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Onwards From Occupy: Revisiting Sins

St. James Church Still Has to Answer for Changing Stories

by Geordie Gwalgen Dent

Onwards From Occupy: Revisiting Sins

While interviewing politicians for my thesis on lying in politics, various politicians stated over and over again that lying was necessary tool in the game of politics.

However I was struck by a religious conservative politician who looked at things simply from moral standpoint: "I don't lie in politics because I believe that lying is a sin," he told.

In the context of Occupy, it's a point of view that Very Reverend Douglas Stoute and St. James Anglican Cathedral might disagree with.  Or maybe something that one day they will have to answer for.

St. James Anglican Cathedral was originally one of the biggest supporters of Occupy Toronto in the early days, finding common allegiance with Occupy Toronto's social justice aims.

"“The church supports the message of economic justice,"  Dean Stoute was quoted as saying in the Globe and Mail before the eviction of Occupy was enforced.

The church originally supported the right for people to set up an Occupy camp at St James Park with the aim of bringing attention to growing income inequality in Toronto and Canada.  Both the camp and church coordinated on supporting the message and providing services to many marginalized folks using the camp as a home.  St. James Park is joined with the St. James Church grounds.

Unfortunately, as Occupy dragged on and eviction began to loom, the story of the Church began to change.

After over 30 days of occupation, an eviction order was issued by the City against Occupiers under the auspice of needing to winterize the park.

Occupiers hoping that the Church might try to allow them some kind of safe haven had their hopes dashed when the Church said that they were not going to stand in the way of an eviction:

 “We have agreements with the City that we work with from the 1959 agreement. In 1959, the cathedral took down its barriers to the park and the agreement governs that. The grounds can only be used for certain activities...it falls under the orbit of a City park," said Stoute in response to questions about whether they were going to allow protestors to stay.

There was just one problem: none of it was true.

After searching the City's land titles office, the Toronto Media Co-op found the original agreement from 1959.  The agreement had no such clause.  

Armed with a way to keep the camp going against the objections of the City of Toronto camp organizers went to the church with this new information.

But the church did not admit it had made a mistake.  Instead, it did the same thing that I used to do when I was seven years old and caught in an elaborate lie. It changed its story.

In an interview with the Toronto Media Co-op at the time, Stoute shifted gears to focus on a soon-to-come-down legal ruling.  "Stoute demurred," according to TMC writers at the time,  "reiterating the church's position that it will abdicate responsibility to the court and will allow an eviction on its property. 'When Judge Brown rules, we will respect and follow the decision of the court.' ”  

But there was a second problem for the church: none of it was true.

According to the Judge Brown ruling: ""The City of Toronto owns the Park, the western boundary of which abuts grassed land owned by the Anglican Archdiocese of Toronto as part of the grounds of St. James Anglican Church.  Some of the Protesters’ tents and shelters occupy Church land.  The Church has not sought to enter these proceedings.  Accordingly, what is at issue simply is the validity of the Trespass Notice in respect of the City-owned lands."

Make no mistake, this meant that protestors could stay as long as they were on the amply sized church grounds.  

Unfortunately, having run out of ways to hide their new intentions, the Church quickly ignored it's previous commitments and comments and joined with the City of Toronto in issuing eviction notices to the Occupy camp.  

Though the Church never stated the reason for their change of heart, Dean Stoute did tell the Globe: "We are not going to be taken over by either one party or another. This is a place of worship and not a franchise for any movement."

Many activists and community members were upset that the Church they had tried to work with for months kept changing their story over and over again.  Naturally, after their previous statements, this burned a number of bridges with community activists.

In an interview with the Toronto Media Co-op, Occupier Kevin Konnyu didn't pull his punches:

"Many of us are quite angry and feel quite betrayed by them. Because In good faith we didn’t mention the whole time the historical injustices that the church has been guilty of, such as Anglican churches involved in residential schools. But now, personally, I am calling them out and saying that while we are trying to highlight and address the ongoing injustices of which I consider them historically complicit in, they are once again turning their backs on the people, on the most vulnerable and siding with the authorities and the 1% who would like the occupy movement to be less “inconvenient”.  I cannot believe that minor inconvenience [are] being treated with greater respect and concern than the worsening injustices and oppression communities and the environment are facing. "

This story is part of the Onwards from Occupy Project

Got a story about Occupy that needs to be told? A personal experience, or an interesting anecdote that never got out?  Have you started some awesome group projects out of Occupy that should be covered with a news story or photo essay?  Do you have some video footage you never got around to editing because you were too busy living in a park?  Now’s the time to post it up on the Toronto Media Co-op as part of our “Onwards fromOccupy” project.
 


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Comments

typos in this article

  • Occupiers hoping that the Church might try to allow them some kind of ** safe have had their hopes dashed when the Church said that they were not going to stand in the way of an eviction (paragraph 9)
  • Many of **(the)**activists and community members were upset that the Church they had tried to work with for months kept changing their story over and over again.  Naturally, after their previous statements, this burned a number of bridges with community activists.(paragraph 21)
  • "Many of us are quite angry and feel quite betrayed by them. Because In good faith we didn’t mention the whole time the historical ** insujustices ** that the church has been guilty of, such as Anglican churches involved in residential schools (paragraph 23)
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