Amnesty Canada’s new podcast tackles anti-Black racism, policing and surveillance

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      A new podcast series from Amnesty Canada is examining anti-Black racism and police surveillance within our own colonial borders. 

      Rights Back At You, produced by Amnesty Canada’s digital activism co-ordinator Daniella Barreto, challenges a lot of assumptions: that peaceful activists have nothing to fear from the police; that technology is universally a force for good; that racism does not exist in Canada. 

      “I was an organizer with Black Lives Matter in 2016 and 2017 in Vancouver,” Barreto told the Straight. “After I had left the city, and I was living in Montreal for a time, we found a news article, people sent it to us, that the RCMP had been monitoring the groups activities around a vigil. … It wasn’t surprising that a group of Black organizers were being monitored by the RCMP, but it is really kind of unsettling to realize it’s your own group.”

      The incident sparked Barreto’s interest in surveillance, which has carried through her work since. While like many activists she suffered burnout—“you’re confronted with this denial of your experience that can be quite hard to push back against constantly,” she noted—Rights Back At You provided an avenue for her to continue raising awareness of important topics.

      “The podcast is a way for me to really engage in these issues and bring them forward, maybe from a little bit more of the creative way,” she said.  

      She started working on the podcast nearly two years ago, determined to examine different aspects of policing and surveillance and help highlight how racial justice issues are part of the larger human rights struggle. 

      “Amnesty Canada hasn’t really engaged with this subject matter before, and I think that’s kind of telling about the way systemic racism operates, like who gets hired, what the organization prioritizes,” Barreto said. “The goal was to really bring different ways of thinking, and speak to different people that Amnesty Canada hasn’t really spoken to before about these topics, and bring Amnesty supporters … along into thinking about these things.” 

      Over the course of five episodes—released throughout Black History and Futures Month, and produced by an all-woman team—the podcast centres stories from people fighting against systemic oppression. It starts with a look at how facial recognition profiles protestors, and covers how surveillance interacts with all kinds of intersections, from immigration to neighbourhood doorbell technology to police stop-and-checks. 

      Episode 2 tackles how racism is interwoven with the ongoing criminalization of drugs, and profiles local Black harm-reduction worker Hugh Lampkin

      “Black people are so often written out of Vancouver, and activism in Vancouver,” Barreto said. “There are so many Black people doing community work in Vancouver and that’s often overlooked.”

      One important part of the episode is the MySafe drug vending machines, which scan clients’ palms to dispense hydromorphone to verified people. But the machine’s infra-red technology struggles with darker skin, in just one example of the way that technology is not built with Black people and people of colour in mind. And gathering people’s palm scans, even as a security measure, is still a form of surveillance that can have unintended issues for racialized, marginalized or vulnerable people.

      “This is an urgent and necessary intervention into the drug poisoning crisis in Vancouver, but often when we’re applying technological solutions to things that have very deep societal roots, sometimes there are lots of things that get overlooked,” she said.  

      While Vancouver does not have a large Black population (in part due to discriminatory policies such as the “urban renewal” of Hogan’s Alley in the 1960s that displaced hundreds of locals) anti-Black racism continues to exist in the city—as it does everywhere. “Just because there aren’t a lot of Black people here doesn’t mean that the impacts of anti-Black racism aren’t just as painful, and are just as important,” Barreto said.

      Massy Arts Gallery hosts a Rights Back At You listening party on February 16. Registration is free at