged the audiece, thousands strong, to hit the streets.

I had left the main march by this point, joining up with the first familiar – if camped up –  faces i saw (remarkable for a city where 2 years ago I would have at least recognized 75% of the faces at any given leftist militant demo) in the Pink Bloc’s Drag March Against Repression which was in it’s second or third hour and so split off, taking the streets on route to a well-needed pint in the village. Though a drink was the objective, the route to get there was peppered with anti-capitalist slogans and a blatant claim of the streets. The police kept a close watch, occasionally nudging people along, and at one point blocking access and forcing someone in a scooter to leave the march as the corralled people onto  sidewalk without curbcuts, radonmly grabbing one demonstrator on the way just to regain their power.

The megaphone chants included everything from “Queer, feminista; anti-capitalista” and calls to vote with bricks instead of ballots to ati-cop chants from “la police aux service des riches and des fascits” and “La police: homophobe” to “Police suck, but do you swallow”. Yet even with these militant and sometimes seemingly vulgar chants coming from what would be considered by the mainstream to be veritable freaks in drag, the passersby were on our side. Chanting along with us, pumping fists, applauding, and at the moments when  the police looked poised to to pounce, joining us on the streets for a block two.

At one point, after the ubiquitous recording pronouncing us, yet again, as illegal, the police moved in. Join us, people called, and some turned to their friends and said of course. Others stepped in between the march and the police interrogating them, both registering their refusal to accept this repression, and creating space between cops and the march – this tactic of creating a buffer was one that I used to participate in, with slight different optics, blocked up. And now an action which is common for the often-denigrated “Black Bloc” gets reflected back in its roots as natural human impulse against threat and coercion; passers-by with and without red badges unquestioningly stepping in against state intimidation in a place where, just months previous they may not have intervened even at the sight of more explicit police violence.

(still to come: part 2 – the Context of Colonialism: why this can happen in Quebec)

Once-rejected Bartley Green Councilor John Lines to be appointe Brum Lord Mayor on Tues. May 22nd

Though this post is mostly to not lose track of the below article, you can check out this facebook group which has links to Lines’ racist, homophobic and violence past, as well as the petition against his impending Lord Mayorship.

The following text was taken from a post on The Chamberlain Files that for some reason was taken down, yet cached here…

The text is below, and corroborated by this article, saying that “Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors overwhelmingly refused to accept [the appointment of John Lines as Lord Mayor in 2001 was]…the first time in more than a century that a party’s nomination of Lord Mayor has been rejected.”


“So near yet so far for ‘Lord Mayor John Lines’”  – 11/01/2012 by Paul Dale

“Never say never in politics. Eleven years after suffering the humiliation of being told he was not after all going to be Lord Mayor of Birmingham, John Lines may finally be on course to inherit the glittering office.

“The combative Tory city councillor should have been given the job in 2001, but Labour and Liberal Democrat members joined forces and threw out the nomination, claiming that Coun Lines was too divisive and right wing for a multi-cultural city like Bimingham.

“Eleven years later, the Liberal Democrats have performed a U-turn and decided that Coun Lines is exactly the sort of chap to become First Citizen. The fact that the Lib Dems are running the council in partnership with the Conservatives and it is the Tory turn to nominate the Lord Mayor may have something to do with this.

“And in any case, some Lib Dems have come to have a grudging respect for Coun Lines’s eight-year stint as cabinet member for housing and admire the way he has turned around a failing department. They also love the way he routinely delivers a verbal bashing to hapless opposition councillors who dare to question publicly his performance.

“This, at least, is the official coalition line. Bubbling away beneath the surface, however, there remains unease among a few Liberal Democrat councillors and rather more outright hostility in the opposition Labour group.

“Most Labour councillors are finding it difficult to forget about the spot of difficulty Coun Lines found himself in four years ago after referring to asylum seekers as “scumbags” and “scallywags”. The remarks were made in the context of an interview to a magazine and meant to underline Coun Lines’s support for British armed forces who, he believed, had to wait at the bottom of the queue for housing while asylum seekers were given preferential treatment.

“A complaint was made to the Standards Board for England, but the board cleared Coun Lines of breaking the councillors’ code of conduct and ruled that he had a right to freedom of speech and to be abusive as long as he stayed within the law.

“I took soundings in the tea room at this week’s full city council meeting and discovered scarcely disguised anger among Labour members. The 56-strong group is yet to decide formally whether to back the nomination of Coun Lines and is unlikely to do so until just before the February council meeting, when he is due to be pronounced Lord Mayor-elect.

“There is a feeling, with the way news of Lines’s prospective elevation leaked out last week, that Labour is being bounced into backing the nomination on the grounds that it is the Conservative turn to take the mayoralty in 2012-13 and they must be allowed to select who they want. This was exactly the argument used in 2001, when it was again the Conservative turn, but that didn’t prevent the council voting to reject Coun Lines on that occasion.

“One senior Labour councillor spoke of the “unexpected and unwelcome news” of Coun Lines’s prospective nomination and added that the group appeared completely split over the matter, although there was a groundswell of opposition. The matter will be considered at a special Labour group meeting on Jan 28, just over a week before the council meets to choose a Lord Mayor-elect on February 8, where an attemtp to reach a collective decision will be made.

“The Labour group leadership may wish, possibly with a heavy heart, to support or at least not to oppose Coun Lines’s nomination. Pragmatic grounds are being mentioned, with a desire to avoid the festering ill feeling that marked 2001 when the Conservatives refused to nominate an alternative to Coun Lines and the Lord Mayoralty went instead to Liberal Democrat Jim Whorwood.

“Phrases such as “we have all moved on” since 2001 and “let’s draw a line under this” are being used in an attempt to rally the troops. There is also a feeling that it would be difficult to justify opposing the nomination for Lord Mayor of someone with 30 years unbroken council service and who, crucially, can boast that he is the first person to oversee the building of new council houses in Birmingham for some 25 years.

“He has enjoyed the benefits of Prudential Borrowing, which was not available until the very end of Labour’s council rule in late 2003, and this has enabled hundreds of millions of pounds to be invested in modernising decaying council housing stock. Birmingham’s local authority housing now meets the Decent Homes Standard, which was certainly not the case in 2004.

“Add to that Coun Lines’s Homes for Heroes initiative, securing accommodation for members of the armed forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is easier to understand why the official Labour stance could be one of, if not outright support,  non-opposition to the mayoral nomination.

“It remains far from clear, however, whether Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore will succeed in securing a binding decision among his members to vote for Coun Lines as Lord Mayor. A number of backbenchers I spoke to said they wanted a free vote on the issue and would consider rebelling if whipped to support Coun Lines.

“Of course, if the coalition wants Coun Lines to have the job, which it does, enough votes exist to force it through since the Tory-Lib Dem partnership still enjoys an overall majority of eight in the chamber. The most likely scenario is that Labour councillors opposed to the nomination, and perhaps a few Liberal Democrats, will absent themselves from the council chamber when the vote to nominate the Lord Mayor is taken, and as this happens at an informal meeting anyway it will be possible for the whips to turn a blind eye.

“It is impossible to be certain now, though, about what will happen when the 2012-13 Lord Mayor is formally elected at the annual council meeting at the end of May. This will be the first session of the new council following the elections on May 3, and it is reasonable to suppose that Labour will have a majority of seats and clear control of the city council.

“Councillor Lines can be forgiven if he feels unusually nervous during the two week period between the elections and the annual meeting. Nothing is certain in politics, not even for Lord Mayor-elects.”

In solidarity with the students of Quebec

Before the end of the night Bill 78/Loi78 will pass, basically revoking all rights to expression, assembly and protest, imposing economic punishment on people for speaking out against economic oppression in the first place (#classwar). Such a law is a desperate last-ditch effort from the government to force submission after all other means, from legal process to lethal force have not been able to stop this student uprising.

It seems so incredibly unconstitutional and will be struck down and probably in a few years, a bunch of people will sue the cops for all of this and win. But in the meantime, the Charest government believes this ploy will deflate the movement and let them get away with all the crap that hundreds of thousands of people have been fighting against for the last 3 months. I hope people will stand against such a repressive and vicious attack.

As Bill C 309 is also up for debate – further criminalizing masks at protests, the government is unmasking itself. it is showing to the masses what many communities – indigenous communities who’s treaty rights have never been honoured; migrants for whom basic security let alone access to status is a crapshoot at best; Black and disabled people who are used as target practice by the police – have long known: that the laws and so-called democratic processes of the state are just arbitrary rules written to ensure the wealth of the 1%, the power of the state, the control of society remains unchallenged. This mask has long been lifted elsewhere in the world, but Canada has liked to pretend that it was a fair and just land. And though it’s ridiculous that the architects of apartheid (canada’s reservation system was the blueprint for South African and Israeli apartheid, after all) could get away with that image for so long, at least it seems finally to be revealed From the Charest gov’t response to the student protests to the revelations of the police “misconduct” at the G20 demos, from Harper’s election tampering/buying to his draconian refugee exclusion act Canada can no longer pretend to be the moral beacon of the world.

But perhaps we can mobilize this sense of righteousness and entitlement, instilled in us to perpetuate the myth of moral kkkanada, against this latest onslaught. Once they quiet the protests, once they stop the strike, much will be lost, regardless of all the lawsuits that will follow. A look at the G20 is a good example of how they will use, even make up, laws to stamp out protest, and deal with the consequences, however embarrassing or expensive, later, because at least they defended the immediate target of the protest, they broke the momentum and they wore people down through physical, public and legal attacks.

Living abroad at the moment i can’t say what is strategically the best way forward. i can only say that i hope those in Canada manage to stand against this ridiculous law, in solidarity with each other. That thousands of people will call for mass demos every day, every night. That people will see the tactical advantages that less than 10 people can have in some actions, and that people will believe they cannot and arrest and fine every organizer if everyone who is out on the streets is indeed an organizer – of yourself – of your peers – not over people but alongside of eachother. Hell, call demos under my name. i am not affiliated with any association. And i’d like to see them collect on their fines. Or extradite me from the UK. But more importantly please, stay strong. Refuse to be intimidated by them. Let these desperate acts of the police and the state invoke your anger, not your fear. And never surrender to an unjust demand.

In solidarity.