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July 26, 2010

‘If protesting is a conspiracy, then we are all proud to conspire!’

by Derrick O’Keefe
On July 17, 200 people marched and rallied in Vancouver, Canada to protest the police repression of protests during the G8/G20 summit meetings in Toronto June 25-27.

Speakers at the rally included representatives of Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Derrick O’Keefe of the Vancouver Stopwar coalition, and New Democratic Party MP Don Davies.

Also speaking were three young people who took part in the protests and were arrested, including Montreal resident Natalie Gray, who was shot twice by police rubber bullets then detained and abused for 30 hours. Gray has retained noted civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby and is suing the Toronto Police. Her talk at the July 17 rally has been published by rabble.ca.

All speakers delivered powerful affirmations of the right to speak out and organize against the policies of the G8/G20 summit gatherings, including the call by Toronto protest organizers and participants for a full and independent public inquiry into the police operation that cost more than $1 billion and incarcerated some 1,000 people.

The following is Derrick O’Keefe’s talk to the Vancouver rally.

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Thanks to everyone for coming out today. There are rallies like this one across the country today. There is a rally in Toronto, and I’ve heard that there are a lot of bubbles in the air heading over the police’s heads at this rally. Did you hear about this? A young woman was arrested in Toronto during the G20 summit for blowing bubbles, if you can believe that. What do we think of that? ["Shame!"]

Our idea of free speech includes bubble blowing – it’s not a chemical weapon. And this just gives you an idea of what happened in Toronto and what the atmosphere was. I went out to Toronto with the Canadian Peace Alliance. On my first night there, I spoke at a forum about Canadian foreign policy in Afghanistan and in Palestine. I was speaking on a panel with a journalist who writes for The Guardian, named Jesse Rosenfeld.

While we were having this ordinary public forum in a small art space on Bloor Street, we noticed there were police peeking through the windows, about six of them. Someone went out to ask the police, “What are you doing? This is a public forum.” They asked, “Are there any protesters inside?”

So they were treating everyone in Toronto that week as a potential protester, as a potential dissident and therefore as a criminal. This was the climate that was created, and it was obvious. They didn’t need any pretext, they didn’t need anything to justify what they did. This was planned. You could see in the days leading up to the weekend of protest that there were going to be mass arrests. There were 20,000 police officers in Toronto, that’s more than one for every protester who was out for the big day of action on Saturday, June 26.

What do we say about turning a major Canadian city into a police state? ["Shame!"]

What do we say about spending 1.3 billion dollars for a week-end of photo-ops for some of the biggest thugs and war criminals in the world? ["Shame!"]

What do we say to a government that would be party to ordering the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history and then stonewall and deny a full public inquiry? ["Shame!"]

That’s why we’re here today.

I know some people have said that the police weren’t really doing their job, but if you think about it, in a society like ours with so many injustices, the police were doing their job, just in a little more over-the-top way than normal.

They were serving and protecting, but who were they serving and protecting at the G20?

They were protecting the criminals who were inside the fence, the criminals who are destroying our environment, the criminals who are waging illegal wars abroad, and the criminals who are attacking your rights every single day, who are attacking the poor people right across the country!

It wasn’t enough that they arrested over 1000 people. They arrested journalists. They arrested Jesse Rosenfeld, the young guy on the forum panel with me; on Saturday night, they punched him in the gut and hauled him away for witnessing a peaceful sit-in in front of the Novotel hotel where G20 delegates were staying.

They arrested bystanders who had just walked out of their homes to see what was going on.

And they even arrested some corporate media reporters live on the air – which helped the media coverage quality. But that is a real shame and an attack on free speech.

It wasn’t enough that they did these mass arrests – today there are still people in jail. I think it’s about a dozen people, facing conspiracy charges. I suppose that’s appropriate, because there was once a time in this country where you could be charged with criminal conspiracy just for getting together and talking about organizing a union. You could be charged with criminal conspiracy if you were a group of women getting together and talking about the fight for the right to vote, or the right to choose. They have always tried to criminalize dissent when people get together and fight for their rights.

We’re here to say that if organizing for social justice, if dissenting, if protesting is a conspiracy – then we are all conspirators, and we are proud to conspire! [Cheers, applause]

And as long as any one of our comrades, as long as any social justice activist is in jail in this country for organizing, we are going to continue to conspire, we are going to continue to protest, and we are going to continue to stand up for our rights! [Cheers, applause]

So let’s continue pushing for a public inquiry, but more importantly, let’s continue asserting our rights. Because you don’t win anything without constant protest, without constant vigilance. Every right that we have won has involved people going to jail, it has involved people going outside of the laws of day sometimes when those laws were unjust, and that continues to be the case today! [Cheers, applause]

We don’t have to beg for our right to protest, we don’t even have to politely ask. Everything we have in that Charter of Rights and Freedoms was demanded, was fought for, and was taken from the government of Canada. We will continue, every day if we have to, to take our rights and to assert our free speech from coast to coast to coast! [Cheers, applause]

So let’s finish up with a little more of that slogan, “This is what democracy looks like! Because this is what democracy looks like, and this is what political participation looks like!”

[Chants: This is what democracy looks like!]

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