Op/Ed: Surrey City Council locks out residents, fails to shut down Palestine solidarity

Feb 13, 2024

Op/Ed: Surrey City Council locks out residents, fails to shut down Palestine solidarity

Palestine solidarity rally in Surrey with Palestine flags and umbrella.

Palestine solidarity organizing and mobilizations in Surrey, British Columbia (traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Katzie, Kwantlen, and Semiahmoo) have been growing in size and frequency. Now it seems local politicians are getting worried and taking pre-emptive steps to silence voices against the Israeli genocide in Gaza.

On Monday, February 12, 2024, Surrey’s mayor and council took the extraordinary step of locking down city hall and refusing entrance to any Surrey residents in an effort to stop people expressing solidarity with Palestine to tell council to add their voices to a ceasefire call. People who showed up to attend council were confronted by RCMP officers, physical barriers, and locked doors.

Democracy in action.

Canadian McCarthyism against Palestine solidarity

This rather outrageous decision by mayor and council should be situated among growing numbers of repressive acts by Canadian politicians to stifle and silence Palestine solidarity movements. These efforts include attempts by Zionist politicians like Liberal MP Anthony Housefather to police academic expression on university campuses and his calls for discipline for faculty or students who express solidarity with Palestine or are critical of Israel.

Politicians, including social democratic ones, have also called loudly for increased policing of Palestine solidarity movements. In Toronto, police have escalated repression to try to ban Palestine solidarity activists from attending specific locations such as highway overpasses. This is all indicative of a new McCarthyism by political rulers trying to silence voices of Palestinian solidarity.

Local media did not disappoint in playing their ideological role as news reports described the rally as “laying siege” to council. They even went so far as to claim that this was not the first time Palestine supporters had laid siege to council — while offering no evidence for this in either case.

First, the rally did not “lay siege” to city council. That is hyperbolic language. The mayor and council had locked everyone out of city hall so people stood outside, chanted, sang, and waved flags. Hardly laying siege — a term that is really inappropriate in this context given that Israeli forces are actually laying siege to Gaza, at the cost of tens of thousands of Palestinian lives.

Secondly, the mayor asks, “I just wonder when it’s going to stop, right?” From the perspective of those demonstrating, the answer is obvious — when Israel stops its assaults on Gaza. The overall Palestinian death toll from assaults on Gaza has risen to over 28,000 people, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. This includes more than 12,300 Palestinian children.

This awful human toll is why protesters want Surrey council to add their voices to calls for a ceasefire. It is why they are protesting at council meetings.

Undemocratic practices

Protests are common occurrences at city council meetings in cities across the country, on a range of issues. We might ask if this will be the response of city council going forward to Surrey residents who might wish to raise oppositional voices at council meetings? Especially given Surrey residents’ dissatisfaction with this mayor and ruling slate pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into efforts to maintain the RCMP in Surrey.

It must be remembered that Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and ruling slate on council have questionable connections with the RCMP and are using public resources to keep the RCMP as the municipal force in that city — all while the RCMP have longstanding connections with Israeli forces, including providing key personnel resources for Operation Proteus, the policing project over Palestinians in the West Bank.

In Surrey, this means that struggles against police, and police violence, have connections with struggles opposing Israel’s genocide against Palestinians. The same forces are involved. Police who deploy or train in Israel are deployed here against Indigenous land defenders, unhoused people, drug users, and racialized youth.

The mayor has long tried to stifle opposition to their policing plans and has been notoriously untransparent when sharing details about the policing situation in the city. The move to lock down council meetings and lock out residents is a further eroding of democracy — in this context of a city government that has shown a history of undemocratic practice.

An opportunity for organizing

Folks who showed up to raise their voices for Palestine, and against the Israeli state’s genocidal assaults, were not dissuaded by the council lock-out. In fact, the council’s decision provided an opportunity for more conversations, strategizing, and organizing than would have been possible within council chambers. So, people took advantage of the opportunity. New connections were made, and old relationships renewed. A new Palestine solidarity formation is in the works for North Surrey now.

The city council rally came only days after several hundred people marched through North Surrey, around the Surrey Central Skytrain Station and to the Central City mall, a key hub in the city. I actively attended both rallies. In Surrey, we stand with Palestine, whatever reactionary politicians might think or do.

Jeff Shantz is a long-time anti-authoritarian organizer, researcher, and writer who lives and works on Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo territories (Surrey, British Columbia).

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