In my excitment to see that the Subhumans had reunited a few years ago, I thought I would dig a bit into the past of the so-called Squamish Five - the Vancouver-based guerrilla group, known to themselves as Direct Action. The group's core membership included two people involved in Vancouver punk, Julie (or Juliet) Belmas - one-time bass player for the mostly forgotten local act No Exit - and then-former Subhumans bassist Gerry Hannah; they were a couple. The Five blew up a few things, vandalized a few things, and generally disturbed some shit that was going on, using property damage to make it more expensive to fuck up the environment in Canada and to sell or rent pornography that involved violence to women. They also sent a fairly strong message to the government of both countries that having parts for American first strike nuclear weaponry manufactured in Canada was unacceptable and maybe kinda dangerous.
As a teenaged punk in the 1980's, all of these things seemed sorta like a good idea to me. These were the days where, as a kid, I lived in constant awareness of the possiblity of nuclear war - mostly played out on a fantasy-level with post-apocalyptic science fiction films, but also a cause of serious concern. I remember watching Dr. Helen Caldicott's If You Love This Planet. I remember questioning a group of politicians at a town-hall type meeting about nuclear disarmament - I think I had a Mohawk of sorts at the time. I read about the Five in Open Road magazine. I bought DOA's "Right to Be Wild" benefit single, reading the "Letter from Gerry" and thinking it was pretty cool. I had Gerry Hannah's first cassette from prison, and liked it at the time - he says a lot of it doesn't hold up now, but "Living With the Lies" and "Life Is Like a Fire" stick in my memory, though I haven't heard the latter song in something like 25 years. I tried to defend the Five's actions to my friends, teachers, and family: to my idealistic, dazed 15-year-old brain, these seemed like people who felt a sense of responsibility to do something about saving the planet from oncoming doom. Most of the people I met didn't seem to care at all, which was confusing and disturbing to me; the world seemed a pretty insane place back then, and anger and activism, striking out at the madness around you, didn't seem like a bad idea. I knew that a couple of people were injured when three members of the Five - Gerry wasn't present - set off 550LBs of dynamite at Litton Industries in Toronto, where parts for Cruise missile guidance systems were being made. In my mind, this amounted to the awareness "some security guard got hurt" I didn't even think to learn his name. "Saving the world from nuclear war" was more important than "some security guard;" besides, the Five issued a communique apologizing - and what was he doing guarding nuclear weapons, anyhow?
That security guard was named Terry Chikowski.
In the course of my doing research, trying to recapture how I felt in those days, I read some stuff and asked a few questions. I read at least a third of Direct Action member Ann Hansen's book, Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla, before getting kind of grossed out by it. She seemed to have an oddly privileged, self-romanticizing worldview - she saw her group as heroic, and saw breaking the law as kind of romantic and exciting; she appears to get off on it so much that you start to feel like the appeal of the lifestyle had more to do with her actions than any concern for making the world a better place - which makes it pretty hard to see her actions as originating in anything like idealism. The group felt licensed to shoplift to support themselves, too. It seems strange, maybe, to make a big deal out of that, but it bugged the hell out of me, reading the book: how can you claim to be helping people, doing something for the good of the planet and humanity, while ripping folks off? True, in order to be an urban guerrilla, I guess you have to drop off the grid and re-adjust your attitudes towards what's right and wrong, in order to survive... but in a way, perhaps completely irrationally, I have a greater moral objection to people stealing food when they don't really need to than to blowing shit up. Maybe it's because I can CONCEIVE of myself stealing stuff that I don't have to - I can imagine going to a grocery store and filling my pockets, and the thought of doing so raises a red flag. I have a harder time imagining myself obliterating a BC hydro substation, stealing dynamite, or engaging in weapons training in Squamish, preparing to take down a Brinks' truck, visualizing myself in a shootout with the cops... Or driving across Canada in a van full of dynamite to blow up a building connected to the arms race...
If Ann Hansen's book drove me a bit further away from my support of Direct Action, ironically, Warren Kinsella's pissy little ad hominem rant against Gerry Hannah in Fury's Hour - his book about punk - drove me a little bit further back in the opposite direction. I contacted Kinsella - a Liberal speechwriter and an apparently rather litigious guy - to engage him in conversation, and he invited me to publish that Gerry - whom he barely knows - was a "fucking terrorist asshole." I challenged him a bit on some of what he said in his book: how can he presume to write a history of punk and to give a chapter on Gerry Hannah and the Squamish Five while neglecting to mention that their actions met with more than a little sympathy from punks and activists in the 1980's? Even the CBC had run a show that, in the eyes of some, had shown an offensive degree of approval for the Five's actions, interviewing various activists who felt bolstered by the example set by the Five, and suggesting that in some of what they did, their actions had a positive effect. Did Kinsella feel no responsibility to be objective, to represent views other than his own, or at least announce for posterity that his position - though not entirely idiosyncratic, as this old piece by Steve Albini (!) will demonstrate - was a minority view?
Just like he did when challenged by Chris Walter, Warren totally backed off, ending our correspondence; his strategy, when people put serious questions to him, seems to be to withdraw from discussion and just assert his point of view elsewhere... which is, I guess, a fairly useful defense against learning and growing, if one is determined not to do these things, but it's a gift I lack: if someone says something reasonable to me, I feel compelled to think about it. And Kinsella, in our very brief interaction, DID challenge me in a reasonable way: to talk to Chikowski, whom he had interviewed for Fury's Hour. He said something about how I couldn't be "balanced" in my representation of events - like he knows anything about balance! - if I didn't.
It seemed to me a very reasonable challenge. And over the weeks, it grew into a sort of moral imperative, because, contemplating having a conversation with Chikowski, I realized that I felt two related things: fear and guilt. Fear, because I wasn't sure that when I announced myself as a former supporter, of sorts, of the Five, he wouldn't cuss me out; and guilt, because I realized that all the time I spent defending the Five in conversations, I didn't even know his name. I didn't until I read Warren's book. These awarenesses lurked in my mind until the day at a payphone in a bar in Toronto I made my first call to Chikowski, setting up an interview for later in the week. He was more than willing to talk to me, and a surprisingly likeable, funny guy. He didn't cuss me out. I rather took a liking to him.
One thing I should mention before you begin, tho' - there is at least one point where Chikowski appears to be in error. I know that Juliet Belmas has publicly apologized for her involvement in the Litton bombing beyond what Chikowski suggests; I gather they may have even interacted on a CBC radio program, and I've read an article - I think by John Mackie in the Vancouver Sun - where she expresses great remorse for Chikowski's injuries. So he's not entirely right in what he says. Maybe he just forgot, or maybe part of him is still so pissed off at what happened that her words didn't really count for much, I dunno. Whether anyone owes him further apology I won't say: I can only speak for myself in saying that having talked to Chikowski did some degree of good for me - some dark spot in my conscience was cleared up. I haven't spoken to him in awhile - this interview took place a couple of years ago. Since I haven't been able to find a publisher for it - or at least, none that would run it in a format I found acceptible - it seemed as good a time as any to make it public. Sorry I have no images to illustrate it - I did ask around, but people I talked to were either unwilling, unable, or wanted too much money.
Allan: If we could go back to the time of the bombing, did you ever think that something like that could happen, when you signed on as a security guard for Litton?
Terry: I never thought that it would ever go to that extent. I thought that that was just... over the top, so to speak, too melodramatic, too Hollywood. I didn’t think it was possible.
Allan: There had been a bomb threat previously, hadn’t there?
Terry: Oh, there had been a bomb threat! We had four of five different demonstrations that were annual events, whether it be Christmas time, New Years, Hiroshima, Nagasaki anniversaries...
Allan: Did any of them get hostile toward you?
Allan: And there was never violence at these demonstrations?
Terry: Not violence, no. They did at one time occupy a large foyer area at what we called plant 406, that was the president’s building near Dixon Road and Cityview drive. There’s a large glassed foyer area where ten people could sit down. And they got inside the front doors of that building during one of the demonstrations. The police were there immediately, and they were told, y’know, up and out. And they just refused. They were doing a sit in. So a couple of guys held the doors open and we just physically carried them out and took them down the steps and set them down in the parking lot there, and the police took them from there and they arrested them. And off they went in their paddywagon.
Allan: Did you feel like you were taking political sides, or like you were doing a job? I mean, did they try to engage you in political discussion?
Terry: Uh, from time to time, y’know, walking the line there, when they were just off our property, they would try to engage in conversation, but I really didn’t have any time for that type of thing, and nor did I want to express any views, because I simply didn’t have any point of view. It’s more or less what you said. It’s my job. There was a function that I was conducting, and that’s what I did.
Allan: You were how old when the bombing happened?
Terry: I was 33.
Allan: Did you have a family to support?
Terry: Just my wife. Never did have children.
Allan: How did the bombing affect your feelings about the demonstrators or your feelings about the politics of the whole thing?
Terry: I’ve never been what a person would say was a real deep thinker when it comes to political issues. Prior to being at Litton Systems, I was a cop. What I saw that particular evening with respect to the people involved in the dynamite blast: they pulled off a criminal act, and that’s basically the long and short of it. They can talk about their political views until the cows come home and they’re not going to sway me from the fact that what they committed was a terrorist attack. Bottom line. An act like the Squamish Five pulled off, it’s a criminal act that was cowardly in nature.
Allan: Because there was no risk to them?
Terry: Because there was no risk to them. It was all, supposedly in their minds, anyway, a win-win situation. They were gonna make a statement, they were going to devastate Litton Systems through monetary loss by incapacitating their ability to produce what they were producing. And they couldn’t have been more wrong. I mean, hell, they picked the wrong building. They picked an administrative building, and they had supposedly done their homework? ...The way that they did it was at the very best amateur-like. If they wanted to cause some serious issues they could have picked any one of three or four other buildings, and there were eleven in the area.
Allan: Ann Hansen says in her book that when they’d cased the place previously there was no night shift...
Terry: To the best of my recollection, there was always a small shift that worked the night shift. Only a small shift, only a handful...
Allan: Reading her book, you get the impression that nothing went according to plan. They had arrived in Ontario with this dynamite, they had a plan to do this action when no one was there, and when they found out there were people there, they kind of panicked. They couldn’t back out, so they went ahead. Really, given how poorly executed the whole thing was, it’s amazing that the injuries were so small.
Terry: They don’t know how lucky they got it. Because I’ll tell ya – and I’m not sure a lot of people understand this, but where they planted that bomb, on plant 402 at Cityview Drive, that’s a landing path for these large international or domestic jets, coming directly over that building on a regular basis. Had that bomb gone off, coincidentally at the time that a plane was coming overhead, that plane would have dropped like a rock, because it would have been void of oxygen to take care of the flight approach. It was bad enough of a disaster as it was, but it could have been so much worse... I mean, less than 100 yards away is a major artery that separates Toronto from Mississauga, number 27 highway... Now granted, at 11:30 at night, there’s only gonna be a small smattering of cars, but regardless of that fact, there are gonna be vehicles on the roadway. When they’re saying their intention was not to harm anyone, in any way shape or form, it was highly unlikely that that was gonna be the case, being realistic about it. Someone was gonna get hurt.
Allan: Hm. Okay... well, if we could talk about your injuries a bit, I’m not actually clear what the long term effects have been.
Terry: I feel some degree of discomfort, and depending on weather conditions, pain, throughout my back. And it’s altered my lifestyle to a small extent. Not a great extent, but a small extent. A ridiculous thing, but one of the things that I enjoyed doing prior to being hurt: I was a hockey official, and since I got hurt, almost 24 years ago, I’ve had skates on my feet twice. I used to enjoy refereeing hockey from everything from wee kids that I used to volunteer and officiate for, right through to men’s leagues, which I really enjoyed doing, and do competitive hockey for teenagers and such. And of course I got paid a little, too. The monetary aspect really was quite secondary - I just enjoyed doing it. It was a good workout for me, and that sorta thing, and I haven’t been able to do that since I got hurt. Stamina is one of the reasons why I can’t do it, so that’s a long term effect. The physical nature of being a hockey official... in the course of a one hockey game I might bend over a hundred times to pick up a hockey puck, when you face off and that sort of thing. I can’t bend over repeatedly like that. It just causes me too much grief.
Allan: Because of lost muscle tissue?
Terry: Lost muscle, yeah, exactly. And, uh, of course there was a lot of skeletal damage, in the way of broken bones and such, and that always has a long term lasting effect on one’s body.
Allan: And I imagine you have a fair amount of scars?
Terry: Oh yeah.
Allan: I read that your spleen was disintegrated. How does that affect you?
Terry: Medically speaking, as I understand it, the spleen creates antibodies to help the body fight off viruses. So I could be more prone to picking up a flu and holding onto it longer than the average person, because the spleen is not there to create the antibodies to fight off any virus. My doctor is surprised that I stay as healthy as I do, because he said that I might have to have antibody injections from time to time to ward off viral infections, but it never had to happen, to this point in time.
Allan: And it must have been a really painful convalescence after the explosion. Were you laid up for a really long time?
Terry: Physically, I heal really, really well. My body metabolism is very unusual and the doctors that worked on me said it was unbelievable, because I was in intensive care after the bombing for seven days with thirteen tubes running out of me, and after I was taken out of intensive care I was in my regular hospital room for only ten more days. I was in the hospital for a total of seventeen days, and then I came home. That was all I was in the hospital for.
Allan: Did you have a lot of pain, when you came home?
Terry: Oh yes. I was on medication when I came home. I was on valium.
Allan: Could you walk around?
Terry: Oh yes. Slowly, deliberately. I could drive my car!
Terry: Three weeks after I got out of the hospital I drove from Mississauga to Toronto and picked up what turned out to be one of my best friends: my dog! I picked up as a puppy from one of the shelters on River Street and I brought him home, and I had him for seventeen years. He was a big part of my rehabilitation, actually.
Allan: What kind of dog was he?
Terry: He was just a mutt. Just a little border collie/ black lab cross.
Allan: How was he a big part of your rehabilitation?
Terry: Well, when you’re a puppy, you always have to go outside, y’know? You gotta house-train ‘em, and I was at home at time of course, my wife was working, so my big thing was hangin’ with the pup a lot and making sure he’s housebroken. The house that we were in at the time had a backyard, right, so there’s a sliding door off the dining room that leads to the backyard, and him being a puppy, well, he couldn’t negotiate the big step from the inside of the house down to the deck, so I’d have to get down on my hands and knees and actually lift him under his belly and put him down on the ground, and he’d go out and do his pee and do his thing, you know, and he’d come back to the front door whenever he was done, right? And then I’d have to get down on my hands and knees again and lift him back in. And him being a puppy, this would happen 25 times a day, so it was good for me in that sense. And of course, as he grew a little older, I’d take him for walks around the block and that sort of thing and that would motivate me to get out and do some walking.
Allan: It sounds like great physiotherapy...
Terry: Oh yeah, it is. And he was a great part of it. And as silly as it sounds, the dog and I bonded that much more.
Allan: I’m sure.
Terry: I just put him down... Actually, when I said seventeen – he was in his nineteenth year, ‘cos I just put him down five years ago.
Allan: What was his name?
Terry: Bogey. Like Humphrey Bogart...
Allan: Were you well-compensated for your injuries?
Terry: (Snorts). No.
Terry: No. Criminal compensation board, I was given a one-time payment, small amount of money. Then, Worker’s Compensation, a permanent partial disability pension, which was small potatoes once again. That I had to fight, actually, for. From a financial point of view, it would have been the same if I had been a part of the maintenance staff of Litton Systems, and I had taken a fall on a wet floor and broken my arm or something of that nature. That’s pretty much the way my claim was handled. It was just – I was injured on the job.
Allan: If we could talk about the Fifth Estate episode that you and Ann Hansen were both on... you said in the interview that you had no vendetta against the Squamish Five. How does that work...?
Terry: What I meant by vendetta is that I don’t pine and think about them on a daily basis and would I like to get my hands around Ann Hansen’s throat or Hannah’s or anyone else’s. I was angry. For probably a few years, after it happened. And I’d probably give it a thought on a regular basis. I don’t know about daily, but on a regular basis. But as time wore on, uh, I guess they became very unimportant to me. Very unimportant to me.
Allan: You moved on with your life...?
Terry: Exactly. Y’know, why am I giving these people thirty seconds of my precious day, in the way of thought? It’s unnecessary.
Allan: In Ann Hansen’s book, she says that when she heard that when people were hurt at Litton, she thought about killing herself and things like that. She talks about feeling a lot of remorse. Did she or anyone try to apologize to you personally on a one to one level?
Allan: The public communiqué that they issued – that was it?
Terry: That was it. The only other time, and it wasn’t on a personal level, was Ann Hansen’s portion of that Fifth Estate thing. And other than that... As I understand it, Julie Belmas was on – am I thinkin’ of the right program, is it Front Page Challenge? With Pierre Berton as one of the panellists?
Allan: I dunno. I think that might be right.
Terry: I forget what the format of the program is, but I think what it is, they give snippets of information for the panellist to guess what incident surrounds it, and they bring the guest out, that sort of idea? As I understand it, once her identity was brought forth and her claim to fame, Pierre Berton climbed her frame and belittled her in front of the television crowd and the television community who’s watching the program. He apparently said something to the effect of, “And here you are today, trying to sell yourself to the community?” Because at that time, it was indicated that she was now into production of, what was it, documentary-style films surrounding female prison inmates, and he’s saying, “So you’re using our show to try to sell yourself that you’re involved in this sort of thing, to once again give yourself some notoriety, some free publicity?” And he said, “What have you done for the victims of this bombing?” And she apparently – now, I didn’t see the program, but from what I understand, she openly stated that any monies that she would make from any endeavours, she would take a portion of it and set it aside to be given to victims of the Litton bombing. Yeah, well. That’s another good story. Nothing of that nature ever happened.
Allan: Yeah. As far as I’m concerned, the punk community completely failed around that. We spent all our time raising money for the Five’s legal fees, and we didn’t do a single fuckin’ thing for the people who were hurt by the Five...
Terry: Well. Not that I’m looking for something monetary, because I’m not, but yeah, that would have certainly been something – just to acknowledge the fact that, “we’re sorry guys, you were hurt,” and to publicly make that statement... but as far as I’m concerned there was no statement of that or anything that surfaced that I’m aware of, anyway, other than that public communiqué...
Terry: It scared the hell out of them, when they found out that people were hurt, and particularly when they were confronted with the fact that someone might actually die. And I’m not sure if they were so concerned about the possibility that I was gonna die, or what the ramifications would be for them. There may have been some inkling of, “Oh boy, we really didn’t mean to hurt anybody, let alone kill anyone... but boy, if someone dies, we’re in deeper shit than we thought.”
Allan: I was a 15 year old punk rocker in Vancouver when all this happened, and my main reaction was to rally around Gerry Hannah. He was a respected member of the punk community, and he had been arrested, and there were these charges against him...
Terry: And that was a cool thing to have happen to a person, at that age – to be arrested for your political views.
Allan: Well, yeah, sure, he was like an ideological martyr, sure... But, I mean, there might still be some people who think that way... There’s lots of people who are really pissed off at their government, and don’t feel like they can make any sort of headway...
Terry: Well... as I say, I’m quite non-political, and the reason why I’m non-political is that regardless of who you are in political office, you got there for one reason and one reason only: of all the candidates in that given election, you were probably the best liar. And I mean, history has proven itself time and time again – it doesn’t matter if you’re talking the States, Canada, or any other country in the world. In Canada, the poor bugger I feel sorry for in political history is (our first Prime Minister) John A. Macdonald, and the only reason I feel sorry for that guy is that that poor prick didn’t have any predecessor to blame...
Allan: Do you sympathize with people who want to hold politicians to account? Do you sympathize with non-violent radicals and activists who want to say that what these people are doing is wrong and they need to be held accountable?
Terry: I think that if there’s a good idea that is brought forth in a campaign, and people kind of rally around that idea and as a result have that person put into office, and they don’t see anything more than a half-assed attempt – yeah, I think they should be taken to task on that. Yeah. “Why isn’t it happening, guys?” People should be accountable for not doing what they stated they’re trying to achieve...
Allan: So what about things like Canada participating with the United States? Like, I don’t know how you feel about George W. Bush –
Terry: Well, take a look at his approval ratings! [laughs]. I thought his father had the lowest approval ratings ever, but his son done him proud.
Allan: But, I mean, Harper wants to get Canada more in bed with the United States. It’s possible that if the US goes ahead with manufacturing Star Wars-type military technology, and Canada supports that, we could have a very similar situation as with Litton and the Cruise missile arising in Canada... I mean, it’s not just people lying, it’s people pushing through platforms that could destroy the whole planet...
Terry: It seems like almost a pointless endeavour. Maybe I’m small minded in my thinking, but I just don’t know why they want to go to a whole new level, with Star Wars, when they can’t take care of their own backyard... I guess the old cliché is biting off more than you could chew. I don’t think the people on are planet are mentally equipped – we don’t have enough basic smarts, basic common sense to do something like Star Wars. We can’t take care of ourselves on this globe, what’s to make us think that we can leave this globe and make it better...
Allan: So, like, with bands like the Subhumans, they’re saying that these people are liars, what they’re doing is wrong - that these sort of things must be stopped. Do you feel any sort of solidarity with that? Do you feel any sympathy with what they’re singing about?
Terry: I don’t know if I’d take it so far to say as I adopt solidarity with them, but I think I can empathize with their thoughts on that, in as much as, yeah... I’m not a big fan of this Star Wars business at all. That much I will agree with, I think it’s a ridiculous notion, I think it’s a money machine...
Allan: Sorry, that’s uh... actually, Star Wars per se is not one of the things they get into in the album. But I mean, they have a song singing, about politicians, “You’re a liar/ You’re a liar/ You’ve got no morals and you make me sick/ You’re a liar/ It’s all an act, a dirty trick...”
Terry: That’s what all politicians do. All of them.
Allan: Anything else? I mean, this is probably going to be running in a punk zine after an interview with members of the Subhumans. I’m going to be taking Warren Kinsella to task on a couple of things, because some of what he says is simply wrong – he says everyone in the punk community thought Gerry was a terrorist asshole, but the fact is, many people admire him...
Terry: Does Gerry not feel that that act was something other than an act of terrorism?
Allan: Um. Y’know, he’s said to me, when I interviewed him, he likened to vigilantism, he said that the methods were wrong... what he has said is that for him it wasn’t intended to hurt people – and bear in mind that he wasn’t actually involved in the Litton thing –
Terry: No, I understand that.
Allan: But he’s said to him what they were doing was damaging property, that it was political sabotage, but it wasn’t intended to frighten or hurt people, that wasn’t what it intended to do. But as you say, 550 pounds of dynamite is going to frighten and hurt people, so...
Terry: Yeah, there’s no skirtin’ around it.
Allan: Mm. Any feelings about punk rock? Ever listen to it?
Terry: No I don’t, to be honest with you, I really don’t. You think that I would have heard a lot more... I’ve heard a little bit of it at a very amateur level, because I’ve got two nieces that were involved in punk bands.
Allan: Oh really?
Terry: Yeah! My brother’s daughter and three or four other girls briefly had a little punk band going. My older niece, she was involved in a punk band as well. She was a bass player and she was in a mixed band of guys and gals. I remember her group’s name cause (laughs) to me it was just outrageous. It was called Hockey Teeth.
Allan: Hockey Teeth? (Laughs).
Terry: (Laughs) And their logo was just this picture of – no significant figure in hockey, but just the male face of a hockey player, without any teeth, just the fangs type of thing? And that was their logo on their t-shirts...
Allan: Were they doing political stuff or just having fun?
Terry: I think they were just having fun. It’s a non-political thing. Incidentally, I gotta tell you... I don’t know if you’ve heard this before... we were talking about Bush earlier?
Terry: And I think he’s world renowned for being the jerk that he is, and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Can I just briefly tell you a brief little story that I heard, that I think is classic of George?
Allan: Go, please!
Terry: Okay. George is sitting in the oval office and Donald Rumsfeld comes barging through the door. Bush looks up and he says, “Rumsfeld, what the hell do you want? I’m a busy man.” Rumsfeld says, “Mr. President, I’ve got some late-breaking news for you, sir, that you might find somewhat disturbing.” He says, “Well, Rumsfeld, let’s have it! Like I said, I’m busy.” And with that, Rumsfeld says, “Earlier today, Mr. President, three Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq.” And with that all the colour drains out of George Bush’s face, and his shoulders start to quake as if he’s about to start crying, and he’s shaking his head back and forth, cupping his head in his hands, and after a minute or so he looks up over his fingertips and says, “Rumsfeld?” “Yes Mr. President?” “Just how many is a Brazilian?”