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(en) Canada, TORONTO: Tent City Evicted!

From Mick <mickblack47@yahoo.com>
Date Wed, 25 Sep 2002 04:34:14 -0400 (EDT)


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> From: "Graeme Bacque" <gbacque@colosseum.com>
 This has been a really bad week for squatters in Canada. First the crew
occupying the old Woodward building in Vancouver were brutally evicted
after eight days, then last Friday another squatted building in Quebec
City
(occupied since last May) was cleared out by the cops.

This morning, Canada's largest and oldest squatter community, the
so-called
'Tent City' located on Toronto's waterfront, was forcefully evicted in a
massive sweep-and-clear operation involving dozens of city cops and
private
security guards. The hardware giant Home Depot (which owns that tract of
land) had earlier this summer bailed out of negotiations aimed at
re-settling Tent City residents and creating interim housing on another
nearby piece of city-owned land. Instead, earlier today without any
warning
at all to residents, they decided to proceed with the eviction of more
than
120 people who had been calling that place home.

It had apparently been leaked to the media that an eviction was likely to
happen this week. Over the past couple of months police harassment of Tent
City residents had been escalating, with cops shining lights through
peoples' windows in the middle of the night, photographing residents,
entering homes unannounced and dropping ominous hints that the folks
living
there 'weren't going to be doing so for much longer.'

When I arrived outside the site at about 11 AM today, most residents had
already been forced off the land by the cops. People weren't even being
allowed back in to collect personal possessions at this time and a couple
of people who had balked at leaving had been arrested. One woman who
needed
medication for a heart condition was  stopped from going in to get her
pills for more than seven hours. Other people who had left their personal
identification and other essentials in their homes were likewise prevented
from obtaining their belongings.

About fifteen minutes after I arrived a whole caravan of large trucks
hauling bulldozers, dumpsters and assorted other heavy equipment including
spotlights and rolls of fencing were escorted through the western gate by
the police. There was something like twenty of these big vehicles
altogether. Immediately after their arrival, a roll of heavy-duty mesh was
deployed across the driveway, sealing it shut.

Supporters kept trickling in and by about one o'clock something like 75
people had assembled. We learned at that point that Home Depot was
planning
a press conference at a downtown hotel for two o'clock. Toronto's Mayor
Mel
Lastman had already gone before the media to spout off that a 'blight' had
been removed from the city's waterfront, and that there were '200 beds
available' in the shelter system for those who required them (A poll done
of shelters in the Toronto downtown that morning revealed that in fact,
exactly seven male and seven female beds were all that was free). Many of
the people present headed in the direction of the Holiday Inn on King St.
to intervene in Home Depot's media event.

A few of us who had bikes arrived ahead of the main body of people. We
headed into the meeting room where the media were assembling, only to be
accosted by hotel security and escorted right back out. We waited outside
for the rest of the folks to arrive - then went right back in, some fifty
strong. Outmaneuvering the hotel security, we went back up to the
conference room, chanting loudly and demanding an explanation from Home
Depot. There was media crowded around on both side of the meeting room's
glass doors, that by this time had been closed and locked. Dozens of press
people were there. We ended up controlling the agenda, with word coming
back to us that Home Depot had in fact cancelled the press conference not
long after we arrived.

Next stop: City Hall. People (and the cops) gathered in Nathan Phillip's
Square, than proceeded in a noisy group toward Mel Lastman's second-floor
office. More folks had been arriving as the word got out and by this time
nearly a hundred people were present. Predictably, Mel's office had been
closed off and the only people inside were police. A group of people
marched around the rotunda area inside City Hall, angrily demanding that
The Mayor stop hiding and deal with us. From there, we proceeded as a
group to Council Chambers, where a meeting was underway to discuss (if you
can stomach this one) Toronto's 'official city plan.'

Well, their 'plans' changed at that point. People were majorly angry by
this time, and made no bones about it. After some heated back-and-forth
between Council members and Tent City residents and their supporters, a
meeting was set up with the City's Chief Administrative Officer in a
committee room downstairs. The angry debate continued there until nearly
four o'clock, when the CAO suggested a separate meeting with a smaller
group to try and resolve things at least temporarily. This proved
agreeable to most folks, who made their way back toward the Tent City
site, where an emergency rally had been called for five o'clock.

Back outside Tent City, 5 PM.  I arrived at the west gate, which was still
sealed off. The existing six-foot chainlink fence fronting most of the
property had been increased to a height of ten feet, with struts across
the
top where barbed wire was to be strung. There was not much happening in
this area - a few cops and assorted other hangers-on were all that was in
the immediate area. I headed east along the bicycle trail that bordered
the
land, only to spot what looked like every media vehicle in Toronto parked
close to the eastern gate, located near the mouth of the Don River.
Peoples' houses had not been disturbed as of this time, but a wide band of
brush had been cleared inside the entire length of the fence.

A sizable crowd was gathering and a small army of police and oversized
private security guards had been amassed. Two helicopters whirred around
overhead. A group of volunteers were distributing sandwiches and bottled
water from a table they'd set up nearby. Finally, a sign appeared on the
fence stating the hours when people would be permitted to return to pick
up
their belongings. As the rally proceeded, residents started going onto the
site in groups of two or three, and returning with their stuff. Near as I
could tell about 250 people were assembled outside the site by then,
although it was occasionally difficult to distingiuish between some of the
protesters, the media and undercover police. The situation was chaotic to
say the least.

Folks hung around until a little after seven, at which point we learned
that the city was preparing to invoke their emergency response protocol,
meaning that various relief agencies would come together with city
officials to seek a means of accommodating the numerous people who had
suddenly found themselves displaced. A local community centre was pressed
into service as a site for co-ordinating this effort and transportation
was being set up to get folks there. Many people were drifting off by then
as the sun set and the early fall evening began to turn cooler.

A meeting has been called for noon tomorrow outside the western gate of
the
former Tent City site to discuss possible strategies, which are likely to
involve some form of campaign tatgeting Home Depot for their act of
extreme
bad faith. I mean, prior to today's events the Tent City residents had
essentially been staying on the land with H.D.'s consent, and had even
received some donations of building materials from the company. ('Tent
City' had actually become a misnomer, what with most residents eventually
constructing their own small cabins and shacks, mainly using found
materials).

 Negotiations had been ongoing for over a year following a resolution made
by City Council that would have involved re-settling these people on
another piece of land the city owned nearby, and possibly constructing
some form of transitional housing project there. The City of Toronto, Home
Depot and a non-profit property management outfit called Homes First
Society were involved in this process along with the Tent City people and
their supporters from the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.
Unfortunately, thanks to stalling by the city and now Home Depot's
treachery, these plans currently appear to be extremely uncertain at best.

Graeme Bacque
September 24, 2002


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