I don't know why none of the dailies saw fit to publish a picture of the scene outside the sprawling home on a tree-lined windy road near Bayview and York Mills where provincial Liberals held a barbecue fundraiser Saturday (August 28).
It's the kind of juxtaposition editors live for. A tony house, a poodle tied to a tree, an impressive set of 40 police officer lawn ornaments, cardiganed partiers, and a hundred Ontario Coalition Against Poverty activists taking issue with the fact that social assistance rates are languishing at pre-Harris levels.
An OCAPer cranks up the megaphone. "Come on out, McGuinty," she calls, "and explain why you refuse to raise social assistance but gave yourself a 30 per cent raise." The crowd roars, police scowl.
As Grit boosters approach, a dozen protestors jog up to block their way and ask if they understand the results of Liberal policies. The mounted division, moving at a canter, manages to sneak up from behind, nearly trampling a few bystanders.
In the lull, John Clarke takes the megaphone and acknowledges that the interruption may seem a bit rude, but in the face of people still dying homeless, makes no apologies. "Act like Tories," he says, "get treated like Tories." Someone starts a chant of "Fuck you, Dalton," which is quickly taken up. Are any of the police chanting along in their heads, wondering why the premier doesn't come out to deal with this himself? Maybe that's just me.
The verbal assaults on incoming golf shirts continue, and in between, protestors compete in the hole-in-the-police-line dash. The family of three from the opposite cavernous house aren't cheering, but the son takes pictures with his cellphone.
A resident named Carly walks her dog past the surreal spectacle. She tells me she's surprised by the protest's presence but not its reasons. "I'm not going to tell them not to protest," she says, "because I'm not in their position."
A knot of protestors is surging now, sizable enough to make me wonder if the premier, momentarily forgetting himself, is stepping out for a beer run. But as calls of "Lorna!" go up, I realize that the only other person who could provoke as much ire from this crowd has arrived.
Stone-faced York U president Lorna Marsden betrays only the slightest anxiety as four officers escort her in. Yorkie Dan Molloy, summarily expelled (and since restored) for using a megaphone in York nexus Vari Hall, misses her, so there's no grudge match. That may be for the best: Marsden seems like the brass knuckles type.
But as activists get cheekier, police get frustrated. With a protest strategy based mostly on trespassing, escalation is inevitable. I'm lucky enough to only get butted from behind by a mounted cop who obviously thinks he's special just because they gave him the grey horse.
But at the opposite side of the fracas, screams can be heard. I run over to see a half-circle of wound-up people snapping pointed fingers like whips at the police.
In front of them, a woman lies curled on the ground. I'm told an officer bounced her off the pavement.
Someone grabs my water bottle and pours its contents over another activist, who - eyes clenched, breath laboured, skin bright red - is already drenched from the contents of three other bottles. The air stings just slightly. Pepper spray. She says she was grabbed by the throat and sprayed point blank.
Whatever happened, it's lit things up like a flare: anger burns bright and hot, but quickly dies down. The unconscious woman is awake now, shaking. A senior officer kneels to compete with a nurse who's already tending her. The cop who pushed her is whisked away, while an impressively prompt ambulance (a public one, snacking health ministers take note) appears at the end of the road.
There's mostly silence, broken by the dry sound of the woman attempting to vomit. A sergeant approaches OCAP organizer John Clarke. "There's a blind girl coming with her family," she says. "Can you give an assurance there won't be violence?" From where I stand, the two frame the crumpled body on the pavement. I want to ask the same consideration for her.
The family tread across a lawn decked with shaded lights that make it look like a living room. The parents cast quick glances down at the mess on the street. There's a momentary, almost impotent surge of anger from the crowd. Paramedics put Jennifer on the immobilization board as the nervous blind girl, no more than nine years old, is led as quickly as possible by her parents past angry shouts of "Shame!" My anger receptors are burnt out. I'm ready to go.
An officer is saying demonstrators know no limits. They do: $520 a month for those on social assistance, $7.10 an hour for minimum-wage workers. This tends to limit you to either rent or groceries. I suggest this as a reason for the anger, and he nods, before remembering the script. "There are proper ways to make change."
Soon, the march re-clumps and heads solemnly back to the buses. The chatter picks up again, and the wheels start rolling.
Back at the party, they have air conditioning and, at worst, will need some detergent to deal with a wine stain. On the bus, we only have the breeze to cool us down and remove the lingering fumes of pepper spray. Funny - I'd come to think of that scent as Eau de Tory.