Social Housing Alliance joins Burnaby Mountain protection site for National Day of Action for Housing

November 22, 2014

By Social Housing Alliance

In cities across Canada on Friday November 21 people gathered and marched, protested, held speaking events, and stood in symbolic cross-country unity for federal government funding for social housing. The action was initiated by the Right To Housing Coalition in Ontario. In the Vancouver area, with activist communities rocked by the determined resistance of Indigenous nations and non-native environmentalists at Burnaby Mountain, the Social Housing Alliance decided to focus our housing action energy on uniting the struggles for housing and environmental justice under an anti-displacement banner.

The housing crisis in the places where people rallied (Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver) each have their own local characteristics, but share a similar genesis and solution: tax funding for social housing. Low-income people everywhere in Canada have been hard hit by the federal government’s retreat from funding social housing since 1993, and, in most provinces, the subsequent loss of provincial government funding as well. This year’s National Day of Action for Housing seemed particularly vital because more cuts are coming. Over the next twenty years federal operating agreements for co-ops and social housing will expire and many millions of dollars of funding are scheduled to dry up, abandoning hundreds of thousands of people who rely on this funding to stay housed.

In terrible weather, a half dozen members of Social Housing Alliance marched on the Burnaby Mountain protection site with a banner reading, “No Pipelines! No Downtown Eastside Condos! No Displacement!” and signs reading “Stop Displacement!” and “Pipelines Destroy Homes!” Outside the police tape marking off the oil pipeline exploration area protected by Supreme Court order and dozens of RCMP officers, these housing activists spoke, calling on the anti-pipeline activists to unite our anti-displacement demands.

Herb Varley, a Nuu-Chah-Nulth, Nisga’a, Haida activist with Social Housing Alliance called together the people at the front lines in an impromptu rally. He said, “My grandmother was displaced from Friendly Cove (on Nootka Island in unceded Nuu-Chah-Nulth territory) when she was young by resource extraction. Uprooted, my parents were pushed into the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. My cousins move from place to place chasing jobs. Like so many Indigenous people everywhere in Canada since colonization started, we live in cycles of displacement.”

Natalie Knight, a Yurok Social Housing Alliance organizer emphasized that this displacement crisis cannot be considered outside of Canada’s colonial occupation and dispossession of Indigenous lands. “This land we are defending against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline is not public land,” she said. “If we call it ‘public’ we are part of the surrender of unceded Indigenous territory to the Canadian public, under the authority of the Canadian government. This is sovereign Indigenous land.”

And Ivan Drury, a non-native Social Housing Alliance organizer closed off the speakers by refusing the phoney proffer of tax money for social services or social housing. “The Conservative government federally, and the Liberal government in British Columbia claim that we need resource exploitation because we need tax dollars for social programs. But these are the very governments that have been aggressively cutting taxes for the rich and violently gutting social programs and selling off and defunding social housing for low-income and Indigenous people,” he said. “We don’t have funding shortages because of a shortage of wealth, we have funding shortages because we have a concentration of wealth. We need to redistribute wealth down and defend Indigenous, non-capitalist economies that keep our communities alive.”

About a half hour after the speakers finished and while mingling with the group at the rally, Herb was targeted and grabbed by an RCMP officer and Ivan was also arrested in the resulting melee. They were released from Burnaby jail after a few hours without any charges. As of Saturday November 22, more than 50 people have been arrested at the Burnaby Mountain protection site, mostly for violating the court injunction enabling Kinder Morgan’s exploratory drilling.

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