police on bikes

Occupy Toronto: It’s all quiet now

Walking through St. James park this morning, I’m struck by how quiet and empty it is—except for a few pedestrians making their way to work—after the Occupy Toronto protesters were evicted yesterday. According to the news this morning, the last remaining protesters were physically removed during the night from the library yurt, which had become a final rallying point for the Toronto movement.

Apparently, the protest will continue for a short while in the form of marches and gatherings in Nathan Phillips Square at Queen and Bay Streets. But for now, it looks like the park and the residents of this neighbourhood finally have a reprieve from all the activity that’s been taking place this past 5 weeks.

Looking at all the ruts and churned up mud caused by the tramp of hundreds of boots over these past weeks, I’m not sure how long it will be before the park regains a semblance of its former glory. It will, in the end, but it’ll take some time and a bit of care by city workers, I think.

Protest board

Occupy Toronto: Mexican stand-off

The police are still trying to evict the protesters at St. James park. According to people I spoke to there, they carried a passive protester out of one the temporary, barricaded structures, which then raised the ire of the crowd. This happened on the east side of the St. James cathedral and the police quickly formed a circle around the makeshift structure where the crowd—which seemed to be more curious bystanders and reporters than protesters—then moved forward to face the police while chanting “Let her go!”

After a while, the crowd then shifted away from the police after hearing a rallying cry of “Back to the library!”, where some other protesters had placed themselves inside to prevent the yurt from being torn down. As soon as their fellow protesters surrounded the library, the people inside quickly emerged to cheers and thanks from the other protesters.

Not much reaction from the police so far, they seem to be calm and restrained in the face of the protests. Many of the tents I’ve seen over the past few weeks have disappeared, taken away by the city workers and by-law officers.
Photos and videos below:

Police

Occupy Toronto eviction underway

I just walked through St. James park on my way to work, where the police are out in force as the eviction of the Occupy Toronto protesters is currently underway. There’s no sense of impending confrontation from either side yet; the police are simply shadowing the by-law officers as they go about their business of taking tents down and loading them into trucks.

As I made my way towards the Library Yurt in the middle of the camp ground, I saw lots of reporters with cameras at the ready, as well as ordinary citizens out and about, taking photos or video footage, myself included. The yurt has been barricaded and is surrounded by a group of protesters. Apparently, two of their members have chained themselves inside as a last stand protest of sorts. If any action is going to take place, this is where it will happen, I think. The yurt has the greatest concentration of protesters surrounding it, some of them masked. I managed to speak to one of them, as I asked him how had things been going with the police, so far. He told me it was all quite friendly and calm, but that they’d just been informed that if they continue to occupy the yurt then they were going to bring in the sound canons.

King Street between Church and Jarvis has been closed to all but foot traffic and public transport. There are lots of police vehicles lining King Street East; cruisers, buses filled with police officers, police on bikes and on foot wearing riot gear.

In the meantime the protesters seem quite calm, and some of them are holding an impromptu concert in the central gazebo.

Protestor' signs

Tent City and the ‘Occupy’ movement

Some friends and I took a stroll through the tent city on St. James park in downtown Toronto yesterday. This large campsite is part of the Occupy Toronto movement still playing out here, in its 4th or 5th week now I believe.

After reading about alleged overreactions by various police forces in similar movements in Seattle and Oakland, or student support protests in California, I have to say that our own version here seems quite civilized and respectful in comparison. I work in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, which encompasses this park, so I’ve been passing by every day. In all of my lunchtime walks through the camp so far, I’ve always encountered respect and politeness from the protesters, as well as a desire to engage and educate the general public on some of the issues the Occupy movement is trying to address.

I know there are people who’ll be saying that the protestors should vacate the park and find themselves jobs, or shouldn’t be littering the grounds and causing such a public nuisance, etc. (and I’m sure it’s actually more than a few people will think this, as they see the campsite on the news almost every night, or as they walk by it on their way to work every morning), and I have to say that, of course, most of the protestors would probably benefit from finding work (if available), but they’re also young and idealistic and almost every decade, or era, has been marked by protests of one kind or another. Sometimes that brings about change and sometimes it doesn’t, but if it’s never attempted at all then definitely change won’t happen. Personally, I doubt that change of the magnitude this era’s protestors would like to see take effect will actually become a reality, but I guess we’ll just have to see how this all plays out to determine if that’s the case or not.

Frankly, I’d rather live in a society where gathering together to protest isn’t met with the kind of state-sanctioned crackdowns we witness in other parts of the world. If it weren’t for ordinary citizens standing up in support of issues they believed in, and organizing themselves to protest about, we might not be living in a society where this kind of gathering to express an opinion is seen as a right.

For my own part, that’s something I’m going to try to keep in mind as this whole Occupy process plays out.