On January 11, more than a dozen imprisoned people at Ontario’s Central North Correctional Centre were to stage a one-day hunger strike against provincial austerity measures, specifically the cutting of the Community Startup and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), a grant provided by Ontario Works for people in immediate need of resources for housing costs and assistance re-establishing themselves in the community. This cut inherently targets imprisoned people and people getting out of other institutions as well as people who are trying to lead a peaceful household and any poor or marginalized people trying to avoid finding themselves without a home.
On December 27, in response to months of campaigning by community activists, the Liberal government announced that two-thirds of the funding that was to be eliminated is now to be spared. For now, our action here is being called off as the most severe CSUMB cuts have been averted, at least in scope. However, the situation is still dire. Responsibility for these funds is being abdicated by the province and downloaded to municipalities. One third of the monies are to be permanently eliminated.
The CSUMB remains cut and 2013 is to be is to be a “transition year” before the new Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) is scheduled to come into effect in 2014. The CHPI is, at best, an inadequate patchwork of decreased stop-gap funding. Absent a province-wide strategy or mechanism to alleviate homelessness and dire poverty, both will inevitably continue increasing in occurrence and severity in this current and coming era of austerity.
In the wake of the Liberal announcement, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty released a statement entitled “Mobilization to Save Community Start-up a Big Victory But a Long Fight Ahead”. That statement recognized partial victory in a battle that is part of the war against austerity, capitalism’s newest front, and that community mobilization and protest remain effective strategies and tactics. And while they’re right that it is to be understood as a victory -- though partial -- they also know that we will not be appeased by partial victories.
January 11 also marks the beginning of what might be a second month in the hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat and the date that Prime Minister Harper has announced he will meet with her and other indigenous leaders. Our action here in the prison was to be taken in recognition of, and with respect to Spence and the Idle No More Movement as well. Several of the would-be hunger strikers are Indigenous people and while most of us are settlers, myself included, we recognize that solidarity against capitalism is meaningless without solidarity against colonialism.
We recognize that the CSUMB cut, like many aspects of colonial government austerity measures, will disproportionately impact Indigenous people. We were to undergo our hunger strike also in solidarity with Spence and the Idle No More Movement and some of us will still be undertaking a 24-hour fast on January 11 with that in mind. We invite others outside this prison to join us.
As imprisoned people, we know that it is necessary to recognize that the CSUMB cut also targets women and children trying to leave abusive households and violence and with respect to that we also have to recognize the responsibility we each have as individuals to challenge and combat the normalization of the pervasiveness of violence against women in patriarchal cultures, an endemic feature of both capitalism and colonialism.
As imprisoned people, it could not be more obvious to us that both the austerity and so-called “tough on crime” agendas symbiotically constitute an intentional attack on poor people and communities of colour. Consequently, our hunger strike was not to be a protest just against yet another heartless austerity cut, but also in opposition to capitalism and racism, two defining features of Canada’s colonial culture.
With the December 27th announcement and subsequent statement from OCAP, we have called off our anti-austerity action – for now; however, we do very much see the provincial Liberal Party convention upcoming at the end of the month. It is still too soon to know exactly what the cuts and the downloading of responsibilities to municipalities will mean, though some things appear more likely than others, if not certain.
With total spending on homelessness or loose intervention being drastically decreased, rates of homelessness will rise and it will become more difficult for people to access social assistance. Fewer people in already targeted communities and fewer people coming out of prisons and other institutions will be eligible. For example, Toronto has already announced to factor it’s part in a new patchwork- only people who have been imprisoned or hospitalized or in rehab or otherwise institutionalized for longer than six months will be eligible for the funding that will replace the CSUMB. This means that many people getting out of various kinds of hospitals or serving short prison sentences will be tossed out onto the streets.
As one imprisoned person put it, “This means guys will end up pleading guilty to more serious offenses (and staying in prison longer than necessary) just to be eligible (for something) when they get out, because it only takes a month or two for us to lose our housing in many cases and Community Start-up is the only support many of us get for a chance at a different kind of life.”
There are potentially also serious concerns for how this cut will impact communities in Northern Ontario, where municipalities are much less likely to have their own existing infrastructure for dispersal of such funds and neither the downloaded responsibilities of the transition year nor the new CHPI have funds earmarked for “Community Start-up costs”.
A hole in the patchwork in Northern Ontario is but one example of how this provincial cut will disproportionately impact indigenous people despite the fact that provinces see a tremendous share of the government’s profits from stolen land and broken treaties. Coupled with the disproportionate rate of over-incarceration for indigenous people, this is yet another example of how capitalism and colonialism continue to work in tandem to entrench wealth and privilege in the hands of settlers at the expense of indigenous peoples.
Austerity reveals that, at least in the Canadian context, capitalism and colonialism have become inextricably linked even though resistance against one necessitates effective resistance against the other.
Austerity is premised to an extent on covering the cost of bailing out the capitalist system after the economic “crisis” of 2008. And while that may be a specious excuse for a classical systemic attack on those already bearing the brunt of capitalists obsessed with colonial domination, I wholeheartedly agree with the call coming from OCAP’s campaign against austerity: “Stop the war on the poor, make the rich pay”.
Solidarity against capitalism, solidarity against colonialism.
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.