Victoria protest challenges Canada’s housing ministers by bringing politics to street level
On Tuesday June 28th, Victoria, British Columbia took centre stage in Canada’s housing crisis. While the Province mounted a second attempt to displace Super InTent City by court injunction, all of Canada’s Provincial and Territorial ministers of housing met the Federal housing minister Jean-Yves Duclos blocks away in the Hotel Grand Pacific. In response, housing justice and anti-displacement activists converged to expose Trudeau’s do-nothing housing policies and to deliver the Ministers two major demands, summarized by banners that flew at the rally reading “Hands off Super InTent City” and “Build 77,000 Homes Now.”
As the rally was about to begin in the square beside the hotel, the Federal Minister responsible for housing, Jean-Yves Duclos, walked in with an entourage of grinning men in suits. The rally MC, Ivan Drury from Alliance Against Displacement, called him to the stage. Pressed for numbers of how much money the feds would specifically make available for new social housing construction, Duclos answered only with, “we appreciate your passion for the issue.” His voice got softer and softer with repeated challenges for the simple answer he refused to give. Video on the TV show him and his entourage leaving to chants of “Trudeau lies, people die.” His evasive and noncommittal comments on the stage foreshadowed the results of the Minister’s meeting, which promised only a Canada-wide consultation, a new website, and no new homes.
When the rally began, the first speakers were a crew from Super InTent City. They focused on the rally’s first demand against the criminalization of poverty and breaking up the tent city. The now-tell-tale appearance of Super InTent City leaders is that they carry hatchets on their belts and a smile on their faces. Amidst their demands for homes, land, and for an end to the criminalization of poverty, they also reflect the deep sense of community togetherness that undergirds the camp. Ana, one of the leaders, took the mic and said, referencing the Outkast song, “We are your neighbours, lend us some sugar!” Her appeal for kindness pointed to the poor-bashing ideas that lay underneath the anti-poor laws of the Canadian government. Ana called for our movements to face these problems all together.
After the speakers, led by a banner reading, “Hands off Super InTent City,” the crowd of nearly fifty marched out of the square, up the driveway towards the hotel where the ministers met, and crashed into three bike cops blockading the main doors of the hotel. There, logjammed with the cops, they chanted “Seventy-seven thousand homes, Build them now!”; “Rich Coleman don’t you know tent city will not go,” and; “Christy’s cuts are class war! Coleman’s cops are class war.” The marchers demanded entry, and then tried to negotiate for a delegation of three to be admitted to deliver our demands. The cops refused, then finally took a request in to the ministers, who also refused. After about half an hour of pushing and shoving against the line of police, the rally ended with the Women’s Warrior Song led by Chrissy and Donna from Super InTent City, who carried a smudge bowl throughout the rally. And, proudly, the marchers paraded back to Super InTent City, taking the street and chanting all the way.
Participants said the rally outside the hotel felt strong and united. Harold Lavender, from AAD said later, “it felt spirited and we made our point.” And for some of those at the camp in Victoria, who have felt worn down by a fight that has moved into sterile and alienating courtrooms with lawyers rather than people as protagonists, a direct conflict with the minister, and then with the police, brought politics back down to the street level. The street opposition was framed in terms of the housing crisis and the need for action from the government. It carried over and above the messages of “a new day of cooperation” that the ministers were pushing. In the streets, Super InTent City and their friends were able to interrupt and intervene in the photo op propaganda of the minister’s meeting.
Read the open letter to Canada’s Housing Ministers by 7 activist and homeless advocacy groups from Victoria and the lower Mainland.