[Fwd: tao: First person account of Doctor's Hospital occupation] (fwd)

Leslie Schentag (wy497@victoria.tc.ca)
Tue, 10 Nov 1998 08:25:22 -0800 (PST)

Here is something I pulled from Sovernet. It is a first person narrative
about his arrest in Toronto while occupying Doctor's Hospital in Toronto.

  "When Freedom Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Free"
    Webmaster:<L1><a href="http://gremlinresearch.ourfamily.com">Gremlin
    Webmaster:<L1><a href="http://bcpoverty.freeservers.com">B.C. Poverty

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 9 Nov 1998 21:14:46 -0500
From: Jay Brown <jason@tao.ca>
To: sovernet-l@lists.speakeasy.org
Subject: [Fwd: tao: First person account of Doctor's Hospital occupation]

[N.B.: Toronto has recently declared homelessness to be a National
Disaster. Further comment seems superfluous. - j.]

First Person account of the Doctor's Hospital occupation, and my subsequent
by josh@tao.ca


The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty continues fighting its frontline
direct action struggles for the human rights of Toronto's enormous homeless
population. Despite the 1 1/2 year old 'Task force on Homelessness' and the
one-week-ago declaration of a 'Homelessness Disaster' by City Council,
people continue to die of exposure on the ever-colder streets, only steps
away from empty, heated buildings.

At approx. 10:30am we peacefully entered an open, unlocked, front door of
Doctor's Hospital.

The security guard warned us that we could not come in, and then became
very agitated and violent when we explained calmly and peacefully that we
intended to occupy the building.

Several people held the door and occupied the front entranceway as we
carried in boxes of food and blankets. Not forgetting the lessons of
previous occupations, this time we had brought enough supplies to hold our
own for quite some time, including buckets and disinfectant for makeshift
toilets (lessons from the CIBC!)

As we were bringing in the supplies, we were assaulted by the security
guard, who pushed me down the small front flight of steps as i was carrying
a heavy box of food, and attempted to manhandle some of us out the door.

We responded peacefully and nonviolently, and calmly explained that the
guard was not a peace officer, and was not legally entitled to use force,
even if we were committing an illegal act.. i told the guard, several times
over and over until he calmed down, that we were here peacefully, that the
guard was not allowed to use violence to eject us, and that he should
telephone his superiors and the police, and allow them to deal with
possible use of force if necessary.
The guard reported to media (see the globe and mail, nov. 6, for an
example) that he had been pushed over, although no such event occured.

We gathered in the front admitting room, moving all the food and blankets
inside. As we were closing the door, the security guard attempted to kick
in the door, injuring several people in the process. At this point, we
erected barricades in front of both enterances to the room, using material
which was piled on the floor and appeared to be a dismantled shelf or
counter. Boards were nailed up over both doors.

There were 17 antipoverty activists inside the hospital, though the
security guard reported 30-40 (I witnessed him count many people several
times as we were ferrying food in from the van parked out front).

We hung signs in the window which were not very visible from outside and,
when informed of this by the local media who were unable to get a really
photogenic shot, I climbed out the window to hang the banner outside (see
picture in the globe, star, etc..)

I spent a fair amount (rougly 2/3 of the time i was in the building)
sitting next to the (looking east) left door, peering out into the hallway
through the broken edge of the door which the security guard kicked in, and
watching and listening to police and security activity.

(around 12-1pm) I observed, through the crack, the security guard give a
statement to a police officer to the effect that we had not caused damage
when entering the building and that he had been the one to kick in the door.

(around 3-4pm) The police allowed 4 people to climb out the window without
charges. A cityTV cameraman passed in a small portable camera which was
used to film the inside and the ETF (Emergency Task Force) breaching the

(at 4:30pm) The staff sargeant spoke with us at the left door, and informed
us that they were about to breach the door. They asked us what they should
expect, and were told that we would be peaceful and cooperative, and that
we would be assembled in a bunch away from the door. We then moved away
from the door.

(at around 5pm) They blew the door in with a battering ram, and we saw at
least 5 black-clad gas-mask-wearing ETF officers in the doorway, the lead
one with a gas-cartridge grenade launcher which was aimed straight at my
chest (as i was the one nearest the door, 15 feet away). They then
introduced a mirror on a long telescopic pole which they used to 'clear'
(observe as being empty) the room's corners, then 2 ETF officers wielding
large CS cannisters, positioned themselves in the corners and proceeded to
'clear' the rest of that end of the room. At that point they gave the 'all
clear' signal, and uniformed (both black and bright yellow) officers
entered and proceeded to arrest everyone. Gaetan was arrested first, and
was innitially identified as John Clark by the arresting officer. Second to
be arrested was (i believe) Sarah who was holding the camera and filming
the arrests. The camera was violently wrenched from her person. We were all
told we were being arrested for 'trespass'. The officer who arrested me
removed my keys from my hip sack and clipped them to his own belt (they are
attached to a small caribiner). We were loaded into two paddy wagons, 7 men
in one, 6 women in another, and driven to 14 division.

Once we arrived at 14 div., we were kept waiting in the cold paddy wagon
for an hour (i was last to be taken in and was held out there for more like
1h45min) the women were processed after the men and were kept waiting out
there for 2-3 hours.

Eventually i was brought in with most of my stuff and informed of a partial
list of my rights (right to retain council). I was told i was being charged
with 'unlawful assembly' and 'mischief under $5000'. They then removed all
outer clothing, the contents of my pockets and hat. They also cut from my
wrist a small bracelet, 3 inches in length, made of 4mm. climbing cord,
which had been attached to my wrist for 6 years and was given to me by a
former climbing partner of mine who died ice climbing in alberta. The
bracelet was destroyed and had great sentimental value. The officers also
proceeded to rip out the elastic band from the hem of my pants, destroying
them. Both of these were presumably to prevent me from hanging myself with
3 inches of string or an elastic. They also removed my boots.

All the men were placed in a tiny 'bullpen' room, cold, 6ft. by 9ft., with
a toilet bowl overflowing with feces and the flush and sink tap not
working. There was not enough room in the cell for all of us to sit down on
the cold floor at once. several of us were removed periodically for
answering more personal questions. I was aksed for next of kin, and when i
asked why they were requesting this information, i was told that it was in
case i was injured or killed while in custody (this was said with a
menacing tone). I asked them if they expected me to become injured or
killed before being released, and when told 'no', I declined to give this

(around 11pm) At some point an officer brought in documents relating to
videotape evidence for us all to sign. mine was labelled 'Regina vs. John
Hehner' although my name is Josh. several of us, including myself and Don
Weitz asked for access to legal council and our constitutionally guaranteed
phone call, but this was denied. I asked this officer how the 'habeas
corpus' was coming, and i was laughed at.

I also witnessed a short dark-skinned man in a cell two or three down the
hall being verbally abused by an officer while being removed from his cell
(the conversation portion that i overheard consisted of 'what do you think
this is, a fucking hotel? get your fucking ass up before i fucking..' he
trailed off here and they both disappeared around a bend.

At around 11:30 another prisoner was added to our bullpen, who appeared
intoxicated or mentally unstable. The police had taken not only his shoes
but also his socks, and the conrete floor was freezing. He made lots of
interesting noises in an (possibly) East African language, and then fell

Another man in a cell two away from us engaged me in conversation. He
talked a bit about his upcoming jailtime, and his brother's coke charges.
He also asked several questions, including 'who are you guys?' me: 'ocap',
'were you guys doing an action at the doctor's hospital?', me: 'yes', 'who
assaulted the security guard?'. At this point i decided not to trust that
this man wasn't a police officer or informant, although he certainly may
not have been, so i stated very clearly, 'no, the security guard was not
assaulted', and then moved away from where he could see or talk to me. He
did not engage us in any more conversation.

(around midnight) We asked for water and this was denied. We were brought
stale processed micro-wave burgers, which the vegetarians among us found
inedible. Mike Coward asked for his medication and this was denied. At
around 1am I informed them of my kidney condition (a bit of an exageration)
which requires me to stay hydrated and we were finally brought two small
styrofoam cups to share between 8 people.

(around 1:30am) I was taken for finger-printing. This room was adjacent to
the women's cells (they had all been placed in individual cells, around
6x4ft in size). when the women saw me, they aksed me to inform the officer
of their right to legal counsel and a phone call. I repeated the request to
the officer, and this was ignored. Gloria (i think that's her name) asked
for her medication and this was ignored. I was taken back to my cell, and
Mike was taken, printed and released.

At around 2:15am, i was removed from the cell for processing. I was
instructed to sign a 'promise to appear' and a release conditions form. I
informed them that the release conditions were unconstitutional, and
informed them that i was signing them under protest. I was also made to
sign some kind of document pertaining to my possessions. The officer
prevented me, with his hand, from reading all but the bottom corner where i
was to sign. There were a number of other check boxes, comments and
information on the page (including possibly a check box saying that i had
recieved my phone call, which i hadn't) which i was not allowed to see. I
asked the officer directly if i was being prevented from reading this
document which i was being made to sign, and was told that it was none of
my business. My name, Josh Hehner, was clearly visible above his hand at
the top of the page. I again asked for legal counsel, and was told i could
make my phone call outside at the pay phone. I asked i was allowed to be
released without signing this last document and was told no. I signed it
under protest.

I was released at 2:30am, and hung around until the last of us was released
(around 3:30am).

John Clark and Stefan Pilipa refused their release conditions and were kept
in custody.

Gaetan Heroux, Don Johnston, Kelly Hodges and Sue Collis were kept in
custody for a 'show cause' trial in the morning of the next day.

I came home and typed up most of these notes around 6am and got ready
(read: yuppie) for our court appearance at 9am. The six who stayed over
night were released with reduced conditions, thanks to our lawyer Bob
Kellerman, only that they 'not go back to Doctor's Hospital'. We were given
our next court date of Nov. 20, 9am at Old City Hall. All concerned
citizens are invited to come out and support us.

It was very clear from this whole process that the police never had any
intention of having any of our charges stick. We were given so many primary
grounds for dismissal of these charges, that they weren't even being
careful. What is more likely is that they knew charges had never stuck
against an OCAP member stemming from an action, and that they simply wanted
to met out their own brand of punishment, presumeably to pressure us to
stop excersising our democratic and constitutional rights. The heavy police
response and way-over-the-top ETF door breach are just another example of
police intimidation, and them using anti-poverty actions as an excuse for
training excersises.

The Doctor's Hospital, when we entered and occupied it, had the heat on and
electricity working, and was clean and comfortable. Only a few hours of
work would be required to get it up and usable as a shelter. It is an
abomination that people are dying on the streets just steps away from
potential shelter.

Papers reported that hypocrite councillors Olivia Chow and Jack Layton had
'essentially met' our demands, though they only gave in to the absolute
barest minimum required for them to keep face. In fact they lied to us
repeatedly, even claiming that Jack was coming down to speak with us.
Apparently they did come down, and held a press conference in front of the
hospital later that night. They agreed to reopen the building on Dec. 1 as
a temporary shelter and possible geriatric facility, with no more than 100
beds. We had, of course, demanded immediate access to shelter for all, and
the removal of the cruel '-15 degrees' outside temperature requirement for
extra emergency shelters to open. Toronto continues to have over a 500 bed
shortage, and what shelters there are, are scary, overcrowded, often
violent places to be. Over 4000 people are sleeping on the streets and
another 50,000 live in temporary shelters. Men and women are separated, so
that couples and families are torn apart, and there is no security of
person or possessions.

Although many politicians continue to use posturing on homeless issues to
advance their own personal or political business interests, it is quite
clear that only concerted direct action on the part of the poor, the
homeless and front line social workers will result in any changes. In 1993,
the United Nations condemned Canada for widespread and systematic failure
to meet the human rights requirements of international and canadian law.


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