Where was Ford Nation Tuesday night when Toronto city council voted on the controversial 2012 city operating budget?
Where was Ford Nation inside council chambers to ram through the mayor's $20-million budget cuts to city pools, arenas, day cares, TTC service and homeless shelters?
Where was Ford Nation outside City Hall, the throngs of fiscally conservative citizens demonstrating their pro-mayor stance?
Ford Nation collapsed.
Inside council chambers yesterday, amidst a fury of negotiations between centrist and left-leaning councillors -- with rookie Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) leading the charge -- the anti-Ford cuts voting bloc was able to draft a last-minute omnibus motion to save $15 million worth of city services and programming from being cut. I caught Colle's Cheshire cat-like grin from the corner of my eye.
Colle's motion -- passed Tuesday night by a vote of 23-21 -- allows for an increase in the children's service budget; stops the approval of proposed user fees for programs and services at community centres; increases the TTC service budget to prevent service cuts; and will keep three shelters slated for closing open. This and other motions voted and passed by council Tuesday night restore roughly $5 million in funding to Toronto's $9.4-billion operating budget for 2012.
To save these services, city councillors agreed to dip into the $154-million surplus that floated to the surface from 2011; this against the strong-arm tactics used by Ford and his followers who stated definitely that this surplus was not to be touched.
With most of Ford's cuts averted, cheers erupted inside council chambers and in the lobby where the "overflow" crowd had to make do with watching the session on a poor quality projection screen. [Note: Media and citizens were consistently turned away from council chambers by city hall security who repeatedly said the room was over capacity when the live shots from inside chambers showed there was plenty of room in the public gallery.]
Noticeably absent at Nathan Phillips Square was any representation from Ford Nation, the same group that Mayor Rob Ford said he mobilized to win the mayoral race in late 2010 and was ever-ready, like right-wing minute-men, to mobilize at his command.
I expected something.... I'm not sure what, but some sort of presence by his Tea-Party-esque supporters Tuesday night. I mean, this was supposed to be Rob Ford's moment to shut the spigot on the so-called colossal gravy leak at City Hall.
What did mobilize was a storm of anti-Ford demonstrators, from union leadership to library workers to punks with tents planning to Occupy City Hall until Ford's budget cuts were stopped.
Roughly 1,000 anti-Ford activists gathered for the evening, despite a burst of rain and a cold flinty wind that dropped the temperature from 7 C to -8 C in a matter of hours. The wind was as restless as the crowd, which grew more so as the evening progressed and it became clear a vote was forthcoming that evening, as opposed to the projected three-day debate.
That's the nature of the North wind: strong, deliberate, pushing forward change.
Toronto police closed off access to City Hall as the final vote neared, causing the crowd to crash up against the line of police barricades demanding access to their elected officials.
This split the crowd in two between those who got trapped inside like myself and those who were trapped outside with a line two-cop deep between the two groups.
The group trying to leave City Hall to join the demonstrators outside were pushed back through the doors -- as tactically we became a threat to the police's rear guard. I witnessed one of the most dramatic de-arrests I've seen as an activist being chased by the police was pulled inside the front doors of City Hall from the clutches of yellow-jacket bike officers and disappeared somewhere in building. After this, the front doors were shut and locked by security.
Watching from the big front windows of City Hall, I witnessed the police line break a few times, and true to the police behaviour I've witnessed over the years, the officers panicked.
Police in panic mode are dangerous. The evidence is found in the use of pepper spray, and the multiple injuries demonstrators sustained at the hands of the police -- video evidence here shows the clash between police officers and activists. Two men who were arrested at the demo sustained bloody blows to the face.
Regarding the use of pepper spray, while EMS on the scene went on record to state they transported two people to hospital with such injuries the police media liaison would not go on record confirming that a chemical agent was used on the crowd.
A real-time Twitter exchange broke out with @OccupyBayStreet demanding @Toronto_Police go on record about using pepper spray. Anne Marie Batten, a street nurse who was on the scene, went on record that she treated activists on scene for pepper spray.
The Toronto Star posted on their blog on Tuesday, January 17, 2012: "Toronto police unable to confirm or deny reports of pepper spray use. 'We're still gathering information, we're trying to clarify if we did deploy pepper spray,' says Const. Wendy Drummond."
All the while, text messages and live reports from people who had been pepper sprayed flooded through the media. Videos of the incident are also popping up on YouTube where a woman named "Ashley" can be seen getting pepper sprayed at the 11:12 time mark.
You can see the pepper spray canister in a Toronto police officer's hand at that time mark. Ashley is then heard yelling in pain. If you slow the video down, you can actually see a squirt of the stuff fly over Ashley's shoulder through the air at roughly the 11:13-11:14 time mark.
The next day, Toronto police again stated they received no reports of pepper spray being used.
From my vantage point that evening, the flashpoint of the clash between police and the crowd started where Occupy Toronto demonstrators were gathered. I also heard one police officer tell another as we were trapped inside City Hall that the "Occupy people" were the shit-disturbers in the crowd.
I did not see which side was the instigator myself though I understand that police training and composure dictates that Toronto police officers are supposed to keep their cool since they are the ones with the guns.
I had suspected the police would continue their divide-and-conquer technique to pit "good union activist" vs. "bad-dog, occupy activist" as we have seen in early Occupy demonstrations.
The Toronto police service also tweeted out the following message Tuesday night.
"Remember the relations fostered during #OccupyToronto movement. Protests were not marred by violence. #OccupyTheBudget can be the same. ^tb"
As police fought to hold their line -- eventually reinforced with more metal barricades -- we again moved from the front windows so we could not witness the police crackdown and arrests inside City Hall.
The police eventually erected a line of metal barricades inside the lobby, causing speculation among reporters held there that they must not trust the frontline of officers to hold the line.
While the Movement Defence Committee's legal observers counted eight arrests, four of these were catch and release, and the other four were taken to 52 Division.
The four men, ages 26 to 31, have been charged with Obstruct Peace Officer, Unlawful Assembly and Mischief Interfere with Property. They are scheduled to appear in court at Old City Hall on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Feb. 27, 2012 - Feb. 29, 2012.
Despite the police crackdown, the seven tents that were erected at Nathan Phillips Square -- part of Occupy Toronto's Occupy City Hall demonstration -- remained untouched during the scuffle. Mic checks were heard echoing through the crowd throughout the evening.
As the unions left City Hall around 8:30 p.m., and a group of demonstrators went to 52 Division to support those arrested as per the slogan "No one left behind," the remaining Occupy Toronto activists were concerned their tents would be targeted next.
Bylaw officers handed out letters of eviction noting that tenting on property belong to the Corporation of the City of Toronto was a by-law infraction, and security suggested those who wished to remain move their tents onto nearby provincial property instead.
After a quick General Assembly, the decision was made to move the tents and a small tent city was re-erected at the Ontario courthouse on 361 University Avenue where they currently remain.
The small tent city declared they would remain until at least Thursday as first promised; they did receive an eviction warning at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 18, 2012. Occupy Toronto has pledged to remain on site despite the eviction order.
Krystalline Kraus writes the Activist Communiqué blog for rabble.ca.
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