Tensions rise in Toronto’s Persian community as activists try to expose regime links in Canada

Of note. More coverage on regime links and immigration:

As the uprisings continue in Iran, tensions between supporters of the regime and those who aspire to revolution are being felt in the Iranian diaspora.

In Toronto, anti-regime activists have moved to expose government insiders who they say live with impunity in Canada.

“This man sent me, along with many other students, to prison,” said Ardeshir Zarezadeh, an Iranian-born Toronto lawyer, pointing to his computer screen.

On the website of his organization, the International Center for Human Rights, the photo of Morteza Talaei, the former police chief of Tehran and officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), seen on a treadmill, in a gymnasium in Richmond Hill, Ont., in January.

Since the beginning of the uprising in Iran, Zarezadeh has called on members of the Iranian diaspora in Canada to send him information concerning relatives of the Iranian regime who visit or live in Canada in order to expose them on his website.

There is an expression in Iran that Canada is the regime’s paradise.— Mohammad Tajdolati, Iranian journalist based in Toronto

“We all know that many people affiliated with the Iranian regime live in Canada. They come and go.”

“They take advantage of life in Canada,” maintains the lawyer who spent nearly six years in Iranian prisons for his involvement in student movements.

For Mohammad Tajdolati, there is no doubt that the presence of supporters of the Iranian regime in Canada has exacerbated tensions within the Iranian diaspora since the beginning of the uprising.

“There is an expression in Iran that Canada is the regime’s paradise,” says the Iranian journalist based in Toronto.

The activist claims to have contacted the federal government on several occasions in recent years to denounce the presence of relatives of the regime on Canadian territory, without concrete measures being taken by Ottawa.

“They tell us, ‘We know, we’re watching them,’ but that’s not enough. […] That is why we are taking matters into our own hands,” he said.

On Oct. 29, in a long-awaited speech by the diaspora, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to maintain sanctions against the Iranian regime and its leaders. A promise received with skepticism by Zarezadeh.

You can’t do much legally, but by identifying them and exposing them, you can make people cut ties with them, or with their business.– Marjan

“We know that there are people today in Canada who have benefited from this horrible and corrupt regime and who are hiding in the middle of the community enjoying the opportunities that Canada offers. They are using the wealth they stole from the Iranians. We say: enough is enough,” Trudeau said.

He is not the only one. It was this same frustration that prompted Marjan* (her name has been changed) to begin investigating Iranian regime supporters in Canada. The young Torontonian left Iran to escape repression.

Radio-Canada granted her anonymity, because she fears reprisals against her or her family who still lives in Iran.

After arriving in Canada, she says she kept her distance from her home community. The uprising in Iran, however, ignited a new flame within her. On the opiran.toronto Instagram account, she now speaks out against government insiders whose families she says live freely in Canada.

“When I see these people here, it’s like post-traumatic stress disorder for me. I see them near my home, in the street, I see their children playing freely when I did not have this luxury in my country,” she said.

“You can’t do much legally, but by identifying them and exposing them, you can make people cut ties with them, or with their business.”

Even if he understands the anger of his compatriots, Tajdolti is worried about the abuses that some of their actions could cause, such as the denunciation of individuals online. “You have to be very careful because we live in a country of law. You can’t accuse someone very easily,” he warns.

Zarezadeh says he is aware of the risk of defamation. “We make sure that the information we publish is true,” he said, assuring that he will continue his fight.

Exacerbated tensions, broken wall of fear

Beyond online denunciations, tensions are also crystallizing in the community. In “Little Tehran,” a neighborhood located north of Toronto and which owes its name to its large population of Iranians, certain incidents have multiplied since the beginning of the uprising.

Opposite the famous Plaza Irania, in the heart of the Iranian quarter, a butcher shop has been the target of online vandalism and intimidation by netizens accusing it of having links with the Iranian regime.

Graffiti in Farsi saying “death to the mullahs,” for example, was painted on the walls of the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre in Thornhill, north of Toronto. The mosque was quick to refute any political allegiance.

Both the butcher shop and the mosque declined our offer to comment on the matter.

In front of the same mosque, however, signs with the portrait of the young Mahsa Amini, whose death was the spark of the movement, have been removed, according to a video widely shared on the WhatsApp network. And still in the same place, a motorist tried to rush into anti-regime demonstrators before fleeing and being arrested by the police.

York Regional Police, which serves the territory, says it is not concerned about a possible increase in hateful acts related to the situation in Iran. However, the police say they are aware of the divisions that exist within the Iranian community in the Greater Toronto Area.

According to Tajdolati, tensions have always been underlying in the community, with supporters of the two ideologies living together. What changes this time is that fear has changed sides, according to the journalist.

“The people you see on the streets now, before, they didn’t come to demonstrations because they were afraid,” he said, explaining that being photographed at an event like this could make it difficult afterward to travel to Iran or could make things difficult for their families back home.

“Now, he continues, the situation is so atrocious in Iran, it is so brutal, so inhuman, that these people say to themselves, ‘No, that is enough. I want to participate, I want to do my duty as a human being, as an Iranian.”

“The wall of fear has broken down.”

Source: Tensions rise in Toronto’s Persian community as activists try to expose regime links in Canada

Regg Cohn: Pipeline protest or convoy blockade — police should apply the same standards to all illegal demonstrations

This really becomes a test of being consistent of not, one that applies to both the right and left. And if not, what should be the criteria for when a blockade is acceptable and when it is not (Brian Lee Crowley made similar points We undermine the neutrality of the law at our peril:

The belated liberation of Ottawa from occupation is a lesson.

The breaking of blockades at the borders is a primer.

They are refresher courses in the fragility of democracy and the rigour of the rule of law.

They are reminders that there is a fine line between the consent of the governed, the discontent of anti-government protesters, and the disinformation that fuels it.

How did we get there? Where do we go from here?

A couple of thousand protesters make up a mere 0.01 per cent of the 17.2 million Canadians who voted in the last election. When a tiny minority insists on imposing its will on our elected Parliament, they are dissenters from democracy.

Their written demands were to disband the government and replace it with their own convoy cabinet. Until they got their way, they’d stay — and for nearly a month, they called Canada’s bluff in the heart of the nation’s capital.

Through their determination and defiance, they exposed the emptiness of police threats and the hollowness of deterrence. Outnumbered and outmuscled, local police in Ottawa and Windsor had to call in reinforcements and regroup before they could reclaim lost territory and frontiers.

Declarations of emergency followed — first municipally, next provincially, finally federally. On Friday, as MPs tried to debate the latest measures, Parliament was suspended for the day because of urgent fears for their safety.

That this ragtag band of occupiers sang civil rights hymns, brandished bibles and soaked in hot tubs hardly lessens the gravity of the challenge. They ransomed the economy and entrapped a city while crying for freedom. They wielded captive children as human shields while boasting of their fearlessness.

There is a legitimate debate, in the aftermath, as to whether the disruption and disorder rose to the level of an emergency in strictly legal terms. Critics argue that the authorities had sufficient laws and tools to get the job done without special powers.

In ordinary times, the regular tool box should suffice. But in extraordinary times the tactics of conflict resolution, de-escalation and deterrence are merely theories without practical application — as Ottawa’s former police chief, Peter Sloly, discovered to his dismay after a career devoted to dialogue and community engagement while in Toronto’s force.SKIP ADVERTISEMENT

Amid the disorder, the flow of cash (and bitcoin) continued apace and tow truck operators who normally converge on accidents were running for cover. The reality is that the regular playbook was insufficient to restore the rule book.

Critics of the emergency laws point to Toronto as the model of effective enforcement, noting that without special powers our police kept the convoys from becoming blockades at Queen’s Park. Full credit to Mayor John Tory and Toronto’s police chief for learning lessons from the failures in Ottawa and Windsor, mustering a show of force to enforce law and order.

By avoiding the mistake of being outnumbered, Toronto’s cops were not cornered — and therefore had no need of emergency laws to oust any occupiers. But there are glaring contradictions in this comparison.

Many who praise Toronto today for keeping the convoys at bay were harsh critics last year, accusing the city of deploying disproportionate force to remove illegal encampments that had persisted in public parks for more than a year. Most accounts at the time overstated the actual use of force while condemning the mere show of force.

Police were there to safeguard the city workers who did the actual evicting and escorting of the tent occupants — occupiers, if you will — to shelters. Most of the non-violent conflict arose between cops and outside supporters of the encampments (and in some cases photographers — a recurring question of rightful media access).

The argument from many self-styled progressives seems to be that occupying parks for years at a time is no big deal, because it doesn’t directly impede people or commerce. As if the urban planning imperative of public parks and right of access for all Torontonians is optional and dispensable depending on your politics.

Across the country, police have rightly been questioned for apparent hypocrisy — diligently enforcing court orders against earlier Indigenous protests, while turning a blind eye to the latest blockades. If the argument is that police were unacceptably inconsistent, that is incontestably true; but if the point is that two wrongs make a right — that illegality should be ignored equally everywhere — then it simply doesn’t add up.

Police should absolutely be consistent. They should break up occupations in Ottawa and blockades at the border, just as they should also end blockades of rail lines or pipelines that hold the economy hostage in similar ways.

That doesn’t mean police cannot use common sense and exercise discretion, for each demonstration is different in its own way. But all protesters share an unshakable belief that they are in the right and have been wronged.

If politicians pick and choose their favourite causes — as Conservative MPs did by meeting and greeting the Ottawa occupiers — we will privilege some protesters over others and be caught in the contradictions.

The quintessentially Canadian phrase, “Peace, order and good government,” is written into our Constitution and etched into our ethos. Those five words go hand in hand, until they don’t — and people take the law into their own hands.

Source: Pipeline protest or convoy blockade — police should apply the same standards to all illegal demonstrations

Graves and Valpy: Who supports the ‘freedom’ protesters and why

Useful and informative public opinion insights:

In the turbulent 1960s, American journalist Hunter S. Thompson spent nearly a year following around the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang. His most striking conclusion was not their violent hedonism but their “ethic of total retaliation” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt they’d been left behind.

As he wrote in an article for The Nation, that kind of politics is “nearly impossible to deal with” using reason or empathy or awareness-raising or any of the other favourite tools of the left.

And in 2016, political scientist Susan McWilliams Barndt, also writing in The Nation, borrowed Thompson’s language to describe her fellow citizens who elected Donald Trump, introducing a new, deeply polarized right-wing politics into her country’s civic life.

Which brings us to the occupation of Ottawa and the blockading of border-crossings and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invocation of the federal Emergencies Act — in Canada, for heaven’s sake.

“Thompson was the only American writer to warn coastal, left-liberal elites about their disconnection from poor and working-class white voters,” wrote McWilliams Barndt.

“Thompson’s Angels were mostly working-class white men who felt, not incorrectly, that they had been relegated to the sewer of American society. The manual-labor skills that they had learned and cultivated were in declining demand.

“Though most had made it through high school, they did not have the more advanced levels of training that might lead to economic or professional security,” wrote McWilliams Barndt.

“Their lack of education,” Thompson wrote of the Angels, “rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy.”

Source: Who supports the ‘freedom’ protesters and why

US funds for Canada protests may sway American politics too

Should it be a surprise that Canadians are being used as props for the US right?

The Canadians who have disrupted travel and trade with the U.S. and occupied downtown Ottawa for nearly three weeks have been cheered and funded by American right-wing activists and conservative politicians who also oppose vaccine mandates and the country’s liberal leader.

Yet whatever impact the protests have on Canadian society, and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, experts say the outside support is really aimed at energizing conservative politics in the U.S. Midterm elections are looming, and some Republicans think standing with the protesters up north will galvanize fund-raising and voter turnout at home, these experts say.

“The kind of narratives that the truckers and the trucker convoy are focusing on are going to be really important issues for the (U.S.) elections coming ahead,” said Samantha Bradshaw, a postdoctoral fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University. “And so using this protest as an opportunity to galvanize their own supporters and other groups, I think it’s very much an opportunity for them.”

By Wednesday afternoon, all previously blocked border crossings had been re-opened, and police began focusing on pressuring the truckers and other protesters in Ottawa to clear out of the capital city or face arrest, fines and confiscation of their vehicles. 

About 44 percent of the nearly $10 million in contributions to support the protesters originated from U.S. donors, according to an Associated Press analysis of leaked donor files. U.S. Republican elected officials, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have praised the protesters calling them “heroes” and “patriots.”

“What this country is facing is a largely foreign-funded, targeted and coordinated attack on critical infrastructure and our democratic institutions,” Bill Blair, Canada’s minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said earlier this week. 

Demonstrators in Ottawa have had been regularly supplied with fuel and food, and the area around Parliament Hill has at times resembled a spectacular carnival with bouncy castles, gyms, a playground and a concert stage with DJs. 

GiveSendGo, a website used to collect donations for the Canadian protests, has collected at least $9.58 million dollars, including $4.2 million, or 44%, that originated in the United States, according to a database of donor information posted online by DDoSecrets, a non-profit group.

The Canadian government has been working to block protesters’ access to these funds, however, and it is not clear how much of the money has ultimately gotten through.

Millions of dollars raised through another crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, were blocked after Canadian officials raised objections with the company, which determined that the effort violated its terms of service around unlawful activity.

The GiveSendGo database analyzed by AP showed a tally of more than 109,000 donations through Friday night to campaigns in support of the protests, with a little under 62,000 coming from the U.S. 

The GiveSendGo data listed several Americans as giving thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to the protest, with the largest single donation of $90,000 coming from a person who identified himself as Thomas M. Siebel.

Siebel, the billionaire founder of software company Siebel Systems, did not respond to messages sent to an email associated with a foundation he runs and to his LinkedIn account.

A representative from the Siebel Scholars Foundation, who signed her name only as Jennifer, did not respond to questions about whether he had donated the money. But she said Siebel has a record of supporting several causes, including efforts to “protect individual liberty.”

“These are personal initiatives and have nothing to do with the companies with which he is associated,” she wrote.

Siebel has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and organizations over the last 20 years, according to Federal Election Commission records, including a $400,000 contribution in 2019 to a GOP fundraising committee called “Take Back the House 2020.”

The GiveSendGo Freedom Convoy campaign was created on Jan. 27 by Tamara Lich. She previously belonged to the far-right Maverick Party, which calls for western Canada to become independent.

The Canadian government moved earlier this week to cut off funding for the protesters by broadening the scope of the country’s anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules to cover crowdfunding platforms like GiveSendGo. 

“We are making these changes because we know that these platforms are being used to support illegal blockades and illegal activity, which is damaging the Canadian economy,” said Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Perhaps more important than the financial support is the cheerleading the Canadian protesters have received from prominent American conservative politicians and pundits, who see kindred spirits in their northern neighbors opposing vaccine mandates.

On the same day Lich created the GiveSendGo campaign, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn shared a video of the convoy in a post on the messaging app Telegram.

“These truckers are fighting back against the nonsense and tyranny, especially coming from the Canadian government,” wrote Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who served briefly as former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.

A few days later, Flynn urged people to donate to the Canadian protesters. Earlier this week, he twice posted the message “#TrudeauTheCoward” on Telegram, referring to the prime minister who leads Canada’s Liberal Party.

Fox News hosts regularly laud the protests, and Trump weighed in with a broadside at Trudeau, calling him a “far left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.” Cruz called the truckers “heroes” and “patriots,” and Greene said she cannot wait to see a convoy protest in Washington.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he hopes truckers come to America and “clog up cities” in an interview last week with the Daily Signal, a news website of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Far-right and anti-vaccine activists, inspired by the Canadian actions, are now planning American versions of the protests against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions modeled on the Canadian demonstrations.

Source: US funds for Canada protests may sway American politics too

Roads blocked during anti-illegal immigration protest in northern Chile

Of note:

The northern Chilean city of Iquique was the scene of roadblocks, store closures and a truck drivers’ strike on Monday, with protesters demanding action to address rising crime and an illegal immigration crisis in that region.

Trucks and other heavy equipment were used to block multiple roads leading into and out of the city and prevent workers from reaching the airport, according to different local reports.

The airport suspended operations early Monday and urged passengers to contact their airline for updates on the status of their flights.

“Retail establishments and the duty-free zone decided not to open, while different social leaders decided to join in the protest. The call (for change) is quite big at this time,” Mayor Mauricio Soria said.

Monday’s actions come after hundreds of people demonstrated Sunday in different parts of the far-northern Tarapaca region – home to Iquique and more than 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) north of Santiago – against the presence of undocumented migrants.

During that gathering, some protesters broke up tent structures used by foreigners and held up xenophobic signs.

Similar incidents occurred in September, when a mob of demonstrators burned tents and the belongings of Venezuela migrants who had been using a public square in Iquique as a makeshift nighttime shelter.

Those actions were roundly condemned by authorities and non-governmental organizations.

The Chilean Altiplano (high plain) is the main route of choice for undocumented migrants, despite severe health risks related to that region’s big temperature swings and high elevation.

After a surge in illegal border crossings in February 2021, the crisis worsened further in October when hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants fleeing economic crisis in their homeland occupied public squares and avenues, an influx that led the Chilean government to announce the construction of several shelters to mitigate the crisis.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in December that nearly 500 Venezuelan refugees and migrants, including children, cross daily from Bolivia to Chile via irregular border crossings and arrive at their destination “after several days without eating and (suffering from) dehydration, hypothermia and altitude sickness.”

At least two people have died so far this year while trying to cross the border, while at least 23 have perished since migrants began arriving in large numbers in February 2021.

Around 1.4 million migrants live in Chile, equivalent to more than 7 percent of the population. Venezuelans make up the largest portion of the foreign-born population, followed by Peruvians, Haitians and Colombians.

Source: Roads blocked during anti-illegal immigration protest in northern Chile

Protests reveal generational divide in immigrant communities

Likely similar in Canada, as second generation grow up with Canadian expectations of equality and opportunity:

When protests began in a Minneapolis suburb after a white police officer fatally shot a Black man, 21-year-old Fatumata Kromah took to the street, pushing for change she says is essential to her Liberian immigrant community.

Meanwhile, 40-year-old Matilda Kromah feared stepping outside her home as trauma associated with the Liberian civil war suddenly rushed back into her life, two decades after she escaped the conflict.

The two women, whose shared last name is common among Liberians, have seen their lives changed amid the unrest that has sometimes engulfed Minneapolis in the months since George Floyd’s death. Their behavior also reflects a generational split: While Fatumata has been drawn into the protests, Matilda has tried to avoid them, focusing instead on running a dress shop and hair-braiding salon that is essential to sending her children to college.

The same divide has played out across the Twin Cities’ burgeoning Somali, Ethiopian, Liberian and Kenyan communities. Young people have thrust themselves into movements for racial justice, often embracing the identity of being Black in America. Older generations have been more likely to concentrate on carving out new lives rather than protesting racial issues in their adopted homeland.

When Fatumata visited Matilda’s shop this past week in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, the topic was unavoidable. Matilda’s strip-mall storefront — Humu Boutique and Neat Braids — was vandalized in the aftermath of the April 11 death of Black motorist Daunte Wright. Thieves smashed windows and doors and took nearly everything of value, even stripping mannequins of their African dresses.

Tears formed in the elder woman’s eyes, and her hands shook as she spoke. Memories of the atrocities she had fled during the Liberian civil war had returned.

“Maybe war is starting again,” Matilda said of the demonstrations. “I was traumatized. For three days, I didn’t want to go out of my house. I was hiding in my room.”

But she needed to figure out a way to pay for her son’s college tuition, so she posted an “open” sign on the plywood covering the shop’s broken windows and began accepting customers. She did not have insurance to cover the losses, she said.

Fatumata, who chanted and yelled at protests, grew quiet as Matilda spoke. She agreed that the United States offered opportunities for education and a “better life,” but she had also made up her mind that such a life would not be complete without justice for Black people.

After moving to Brooklyn Center from Liberia in 2015, she said she was treated differently as a Black person. People commented on the color of her skin, disapproved of the clothes she wore and once called the police on her and a friend for being too “loud.”

“I started to realize like, ‘Oh, America is not what it says on TV,’” she said.

Then Floyd’s death sparked protests, and she decided that “this was not the American dream I was promised.”

Kromah is not alone. Young people in the city’s East African communities came out to protest in droves following Floyd’s death. Despite tension, at times, between Black immigrants from Africa and Black people whose long history in the U.S. began with slavery, protesters united around decrying police brutality they said plagued their communities.

The verse “Somali lives, they matter here,” often followed the protest refrain of “Black lives, they matter here.” And one of the most widely shared images of last year’s protests was a video posted on social media showing a protester in a hijab and a long skirt kicking a tear gas cannister back toward law enforcement officers in riot gear.

“I am Somali, I am Black American, I am Muslim,” 21-year-old Aki Abdi said. “If a cop pulls me over, he don’t know if I’m Somali or Black. They go hand in hand.”

When former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in Floyd’s death, celebrations broke out across the city, and Abdi and two friends made their way to George Floyd Square.

On the sidewalk down the street from where Floyd took his last breath, they scrawled the names of two Somali men — Dolal Idd and Isak Aden — who were fatally shot by Minnesota police in recent years. They hoped some people in the crowd would search those names on the internet. Police defended their actions in both shootings, saying the men had guns, but the men’s families have pressed for more thorough investigations.

Many older immigrants grew up in countries where speaking out against the government resulted in punishment, and some are so focused on making a living after escaping war-torn countries that they do not have time or energy for anything besides their families’ immediate well-being, said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Younger Black immigrants who were born in America or came at a young age often know firsthand both their parents’ struggles and America’s history of racial injustice, Hussein said.

“By being squeezed by these two pressures, they have no option but to fight and to try to change the system.” he said. “The younger generation is propelled by this legacy of the fight that is happening in the country that they’ve adopted, but also the fight that their parents have been teaching them about in the country that they left.”

Fatumata Kromah’s mother, Rebecca Williams Sonyah, said parents like her fear for their children’s safety both in interactions with police and at demonstrations, all while trying to stay focused on the jobs and businesses essential to their livelihoods.

“Our children should have freedom. They should have equal rights,” Williams Sonyah said. “They shouldn’t judge our children because of their color or because of where their parents are from.”

She recognized her daughter’s activism as important to those goals but still pleaded with her to stay home after Wright’s death, knowing that destruction was likely. They compromised by agreeing that Kromah would return home before the curfews set by city authorities.

Williams Sonyah’s job in medical home care prevented her from joining in the marches in front of the police department. But she seemed sympathetic to the movement.

“If I had a way to go protest,” she said, “I would protest.”

Source: Protests reveal generational divide in immigrant communities

Are Protests Unsafe? What Experts Say May Depend on Who’s Protesting What

Good nuanced discussion, based upon US experience but likely also applicable here:

As the pandemic took hold, most epidemiologists have had clear proscriptions in fighting it: No students in classrooms, no in-person religious services, no visits to sick relatives in hospitals, no large public gatherings.

So when conservative anti-lockdown protesters gathered on state capitol steps in places like Columbus, Ohio and Lansing, Mich., in April and May, epidemiologists scolded them and forecast surging infections. When Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia relaxed restrictions on businesses in late April as testing lagged and infections rose, the talk in public health circles was of that state’s embrace of human sacrifice.

And then the brutal killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25 changed everything.

Soon the streets nationwide were full of tens of thousands of people in a mass protest movement that continues to this day, with demonstrations and the toppling of statues. And rather than decrying mass gatherings, more than 1,300 public health officials signed a May 30 letter of support, and many joined the protests.

That reaction, and the contrast with the epidemiologists’ earlier fervent support for the lockdown, gave rise to an uncomfortable question: Was public health advice in a pandemic dependent on whether people approved of the mass gathering in question. To many, the answer seemed to be, “Yes.”

“The way the public health narrative around coronavirus has reversed itself overnight seems an awful lot like … politicizing science,” the essayist and journalist Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote in The Guardian last month. “What are we to make of such whiplash-inducing messaging?”

Of course, there are differences: A distinct majority of George Floyd protesters wore masks in many cities, even if they often crowded too close together. By contrast, many anti-lockdown protesters refused to wear masks — and their rallying cry ran directly contrary to public health officials’ instructions.

And in practical terms, no team of epidemiologists could have stopped the waves of impassioned protesters, any more than they could have blocked the anti-lockdown protests.

Still, the divergence in their own reactions left some of the country’s prominent epidemiologists wrestling with deeper questions of morality, responsibility and risk.

Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, studies Covid-19. When, wearing a mask and standing at the edge of a great swell of people, she attended a recent protest in Houston supporting Mr. Floyd, a sense of contradiction tugged at her.

“I certainly condemned the anti-lockdown protests at the time, and I’m not condemning the protests now, and I struggle with that,” she said. “I have a hard time articulating why that is OK.”

Mark Lurie, a professor of epidemiology at Brown University, described a similar struggle.

“Instinctively, many of us in public health feel a strong desire to act against accumulated generations of racial injustice,” Professor Lurie said. “But we have to be honest: A few weeks before, we were criticizing protesters for arguing to open up the economy and saying that was dangerous behavior.

“I am still grappling with that.”

To which Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, added: “Do I worry that mass protests will fuel more cases? Yes, I do. But a dam broke, and there’s no stopping that.”

Some public health scientists publicly waved off the conflicted feelings of their colleagues, saying the country now confronts a stark moral choice. The letter signed by more than 1,300 epidemiologists and health workers urged Americans to adopt a “consciously anti-racist” stance and framed the difference between the anti-lockdown demonstrators and the protesters in moral, ideological and racial terms.

Those who protested stay-at-home orders were “rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives” the letter stated.

By contrast, it said, those protesting systemic racism “must be supported.”

“As public health advocates,” they stated, “we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for Covid-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health.”

There is as of yet no firm evidence that protests against police violence led to noticeable spikes in infection rates. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found no overall rise in infections, but could not rule out that infections might have risen in the age demographic of the protesters. Health officials in Houston and Los Angeles have suggested the demonstrations there led to increased infections, but they have not provided data. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has instructed contact tracers not to ask if infected people attended protests.

The ten epidemiologists interviewed for this article said near-daily marches and rallies are nearly certain to result in some transmission. Police use of tear gas and pepper spray, and crowding protesters into police vans and buses, puts people further at risk.

“In all likelihood, some infections occurred at the protests; the question is how much,” said Professor Lurie. “No major new evidence has emerged that suggests the protests were superspreader events.”

The coronavirus has infected 2.89 million Americans, and at least 129,800 have died.

The virus has hit Black and Latino Americans with a particular ferocity, hospitalizing those populations at more than four times the rate of white Americans. Many face underlying health issues, and are more likely than most Americans to live in densely populated housing and to work on the front lines of this epidemic. As a result, Latinos and Black people are dying at rates well in excess of white Americans.

Mary Travis Bassett, who is African American, served as the New York City health commissioner and now directs the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. She noted that even before Covid-19, Black Americans were sicker and died more than two years earlier, on average, than white Americans.

And she noted, police violence has long cast a deep shadow over African Americans. From the auction block to plantations to centuries of lynchings carried out with the complicity of local law enforcement, blacks have suffered the devastating effects of state power.

She acknowledged that the current protests are freighted with moral complications, not least the possibility that a young person marching for justice might come home and inadvertently infect a mother, aunt or grandparent. “If there’s an elder in the household, that person should be cocooned to the best extent that we can,” Professor Bassett said.

But she said the opportunity to achieve a breakthrough transcends such worries about the virus. “Racism has been killing people a lot longer than Covid-19,” she said. “The willingness to say we all bear the burden of that is deeply moving to me.”

Others take a more cautious view of the moral stakes. Nicholas A. Christakis, professor of social and natural science at Yale, noted public health is guided by twin imperatives: To comfort the afflicted and to speak truth about risks to public health, no matter how unpleasant.

These often-complementary values are now in conflict. To take to the street to protest injustice is to risk casting open doors and letting the virus endanger tens of thousands, he said. There is a danger, he said, in asserting that one moral imperative overshadows another.

“The left and the right want to wish the virus away,” Professor Christakis said. “We can’t wish away climate change, or the epidemic, or other inconvenient scientific truths.”

He said that framing the anti-lockdown protests as white supremacist and dangerous and the George Floyd protests as anti-racist and essential obscures a messier reality.

When he was a hospice doctor in Chicago and Boston, he said, he saw up close how isolation deepened the despair of the dying — a fate now suffered by many in the pandemic, with hospital visits severely restricted. For epidemiologists to turn around and argue for loosening the ground rules for the George Floyd marches risks sounding hypocritical.

“We allowed thousands of people to die alone,” he said. “We buried people by Zoom. Now all of a sudden we are saying, never mind?”

There are other conflicting imperatives. Lockdowns, and the shuttering of businesses and schools and enforcing social isolation, take a toll on the working class and poor, and the emotionally fraught who live on the economic margins.

The lockdown is justified, most epidemiologists say, even as it requires acknowledging a moral truth: To save many hundreds of thousands of lives, we risk wrecking the lives of a smaller number of Americans, as businesses fail and people lose jobs and grow desolate and depressed.

The pandemic has also brought an increase in deaths from heart attacks and diabetes during this period.

“Have people died because of the closed economy? No doubt,” said Professor Lurie, the Brown University epidemiologist. “And that pain is real, and should not be dismissed. But you won’t have a healthy economy until you have healthy people.”

There’s another epidemiological reality: No one quite understands the path of this idiosyncratic virus and how and when it strikes. The public health risks presented by the protests are not easily separated from the broader risks taken as governors, in fits and starts, move to reopen state economies. The protesters represent a small stream filled with 500,000 to perhaps 800,000 people, merging with a river of millions of Americans who have begun to re-enter businesses and restaurants.

“To separate out those causes, when we look, will be very difficult,” Professor Lurie noted.

Still, he admitted to some worries. He said he took his daughter to a protest early in June and felt a chaser of regret in its wake.

“We felt afterward that the risk we incurred probably exceeded the entire risk in the previous two months,” he said. “We undid some very hard work, and I don’t see how actions like that can help in battling this epidemic, honestly.”

Source: Are Protests Unsafe? What Experts Say May Depend on Who’s Protesting WhatEpidemiologists decried the anti-lockdown protests last spring as dangerous but seem less comfortable doing so now that the marches are against racism.

Hong Kong: Split emerges in Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadian community amid protests


Images of police using rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters in Hong Kong in early June spurred Joel Wan to pick up the phone and call the United Nations human rights office from his home in Vancouver.

“It was 3 a.m. and I was watching live on my computer. I can’t just sit there and watch, so I have to report this somewhere immediately,” recalled Wan, who is 18 and was born in Hong Kong.

Wan called the actions of police in Hong Kong a “trigger” for him, although he was already concerned about a proposed extradition bill that sparked the ongoing mass protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The bill, which has since been suspended, would have allowed certain suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face charges, a move Wan and others in Canada view as a blow to Hong Kong’s legal independence.

In response, Wan helped form a group called Vancouver Hong Kong Political Activists, which aims to shed light on what he sees as the erosion of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.

“When I’m enjoying the freedom and human rights in Canada, and myself being a part of Hong Kong identity, I have a greater responsibility to speak up for the people when they can’t,” said Wan in a recent interview.

“I decided to step up to let Canadians hear what we’re saying.”

Earlier this month, the political climate in Hong Kong spilled into the streets of Vancouver as an event organized by Wan’s group sparked a counter-rally by supporters of China’s central government and the Hong Kong police.

As many as 300,000 Canadians live in Hong Kong, according to the Asia Pacific Foundation, and more than 200,000 people living in Canada were born in Hong Kong.

Members of the Chinese-Canadian community in the Lower Mainland say the question of how tensions are playing out in the region is a complicated one.

The extradition bill has been suspended, but protesters want it off the legislative table altogether. The movement’s demands have also expanded to include universal suffrage when electing Hong Kong’s leaders, amnesty for protesters who have been arrested and an independent investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police.

Wan supports the Hong Kong activists’ goals.

“It’s not just the amendment of the bill,” he said. “It’s because we can’t vote for a government that serves us truly.”

The United Nations has also released a statement on behalf of its high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, indicating there was “credible evidence” of Hong Kong law enforcement officials using measures “prohibited by international norms and standards.” Bachelet condemned any form of violence, calling on protesters to “express their views in a peaceful way” and urging Hong Kong authorities to investigate police actions immediately.

It was in hopes of raising awareness about events in Hong Kong that Wan said his group planned to hand out flyers at a transit station near Vancouver’s city hall on Aug. 17.

But on that day, Wan found himself in the centre of duelling rallies, a reflection of tensions between pro-democracy protesters and those who are aligned with Beijing and law enforcement in Hong Kong.

“I didn’t expect there would be a stand-off,” said Wan, who donned a mask for the first time that day, concealing his face after becoming aware of threatening messages shared on WeChat, a Chinese social media and mobile payment app.

Wan believes many of those at the counter-rally were spurred on by the Chinese consulate, which denied any involvement in a statement.

“It is totally understandable and reasonable for local overseas Chinese to express indignation and opposition against words and deeds that attempt to separate China and smear its image,” the consulate said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“Some western media have repeatedly targeted at Chinese government and its diplomatic missions overseas by misleading implications and groundless accusations, to which we firmly oppose.”

Vancouver police say protests on Aug. 17 and 18 were of comparable size, attracting about 400 people evenly split between the two sides. Const. Steve Addison said police are aware of what is being said on social media and they are monitoring to determine risk levels, as they do for any demonstration. No other action has been taken by police, he said.

Similar protests were also held that weekend in Toronto.

At the first rally in Vancouver, those sympathetic to the Chinese government chanted “One China,” while the pro-democracy supporters chanted “two systems.”

Wan said he and his group are not calling for Hong Kong’s independence, but they do want the “one country, two systems” agreement upheld, a reference to the implementation of the governance structure that was brought in when Hong Kong was reunified with China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule.

“The two systems, for Hong Kongers, they feel have been eroded, step by step,” said Josephine Chiu-Duke, a professor in the department of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia and a specialist in Chinese intellectual history.

Chiu-Duke considers the latest round of demonstrations to be an extension of the ongoing struggle to defend the rights promised to Hong Kong residents when the region became semi-autonomous more than 20 years ago.

Indeed, Wan said, “They broke their promise.”

Most people in the pro-democracy camp believe the erosion is backed by the Beijing government to gradually unify the two systems, Chiu-Duke noted.

“They want the Beijing government to honour their promise to Hong Kong’s people (and) let the rule of law rule Hong Kong,” she said, adding that many people in the Lower Mainland with roots in Hong Kong want to let the pro-democracy protesters know they’re not alone.

As for the crowds near city hall earlier this month, Chiu-Duke said it’s hard to pin down why the demonstrators supporting the Chinese government showed up.

“There are rumours they were basically organized by the Chinese consulate,” said Chiu-Duke, pointing to reports that a spokesman for China’s foreign affairs ministry stated the government hopes “overseas Chinese can express their patriotism in a rational way.”

At the rally, Nicholas Wang said he helped organize the “One China” group and that he supports the police in Hong Kong.

“Our idea is just against violence, that’s the most important thing,” said Wang, who is from mainland China and attributes violent clashes in Hong Kong to the protesters.

Wang acknowledged that those who supported the protesters in Hong Kong at the rally in Vancouver were also opposed to violence.

“It’s perfect that they support the same idea with us,” Wang said in an interview.

But he believes they are only talking about one side of the story.

“I think you can find more videos of more younger people creating chaos there instead of police doing that,” said Wang, adding that if police didn’t carry out their duties, Hong Kong would degenerate into chaos.

Chinese exchange student Erika Zhao also blamed violence on the protesters and said journalists are only focusing on the actions of the police.

“It’s quite biased news,” she said.

Despite the tense face-off in Vancouver, Joel Wan said he is on good terms with friends who disagree with him.

“Most of the mainland (Chinese) people I encounter are willing to engage into our conversation,” said Wan. “One of my friends, he entirely believed we are rioters and we are messing up the city. After explanation, we still stand strong in our opinions, but we established agreement (and) understanding (on) why each other thinks like that.”

Most people Wan knows are also focused on life in Vancouver and aren’t as involved with what’s happening in Hong Kong, he said.

It’s a sentiment shared by Calvin Lam, 23, who was born in Vancouver and raised in Hong Kong before returning to B.C. as a university student.

Lam was on vacation in Hong Kong in early June when the protests began to escalate.

He said he was sympathetic to their cause until Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced the suspension of the extradition bill. At that point, Lam said the protesters achieved their objective and the rest of their demands are unrealistic.

He said he’s concerned that ongoing mass protests, altercations between protesters and police, destruction of property and disruptions in Hong Kong’s airport and transit systems are damaging Hong Kong’s economy and reputation.

But, like Wan, Lam said he approaches friends who disagree with him amicably.

“They have their stance, I understand it. I am careful in what I say to them. I never use any personal attacks,” said Lam, in reference to derogatory name-calling that has been levelled online at pro-democracy protesters.

“We just know this issue is happening in Hong Kong and then I’m psychologically or emotionally affected because I see Hong Kong as my homeland. But I don’t think any other areas of my life are affected.”

Source: Hong Kong: Split emerges in Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadian community amid protests

The Battle for Hong Kong Is Being Fought in Sydney and Vancouver How Beijing is weaponizing social media in its fight to crush the Hong Kong protests.

Good account:

As the police deploy tear gas against protesters on the streets of Hong Kong, another battle is raging less visibly: the one for narrative control. After weeks of asserting that the unrest had been orchestrated by foreign “black hands,” Chinese officials on Monday accused protesters of showing the first signs of “terrorism.” Such messaging is key to Beijing’s public opinion operation, which has been turned up to full volume.

The weapons of this information war include a flood of social media posts from state-run media, some carrying misinformation. When a woman dispensing first aid was shot in the eye by the Hong Kong police, the state-run CCTV reported on its official social media account that she had been shot by protesters. It also accused her of handing out money to demonstrators. Chinese readers are unlikely to question the veracity of such an authoritative source, and CCTV’s Weibo post, which says the movement is slandering the Hong Kong police by blaming them for the injury, has been liked more than 700,000 times.

Ten weeks ago, when Hong Kongers first took to the streets to protest disputed extradition legislation, Beijing censored all reports of this civil unrest. But in recent days, it has reveled in posting video of protesters purportedly using air guns, slingshots and petrol bombs against the police. The state-run Global Times has described protesters as “nothing more than street thugs who want Hong Kong to ‘go to hell,’” or as people who had “voluntarily stripped themselves of their national identity.” Such descriptions are aimed at delegitimizing the protesters’ cause, especially among educated mainlanders who might otherwise be sympathetic.

Chinese people living or studying overseas are another important audience for Beijing’s messaging. Their primary news diet is largely delivered via WeChat, a Chinese chat app where messages are subject to censorship, so they often still fall within Beijing’s propaganda orbit. Recent pictures of an American diplomat meeting two activists, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, were used to bolster Beijing’s claims of hostile foreign forces backing the protests. On Tuesday, scenes of a Chinese state media worker being tied up at the airport and beaten by young protesters flooded Chinese social media, bolstering calls for Beijing to intervene militarily in Hong Kong.

China and the Difficulties of Dissent (University of Queensland)

Lessons and implications for Canada, particularly universities and academics:

…The University Takes Sides

Following a successful social media campaign, these confrontations caught the attention of local and internationalmedia, and the pro-Hong Kong camp decided to protest again. Amid Facebook and Twitter wars freely available to the reader (particularly UQ Stalkerspace), it became clear that Chinese nationalists were making threats of violence against pro-Hong Kong protestors. Even the Chinese consulate in Brisbane got involved, sending a message of support to “patriotic” Chinese protestors, a clear indication of how Beijing likes to deploy its “soft” power.

Quite rightly, the University of Queensland decided to act. Unfortunately, UQ shares a great deal of commercialised intellectual property with fascist China. It has even promoted a Chinese diplomatic representative to the post of adjunct professor without advertising the fact. It was therefore not entirely surprising that, when the university did finally act, it was against free speech.

First, they attempted to shut down future protests by threatening the enrolment of the protest’s student leaders. The pro-Hong Kong students would be “held responsible” for any violence in a future protest and potentially expelled. In effect, Chinese nationalists were handed a “heckler’s veto”—they were free to cause disruption, secure in the knowledge that the university would silence the speakers, not those disrupting them. The university said it was acting in the interests of safety. Fortunately, the protestors refused to be intimidated, and plans went forward for the protest.

In a final gambit, the University of Queensland decided it would allow the protest but wanted it moved, away from everyone else and away from the plaque commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which is where it was due to be staged. Again, the protestors refused to back down and the protest went ahead. By now, the issue had become wider than Hong Kong.

The Fragility of Collective Action

The media attention generated by the first two groups of students and their allies caused other dissidents to emerge from the shadows. Free speech advocates, Taiwanese, Uighurs, Falun Dafa practitioners, and Tibetans came out in support of the Hong Kongers and their protest, and soon formed a tiny but determined coalition. Their enemy, however, had changed.

Originally, the enemy had been the Confucius Institute on campus and the extradition bill in Hong Kong; now, it was now the University of Queensland, the Confucius Institute and its propaganda, the lack of transparency regarding Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence, Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj, and the Chinese nationalists on campus. By the time the protestors gathered a second time, they had various speakers arranged from China’s persecuted minorities, Australia’s own left-wing political parties, and a woman from Hong Kong. As if that wasn’t broad enough, the Taiwanese (ROC) flag was hung above a nearby building, emphasising the common struggle of those threatened by the CCP.

Chants were directed against the oppression of the Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong, and Falun Dafa. Former Greens senator Andrew Bartlett said in his speech that these events should be understood in the broader context of Chinese influence, UQ and freedom of speech, digital surveillance, and colonialism. There were land acknowledgements to the Aboriginal people of Australia, who were neither present nor lending any support to the protest. There were party policies on free speech read aloud to little fanfare or resonance. And there was a speech on the executions and organ harvesting of Falun Dafa practitioners which (if I read the mood correctly) was treated with incredulity and disbelief.

China’s government teaches its people that all dissent against its policies is ultimately directed towards the breakup of the country, and the protest served that narrative perfectly. Protestors really did shift from “close the Confucius Institute” and “withdraw the Hong Kong extradition bill” to “free Hong Kong, free Xinjiang, free Tibet, free Taiwan, free Falun Dafa” in a single move. I agree with all of those aims, but that is exactly why the Chinese nationalists on campus are hypersensitive to any protest movement, to any sense of dissent, to anyone who dares delegitimise the CCP, to anyone who opposes the dictatorship.

In such circumstances, even more moderate Chinese nationalists, who may not be enamoured by many of China’s internal policies, will line up to defend the regime. The status quo seems much more attractive to the average Chinese person than the anarchy they (falsely) think is demanded by liberalisation protest movements. Collective action is fragile and vulnerable to fragmentation, and leftwing protestors who had initially shown solidarity with Hong Kong broke away. UQ’s Socialist Alternative student group refused to back the protest, fearing that somehow it would be hijacked by racists, a fear which proved unfounded.

The Protestors Lose Control of the Narrative

As protestors gathered for the second protest, I saw two curious and unrelated things which I suspected would become related and consequential. First, I watched a man with a deliberately insulting, profane, homophobic sign directed at China’s dictator, Xi Jinping, being led away by police. Second, I watched a Caucasian reporter conduct interviews which appeared to be aimed at creating a pro-China angle.

The interviewer was a left-wing, pro-communist journalist eager to conflate protests against China’s government with racism, and to ignore the depredations of Chinese fascism. The protest, he reported, was “ugly,” and the presence of a former Greens senator was a “cynical effort to put on a more favourable face” on Australian racism. When the protestor with the profane sign was arrested, no one from the protest movement followed him, supported him, or attempted to interfere with his arrest. Indeed, when someone pointed out the arrest taking place, two of the protest organisers urged people to “ignore him” and reiterated “he’s not with us.” However, because the arrest was the only piece of action that day, a media scrum ensued and the headlines followed.

The pro-China Left had a field day, and used that protestor to tarnish everyone else as racists and homophobes, and, naturally, fascists. The Tibetans and Greens in attendance had been duped and used, the argument went. This was all dismayingly predictable. No matter how often the speakers reiterated their commitment to universal human rights and their opposition to the CCP not the Chinese people, their reassurances only succeeded in making them sound defensive. The pro-Hong Kong protestors had been drawn into a bitter squabble with the leftists who ought to have been their allies against Chinese fascism. Their battle has been lost.

A similar argument now prevails in academia, where scholars cannot shake the reputation of being “anti-Chinese” or racist simply for criticising China’s rather open attempts to influence Australian politics. Their battle is probably also lost.

The Danger is Real

Interestingly, and contrary to expectations, the pro-Beijing counter-protestors and most of the Hong Kongers decided to stay away from the second protest. This was not providence—at least, not in every case. Several Hong Kongers were told by family or friends not to attend. Several people reported visitations by the local branch of China’s party representatives. These representatives are either Australian residents or Chinese students who act as informants and messengers for the regime. The message from the Chinese government seemed to be that it was best to stay away entirely, rather than create more publicity in defence of the regime. The absence of the counter-protestors was, in its own way, a fascinating look into Beijing’s ability to discipline its own people in other countries.

Of course, this isn’t new or surprising. Chinese students have been known to report anti-Beijing activists directly to their embassy, and there have been concerns about China’s leverage of its students here for a long time. China’s diplomats in Australia have even been recorded explaining to a Chinese-Australian audience in great detail how “they are at war” and their job as soldiers for China is to influence the Australian political system. The danger is real. Given that China is a country that arrests you if you want to vote, unionise, or criticise the Party, it would be rather surprising if there were no risk involved in allowing China unfettered access to our politicians, academics, infrastructure, and markets.

Source: China and the Difficulties of Dissent