Direct Action (the “Squamish Five”)

 
     
 
  Julie Vinet
2005
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Introduction

Most people do not really consider Canada as a breeding ground for domestic terrorism. Sure there is numerous reports, both prior to and since the events of September 11, 2001, about terrorist cells fund-raising and even operating in the country, but these consider foreign groups who brought their activities to Canadian soil.

The explosions that shattered the nights on May 31st and October 14th were completely different. These were terrorist acts deliberately carried out on Canadian institutions by Canadians.

From the rebellion of 1837-38, to the Front de Libération du Québec of the 1960s and early 1970s, and to armed stand-offs during land-claim disputes in the 1990s, armed struggle has been a significant part of the Canadian political landscape.

In 2001, Ann Hansen's Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla was published. Interesting to note, the first copies of Direct Action landed on the Toronto publisher's desk the morning of September 11. Not surprisingly, the book's release was delayed for a month. Even though after receiving the manuscript, three of the other four former members gave their approval, hysteria over terrorism and the current fear surrounding dissent have kept publicity and speaking engagements low profile.

In the early 1980s, Ann Hansen was part of a west coast urban guerrilla group that would go on to engage in the most notorious anti-authoritarian armed resistance in Canadian history. Calling itself Direct Action, the five-member cell began a lifestyle that included shoplifting, protests and car theft before moving on to what unfolded in the bombings of both a B.C. Hydro substation on Vancouver Island and a cruise missile guidance system manufacturing plant in Toronto. The deeds of Hansen, Brent Taylor, Doug Stewart, Gerry Hannah and Julie Belmas, later called "The Squamish Five" by the media (after the nearby town where they were eventually arrested), reached national significance by the time of their capture and subsequent trial, but within a few short years had receded into relative obscurity. All received lengthy prison sentences. Hansen, the eldest, got life and did seven years of hard time before being paroled.

 
     
  DIRECT ACTION TIMELINE  
 
ACTIONS JUSTIFICATIONS

Before Direct Action

Ann's past. Particularly fascinated by the hippies, Ann says she developed a political consciousness in high school. Supportive of the FLQ's views and their guerrilla actions. By the age of 25, she had become consumed by politics. She studied Marxism, but became disillusioned by the tendency of her group to apply it to everything in life, like a religion (p.22). She then became interested in the urban guerrilla groups emerging in Europe during the 1970s. She spent 6 months in Europe to study the movement, during which she met with the Red Army Faction in Paris (a Marxist urban guerrilla in conjunction with Third World Liberation movements, against U.S. imperialism). She developed a passion for revolutionary activity. Then, she returned to Canada to initiate some militant political activity in the Canadian left.

Hansen describes her days with the RAF as being the most exciting days of her life (p.28). In this sense, she also describes people that she meets as making the most boring task fun (p.33).

Summer of 1980

Brent and Ann. Participation in an anti-nuclear protest at Seabrooke against the construction of the nuclear power station. Part of a prisoners' support newsletter, the Bulldozer, they spray-painted anti-prison messages.

Brent and Ann had mostly spent their youth working with the left, organizing demonstrations, putting out information, going to rallies and meetings, and doing everything else involved in lives of radical activism.

Ann was then working with a leftist paper (the Toronto Clarion) and helping put together the Bulldozer. I would describe her as being part of the prison-abolition movement at that point.

The "Perfect blank walls" used as canvas for their graffiti were those that would get the most commuter and pedestrian exposure. Described as slogans on walls to "inform people" of Prison Justice day on August 10 th .

Hansen says she had been "converted" by Brent at that moment (p.14).

Popular support is necessary to give an understanding of tactics.

 

Autumn of 1980

Going underground. Her first illegal activity took place as she moved in with Brent and Doug already members of an activist group living in an abandoned house in a suburban area of Vancouver . She took part of their normal activities, which included never buying food: they rented a car (so they could use false ID, and say someone else with a license was driving it) from a cheap place that would not ask for a deposit and then shoplifted food form local grocery stores. They also went "garbaging" daily (picking up vegetables and fruit from the garbage bins of a market.

She also offered her support for the women against prison group (that informed people on prison's conditions, and supported women in prisons), which partly involved "postering" for them (ex. Advertising for benefits which involved intruding in an office on a Sunday night to use the Xerox machine and photocopier without permission). Once a month, they would choose an expensive restaurant and leave without paying. They would call it a "eat and run". In case something would go wrong, they would park several blocks from the location of the restaurant, and their license plate wouldn't be visible.

One night, when she was alone with Brent and Doug, they started talking about Amax, a molybdenum mine north of Prince Rupert . It was then that they, first time as being a restricted group, decided on getting fake IDs (drivers license, social insurance numbers) by going to a university (UBC) and getting students to fill a fake opinion poll that included personal info to gather information that they could mail away for IDs (social security numbers and birth certificates).

Brent, Doug and Ann spent the next few months strategizing over their "future militant action group" (as she names it, p.49).

Ann also found herself (with 2 other women) stealing photos from the Elizabeth Fry society for a slideshow aimed at exposing the lives of women in prisons for the Women Against Prisons' benefit. (note: since she had managed to obtain a key, and although they were forced to removed windows and climb through the opening, she saw this as borrowing- as opposed to breaking in to the building).

It was the only way for them that poor people could ever eat in a fancy restaurant (p. 36).

Hansen described Brent and his friends as being modern-day Robin Hoods, and the first group she had meet who lived in a complete rebel lifestyle (p.36). She had felt as though she had joined an urban group of urban hunters/gatherers.

- "We had become quite creative at accomplishing projects without money or ressources"

As she talked more and more with Brent, and Doug, she felt a clear and unspoken understanding between Brent Doug and her that they were an inner circle of future militants and that they would only include others who showed a great commitment not just to the theory of militancy but also to a desire to be militant.

 

Hansen:

"I loved the excitement of our lives during those months. I would wake up in the morning, never knowing exactly what new adventure the day would bring. Routine and predictability were foreign to us. . we didn't share the basic values and principles upon which the majority of people based their lives. We were opposed to the consumerism and materialism underlying this society. We didn't aspire to buy homes, wear nice clothes, and work for companies that we generally viewed as destructive and that left very few enterprises where any of us could have worked and been satisfied. We even saw careers in the so-called helping professions such as social work as band-aid solutions to problems rooted in greed and materialism. How could we help poor people survive when we saw the real solution to poverty as a total revolution of the economic system and the values upon which it was based?

We ardently believed that we were helping people and the environment by spending our days trying to change it radically. We accepted welfare as the least we were owed for our efforts and suffered no pangs of conscience in supplementing our meager incomes by looting and pillaging Vancouver 's various capitalist enterprises".

Hansen did not celebrate Christmas and birthdays as she saw them as capitalist trappings (p.53).

April 1981

First Amax action. Ann Hansen, Brent Taylor and friends vandalize the offices of Amax, a mining company. Dead fishes were put into jars filled with red paints which were thrown inside the offices of AMAX. They wanted to keep the action small and simple so that people could get involved without having to fear serious prison time as a consequence. They had nothing of an ideology if the will to publicize the plight of the Nishga Indians living in Alice Arm for whom the project would have devastating impact. Despite the statement (communiqué) the group made after the action, it did not garner any publicity. AMAX refused to confirm that anything happened to prevent bad publicity.

Second Amax action. After a week of casing, the group vandalized the offices, spraying slogans such as "Amax Kills", "Fight for Survival", and "Resist Corporate Greed" in huge bold strokes all over the office walls. They then proceeded to call the local daily newspaper to let them know that they had stashed a communiqué: " Amax was attacked by persons outraged over the company's molybdenum mine in northwestern B.C., where at least 90 million tones of toxic mine tailings will be dumped into Alice Arm." The next morning, a short article and a photograph of the painted slogans appeared in the newspaper, claiming that yahoos had been responsible for the attack.

Car theft. Before their third action, the group had failed an attempt at car theft.

May 10th, 1981
Ann Hansen, Brent Taylor, Julie Belmas and others travel to Victoria to vandalize the offices of the BC Environment Dept. In the next few days, the communiqués had reached their destinations and mentioned in articles of "The Province" , and "The Sun" , Vancouver 's daily papers.

June, july 1981

The group had planned carrying robbery during the summer, and gun was part of the plan. Acquiring a FAC (firearms acquisition certificate) was by no mean difficult. It involved going to the local police station and filling out a form so they could check to see if I had a criminal record or history of mental illness. Since Ann had none, she was given a FAC, which she could take to any gun store and use to purchase a weapon other than a handgun. In Canada purchasing a handgun requires a restricted weapons permit, which involves more stringent criteria than a rifle.

A car theft was also carried out, and the group had a getaway car (white pinto) to use for their next action.

A Cineplex robbery was carefully planned by the group for some time. Although it was carried out twice, the robbery didn't occur since it was aborted in the act.

September 1981

The group managed to rob a large grocery store which let them with plenty of money to stay far from braking small rules and focus on braking more important ones.

Dynamite robbery. Dynamite magazines had been spotted on their target practice runs and the group successfully managed to rob them for future use although no precise plan had been devised.

November 1981

The group decide to take action against Litton plant in Toronto after reading an article in the newspaper on a group called the Cruise Missile Conversion Project, which had organized a blockade of the driveway into the Litton plant. Their idea was that ideal actions would be around issues that had attracted popular support but had exhausted all legal avenues of opposition. They figured in those cases critical members of the public would understand and perhaps even support militant direct action, since they could clearly see that the political process had failed them.

Hansen writes that on November 12, 1981, an article appeared in the newspaper "about a group called the Cruise Missile Conversion Project [CMCP], which had organized a blockade of the driveway into the Litton plant. That was where the subsidiary of the giant U.S. multinational company Litton Systems produced the guidance system for the cruise missile, a twenty-foot pilotless aircraft, which could be outfitted with a nuclear warhead" (p.138). Based on this newspaper article, they start to discuss the anti-nuclear movement, and decide to carry out an action against the Litton plant. "Ideal actions," Hansen writes, "would be around issues that had attracted popular support but had exhausted all legal avenues of opposition. We figured in those cases critical members of the public would be able to understand and perhaps even support militant direct action, since they could clearly see that the political process had failed them. Perhaps over time, we might inspire other people to take direct action, thereby beginning the slow process of developing a militant movement" (p.138-139).

December 7th , 1981: Richmond , BC

Members of Direct Action stalked a Richmond gun collector for five weeks before breaking into his home and stealing 13 semi-automatic rifles and hand-guns. A male group member was convicted of this offence and sentenced to 2 years in prison.

January and February 1982 : Car licenses and false identities

Fake car licenses were picked up from Ontario as preventive measures for their big actions.
Group begins to accumulate roster of false identities from info found in a dumpster of the Canadian Embassy.

Buying ammo. Two thousand rounds of ammo were purchased for future use while Direct Action kept target practicing in the mountains.

Mai 31st 1982, BC

Cheekeye-Dunsmuir bombing. A recently constructed BC Hydro substation was bombed. (The government passed the B.C. Utilities Commission Act on the last day of the 1981 summer session, which basically gives the B.C. cabinet the power to approve any Hydro project without public hearings (p. 59). Opposed to the project were fears that the dams would flood some of the province's best farmland, destroy the Native fishing industries in the areas, potential water contamination, and electro-magnetic radiation)

Dynamite explodes, destroying four transformers on Vancouver Island , part of a BC Hydro transmission line project. Approximately $5 million damage was done.

On 2 June 14 organisations and media outlets received communiqués from Direct Action claiming responsibility and stating that it bombed the facility to protest industrial expansion which has «  raped and mutilated the earth for 200 years  ».

2 Direct Action members were convicted of this offence, and each sentenced to 6 years.

June 31st 1982

A 1977 Chevrolet truck was stolen from the street in front of the owner's Vancouver residence.

July 11th, 1982: Jasper, Alta

The workshop of Mamot Basin Ski Lifts was broken and entered by members of Direct Action. Tools, radio equipment, and mountaineering equipment worth about 17 000$ was stolen (a member of Direct Action had been employed by the company in the summer of 1981).

 

July 27th, 1982: Squamish , BC

Direct Action members stole 38 1/2 cases of explosives from a magazine of the BC Department of Highways.

The stolen explosives were used in the 14 October 1982 bombing of Litton Industries' Toronto plant.

 

August 1982

The group spent much time casing the Litton plant, perfecting their bombing techniques and devising the timing device.

 

September 30th, 1982: Toronto

Members of Direct Action stole a GMC van in Toronto . The van was packed with explosives and used in the 14 October Litton bombing.

 

October 3rd -4th 1982: Toronto

An Oldsmobile car was stolen.

A vehicle matching the description of the Oldsmobile was used in Direct Action's bombing of the Litton plant on 14 October. Another vehicle was stolen the following night, but was gainstd.

October 14th, 1982

Litton bombing. Members of Direct Action bombed Litton Industries' Toronto plant. The plant manufactured parts for the guidance system of US cruise missiles. A van packed with hundreds of kilos of dynamite explodes, injuring ten people and ripping out the front of the Litton Industries building. The blast is so powerful it sends pieces of the van hurtling onto the nearby highway. "Direct Action" claims responsibility.

Although the bombers tried to warn the plant security officers, the explosion injured 10 persons, it also caused damage estimated at $3,87 million.

After the incident, Direct Action sent communiqués to various organizations and media outlets, explaining the motives behind the bombing and apologizing for the injuries caused.

3 members of the group were convicted of this offence, and received sentences of 12, 10 and 9 years.

Brink's. At their return from Toronto , the group began casing for a Brink's robbery.

October 29th

Police surveillance was initiated. It first targeted Brent which became a potential suspect for his previous criminal history. Taylor had appeared at political rallies, was a known graffiti artist, and had once thrown a pie in the face of Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark.

November 3rd

Surveillance patrol identified Ann, Gerry, Brent, Doug and Julie as the main suspects.

November 4th -7th

Casing Red Hot Videos for action. Support work for Wimmin's Fire Brigade.

November 11th

Many arrests were undertaken in Toronto regarding the Litton bombing. Much of these arrests were false accusations and led to unnecessary detention time for many peaceful activists.

November 18th

Investigation file for Direct Action was transferred from security services to CLEU (British Columbia 's Coordinated Law Enforcement Unit).

November 22nd, 1982

Smoke and flames were seen coming from the Red Hot video premises. Ann Hansen, Julie Belmas and other friends firebomb three Red Hot Video stores. Two stores burn, arson attempt on the third building fails (at about the same time as 2 other attacks on Red Hot Video outlets in the Greater Vancouver area, a Red Hot Video store in Coquitlam was the scene of an abortive fire-bomb attack). A fire bomb attack destroyed a Red Hot Video outlet and damaged a neighbouring shoe store and 2 vacant stores nearby. Responsibility for this attack was claimed by a group calling themselves the "Wimmins Fire Brigade." 2 members of the leftist group Direct Action helped to organize, and participated in, the attack.

2 communiqués were delivered to news agency claiming responsibility for this and 2 concurrent attacks, depicting them as steps "toward the destruction of a business that promotes and profits from violence gainst women and children."

Ann was seriously injured during the action. She suffered major burnt to most of her face while placing one of the bomb. She later pleaded guilty to arson in connection with this incident and was sentenced to 3 years (concurrent with other terms).

Julie Belmas, member of Direct Action, pleaded guilty to attempted arson and received a sentence of 2 years (concurrent with other terms).

December 21st -22nd

Police installed roombugs in the suspects' apartment while they were gone target practicing. The recordings served as the major evidence during the trial.

January 11th, 1983

Direct Action decided to hold up a Brink's guard at Woolco in the Lougheed Mall in order to finance the group's terrorist campaign. Detailed plans were made, and on 11-12 january, 4 members of Direct Action stole 2 vehicles for use as getaway vehicles in their planned hold-up of a Brink's truck. Radios, a police frequency scanner, and sophisticated car theft tools were used in the commission of the act. One of the stolen vehicle broke down, and a third car theft was successfully undertaken that night by the same four individuals using the same methods and equipment.

The group was arrested before it put its plans into operation. 4 members were convicted of this offence, and were sentenced to 12 years, life, 10 years, and 12 years imprisonment respectively.

January 20th, 1983

All five were arrested on highway to Squamish BC. They were on their way to shooting practice with a truck loaded with weapons of all descriptions and enough ammunition for a week long standoff.

(the group normally did not travel about the city with weapons, and the guns and ammo were always locked in the basement).

As a consequence, the planned casing of the lougheed mall for the Brink's robbery(5 days latter) would not take place.

January 21st, 1983

Ann Hansen, Brent Taylor, Julie Belmas, Gerry Hannah and Doug Stewart face charges related to:

  • conspiracy to commit robbery of Brink's guard
  • conspiracy to use explosives to damage the Cheekeye-Dunsmuir power line and icebreaker Terry Fox
  • conspiracy to sabotage aircraft, radar equipment and fuel tanks at CFB Cold Lake Alberta
  • setting off explosion of BC Hyrdro substation
  • possession of dynamite, blasting caps, switching devices, gelatin, diagrams and timing devices with the intent to cause serious damage to the power line substation at Qualicum Bay.
  • willfully setting fire to Red Hot Video outlets in North Vancouver and Surrey and attempting to set fire to the Red Hot Video outlet in Port Coquitlam
  • possessing a prohibited weapon
  • possession of restricted weapons
  • theft of a pickup truck
  • possession of a large quantity of stolen property


Hansen felt a strange feeling of relief as she was arrested. Although, she thought only her actions in their "criminal context" would be remembered.

She believed her actions so important that the survival of the planet depended on them. (p.8)

She felt a strong moral and political responsibility implicit to the militant political movement she believed Direct Action would be.

Looking back, Hansen notes that the group never took a break. They were "on a mission :

If we did go for a walk, it was to discuss the merits of bombing CF-18s at the infrastructure of the Northeast Coal Project. When we went swimming it was for exercise, not leisure" (they swimmed several nights a week at a local indoor pool) . "If we stayed home to read a book, it would be a provincial government report on megaprojects in Northern British Colombia . If we slept in, it would be because we had been up until three o'clock the night before practicing stealing cars for a future robbery. Urban guerrillas do not take vacations". (p.8)

Although, Hansen says they didn't look like stereotypical terrorists she highlights that the wiretaps had shown the police what they were capable of (p.11).

"The women in the back looked like just about anyone's sisters or daughters. From what he knew about the case, they were from good families, not victims of abuse or poverty, and there was no known explanation or turning point that one could look at and say "Aha! So that's why she decided to go beyond the law!"

Hansen resented a deep intolerance for anyone whose views were not similar to hers (p.53).

April 12th, 1983

Charges filed in Toronto in connection to the Litton bombing.
All five charged with conspiracy to bomb, and possession of an explosive for the purpose of causing serious damage to property.
Ann Hansen, Julie Belmas and Brent Taylor also charged with:

  • causing an explosion likely to cause serious bodily harm
  • causing an explosion likely to cause serious property damage.

Spring 1984

Sentencing:

  • Ann Hansen (29y old) : sentenced to life in prison. Reacting to the sentence, Hansen throws a tomato at the judge.
  • Brent Taylor : sentenced to 22 years.
  • Julie Belmas (20y old) : sentenced to 20 years. Reduced to 15 on appeal.
  • Gerry Hannah sentenced to 10 years.
  • Doug Stewart : sentenced to 6 years.

By the early nineties, all five were out of prison. Hansen remains on parole for life.

 
 
     
 

On Action and Theory (or justification)

"When Direct Action began its militant campaign, we had no illusions about being able to change society on our own. We knew that no single demonstration or bombing would bring any substantial change. But we did hope to inject a more militant political philosophy and action into the movement for social change. We hoped to show people that we should not allow the legal boundaries defined by those in power determine how and when we would protest.

Unfortunately, people within the movement weaken their own actions by failing to understand and support the diverse tactics available. Instead of forming a unified front, some activists see the sabotage of destructive property by those resisting as being on the same level as the violence of the state and corporations. This equation is no less accurate than saying that the peace of a concentration camp is the same kind of peace that one finds in a healthy society.

If we accept that all violence is the same, then we have agreed to limit our resistance to whatever the state and corporations find acceptable. We have become pacified. Remaining passive in the face of today's global human and environmental destruction will create deeper scars than those resulting from the mistakes we will inevitably make by taking action".

However, in criminological theory, the reverse is also true: political practice, or more specifically, anarchist political action, is something that informs political theory. Practice can also precede theory, this can be seen as the group's theory evolve over time as a direct consequence of the action in which they find themselves.

In Direct Action , Ann explains how she first got funding to study the guerrilla group, the Red Army Faction (or RAF), through applying for a university grant, as she "became interested in the urban guerrilla groups emerging in Europe during the 1970s" (p. 22). Her critique of global capitalism comes from this university-funded engagement in Paris with RAF supporters. " At the apartment in Paris I realized that I was in a unique situation to learn first-hand about the politics and workings of an urban guerrilla group, and I worked passionately putting out leaflets, aiding RAF fugitives, and doing anything else I could" (p. 25).

Hansen learns through action in working with the RAF, and this action does not just inform her political beliefs, it becomes her political theory, the kind of theory that later appears in, for example, the three action communiqués in the appendices of her book. Her political theory also appears combined with the dialogue and action of her life as it is narrated in the book, and in particular, when there is a bigger action being planned, she provides an in-depth theoretical framework as background in order to clarify their motivations.

These communiqués, and the combination of theory and practice in the narrative, call attention to the bidirectional link between what informs the actions, what further feeds them as well as direct evidence as how practice inspires theory- a dynamic which is relevant for the changing nature of the groups actions.

"Ann says that "without an articulate political theory, our actions would be meaningless. Unless people understood why we were acting, they might mistake us for right-wing vigilantes, or mercenaries, or maybe even just kids carrying out dangerous pranks" (p. 154).

Informing her political theory, are many of the texts from the "real" world that Hansen and her friends read for information. These include activist pamphlets, government documents, paramilitary magazines, technological manuals, environmental and corporate position papers, and military documents. They often read these texts out loud to each other, in the kitchen (p. 58) or driving across the country. The political content of the sources they read, however, is of less interest to the group than the information to be gleaned. They do not adopt the politics of magazines that are right-wing or government issue, for example.

Political theory, social theory, literary theory, environmental issues, feminism, indigenous sovereignty struggles - all of these appear in Direct Action. In fact, it is exactly Hansen's recognition of the interdependence of these issues that drives the narrative, and informs her political theory and actions in the book. This confirms much of the current thinking in criminology whereas ideologies might not be clear-bounded but interactive and overlapping processes that evolve over time and impact on the strategy of future actions. This is a major reason that leaves theoretical construct so difficult to emerge out of terrorist activities since they are fuelled by competing motives, and built out of interactions between different (-natured) groups. It is not to say that this has significant impact on the strategies develop to counter criminological behaviours of groups.

 
     
   
 
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