BY JAGGI SINGH & GRAEME BACQUE
The Ontario Common Front's autumn campaign of economic disruption got off to a flying start in Toronto early on October 16 as a series of "snake marches" paralysed human and vehicular traffic into Toronto's financial district for several hours.
The campaign, which is seeking to unseat the ruling conservative government in the province of Ontario by getting in the way of business as usual for its numerous corporate backers, is the culmination of many months of intensive networking with anti-poverty groups, First Nation peoples, students, social justice organisations, unions and anti-globalisation activists across Ontario and elsewhere.
The initial call had come from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, but the campaign quickly assumed a life of its own with more than 80 organisations eventually signing on.
Much discussion on the way forward had taken place in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington DC, but it was quickly recognised that the policies of Mike Harris's provincial government were not being shifted to the backburners by these events — if anything, the September 11 attacks had caused Harris's destructive agenda to speed up.
On this basis the coalition decided to go ahead with the O16 demonstrations, with an emphasis on organising a militant, highly disciplined event clearly focused on shutting down the financial district rather than engaging in battles with the cops.
The latter appeared to be unavoidable at first, with the police engaging in intense provocation from the time affinity groups began arriving in town the previous weekend.
The police set-up checkpoints to the Nathan Phillips Square, with an obvious presence of riot police.
Despite the clear intimidation tactics that began at dawn, hundreds managed to enter the square, while another group of about 200, made up mainly of demonstrators from Montreal and Quebec City, waited at another location.
From the get-go, lines of riot police attempted to prevent the march from crossing into the main financial area. In several corporate media reports the day before the protest, various police officials bragged that they would prevent protesters from getting close to the district.
The principle behind the snake-march is to maintain a highly mobile, fast-paced presence of protesters that is flexible enough to change direction, and sub-divide if necessary.
At its highest point, about 1500 people were snake-marching through the city's financial district and playing a game of cat-and-mouse with hundreds of police, including the riot squad. At times, it wasn't exactly clear who was the "cat" or "mouse", as protesters out-manouevred the police to enter the financial district.
There was a clear disruption in downtown Toronto, although there wasn't a complete shutdown of Bay Street, Canada's "Wall Street". Major intersections were systematically barricaded with overturned newspaper boxes, while subway station entrances were temporarily closed.
Many buildings locked their doors for large stretches of time, or implemented security measures that amounted to the same thing. According to several reports, many companies and firms simply told their employees to stay at home for the day. Meanwhile, the presence of hundreds of police was in itself a disruption of downtown business.
Toronto's right-wing mayor, Mel Lastman, was quoted in mainstream reports describing protesters as "absolutely disgusting" and called the disruption campaign "disgraceful". In one television report, he described the protesters as "animals" and their actions as "organised thuggery." The police chief, Julian Fantino, joined in, calling the protest the "worst kind of organised crime."
There were at least three other demonstrations that day. A protest by the Mobilization for Global Justice marched downtown without major incidents, and joined many other demonstrators at the Activist Fair at Ryerson University. Earlier, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers organised a demo at Dundas and University streets, while other labour activists held a demo at 5pm outside the Ministry of Labour building.
The day proved eventful in other ways too. Premier Mike Harris announced on October 16 that he was going to resign for what most corporate media outlets speculate are "personal reasons".
Meanwhile, on October 15 about 300 high school students in Toronto walked out of classes in support of the Common Front campaign. One strong component of the October 16 snake marches were the high school flying squads, composed of students who walked out of classes the previous day.
The actions are the launch of a long-term campaign of "economic disruption" called by the Ontario Common Front. Major protests have already been scheduled for the coming weeks in Sudbury, London, Hamilton and Guelph.
[From reports on Ontario Independent Media Center, <http://www.ontario.indymedia.org>.]