The women’s and gender studies teacher brings Take the rap campus writer
Greta Kooy // Editor-in-Chief
Photo courtesy of Ann Hansen
Ann Hansen is a former member of an underground anarchist group called Direct Action. Known in the media as the Squamish Five, the troupe was active in Canada in the 1980s.
Direct Action consisted of Hansen and four other members – Brent Taylor, Juliet Belmas, Doug Stewart and Gerald Hannah. The five anarchists began with small-scale activism, vandalizing a mining company called Amax.
Their infamous bombing campaign only began in May 1982, when Direct Action traveled from the mainland to Vancouver Island to detonate a bomb at a BC Hydro substation. The resulting explosion caused $5 million in damage.
In October of that year, the group drove a stolen pickup truck containing hundreds of kilograms of dynamite from Vancouver to Ontario. Direct Action reached a level of infamy when they then bombed Litton Systems, a Toronto factory that produced components for cruise missile guidance systems. At the time, many, including members of Direct Action, feared that cruise missiles would increase the risk of nuclear war.
Although the group never intended to harm anyone, the explosion injured 10 people. A Litton security guard was would have in serious condition with a broken leg and a fractured skull.
The group reappeared under a new name, the Wimmin Firefighters, in November 1982. They claimed responsibility for the firebombing of three Red Hot Video outlets in British Columbia. Red Hot Video was a chain of video pornography stores, suspected of selling snuff films and other videos depicting violence against women, and was exposed by feminist activists.
In January 1983, when the RCMP disguised themselves as road workers on the Sea to Sky highway, members of Direct Action were arrested.
Hansen was sentenced to life in prison. When she was escorted out of the courtroom, she threw a tomato at the judge. She has served eight years of her life sentence and remains on parole for life.
Today, Hansen lives in Ontario as a writer, farmer and speaker.
On September 27, she spoke at Capilano University as part of the CapU Lecture Series. In Hansen’s “Taking the Rap” talk, she spoke about her own experiences behind bars and being released on parole, as well as her latest book, Taking the Rap: Women Serving Time for Society’s Crimes, which was released earlier this year. His first book, Direct action: Memoirs of an urban guerrillawas published in 2001.
“Enough time has passed and people are becoming more aware of the issues of women in prison, the overrepresentation of Indigenous women, the lack of programs for women,” said Kirsten McIlveen, a geography teacher and women and gender studies at CapU.
McIlveen herself is part of a group called the Joint Effort, a support organization for female prisoners independent of prison or church.
“There was a lot of support from faculty in various departments that she [at the school]”McIlveen said.
Hansen, a prison abolition campaigner, has also spoken at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) in Surrey and at UBC.
“It’s always the more…radical community and independent bookstores that are interested in listening to me speak,” Hansen laughed.
Hansen arrived in British Columbia when a professor from the University of Victoria contacted her, asking her to come speak on Vancouver Island.
“I have to have passes to go anywhere I go more than 60 miles from home,” Hansen said. She acknowledged that since Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, it has become much easier for him to obtain the required approval to travel outside of Ontario. “They’re much more respectful of your civil rights, they’re more open to giving you passes to do things like criticize the Correctional Service of Canada,” she said.
Hansen spends his lecture time discussing what prison was like in the ’80s compared to today, and “if it’s any use.”
In 2012, after being interrogated for information and producing no names regarding the EPIC (End the Prison Industrial Complex), other anti-prisoner activists, and intelligence about future “bombings and fires criminals” led by activists, Hansen had her parole suspended and was sent to Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario.
“If you like to use that metaphor of ‘making lemonade out of lemons,’ I had that kind of lemonade and was lucky enough to go back,” Hansen said. While incarcerated in Kitchener, she began talking to more women behind bars, learning more about their individual stories and experiences. It was only after her release that she began working steadily on her second book.
“When you’re in [prison], you are amazed when you tell people about their story. So many people in prison have really had extremely difficult lives,” she said.
Radio-Canada News reported in October 2017, that the number of women behind bars in Canada had jumped 37% in 10 years, and that many of the women behind bars were themselves victims of crime.
“A lot of women who are in prison for murder are women who have had to endure many, many years of some form of domestic violence,” Hansen said. “We need to look at the root cause of societal problems instead of just taking a superficial look at them.”
Women like Hansen and McIlveen aren’t the only ones standing up for women’s rights. Groups like the Joint Effort continually work to abolish detention centers for women and raise awareness of these issues, “but invariably,” McIlveen said, “it comes with reform. University education, for example, can transform people… It also helps prisoners and has been shown to decrease recidivism rates, it gives people dignity, it gives them a voice and that in itself is so radical.