G20: Conspiracy to riot in an Age of Austerity

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Monday was the first day of what is scheduled to be an 11-week preliminary inquiry for what the Ontario Crown Attorney's office calls, the "G20 Main Conspiracy Group Prosecution." This prosecution will see myself, along with 16 other community organisers spend almost three months in court every single weekday, watching and listening as the Crown attorneys from the Provincial "Gangs and Guns Initiative" present evidence collected by a series of undercover cops who infiltrated community organisations across the country over a period of nearly two years prior to last year's G20 (an event which saw the city converted into "Fortress Toronto," as the heads of state from the world's 20 richest countries, along with more than 10,000 cops, occupied the city's downtown).

The Crown will allege that we are somehow responsible for the confrontational demonstrations, including those of the Black Bloc, which occurred on June 26, 2010. It will not be alleged that any of us actually participated in those demonstrations, or that any of us broke any windows or burned any cop cars, nor will it be alleged that we physically caused any damage to anything or anyone, or that any of us even had any part in coordinating that day's demonstrations. In fact, several of us were already in jail hours before the day's protests even began. Their only allegation will be that we "conspired" to do things. For this they want to give us serious jail time. If things go badly, I could realistically spend up to six years in jail (given that I face several "counsel" charges in addition to the conspiracy charges faced by all 17 co-accused).

But the truth is that the details of this case are not what is most important. It is true that facts will come out about the scary degrees to which the state has gone to infiltrate legitimate community organisations, about the state's willingness to curb freedoms and civil liberties, and that this case could potentially set very dangerous precedents concerning people's ability to organise and speak politically in their communities. It is true that all of these issues are important here, but what I think is most important is the timing.

This is the age of austerity. The Ford budget cuts that this city is bracing itself for are the local manifestation of the austerity agenda that was at the centre of the G20 meetings hosted last summer by Stephen Harper. It is the same austerity agenda that people are rising up against all across Europe, which is not entirely unconnected from the inspiring people's uprisings that are still ongoing in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

It is no coincidence that here, people's inherent right to organise is under attack at the same time that the need to organise is so important.

The so-called "G20 Main Conspiracy Prosecution" is a quite frightening infringement on various freedoms and a precedent setting attack on an assortment of rights that are presumably constitutionally protected. It is an explicit criminalisation of dissent. Because of the precedents that this case has the potential to set, it might be recognised that this prosecution is, in and of itself, an attack on the very idea of community organising, and it is designed to prevent us all from being able to fight back against the austerity agenda. They do not want us to fight back. They want us not to organise.

Austerity is an attack against already targeted communities. The coming cuts in this city are going to make most people's lives worse and our city less liveable. But for many -- undocumented people, indigenous people, poor and racialised people, people with disabilities, queer and trans people --services are already insufficient and inaccessible; these are people who are going to be the most impacted by the coming cuts. The cuts will also be felt by all working people who reside in this city. People will resist.

While the 17 of us are tied up in court over the next 11 weeks, people in communities across this city will be organising against austerity.

Just this past Saturday, more than 500 people participated in a mass meeting at Dufferin Grove Park to organise against Ford's planned cuts. Over the next few weeks and months we will see what comes out of such inspiring processes. The "Toronto Stop the Cuts" campaign is a coordinated network of autonomous neighbourhood committees across the city, creating a growing chorus against the cuts. The voices of this movement in the city are a multitude that is far more representative of the people who reside in this city than any electoral process. By the time the preliminary hearing for the "G20 Main Conspiracy Prosecution" is over, we will know whether or not City Council will have listened to those voices. Then will come the trial.

The reason that the state so badly needs to effectively criminalise dissent and community organising is because, if they choose to ignore the voices of the people who live in this city, like is happening in Spain and Greece and in England, resistance is likely to look much more like the riotous scenes from the streets of our city during last year's G20 than it is to look like the beautiful scenes from this past weekend's mass organising meeting in the park.

Post script:

I want to send my love and respect to Kelly Pflug-Back, Ryan Rainville and Byron Sonne. They're not allowed to hear from me, but that does not prevent me from sending a message for them into the world. I also want to recognize that there are many people who are still dealing with the consequences of the G20 legal crackdown; there are people in jail right now on G20 charges. All of those people deserve our support.

If people want to offer their support, while I can't speak for those co-accused with me, what I would want from people is for them to get involved, stay involved, or get more involved with the Stop the Cuts campaign, or with anti-tar sands work, or supporting Indigenous sovereignty, land and treaty rights, or organising to stop the mega-quarry in Melancthon county, or for queer liberation, or against violence against women, or against the gross racism of the Harper government's immigration policies; the best support people can offer is to be more active than they otherwise might, in the very campaigns and for the very issues that the state seeks to prevent us from organising around.

And finally, thank you to everyone for all the support.

Alex Hundert is a long-term organizer, formerly based in Kitchener-Waterloo. He is currently a defendant in the G20 Main Conspiracy trial; he is facing more than a dozen indictable charges for allegations of conspiracy, counseling and intimidation.

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