Toronto: Confronting Colonial Legacies & Contemporary Apartheids

by undoingborders

Toronto is where the Undoing Borders tour was born.  When Hussan, a member of No One Is Illegal (NOII), emailed us to say that he read our zine and wanted to talk more, we dreamed up a roadtrip that would take us to his city.  We’d been hearing about No One Is Illegal’s great work for a long time, and had a not-so-secret collective crush on them.  Here was our chance to take this crush to the next level!

And this first date of sorts turned out to be wonderful.  We’re hoping for more dates on our collective horizons.

When we suggested dates for our visit, Toronto folks were worried.  A big showdown was expected around a series of cuts proposed by the city’s infamous and right-wing mayor.  It wasn’t great timing.  But one NOII member in particular – Sarah Reaburn– stepped up to make our visit happen anyways, and at the last minute, the heaviest axe of cuts was averted.

We showed up to Beit Zatoun, “a culture and art venue for the justice and human rights community Toronto.”  Beit Zatoun means House of Olive (beit means house in both Arabic and Hebrew) and sells fair trade Palestinian goods.  The space is beautiful, with large hanging chandeliers and sprawling wooden floors.  The couple hundred people fit the room snugly but comfortably.  It was a great space.

We were excited and honored to be speaking with Craig Fortier from No One Is Illegal Toronto and Natalie Kouri-Towe from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.  The panel was moderated by Gabi Rodriguez, who works with The People Project.   Everyone had fantastic things to say.

Gabi spoke about her work with the OutWords arts program of the People’s Project, which works with queer and trans youth of color. With this project, they all spent some time, recently, talking about the relationship between queerness and nationalism.  That citizenship is an act of inclusion and exclusion based on historical myths and omissions, that this requires a certain degree of homo and transphobia.  That “queer rights” is often used as an excuse to occupy or invade “more homophobic” places.  She introduced the talk by saying,

“So many of us feel these truths.  We know our queerness exists as a breaking of the rules we didn’t make or consent to.  And that our presence in this part of the world is a product of a history we didn’t create or ask for.  And we find ourselves now trying to survive and thrive in a context of racist regulations that we had nothing to do with writing and a culture of homophobic and transphobic violence that we had no part in creating, but now we must resist.  Because of this we exist as a testament to the courage and the heart required to define ourselves in defiance to those rules. And we feel a sensation of defiance and we embody it and still, we often have trouble verbalizing and linking queer and migrant justice movements in very tangible ways.”

Natalie spoke about homonationalism, the ways that the state of Israel successfully mobilizes it in it’s campaign to pinkwash a system of apartheid.  She spoke about the ways we need to be wary when states ever claim to be the protectors of queer people, and, echoing Gabi, spoke to our needs to identify what this rhetoric tends to serve.   

Here’s a great video that QuAIA released of queers speaking out against Israeli apartheid:  

Click here for a video about QuAII being banned from Toronto Pride in 2010 for using the words Israeli Apartheid called:  QuAIA + Pride Toronto = Bad Romance

Something that has been an important theme in our visit to Canada has been the ways in which, across all the cities we’ve visited, people working against borders, criminalization, and the many violent manifestations of capitalism have had a really strong analysis of colonialism and indigenous sovereignty.  Craig’s introductory remarks speak to that well.  He welcomed the crowd:

“I want to begin by asserting that we’re meeting today on occupied territories, and this is not just a formality…  The indigenous people here of Turtle Island– who are of this land– have been resisting war, occupation, assimilation, and the imposition of colonial borders on their bodies and territories for five centuries.

“It’s critical to reinforce that the borders we are talking about today:  the gender binary, the checkpoints, the illegal occupations, the immigration thugs, the land crossings are all imposed.  They are imposed by an illegitimate, occupying colonial entity.  They are illegitimate.  And thus they are open to attack.  That’s the good news.  To resistance.  To a resurgence of ways of living that refuse to acknowledge them.  That make them obsolete and that assert that fluidity of human interaction with other humans, animals, and the land can exist.”

The rest of Craig’s talk, as well as Gabi’s, Natalie’s, and ours, were all recorded by Carly (from Earful of Queer), who drove from Guelph to join us for another evening!  Listen to them all here

The talk was followed by a party with music by DJ Tanner (Nahed Mansour) and Essex, who marked Toronto as the third stop on his international DJ tour!

See the next post for more thoughts on Sanctuary City, Toronto-style.