Tuesday, October 16
- reported by Jaggi Singh for Ontario Indymedia, Montreal Indymedia and CMAQ
[This article is a first draft report. and is based on eyewitness reporting, as well as reports from other direct participants.]
An economic disruption campaign against the Ontario provincial government was launched today in
Toronto -- Canada's business capital -- by a coalition of more than 75 groups called the Ontario
Common Front. The campaign is organized under the slogan "Fight to Win" and aims to oppose,
through direct action, the policies of the right-wing Conservative government in Ontario led by
Premier Mike Harris.
At its highest point, about 1500 people were snake-marching through the city's financial district,
disrupting business as usual, and playing a game of cat-and-mouse with hundreds of police,
including the riot squad. At times, it wasn't exactly clear who was the "cat" or "mouse," as
protesters out-maneuvered the police to enter into the financial district of the city.
According to a source at the Common Front legal office, at the time of this writing, there have been
at least 34 arrests. The arrests occurred at various points in the day for a variety of charges. Bail
hearings are expected tomorrow morning, although 9 people have been released.
The snake-march officially ended around 10am today, after moving for about three hours through the
rush-hour streets of the financial district. It was at the end of the march, near Queen's Park, where
plainclothes "strike squad" members grabbed several protesters for arrest. Many of these arrests
were captured on video by Ontario Indymedia and Toronto Video Activist Collective. Most people
were able to disperse in small groups into downtown Toronto, and are congregating at various spaces in the downtown area, including an Activist Fair at Ryerson University, the Indymedia offices
and other sites.
There was a clear disruption in downtown Toronto today, although there wasn't a complete
shutdown of Bay Street, Canada's "Wall Street." Major intersections were systematically
barricaded with overturned newspaper boxes, while subway station entrances were temporarily
closed. Many buildings locked their doors for large stretches of time, or implemented security
measures that amounted to the same thing. According to several reports, many companies and
firms simply told their employees to stay at home for the day. Meanwhile, the presence of hundreds
of police was in itself a disruption of downtown business.
A caravan of cars originating from Eastern Ontario also contributed to the economic disruption, by
radically slowing down traffic on the 401 highway, Southern Ontario's main artery. A group of 7 cars
drove at a very slow 50km/h on a highway whose limit is 100km/h, causing traffic gridlock.
Toronto's right-wing mayor, Mel Lastman, was quoted in mainstream reports describing protesters
as "absolutely disgusting" and called the disruption campaign "disgraceful." In one television report,
he described the protesters as "animals" and their actions as "organized thuggery." The police chief, Julian Fantino, joined in, calling the protest the "worst kind of organized crime."
At one point this morning, there were as many as four simultaneous snake-marches. There are at
least three other demonstrations that have been planned for the day. A protest by the Mobilization
for Global Justice marched downtown without major incidents, and joined many other demonstrators at the Activist Fair at Ryerson University. Just earlier, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) organized a demo at Dundas and University streets, while other labour activists are planning a demo at 5pm this afternoon outside the Ministry of Labour building.
The last two days were eventful in other ways as well. Premier Mike Harris announced this morning
that he was going to resign for what most corporate media outlets speculate are "personal reasons." Meanwhile, yesterday about 300 high school students in Toronto walked out of classes in support of the Common Front campaign.
In a related story, standardized tests scheduled today for almost 150,000 Grade Ten students were
cancelled after portions of the test were posted on the internet. Some corporate outlets blamed the
security violation, which will cost the province an estimated $7.5 million, on the Common Front campaign.
Today's protests brought out demonstrators from all over Ontario, and included contingents from
Montreal and Quebec City. There was even a solidarity demonstration as far as Victoria, British
Columbia. Today's actions are the launch to a long-term campaign of "economic disruption" called
by the Ontario Common Front. Major protests have already been scheduled for the coming weeks
in Sudbury, London, Hamilton and Guelph.
More detailed information about today's events, and the Ontario Common Front campaign, is
included below. Check http://ontario.indymedia.org for up-to-date reports.
SNAKE-MARCH AT DAWN
The main demonstration started today at dawn, under a constant drizzle, with a breakfast gathering
at Nathan Phillips Square in front of City Hall. Before protesters arrived, however, the police had
mobilized hundreds of members. According to corporate media reports, at least 500 police were
specifically deployed from out-of-town, with squads from the Ontario Provincial Police, Peel Region
Police and Durham Region Police reinforcing the Metro Toronto force.
The police set-up checkpoints to the Square, with an obvious presence of riot police. Anyone
attempting to enter the square was subjected to searches without explanation Several objects were
confiscated, including gas masks and goggles, and even bandannas soaked in vinegar and bike
helmets. Any object that could seemingly be used for self-protection was summarily removed by
Street medics in particular were targeted. Various eyewashes and decontamination solutions were
poured out of bottles, and members of the Toronto Medics reported that they had their medical
scissors confiscated. At least three medics were arrested at the Square before many people had
even a chance to gather. According to eyewitnesses, the medics refused to consent to the searches whose legal grounds were, at best, highly questionable.
At another point, as protesters attempted to gather in the square, one man was suddenly gang-tackled by at least 25 riot squad members, with at least as many pushing back other demonstrators. The arrestee was thrown to the ground and beaten with batons before being placed
into a van. He was wearing a gas mask and helmet, which was the apparent reason he was targeted for the arrest and beating.
Despite the clear intimidation tactics that began at dawn, hundreds managed to enter into the Square, while another large group of about two-hundred, made up mainly of demonstrators from Montreal and Quebec City, waited at another location. They were constantly followed by van loads of riot police, and did not want to risk entering the square, or subject themselves to searches.
At Nathan Philips Square, a breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast was served to the background of
music from an outdoor sound system. After speeches from various Common Front members, including high school students, the snake-march began.
From the get-go, lines of riot police attempted to prevent the march from crossing into the main
financial area. In several corporate media reports yesterday, various police officials bragged that
they would prevent protesters from getting close to the district.
The principle behind the snake-march is to maintain a highly mobile, fast-paced presence of protesters that is flexible enough to change direction, and sub-divide if necessary. The tactic worked, as the main march regrouped, and maneuvered its way into the downtown area where all the major banks have their own skyscrapers.
DISRUPTING THE FINANCIAL DISTRICT
The snake-march left in its wake barricades comprised of newspaper boxes, and spray-painted
graffiti. The boxes were eventually removed, but graffiti still covers the usually sanitized spaces
downtown. One graffiti at the Royal York Hotel read, "Resistance of the heart, against business as
It was at the Royal York, on Front Street, that the snake-march was at its peak. In front of the
hotel, one masked protester climbed onto the hotel awning, with his affinity group members
blocking security guards who were trying to intervene. On the awning, he spray painted "Stop
Murder" onto the American flag, and tried to burn it. The large group of marchers that had
congregated cheered loudly, and ensured that the masked protester was able to get away into the
While the police didn't deploy the weapons at their disposal, including horses or pepper spray,
there were several confrontations and scuffles. In one incident that took place at the corner of Bay
and King streets, one older man was beaten by riot police. He was seemingly under arrest, but was
"unarrested" by demonstrators. He was treated by street medics, and was bleeding heavily from his
head as a result of police blows.
The threat of disruption acted as a disruption in itself today. An internal memo from the First
Canadian Place bank tower was obtained by the Ontario Common Front. In that memo, the senior
property manger warns his clients, "Normal building operations will definitely be disrupted on
Tuesday until all threats of violence and/or vandalism have passed."
Another memo from Bell Canada, which has several offices in the districts, declared a "Limited
Condition Orange Alert." There were many reports of cancelled meetings, and companies simply
telling their employees to stay at home for the day.
HIGH SCHOOLS AND HARRIS
Today's demonstrations coincided with Premier Mike Harris' announcement that he would resign
after more than 6 years in power. The widely cited cause for his departure is "personal reasons" as
Harris attempts to reconcile with his wife.
However, recently some of the more extreme and obvious consequences of the Premier's policies
have been blowing up in his face. Examples include the murder of native activist Dudley George at
the hands of the Ontario Provincial Police at Ipperwash, as well as the tainted water scandal at
Walkerton. In both instances, links have been made directly to the Premier's office.
The Harris resignation was celebrated at the demo today, but was observed with caution by many
others. Many organizers see the resignation as an attempt to make cosmetic changes to the Conservative Party, while maintaining the hardline, far-right economic agenda of cutbacks, corporate tax-cuts and attacks on the poor.
One Harris policy, standardized school testing, was also making headlines today. Today over
150,000 students in Grade 10 all over Ontario were to take compulsory literacy tests. Those tests
had to be cancelled after portions of the exam were posted on the internet. One media outlet
blamed the security breach, which cost the province $7.5 million, on activists from the Ontario
One strong component of today's snake-marches were the high school flying squads, comprised of
students who walked out of classes yesterday. There was one arrest of a high school organizer at
the protests yesterday. Karen Silverwoman is still under detention as she refuses to sign "non-association" conditions that prevent her from dealing with other organizers from the Ontario
Coalition Against Poverty.
Meanwhile later in the day, buses arriving from Quebec City and Montreal were subject to a special
welcome by over 20 police officers and the head of Metro Toronto Police Intelligence. Police officials filmed everyone on the buses, and proceeded to enter the buses without permission. The police also prevented Quebec City activists from disembarking until they were able to find their video
camera to film the arriving protesters. Police repeatedly refused to provide reasons for their searches.
FIGHTING TO WIN
While the goal of shutting down Bay Street was not achieved today, there was a clear disruption of
business as usual. Moreover, with the police vowing the prevent protesters from even entering the
financial district, as well as the chill after September 11, the very fact the demos still happened were victories in themselves.
Today's protests are just the start of a long-term campaign of economic disruption. The principle is
that to make real change to the policies of the provincial government, their financial backers and
supporters must be targeted.
More protests are scheduled as soon as this Friday in Hamilton, with other protests in Sudbury,
London and Guelph. Updates will be posted on ontario.indymedia.org.