Urban guerillas hiding out in Squamish? As it turns out, yes. The Squamish Five honed their craft in the valley
In the early 1980’s, five activists blurred the line between protest and terrorism, leaving a sizeable wake of destruction and injury in their path. They were fiercely unapologetic, seen as heroes in some circles and terrorists in others.
Ann Hansen, Brent Taylor, Juliet Belmas, Doug Stewart and Gerry Hannah were thoroughly dissatisfied with means of traditional protests around the anti-war, environmental, and women’s rights movements of the late 1970s and early 80s. They chose to take matters into their own hands by creating an activist group called “Direct Action”—referring to how it sought change. But the name that stuck was the “Squamish Five”, given to them by the media.
The Squamish Five
The Squamish Five brought a more serious element to the activist movements, which were previously known mostly for protest and nonviolent disobedience. The extreme activists, or urban guerillas—as they categorized themselves—became known for their use of explosives.
Their planned destructions were of a scale rarely experienced in contemporary Canadian history.
Ann Hansen and Direct Action
Ann Hansen was the leader of the Squamish Five. She developed political motivation at a young age. She grew up in Ontario and attended the University of Waterloo where she became enwrapped with counter-culture and Marxist-Leninist thought; she began expressing her ideas in the student papers.
Hansen went on an exchange program to Europe for six months, in part, to learn about the Red Army Faction, an extremist guerrilla group.
Along-side Brent Taylor and Doug Stewart, Hansen founded Direct Action in 1980.
The group went on a two-year tear of destruction. They had already exhausted more tepid acts of protest and civil disobedience, believing that their actions were the only way to bring about the social and political changes they sought. The idea was that other people would be inspired by their acts and then motivated to join their cause. And it worked.
The Squamish Five learned how to become criminals and how to build bombs. They stole food, weapons and vehicles in order to sustain themselves and continue their protest.
They planned out each aspect of their destructions prior to commencing, deliberated at length the justification for the actions. One of their purported Squamish hideouts was the far end of Paradise Valley.
Following their calculated sabotages, they would send notes to the media and government officials stating responsibility.
Acts of Destruction
BC Hydro Substation Bombing
On May 31, 1982, the Squamish Five blew up the Cheekeye-Dunsmuir substation near Qualicum on Vancouver Island. The hydroelectric project had been criticized as environmentally unsound and contributing to the destruction of wilderness on the Island. The bombing caused five million dollars in damages.
Litton Systems Bombing
The group’s next major bombing was a Litton Systems facility in Toronto, on October 14, 1982. This plant produced guidance components for American cruise missiles, which had the capacity to carry nuclear weapons.
The group stole hundreds of pounds of dynamite from a road works yard on the Sea to Sky, packed it in a pickup truck and drove it across the country.
They left the vehicle conspicuously at the Litton facility, with a countdown clock and a stick of dynamite ornamenting the hood, and phoned in a bomb threat. The threat was not received with the utmost urgency by Litton and an evacuation of the proximate buildings was slow to begin. Ten people were injured in the blast—some of them quite seriously.
The Squamish Five slunk back into hiding on the West Coast, and law enforcement stepped up their commitment to find and arrest the members of the group.
Red Hot Video Store Bombings
Several months later, the Squamish Five were back at it. They emerged and joined forces with a larger activist group named Wimmin’s Fire Brigade.
This group was disillusioned with the treatment of women and in particular the laws condoning the sale of different types of pornography, including snuff films sold by a Vancouver adult video store chain.
The Wimmin’s Fire Brigade wound up bombing three Red Hot Video Stores that carried such films.
The bombings brought a lot of attention to Red Hot Video, and pressure was put on the government to change laws to disallow the sale of violent pornography in Canada. Subsequently, the stores were fined.
The Punk Rock Movement
Their destruction drew significant media coverage and unease among citizens and politicians. But they were also surrounded by supporters.
Gerry Hannah was the front man for the band Subhumans, so by proxy the Squamish Five was immersed in Vancouver’s punk rock scene. They received unwavering support from the community during that era. And as political and societal pressures were mounting against them, the punk community mobilized in their defence.
The RCMP Take Down
A special RCMP task force had been formed to actively track the group and bring them to justice.
The RCMP had been surveilling them and discovered a plan to drive up the Sea to Sky to one of their training areas.
On the morning of January 20, 1983, the RCMP disguised themselves as a road construction operation. Travelling in one vehicle, the five were forced to stop for the ‘construction’, and they were then arrested.
Their sentences ranged from six years to life. But the trials were the subject of controversy as to how the RCMP had surveilled the group and obtained its information.
Ann Hansen reportedly threw a tomato at the judge when he read her life sentence.
The prison sentences have been served, and all the members of the Squamish Five are free.
Ann Hansen published her memoirs, entitled “Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla” in 2001. She maintains that the group never intended to cause any personal injury, only property damage.
Their protests remain among Canada’s most dramatic instances of civil disobedience.
Curious for more? We dug up some video clips.