La Presse Canadienne

The fight against the racist measures of the CAQ is one of the main struggles in Quebec. Bill 21 and other racist measures by the CAQ enrage and radicalize a large number of people. The rights of religious minorities are trampled, and immigrants see their plans for life in Quebec being destroyed by the government.

The latest measures by the CAQ are a direct continuation of years and years of islamophobia nurtured by the establishment, whether it is the “reasonable accommodations” debate, the PQ with their Charter of values or the Liberals with Bill 62.

Many initiatives have been started by various community groups, religious groups, unions, anti-racist activists or left-wing organizations over the past years in order to fight against racism in general and islamophobia in particular.

These types of activities against the new government must be stepped up and involve broader layers of the left and most importantly the labour movement. The CAQ government has been using all the tools at its disposal to ram through its discriminatory measures, going as far as suspending the Charter of rights and liberties to do so. This cannot be left unanswered. Left-wing organizations and activists should unite their forces and fight back.

Unfortunately, we have recently witnessed damaging sectarianism which only serves to weaken the movement in an anti-racist committee in Montreal. We feel compelled to address this here, as this is part of a worrying trend in some circles on the left, a trend that is very harmful to the movement.

The Montreal anti-racist committee was an ad-hoc group formed in 2017. It most notably organized two successful demonstrations against racism and xenophobia, first in November 2017 and then in October 2018, only days after the CAQ victory in the elections. La Riposte socialiste participated in the committee and a comrade of the group gave a fantastic speech at the October 2018 demonstration. However, when it was proposed that the same comrade speak again at the March 2019 demonstration, some people on the committee tried to block this by weaponizing vague allegations of abuse.

First, someone claimed that there had been a rape cover-up in Fightback involving a leading member. This was the very first time that we heard of such a serious accusation. During the following meeting, our comrades explained that these remarks were obviously confusing us with the British SWP or the ISO in the US, two socialist groups where there were accusations against leading members that were covered up. When we pointed this out, this accusation was dropped and never mentioned again. Another participant then said “wasn’t this the transphobia thing?” In fact, transphobia is one of the reasons why the Montreal Revolutionary Communist Party has alienated all of the left in the city. But it has nothing to do with the positions of La Riposte socialiste which are clear with regards to the fight against trans oppression. This was also dropped and never mentioned again, but these instances were early symptoms that some people were looking for something to use to exclude the Marxists.

Then, a situation that occurred at York University last year was brought up. This was a situation where unspecified allegations, with absolutely no details were raised and used as a means of excluding our entire group from some organizing spaces on campus during the 2018 TA strike. Still to this day, we have been left in the dark as to if there is anything to these accusations.

Unfortunately this was repeated again in the committee in Montreal with no names or details about the allegations being given. A small group of people in the committee shamed anyone into silence who attempted even to ask questions at one of the meetings. These people then maneuvered in an anti-democratic fashion, creating a new internal email list, removing us and anyone who didn’t agree with their course of action. They then subsequently excluded us from the following meeting. These anti-democratic decisions were taken behind the backs of the committee. We appealed to the committee to not follow this path but our appeals fell on deaf ears. We therefore decided to withdraw from the committee.

Then, on June 19, we received a letter from the committee which unfortunately confirms this incorrect approach. There are many problems in this letter, which we will try to address here.

The letter begins by restating that the committee had heard about “problems of sexual misconduct within Fightback that have not been sufficiently dealt with”, on the basis of what happened at York last year. The letter therefore starts with what is to be proven. Again, sexual misconduct is a very serious issue, and if there are instances of this in the movement, details must be provided so that any cases can be dealt with. But in this instance, the term is simply thrown around, and it is assumed from the start that any accusations are true.

The letter also states that “Fightback did not engage in internal reflections following the allegations”, and that we did not “take action”.

In order to back up this claim, the letter quotes an article last fall we published which states that:

“With regard to the non-specific allegations, Fightback takes this question very, very seriously. Any manifestation of harassment, sexual or otherwise, is totally unacceptable. Any instance of harassment is immediately investigated and proportionate action taken. We have conducted an internal review to determine if there are any instances of harassment that could in any way be related to the non-specific allegations. We have found nothing. If we had found anything we would have taken immediate action against any culpable individuals. The fact that the allegations are unspecified does not help. We do not know what is alleged, against whom, on what date, at what location.”

“We have approached independent groups and individuals to see if they could investigate and/or mediate to resolve this dispute. Unfortunately this has been denied to us.”

Somehow, this is ‘proof’ that we did not engage in necessary internal reflections. Anyone can see that the above quote actually demonstrates the exact opposite.

When these vague accusations were leveled at us, one of the first things that was done was to discuss it through our entire organisation. It was discussed in every single branch and at all levels of the organisation over a period of several months. In fact, we didn’t wait for specific information (which never came) to hold these discussions. How could it have been otherwise? Our organization  counts survivors in its ranks, and it would’ve been the height of irresponsibility and truly shameful to sweep these accusations under the carpet without discussion. We made sure that extensive discussions were held. It was explained multiple times that we have a robust code of conduct, and a process to deal with cases of sexual abuse.

As for York University specifically, our comrades did everything they could to hold a due accountability process. Literally any past behavior was scrutinized and comrades on the ground were repeatedly asked if they had done anything or seen anything. We made the proposition that the union run an investigation procedure and we pledged to fully collaborate with any such process. We explained that we were prepared to take any interim measures necessary to protect people in the movement if there was indeed an abuser in our ranks. Unfortunately, this was denied to us. In spite of this, we took the initiative to and had leading members of our York club attend training put on by the Centre for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education at York University. What else could have been done?

What seems to be objected to here is ultimately that we called out the sectarianism that was taking place. When we repeatedly ask for information and state that we are willing to cooperate to bring abusers to justice and we are continually denied this, yet people continue to spread rumours and use this to exclude us from organizing spaces, what else is there to say? It becomes clear that assault allegations are being weaponized to settle political scores and exclude those with differing ideas in the movement. We do not accept this method and we think that it is damaging to the movement. We will say so again and again.

The letter from the anti-racist committee states that “Fightback has painted the situation as a matter of coming down hard on a singular bad apple rather than acknowledging a systemic issue”. So here the meaning is, if we had found something, we would be guilty, and because we didn’t find anything, we are guilty of not looking enough, or not looking for systemic problems. But if there is a systemic issue, why can’t anyone point to anything concrete? We are again left with a vague allegations with zero details.

The more we asked for clarifications and details so that we could seriously deal with this issue, the more it boiled down to vague affirmations that our organization had a problem of rape culture, a term which describes a culture in which rape is belittled or even encouraged. This was first brought up verbally in meetings to us and this is repeated again in the letter. In the letter, it is said that “some people have told us that after they gave their contact information (…) to Fightback recruiters during demonstrations and such, they were contacted by individuals and felt like they were being asked on a date and invited to places where alcohol was consumed… Members of our group were uncomfortable to work with Fightback for this reason as well, which can be construed as part of rape culture – situations that encourage unconsensual sexual relations”. In meetings prior to this letter being sent, activities such as gathering emails, going for a coffee to discuss politics, etc, were labelled as “rape culture”.

This is an astounding statement, to say the least. In fact, this argument is just an argument against organization in general. Whoever gets involved in politics will know that it involves gathering contact information of people interested in one’s group and that the best way of knowing if we really have agreement or to discuss differences is to discuss them face to face. This is why we invite the people we meet to our events such as pub nights or coffee-shop discussions. These are organized by any political group trying to win over people to ideas or a program, from QS to unions to community groups, etc. It is well known that anti-racist activists go to the pub after meetings or demonstrations to have a drink or two. If this, which is a long standing tradition of the movement, is part of rape culture, then we should abandon political organizing altogether.

The letter then says: “We understand that there were no specific denunciations until now but it was clear that Fightback’s organisational culture was being criticised.” And there we have it. So the real criticism of Fightback is about our organisational practices. Unfortunately, this is a case where the progressive struggle against rape culture and abuse is used as a political weapon to exclude political groups with differing methods and ideas. Such weaponizing of rape accusations actually belittles true manifestations of rape culture and abuse in the movement. These are methods that the anti-racist movement, the left, and the labour movement in general must reject and fight against.

The entire logic of the arguments put forward in the letter turns everything upside down. For example, they claim that asking for information on concrete cases of abuses reinforces rape culture “as it gives a green signal to perpetrators of sexual misconduct – they could continue with their practices given that any action against them isn’t forthcoming”. This again is a truly fantastic argument, as the exact opposite is true. By asking for information, we are doing our duty in trying our best with our limited resources to unmask abusers and root them out. On the contrary, if no one is named or no information is given, it is precisely this that gives a green signal to potential abusers, endangering people, because they can see that action is not being taken and cannot be taken.

Perhaps the most dishonest part of the letter is where it says that we “portrayed accusations of sexual violence as hurtful to the Left”. This is again a deliberate misrepresentation of what we said, demonstrating the sectarian method. Anyone who dismisses accusations of sexual violence on the grounds that they are harmful to the left has no place in the movement. The act of exposing abusive behavior helps the left as the bonds of solidarity between activists are strengthened by knowing that this behavior is not permitted in the movement and is seriously dealt with when it arises. What we did say is that we think that using rumors and innuendo to sideline entire political groups while refusing to provide any details so that any real cases can be addressed is harmful to the left. This does absolutely nothing to fight rape culture, does absolutely nothing to oust abusers from the movement, and does absolutely nothing to protect activists and survivors. It is this frivolous attitude which hurts the left and this is what we have criticized.

At root, this culture of rumours and innuendo prevents the movement from holding abusers accountable. This attitude is not serious. This allows abusers to roam free, which puts people in danger, if the accusations are true. Finally, this opens up the movement to saboteurs and normalizes the weaponization of allegations to settle political scores.

We demand that justice is done and that whoever is guilty of sexual misconduct in the movement be held accountable for their actions. This is what we have stated over and over again. Some people in the anti-racist committee see this as “defensive” and call on us to take down these articles from our website. We are thus put in an impossible position: either we are guilty because we reject the culture of rumours and demand concrete facts and accountability, or we are guilty by taking the vague accusations as true.

We are saddened by this turn taken by some people within the anti-racist committee. The committee organized a couple of fantastic demonstrations in the past where thousands flooded the streets to combat racism and the CAQ government. This must continue. But a united movement cannot be built if factions weaponize rumours and innuendo to sideline those with different political ideas. This type of action weakens the movement. Plus, this does nothing to address rape culture and instances of abuse, which need to be rooted out of the movement. These methods are the path to destruction and have already damaged the committee and the movement. Right at the moment when the CAQ has passed their islamophobic law, the anti-racist committee which did such good work in the past, has been completely absent from the movement.

For genuine accountability

It is clear that within the labour movement and the left, it is vitally important to develop good traditions and a genuine process of accountability. By its very nature, the labour movement and organizations fighting for socialism are not immune to the ills of class society. All sorts of people join the movement and they bring with them all sorts of baggage and prejudices. Cases of sexual abuse can occur, and they must be addressed when they arise. Survivors must be heard, and a respectful environment must be nurtured within the movement so that people feel comfortable coming forward. The left and the labour movement are not immune to manifestations of oppression and sexism. The fight against oppression must be waged here and now on all fronts. Rape culture, attitudes serving to normalize sexual assault or abuse, permeates all parts of the capitalist society we live in, and workers organizations are not immune.

All organizations, unions, parties, coalitions, etc., need to work on the basis that any form of oppression or discrimination is unacceptable. There must be an environment of respect, and anybody bringing forward claims of inappropriate behaviour must have that claim promptly investigated and acted upon. If necessary, credible neutral third parties can be brought in to investigate. The needs of the survivor must be prioritized, and no individual in the movement is “too big to fall” and no one can avoid accountability. Proportionate action can be taken, depending on the wishes of the abused and the severity of the abuse. This could range from an apology, censure, removal from responsible posts, suspension, expulsion, or a recommendation to ban an individual from the entire movement. There may be the possibility for the person who acted inappropriately to make amends, if the hurt party finds that appropriate. There needs to be concrete action based upon concrete events and not unsubstantiated innuendo. The movement cannot allow allegations to be weaponized for sectarian or factional purposes. All individuals must be held accountable for their actions. This is the best way to achieve genuine accountability and thus strengthen the labour movement, the anti-racist movement and the left.

A strong movement is particularly necessary in Quebec confronted with this rightwing government of the bosses. The fight against their racist policies is one of the most important struggles currently, as the CAQ is bulldozing over the rights of religious minorities and immigrants, which sets an awful precedent if left unanswered. It cannot be stressed enough that La Riposte socialiste/Fightback is committed to the fight against all forms of oppression. With our limited resources, we will continue to participate in this fight and bring forward our perspective on the best methods to fight racism, sexism and any form of oppression. Today more than ever, the left needs to stand united against this government and its racist measures, and we can’t allow sectarian methods to wreck this fight. This is the only way to stop their reactionary agenda.

Appendix – Letter to Fightback

June 10, 2019

To Fightback Montreal,

We are a collective that have organized the anti-racist demonstrations of November 12th 2017, October 7th 2018, and recently the 24th of March 2019. We are antiracist activists from different organizations who got together to organize against hate and racism. When we were deciding on speakers for this most recent demonstration, someone from Fightback who was at our meeting suggested that Fightback be one of the speakers. On the 19th of March, it came to our attention that there were problems of sexual misconduct within Fightback that have not been sufficiently dealt with. When we asked one of the Fightback member about it, he sent us an article which confirmed how Fightback did not take action with regards these issues and the article showed a lack of reflection on the part of Fightback related to the problematic practices flagged by various people in Toronto and elsewhere and a defensive stance that portrayed accusations of sexual violence as hurtful to the Left.

It should be noted that most of us had no prior extensive contact with Fightback or any ill will towards Fightback’s politics. Our reticence and critique was primarily motivated by our disdain for culture that does not discourage upfront any practices that are not feminist and intersectional (fighting against patriarchy and misogyny as we fight against class, for instance).

The article was a response to allegations of sexual misconduct, however Fightback’s response in the letter was defensive at best:

“With regard to the non-specific allegations, Fightback takes this question very, very seriously. Any manifestation of harassment, sexual or otherwise, is totally unacceptable. Any instance of harassment is immediately investigated and proportionate action taken. We have conducted an internal review to determine if there are any instances of harassment that could in any way be related to the non-specific allegations. We have found nothing. If we had found anything we would have taken immediate action against any culpable individuals. The fact that the allegations are unspecified does not help. We do not know what is alleged, against whom, on what date, at what location.”

“We have approached independent groups and individuals to see if they could investigate and/or mediate to resolve this dispute. Unfortunately this has been denied to us.”

This and the above articles overall clearly show that Fightback did not engage in internal reflections following the allegations. Rather Fightback has painted the situation as a matter of coming down hard on a singular bad apple rather than acknowledging a systemic issue. It is obvious that the survivors of the sexual misconduct do not always have the luxury to come out openly and make themselves further vulnerable due to various levels of privilege and power dynamics associated in any such situation. In most cases, revealing the aggressor’s name or the circumstances of the aggression is just as threatening to a survivor’s safety as revealing their own identity. The response of Fightback shows that the survivors in this case are not heard and their concerns are not taken seriously. One does not need to wait for specific information in such cases to do more introspection of one’s practices and culture that may allow problematic behaviours to flourish.

Needless to say, the article did not convince us, and this led to an internal debate in our group on whether we should let Fightback give a speech during the demonstration or not.

Additionally, some people have told us that after they gave their contact information (for newsletter, for instance) to Fightback recruiters during demonstrations and such, they were contacted by individuals and felt like they were being asked on a date and invited to places where alcohol was consumed. These people felt really uneasy about such practices, even if it may have been one of the steps in the recruitment process. Members of our group were uncomfortable to work with Fightback for this reason as well, which can be construed as part of rape culture – situations that encourage unconsensual sexual relations. Similar culture is exhibited in the articles mentioned above where warning signs of aggression are not taken seriously.

While some of us felt that giving a voice to Fightback was leaving the survivors of the alleged sexual misconduct behind, we agreed to have Fightback speak at the demo. This was in particular due to the fact that we did not have enough time to go to the bottom of the issue, and we erred on the side of caution.

Since the demonstration we had a chance to debrief and take time to investigate this further and we all confirmed our discomfort towards continuing to work with Fightback. In this perspective, we decided that before we continue to work with Fightback and give them a voice at our demonstrations, Fightback really needs to recognize that the way they handled the allegations was not sufficient, even if they were non-specific allegations. Furthermore, Fightback needs to take significant steps to address their practices and culture that may be encouraging (or not discouraging) the behaviours that were denounced. This is the reason why we are taking time to write to you with some recommendations of actions that can be taken to improve these and to move towards adopting anti-oppressive policies and practices.

Here are some recommendations to begin with:

Hold internal discussions: In order to reflect upon the practices and culture of the organization we strongly encourage you to hold discussions internally to introspect and reflect on what has been brought forth here in this letter and elsewhere that your articles refer to; you might want to dig deep and identify any problematic practices and patterns in light of the elements discussed above.

Survey current and former members: We understand that there were no specific denunciations until now but it was clear that Fightback’s organisational culture was being criticised. We suggest that, in order to address this situation, Fightback conducts a survey about the experience of Fightback (ex-)members in order to get clarity on different discrimination and harassment problems people may have encountered in Fightback. Please see the sample survey attached to our mail.

Recruitment practices: We would like to recommend that there would be clear and standardized guidelines within the organisation that specifies the ethics of recruitment and code of conduct to be followed in the process of recruitment that includes elements of safety for all, such as: recruiters should not use contact information of people who have signed up for their own personal reasons; people who are about to give their contact information should be told how their information would be used, so they can choose if they are still willing to give it or not; the procedure to follow to contact the new recruitee should be laid out clearly, and that it is not done as if the recruitee is taken out on a date and that the meetings with the recruitee are in a public or semi-public place without alcohol and that it should not be a one-on-one meeting.

Complaint procedures: Survivors of sexual assault or harassment of any sort may not want to come out openly and identify their aggressor or detail what happened as much as they wouldn’t want to make themselves known publicly for obvious reasons – there is still a stigma attached to it and fear of being subjected to further violence, harassment, or exclusion. In fact putting so much pressure in knowing details of a sexual misconduct/abuse, as shown in the letter1 reinforces rape culture as it gives a green signal to perpetrators of sexual misconduct – they could continue with their practices given that any action against them isn’t forthcoming; such a culture also retraumatises survivors of sexual misconduct, especially if no concrete support is offered to said survivors.

We recommend that you put in place a complaint procedure that can facilitate the process of reporting misconducts while remaining safe and relatively anonymous. Here are some questions to ask internally as you design the complaint procedures: What are the existing procedures to put in a complaint about sexual misconducts? Are there any? Are there people whose role is to take care of this? Have these people been properly trained to deal with cases of sexual misconduct? Is there a way to make sure that the people who are supposed to take care of this are not involved in the dynamics at play; that there is not conflict of interest? Do they take into account the power relations that may deter survivors to report the incidents they have faced? What is planned to make sure that the victims reporting these incidents do not face repercussions from the organization and other members? Are there anonymous procedures of complaint that could lead to an inquiry so that the survivor doesn’t have to give their name in order to be heard?

Additionally, it is imperative that Fightback remove the defensive and dismissive statements/letters from the Marxist.ca website as soon as possible. We encourage you to write a statement that acknowledges the problems in your previous statements and publish a new one explaining what you are working on going forward. Even if you are not in a position to publish it on the cross-country website, we urge you to use Fightback’s Montreal platform(s) to do so.

We hope that you take our concerns into consideration and do the work of self-reflection and adjustment of practices. If you would like references to resources for facilitation, for reflections or for setting up any of the systems mentioned above, we may be able to provide some.

Sincerely,
Collective against hate and racism