Handcuffed in her own home by “border security” cops, the single mother of a baby girl who had five minutes to choose whether to bring her “citizen” child with her to jail or have her separated from her mama for the first time since birth. The Indigenous warrior and father of four, locked up for defending his peoples’ land, who faced 12 years in prison for standing up against the Canadian state. The woman living and surviving with addictions and abuse who made a living panhandling on freezing winter streets and was arrested and jailed for unpaid municipal by-law infraction tickets. The young man of colour who organized friends and family in his housing complex to fight for a basketball court and rec space to keep kids in his community safe, and was subsequently beaten and jailed by the cops for showing leadership and strength. These are the friends and mentors, and so many more, who have taught me to be an abolitionist.
I am a settler, living in a settler-colonial state built on slavery, imprisonment, and violence. And true to our white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal, exploitative capitalist society, in Canada, it is Indigenous and Black/Afrikan/Caribbean community members who experience the highest incarceration rates and are most likely to be shot and killed by the police. Further, nearly 80,000 migrants, including children, have been jailed under the current Harper government without charge or trial. Canada stands alone in the “West” in having no maximum detention length for people held in immigration prisons—detainees are held in up to 142 facilities across the country, mainly maximum security jails, even though immigration “violations,” in a country where permanent immigration status is unattainable for too many people, are an administrative matter. Some migrants have been held up to 10 years because Canada cannot deport them, but won’t release them. Alongside an explosion of immigration detentions, there has been a sharp increase in the number of Indigenous women making up the prison population in Canada, as well as an 80 per cent increase of Black prisoners in federal jails over the past decade.
Abolition must confront racist, gendered, hetero-sexist, ableist, classist hierarchies of power, the purposeful entanglement of oppressions, and lift up liberatory movements led by the very communities that are targeted for imprisonment and destruction. And as abolitionists, we need to acknowledge the bars and borders we have ourselves internalized and imposed. For me, abolition is about breaking down most of what I know to be true, and learning, living, and fighting for freedom in ways we may have never imagined.