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Anti-Poverty Protestors Disrupt Financial District

Activists Target 'People Pulling The Strings'

by Geordie Gwalgen Dent

Protestors gather in St. James Park.  PHOTO - Enid Godtree
Protestors gather in St. James Park. PHOTO - Enid Godtree
Anti-Poverty Protestors Disrupt Financial District

Under a blanket of hail, rain and cold weather, 200-300 protesters marched in the financial centre of Toronto on November 5th. The march, organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) , took aim at government policy during the recession. The Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario held a separate march on the same day which went through Queen’s Park, home of the Ontario Legislature.

“We’re demanding real income, real housing, real justice…Let’s Go!,” said a speaker at the event before protesters started walking towards King St. and Bay St. in Downtown Toronto, home to such financial heavyweights as Toronto-Dominion Bank, the Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Before marching a series of OCAP speakers at St. James Park in Toronto took aim at Provincial and Federal policy.

“We wanted to participate that day and march into the financial district to point out who is benefiting within this crisis,” says Lisa Schofield, an organizer with OCAP. Criticizing the C$75 billion Canadian Chartered bank bailout program in October last year, Schofield argues that money has not flowed similarly to social housing and social assistance.  “Our specific demands are around income.  We're demanding a raise to assistance rates of 40%, less hours to qualify for the EI system, a raise in minimum wage…justice for non status people and justice for first nations communities.”

Other speeches were made against the Federal Foreign Temporary Worker Program, First-Nations drinking water health, fare increases for the Toronto Transit Commission and recent labour practices by Cadillac-Fairview.

In addition to marching and disrupting traffic flows through the financial district, protesters also dropped banners near the Bank of Montreal and Toronto-Dominion offices, one of which proclaimed “CAPITALISM IS BROKEN”. A number of protesters also disrupted one of the oldest and most traditionally Conservative private cubs in Canada, the Albany Club. Mike Harris is slated to speak there next week.

“I’m here because I’m angry and sick,” says Fatima Ali, a protester. “We have children without food, sick kids without education. Everything is hard. Welfare is not enough.”

Schofield says that the decision to go through the financial district and cause disruption was deliberate and planned. “For us the purpose was to target the people we see are pulling the strings and benefiting from the crisis.  When they say tough times ahead they clearly don't mean for the banks or people in the financial district.  With the [Ontario government’s] deficit we can anticipate that [the Provincial government] will be cutting services and this was our first response to that.  For us it was a chance to be on the offensive about what we feel is ahead.”

Despite the disruption, both protestors and observers from Bay St. seemed to find the march reasonable.

“I support work against poverty,” says Colby Leare a visitor from San Francisco. “I respect the work of OCAP.”

“I think it’s good,” added Karl Shannon, a manager in the financial district. “They can do what they want, get to fight for what they want and it draws attention. That’s good.”

Schofield doesn’t believe that this is the last march for OCAP regarding the recession. “I think more than before, that the point of November 5th was that people are feeling the economic crisis and feeling the threat of potential cuts to come and we're used to this language of ‘tough times ahead’.  That's why we went into the financial district.  We hope it is the start of ways we can respond.  If there are going to be cuts to social services we're going to be hearing about them in March at the [Ontario] Provincial budget.  This is the launching of our resistance to that."

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Topics: Poverty

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