by Crow Qu’appelle
(Originally Published on Montreal Counter-Information)
A lot has changed in the past year. If you would have told me a year ago that the government would ban gatherings in private homes, and given police special powers to forcibly enter people’s homes without a warrant*, I would have assumed that you were a paranoid conspiracy kook. Yet such is the reality in 2021.
A certain video recently surfaced showing police dragging a Gatineau resident out of a house where 6 or 7 people were gathered. Apparently, a neighbour had reported a small gathering to police. I feel that it illustrates the current state of affairs well.
Please take a minute to view it:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Il faut que ça devienne viral. RT en masse les amis. La lumière doit être fait sur cet événement. <a href="https://t.co/nnxsGcQcOn">pic.twitter.com/nnxsGcQcOn</a></p>— Nusakan (@Nusakan007) <a href="https://twitter.com/Nusakan007/status/1345150743129501700?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 1, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
It is very strange to me that very few activists seem to be raising their voices against this draconian expansion of police powers. We should keep in mind that civil rights, once relinquished, may only be regained through struggle. Think about it. Now that the precedent is set that the state can override our civil rights, what is to stop politicians from sending police to invade people’s homes whenever it is convenient to do so. When Quebec prime minister Francois Legault gave the police power to enter homes without a warrant, it was done as an emergency measure. Well, here we are, many months later, and there is no end to the emergency in sight. I, for one, am concerned that these temporary measures may become permanent. My perspective is that previous generations of activists fought so that we could have some of the legal protections that we have. They weren’t gifts from benevolent masters. They were hard-won. My point is that, if the state is able to take a right away, why would they give it back? I think that rights exist in the minds of the people – in order for a people to behave as if they have a right, they must believe that they have that right. My concern is that many people seem to no longer believe that freedom of assembly is a right that their neighbours should have. For one thing, we are witnessing the rise of a snitch culture. A certain segment of the population now feels that they are doing the moral thing by reporting their neighbours to the police. As members of an oft-criminalized political leaning, we should be concerned. I believe that there is a “Use-It-Or-Lose-It” nature to civil rights. If people begin to believe that their rights apply only in times of peace and prosperity, then what happens if we enter into a prolonged period of economic depression and political turmoil?
In my view, effective political organizing is contingent upon the ability to assemble, whether legally or illegally, openly or clandestinely. I believe that anarchists should defend the right of freedom of assembly. It seems somewhat insane to me that this is even an argument that needs to be made in 2021, but such are the times that we live in. Nothing is more foundational to anarchism that the principle of voluntary association, that is, the freedom of individuals to associate and to disassociate at will. Yet, in the name of public health, the state has effectively suspended the freedom of assembly. Strangely, most anarchists have remained silent on this subject. Do trust the state to return our rights once this crisis is over? To me, that puts far too much confidence in the state.
I assume that most of you reading this would agree that we must, on principle, oppose the expansion of police powers, however, for some strange reason, criticism of measures taken in the name of public health seems to be taboo for most Leftists nowadays, at least in the public discourse. This worries me. People could be forgiven for thinking that anarchists in 2021 are pro-lockdown, and really, how can one be pro-lockdown without being pro-state? There is nothing voluntary about a lockdown. There is nothing voluntary about the imposition of a curfew.
If anarchists do not oppose the expansion of state powers, what cultural currency will anarchism have? There is nothing voluntary about a lockdown. It does not compute in my mind that someone could be pro-lockdown and anti-state. We are now living in a political context in which the police can invade your home without a warrant*, without laying criminal charges, without even accusing you of a crime, and in which the state encourages people to snitch on their neighbours for holding small gatherings. It seems to me that the state is boiling the frog. And at which point do we begin to resist? And how do we resist?
My feeling is that anarchism in our political context is struggling to adapt itself to the times. We have always been greatly outnumbered by liberals, people who essentially trust the government to govern in the best interest of the people. In a time where the political reality has been transformed so rapidly, in a time characterized by a dizzying cascade of confusing information, misinformation, and disinformation, we are losing our way, following the liberal herd into the state-sanctioned pen. We must steadfastly affirm what our values are, and one value that anarchists have always held is that the freedom of assembly is a foundational right that must be defended.
*Technically, this is debatable. In September, 2020, Legault announced a new system for the expedited approval of warrants. Presumably, this was introduced to bring Quebec’s lockdown laws into compliance with Canadian laws, however, it represents a radical departure from the previous definition of what a warrant is. Whereas a warrant used to require presenting evidence that an individual may have committed a crime or is engaged in criminal activity, now a system of “tele warranting” allows rapid approval of a warrant. I suspect this form of “warrant” is a phone call in which the officer’s request is rubber-stamped. I don’t regard this shift in definition as legitimate, and I believe that in this age of propaganda we must be wary when the state suddenly re-defines words.