On Thursday the OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) held a protest in the City of Toronto owned Metro Hall building. It was pretty much the same crowd who were at their City Hall protest a couple weeks back minus a few. Anarchist Mennonite Street Preacher Doug Hatlem Johnson was conspicuously absent, but John Clarke was there, as was Mark Brill, Jenny Peto as was her partner Lisa Schofield.
The protest was much the same as the one at City Hall. People had signs, there was chanting, people sitting on blankets and lots of media. But, there is one thing that was different- this time, late in the evening while the police were dragging OCAP members out of the building, an angry (and sadly misdirected) woman with a sharp object attempted to stab me…
The moment I arrived I was accosted by a person I’ve not met before. His name is Macdonald Scott, he’s an elfin looking man who’s an immigration consultant who works for a law firm- and, curiously, he’s also a member of the racist hate group (that focusses on immigration) No One Is Illegal. Scott came up to me and made what comically looked like a Nazi salute in an attempt to block my camera. I asked him why he was blocking me and he said the usual “because you’ve been harassing people”. He had a Jenny Peto moment when I asked him specifics of what I’ve done- you could see on his face that he knew he was caught lying so he stopped and turned away from me.
So I walked away from him only to notice that John Clarke was talking to the media about your’s truly! If you can believe it, he was so scared that someone from the media would talk with me that he actually put himself on the line by slandering me to them. After my story about Mark Brill’s participation in a violent union action the week before, Clarke probably knew he had a lot to hide.
The next hour was bordering on the ridiculous. Wherever I walked, OCAP members (mostly their leaders) followed me around with signs and tried to stop me from filming. It was juvenile, even John Clarke was following me around- all this despite the fact there were dozens of people with cameras.
About half-way through I started to figure out why they were doing this. I watched OCAP people talking to the media, and all the reporters did was throw them softballs. Here’s an organization that works closely with (and some of their members participated in) the Black Bloc during the G20, and people who threw Molotov cocktails during the Queen’s Park riot- yet, not a single member of the media appeared to ask a single critical question. The mainstream media knows that people who criticise OCAP get pushed out of the way.
I came back later in the evening to cover the arrests when I met fellow blogger UndercoverKity. Things were relatively quiet until about 8 o’clock- but, as the eviction time got nearer, one could feel the energy in the crowd getting more tense. Police officers began to gather around the crowd at about 8:15, and MacDonald Scott stood up to make an announcement. He said that he also represented the Movement Defence Committee, a legal fund setup to provide support to activists who end-up getting arrested. In his speech he made it crystal clear that anyone who was arrested would receive legal assistance.
There was an announcement on the PA system at 8:30 proclaiming that the building was closed and all people should leave. A few minutes later a police official came out and gave a last 5 minute warning- anyone left inside the building afterwards would be arrested. I smelt smoke in the air a couple of minutes later and alerted the building security- it seems like someone may have put a match into a bag full of paper garbage but the fire didn’t catch.
One of the first people to be arrested was Derek Soberal. He put up a bit of a struggle and was then carted off into a paddy wagon waiting outside. Soberal was apparently the only person who was taken into custody that night, the rest of the protesters were ticketed and sent outside. Some protesters went limp and had to be dragged out, the others went peacefully.
While I was outside, filming the arrests through the window, a woman came up to me who I’ve met once before. It was at Sid Ryan’s protest against the Ontario Liberal Convention when OCAP leaders used their megaphone system to try to incite people to commit violence against me. She also tweeted an abusive message to me back in January. She appears to be in her 20’s, I’m told she’s a gang member- and from her speech/demeanour, it seems clear she’s developmentally disabled. For this reason I won’t publish her name.
She came up to me and told me I should stop filming because I’m a “molester”. A couple minutes later Undercover Kitty yells out at me to put away my camera and to immediately get out of there. I trust him with my life, so I didn’t ask any questions I just walked away briskly. He later told me that she was behind me with a sharp metal object in her hand that was about 4-5 inches long. He also said she had a friend in-front of me who was just about to grab my camera. His last observation is that this protest was “clearly out of their territory” – it’s possible this was planned and they were brought in.
Just a typical day at an OCAP rally…
When analyzing OCAP, outside of the violence, there’s a much more important question to be asked. Are they representing the people they say they are- or, are their leaders appropriating the voices of the poor for political purposes?
One way of answering that question is to look at the statistics. According to one count there are over six-hundred thousand people living in poverty in Toronto alone. The crowd on Thursday was about 100 people at it’s peak- consisting of three groups- each divided about equally: poor people, anarchists and OCAP’s leaders (generally college educated people with opportunities in life). So, there were 30-40 of the 600,000 Torontonians living in poverty at the protest- OCAP’s far from operating with a mandate.
At least, not a mandate from the poor- it’s very clear OCAP members have been given a mandate by the labour movement. The public services unions have a lot to gain from OCAP’s lobbying- and, as we saw a week previous, OCAP members have been bussed-in to labour disputes to provide muscle in the past. OPSEU members often march alongside them waving their flags.
It’s true that OCAP’s protests have value in creating awareness- but, with an issue that’s as delicate as poverty, not all press is good press. If you look at the media’s coverage you’ll see OCAP is only helping entrench people in their own positions- the liberal/radical media tells a positive story to an already sold audience, the conservative media reaffirms the values of their audiences, and OCAP’s militancy helps the bigots justify their “get a job you bum” attitude.
The more I look at OCAP the more it looks like a gladiator academy- a tool to radicalise the poor. The people who have taken leadership all have deep roots in the city’s radical Trotskyite (violent) community. They have close affiliations with violent/racist organizations like No One Is Illegal. They have connections to red-diaper baby superstars like Naomi Klein– someone who actually tried to help cover for John Clarke’s revving up the crowds as they threw Molotov cocktails during the Queen’s Park riot.
The parallels between OCAP and Occupy are too much to ignore…
Another parallel is that there was almost no discussion about solutions at this protest- neither was there any at the City Hall protest. There was lots of talks about building more shelters- but that won’t necessarily solve the big problem. There are empty shelter beds somewhere most nights, but many shelters fill-up. It seems that currently there’s no way of knowing which shelters have space until late at night. (One solution I could think of is that the shelters could use a common application to book people into their spaces- that way, people could have real-time views of where space is available.)
There’s one last important thing to mention. It’s about Macdonald Scott’s promise that everyone arrested would be provided legal care. I’ve now heard from two independent sources that when Derek Soberal was arrested, nobody came to help bail him out. He was left sitting on his own, and didn’t end up getting out of jail until about 2:30am. That’s some show of solidarity there Macdonald.
People living in poverty need better representation than this…