The VPD goes rogue, ignores city council with new poorbashing unit
The Thorn on Thursdays | November 12 2020
Welcome to the fourth edition of The Thorn on Thursday. If you like what we’re doing here, please spread the word!
Earlier this week, the Vancouver Police Department announced the creation of a new unit to respond to “low-level crime and street disorder.” According to the VPD, this unit will be to “deal with . . . the person that's using drugs in the park, like the person that may be sleeping in your doorway.” This announcement is a blatant disregard for City Council’s motion, passed this July, to “de-prioritize policing as a response to mental health, sex work, homelessness, and substance use and to prioritize funding community-led harm reduction and safety initiatives in these areas.” In a similar dismissal of the priorities and authority of City Council, the Vancouver Police Board in June refused Council's request to make a one percent budget cut.
The VPD’s new unit will act on impulses that are anti-poor person, anti-Indigenous, anti-homeless, anti-substance user, anti-sex worker, and otherwise repressive. This expansion of policing is an expression of the cruel reality of policing as an expression of state violence that serves to reinforce oppressive ideologies and to entrench economic and political disenfranchisement.
Vancouver City Council has the power to refuse to increase, or to cut, the VPD’s budget. It should exercise that power. This would be a short-term solution, and the first step to defunding the police. City Council should construct a City budget that de-prioritizes policing. The Ottawa Alternative Budget, drafted by the Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget, offers one possible way forward. The Calgary Police Commission has proposed a $40M budget reduction in 2021 for the Calgary Police Services, including a $10M crisis response reallocation.
The VPD state that their new unit is a response to a recent survey (commissioned by the VPD) that suggests Vancouverites are concerned about crime in the city. While this survey is transparently self-serving for the VPD, we do not wish to discredit these concerns - those feelings and fears are real, even if they may be based on prejudices.
As the Council motion correctly spells out, more policing is not the answer to problems rooted in inequality. Alternatives to policing and to the criminalization of poverty are possible and necessary. We must fund adequate housing, provide basic necessities, and support substance users through recovery or management. Education is key to help our neighbours remove prejudices and learn different approaches to community issues. More broadly, our society should radically rethink how we choose to treat those who cause harm to others. We must move past violent responses and towards compassionate solutions of partnership and care.
Students at the UBC Social Justice Centre are mobilizing to make sure City Council’s democratic decision is not overridden by the VPD and right-wing political forces in Vancouver. Check out their call to action.
Climate and the City: Barcelona’s bold example puts Vancouver debates in perspective
Next week, Vancouver City Council will resume debate over proposed climate emergency measures. So far, much of the media discussion has centred around staff proposals for mobility pricing on vehicle traffic in the downtown core and surrounding areas. (“War on the car” hysteria remains a favourite theme of newstalk radio, sadly.) Amidst the noise, it’s easy to lose sight of the key questions: How can we reduce fossil fuel emissions in Vancouver while also delivering equity and social justice, ensuring everyone has the Right to the City?
Barcelona, governed by leftist mayor Ada Colau, offers a dramatic example of reimagining the city for environmental and social goals. This week the Catalonian city unveiled a new plan to expand pedestrian-first zones to include most of the city centre. As CityLab reported, “Over the next decade, Barcelona will convert its entire central grid into a greener, pedestrian-friendly area almost totally cleared of cars.”
BC’s #RentFreeze has been extended until July 2021
If you’re one of the thousands in British Columbia whose landlord sent you a rent increase notice since September, feel free to rip it up. The newly re-elected BC NDP government has announced it has extended the current Rent Freeze until July 2021. They campaigned on a Rent Freeze through to the end of 2021, but say a six-month extension is the best they can do for now until the new legislature is convened. This measure is a welcome relief, but what’s really needed in BC is rent control based on the unit not the tenant, also known as vacancy control. This would disincentivize evictions and renovictions of existing tenants. Speaking of which, the BC government lifted its ban on evictions mid-pandemic. That ban needs to be restored.
Organized tenants win in Vancouver
As long as evictions continue, tenants will continue to organize for justice. A recent example from the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) shows how collective, direct action can get results. VTU organizer Vince Tao has written up the lessons of the recent struggle for Mt. Pleasant tenant Nelia Guevarra and how the union supported her in fighting back:
“After two months of battling the City and PortLiving for just compensation, we had had enough. On September 30th, the VTU, community organizations, and the Mount Pleasant community held a rally outside Nelia’s home. We turned out over 150 attendees to block the intersection at Broadway and Carolina and made our voices heard:
Real the full story from the VTU here.
BC’s soaring coronavirus numbers
COVID numbers are up drastically in BC since The Thorn last reported on this issue, mirroring a surge in cases in other Canadian provinces. BC’s surge in cases is concentrated in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Valley Health regions, with daily case counts in excess of 400 new cases recorded on several days this past week.
More restrictions were issued this past weekend that include a shutdown of party busses and exercise classes. Unnecessary travel in and out of Metro Vancouver is not advised.
Retail businesses remain open, as do gyms, restaurants, movie theatres, and schools. Premier John Horgan has not ruled out another broader shutdown.
The COVID situation in schools remains a point of contention since schools are exempted from the physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements being enforced in other indoor spaces. Provincial health officials continue to insist that COVID safety protocols in schools are working and that transmission of the virus in schools is low. Meanwhile, the BCTF on October 10 made an application to the Labour Relations Board around COVID safety protocols in schools, which they believe are inadequate.
Like other Canadian provinces, BC is trying to balance the conflicting imperatives of controlling the virus while keeping as much of the economy going as possible. As discussed in a segment on CBC News: The National on November 10, this is placing us on a roller coaster ride where case counts rise and fall based on health measures that do not eradicate the virus, as opposed to engaging in aggressive testing and quarantining that some doctors believe can eradicate the virus.
Long Term Care Homes and COVID
More long term care (LTC) facilities are being impacted by COVID and the transmission of the virus has remained persistent and costly to residents and staff. Outbreaks continue.
Residents are particularly vulnerable to infections and the “long haul” sequelae of the virus. Many facilities face long-standing staff shortages that place many workers in unsafe work situations. “The injury rate in the home care and support sector is twice the provincial average of all workers, and in long term care, the rate is four times higher than the provincial average.” (SafeCareBC 2017).
Recently the head of SafeCareBC Jen Lyle called on the government to implement rapid SARS-CoV-2 testing (a 15-minute test) at all facilities so that residents, family, and staff can live and work more safely.
We welcome more clarity and transparency on the reporting of the virus in residential care facilities in BC. A provincial inquiry would help to clarify the challenges facing the residential health care sector -- for residents and their families, and their health care providers. What is the provincial government’s accountability to the many older adults and others living in residential care? Many of their rights (e.g. to be with family caregivers) were taken from them during this pandemic. We must also consider the health and safety rights of the many unregulated care providers (UCPs) and nurses providing 24-hr care in these facilities. So much has been compromised in this sector of health care across Canada due to years of privatization and anemic funding.
For more information on residential care in BC and Canada take a look at the following resources:
Meanwhile in the USA…
US Election: Biden comes out tops in the count; Trump refuses to concede
Joe Biden has received nearly 5 million more votes than Trump and has won the most votes in enough states to give him a majority of the votes in the electoral college. All the major media networks have declared Biden the winner of the election.
Donald Trump has refused to concede and has launched legal challenges against the results in key swing states. The Trump campaign wants votes counted after election day to be thrown out by the courts, since votes counted on election day favored Trump. These legal challenges could proceed all the way to the US Supreme Court. Here's hoping the courts continue to reject Trump's desperate attempts to overturn the election results and cling to power.
This state of affairs is only possible because of the undemocratic electoral college system.
As Bernie Sanders tweeted on November 8:“Joe Biden will win the popular vote by over 4 [NB: now 5] million votes. The Democratic nominee for president has now won the popular vote in 7 out of the last 8 elections. One person, one vote. Democracy must rule. Yes. We should abolish the electoral college.”
Jeet Heer, writing in The Nation, outlines what Trump is up to and how progressives should (and shouldn’t) respond.
US Election: Looking ahead to a Biden administration
The Jacobin Talks video series this past week featured a talk with Jacobin staff writer Meagan Day about what the left can expect from a Biden Administration.
Christo Aivalis has a great video on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s demand that Biden’s cabinet not include neoliberal ghouls like Rahm Emanuel.
Comedian Jimmy Dore puts it far more bluntly in terms of how the working class ought to respond to a Biden administration: TRUMP LOSES! Now What?
The Sunrise Movement put the incoming administration on notice that they will continue to mobilize and organize for transformative solutions to the climate crisis: “We gave them a mandate on climate and we'll be here to make sure they fulfill it.”
US Election: Biden and Trudeau
Justin Trudeau spoke to Joe Biden on Tuesday to congratulate him on his election win. While Trudeau claimed that he and Joe Biden have a common goal in fighting climate change, he also lobbied for Biden not to cancel the climate-destroying Keystone XL pipeline, a project that Biden has said he plans to cancel. The Canadian mainstream media appear to be unanimously backing Trudeau’s lobbying effort on behalf of Keystone XL.
Here’s to hoping that Biden, if he is able to take office, rejects Trudeau’s lobbying and moves to cancel Keystone XL.
Sorry Elon Musk, Evo Morales has returned to Bolivia triumphant
“We will coup whoever we want!” Elon Musk infamously tweeted earlier this year in response to allegations that Tesla stood to benefit from the 2019 coup that forced democratically-elected president Evo Morales to flee Bolivia. It turns out that Musk can’t always get his way, as Bolivia proved that organized social movements can prove more powerful than the world’s billionaires and the governments, like the US and Canada, who backed the racist coup regime in Bolivia.
(Evo Morales and his former VP Álvaro García Linera returned to a triumphant rally in Bolivia this week. Photo: @evoespuelblo)
On Sunday, Bolivia swore in its new president, Luis Arce from the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). And then the next day, Evo himself began a triumphant trip back to his homeland culminating in a huge rally today in the Trópico of Cochabamba.
Slow Learner #2: A Fractal Landscape of Vulnerability
Book Review: Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the 21st Century by Andreas Malm
Buried halfway through Andreas Malm’s Survey of the pandemic and climate change is a Rosa Luxembourg quote ‘The doctors can trace the fatal infection in the intestines of the poisoned victims as long as they look through their microscopes; but the real germ which caused the death of the people in the asylum is called – capitalist society, in its purest culture.’
Malm fills the pages of his short text ‘Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency’ with the logic of that quote. The pamphlet surveys the intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Malm looks at responses to these crises from a left perspective and frequently references both scientists and political theorists. The inequality of the crises and their responses is made clear. The elites shelter in their enclaves, protected from COVID and climate alike. Why is it, Malm asks, that the Coronavirus has seen such a strong response from governments while other crises have not? Is it because those the virus targets, over 65 and elderly, make up such a large amount of the voting and donor base for Western governments?
Malm is not interested in responses to pandemics or climate change that strengthen the global north’s response to crisis while failing to respond to the underlying causes. On the subject of the climate, Malm proposes that the nationalization of oil companies and their transformation into direct air capture utilities, that remove C02 from the atmosphere for storage, should be the primary transitional goal of the next few years. Malm is hopeful about the work of a Swedish company named Climeworks and its C02 capture technology. The sooner cuts and reductions of existing C02 emissions occur, the more effective a mega infrastructure cleanup project will be. Malm argues that what is needed is not merely a war metaphor to respond to the climate crisis but ecological war communism, inspired by the Leninist strategies pursued in Russia between 1918 and 1921, when the newly ascendant revolutionaries faced a series of overlapping, concurrent crises.
Before COVID, the scientific literature revealed that infectious diseases are emerging globally at an unprecedented rate, yet so many didn’t see this pandemic coming. Beyond cities and roads, deep in the forests, lie unknown pathogens. Humanity encroaches on the wild, through deforestation and fragmentation, opening up forests for extraction and development, and in the process humanity exposes itself. Bats are exposed and stressed as their forests are exposed. Deforestation is accelerating and caused by capitalist enterprises driven by resource extraction and commodity production, including beef, soybean, palm oil, and wood products. Canada is directly complicit in this process. Vancouver is a hub of mining companies. Malm details the actions of Canadian companies engaged in resource extraction in Jamaica. “The Canadian mining company Noranda has been chafing at the bit for years, waiting for the go-ahead to enter and commence strip mining, but the government has so far hesitated. The fate of Cockpit Country is the central environmental battle of Jamaica.”
(Each week The Thorn reviews a new pamphlet in the series. Photo: Verso Books)
The acceleration of this continued exploitation is part of a pipeline that sees commodities made in the Global South travel to the Global North to be consumed. One way to measure commodities is to look at the amount of land that is needed to grow, feed, mine, process and assemble them. Malm writes “(in) 2007, the EU had a net import of goods embodying land as large as the entire surface area of India”. This process is ever accelerating and increasing, as it follows the laws of capitalism. Malm calls this process an “ecologically unequal exchange: transactions that might seem fair on the monetary surface, but allow rich countries to absorb biophysical resources from the poor and drain their natural endowments” Developing countries cut up and sell their own forests in a way that doesn’t account for biodiversity externalities. This process is based historically in colonialism, and sped up by the encouragement towards structural adjustments that institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF have lobbied for.
Malm rails against the perception that the pandemic is random, an act of god, and not an inevitable result of deforestation and development. Much of the text is spent drawing links between the capitalist mode of production, its underlying structure, linking it, chain by chain to its effect on the planet. It is not enough for the global North to mobilize to protect their citizens at home if they are contributing to a global system of deforestation. Afforestation, reforestation and rewilding is the goal.
In his text Malm moves quickly to diagnose the COVID pandemic, its symptoms, causes, and needed response. He argues that the state mobilizations that have emerged in response to the pandemic be permanently entrenched, and refocused towards the climate crisis. Malm’s text offers a compact history of biological epidemics and historical left responses to crises and strategy. Malm is an erudite environmentalist researcher and his pamphlet is informative and necessary. In summary of his approach Malm quotes evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace ‘Let’s stop the outbreaks we can’t handle from emerging in the first place’.
Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency is Part of the Verso Pamphlet Series and can be ordered from local independent bookstores or directly from their website.
New Canadian documentary eviscerates corporate greed (again!)
No events round-up this week, but The Thorn does have one film recommendation: The long-awaited sequel to the hit Canadian documentary The Corporation opens this week. The New Corporation is playing at VancityTheatre starting Friday. Physically distancing and COVID protocols are in place, so tickets will be very limited!