We are fundraising $9,600 for the Schoolhouse Squat’s legal defence!
In autumn 2018 a group of homeless leaders from Discontent City and members of Red Braid Alliance (then called Alliance Against Displacement) broke into an abandoned school in Nanaimo, launching the Schoolhouse Squat.
We opened the squat in response to the court-ordered displacement of Discontent City, a tent city that at its peak had over 300 residents. We fought to transform languishing public property into safe, secure shelter for a community that saw their court-sanctioned displacement as a death sentence.
But the RCMP turned the school into a crime scene, preventing other homeless people from joining and protecting the large crowd led by white supremacist vigilantes wearing Soliders of Odin patches as they chanted to burn down the school. Then in the early morning, police raided the squat with dogs, and the Emergency Response Team in camo and balaclavas, arresting and charging all 27 squatters with Break and Enter. The Crown eventually decided to pick four housed organizers to pursue charges against, pulling from thin air the narrative that these four – Ivan Drury, Listen Chen, Mercedes Courtoreille, and Christopher Thompson – were the “ringleaders” of the collective action.
What happened next?
The Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district responded to the squat with a smear campaign, later claiming that the action resulted in nearly $75,000 of costs – a large chunk of which went to paying for private security to guard two abandoned schools and “property restoration” to a building that was initially intended to be demolished, before the school district decided it would be cheaper to shutter it.
Against the plans of the Schoolhouse four to take a “necessity defence” to trial, arguing that breaking into an abandoned publicly owned building is necessary to prevent immediate risks posed to people being displaced from Discontent City, Crown Council’s tough talk broke down. From initially ambitious charges of Break and Enter, rather than lesser charges more common for protest like trespass, two and a half years later the Crown instead offered a deal: dropping the Break and Enter charge in exchange for a guilty plea and a conditional discharge sentence for all those charged.
Conditional discharges free the four organizers to continue their struggles against the tyranny of property at the street level, rather than being tied up in still more protracted court processes.
Why are we fundraising $9,600?
Conditional discharges and the two and a half year long road through the courts to get here do have a financial cost. The court sentenced each organizer to pay $1000 in restitution to the school district, for a total of $4000. In addition to the restitution, Red Braid accrued $5,600 in lawyer fees during the two and a half year negotiation with Nanaimo Crown Counsel.
“Once we were inside the school yesterday, we cleaned, we cooked as a community. We all had a meal, warm bellies. It was a dry, warm place for people to sleep. We were together and felt safe despite the threatening voices outside. People were really violent, telling us to jump off the building. They said they would burn it down while we were in there.”
“The City and the Province weren’t doing what they said they would do. So we did it ourselves.”
“The Schoolhouse Squat is resisting the society that wants us to die by using a publicly-owned empty building as the housing we need to save our lives.”
“We are the truth. This is what it is. It’s not going to get any better. There’s just more misery—people think it’s going to get better without any change. Things stay the same when you keep doing the same things.”
“I’ve been chased around, I can’t be in the streets, I can’t be in the shelters. My only option is to go somewhere where I’m protected and where I’m with the people I love and care about.”
“Supportive housing is not a home, it’s a place of incarceration. To be stuck in a place where they are going to fence us in and monitor us, tell us what we can and cannot do, who can and cannot come to see us, when they can or cannot do it. I don’t know if this is how you would like to live but it is most certainly not how I want to live”
“[The Schoolhouse Squat] was the best time I had since the beginning of the tent city.”
More about the Schoolhouse Squat
Founding declaration of the squat by Discontent City
17 Hours of Freedom! Voices of collective power from Nanaimo’s Schoolhouse Squat by Emily Luba and Cecile Revaux
Schoolhouse Squat and Discontent City (From Embers podcast)