Ottawa: June 9th Community Defence Reportback

On a Friday morning in June, something like 200 fascists descended upon Broadview and Carling in suburban ottawa. By the time they’d formed up, a blockade of defenders had already taken the north side of the intersection. Over the next several hours, those two large contingents split into smaller blockades spanning several blocks, with a series of confrontations that ended in around 400 defenders completely corralling the fascists off. There we stayed until the end of the school day, leaving the fash with no one to harass or proselytise to and heading home victorious.

Through the last months of face-offs, our enemies have gotten bolder and more willing to be violent. This demo brought supporters in from all across the country, even one guy from all the way down in Florida. On top of all the regular pushing, shoving and punching, people were sexually assaulted and threatened with dogs. There was at least one credible knife sighting. Many of us were hurt, some injured in ways that lasted beyond that week.

But we’ve also witnessed some pretty goddamn beautiful collective skill-building through being in the streets together over and over after the convoy. The difference in discipline and open-ness to militance from the much-mythologised shitshow of Billings Bridge is drastic. Not that long ago, it was hard to imagine anyone just showing up in black bloc on ottawa streets – and if they did, they were immediately badjacketed by marshalls.

In contrast, on June 9, we had walls of banners multiple rows deep, at multiple heights, completely shutting out livestreamers’ cameras. As the day went on, they broke into four smaller, maneuvrable units to cover the terrain. Honourable mentions also go to black umbrellas and pole-mounted banners with text facing inwards at our own people – “WEAR A FUCKING MASK” and “STOP FILMING” – caught on camera by liberal streamers who characteristically ignored the messages. Bloc crews saw their fashion choices working just as intended. Fash tried and failed miserably at picking out individuals from the crowds, accusing anyone in black of anything and everything.

Set the tone and people will follow

The most inspiring part of that day has to be how readily people stepped up to wall off the fash – even if it meant chasing after them as they popped up out of side streets left and right. It wasn’t just the usual bloc crews and trans punks holding down those lines, it was everyone, government employees, grandparents and other Love-Not-Hate types. Even the most cynical among us hardly noticed if anyone was urging peace and non-confrontation.

It turns out civil servants will follow the lead of a vest and megaphone even if they’re calling to confront fascists head-on. It’s hard to tell how much of that is a growing familiarity and acceptance of antifascist tactics in ottawa and how much of that is just liberals’ deeply ingrained desire to follow authority – any authority, apparently.

Sometimes, liberals can also be handled by just keeping their hands busy. At the start, the crowd kept making way for clusters of cops, risking the police splitting our side down the middle and forcing us off the street. A massive horizontal pride banner, requiring about a dozen pairs of hands to hold taut, and other banners were distributed to the back. Redirection worked to prevent them from parting again though they’d never dare, or want, to knowingly stand in the cops’ way.

Trans liberation means youth liberation

There are three schools along those few blocks of Broadview: Notre Dame High School, Broadview Public School (K-8) and Nepean High School. Billboard Chris chose this specific street and these specific schools for a reason – because on October 18, 2021, students from that neighbourhood completely fucking humiliated him and ran him out of town.

This time around, schools – “on advice of police” – invoked “shelter-in-place” protocol. In other words, they locked youth into their classrooms – “for their protection.” (Note the totally uncritical parroting of police rhetoric here from progressive media.)

As governments all around Canada go all-in on attacks on trans youth, we must understand that trans liberation requires youth liberation. It means liberation not only from right-wing legislators and parents who want to own their children but all the carceral power of the state. It means understanding schools as themselves a site of violence through police and policing by staff. It means empowering trans kids to exercise their own agency while showing them that they aren’t alone in this three-way fight. It means the end to adult supremacy and settler colonial power as a whole.

Tout le monde déteste la police

June 9th was probably the biggest police response a lot of new antifascists in ottawa have seen. Near the beginning, bike cops faced up against our frontlines and we braced ourselves, expecting them to try to bash their way through us. Instead, our numbers grew and we reinforced our lines. They seemed to give up on gaining full control of the terrain, though they got in more than their fair share of assaults against us in defence of the fash. But we held our positions even as the cops had to call for water and switch out their overheating forces.

The arrest count at the end of the day was 5 catch-and-releases, no charges. Of those 5, 4 were defenders and 1 was a brown teen on the other side. As always, the cops couldn’t be clearer about their allegiances. Though no one has to shell out for legal fees or mass-delete Signal chats this time around, that still means being identified to the state and unmasked in full view of the fash.

We also had the first uses of pepper spray against our side in a while. And some mainstream media journos – much as they’re not our friends, either – got shut out by the cops. A drone watched us throughout, now a regular feature of community defences in ottawa. All this reminds us of RCMP tactics, catch-and-releases and media exclusion zones at Fairy Creek. Is that a coincidence, or is our new chief pig bringing out the tricks he tested in his old job out west? We’re seeing shifts in police tactics now, away from their mostly hands-off approach to the left in the past couple years but different too from the police lines that would whale on our comrades pre-2020. Where that’s headed remains to be seen.

Ottawa is one of those cities where everyone leaves or burns out. It often seems like no one still around remembers that fascists rallied in ottawa long before January 2022. So as shit keeps heating up, we want to remind the folks who got into this through the pandemic or convoy about the recent history of pig violence and repression against antifascists in ottawa.

In ye olden days of 2016 to 2019, ottawa cops were known to ram their bikes and beat the shit out of antifascist lines. Like police everywhere, they slapped people with bullshit charges and dragged them through the legal system for years. At the 2016 March for Life, pro-choicers were pepper sprayed and 2 arrested, their full names released to the public and published in the media.  4 arrests happened at the behest of Kevin J. Johnston in June 2017 during an optimistically named “Million Canadian March” and rally on Parliament. A counterdemo to an anti-immigration rally in December 2018 ended in 9 arrests on our side and hours-long jail support, following crowds of riot cops that made liberal use of their batons The list could go on.

While we hope we won’t have to deal with them again so soon, we should all be reminding ourselves what to do when arrests happen. The crowd was slow to respond when people were grabbed and hauled away. Some belatedly rushed in with umbrellas to block streamers’ cameras, but far too late. When that one youth was arrested, those around him visibly turned away. (We know what the cops can do to brown kids and we know the fascists aren’t going to have his back. Opposing white supremacy means being against it even when a youth’s chosen the wrong side.) Possible witnesses for narrowly-avoided legal cases vanished with no way to get in touch. We should count ourselves lucky and make sure we’re prepared for the arduous task of supporting someone through charges if and when they stick in the future.

As always, we keep us safe

In the wake of that June demo and in the months after, we’ve seen more and more calls for government action, safe zones, pride funding for safety and security (cops-and-cops-and-more-cops). To that, we say: not in our fucking names.

When heads of corporate prides come together with their fancy press conferences to beg Daddy Trudeau for more money for their TD-sponsored festivals, we call it what it is: a fucking insult. We reject the co-optation by politicians and nonprofit who spit in our faces by making us into victims and not proud defenders.

We must remember that June 9th was an unequivocal victory. No amount of politicians wringing their hands and crying in the press can change that we fucking did that. Trans people and our comrades-in-arms corralled hundreds of violent fascists and held them in place for over two hours. We did it ourselves, despite the best efforts of the police to stop us. And we can and will do it again. In the face of resurgent fascism, neoliberal co-optation and state repression, we will win.