[Hpn] O16: Economic disruption hits Canada's capitalist heartland

Graeme Bacque gbacque@netzero.net
Wed, 17 Oct 2001 01:13:07 -0400

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The Ontario Common Front's fall campaign of economic disruption got off to 
a flying start in Toronto early today as a series of 'snake marches' 
paralyzed human and vehicular traffic into Toronto's financial district for 
several hours.

The campaign, which is seeking to unseat the ruling Conservative government 
in the province of Ontario by getting in the way of business as usual for 
its numerous corporate backers, is the culmination of many months of 
intensive networking with antipoverty groups, First Nation  peoples, 
students, social justice organizations, unions  and antiglobalization 
activists across Ontario  and elsewhere. The initial call had come from the 
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, but the campaign quickly assumed a life 
of its own with more than eighty organization eventually signing on.

Much discussion on the way forward had taken place in the wake of the 
September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. , but it was 
quickly recognized that the policies of the Mike Harris government were not 
being shifted to the back burners by these events - if anything, the 
September 11 attacks had caused Harris's destructive agenda to speed up. On 
this basis it was decided to go ahead with the O16 demonstrations, with an 
emphasis on organizing a militant, highly disciplined event clearly focused 
on shutting down the financial district rather than engaging in battles 
with the cops.

The latter appeared to be unavoidable at first, with the police engaging in 
intense provocation from the time affinity groups began arriving in town 
the previous weekend. Four plainclothes cops apparently attempted to crash 
a Saturday night fundraiser for the Common Front's legal support team, but 
were ruthlessly heckled out the door by attendees. A large contingent 
arriving from Montreal and Quebec City on Monday were initially prevented 
from leaving their buses, then were videotaped by the cops as they finally 
disembarked. At least one of the Common Front organizers also received a 
threatening letter  from the Toronto Police service last week.

I had hooked up with the Quebec people on Tuesday morning because I lived 
near the church they were billeted in. Nearly 200 of us assembled outside 
the Sherbourne  and Dundas St.-area site at 4:30 in the morning with the 
plan of walking to the assembly point at Toronto's  City hall in a group.

Almost immediately we picked up a red van packed with members of Toronto's 
'public safety' (riot) squad. Several more police vehicles soon joined in, 
including a video unit which photographed everyone.

When we neared City Hall we were blocked by a line of cops, who insisted 
that everyone had to submit to being searched before entering the square. 
We later learned the cops had been confiscating any protective gear people 
had brought, including things such as gas masks or goggles, bandanas, or 
even water bottles. (One member of our party even had his tube of 
toothpaste squirted onto the ground by these control-happy clowns). 
Obviously their intent was to intimidate people and leave them defenseless.

Our group refused to be searched, and began marching around the periphery 
of the City Hall area in the rain, chanting anti-police slogans while 
gradually accumulating more demonstrators as we went. After an hour or so 
we wound up in a large city parking lot near Queen and York streets, about 
a block west of City Hall.

We could clearly hear the sounds being made by the much larger 
crowd  across the street, but the two groups were blocked from joining by a 
solid line of riot cops across Queen Street, and surrounding the City Hall 
area. Finally, it was decided we would do an initial 'snake march' of our 
own, and our group (which had by this time swelled to at least 400 
strong)   did a slow lap of the huge parking lot, then exited onto 
University Avenue.  Led by a lively group of drummers and other musicians, 
the flag-waving crowd moved slowly south, turned west for a block or so, 
then doubled back and actually slipped into the financial district itself 
east of University.

After moving through the streets for about fifteen minutes we almost got 
boxed in along Adelaide St. by lines of shield-toting cops. Rows of police 
were advancing from both sides. A group of people who had congregated on 
the steps outside an area building were roughly pushed back onto the street.

Eventually we were able to move back out past the cop lines to the west, 
turning north along University to Dundas St., where we found out that the 
larger group had taken advantage of the distraction to escape the square. A 
huge cheer went up as the two groups merged, and suddenly we were more than 
two thousand strong!  Drums pounded and anti-government chants resounded as 
the united group moved back to the south, again slipping past the riot cops 
and re-entering the financial area. At this point the large group split 
into two (and eventually three) smaller marches, 'snaking' through the 
streets and leaving the cops completely bewildered!

Eventually the various marches re-united near Front Street in the area of 
the Royal York Hotel. Intersections were occupied and held. Speakers 
identified the various corporations that were key funders of the Harris 
government. At one point someone climbed onto  the marquis of the Royal 
York, spray-painting the word 'murderers' on an American flag which was 
hanging there.

The 'Living River' (a blue-clad Pagan cluster which was also a popular 
feature at the Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City last April) 
flowed and danced through the larger crowd. By then the action had 
developed a decidedly celebratory tone due to its success, coupled with the 
news that Ontario Premier Mike Harris was apparently on the verge of 
resigning for what he said were 'personal reasons.' (After being elected to 
two successive terms, this government is now sitting dead last in the polls 
with two years left in its current mandate).

At about nine-thirty the group slowly moved west back onto University, 
congregating outside the U.S. Consulate where several brief speakers 
denounced the U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan and people chanted 'Stop the 
war on the poor - at home and abroad!' before beginning to disperse. Just 
north of there, we then witnessed the only really serious confrontation of 
the day. A 'snatch squad' apparently made a move to arrest a couple of 
people outside the Hospital for Sick Children at University  The cops found 
themselves surrounded by angry demonstrators, more police waded in with 
batons, and the Emergency Task Force came screeching in, leaping out of 
their van with gas launchers leveled at the crowd.

After this people moved slowly north to University and College streets near 
Queen's Park, where everyone was being urged to disperse with friends or in 
their affinity groups. The riot cops slid in a long procession along the 
sidewalk to our east, but kept going towards the Ontario legislature itself 
(which was not targeted that day). The larger crowd began to scatter, with 
a group of several hundred walking over to Ryerson University for an 
activist fair and food which was being served by the Common Front welcoming 
committee and the People's Potato. (This site basically ended up being an 
impromptu convergence space).

It is still uncertain just how many people were arrested. I've heard 
estimates ranging from as low as nine to as many as 35 people being 
grabbed, including a number of folks who were stopped and detained before 
things even got underway at City Hall. One elderly man was beaten 
unconscious and had his head bloodied, and several other people suffered 
bruises from baton blows. Demonstrators showed remarkable discipline and 
restraint, with the 'snake march' tactic proving highly effective in 
evading direct confrontation with the cops. Aside from construction pylons 
and newspaper boxes which found use as impromptu traffic barricades, and a 
bit of graffiti, there was little property damage. A trailer loaded with 
metal barricades was emptied near the U.S. consulate, with the barricades 
being used by demonstrators to block off University Avenue before the 
trailer itself was flipped over, landing with a huge crash in the middle of 
the street.

This hugely successful event was just one of a number of actions that were 
organized in Toronto for October 16. In addition to the snake marches there 
was the activist fair at Ryerson (where the campus station CKLN 88.1 FM was 
broadcasting continuous live updates of Common Front activities) and a 
smaller 'green zone' rally organized by Toronto Mobilization for Global 
Justice at noon just west of the financial district. A demonstration by 300 
high school students had taken place on the previous day outside the 
Ministry of Education office. As well, a caravan of vehicles had driven 
slowly towards Toronto from both eastern and western Ontario, clogging 
traffic on Highway 401. A rally organized by the Toronto and District 
Labour Council had also been called for 5:30 PM that day. Further actions 
have been planned in other Ontario cities over the next several 
weeks.  (Check out OCAP's website at www.ocap.ca for information.)

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