“Hi, my name’s Neil!” says the guy, loudly, as he turns the corner right in front of me and moves into my way.

I’m walking home from work, it’s just after 5 p.m. and starting to get dark, and I have to stop because Neil is now blocking my path as I walk west along Adelaide at Church Street. He’s an older guy, maybe 60 or so, with wild grey hair peeping out from beneath a black toque. His clothes are in disarray, a bit too big for his medium frame, but they look fairly clean. His nose is running. A lot. And he has some sort of speech impediment which makes him slur some words slightly.

“Can I ask you something?” he says.

“Yes, of course,” I reply. He has some kind of cotton bag over one shoulder, holding it there with one hand which is holding a wad of cash, right at eye level! He must have about $80 or $90 in his fist; a combination of fives, tens and twenties. He holds his other hand out toward me, as if to shake. I stare down at it for a second and, keeping mine firmly in my coat pockets, ask “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I want to shake your hand!”

I don’t want to shake his, so I ask “Is there something else you want?”, my hands still in my pockets. I kind of know where this is going.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” he says as he pulls his bag open slightly, allowing me to see inside.

I find this a bit freaky and I won’t look in the bag. He’s standing right up to me, very close, too close for comfort, but I refuse to be cowed as I stay where I am and then say, a little too loudly, “Of course you’re not!”.

“I don’t have anything in my bag to hurt you with.”

I’m still not looking into his bag. “I understand. Now what can I help you with?”

Neil closes his bag and looks at the money in his other hand. “I have some money here, but I’m just a bit too short to buy myself a pair of gloves. I need some more money to buy gloves. Can you give me some money?”

“I’m sorry, I have no change on me. I have no cash at all on me, in fact,” which was true.

But I hadn’t even finished my apology when Neil’s eyes flicked away from mine and started  surveying the other passers-by. I didn’t exist any more as he pulled a pair of thick, warm-looking gloves out of his coat pocket and wiped his nose on them. Then he just turned away without saying another word and walked off down the street, slowly.

I watched him go for a second or two, then breathed a sigh, rolled my eyes, and turned away to continue walking home along Adelaide.

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.

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:

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.