Chanelle Gallant has participated in grassroots movements for sex workers rights and racial justice for 20 years as an organizer, writer, strategist, fundraiser and speaker. She is on the leadership team for Showing Up For Racial Justice in the US, she co-founded the Migrant Sex Workers Project and has worked with sex work organizations locally and nationally including Butterfly, Maggie’s, Desiree Alliance, and Red Canary Song. Her writing about sexuality, social justice and sex work has appeared in dozens of publications. Elene Lam is the founder and Executive Director of Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network) and the Migrant Sex Workers Project. She has been involved in the sex work movement and migrant and labour activism for almost 20 years. She has also conducted training for community members, service providers and policymakers on sex work, migration, anti-oppressive practice and human rights in more than 20 countries. Shiri Pasternak is a researcher, writer, and organizer and a professor of Criminology at Toronto Metropolitan University in Toronto. She is the author of the award-winning book Grounded Authority: the Algonquins of Barriere Lake Against the State, and the co-founder and former Research Director at Yellowhead Institute.
Shiri notes that the book that she and two of her collaborators spoke with me about—Disarm, Defund, Dismantle: On Police Abolition in Canada—was, in part, the outcome of a gathering called The Abolition Convergence that was set to take place in Toronto in May 2020, but had to be canceled due to COVID. They had planned, she says, to use the event to build “trust and solidarity and understanding across movements.” But rather than accept the cancellation of the event as an ending, the organizers and contributors decided to reformulate the project and reroute their energies into creating the book. This is reflective of a spirit of relentlessness that characterizes the movement for police abolition here in Canada. While Pasternak suggests that abolition in Canada is regularly thought of as a “copycat movement” that follows and reacts to political trends in the US, it’s important to see the ways in which their local focus grows out of a commitment to communities and peoples who are directly impacted here by the violence of the settler colonial state.
So, for people looking for direction and a means of mobilizing, Disarm, Defund, Dismantle is a book that, as Elene Lam explains, is important as a tool for organizing, and not just as a source of academic analysis. She is profoundly insightful on this point, insisting that we tend to assume that these “false binaries between theoretical, intellectual and practical work” exist, when, in fact, it is within social movements that “theory is generated.” Or, in Channelle’s words, the book highlights “frontline community defense against policing” and the “theoretical, political knowledge that comes from that work.”
We talk about the manipulative way that the figure of the “average Canadian” is invoked, and how it is usually used to reinforce exclusion. Those seen as “outsiders” are more easily ousted, criminalized, punished, Lam explains, because they are seen as harming the community of “average Canadians.” She argues, that, in this context, the “anti-trafficking movement, the anti-sex work movement benefits everyone except sex workers. So, police, law enforcement, politicians become the heroes,” and more power flows to the police.
What will it take to break the identification of working class people in Canada with “white owning classes”? What will it take to dismantle the basic logic of property rights by which so much containment, enclosure and capture continues? How do we grasp at the roots of oppression in Canada and elsewhere?