Monday, November 14, 2005

Anti-Poverty Action

As I reported last week, the Liberal government in Ontario recently gutted a provision of the social assistance regulations which was being used by activists to actually try and get people enough and good enough food to be healthy. Today in Sudbury the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee, part of the Ontario Common Front, held a protest to object to these changes in the strongest possible terms.

L and I attended part of it. There was a rally in front of the provincial government building in the downtown, then a march to the office of Rick Bartolucci, the local MPP and a member of cabinet. The details are described in the action report below. I would add that, despite a rather tepid response from them in the lead-up to the action, plenty of representatives of the dominant media were present at the initial rally. Unfortunately, L indicated his desire to do something more fun, less cold, and less loud about mid-way through the march, so I can't provide an eye-witness account of the rally at the end of the march and the very targeted, very political arrest that was made.

Small but powerful anti-poverty action in Sudbury leads to one police arrest of an activist for "swearing."

More than 40 people attended an anti-poverty rally in Sudbury today. The action was held to protest the slashing of the special dietary supplement by the Provincial government and to call for raising social assistance rates. The rally at the Provincial Building heard from a number of speakers on social assistance as well as Sam Kuhn from the Tenant Action Group (TAG) in Belleville, a member of the Guelph Union of Tenants and Supporters (GUTS), Sandy Bass president of the Sudbury and District Labour Council, Rick Grylls of Mine Mill/CAW Local 598, city councillor Claude Berthiaume, Brenda LeFrancois of the Social Work department at Laurentian University, Luke Norton of the Students General Association (SGA) at Laurentian University, and others. We then took to the streets chanting "We won't be quiet until we get our special diet!" There were many honks of support as we moved through some of the main streets of Sudbury leafleting people as we went.

When we arrived at Liberal MPP and Cabinet Minister Rick Bartolucci's office his office manager was waiting outside the door with at least four police officers inside to prevent people from having any access to the office. We soon had a wall of cops keeping us out of his office. We continued to hold a loud and noisy rally outside his office. We also pointed out that Bartolucci would prefer to use the police to keep anti-poverty activists out rather than talk to and learn from people on social assistance. Bartolucci in the media claimed that people who needed it would still be able to get the special dietary supplement. He lied!

As our rally continued with no business as usual going on in his office more police started to arrive. Three police officers moved alongside the crowd and did a very targeted arrest of one anti-poverty and student activist. They grabbed XXXX YYYYY, a student senator for the Students General Association (SGA) at Laurentian University, and told him he was being arrested for "causing a public disturbance by swearing." The Sudbury police have a history of using this charge against young protestors. We briefly tried to demand that the police release XXXX but then a number of us were also threatened with arrest.

Following the arrest and the threats by police of other arrests and their pushing and shoving of a number of protestors we moved across the street to the Market. There we decided to collectively go to the police station to demand that XXXX be released. We did and while about 25 of us waited outside a delegation of students from Laurentian went in to ask that XXXX be released. About 15 minutes later Luke Norton, president of the SGA, came back and told us that the Staff-Sergeant told him that if we dispersed from the front of the police station that XXXX would be released. We decided to comply and many of us left and some of us went to wait for XXXX's release in a nearby park. When Luke went back a little over 30 minutes later he was now told that the new Staff-Sergeant (there had been a shift change) had decided that XXXX was not going to be released but was going to be hold overnight and would have a bail hearing on Tuesday morning at 9:30am at the court house.

The Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee is asking everyone who can to turn up to support XXXX at 9:30am at the Court House and ask which courtroom XXXX will be appearing in.

Gross, gross, gross -- a perfect example of so-called neutral laws being implemented in targeted ways in order to have a blatantly political impact. It's not my place to share details, but he was targeted because he is militant and because, right now, he is vulnerable.

What deserves arrest? Taking food out of the mouths of hungry people? No, of course not. How about swearing? Oh, good idea, arrest him! Of course if they were to enforce that more broadly -- well, this is not to suggest that all working-class men swear, but if the police did some heavy duty undercover surveillance at the mines that form the basis of Sudbury's economy, I bet they'd be arresting enough people to shut 'em all down. But of course it is only swearing while doing something political that counts as "causing a disturbance."

[Action report by GK.]


rabfish said...

funny how 'being an asshole while using bureaucratic machinery to oppress people' or 'holding back wages from workers' never gets you arrested. Swearing??

Polly Jones said...

It's ridiculous...and frightening. The same sort of thing goes on in Calgary. Apparently, some anti-poverty protesters were threatened with arrest if they did not remove messages (non-violent, non-profane) written in chalk on the sidewalk! Are you kidding me? People always think that we are so free in this country, but it is because hardly anyone ever dissents!