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This is part two of rabble’s interview with Black Lives Matter organizer Janaya Khan. Read part one here.

Days after Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General released the SIU report detailing the death of Andrew Loku, who was killed by law enforcement in July of 2015, activists made it clear that the report was not the kind of transparency or accountability they were after.

Much of the report was censored, prompting individuals to question what the report was trying to conceal, and to question who exactly was responsible for withholding information.

Prior to the report being released, Janaya Khan explained that Black Lives Matter Toronto’s (BLMTO) demands were “quite large.”

“We want the names of the officers responsible. We want the laws to change so we can get those names. We want an overhaul of the SIU. They’re not small in nature and we’re not calling out a single person,” said Khan.

Media portayals of #BlackLivesMatter

“One of the most difficult things about an occupation is to continuously keep it relevant to the media,” stated Khan.

In mid-March, BLMTO began camping outside Toronto Police Headquarters spurred on by the news that the police officer who killed Andrew Loku would not be charged or have his name released to the public.

The action protesting anti-Black racism and police violence, later called #BLMTOtentcity, lasted 15 days and received a range of media coverage including a notably lack of coverage from some mainstream outlets.

During that time, BLMTO protested outside of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s home and held a vigil. Co-fonder Sandy Hudson told The Globe and Mail the group was there to invite Wynne into conversation and that things were peaceful and respectful.

After the police were called to the residence — the group allegedly left a card, wreath, cheese, and a wine bottle full of water — a media frenzy ensued and portrayals of the group varied.

“The way that we were framed in the media was sort of like a terrorist organization. That’s also because we have people on our team who are openly Muslim. My last name is Khan, another person’s last name is Ali. There are two other people on the team who are actively Muslim. In another moment we are being applauded, in another moment we are marching through city hall,” described Khan.

The media coverage did not seem to sway public opinion, however. In a recent Toronto-based poll, over half of respondents said they support the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

#BLMTOtentcity ended on April 4 with the group meeting with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Sex worker community inspires BLM safety framework

A key distinction that separates Black Lives Matter from other activist networks is its variety of tactics. Support for reforms are context-specific and often contested; many in the organization broadly advocate for a world without law enforcement.

This might sound counter-intuitive to many, however Khan reminds us that a world without police already exists for many individuals.

“We don’t need the police. The police are a relatively recent phenomenon. So, where do we go to find the examples of safety that are non-state based and non-police based? Well, sex workers are one,” explained Khan.

Under the former Harper government, Canada implemented the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. It was an attempt by the federal government to regulate sex work and sex workers. However, the legislation made it illegal for sex workers to discuss their work in specific areas, potentially making it difficult for sex workers to be in close proximity to one another while advertising or working.

In a National Post article a representative from the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform argued that the legislation, supports the exclusion of sex workers from communities, and maintains the industry in isolated areas, increasing the potential for exploitation and violence.”

“[Sex workers] have to have an entire network and framework in order to keep each other safe. We borrow from that. How do people who don’t have status, or who were formerly incarcerated, how do they keep themselves safe? How to people keep them safe? We borrow from those structures. They exist and always have existed,” stated Khan.

An intersectional approach to Blackness

Activist infrastructure looks unique in Canada, and so does strategic planning. This involves solidarity movements and the intertwining of many goals at once.

“There is not going to be a mass movement for Black liberation led by Black people in Canada. It’s not possible alone. We don’t have the population to support it. In a land mass larger than the USA, our population is less than the state of California,” said Khan,

“Toronto is the ‘Black City’ — we make up about 8.8 per cent- so it makes sense that we are the one’s leading the agenda for Black liberation in Canada. Are there Black people everywhere in Canada? Yes. It’s about reaching them.”

Khan went on to explain that #BLMTO has a solidarity team that are just as committed to the cause as everyone else. Some help at protests, others with funding protests or projects.

One #BLMTO project is the Freedom School.

“It’s integral. As much as we can be anti-prison, anti-police, radical, and this and that, we are not a group of academic activists who only know how to deconstruct. Our investment is in building and the creation of space and community and reclaiming space and community,” explained Khan.

The Freedom School will offer lessons in Black Canadian history and Black history at-large. Many Canadians do not know of Canada’s history of slavery. While fitting that into the mainstream curricula is a broader policy goal, the Freedom School aims to teach children about history from many angles using several methods.

Khan described the program as, “[taking] a bunch of young Black children who aren’t necessarily accessing all of their needs through an alternative school.” There are many reasons that Black children do not make it to an alternative school. One such reason is often dubbed the “school-to-prison pipeline”. It is often discussed in the American education system, however with the Black Canadian prison population on the rise, it is a concern here as well.

“[The program] looks at international globalized liberation and makes those connections early. It reimagines what Blackness can be and then embraces the plurality of Blackness. [Blackness] doesn’t look a specific way. It’s not a specific shade. It’s not straight. It’s not just queer. It’s disabled, it’s poor, but it’s also wealthy. It’s an intersectional approach,” said Khan.

Life lessons from boxing

Learning to box, and subsequently teaching others, has left Khan with valuable lessons for activism and life. 

Khan began by doing boxing workshops and then eventually working towards workshops concerning gendered violence and consent. While it looks brutal, Khan contends that boxing is not actually violent.

“[It’s] not violent. It’s consensual. It’s based on a particular skillset. You can advocate for yourself and set the precedent for how, if, and when,” claimed Khan.

First rule of boxing is protect yourself at all times. “[It’s a] great rule for organizing, too. Especially if you are Black. Especially if you’re Indigenous. Especially if you’ve been socialized as a woman. Especially if you’re disabled and the list can go on,” explained Khan.

The second rule of boxing is the only punch that hurts is the one you don’t see coming.

“The third one is: the punches don’t hurt less, you just learn how to roll with them better. That is also true in organizing and all of these are life skills. Racism doesn’t hurt less because you know more about it systemically.”

If you would like more information about #BlackLivesMatterTO click here.
If you would like to support a Freedom School fundraiser click here.

A. Splawinski is a student at the University of Toronto. Previously, Ashley worked as a producer and host of News Now on CHRY 105.5 FM covering Canadian social, political, and environmental issues. You can visit her personal blog and follow her on twitter @asplawinski. 

Photo: flickr/