Thursday, May 2, 2024

Statement - Occupy Tabaret

Justin Piché, PhD

Full Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa

Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project


Hi everyone. Thank you to the organizers for the invitation to speak with you today and for what you’re doing. 


My name is Dr. Justin Piché and I’m a Full Professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa. I teach the fourth-year abolitionism course in criminology and I’m the co-author of How to Abolish Prisons: Lessons from the Movement Against Imprisonment, which is being launched here in Ottawa at SAW this Saturday, May 4 at 11:00am if you want to check that out. I’m also a founding member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project or CPEP for short, which has been organizing here on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Anishinaabe Territory since 2012 to reduce the use and harms of policing and imprisonment, while working towards abolitionist futures that will come one day – like freedom for Palestinians – through struggle. 


Working in concert with other groups in Ottawa, we stopped a $1 billion provincial jail from being built in the city through our #NOPE | No Ottawa Prison Expansion campaign. We’re presently organizing with the Coalition Against the Proposed Prison to stop a $500 million prison Premier Ford wants to build on farmland in Kemptville with floodplain and a Rideau River watershed creek in an age of food insecurity and climate catastrophe. We’ve also long advocated for defunding the Ottawa Police Service and are among the parties that have sued the Ottawa Police Services Board for the unconstitutional limits they’ve placed to restrict delegations to their meetings. Of relevance to this gathering, CPEP is also involved in the “Defend the Right to Dissent Campaign” and has produced a zine on why the City of Ottawa must end the criminalization and illegalization of Palestine solidarity events and waive the fines bylaw has levied against our comrades to try to silence them. You can check the zine on our CPEPgroup Instagram account.


So right now, we live in seemingly impossible times. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our world is fucking dying. Death making – whether we’re talking about the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, or other necropolitical structures – continues without regard for the people that are injured, maimed and killed by them. Worse still, many universities and pension funds invest in death making, including at this university, and it has to stop. 


Today, I stand in solidarity with you as much of the world, along with our leaders occupying the seats in the boardrooms and legislatures, watch what the International Court of Justice has described as a “plausible” genocide unfolding in Palestine. 


I know which side I and those of you assembled here today stand. And the leaders at the University of Ottawa, which is located on stolen Indigenous land, need to be crystal clear about which side they’re on? Are they on the side of genocide? Are they on the side of occupation? Are they on the side of apartheid?Do they believe that hostages and political prisoners should remain imprisoned? 

If the answer is no to genocide, no to occupation, no to apartheid or no to taking hostages and political imprisonment, then the very least the leaders at the University of Ottawa can do is divest from the military industrial complex and prison industrial complex that have been mobilized for years to surveil, police, condemn, and erect walls of all kinds to forcibly confine, starve and kill Palestinians. 


Divestment is the neutral position, because to invest in these structures is to be complicit in death making and while we may not be the ones dropping the bombs, we’re helping to bankroll their production and profiting from it. It’s shameful. It’s absolutely fucking wrong. Period.   


I recognize that this is a fraught time on our campus, in this city, province, country and indeed across the world. I recognize that many of our students, staff, and professors – Jewish, Muslim, of other faiths or of no faith at all – are suffering. A number of our neighbours, friends and fellow community members have lost loved ones during this long conflict spanning several decades and indeed in recent months. To say this is a horrible time is a gross understatement. It’s fucking horrific. But that’s not an excuse for uOttawa’s administration to threaten fellow community members with and I quote “serious consequences” for staging this peaceful action. Look around. Serious consequences for what exactly? Taking up space?


The people here, you know, we’re here at a university. A university that’s supposed to function where arguments are won with logic, facts, better arguments. That’s what’s supposed to prevail here, not force. Is it not? If logic, facts and better arguments don’t prevail here, then fucking where? Okay. uOttawa has to be more than a real estate holding company.


The people here today don’t need a carceral campus, we need cops off our campus. The people here today don’t need to be threatened by office holders in Tabaret, we dialogue, more dialogue now. The students, staff, faculty and allies here don’t need a police siege of the kind we’ve seen at Columbia and elsewhere that will be, and will be remembered, as wrong if it’s ever ordered – we need action. We need actions towards liberation and peace for all people. All people. Every single human being. Full stop. No exceptions.

There’s thousands of brilliant people who learn from each other at this university each and every day [text accidentally skipped over during the delivery of the speech: just as there are in universities across the world, including those currently under the rubble of scholasticide in Palestine right now. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with a lot of you] – brilliant people with brilliant ideas, ideas that matter, ideas that can revolutionize the world and our way of relating to one another if we have the courage and conviction to try, and try again when we don’t get it right until we do. Maybe if we were actually all free to speak on campuses like these with consideration and respect for others, and without fear we could all figure out how to change the world so that everyone can truly be free. 

So, to end I’ve taken up more than enough space and I’m going to get out of the way, but I’m going to finish by just saying that as a past undergraduate student who once wore a Gee-Gees jersey – I won’t tell you for what team – and literally bled for this school – I bled for this fucking school – as a past master’s student here, as a Full Professor now and as a human being – not in my name. 

Divest from genocide now uOttawa. Free Palestine. Thank you. 

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