Chain fast protesting government racism and C-51 links Canadians in solidarity

Fasting has a long history as a tool of social dissent. In Canada, of late, it's been used by Chief Teresa Spence has fasted protest government disrespect of First Nations. It's been used to protest indefinite detentions in Lindsay, Ontario. This year, Homes Not Bombs is organizing a chain fast to protest government racism, and in particular, Bill C-51.

Matthew Behrens, coordinator of Homes Not Bombs, has organized the Canada-wide chain fast against government racism. Here's how it works: individuals commit to fast for a day, in total the fast will last for two months. It started on April 16 and will end June 18, with the start of Ramadan.

The chain fast has inspired other actions as well. Omar Fayoumi decided to not simply join the fast, but to organize an event in London, Ontario focusing specifically on Bill C-51. Breaking Bread: teach in and solidarity chain fast against Bill C-51 will bring professors from London's Western University to speak about the legislation as well as local spoken word artists. 

Fayoumi says his event will invite community members to break their fast together. He hopes that organizing the event around food might convince those typically reluctant to get involved with social or political movements to come out. 

"It's wonderful to see that [the people in London] have taken the basic statement and added some things that they thought were appropriate to their local circumstances," Behrens said. "[Fasting is] something that's very personal. For people that aren't involved in social action and political movements, they can relate to someone's personal sacrifice: why aren't you eating today?"

David Heap, a professor of linguistics at Western will speak at the Breaking Bread event, providing an historical context for Bill C-51. He says Canada has "been here before" with McCarthyist policies during the red scare in the 1950s. 

"The pretext is different. They talk about jihadis now and they talked about reds back then. But the heavy-handed techniques are remarkably similar," said Heap.

Heap mentioned the idea of guilt by association -- when going to certain meetings or talking to certain people becomes dangerous.

Michael Lynk is a professor at Western's law school who will talk about the legislation itself.

"I've been taken, over the last couple months, with range of critical response from a number of voices with respect to the likely overreach of this legislation," he said. "Now that it's advancing its way through the Senate, I want to make sure that this matter gets fully debated and Canadians know what's going on."

He's concerned about the new additional powers the bill seems to give for domestic surveillance as well as its relatively weak oversight. 

"This legislation goes too far in the direction of security and offers too little protections with respect to democracy and freedom of expression," he said. 

He also noted that the Canadian Bar Association took a critical stance on the bill, showing that opposition to the legislation is going mainstream. 

Homes Not Bombs' broader, Canada-wide chain fast protests the manifestations of racism by the Canadian government, which Behrens' says include Bill C-51. 

"We're gravely concerned about the fact that the Canadian government has been whipping up racist hysteria over the last six months. This is having a very negative, harmful effect on specific communities," he said. 

He's particularly concerned about the treatment of Indigenous people. Behrens lives on unceded Algonquin territory where a number of communities have experienced boil water alerts.

"That, too, is another form of daily racism that doesn't necessarily get into the news or acknowledged," he said. "If you can't have clean water for ten years and one of the primary reasons is that you're an Indigenous person… How do we go on with our daily lives knowing that that's going on? 

Behrens thinks fasting, because it is extremely personal, can have an effect that painting banners and marching cannot. When you don't grab a coffee and a doughnut with your friends at Tim Hortons they might ask you why, Behrens said.

"It's an opportunity to explain what's going on."

Lynk agrees.

"[Fasting] requires a real sacrifice and commitment. I hope Canadians will respect that and link [activists'] determination to the cause that they're trying to promote," he said.

To sign up for the Canada-wide chain fast against government racism, click here or email tasc@web.ca. The London-specific event Breaking Bread: teach in and solidarity chain fast against bill C-51 is happening on June 4 at 8:00 p.m. at 366 Oxford Street East. 

Megan Devlin is rabble's news intern for 2015. She hails from Toronto, but she's starting her Masters in Journalism in Vancouver. She got her start in journalism working at the Western Gazette where she was a news editor for volume 107 and online associate editor for volume 108.

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