Defend the Schoolhouse Four and break the back of property rights!

Alliance Against Displacement statement about dropped and remaining criminal charges from the Nanaimo Schoolhouse Squat

The Nanaimo Schoolhouse Squatters had our third court appearance on Tuesday February 19th. Of the 27 people charged with Break and Enter, 21 have had their charges dropped entirely. The Nanaimo Crown told those whose charges were dropped that they may lay charges again after reviewing the full package of evidence, so there is a chance that new charges could surface. But most often when charges are dropped (particularly so early in a case) it means a senior official in the Crown Counsel’s office has decided that it is not in the public interest to pursue the expense of the court case.

Our analysis is that Break and Enter charges were dropped against the majority of the Schoolhouse Squatters for two reasons: First, because RCMP Superintendent Cameron Miller’s aggressive response to the Squat was legally irregular and politically irresponsible. Second, because Discontent City was displaced. Under repressive “no-contact” bail conditions forced on squatters, the RCMP and state social service organizations were able to take control over Discontent City, where living conditions decayed under their “professional” leadership, and the camp was displaced by bulldozers guarded by cops. The camp is now gone. The Crown seems to believe we have been pushed back.

The decision to drop the majority of these charges vindicates our critiques of RCMP Superintendent Cameron Miller’s police repression, his fuelling of the hate mob, and the Nanaimo Crown Counsel’s disproportionate and unprecedented criminal charges.

Police and Crown Counsel repression followed the Nanaimo hate mob

There is a tendency amongst many anti-capitalist and anti-state radicals to think of “the state” as limited to the institutional and administrative structure of government: the police and courts, politicians in parliament, and public health and education bodies. It is more useful to think of the state as a verb, as activities and beliefs that reinforce and activate the power of the ruling class. The anti-homeless and pro-property mob that gathered outside of the Schoolhouse Squat was acting as the state when it called for the squatters to be thrown from the roof and the building burned down rather than surrendered to the homeless as housing. The activity of the state in defending property against its usurpers was, conceptually, divided between the mob and the police and courts. It was the mob that ran into combat against the squat. The police and courts followed the mob.

The Nanaimo RCMP responded to the Charter challenge posed by the Schoolhouse Squat with the maximum repression available to them. Superintendent Cameron Miller, the Nanaimo RCMP’s officer in charge, treated the Squat as a crime scene and had officers seal the entire property with crime scene tape. Three demonstrators who tried to leave after being accidentally caught behind police lines were arrested by three barking officers with guns drawn, threatening to fire on them. In front of an angry mob, Miller’s spokesperson Constable Gary O’Brien lied to the media when he asserted, “None of the people that are inside that building today are homeless people in Nanaimo. They’re all activists that have come over from the mainland, and this is what they do.” Later, on a radio interview O’Brien said that police raided and arrested the squatters, using the RCMP’s SWAT-style Emergency Response Team in battle fatigues and carrying assault weapons, because it was the desire of the braying public. O’Brien said, “Over the weekend, the public had the chance to voice their opinion and we listened. They said, we’re not tolerating this, that they wanted the RCMP to intervene and we did.”

The Nanaimo Crown Counsel similarly followed the mob. The initial charges Crown approved against all 27 people arrested at the Squat were Break and Enter charges – an indictable offence and the maximum possible charge that could be cooked up against these political prisoners. The common charge for a building occupation or squat is trespassing or mischief, hybrid offenses that may result in jail time. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects political speech and assembly, and unlawful political actions are typically prosecuted with this qualification in mind. The Nanaimo Crown also demanded extremely repressive bail conditions from all those arrested, including non-association orders with those the Crown identified as the leadership group. All arrestees who challenged these bail conditions before a Justice of the Peace or Judge had these conditions overturned.

Defend the Schoolhouse Four!

Dwayne Martin, resident of Anita Place tent city and one of the Schoolhouse 4 chants from atop the Rutherford School

The Crown has announced that although they dropped most charges, they plan to pursue Break and Enter charges against four people who RCMP Constable Gary O’Brien called “the key people in the incident.” This statement, like most of what comes out of O’Brien’s mouth, is nonsense. In October, the police and Crown fingered a different group of “key people” and forced others to sign a non-association agreement with them. The one thing that the remaining Schoolhouse Four have in common is not that they had a special leadership role in the squat, it is that these four were the only ones who refused to sign the Crown’s repressive bail conditions and stayed in jail a day longer in order to oppose them before a Justice of the Peace. We believe these remaining charges are an attempt to break up the group of squatter-activists and intimidate and deter future squats while backing away from an expensive, politically charged, high-profile, risky 27-person trial.

The Schoolhouse Four – Dave Diewert, Ivan Drury, Darcy Kory, and Dwayne Martin – are political prisoners in the struggle against homelessness. Alliance Against Displacement welcomes the opportunity to ruin the RCMP and Crown Counsel’s plan for a depoliticized criminal trial. AAD and Discontent City hoped to use the Schoolhouse Squat as a battleground to test the limits of Charter protections of security of the person and protection of property. In the past two years, along with Pivot Legal Society and Together Against Poverty Society lawyers, we have won court recognition of Charter protections of our claims to homeless people’s use of publicly owned land as tent cities. The only way to extend these claims to use of publicly owned buildings is to break with legal and social convention and normalize this claim with extralegal squats. Violent police repression stopped us from testing this claim in the Schoolhouse Squat itself, but the remaining criminal charges against the Schoolhouse Four is an opportunity to make this claim in the courtroom: the whole public good is served by using empty buildings to house the homeless.

To break the back of property rights

The anti-homeless mob that gathered outside the Schoolhouse Squat just hours after it began

As we saw in Nanaimo, the Schoolhouse Squat challenged a whole complex of power: ideologically, the squat challenged settler colonial entitlement to property rights; culturally, we challenged the symbol of property ownership as embodying individual security and the institution of the nuclear family; politically, we challenged the power of the state to administer housing, either through parcelling-off property and administering ownership or by organizing and regulating institutional forms of non-market housing; and economically, the Schoolhouse Squat challenged the settler colonial commodification of land as property to be bought, sold, invested-in for profit, and owned. For making these challenges, and because they cannot be argued against rationally, we faced a tremendous reaction from a violent, hateful mob and from politicians, police, and court systems. This reaction takes the form of vicious misogynist hatred and threats directed against women organizers in Nanaimo, threats and acts of mob violence against homeless people on the streets, bylaw ticketing and police harassment also against these homeless activists and communities, and police and legal repression against our organizers.

Alliance Against Displacement welcomes the openness and visibility of the Schoolhouse Four court case because it lays bare the status quo dehumanization that homeless and other oppressed people face most days out of the public eye. We believe ending property is in the interest of Indigenous peoples (who have been dispossessed of their lands by the institution of property) and of working-class people (who are made miserable servants of banks and landlords – or made homeless – by tying their security to property ownership). The legal defence campaign for the Schoolhouse Four will continue our fight to break the back of colonial property rights.