• Top 10 Activist Stories for 2013

    Here is my (Jessica Bell’s) take on the top 10 activist stories of 2013, in no particular order. Let these victories be an antidote to cynicism, hopelessness and apathy.  Activism works.  Activists win.   Looking forward to seeing what’s in store for 2014.  

    You’re invited to attend one of our Tools for Change workshops to help you learn activist skills from experts. We have workshops coming up in direct action, online petitioning, group decision-making, and more.   And enrol in our Certificate in Social Change program. 

    1. Greenpeace’s Campaign to Free the Arctic 30

    Earlier this year, Greenpeace activists attempted to board an oil platform to stop Russian oil company, Gazprom, from drilling in the Arctic.  That was awesome enough.  But what really kicked the Arctic campaign into high gear was Russia’s unwise decision to illegally detain and charge 30 activists who were on board Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship.   Greenpeace turned a scary situation into a campaign opportunity (they kind of had to) and organized around the clock and around the world to pressure Russia to release their activists.

    With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, set to begin in two months, this December Russia, in a bid to improve its human rights record, granted amnesty to 29 of the 30 Greenpeace activists. Russia also released two members of the feminist punk band, Pussy Riot.   Canadian activists, Alexandre Paul of Montreal and Paul Ruzycki of Port Colborne, Ont., were part of this amazing Greenpeace team.

    2. First Nations Say No to Fracking on their Territory

    No Fracking Protest in New Brunswick The Mi’kmaq and Elsipogtog First Nations have been campaigning for over two years to stop gas fracking by Texas-based SWN Resources on their traditional territory in New Brunswick.  On October 17 the RCMP violently removed activists who were blockading to stop SWN Resources from exploring.   Rubber bullets were fired, guns were drawn, elders were hurt, and 40 people were arrested. Violence can often lead to a strong response, and five police cars also caught flame.  It took violence and drama for the national media to finally pay attention to this ongoing campaign, and the critical issues of First Nations land rights and the environmental harms caused by fracking for gas.

    “We don’t want shale gas here,” said Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief.  ”We have been asking for consultations for three years now and nothing has happened. Instead they just put our people in jail.”  The courts have ruled that governments must accommodate and consult First Nations on matters that affect their treaty rights. 

    The Newfoundland and Labrador Government placed a moratorium on fracking this November, however, the New Brunswick Government is still supportive of this fracking project.  SWN Resources has finished its exploration work for the season and it remains to be seen if they will return.   Listen to CBC’s report on the protest.

    3. McDonald’s Employee Budget Put to Shame

    McDonalds was lambasted by the media for setting up a finance calculator and website to help their employees get by on the poverty-level wages that McDonalds paid them.  Some of the website’s tips included: get a second job, eat food in small bites so you can feel full on less food, and sell Xmas gifts on EBay.  (Now you know senior management at McDonalds isn’t doing this!)  Low Pay is Not Okay took great advantage of this wonderful opportunity to expose how multibillion dollar corporations were underpaying workers.  (Okay, this isn’t a Canadian example, but I worked at McDonalds as a teenager so this one feels personal.)

    4. Supreme Court Strikes Down Dangerous Anti-Prostitution Laws

    On December 20, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three of Canada’s prostitution-related laws on the grounds that it threatened sex workers’ constitutional right to safety and security.  The laws that were struck down included the ban on keeping a brothel, making a living from prostitution, and street soliciting. Although prostitution in Canada is legal, it is illegal to do things to make the practice safer, like being indoors,  hiring bodyguards for help and screening clients. 

    To quote the New York Times, “Sex-trade workers in Canada stepped up their fight for safer working conditions following the serial killings of prostitutes by Robert Pickton in British Columbia. Pickton was convicted in 2007 of killing six women whose remains were found on his farm outside Vancouver. Years earlier, authorities had closed down a Vancouver house for sex workers that many had considered a safe haven just as the disappearance of several prostitutes began raising fears that a serial killer was prowling the streets.”

    Here’s hoping this tragedy doesn’t happen again. Read the full text of the ruling.

    5. Chief Spence’s Hunger Strike Helped Kick Idle No More Into High Gear

    Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence ended her six-week-long hunger strike on January 24, after members of the Assembly of First Nations and the Liberal and New Democrat caucuses agreed to back a list of commitments supporting aboriginal issues.   Read the commitments here.  Chief Spence had camped on an island in the Ottawa River not far from Parliament Hill, in an effort to convince the Conservative Harper Government to meaningfully consult and accommodate First Nations about legislation (Bill C45) that harmed the environment, their land and their rights.

    Her protest attracted worldwide attention.  She was one of many hardworking people who contributed to organizing nationwide protests under the Idle No More banner. The Idle No More movement calls for, among other things, increased environmental protections and more respect for First Nations treaty rights.  First Nations rights is Canada’s civil rights movement. I’m looking forward to hearing more about Idle No More in 2014.

    6. Edward Snowden Tells the World the U.S. Government is Spying on Them

    An interview with Edward Snowden. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things” Edward Snowden.

    Edward Snowden’s release of 200,000 documents exposed the intrusive nature of phone and internet surveillance gathered by the U.S. and its western allies.  Snowden’s expose also revealed that the Canadian Government spied on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Industry, and that the Canadian Government allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on world leaders at the controversial G8/G20 summit in Toronto in 2010.

    This action is amazing because it had impact; it exposed information about the National Security Agency that the world did not know.  Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

    Snowden’s life was transformed, and not for the better.  As the Guardian newspaper describes it in its article on Snowden (the paper declared Snowden person of the year)   “Forced to go on the run, he ended up in Moscow where he now lives in a curious Julian Assange-like limbo, unable to leave Russia for fear of arrest, extradition to the US and a prosecution that would threaten a long jail sentence.”  It is this personal sacrifice that also makes this action such a powerful one.

    7. Quebec Superior Court Rules Migrant Farm Workers Have Right to Unionize

    migrantworkers In May, the Superior Court of Quebec has upheld a lower court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional a section of the Quebec Labour Code that denied collective bargaining rights to workers on farms that have three or fewer employees working on a year-round basis.  The law, challenged by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada union, had kept thousands of seasonal workers on Quebec farms from being able to effectively unionize and bargain.   Agricultural workers in many provinces are granted fewer workplace protections than employees in other sectors.

    In Alberta, for instance, they aren’t even covered by the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

    Thanks to Sharmeen Khan, Martin Lukacs and Nora Loreto from the Canadian Association of Labour Media for letting me know of this win.

    8. Toronto Becomes Canada’s First Sanctuary City

    Sanctuary City Action

    Supporters fill City Council during the vote. The policy passed 41 to 3.

    In February, Toronto City Council become the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing Toronto’s estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants to access critical services, such as health care, schools, shelters, and more regardless of immigration status.  The vote put Toronto in the same league with 36 American cities, including Chicago, New York City and San Francisco that already have such policies.

    Thanks to No One Is Illegal, the Solidarity City Network and more for your awesome organizing.

    9. A Small Dose of Justice is Served Three Years After The G8/G20 Protests

    A video showing Adam Nobody being beaten up during the G8/G20 protests. In December, Toronto police officer, Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani, was found guilty of assault with a weapon for beating protester, Adam Nobody, during the G20 Summit in Toronto back in 2010.   Adam Nobody ended up with a shattered cheekbone, an eye swollen shut, and a broken nose.  He spent three days in hospital and underwent a several-hour-long surgery to repair his broken nose.  Three years later, and the still unremorseful police officer was sentenced to 45 days in jail and suspended from the police force without pay.

    During the G8/G20 Summit, more than a thousand people engaging in peaceful protest were threatened, rounded up, stripped of their belongings and detained in filthy conditions on a scale never before seen in Canada.  Many people were beaten by police.   The police have been subject to a lot of valid criticism in recent years.  They are continually called to task for targeting black people, and their internal investigations unit responsible for investigating the police is a ‘toothless tiger’.   

    This is one of those rare instances where the police were held accountable. Well done to Adam Nobody and his legal team for persevering with the case. And kudos to the Toronto Star for doggedly reporting on the issue of police accountability long after other media outlets moved on.   On a less positive note – although instances of police brutality were common during the G8/G20, just one other officer, Const. Glenn Weddell, was charged with assault, and he was acquitted in May.   

    10. Toronto Will Not Be Getting A Mega Casino After All No Casino Toronto

    Toronto will not be getting a mega casino in downtown Toronto, thanks to the groundswell of progressives in the City who stood up and said no.   Rob Ford was into the mega-casino, and Las-Vegas based MGM Resorts was among the companies actively lobbying for its approval.  But in the end, the people won out.   The grassroots campaign gathered over 22,000 petitions and placed over 3000 lawn signs across the city. The motion to approve the casino lost, with 40 councillors voting against, and only 4 voting for it.

    11. Honourable Mention: Duffy Does More to Hurt the Conservative Government Than Just About Anyone


    This isn’t an example of amazing activism but I’m including it because Mike Duffy has done more to embarrass the Harper Conservative Government and propel the movement to abolish  the Senate than just about anyone.  Duffy made Harper look like a bully and a liar by refuting Harper’s assertion that he knew nothing about his own chief of staff giving Duffy $90,000 to repay travel expenses that Duffy allegedly improperly claimed.  Duffy also accused Harper of threatening to kick him out of the Senate if he didn’t quit the Conservative Caucus.  Nothing has been proven in court, but it sure looks bad.  The RCMP continues to investigate.  Get more information on the expense scandal is here.

    That’s my highlights.  What are your top activist stories for 2013?

  • About us

    A project of OPIRG TorontoEarthroots, and Greenpeace Canada, Tools for Change helps you develop skills to advocate for social change.  The project began in 2010.

    We organize approximately 20 trainings in Toronto throughout the year. Our workshop topics are chosen through a survey process. Every year, we ask organizations across the Greater Toronto Area what workshops they think we should host.  Once we have our list of workshop topics we identify the best trainers we can find to teach you useful skills.  We prioritize recruiting trainers who are active in social change and from Toronto.

    Contact us if you’re interested in working with us to build the capacity of your constituency and volunteers.

    Contact us: tools.change at gmail.com.
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    Twitter:  Tools4ChangeTO
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    Thank you Luca DeFranco for producing this video, and thank you Jessica Ponting for being a great interview subject.

  • Funders




    Unifor’s Social Justice fund supports projects that support human rights and humanitarian goals.




    The Good Ideas Fund supports activities on the University of Toronto’s campus that contribute to student life.





    The Student Initiative Fund (SIF) offers financial support to projects that enhance the student experience and foster a sense of community at the University of Toronto.



    Alterna-Savings-Logo-Nov-2012Alterna Credit Union is a cooperative bank owned by its members. On an annual basis, one percent of Alterna Savings’ pre-tax profit is distributed to worthy community organizations through the Community Grants Program.  Tools for Change was a recipient in 2013.




    Based out of the Toronto Enterprise Fund, Enterprising Non-Profits Toronto (enp-TO) is a grant funding initiative to seed and support social enterprise in the Greater Toronto Area.



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    Freedonia provides funding and other support for the development of movements promoting radical democratic and systemic change.



  • Trainers


    We invite people who are experts in their field to train for us. We prioritize trainers in the Toronto area so they can provide additional mentoring and advice to participants.

    Here’s a list of our current and former trainers:

    • Jen Angel is co-founder of media strategy, publishing and tour management agency, Aid and Abet Booking, and former editor of Clamor Magazine.
    • Jessica Bell is a lecturer at Ryerson University and a steering committee member of the TTCriders.
    • Angela Bischoff is the Outreach Director for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.
    • Natalie Caine is an organizer for Greepeace Canada, and co-founder of Rhythms of Resistance.
    • Fariah Chowdhury is student, activist, writer, researcher and organizer with No One Is Illegal Toronto.
    • Jen Danch is an activist, amateur boxer and survivor of gender-based violence. She is currently the Coordinator of Shape Your Life – a free recreational boxing project for women and trans survivors of violence. She is a former advocacy coordinator at the Stop Community Food Centre.
    • Joel Duff is the communications director at the Ontario Federation of Labour
    • Annahid Dashtgard is the co-founder of Anima Leadership, a training and consulting company devoted to creating work environments and communities where everyone feels that they matter and belong.
    • Christy Ferguson heads the climate & energy campaigns team at Greenpeace Canada.
    • Tim Groves is an investigative reporter and an organizer with the Media Coop.
    • Leah Henderson is a long-time Toronto organizer.
    • Syed Hussan is a writer and organizer with migrant justice movements in Toronto. He was involved with media and communications for the anti-G20 mobilizations in 2010.
    • Faria Kamal is an organizer with No One Is Illegal Toronto.
    • Anil Kanji is the Supporter Communications Manager at Greenpeace Canada.
    • Erin Kelly is a skilled facilitator, as well as an active community member, citizen, volunteer and ally, who brings a profound commitment to anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices, along with reflective, analytical and collaborative skills, to her work.
    • Sharmeen Khan manages the books for CUPE 3903 and OPIRG York.  She also regularly programs with CHRY 105.5 FM – a community radio station in North York.
    • Nora Loreto is an activist, writer and musician based in Québec City. She is the former Communications and Government Relations coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.
    • Martin Lukacs is an independent journalist, community organizer, editor with the Media Co-op network and the Canadian Association of Labour Media.
    • Cathy Mann has helped organizations develop the infrastructure and culture of philanthropy required to build sustainable development programs.  She is an educator and academic coordinator at Ryerson University’s Fundraising Management Certificate program and fundraising consultant.
    • Clare O’Connor is a Toronto-based activist and writer. She is the former Editor in Chief for the Ryerson Free Press, and past volunteer and programming coordinator for OPIRG-Toronto.
    • Justin Podur is a reporter, writer and editor, as well as a professor at York University. His writing can be found at Rabble.ca, Znet, and on his blog, killingtrain.com.
    • Anu Radha Verma (arv) is a disaporic queer sometimes-femme who works in the non-profit industrial complex; she’s interested in creating space for dialogue on issues of social justice.
    • David Sone is a campaigner at Earthroots, and an ally of the Grassy Narrows First Nation and the KI First Nation.
    • Brook Thorndycraft teaches Group Facilitation at George Brown College, and facilitates many meetings and workshops in her own life and activism.
    • Sarah Vance is an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

    Contact us at tools.change at gmail.com if you want to partner with us to host a training for your group. 

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