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Friday, April 12, 2024


15 movement victories in 2023 you may not have heard about

From divesting from fossil fuels, to repealing the Doctrine of Discovery, to historic labour strikes, movements won several important victories this year

We live in a culture that tells us to face the world’s problems on our own—but any chance we have of making transformative change can only come from organizing collectively.

This past year, governments around the world responded to sustained popular pressure—Portugal announced a radical plan to tackle the housing crisis; Chile signalled that it will nationalize its lithium industry; Brazil instituted measures that cut deforestation in the Amazon by 60 per cent in a single year; and civil society organizations won a binding referendum in Ecuador rejecting oil drilling in the Amazon.

There are also plenty of examples of grassroots struggles winning small but real material changes within Canada.

In our annual tradition, The Breach looks back at 15 movement victories in 2023 you may not have heard about.

After 12 years of campus activism, Divest McGill saw their primary demand met, and McGill University announced that it would begin divestment from fossil fuel industries. Credit: Divest McGill/Facebook

Divesting from fossil fuels: Campaigns at University of Manitoba, three federated colleges that are part of the University of Toronto, and McGill University all pushed their respective institutions to commit to steps towards divestment from fossil fuel industries—though in many instances activists pointed out the need to go farther and faster.

A massive grassroots movement pushed Doug Ford’s Conservative government in Ontario to reverse their decision to open the protected Greenbelt lands. Credit: Greenbelt Promise/X

Defeating developers: Last year, Doug Ford’s Conservative government in Ontario opened thousands of hectares of protected Greenbelt lands to a group of politically-connected property developers. But this year, a massive grassroots mobilization pushed them to reverse this decision and apologize. Popular pressure also forced the province to reverse course on their move to force municipalities to expand their urban boundaries, which the Conservatives had done as a favour to developers.

On a more local level, mobilization by LGBTQ+ activists defeated the City of Toronto’s plans to build a “permanent event space” next to a historic queer beach in the city, and a community group defeated plans to build a luxury tower that would have had a major gentrifying impact on one of the city’s working-class neighbourhoods.

Doctrine of Discovery: Years of grassroots work by Indigenous peoples and their allies pushed the Vatican to formally repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, which was used historically to legitimize the theft of Indigenous lands, though opinion remains divided about whether this measure is sufficient.

Support for migrants: In the face of pressure from migrant justice advocates, Ontario became the most recent province to refuse to incarcerate migrants who are facing administrative detention in provincial jails. Campaigns advocating for individual migrants navigating Canada’s harsh immigration system also won victories—such as one initiative that reunited a refugee in Brockville, Ontario, with her family.

The far-right led protests against drag shows and pro-trans/pro-queer policies—but in some cases, these protestors were outnumbered by queer activists and their allies. Credit: Matthew Bradley/X

On the streets against hate: In the face of far-right-led protests against drag shows, LGBTQ+ institutions, and pro-trans/pro-queer policies, people fought back. While some rightly warned about right-wing strength in the streets, particularly in smaller and more conservative regions, there were also plenty of places where hateful protests led by the far right were outnumbered and where organizing defeated attempts to ban books related to sexuality and gender identity.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada went on one of the biggest public sector strikes in Canadian history, with over 100,000 workers striking. Credit: JaneBrownNews/X

Union power: There were plenty of successful unionization drives across Canada, and years of advocacy by the labour movement pushed the federal government to ban scab labour in the approximately 6 per cent of workplaces that are federally regulated.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada went on one of the biggest public sector strikes in Canadian history and won improvements to their contracts. The Front Commun strike by Quebec health care workers and teachers, still ongoing, became the biggest strike in North America history. Both enjoyed significant public support.

Overall data suggest that in 2023, many workers have become more militant and more confident, and have won larger wage increases than in many years.

Emergency room nurses at a hospital in Montreal engaged in a sit-in opposing a mandatory overtime scheme that would have exacerbated overwork and under-staffing. Thanks to their action, the plan was not instituted and the administrator in charge of the ER was removed.

Prisoner strike: More than 500 inmates at the medium security Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ontario, went on strike from all school, work, and programs, and won much-needed reforms in how medications are distributed.

Gender-affirming care: Activists at Mount Allison University expanded the mandate of the campus gender-affirming care clinic to serve people from the rest of New Brunswick and beyond.

Opposing privatization: Activists across Canada have for many years been working hard to oppose the privatization of the public health care system. While incremental privatization continues in many jurisdictions, the movement scored a victory this year as Quebec banned most uses of private health care agencies.

Tenants organizing: Months of collective struggle by tenants living in buildings in Halifax and in Toronto helped prevent attempts by landlords to use renovations as an excuse to evict them.

After years of persistent advocacy from family and supporters, Soleiman Faqiri’s jailhouse death was ruled a homicide. Credit: Mahdis Habibinia/X

Justice for Soli: A coroner’s jury declared the jailhouse death of Soleiman Faqiri as a homicide, which would not have happened without the persistent advocacy over many years by his family and their supporters. Faqiri, who was having a psychiatric emergency in a segregated cell, had been pepper sprayed, beaten, restrained, and covered by a spit hood.

Accessible contraception: Advocates pushed British Columbia to become the first Canadian jurisdiction to make prescription contraception free to all residents.

Direct action against wage theft: International students, precarious workers, and community members in Brampton, Ontario, continued to use direct action tactics to confront employers who have stolen wages from their workers, winning more than $650,000 in the last two years.

Defending the unhoused: Grassroots organizing forced the City of Barrie in Ontario to withdraw a proposed bylaw that would have criminalized the distribution of material support to unhoused people on public property.

A vibrant grassroots mobilization has seen rallies in support of a Free Palestine crop up in major—and small—cities across Canada. Credit: Sikander Iqbal/Wikimedia Commons

Palestine solidarity: In the face of a brutal assault by the Israeli state on Palestinians in Gaza that United Nations experts have described as a “genocide in the making, the Canadian federal government was a resolute opponent of calls for a ceasefire.

But a vibrant grassroots mobilization caused many cities in Canada to call for a ceasefire and ultimately pushed Canada to vote for the a ceasefire resolution at the UN General Assembly in mid December.

Palestinians and allies who have spoken up on the issue have faced consequences, but in some instances have successfully resisted—like the Palestinian artists who reversed the Royal Ontario Museum’s plan to censor their work. Activists at Concordia University in Montreal won a referendum victory for a policy instituting a number of strong measures in support of Palestinians, though a court has ordered the policy be suspended until a full legal challenge can be heard. And the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign launched years ago by Palestinian civil society continued to accrue victories even before the most recent assault by the Israeli state, including pushing the world’s largest private security company to divest itself of all of its remaining businesses in Israel.

Many of the wins on this list are in the context of struggles that are massive and ongoing in the face of the climate crisis, settler colonialism, and the rising power of hard- and far-right forces. But it shows that, together, we can move towards a better world.

In the words of writer Rebecca Solnit, “a victory is a milestone on the road, evidence that sometimes we win, and encouragement to keep going.”

Scott Neigh
Scott Neigh
Scott Neigh is the host and producer of Talking Radical Radio and the author of two books of Canadian history told through the stories of activists.
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