the coincidence of ocap's housing rally and an anti-war demo being set for Saturday, October 26, wasn't the day's only scheduling conflict. Even more unfortunate was the revelation that the police had also scheduled a large rally of their own, and had even planned to gather at the same place as OCAP. Boy, I bet they were embarrassed.Both the latter events drew supporters from out of town, activists from Ottawa and Montreal and police from the York Region and Barrie. Guess which group had their travel costs defrayed by public money?
Police informed the OCAP march, gathered at the now skeletal Tent City, what the parade route would be, under implied threat of lynching. I was starting to wish I'd scheduled a bank robbery or a murder for that afternoon instead. It would have been easier, with what felt like a third of the nation's police forces at the lakefront to make sure no one endangered themselves by putting their head under a roof.
Rough estimates put the number of officers at 200, meaning everyone had a dance partner. I wondered at the cost of funding this little armada and how that figure might compare to the cost of just funding some damn houses. Soon the march was off, with chants of "If they don't build it, we will take it," meaning we were on our way to the unboarding of another squat.
The moving wall of black-and-yellow bike cops was, as usual, the most animated contingent. At the blatant provocation of a couple of people stepping off the packed sidewalk, it was as if a switch had been thrown. The moustachioed bumblebees waded into the crowd, knocking people over, throwing people into the streets, striking people with retractable batons and yelling tough cop things. An officer knocked someone off his bike, then stole (sorry, confiscated) the bike.
The theatricality was apparent a few seconds later. We were ushered past a line of stone-faced emergency task force troops, on display. The message was clear -- they hadn't hit us as hard as they could have, and we were to remember that.
The march pushed on, at every corner steeling itself for another attack. Officers repeatedly attempted to steal and destroy banners -- but we carried on as we had begun: peacefully. Our destination was a building on Parliament, number 213, just north of Queen. OCAP picked it because it belongs to no one; or, technically, to everyone -- all three levels of government hold the deed. And city council is expected to declare it a surplus housing and put it up for auction within the next few days. You read that right -- the city admits it has surplus housing, but somehow can't house everyone.
OCAP, on the other hand, seems willing to try. There were already people inside to unfurl a banner upon our arrival. Toronto police went in the back of the house to chase the squatters out, who wisely escaped through the front door. A line of York Region riot cops, meanwhile, just stood there, some occasionally moving their eyes from side to side as if to say, "I don't know why I'm here either."
As if worrying about abandoned buildings weren't enough stress, some of Toronto's finest also seemed a bit touchy about the recent allegations of discrimination. An officer reacted to one of the anti-war banners containing the word "racism" and the next thing we knew a whole pack of police plunged past everyone else to grab the person of colour holding one end -- Ryerson student Kashif A. Shaikh -- and made a dog-pile.
"The police cursed at me and threw me to the ground," recalls Kashif, "and rubbed my face in the concrete."
They'd made their point; we'd made ours. Languishing somewhere between tired and exhausted, we headed to Moss Park for free soup, leaving the police to guard their empty building.