A report on Toronto G20 protests and police actions on June 26, 2010

by Julius Arscott, Socialist Action

I participated in the labour-sponsored mass demonstration which started at Toronto’s Queen’s Park at around 1:30 p.m., June 26. It travelled south along University Avenue, west along Queen Street West, north along Spadina Avenue and back to Queens Park. It was a rainy day. Police presence along the route appeared small until we passed the United States Consulate on University Ave., where close to 75 police were present, with tear gas guns and what appeared to be shotguns. Further south the labour marshals directed traffic along the agreed route.

After the concluding rally at Queen’s Park, several SA members went to a bar on College Street for a drink and some food. While there we watched the US vs. Ghana soccer game, which was followed by a news bulletin. It showed a police car on fire, which was rather unexpected. Outside, a little later, we could see many people walking east, towards Queen’s Park (QP). I departed and walked towards the crowd. Many police there blocked access to QP. After a while many more police gathered in the area. From a higher vantage point, I could see that there was another, even larger group of protesters in QP, and they were being rushed by the police. I proceeded through University of Toronto campus until I got to the south end of QP. There I saw many people shouting at police such slogans as “Whose streets, our streets!” and “This is what democracy looks like, that is what hypocrisy looks like”. There were many police present. More police than demonstrators. Police were using a ‘snatch and grab’ technique. They would rush the demonstrators, singling out a few individuals and targeting them for arrest. Pepper balls were used (paint ball guns using paint balls containing a pepper substance). I also saw several people who were injured and bleeding, though probably not from life threatening injuries. The police used horses to charge and divide the crowds. Many people, during the hour and a half that I was there, were arrested. The protestors did not attack the police. A few water bottles were thrown into the police line, but other protestors were shouting not to throw anything at the police. Either way, the police continued to arrest many people and eventually pushed everyone out of QP, which had been designated as a green “free speech” zone for protesters. I heard that after the mass labour-backed rally finished some anarchists broke windows on Queen Street, and that they then returned to Queen’s Park, took off their black clothing, and merged with the rest of the demonstrators. The police followed them to QP. I was also told by another source that when he arrived at the scene, he heard shouting coming from many police at QP. There were no protesters in sight. The cops were rallying and cheering for their own success at removing the protestors.

I departed, walking south to Queen Street to see what damage had been done there. When I arrived, I saw people running west. I could see black plumes of smoke. As I got closer, I saw one burnt-out vehicle, and another car on fire. Most of the people gathered here were evidently not demonstrators. They appeared to be shoppers and the curious who wanted to see what was going on. Eventually the police blocked off the street and had horses there as well. The police used the same tactics of snatch and grab. They arrested many people. The folks in this area became radicalized quickly as the police turned on them with force. They also shouted anti-G20 slogans and pro-democracy chants. The police fired pepper balls and rushed people, including me, with their horses. Apparently, the scene was caught on film and was on television . Eventually the police dispersed the crowd.

At this point I was ready to head home as none of these events were planned and I had no idea where the next action might be. I walked east towards Yonge Street. When I got there I saw a small number of people heading south. I decided to follow them and see what was going on. We continued south until we reached Front Street (at the northeast corner, across from Union Station). There were approximately 200-250 people here. They held a peaceful sit-down strike. We stayed for another 20 minutes and then the crowd headed south towards the Esplanade and closer to the ‘security’ fence. Eventually we stopped in front of a hotel and shouted “Whose streets, our streets” and “This is what democracy looks like, that’s what a police state looks like”. We stayed there for about 15 minutes. Riot police arrived at both ends of the street. At this point my priority was to get out as I did not want to get trapped or arrested. I managed to find a way out through a small back alley, access to which was denied by police a very short time later. I escaped. Hundreds of police converged at this spot. I suspect that most, if not all of the 150 people who remained, and were sitting peacefully, were arrested.

I was exhausted after all this and headed home. I would add only that there were police everywhere in the downtown core during this entire period, and they were very aggressive towards the general public. They would not answer questions. They shouted at passers by, many of whom probably then started to demonstrate against the police. I have never seen so many police in my life in the City of Toronto. There may have been more here than when I was in Quebec City for the FTAA protest in 2001. Tear gas was used here, possibly for the first time in Toronto’s history. The police were very heavy handed with everyone. Not once did I see police being attacked with any force serious enough to justify their aggression towards the public in general, and towards protesters specifically.

Aboriginal needs ignored by Ottawa, G20

by Barry Weisleder

Far from the G20 Summit galas, 2,700 members of Sandy Lake First Nation gathered to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 5. In the century since aboriginal people ceded 100,000 square kilometres of land to the British Crown for a few tools and an annual payment of $5 a head, grinding poverty remains the norm.

Sandy Lake is a fly-in-only community 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay (Lake Superior) that survived for centuries on hunting, trapping and fishing. Today, aboriginal teen suicide is five to six times higher for First Nations youth between 10 and 24 years of age than for non-aboriginal youth. Of the 600 young people between 18 and 29 living at Sandy Lake, only about 20 have jobs, according to Chief Adam Fiddler.

Canada has gotten “very wealthy” as a result of many treaty arrangements made, says Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Chief Stan Beardy. NAN represents 49 First Nation communities.

“We are not happy.” Instead of sharing the wealth and resources of the land, European settlers sidelined the natives, says Beardy. He wonders why Canada has so far not signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. He wonders why Prime Minister Harper talks about a maternal health strategy for the Third World, yet he neglects the problem in his own backyard.

Statistics Canada data shows the aboriginal infant death rate is 1.5 times higher than the Canadian rate. In addition, there are 118 First Nations across Canada where the water is too polluted to drink. According to the Assembly of First Nations, 5,486 of 88,485 houses on-reserve do not have sewage services. Around Sandy Lake, many houses have plastic sheets or cardboard serving as windows. Some homes have no outer walls at all, just insulation.

While the federal government spent $46 million in the Huntsville area to spruce up an already rich part of southern Ontario for a G8 Summit lasting just a few hours, in addition to the $1.2 Billion-plus for ‘security’ for the two-day G20 in Toronto, there’s precious little for aboriginal communities, or for urban aboriginals. Their plight was not even on the agenda when the henchmen of global Capital gathered to plan their future plunder of world resources.

Dental plan has no teeth for Ontario poor

by Barry Weisleder

Ontario’s health minister, Deb Matthews, admitted in June that there is no money to improve the oral health of the province’s 500,000 working poor.

In the 2007 election campaign her Liberal Party promised to introduce dental care for low-income Ontarians, followed up by a budget commitment in 2008 to provide $45 million annually for three years to help half a million impoverished workers unable to afford private insurance coverage. Now, it seems, that is barely enough to cover dental care for children of the poor.

Thirty-two per cent of Canadians do not have dental insurance and 17 per cent of residents across the country avoided seeing a licensed dentist last year because of cost, according Health Canada. As a result, an underground industry of unlicensed and sometimes dangerous dentistry preys upon the poor, and often new immigrants.

Desperation is born of hardship, deepened recently by the Ontario Liberal government’s regressive Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and its heartless elimination of the Special Diet Supplement to welfare ($250 a month for food). After inflation, welfare benefits today have only 55 per cent of the buying power they had in 1993.

Liberals at Queen’s Park smile daggers while they make workers and the poorest folk pay for the bail-out to resource industries and auto giants, pay for the crisis of their profit system.

NDP Socialists hit Afghan war extension, Liberal coalition, attack on Libby Davies

by Barry Weisleder

New Democratic Party activists from Hamilton, Oakville, Mississauga, Thornhill, several Toronto constituencies, and from as far away as Winnipeg, Manitoba gathered at OISE U. of Toronto on June 12 for the Annual NDP Socialist Caucus Federal Conference. Although the next NDP federal convention is June 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia — the NDP Socialists are wasting no time in addressing the big issues that face the working class today.

At the top of the SC agenda is ending the war of occupation in Afghanistan and opposing any coalition, let alone merger, of the NDP with the Liberal Party, or any capitalist party. NDP MPs have been too soft-spoken during the current campaign by the business media and the Liberal Party to extend the imperialist war mission beyond the 2011 Canadian troop removal deadline. One New Democrat MP, Jack Harris, who was part of the infamous Liberal Bob Rae-led junket to Kandahar, has mused about the need for Canadian forces to remain as trainers and to build “institutions” in Afghanistan, which implies a fighting presence there.

That brings us to rumours of a merger with the Liberal Party, the political pillar of Bay Street rule and the whole private profit system of environmental, labour and indigenous injustice. While NDP Leader Jack Layton says ‘no one is authorized to engage in talks’, so-called party ‘saints’ Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow are talking potential ‘deals’ with former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other Liberal honchos. Sadly, the outrageous prospect of such a merger seems credible only because the NDP has moved so far from its CCF and working class roots.
After illuminating presentations and discussions on domestic social policy (John Clarke, OCAP; Alex Johnstone, women’s and children’s rights; Robert Ling, End Prohibition of Cannabis) and foreign policy issues (Michael Skinner, Exiting the Afghanistan Quagmire; and this writer speaking on the campaign for democracy, anti-militarism and international solidarity in the NDP), conference participants got down to work on resolutions.

The gathering reaffirmed policies advanced by the SC in the lead up to the 2009 NDP Federal Convention in Halifax, and added three new ones: Legalize Cannabis, Make CPP Benefits a Decent, Living Income for Retirees, and Support the Cochabamba (Bolivia) Protocols on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The conference mandated the incoming SC federal steering committee to write a new resolution on ending the Alberta Tar Sands Project.

All current SC policy resolutions are posted on the SC web site: www.ndpsocialists.ca and will be circulated extensively across the country through NDP riding associations, affiliated unions and youth clubs. The aim is to persuade local organizations to discuss, adopt and forward the SC resolutions to the federal NDP convention for debate, vote and, hopefully, adoption there.
Leading this effort will be the newly elected NDP Socialist Caucus federal steering committee consisting of: from Toronto, Carol Bailey, Elizabeth Byce (elected SC treasurer), Judy Koch, Christos Draxl, Hans Modlich, Esther Mwangi, Doug Phillips, Ross Ashley and Barry Weisleder (elected SC chair); from Hamilton, Robert Ling; from Oakville, Sean Cain; from Thornhill, John Orrett; from Montreal, Robbie Mahood; and from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rosemary Hnatiuk.

NDP activists who agree with SC policies and principles and who are interested in joining the SC federal steering committee, which operates primarily through inter net consultation, should send a message via the web site, or call 416 – 535-8779.

Inside the Ontario NDP, the Socialist Caucus remains the driving force behind grass roots challenges to postponement of the provincial convention by the party establishment and to its ongoing support for public funding for Catholic separate schools. Although the ONDP Provincial Council meeting on May 29 reaffirmed the party’s regressive position on those issues, it was only after a vigorous council debate animated by SC activists. A lively lunch-time forum, attended by thirty ONDP councillors and observers, showed that the NDP Socialists represent the best hope for democracy and the turn to the left so essential to NDP survival in the current neo-liberal climate.

So does the SC defense of NDP federal MP and deputy leader Libby Davies (Vancouver East). She was denounced on July 15 by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae and NDP Leader Jack Layton – simply for stating that the Israeli occupation of Palestine began in 1948. The fact that the Zionist state was founded on the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian Arabs, and the ethnic cleansing, killing and incarceration of many more since 1948, is widely recognized worldwide, including by most NDP members. It explains why the global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid has gained the support of many unions, municipalities and leading personalities internationally. Telling the truth should be commended, not condemned. Hands off Libby Davies!

Damned in Afghanistan

by Barry Weisleder

Touted as the Canadian state’s best chance for a lasting legacy in Afghanistan, the $50 million Dahla Dam irrigation project in Kandahar is all but dead in the water.

The Canadian engineering giant SNC Lavalin is losing the battle for control of the project to a violent Afghan security firm loyal to Afghanistan’s ruling Karzai family. While Ottawa claims the project is on time and budget, a Toronto Star investigation, including interviews with more than 20 private contractors, government officials, Afghan tribal leaders and others, reveals the opposite is the case.

A nearly deadly showdown on February 20 between Canadian security officials and Afghan mercenaries proved critical. It led to the resignation of Alan Bell, a Toronto-based security consultant hired by SNC Lavalin, who now refuses to discuss the situation.

Watan Risk Management, a company operated by Rashid Popal, a cousin of President Hamid Karzai, who’s largest shareholder is one of the president’s brothers, Qayum Karzai, apparently seeks ‘protection’ money. Watan recently was stripped of the highly lucrative task of escorting NATO convoys on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar. But the removal of Watan and another Afghan firm, Compass Security, lasted barely two weeks.

On the very first day, a NATO supply convoy was attacked, with one truck overturned and burned. Two weeks later, with more than 1000 supply trucks stalled on the highway, the company’s security privileges were restored. U.S. officials are investigating whether the Karzai-linked firm may be colluding with insurgents to maximize profits. While Watan denies this, the mere mention of its name causes Kandahar-based staff with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) “go pale and silent”, according to the Toronto Star.

To date, 20 per cent of the silt blocking canals and sub-canals has been dug out. In other words, 80 per cent of the planned works, including the replacement of neglected hydraulic systems and generators at Dahla Dam itself, remains not done. Canadians involved in the project live like prisoners inside a police compound, unable to move without Watan’s permission.

The fiasco of the Dahla Dam, set against the mounting death toll of foreign soldiers and local civilians, reveals the wages of imperialist occupation — in support of a regime of war lords and drug barons. This is what the Liberal Party openly, and the Conservative government covertly, wish to extend past the 2011 deadline for removal of Canadian troops.

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