Last Saturday was the “Rally For Rights And Democracy” in Toronto. It was organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour- Sid Ryan was the major star of the day. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) had a major presence, as did the Steelworkers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), teacher’s unions, and the notorious Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).
Most of the people were decent folk, union members who flocked together to defend their (enviable) privilege. I come from a union family, so I can understand their motivations. But there was also a darker side to the crowd- what most observers of Ontario’s activist scene refer to as the ‘usual suspects. Needless to say, it was a recipe for a very wild ride…
I began the day at the central rallying point at Allan Gardens park at 11am. There was a stage setup by the entrance to the conservatory- big speakers, bad country music and a teacher’s union handing out red toques and scarves calling for ‘no to bill 115‘. The crowd was friendly and consisted mostly of average middle-class people. There were lots of TV cameras around but not much for them to film at the time.
Next I walked over to Moss Park to meet-up with a good friend and fellow blogger Undercover Kitty (who has some great expose’s on the Canadian Federation of Students on his site). This is where OCAP first rallied their motley crew- it was a mix of anarchists, hardcore Trotskyites, and a few familiar faces. One of their leaders, Mark Brill, immediately gave me the evil eye and then pointed me out to an older, more senior, looking man. (Brill is close friends with Andy Lehrer).
Before I continue, let me share a bit of OCAP’s history- it sets the stage well for the rest of the story. They were founded in 1989 out of a previous organization named the Toronto Union of Unemployed workers. Their focus is a lot like ACORN, or the Vancouver’s radical Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council– poverty, housing and gentrification.
OCAP is a militant group- the OPSEU and anarchist flags in the above picture kind of give that away. And, they’re not ‘soft anarchists’ like Zach Ruiter and Ashleigh Ingle (all mask and no smash). OCAP brought Toronto the Queen’s Park Riot in June, 2000. People in the crowd threw cobble stones, bricks and Molotov cocktails at the police that day. There were 40 people arrested, including their leader John Clarke– who was also at Moss Park on Saturday.
This initiated the creation of the Ontario Common Front- a coalition of unions, anarchists and millitant organizations. Sid Ryan is a very prominent member- others include Dave Vasey of the anarchist-friendly Christian Peacemaker Teams (and a hijacker of Occupy Toronto), Trey Winney (who attacked a National Post cameraman at Alex Hundert’s sentencing), and queer rights crusader Anna Williats.
Many of the people were eating when I arrived. OCAP uses the age-old trick of offering free food to attract poor people to their rallies. The source of the food wasn’t advertised anywhere (some homeless people I know have said they used food recovered from the waste bins at Kensington Market). There was also a stage, with a very professional PA system setup- Mark Brill appeared to be responsible for it.
We stood at the north-east corner of the crowd where we met Troy Ford, the city’s ‘Parks Ambassador’- he’s a very nice guy with what’s often a very hard job. He holds the responsibility/authority to have people removed or banned from city parks. Then, a shaggy looking anarchist with a nose ring came up to us.
His name is Doug Kynikos– and, despite the fact we’d never met before, he was quite adamant to get me to leave the (public) park. He told me that (because of OCAP’s virtuous presence) the park was declared a ‘safe space‘, and I was therefore asked to leave. I looked at him, puzzled, and politely declined his request. Had there genuinely been an issue with me, Troy Ford was the only person authorized to ask me to leave the park. So, then he went all Arnold Schwarzenegger on me and said “I’ll be back!”.
A few minutes later I saw Kynikos walking up to the stage and taking the microphone. I was completely surprised to see that OCAP had decided to start-off their rally (for so many important issues) by focussing on me! I was equally as honoured as I was petrified at that moment. It was great to hear that OCAP is so concerned about my work- it reaffirms my belief that I’m on the right track. But, equally, I was beside a crowd of potentially violent people and Kynikos was yelling things through the PA that were obviously intended to get them to attack me.
I stood there quietly, filming Kynikos’ as he tried to rile-up the crowd. Then an unpleasant man came beside me, said some ugly words, then he and a comrade pulled-out a banner to block my view. I walked back & forth a few times to overcome their obstacle- the whole situation felt a little bit like Tom and Jerry. Then, bizarrely, the guy’s friend asks me if I could hold the banner for him for a moment while he got out his gloves. So I figured why not, and took hold of his pole. The other guy went totally ballistic at his comrade- it was quite comical, the two stooges.
Who’d have thought I’d be holding an OCAP banner only a couple of minutes after they labelled me as the enemy!
A couple of minutes later Kynikos came back up to me, got all intimidating, and tried to put on a tough guy act. He’s about 3-4 inches shorter than me, and about 30-40% lighter- but, surrounded by his mob, he got rather cocky. I smiled, and politely asked him for examples of the accusations he was throwing. It turns out he was pulling a ‘Jenny Peto‘, and couldn’t back any of them. This is par for the course- Black Blocus Idiotus.
Just then, a few new characters began to surround me- about 8 or 9 as I recall. One of them was a genuine celebrity- Suraia Sahar, the Afghani woman who was part of the crowd that interrupted last year’s Remembrance day ceremonies. I had no idea she was involved with OCAP before then- but, considering her history, it wasn’t really too much of a surprise. She was very angry that I’d criticised the people who behind the Remembrance day ruckus. Somehow she still thinks it acceptable to insult people as they’re mourning their dead friends.
It was a very tense few minutes, but eventually they faded away. The group then began their march to Allan Gardens where they’d meet-up with Sid Ryan and the unions. As we were leaving, Troy Ford came up to me and said he was impressed how well I handled the situation- that put a smile on my face.
According to most reliable sources, the crowd at the rally was anywhere between 10-15,000 people. I got into some interesting conversations with some rank & file union members. One teacher I spoke with had a sign calling for the dissolution of the Catholic school board. He used Quebec as an example saying “they don’t even have a Catholic school board any longer!”. People kept coming up to me offering free swag- it seems that swag is to the unionists as free food is to poverty activists. Thousands of hats, scarves and other trinkets were free for the taking.
Then Sid Ryan came onto the stage. About half of the crowd seemed to listen to him, but many people kept to their conversations with their friends. Then Ryan yelled out a porky into his microphone saying “There are over 40,000 people here with us today!”.
This is a recurring theme with old-left events- it’s almost inevitable the organizers will grossly overestimate the attendance. We saw this with Rabble.ca when Ethan Cox labelled a crowd at a Montreal Casseroles march as being 80,000 when it was really about 15,000. Curiously, Rabble overestimated Saturday’s march too- saying it was 25,000. Ryan’s speech was recorded and put online, people who watch it (and Rabble readers) will have no way to realize that their estimates are a sham. It’s all part of their great deception.
The crowd then marched closer towards Downtown and ended-up at Maple Leaf Gardens, the site of the convention for the Ontario Liberal Party. Inside of the convention centre the Liberals were nominating the province’s first female and first openly gay person to be Premier. Outside, I’m standing besides unionists, anarchists and even queer rights activist Anna Williats protesting what should be a cause for celebration. It was almost like Dalton Mcguinty was pulling a practical joke on them.
Sid Ryan then stood-up to a portable microphone and boomed his voice through the Carlton Street canyon. His words were very disappointing- proving he’s not the right person to be the head of the OFL:
“The Liberals have actually lost the love of the labour movement, and those friends that we had, and there’s no amount of courtship that’s going to bring that back!”
Ryan, single handedly, totally cut-off all possibilities for working towards solutions with the Liberal party- ever. Knowing that he’s not about to support the Progressive Conservative (PC) party, it’s becoming clear that he’s trying to drive the labour movement wholly into the hands of the NDP. This isn’t leadership, it’s partisanship- and it seems to be a great disservice to the workers he’s representing.
At the end of his speech I took the opportunity to go up to Sid Ryan and introduce myself- after all, I’ve been writing about him for a while and we’d never met before. His response was reminiscent of Vivian Krause’s experience when she introduced herself to David Suzuki– like Suzuki, Sid Ryan told me to ‘fuck off’. More evidence of Ryan’s lack of leadership credibility.
Ontario’s union members deserve a leader with a
little lot more class…