On January 17th Stop the Cuts, Respect Toronto, Occupy Toronto and a plethora of unions and grassroots organizations gathered at Toronto City Hall to protest proposed budget cuts. During the rally Occupy Toronto set up a number of tents in the middle of Nathan Phillips Square. I was there with Toronto Media Co-Op gathering footage when we learned that the vote scheduled for 3 days was being compressed into one. Several of the demonstrators became agitated and attempted to enter City Hall only to see police erect a barricade. At least 4 activists were arrested as the police deployed mounted units and pepper spray. Among those arrested was Derek Soberal, a friend of mine who I witnessed being tackled to the ground in a bloody assault by police.
Inside City Hall the vote had already been concluded and the most vital of services and programs had been saved. As the crowd outside learned of this they began to calm but quickly organized a march on Toronto Police 52 Division headquarters to demand justice for those detained. I participated in this march and was quite impressed with the display of civil disobedience as the march shut down Dundas St. in front of 52 Division. As we arrived back at Nathan Phillips Square I found that Occupy had been asked to move to a space between Osgoode Hall and the Ontario Superior Court. They were told that this space was not under the City's jurisdiction; even after a week of freezing rain and snow they are still there.
While riding the TTC to school this morning I was surprised to hear my phone go off at 7:00am. It was a text message from my good friend and fellow occupier John Erb. The message read "Victory! RCMP Officers came to the camp and the pod last night and confirmed we are on crown land and have 21 days!". I couldn't wait to find out more details but I had to go to class and was unable to reach John by phone. As soon as all of my classes and obligations at school were taken care of I headed down to Occupy.
It was quite the coincidence that just as I rounded the bend off University Avenue I saw John Erb walking my way as he was leaving. Even with the wind picking up and the temperature hovering around zero there were still a number of enthusiastic occupiers about. The tents had been re-arranged in a semi circle to provide an area of shelter from the wind. After embracing and savouring the victory John and I sat down for a few minutes to talk about what happened the previous night. John told me that the officers "knocked on the end of the Occ-Pod (Occupy's mobile shelter) and I opened it they shone a flashlight in my eyes and asked me how long I was there and I asked them to identify themselves just as they were leaving and they said they were RCMP." He went on to say that the story he found out from the camp was they "had 21 days from their arrival" to vacate the camp." This means that the tents that have been there since the 17th would have to move by February 3rd. John told me that at that time they would have to move their tents 100 meters to the West. He also pointed out that any new tents would get 21 days from their arrival date. "We are going to have to chalk mark tents as they arrive" he said.
He pointed out that by constantly rotating new tents in, and rotating old ones to another site 100 meters away they could maintain a permanent presence at Osgoode Hall. If this strategy holds up in court it would be incredible. Occupy Toronto would be the first Occupy to have found such a loophole that would allow permanent, legal occupation of public space. As Mr. Erb said "We have just put a permanent tent city in the middle of the power triangle of Ontario" referring to Osgoode Hall, Superior Court of Ontario and Toronto City Hall; not to mention the Legislature a few blocks North.
On the matter of the notice they received about an injunction John told me that it stated they would have to get the Queen or her representative to enforce it. That was Occupy's first hint that they were on crown land. It would seem that at first there was some confusion because the Law Society of Upper Canada sought the injunction through the Superior Court of Ontario to be enforced by the Minister of Infrastructure. Many entities were involved and added to the turmoil. As John Erb said it has been a learning process for both sides.
Having found a place that we can not be easily removed from gives Occupy Toronto a chance to refocus on it's original goal of achieving change. John put it perfectly when he said "This is checkmate... this is the time of world change, this is the stage for it and we have all the players in place."