From Palestine to the Downtown Eastside: Settler colonialism creates violence

As Canada abstains on a humanitarian truce abroad, governments in BC lean into displacing and disappearing people. Undoing settler colonial power is anti-violence.

From Palestine to the Downtown Eastside: Settler colonialism creates violence
Rally for Palestine at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Photo by Dustin Godfrey.

Guest post by Khalid Boudreau & Tyson Singh Kelsall ਤੈਸੋਨਂ ਸਿੰਘ

Khalid Boudreau is a former New Democrat, Tyson Singh is a PhD student in Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and an outreach-based social worker in Vancouver, BC.

The ongoing violence of ethnic cleansing by the state of Israel against Palestinians is unconscionable.

While the history of this violence stretches back much longer, the current acute and sustained devastation had been occurring for 20 days straight when Canada abstained from voting on a “humanitarian truce” at the United Nations. The resolution would pass with overwhelming support despite Canada’s hollow absence. Others have articulated that a pause is not enough. As Tara Alami wrote in The Maple, “an immediate ceasefire is the only way to prevent thousands more” deaths and injuries of Palestinian people, but that ending the occupation must come after to stop the violence.

This nonbinding resolution was effectively the bare minimum initiative the Canadian state could have followed to show humanity in the face of genocide. Canada could have supported the symbolic motion without publicly reflecting on its support for the occupation, nor openly consider halting expansive and deadly military exports from these lands to the Israeli state.

Instead, Canada was one of the few countries to remain silent. A few days later, Israel is reported to have repeatedly bombed a refugee camp in Jabalya. At the time of this writing, a devastating genocide continues to unfold in an age where more people than ever are exposed to the livestream of its brutality.

Back in its own occupation, several branches of the Canadian state were re-investing in settler colonial power relations. In British Columbia, where more than 95% of the land has never been ceded, David Eby’s BC NDP-led provincial government has leaned further into colonial displacement, a violent action that has had a number of pinnacles over the last decade across the province.

Last month, Eby’s NDP government doubled-down on its commitment to continuing the drug toxicity crisis, by defunding one of a very few initiatives that was publicly and actively undercutting the poisoned supply, and then standing by as Vancouver Police raided the sites and arrested its founders.

BC NDP silence is complicity

In an open letter, federal NDP Members of Parliament have called for an immediate ceasefire and for an end to military exports from Canada to Israel, which contribute to the violence of the occupation, among other “urgent” requests. This occurred only after intense pressure from people taking direct action, gathering in the streets, and as the NDP MPs identified, receiving more than 100,000 messages from their constituents.

At an anti-genocide protest, a protester holds a placard reading "No neutral sides in genocide" in red and green lettering
Vigil for Palestine at Vancouver City Hall. Photo by Tyson Singh Kelsall.

That the federal party took a bare minimum moral stance—calling for a halt to ethnic cleansing—after effective protests against their silence is only a testament to the groups and individuals, including some party members, burdening the energy and risk to challenge the NDP’s silence. The provincial wings have taken a spectrum of approaches.

The Ontario NDP famously kicked Sarah Jama out of their party after she wrote a statement against the violence, just for the party’s leader to call for a ceasefire days later.

Rachel Notley’s Alberta NDP, famous for centrist impulses, has called for a ceasefire.

Yet David Eby’s BC NDP have not only been silent, they are passively watching as at least one of their cabinet ministers, Selina Robinson, takes to social media to amplify right-wing and racist accounts and messages. Some community members effectively took control of a book launch that Eby spoke at last week, where Eby’s reaction was to sit down in silence.

The BC NDP’s overall silence, particularly while Robinson engages in genocidal rhetoric, has been appalling.

(Want to send Premier Eby a message? Click here to request Selina Robinson be removed from cabinet.)

Appalling, but it is not a shock, as it is consistent with the governance of the Eby NDP.

Gidimt’en Yintah access point land defenders are currently on trial, charges that are associated with the 2019 militarized raids by the militarized RCMP community industry response group. Mike Farnworth, Eby’s Solicitor General, reportedly approved the RCMP redeployment that initiated the raids, as indicated by his letter of approval of the RCMP’s request.

The provincial government has been part and parcel to a number of coordinated and harmful decampments in the DTES under Premier Eby and Attorney General Eby just before. This is in addition to the city and Vancouver police conducting daily street sweeps against people living outside, a population that disproportionately comprises Indigenous Peoples, another metric of settler colonial policy implementation.

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More recently, Eby and Farnworth announced plans for Bill 34, which comes with new displacement powers for police. During the committee stage debate last week, Farnworth expanded the bill to include more displacement, drug seizure and arrest criteria than previously announced.

The amended bill has provisions for police across BC to stop people within their discretion if officers have “reasonable grounds to believe that a person has recently consumed an illegal substance” for departments across the province. Bill 34 has been roundly opposed by many who are on the ground confronting the crisis daily.

This came the same week that the BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe announced that 13,000 people have been killed by the toxic drug supply since 2016. Bill 34 also comes months after the First Nations Health Authority estimated that First Nations people are being killed by the toxic drug supply at six times the rate of the general population. Prohibitionist policies have always been rooted in colonial control and racial capitalism in BC. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs was the first of a number of groups to publicly condemn Bill 34.

David Eby set the tone of his premiership early by announcing a $230 million commitment to the RCMP within his first month. This was after Eby promoted the expansion of involuntary addiction treatment during his controversially successful leadership campaign.

On October 25, a number of state actors came together to criminalize and dissemble the Drug User Liberation Front’s compassion club. Delilah Gregg, president of the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society, stated in a video that these actions “feels like genocide…we are being killed off slowly.” (Drug Data Decoded published on Alberta’s approach to drug policy sharing logic with settler colonialism).

As previously theorized, the criminalization of the club’s founders could create a chilling effect for those working to provide a predictable drug supply to their communities, and that criminalization related to the illicit drug market has always replicated the relations of settler colonialism and racial capitalism on these lands. Some of those who organized a rally in support of the compassion club also attended a direct action earlier that day with a statement of support for Palestine. Prohibitionist policies likewise generate international violence in procurement and production methods as by forcing reliance on an illicit drug market, which negatively impacts mostly racialized and colonized peoples.

We are facing a multitude of converging crises: heat domes, wildfires, toxic drug supply, an ongoing pandemic, and of course, the untenable costs of living. We need bold and visionary politics that resist and challenge the core power relations lead to the polycrisis, in contrast to the carceral, colonial, and reactionary politics currently holding power.

All the struggles addressed above – land, labour, drug toxicity deaths, climate justice, the abolition of prisons, and international equitable social relations – will ultimately need to be seen as interconnected to reduce state-generated violence with the goal of eliminating it.

But Eby’s NDP has repeatedly made it clear that they will not be willed into challenging the power relations that produce these conditions. The BC NDP are complicit again – this time during a brutal, tragic and active genocide against the Palestinian people.

“They have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it… But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” - James Baldwin, My Dungeon Shook

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