[Hpn] June 15th
Tue, 04 Jul 2000 07:38:44 -0700 (PDT)
Here is my report abotu OCAP's big protest at Queen's Park on June 15th.
Bonnie's Advocacy Corner
The Riot (?) At Queen's Park
Something big happened at Queen's Park on June 15/2000. Depending on whom
you talk to, it was either a protest or a riot. Either the protestors went
there to "destroy" Queen's Park or the cops went there to beat up on
homeless people. I can tell you that it was a protest, pure and simple, a
protest that the cops chose to escalate into a riot. The Ontario Coalition
Against Poverty (OCAP) went to Queen's Park to protest the Harris Government
and to seek to speak to the assembled Legislature. When their polite request
was rebuffed, they pressed the issue. This is when the cops pushed back.
They were under orders to "protect" the Legislature at all costs.
The day started in Allen Gardens; the site and starting point of so many
OCAP protests over the years. Organizers arrived early to set up the tables
for the stew and potato salad that would be served to the protestors. They
also gathered the signs, banners, bandannas, and many other items they would
need for the day. I arrived with my drum to find a lot of people already
there and more arriving. The food line was already long. Other people were
huddled in small groups as they discussed their plans for the day. I greeted
my friends and took my place in the food line. I was happy to see other
drummers there and listened to the impromptu jam session that had started. I
was disturbed to hear later that one of the drums had been stolen from Allen
Gardens before the march even started. I was also pleased to see my friend,
Patrick, there with his bagpipes. This meant that we would be leading the
march as we had done so many times before. The two of us joined the other
drummers in a jam session. The drums and the bagpipes sounded really good
together. There was soon a large crowd of people in the park preparing for
the march. There was also a large presence of cops in the park, which I
Finally, it was time to gather everyone together for the march, all 2000
of us. We were many kinds of people. There were homeless people, activists,
psychiatric survivors, union representatives, church groups, and students.
There was a series of speakers, including John Clarke, who is the Provincial
Organizer for OCAP. He told us of the march and what to expect from the
cops. We knew they could get violent which is why we were prepared with
bandannas, goggles, homemade shields, and mattresses to ward off the cops'
blows. There was a contingent of people who had volunteered to attempt entry
into the Legislature.
They went first and Patrick and I followed behind them. With a skirl of
bagpipes and much drumming, we set off. It was a noisy, but peaceful march.
Besides the bagpipes and the drums. There were also whistles, flutes, bike
bells, voices, homemade noisemakers, and horns from the few vehicles we had
in the march. We went up to Carlton Street and over to Queen's Park. When we
got there, we noticed that a crowd had already gathered. Patrick and I stood
at the entrance to Queen's Park and piped everyone in, including our police
escort. After this, Patrick said good bye and left. I turned and headed over
to where OCAP was huddled to discuss our next step. A small group, including
John Clarke, walked up to the cops who were standing on the steps to
politely seek admission to the Legislature. As we expected, they were
refused entry. The group walked back to where the rest of us were waiting
and told us that we would not be allowed into the building. This was when we
decided to press the issue. Those who had agreed to be in the advance guard
put on goggles, pulled up bandannas, and readied themselves for the
onslaught they knew would come. With me drumming furiously, the group
advanced. What followed was 45 minutes of some of the worst police violence
I have seen in a long time. The cops were hitting people with their
nightsticks; even after they were down and they were spraying people with
pepper spray, which has been proven to cause serious eye injury and even
death. The cops were even using their horses to chase people. I later heard
reports of people being trampled by the horses. Anyone who knows anything
about horses will tell you that horses will not trample on you voluntarily,
these horses were forced. Believe me, I know what it's like to be stepped
on by a horse. They were even kicking people. I saw people come out of the
fracas with bleeding wounds and choking from the pepper spray. I even saw
one girl being carried away by six medics because she couldn't walk on her
own. At one point, I had to give up one of my drumsticks for a splint after
a man had his arm broken by the cops. He told me a week later that his arm
had to be re-set twice and that he was looking at 3 or 4 months in a cast.
He gave me back my stick. The cops were chasing us on their horses. That
really scared me. I think the cops were freaked by the fact that we fought
back as vigorously as we did. I don't think they expected that. Finally, we
decided to leave Queen's Park and head back to Allen Gardens. The marshals
attempted to gather everyone together to march back to Allen Gardens. People
slowly started back, but the cops weren't done with us yet. They continued
chasing us with the horses and used the opportunity to pick people off like
flies. We were as noisy on the return trip as we had been when we started
We got back to Allen Gardens and began to disperse. The out-of-town people
had to get their buses and I had to get to the Fred Victor Centre for a show
I had that night. The tension was still very high as the cops were taking
full advantage of the opportunity to arrest people and beat them up. I saw
them take one person, which I later found out to be a woman, down in an
intersection and kick that person in the legs, even after they had her down.
I later saw a picture of her in the paper with a black eye from what the
cops did to her. When the cops in the intersection were kicking her, I was
screaming and crying because I thought it was someone I knew. When I saw the
picture, I realized I didn't know her. However, it still upset me when I
found out that it had been a woman. Somehow, I managed to do the show that
night and remember all my lines.
Yes I know, the protestors were throwing things at the cops such as smoke
bombs, paint bombs, and even rocks and broken interlocking bricks. At first,
I didn't agree with them throwing rocks at the cops. But, I later realized
that they were defending themselves. When you're being attacked, you use
whatever is available to defend yourself. There is a lot of pent-up anger on
the streets; it had to come out sometime and somewhere. A good part of that
anger is directed at the cops because of their attacks on homeless people in
the parks and squats where homeless people are just attempting to live
through another day. All these people have left are the parks and the cops
are chasing them out of the parks and out of hidden-away squats. The cops
are confiscating their meager, hard-to-get belongings and, sometimes,
burning them. The cops are a bunch of bullies, and on June 15th, their
victims fought back, hard.
Of course, the media reports made us look like a bunch of "thugs", (their
word, not mine), and hooligans with nothing better to do than cause trouble.
It painted John Clarke, the Provincial Organizer of OCAP, as the one who
incited the riot. But, that's nothing new, the media delights in making us
look bad. They always make homeless people look like lazy bums who choose to
live on the street. As an ex-homeless person, I can say that is not entirely
true. Granted, there is a very small percentage who do choose that
lifestyle, but the majority of them don't. The media focussed only on making
the cops look like victims. The true victims here are the homeless people.
They are the victims of the cop violence directed towards them courtesy of
the "Safe (Mean) Streets Act" and "Target Policing". (Italics mine) On June
15th, the homeless struck back, they said "Enough!" They're not going to
take any more of this violence from the cops. Frankly, I don't blame them.
They fully deserve to live and to be, same as the rest of us. If one of us
sat in a park, the cops wouldn't touch us. However, let a homeless person
sit in a park, the cops would be right on them. God forbid that they should
try to get a bit of sleep. "Oh no, that would never do."
Well, that's my report on June 15th. Was it a riot? No, it wasn't. Did the
protestors start it? No, they did not. All we wanted to the right to address
the Legislature. All we wanted was the same right accorded to visiting Heads
Of State. All we wanted was for the Powers That Be to hear from the people
affected by their draconian, life-threatening policies. I don't think that
was so much to ask. We are supposed to have "Accessible Government". What
happened on June 15th proved that an oxymoron. Our Government hasn't been
"accessible" since 1995, when Harris came to power. Nevertheless, I believe
victory is coming. The Harris Government is already in trouble because of
Walkerton. The fallout from June 15th could help lead to the downfall of
the Harris Government. I think he's going to find it hard to win the next
Provincial Election. Bye Mikey! Down with the Harris Government!
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