Canada: Palestine solidarity activists block major infrastructure in A15 protests

April 23, 2024
collage of protest pictures
In Canada, A15 actions included calls on the government to implement a two-way arms embargo between Canada and Israel. Image:

April 15 (A15) marked a global day of action for Palestine solidarity with a call to “identify and blockade major choke points in the economy”.

Activists across so-called Canada heeded the call with blockades, pickets and other forms of direct action against major economic infrastructure and sites of economic significance. The actions were met by a severe ramping up of police repression, with dozens of people arrested in several cities.

A15 was intended to raise the stakes for companies that are supplying and profiting from the Israeli genocide in Gaza, while also serving notice to state partners like the Canadian government.

The A15 global call asserted: “We must recognize that the global economy is complicit in genocide and together we will co-ordinate to disrupt and blockade economic logistical hubs and the flow of capital.”

In Canada, actions also included calls on the government to implement a two-way arms embargo between Canada and Israel.

Disruptions and arrests

Palestine solidarity activists in Halifax were subjected to significant police repression as they blocked the road leading to the port in a mass economic disruption. Police arrested 21 people.

Police say those arrested each face one count of obstructing police. This charge falls under the criminal code. Some of the protesters will face additional charges under the Motor Vehicle Act for “failing to obey the direction of a police officer” and not moving onto the sidewalk.

Following the arrests, the large group remaining gathered outside the Halifax Regional Police headquarters in solidarity with their arrested comrades.

Police in Montreal responded to a bank sit-in with repression, arresting 45 people. All were arrested on a criminal charge of mischief under $5000. This is a clear ramping up of arrests and charges for a sit-in.

Activists targeted a Scotiabank branch in downtown Montreal. Scotiabank is the largest foreign investor in Elbit Systems, a key arms supplier to the Israel Defense Forces.

There have been numerous actions against Scotiabank over the past several months. In some cities “Adopt a Scotiabank” groups have formed to do regular actions and information sharing to customers at local branches.

Palestine solidarity activists blocked the front entrance of the Export Development Canada (EDC) building in a busy part of Ottawa, distributing pamphlets regarding the EDC’s facilitation of arms exports to Israel. EDC disputes those claims. Police arrived on the scene and the protest dispersed after several hours.

'People’s picket for Palestine'

In Metro Vancouver, more than 100 people held a “People’s Picket for Palestine”, blockading the entrance to Deltaport for most of the day.

The Port of Vancouver is the largest in Canada, and Deltaport is the country’s largest container terminal. It can handle 2.4 million standard shipping containers a year, and is described as a “gateway to Canadian business”.

Wisely, organisers did not alert anyone associated with the port or transportation companies of the action. It was not meant to be a symbolic protest, but an act of economic disruption.

The action was clearly impactful, and costly — as intended. Global Container Terminals, which operates Deltaport, told local media that the protests "severely impact[ed] operations” and called on “law enforcement agencies to act quickly” so that it could “return to safe and normal operations”.

Two days of actions in Toronto

In Toronto, dozens of people entered the offices of Canadian investment firm Awz Ventures at its Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue West offices.

Awz Ventures is partially headed by former prime minister Stephen Harper and funds technology companies that work with Israel’s military.

Police arrested three people, including high-profile journalist and author Demond Cole and prominent Jews Say No To Genocide activist Anna Lippman. All three were charged with mischief to property, being members of an unlawful assembly and failing to leave the premises when asked.

Not to be deterred, Palestine solidarity activists took additional action the next day, blocking a major rail line in the city’s west end. This was in keeping with the A15 call to step up actions if people were arrested. More than 100 demonstrators blocked the tracks in a busy area at Junction railway at 5pm and held it for at least five hours. In addition to stopping rail services, several city streets were also closed to traffic.

Police came down hard, arresting five more people. The arrests came almost three hours into the action. Riot police on horses were also deployed and pushed people off the tracks.

From symbolic protest to direct action

The A15 call was explicit in asserting the need to “shift from symbolic actions to those that cause pain to the economy”. This is a needed shift and one that poses real possibilities for shutting down systems of exploitation and oppression directly. It rejects a politics of appeal that asks exploiters and oppressors to change course or tries to shame the shameless.

Actions must impose a real, material cost, on business as usual, to capital as well as states. Thus, some of the most important economic infrastructure such as rail lines and ports were targetted. These are the essential infrastructures on which capitalist and state logistics — of profit, occupation, and domination — depend.

Important tactical and strategic lessons will need to be learned — and they are best learned through practice. One is the need to be flexible, wily and mobile in hitting economic targets. New approaches, perhaps more clandestine, will emerge.

Another lesson, of course, relates to police repression and the need to shut down economic targets without incurring mass arrests. It will also involve drawing out ideologically, and challenging connections between Israeli forces and the local police forces doing the repression here.

In the Canadian state context, there are some key examples to draw on. These include the Palestine solidarity actions over the past several months themselves. These movements have targeted and shut down economic infrastructure in impactful ways. The other central example comes from the Shut Down Canada movements that blocked ports and rail lines in solidarity with Indigenous land defenders in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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