Ontario Coalition against Poverty wanted to be heard.
since right-wing Ontario Premier Mike Harris was elected, the organization has
tried everything to get the government to pay attention to the desperate straits
facing poor and homeless people. John Clarke of OCAP asked several months ago
for a group of homeless people to address the legislature. He never got a reply.
the beginning of the demonstration that turned into one of the most
confrontations between the police and protesters in Ontario history, Clarke
said: "The victims of poverty and homelessness will not be allowed in the
chamber where laws against them have been enacted." Then the demonstrators
moved up to the barricades. They pushed against the barricades in an attempt to
get into the legislature. The police pushed back and at first not much happened
except for a few people throwing balls of paper at the police and chanting
"our house, our house".
the horses came in. Riding from behind the building mounted police assaulted the
crowd. That’s when the confrontation escalated. I’ve seen it before. When the
police want to provoke confrontation, they use the horses. People get stepped
on, hit and even trampled and then they get angry.
police used the anger to justify attack after attack.
were not like the well-trained civil disobedience activists who passively
resisted the police in Windsor. These were poor and homeless people, many of
whom have seen friends die on the streets. Some people were angry enough to
times demonstrators retreated and things calmed down. Then the
moved in again. Scores of people where injured and so were 20 cops. More than 30
people have been arrested and one is being held without bail despite having no
criminal record. Her friends believe the police targeted her because she
organized a coalition against police racism.
are considering whether to bring criminal charges against John Clarke, a well
known anti-poverty activist in Canada. If they do charge him, it could be one of
the most important civil rights cases in Canadian history.
violence is rare in Canada but police aggression is starting to become more
common place in demonstrations. A couple of weeks ago in Windsor Ontario police
used pepper spray against people for simply trying to raise a banner on the 12
foot high fence surrounding the meeting of the Organization of American States.
action and more confrontational tactics are also being used by demonstrators in
face of the more and more restricted space for democratic dialogue and debate.
are that 22 homeless people have lost their lives in Toronto
the last seven months alone. Death on the streets was a rare event until the
triple Harris wammy of welfare cuts, anti-tenant legislation and elimination of
Toronto city report on homelessness just a year ago warned of disasters to come
if nothing was done to provide housing assistance to the thousands of people who
can no longer afford a roof over their heads. The warnings have not been heeded.
heard Mike Harris on the TV the other day saying that he would never
support a policy that caused a single life to be lost in the province of
attack on poor people was a deliberate strategy. Harris practices the politics
of polarization. Us, the hard working, tax paying people vs them, the lazy,
shiftless, dirty poor people. It is no accident that the first action of the
so-called Common Sense revolution was to cut welfare by 21.6 per cent, causing
terrible suffering to the province’s poor people.
has convinced the citizens of Ontario that the poor are responsible for their
own misfortune. The reality is that since his government came to power Ontario’s
biggest city has had more people on the streets proportionally than New York
City. A recent report says that Toronto’s homeless population is 15.9 per cent
higher than New York City’s. It was not always thus.
tragic events in Walkerton are finally persuading middle Ontario that there is a
real price to pay for Harris’s mean spirited ideologically driven right-wing
agenda. Now I hope that awareness will raise questions about his policies more
in a province that has so much money, that we can afford to send $200 tax cut to
each and every citizen, do we have so many people, including so many children,
who have no home and not enough to eat? John Clarke and his group of
anti-poverty activists have managed to keep visible the price that the weakest
part of our society is paying for Harris’s policies. Now that they have brought
their pain right to Harris’s front door, maybe, just maybe we will listen and
let Harris know that the deaths of homeless people are just as unacceptable and
just as preventable as the deaths of the people in Walkerton.