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MEDIA RELEASE: The S-CAP 3 and the fight against the criminalization of support work for people living in poverty

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Media statement for immediate release – April 1, 2015

For further information contact S-CAP at 249-878-7227

The S-CAP 3 and the fight against the criminalization of support work for people living in poverty

This morning the S-CAP 3 appeared in court. One member had her charges withdrawn through participation in a ‘restorative justice’ process. The other two had their charges ‘diverted’ into community service work. After this community service is completed the charges will also be withdrawn. Below is background and the statement of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP) on these developments.

·      On January 12th members of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP) went to the Out of the Cold Shelter to support an individual who approached us about having been barred from the Out of the Cold Shelter on arbitrary grounds. This daily support work for individuals living in poverty having problems with Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Program, or with landlords, employers, or the shelter system is a central activity that S-CAP engages in and before that night none of our members had ever been arrested for doing it.

·      S-CAP played a crucial role both in the winter of 2014 and again this fall in getting the Out of the Cold Shelter established to begin to meet the need of homeless people in this city. It was supposed to be a shelter without the same restrictions as at the Salvation Army run Men’s and Women’s Shelters. Unlike most centres the only shelters for adult homeless people in Sudbury have all been run by the Salvation Army, which has created access difficulties for a number of homeless people, including for indigenous people. Unfortunately the City also gave the running of the Out of the Cold shelter to the Salvation Army even though it was supposed to be a City run shelter and soon arbitrary exclusions were taking place. The recent organizing of a meeting of about fifty homeless people and allies on March 19th which called for an extension of the Out of the Cold Shelter and the ending of Salvation Army control over it and the resulting demonstration of more than forty people through the streets of Sudbury and through Tom Davies Square on March 27th were what led to the decision by the City to extend the Out of the Cold Shelter to April 15th and to have the Red Cross run it during this extended period. This is an important, if limited victory, for homeless people in Sudbury.

·        When S-CAP members, and the person who had been barred, arrived on Jan. 12th the first response of the Salvation Army was not to talk to, or to negotiate with, the S-CAP members but instead to call the police. Members of S-CAP have been told by police officers that the Salvation Army often call the police for minor problems since they lack training in conflict resolution skills. Although the support work was successful that night in getting the individual a place to stay out of the cold when the police arrived almost immediately they brutally arrested an indigenous woman in front of her son. They also arrested two other members of S-CAP outside the building as they were doing what the police had requested – which was to leave the building. S-CAP members have been told by other police officers that the officers present that night escalated a situation that could easily have been resolved. Not only was one member of S-CAP brutally arrested, the three members of S-CAP were charged with ‘trespassing’ and ‘causing a disturbance’ but they also had “non-association” conditions imposed on them. These conditions prevented these three members of S-CAP from being able to talk to each other, hindering their ability to defend themselves and also interfering with the everyday organizing work of S-CAP since only one of the three could participate in any given meeting, action, or event. These types of conditions are usually imposed in higher level criminal cases where there is a fear that the individuals will commit another criminal act. What was the criminal act that the police and Crown feared they were going to engage in? In this case the only logic of such conditions was to interfere with the ability of these three S-CAP members to organize a public and collective defence and to limit the ability of S-CAP to operate as an all volunteer, collective organization. The objective of the police and the Crown seems to have been to try to scare S-CAP members away from doing support work for people living in poverty for fear of being arrested.

·        The arrests and charges were an escalation of repressive tactics by the police and an attempt to criminalize the doing of support work for people living in poverty, as well as to limit the ability of S-CAP to operate through these non-association conditions imposed on three of our members. In response S-CAP states very clearly that the S-CAP 3 did nothing wrong and should instead be praised for their successful support for a person living in poverty getting a place to stay out of the cold. S-CAP will continue to do support work for people living in poverty and will not be intimidated. We will fight any attempt to criminalize doing support work for people living in poverty and will continue to engage in direct action tactics when needed to fight for the needs and rights of people living in poverty.

·        One of the S-CAP 3 decided to accept a form of ‘restorative justice’ so that the charges are dismissed and so they can freely associate with the others and participate in S-CAP. It is interesting to note that the Crown thought what the S-CAP 3 did was so serious that it warranted ‘non-association’ conditions being imposed but that they thought it was able to be resolved through ‘restorative justice’ or ‘diversion.’ Unfortunately this form of ‘restorative justice’ is not the indigenous form of real restorative justice which would allow for the airing of grievances with the Salvation Army, the police and the City. The S-CAP 3 will be returning to the important work of the daily fight against poverty through support work for people living in poverty and through campaigns to raise the social assistance and minimum wage rates for people living in poverty and to move toward a society without poverty that is informed by social justice.

·        This includes continuing support for homeless people in the City through the expansion and improvement of the shelter system and establishing more safe, accessible and affordable housing in the City. This includes an end to the policies of exclusion in the existing shelter system, and the opening of City run shelters that are run on the basis of anti-oppression principles. 

For more information contact S-CAP at 249-878-7227

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