Canada: sectarians attack Fightback Ottawa as fascists target Toronto chapter

In the past week, two separate attempts were made to shut down events by the IMT in Canada, Fightback, using violence and intimidation. The first incident, involving a group of about five individuals, occurred at a Fightback event at Carleton University, in which our activists and attendees were harassed, our materials were thrown to the floor and stamped on, and an attempt was made to destroy our banner.

Under threat of physical violence, we decided to cancel the event. The second incident involved a number of Yellow Vest Canada supporters, a fascist outfit, who issued a public call to violently disrupt one of our Toronto pub nights. Fortunately, this second attack was called off, but not before suggesting that our future events would be targeted. We provide here an account of these two incidents, and our reply to them.

Disruption at Carleton

On 28 March, our “What is Marxism?” event at Carleton University was disrupted by a group of about five individuals. A few seconds into the presentation, one of the individuals interrupted the speaker and launched into a tirade against us, alleging a systemic campaign to cover up sexual assault in our organisation. During the exchange, the five individuals presented false and conflicting information, suggesting we do not have a code of conduct (we do), and stating that we have pushed out or expelled numerous members for raising concerns about sexual assault in the organisation (this has not happened once).

Our activists were patient throughout the one-hour exchange, listening to the five individuals, and politely inquiring about steps they’d like us to take. This was echoed by many attendees at the event who sought a resolution to the conflict. Unfortunately, nothing satisfied the five individuals. It soon became clear that their only goal was to disrupt the event and stop it from taking place. When one of our activists tried to calmly respond, he was repeatedly shouted down. It was argued that because he was a “white man,” that everything he had to say was therefore untrue. Some of our female comrades then tried to respond but they were also shouted down with claims that they were “brainwashed.”

When people in the room asked them what they thought Fightback should do, they responded that we should “Get the fuck out of Carleton.” They also demanded that we “stop any sort of recruiting.” Because of this, it became clear to attendees that these people were not actually serious about tackling any alleged cases of abuse, but were simply launching a political attack against our organisation.

With regards to the allegations of covering up sexual assault, most of this centred around a situation that took place during the 2018 York University TA strike where unspecified allegations were made against an unknown member of Fightback. When the allegations were first raised, we repeatedly stated that our organisation takes these matters very seriously. We asked for information about who the alleged abuser was and said that we were prepared to submit ourselves to an independent investigation to look into the matter. Unfortunately, after making such a serious accusation, no names were put forward, and no actual facts were reported. It was all left in the air as a vague allegation. It soon became clear that the aim was not to protect anyone from alleged “abusers”, but simply to dirty the name of Fightback. Because of this, an investigation was denied to us and still to this day no alleged abuser has been named nor do we know what is being alleged. We have repeatedly pointed out that if there is an abuser, surely keeping their identity secret does not protect anyone.

We have since conducted an internal review and were unable to find any indication of what these allegations could be about. We continue to welcome any new information. However, those making these claims have yet to state a single fact, a date, a location, an event, a name of an individual etc.

At the event last Thursday, we asked the five individuals if they’d support an independent investigation. They categorically refused this. When we asked if they could provide us with the name of the alleged abuser or with any other information related to the alleged event such as a date and/or location, etc, they also refused. At numerous points, attendees also asked for the name of the alleged abuser, which the five individuals repeatedly refused to provide.

Most of the attendees, nearly all of whom had never attended a Fightback event before, were discomforted by the aggressive and unhelpful way in which the allegations were being raised, as well as the refusal to give us a reply. One attendee stood up and told the disrupters, “I believe that it would be in your best interest to allow [Fightback] to respond fully... I would like to hear a response so that I can make a calculated opinion.” This did not happen, prompting the attendee to leave in frustration.

This constant refusal to deal seriously with the issue alienated the room, which became visibly hostile to the five individuals. This led to the individuals becoming more aggressive, shouting down random attendees for asking simple questions. At one point, a young man was shouted over, which prompted a young woman to come to his defence. The young woman was then berated by one of the five individuals, saying “Women attacking each other? What the fuck?,” while another said that “men can shut the fuck up.”

One of the five individuals ripped notes from the speaker’s hand and refused to give them back. Our banner was ripped from the wall, and an attempt was made to destroy it. Having failed to do so, the individual attempted to flee the room with our banner. Our activists blocked the doorway for a few seconds to try and stop them from stealing the banner. At this point, the individual physically accosted one of our activists, and so we allowed them to leave. The individual then ran away, tossing our banner in a nearby garbage can. At some point, our books and other materials were knocked off the literature stall and stomped on.

What became clear throughout this altercation is that this wasn’t actually about abuse and the way that our organisation deals with matters of this nature. This was a political attack with the goal of silencing revolutionary Marxists and preventing us from holding events. This was evident not only to us, but a number of attendees we spoke to after the whole episode was over. The five individuals repeatedly said that they didn’t want us to hold events or recruit people into our organisation. They also made a series of snide remarks about how we sell our paper and laughed about our analysis of the NDP.

This type of behavior has no place in the movement. Fightback is the largest Marxist organisation in the country and we have grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. There is a plethora of different groups on the left and in the labour movement and Fightback has always held the opinion that we should work together on common causes. While we won’t always agree on everything, political differences should be discussed in a calm and comradely manner. Silencing and shutting down political opponents on the left only serves to divide and weaken the movement, thus aiding the class enemy.

Solutions and dissolutions

To repeat, Fightback takes all allegations of abuse very seriously. If there is in fact an abuser in our ranks, we must be provided with their name and information on any alleged sexual assault such as dates and locations so that the matter can be dealt with properly and as swiftly as possible. Sexual abuse has no place in the left, and no individual is above punishment if found guilty. We encourage positive steps between organisations and individuals to help identify abusers, and to ensure that justice is swiftly dealt. However, the actions of the individuals who violently disrupted our event suggests this is not their aim at all.

Many in our organisation are young women, and they would not want to belong to an organisation that they feel fosters a culture of abuse. We’d like to point out that there has been no mass exodus from Fightback since these allegations first surfaced in 2018, and no member has left since then citing a culture of abuse. On the contrary: our organisation has grown quite rapidly in the last period, and continues to draw in increasing numbers of young women. This amply demonstrates that there is a healthy and welcoming environment in Fightback.

Raising and seeking to address instances of sexual abuse obviously does not constitute sectarianism. Anyone who suggests otherwise has no place in the socialist movement. However, refusing to help oust potential abusers, berating those who ask questions, combining serious allegations with snide political humour and outright slander, and prioritising the liquidation of your political enemies over finding concrete steps to keep people safe is not only sectarian, but a guaranteed way of putting people in danger, while also doing nothing to help survivors of sexual assault.

We leave it to our readers to decide which camp these individuals belong to.

Fascist intimidation in Toronto

Around the time of the Carleton incident, a call went out to violently disrupt our 29 March pub night in Toronto. The call was broadcast on social media by Rick Boswick, a far-right supporter of Yellow Vests Canada. According to information we have, Boswick was once a campaign volunteer for Kevin Johnston, a far-right Mississauga mayoral candidate who was charged in 2017 with promoting hatred against Muslims. Boswick has also allegedly threatened violence against left-wing activists in his videos, and has spoken openly of his ties with Faith Goldy, a white nationalist.

Fortunately, and unlike at Carleton, the disruption was not carried through. However, a video was later posted by Boswick explaining what his plan was, while also providing a wink and nod for his supporters to attend. In the video, Boswick can be seen wearing a t-shirt with an assault rifle on it, as well as a “Make America Great Again” hat. Boswick starts by announcing the plan was called off, before loudly reading out the name of the bar and its address, clearly encouraging his supporters to disrupt the event regardless. He also provides the phone number of the bar, encouraging his supporters to “complain to them and tell them how pissed off we are that they’re hosting an open Marxist benefit/gathering to work at destroying our country.” According to Boswick, his original plan was to disrupt the event with smoke grenades, “street preachers,” and a large anti-communist sign, but ditched it after “talking with Faith.”

We suspect that Boswick intends to disrupt Fightback events in the future, and that he is working in close collaboration with Goldy. The reason for this is simple. In 2017, Fightback helped organise a protest against Goldy at Ryerson University, a decision for which one of our activists was later doxxed by Jordan Peterson, a notorious right-wing professor. A few weeks ago, Fightback helped eject Goldy from an anti-racist rally in the wake of the New Zealand massacre, an action that was caught on camera by Goldy and then broadcast online. Goldy now sees Fightback as one of her main targets, and Boswick’s goons are eager to do what they can to please their darling queen.

Unite against the far right

In November 2018, we wrote the following:

"Sectarianism is a luxury that the Toronto left can no longer afford. The Doug Ford government is on the warpath and everything is on the chopping block. The leaders of the unions are passive, so there has been no mass response to the attacks. The far right has been emboldened by Ford and Trump, while labour gives support to liberals such as Jennifer Keesmaat. While the left in Vancouver was able to unite behind an impressive campaign by the Coalition of Progressive Electors, in Toronto a divided left allowed the racist Faith Goldy to come in third with more than 25,000 votes. As the saying goes, you can hang together or be hanged separately."

Less than five months later, our fears have unfortunately come true. The fascists have only become more emboldened, as have their friends in political office. The open targeting of Fightback and other left groups is further evidence of this. More than ever, left-wing groups must stand united to defeat the attacks of the far right. For our part, we support Lenin’s idea of the united front, which he described as “march separately, strike together.” In other words, each group should be allowed their own banner and political identity, as well as full freedom of criticism, while also working in tandem when fighting a common enemy. If it worked for Lenin, it can work for us.

However, as seen at Carleton, certain individuals have chosen to target and even de-platform Fightback instead of building such a united front. We must be blunt: in doing so, they are doing the work of the fascists for them. If their aim is to root out abusers, this is not an effective way to do so, as we have already explained.

If, however, their aim is to see Fightback liquidated, we offer them an honest warning. Fightback is the largest Marxist organisation in Canada—and growing. To those who charge us with “wanting to recruit,” we plead guilty. We do not hide the fact that we are building a revolutionary, cadre organisation in the best traditions of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. The more we build up our forces, the more we are able to contribute in the struggle against exploitation, oppression and the far right. In fact, this is the whole point of having a revolutionary organisation.

As Engels liked to say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Fightback has helped organise numerous protests in the past, including a rally of over 1,000 people against Donald Trump, rallies against Ford’s “free speech on campus” policy, which resulted in a partial victory at Ryerson University, the aforementioned rally against Faith Goldy for which our activist was doxxed, and most recently, student walkouts at Ryerson and OCAD University which were two of the largest in the province. In addition to this, we have run hundreds if not thousands of reading groups, which have introduced hundreds of working-class youth to the ideas of Marxism, and brought many of them into the movement.

We mention this not to be boastful, but only to highlight that the dissolution of Fightback would weaken the left, and would therefore benefit the right. If groups or individuals are willing to insist on our dissolution and willing to physically intimidate us into silence, whether based on unfounded claims of fostering abuse, or because we carry a newspaper, we can only wonder what their true priorities are.

We repeat: sectarianism is a luxury the left cannot afford. The clear and present danger is obvious. Dividing the left and attacking each other are only to the advantage of our opponents. The key task now is to come together in common struggle against our common enemy.

Future generations will thank us for it.