Starting before 5 a.m. on the morning of June 22, more than 150 police officers and private security guards descended on Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto to drive two dozen residents of a homeless camp.
Armed with assault rifles, drones, pepper spray, mounted cavalry, and security fencing to cage the devices, the operation lasted nearly 20 hours. It was a particularly clear embodiment of the brutality embedded in Canada’s colonial capitalism, erected on a foundation of anti-Indigenous genocide, and fueled by the continuation of “accumulation by eviction”.
The state’s gross exposure of aggression to Trinity Bellwoods has been preceded by recent outbreaks at several other camp sites in Toronto, and more exploits are expected in the coming days and weeks: a crystallization of multiple levels of violence involved in maintaining control of the colonists over indigenous lands.
First is the violence of Indigenous cancellation that sustains Canada’s colonial sovereignty – claiming the right to exploit and exclude on lands ruled by Indigenous nations for thousands of years, long before and after European “discovery”.
Toronto was “acquired” for the first time by the British in 1787, with a contract specifying property boundaries and the signatures of the chiefs who “sold” it were affixed by a separate piece of paper: a legal facade for land theft, reflected in various forms throughout the country now called Canada.
The Toronto parks from which the camp’s residents – more than a third of whom are Indigenous – have now been evicted are located on historic “park lots”. These were lots of land excavated during the British establishment of the city and distributed on preferential terms to wealthy industrialists and military leaders – a colonial subsidy for the privileged.
Trinity Bellwoods, for example, is located on land that was originally granted to Samuel Smith, commander of the Queen’s Rangers, the military regiment specifically organized to colonize Ontario.
The second is the economic violence that has left hundreds of thousands homeless in Canada: a state built on the ongoing colonial “domicile,” the devastation of indigenous homes and homelands.
Profits from Canada’s appropriation of indigenous lands and resources are being used to feed state coercive institutions, such as the military and police, as social assistance institutions are stripped away. to the bone.
Social assistance is maintained at unbearable rates, to produce a steady supply of precarious workers to fill lower jobs for poor wages. Toronto – a city with one of the largest “super wealth gaps” in the world – spends almost five times more on police than housing and housing. Last year the city rejected a motion to reduce the police budget by 10 percent, but has made savings by spending $ 35 million less on housing and housing than planned for this year so far.
As abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore has observed, “organized violence” and “organized abandonment” of the state are two sides of the same coin: both of which are mostly supported in Canada by the colonized, by the racists. it is from the economically marginalized.
The third is the legal violence that subjugates this unjust social order with the imprint of the “rule of law”.
Canadian courts have repeatedly refused to recognize housing as a human right, as required by international law, while the proliferation of “neo-vagrancy” laws prohibits people from performing basic life functions. on the outside – creating an impossible situation for those who are not rented.
“Quality of life” crimes punish homeless people for sleeping or “wandering” in public space, rather than government agencies for exposing indigenous people to isolated, dilapidated and toxic housing infested with mold in reserves. Canadian courts protect societies that expropriate and plunder indigenous lands, while also allowing the eviction of homeless camps from parks. Sleeping in a park is an illegal “transgression” – but Canada occupying Indigenous lands is legal “sovereignty”.
Perversively, the judges have rationalized the evictions of the camp in the name of preserving “parks”. [as] public resources, intended to be available and used by all ”. Residents of the camp are expelled not only from the parks, but from the human “everyone” who has the right to make use of them to meet their needs.
The fourth is spatial violence that makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, for homeless people to survive in cities like Toronto.
Public space is deliberately built up as hostile terrain – designing benches that can’t sleep, preventing bathing parks and water fountains, and discouraging people from accessing heat in addition to the sidewalk grills by installing them. spikes. In the urban literature, this is known as “defensive conception”: a phrase that speaks volumes about how those who bear the brunt of society’s structural injustices are projected as their enemies.
Fifth is the informative violence exercised to obscure and obscure the harmful reality behind a wall of official falsehood.
The city justifies the evictions by encamping affecting the availability and safety of the shelter space. In fact, Toronto’s asylum system may not accommodate everyone who sleeps outside; every 13 minutes, someone is away. People stationed at the city’s “hotel” shelter say they were put in rodent-infested rooms, who entered for “wellness checks” while they were naked, and expelled without proper clothing on a winter night. A disabled resident said she was abandoned on the 15th floor during a fire.
The city’s propensity to turn a violation that virtue was on display during the massive police operation in Trinity Bellwoods Park, described by Toronto Mayor John Tory as “largely peaceful,” “reasonable” and “compassionate.” Yet journalists were blocked and arrested for covering up.
The sixth is the terminological violence that accompanies it that allows such brutality to be labeled as benevolence.
The city refers to camps as “intrusions” and residents ’affairs as“ litter, ”so that evictions become“ cleaning ”and“ restoration ”. This resonates with the long tradition of colonialism to represent its raison d’être as “the civilization of waste”, even when it settles on colonized land and lives on.
Finally, the seventh is the brutal physical violence that is still in store to defend this property regime, facing challenges to its legitimacy – as unfolded so openly and disturbingly to Trinity Bellwoods three weeks ago.
While the anti-masks prevailing in public health were treated by the police with goat gloves, the camp residents were crushed with an iron fist. The disparity is not an anomaly, but a manifestation of the original function of the police power: “the consolidation of a new order based on private property,” as political theorist Mark Neocleous writes. Thus, the “tendency to punish property crimes more severely than offenses involving violence against the person” has been ingrained.
The present disturbances are the last episode of the long stories of violence written in these parks; the intrinsic violence to convert indigenous land into colonial property. Trinity Bellwoods, for example, is bounded on one side by Dundas Street, named after a British politician tasked with prolonging the transatlantic slave trade.
Canada was not only a terminus of liberation on the Underground Railroad, as it is commonly celebrated, but also a site of Black and Indigenous slavery itself.
Buried beneath the park is a river, first used by indigenous peoples for centuries, which had been drowned by sewage and settler sweeps in the early 1900s – emblematic of how the assault on colonized people is intertwined with the assault on the ecosystems that support them.
All of Canada is a crime scene – as critical commentators have reported after the discovery of at least 1,300 unmarked graves of Indigenous children outside the former residential “schools” – genocidal institutions.
The encroachments of the camp are an expression of the colonial power relationship that transformed the ancestral indigenous territories into zones of extraction, exploitation, impoverishment and death.
Even seemingly progressive discourses participate in the anti-indigenous cancellation that lies at the heart of the settlers ’rule: for example, by contrasting the imperial policies of the State asserting a“ right to the city ”or to“ communes ”built on to the colonized lands.
Yet in the face of this cancellation, indigenous peoples continue to exercise sovereignty and the protection of people, animals, water and land. From care, healing and resources to homeless camps; to confront colonial conduits and chemical pesticides that endanger sacred sites; to challenge the ravages of gentrification in Toronto with guerrilla art installations, reminding settlers of the obligations of treaties to divide and care for the land – these practices hold that land is not a commodity, but a network of relationships and responsibility.
It is believed that “Toronto” derives from a Mohawk, Seneca and / or Wendat word meaning “trees standing in the water”, probably a reference to ancient fishing canals or a historic meeting place. According to indigenous stories, it was once known as a place of reunion and abundance, rather than division and scarcity: a reminder that beautiful worlds existed before the colonial-colonial present, and may exist in the future after.
The authors would like to thank Babie, Derreck Black, Desmond Cole, Greg Cook, Doug Johnson Hatlem, Les Harper, Hayden King, Nesewin Makoons, Brianna Olson, Papi and Shelter B for generously sharing and sharing their knowledge with us.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.