[Hpn] Toronto, Canada - Activists to use Pope's visit to spotlight homelessness - Toronto Globe and Mail - July 08, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Fri, 12 Jul 2002 23:05:16 -0500


Activists to use Pope's visit to spotlight homelessness
Pope squat, organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
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By SARAH KENNEDY - Toronto Globe and Mail - July 08, 2002


With the eyes of the world on Toronto during the Pope's visit, hundreds of
activists and homeless people will storm an abandoned downtown building and set
up camp to push the plight of the homeless into the spotlight.

The so-called Pope squat, organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, is
aimed at taking over the building and setting up permanent homes for people
without shelter.

Organizers are hoping the attention on the city during the Pope's visit this
month in celebration of World Youth Day will force police to handle their action
gently.

"We're looking to create a situation where it would be universally regarded as
grotesquely inappropriate for them to take this down," said OCAP organizer John
Clarke.

Mr. Clarke would not disclose the location of the planned squat but said it is
an important building that would be of significance to a community.

Toronto police officials said the activists' tactic of aligning the action with
the Pope's visit may not be so effective.

"We don't have authority to let them stay," Detective Constable Branko Novinc
said.

"The only authority to let them stay would be the actual owner of the building."

Supporters of the squat include anticapitalist advocates and activists, the
Student Christian Movement of Canada and the Elementary Teachers of Toronto.

As of May, the Toronto Social Housing Connections had 60,870 applications for
affordable housing, but only 337 homes were available.

Squats have been used before to try to help homeless people.

In 1997, a squatting settlement was set up in two abandoned buildings at 88 and
98 Carlton St. The two apartments are now used for social housing.

In 1998, the Doctors Hospital was taken over for the winter as a haven for the
homeless.

Squat organizers have clashed with police in the past.

In March, during the Ontario Tory leadership convention in Toronto, the Ontario
Common Front  an umbrella group for anticapitalist organizations  arranged a
squat in a building at Victoria and Dundas streets.

About 60 people had entered the building when tactical officers surrounded the
area. Tear gas was fired and participants were forced out and handcuffed.

Det. Constable Novinc said tear gas was used only as a last resort.

"The common thing to do is advise people that they're in contravention of laws
and ask them to come out. And if they don't, then decisions are made by the
commanding officer of what his options are."

Police have tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to set up meetings with
OCAP regarding the Pope squat, Det. Constable Novinc said.

"We felt that at this time to have a meeting with police would probably not be
the most productive thing for anybody concerned," Mr. Clarke said.

Although they are hoping authorities will turn a blind eye to their action,
activists intend to plow ahead with or without police co-operation, Mr. Clarke
said.

"They'll either have to give us this building or guard it. They can bring in
every cop in the Western Hemisphere but the reality is we'll keep coming back
until the place is opened up."
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