Direct Action or as the media referred to them as, “The Squamish Five”, were a group of self-proclaimed ‘urban guerillas’ who were active in Canada during the early 1980’s and held no reservations about opposing the Progressive Conservatives and their neoliberal agenda. Made up of members Ann Hansen, Brent Taylor, Juliet Caroline Belmas, Doug Stewart and Gerry Hannah, The Squamish Five believed that the more traditional methods of political activism were non-effective and therefore resolved to go “underground to fight for [their] cause” (Sudlow 1995).
The following Globe and Mail excerpt depicts the general feelings of the time: “[they] criss cross the country plotting and waging a private war against big businesses, the government and all those who dare to sell legal video tapes containing sexual[ly] explicit images” (Mulgrew 1984). And although the preceding statements may come across as a dramatization of events, this was in fact what they were doing with some of their more infamous acts including: bombing a B.C. Hydro substation near Qualicum on Vancouver Island on May 31, 1982; bombing the Litton Systems of Canada Ltd. Plant in Toronto on October 14 which left ten people either maimed or injured; and bombing three Red Hot Video Stores in the Vancouver area on November 22. Total damages equaled ten million dollars, not adjusted for inflation (Mulgrew 1984). For their operations, each group member received jail time. Ann Hansen was sentenced to life in prison but got out after eight years served. Doug Stewart was sentenced to six years but served four. Gerry Hannah got 10 years but served five. Brent Taylor got 22 years but was out in eight. Juliet Caroline Belmas successfully appealed the length of her 20-year sentence and got out after six years (Ward 2002).
The actions of the group were prompted by their moral duty to act against nuclear war, environmental destruction and the exploitation of women. To that end, they destroyed the Litton Systems plant in Toronto because it built guidance systems for cruise missiles that could carry nuclear warheads; blew up a B.C. Hydro substation on Vancouver Island because it promoted development that would damage the environment; and firebombed three Vancouver area Red Hot Video outlets for offering sex films to customers, something which Hansen described as “poisoning minds” (Sudlow 1995). According to the group, they didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, and went to great lengths to ensure that no one would be harmed. i.e. notifying security personnel to evacuate buildings ahead of scheduled bombings (Ward 2002). However, does a show of remorse justify their inadvertent harm to civilians? No. But with that being said, I do not think enough consideration is given towards the thought process behind direct action initiatives and/or why persons feel that the more conventional methods of voicing dissent are consistently ignored. In my upcoming media and critical analyses, I hope to illustrate through the various exploits of the Squamish Five how the term “terrorist” is used to describe anyone who poses a potential threat to the existing social order, how it is utilized as an instrument of fear, and thereby perpetuates the criminalization of dissent.
Mulgrew, I. (1984, Jun 19). The defiant Squamish five: Down to earth with a thud. The Globe and Mail.
Sudlow, R. (1995, Jul 24). Urban guerrillas of the 1980s deny they were terrorists; B.C. mail bombs revive memories of Squamish five. The Ottawa Citizen.
Ward, D. (2002, Jan 19). Life after anarchy: She lives peacefully now, but former Squamish five member Ann Hansen hasn’t abandoned her political ideology. The Vancouver Sun.