When Olivia Chow announced herself as a candidate in Toronto’s next mayoral election she also resigned as Member of Parliament for the Trinity-Spadina riding. It didn’t take long after Chow’s announcement for things to start heating up. On March 13th Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau stirred up controversy within his party by blocking Christine Innes’ candidacy. The next big news came eight days later when Joe Cressy announced his aspiration to run for the NDP.
Cressy is a long-term member of the NDP who has balanced his career between activism and political campaign management. He was a close friend of Jack Layton, and worked as Olivia Chow’s campaign manager during the election in 2011. In 2013 Olivia Chow produced a video of Cressy and Mike Layton (Jack’s son) canoeing in circles through rapids- a heartwarming family moment.
Researching Cressy’s career gives an interesting view of the ‘activist’ faction of the NDP, including his (and Olivia Chow’s) contributions to the re-emergence of political violence; but, we’ll cover that in a future article. For today, let’s start off by looking into Cressy’s most successful piece of political theatre- a protest inside Parliament that shows us how the ‘usual suspects’ in the activist community are actors playing for the benefit of our country’s politicians.
Parliament Gets Interrupted By Activistocrats:
On October 26, 2009 a group of young activists coming from the Ottawa Powershift conference found their way into the gallery of the House of Commons. Their official story was that they’d been walking through the building all day and knocking on the doors of MP’s offices looking for commitments to back their climate change agenda. And, apparently, they weren’t having much luck. (Perhaps they should have asked for appointments first?),
As the activists were sitting in the gallery, Jack Layton made a statement about Bill C-311; a private member’s bill that prescribed more aggressive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. The bill was initially introduced by Jack Layton as Bill C-377, C-311 was introduced by NDP MP Bruce Hyer, and seconded by Jack Layton (Hyer has since shifted to the Green Party).
Then, just as Layton finished his statement, a white guy named Dave Vasey stood up and yelled out “Canada needs to sign and ratify the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples!” (see above video). Vasey was immediately apprehended by security. Right after that an unidentified person yelled out “Pass Bill C-311 and take action on climate change!”. Others joined in once the ball got rolling- the interruption lasted several minutes.
All but one of the protesters who got arrested that day (we’ll get to the names in a moment) have graced the pages of this website in the past- at least three are aligned with the Ruckus Society, a foundation funded training organization connected to the violence at the 1999 Seattle WTO.
Ruckus not only trains activists how to execute protests like this, but they also teach them how to embarrass the police by overdramatizing the arrest. The formula is pretty simple. First, one either struggles as hard as they can against the police, or takes the alternative route of going entirely limp. Then, while the cops are dragging you away, scream bloody murder to make it look like you’re being brutalized. For best results, add fake blood.
There’s always a possibility someone could get hurt when using these tactics. There was a lot of debate after the incident of whether Jeh Custerra was actually hurt by the police or not (the CBC speculated he faked his injury), but his bloody face ended-up making him the focus of much of the media attention.
After the crowd was dispersed outside, and several of the protest’s leaders were taken into custody, Joe Cressy of the Polaris Institute stepped into the ring and took the role of media spokesperson. Cressy was a close friend of Jack Layton, and a member of the NDP- none of this made it into the media’s reports at first (but his party connections were later reported).
Who Got Arrested?
The protest’s participants all came from the Powershift 2009, a youth climate activist conference being held in Ottawa. Powershift was founded by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC), an TIDES Canada initiative that receives support from the Polaris Institute (who currently take the money for Powershift donations). Powershift has also received backing from militant unions including the Canadian Auto Workers (now unifor).
One of the most concerning things about Powershift (besides what awful role models some of their presenters are) is that the event bills itself as respecting “diversity of tactics”, an activist doctrine that is used to justify allowing people to use violence at protests.
People who were arrested included:
- Dave Vasey
Dave Vasey is a professional protester who first got involved in environmental movements after a family member got sick during the Walkerton, Ontario water crisis. Vasey has taken leadership positions in oil sands protests, at Occupy Toronto, and Idle No More- at the time of the protest, he was working with the (foundation funded) Rainforest Action Network. Vasey has also worked closely with the Ruckus Society. He’s an extremely nasty bully- during Occupy, he once attacked someone he was in conflict by proxy– telling the guy’s 13 year old brother that he had become mentally unstable.
Like two other of his fellow arrestees, Vasey has a tattoo that says “Love Is The Movement”. Vasey also holds the distinction of being the first person arrested during the G20. Vasey was the Green Party of Canada’s candidate for Kenora, Ontario in 2006.
- Chelsea Flook
Chelsea Flook is an Edmonton based professional protester, an anarchist who proves herself as the ideal Powershift role model by posting online pictures of herself wearing Black Bloc style masks. Flook has served as the director of the Sierra Club Prairie Chapter, was the leader at Occupy Edmonton, and started her career in radicalism with the CUPE 3903 (a union local notorious for it’s appropriation of indigenous causes). Flook worked with the Rainforest Action network at the time of the protest.
Like Vasey, Flook also wears the Love Is The Movement tattoo. Flook regularly attends and participates in anti-police marches- she’s a very angry young woman.
- Jeh Custerra (A.K.A Jeh Custer)
Jeh Custerra is a Saskatchewan based professional protester who has worked with the Sierra Club, and allies himself with the Ruckus Society. Custerra has worked closely with the activists with the “Love Is The Movement” tattoos, it’s suspected he may have one himself. Custerra has a Zapatista fetish.
- Eriel Deranger
Eriel Deranger was working with the Rainforest Action Network back in 2010 and is closely aligned with the Ruckus Society. She later joined the Sierra Club Prairie Chapter. Deranger comes from a family of professional protesters- her mother Susan Deranger worked with the American Indian Movement during the 1973 shootout at Wounded Knee, South Dakota and is a prominent anti-Israel campaigner; her brother Ryan Deranger also shares the same tattoo (and last year called for a “new Oka”).
The past year has been a big one for Deranger. She was awarded one of the most serious accolades a professional protester can receive- being invited to the TIDES Canada funded (creepy) new age resort to teach at the Hollyhock Social Change Institute. In December she joined Neil Young’s Honor [sic] The Treaties fundraiser, as part of her work with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
- Adam MacIssac
Adam MacIssac is a professional protester from Prince Edward Island. MacIssac was the Chair at the Sierra Club Youth Coalition who also worked with the United Nations Development Programme Youth Climate Change Project, and Peace Child International. MacIssac claims on his website’s biography how he was trained by Al Gore himself on how to present his film An Inconvenient Truth.
When MacIssac was arrested that day, he later complained that the police weren’t listening to him when he said he has a pacemaker- putting his life at risk. This is very similar to MacIssac’s arrest during the G20- his side of the story was that he was being Tazered by police who (allegedly) ignored his telling them he had a pacemaker. Some people just never learn! Or, perhaps, he uses his disability as a weapon to embarrass the police with? (It’s a common tactic.)
Enter Green Party Leader Elizabeth May:
It didn’t take long after the incident for Green Party leader Elizabeth May to setup an impromptu press conference. May had some skin in the game- she was also supported Bill C-311, and many of the protesters came from her former employer at the Sierra Club (something that the most of the media missed that day.) May hadn’t yet been voted into office back then but was sitting in the Diplomatic Gallery at the time of the protest.
May began her speech explaining the protester’s motives for conducting the interruption:
“The climate crisis seems to have all but disappeared; from the national media, from discussions in the House of Commons, to such a point that even after the fact that Canada held more citizen-based grassroots actions this weekend, than any other country in the world…”
She next covered the butts of Powershift’s sponsoring NGOs:
“I’ve spoken to the organizers of those events, and those organizations had no knowledge; no prior knowledge; and no role in organizing the spontaneous demonstration that took place from the gallery today.”
If you’ve been paying attention while reading this article (shame on you dear reader if you aren’t!) you probably saw the problem with this statement. Joe Cressy was the spokesperson for the protest, his name and face were plastered across the Canadian media- and, Cressy was employed by the Polaris Institute, one of the organizations that helps organize and fund Powershift.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, May’s next statement (to the discerning reader) is enough to turn one’s stomach:
“What was heartbreaking was that the MP’s below laughed in derision as the young people were removed- following the demonstration Environment Minister Jim Prentice referred to the youth action as an NDP Stunt. I just want to share with all Canadians, that those were our children that we threw out of the House of Commons today. Those were the best, the brightest, the most dedicated, the most responsible young adults in Canada”
Elizabeth May is one of Canada’s most outspoken critics of activist political violence, she once told Your Humble Narrator that organizations that if an organization is legitimate they would be throwing out people who call for violence.
As already explained, Powershift’s website explains clearly (at the top of their About Us page) that they are an organization that respects the doctrine of Diversity of Tactics (making violence acceptable). With the exception of Eriel Deranger (but it’s expected she does too), all of the protesters who were arrested that day also support DoT.
So, instead of explaining the inconvenient truth of who the arrestees are (two G20 arrestees, an anarchist mask fetishist, a cop-baiter and a guy who worships the Zapatistas), May introduced them to Canadians as “the best, the brightest, the most dedicated, the most responsible young adults in Canada”, what the hell was she thinking?
It’s important to note at this point that this wasn’t the first time May has displayed inconsistencies with her statements on militant protests. Just a short while before at the Toronto G20, when speaking out against the violence, May made a spectacularly disturbing comment to soften the blow one the people who got arrested:
“I don’t like using violence in the context of smashing windows. That’s vandalism.”
May’s was likely the most stupid statement made in the aftermath of the G20. First, most Canadians see smashing things up as a violent act, and spend countless hours teaching their children how to behave better. Next, and more important, there were people behind those windows- many were scared to death. There was also a police officer inside one of the cars that was being smashed up.
May made a similarly shocking statement In the aftermath of the Elsipogtog anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick. The RCMP discovered guns and improvised explosives on the site, several people were charged with possession, but May came out and said that they were planted by the RCMP!
[Note: The deeper Your Humble Narrator digs into May’s conflicting statements on violence, the less I believe her]
When May finished her speech she immediately began to walk away from the podium. But then someone must have stuck his hand up, she returned, and said “oh, a journalist” (like she wasn’t expecting any at the press conference?). He asked May whether she condoned the protest and she (craftily) said that it’s against the rules. She then went on to explain:
“..but the courage of the young people, and it was spontaneous Andrew, I’ve check.”
That last sentence wasn’t a typo, the video was cut at that moment so that we couldn’t hear the rest of May’s answer. None of the rest of the video had been edited- it was an end-to-end recording of the press conference. The video was posted on the Green Party’s Vimeo account.
Were they trying to hide something?
Enter Alberta NDP MP Linda Duncan:
Elizabeth May held another press conference a day later, this time accompanied by NDP Environment Critic Linda Duncan- they were introduced by a young woman from Powershift. After beginning her speech in French, May then shifted to English and said:
“I’m very proud to sign this declaration of Powershift Canada principles- for a clean, green, future- and Green jobs”
May next signed the declaration, and handed the podium over to Linda Duncan, who signed the declaration as she introduced herself by attacking the Conservative and Liberal parties:
“I’m absolutely delighted that I’ve been invited here by Powershift and youth of Canada. I’ll tell you what’s really scary, it’s the fact that the Conservatives and Liberals have not stepped up to the plate- to come here today, to sign-on and say that is the most important thing in this country is the future of our children and the children of the world. It’s absolutely reprehensible that we’re holding up the passage of Bill C-311…”
Let’s All Go To Copenhagen!
Less than eight weeks after the invasion of Parliament, many of the people involved in the protest were all in the same city together! This time in Copenhagen, the site of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Dave Vasey, Eriel Deranger, and Adam MacIssac were there- some with the Canadian Youth Delegation. Elizabeth May met with the CYD while they were there.
It’s a small world, isn’t it?
So, Was It All Just An NDP Stunt?
Environment Minister Jim Prentice quickly wrote-off the protest as an “NDP stunt”. At first glance that appears to be true- the protesters were promoting an NDP sponsored bill, and their spokesperson Joe Cressy was one of Jack Layton’s close and personal friends.
But, reality is a lot more complex than that. First, the NDP isn’t a single organism, there are both moderates and radicals- Cressy, Layton and Duncan fall towards the latter (and all work closely with environmental NGOs). The NDP weren’t the only beneficiaries either- Elizabeth May and the Green Party got their share attention too.
If there’s one commonality between all of the characters involved in this story it’s that they all wanted to see Bill C-311 get passed. The bill’s parliamentary stakeholders may all have said they had nothing to do with the protest, but the conflicts in their stories leave us to wonder just how truthful they were. May’s (and potentially Duncan’s) omission from her speech that she had connections with the protesters and their organizations was troubling- as was her denial that the NGOs were involved (she knew Cressy worked for Polaris).
More To Come On Joe Cressy Soon!
Today’s story explored Joe Cressy’s close relationship with Jack Layton, and how one of his protests was used to promote one of Layton’s bills. Layton and the NDP may (or may not) have been directly involved- but they certainly benefited. But, when put into perspective of Cressy & Layton’s activist past, Your Humble Narrator is inclined to believe there was at least a nod and a wink.
In an upcoming article, we’ll dig into how Cressy, Layton and Olivia Chow were directly involvement in violent protests- and how Chow was selling the ‘virtues’ of Diversity of Tactics as recently as 2011. It’s a chilling tale that even Your Humble Narrator didn’t expect could go do deep. Stay tuned…