Register Wednesday | June 20 | 2018
Anatomy of an Occupation

Anatomy of an Occupation

What really happened at Occupy Toronto?

Photograph by Ana Lee Smith.

While surfing the web in late September 2011, a Humber College student named Bryan Batty comes across footage of the New York Police Department pepper-spraying protesters at Occupy Wall Street. Batty once considered himself a social democrat, but he was caught up in a mass arrest during Toronto’s anti-G20 protests in 2010, and he now thinks of himself as an anarchist. The central tenets of Occupy Wall Street—bottom-up organizing and opposition to socio-economic inequality—resonate with him. Sitting at a rickety black table in his kitchen on Yarmouth Road, he searches the internet to see if anyone has started an Occupy Toronto website. No one has—yet. 

Later, Batty finds a Facebook page for the Occupy Toronto Market Exchange, set up by Niko Salassidis in St. Catharines, Ontario. He hits the “Join” button, and that evening, while smoking joints in his kitchen, he chats with Salassidis online. By the end of the night, OccupyTO.ca—later changed to OccupyTO.org—is live. Within days, local media outlets are contacting Batty, and he is planning committee meetings with fellow activists. Occupy Toronto’s first General Assembly meeting takes place in Berczy Park on October 7, drawing around two hundred people. 

On Saturday, October 15, following a demonstration on Bay Street, Occupy Toronto activists march into St. James Park, in the city’s east end. Though they lack a defined message, they’re organized. A food tent pops up to serve three warm meals a day. A logistics tent—for in-camp needs such as tarps, socks, rope and batteries—is pegged at the opposite end of the park. Other tents follow: information, sanitation, medical, education, media. Indigenous participants light a sacred fire. Unions donate portable bathrooms, cleaning stations and, as the weather chills, winterized yurts to keep people warm. A hospital, post office, library and women’s safe space fill the yurts. An elevated black-roofed gazebo becomes a central hub, where General Assembly meetings—the raison d’etre of the Occupy movement—are held twice a day, in an attempt to shape this miniature society.

Relationships with the police, the fire department and St. James Church—which, along with the city, owns the park—are established. During the first week, police enter the park only once, to respond to a sexual assault, after being alerted by an Occupy volunteer. The community establishes a loose no-police policy. Beat cops are unwelcome unless invited in by one of the camp’s police liaisons. But the occupiers remain divided on the presence of cops. Many of the protesters are anarchists and don’t want police entering under any circumstances. Some want to experiment with restorative forms of justice that eschew retributive punishment. Others think the cops are needed in extreme cases. Volunteer liaisons bridge the differences between occupiers and interact with the police when needed. In any case, cops watch over the camp day and night from a parking lot southwest of the church, with another unit observing from the northeast. 

Occupy Wall Street had taken root in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park a month earlier, but it quickly spread across the globe, with some one thousand tent cities flowering from Halifax to Hong Kong. Each protest site is plagued by a slew of external and internal pests. Riot cops. Infiltrators. Mass arrests. Rubber bullets. Groupthink. Infighting. Truthers. Tasers. The movement—which claims to represent 99 percent of society—has one particularly great challenge. It occupies spaces that are often already occupied: city parks where the homeless, the mentally ill and the addicted congregate. Over two hundred tents quickly pockmark St. James Park, and both groups—protesters and drifters alike—must learn to coexist. In a city where Mayor Rob Ford was elected, a year earlier, on a platform of privatizing social services, a petri dish of dystopia evolves at the Occupy encampment. But so does the group’s ability to internally adapt, to govern and police the wide array of problems it faces. 

Some volunteers, referred to as marshals, are originally trained to guide marches and supervise protests. But as more problems arise, their role changes into something resembling a non-violent security detail. Many of them disappear when the temperature drops and more malcontents arrive. In the third week of October, the hardcore marshals—who camp in the park or live in the area—organize into two groups. The Street Team deals with the homeless and drug users. The Greeting Committee identifies potential troublemakers when they first arrive and explains how things work in the park: no violence. Easier said than done; after all, no one in the 99 percent is excluded. That week, as if on cue, more and more self-proclaimed prophets, meth heads, crack peddlers and alcoholics embed themselves in the camp. Fights start erupting. A late October cold snap is about to break.  

SPRING FEVER

Wednesday, November 2 is the first warm day in over a week. People crack beers, light joints and let loose. The temperature soars into the unseasonal teens. But Irish Pride and Antonin Mongeau are not paying attention to the weather. The two stalk a path toward a Sun News reporter, Jacqui Delaney, and her cameraman. A few minutes earlier, near the food tent, Delaney tried to interview Pride and another occupier, a street kid named Shane. (Like most of those involved with Occupy Toronto, Pride goes by a pseudonym when speaking to the media.) Following an altercation, they claim, she pushed them both and walked away.  

“You just assaulted me,” spits Pride, pointing at Delaney. “Get out of this park.”

“It’s a public park,” Delaney says, narrowing her eyes. “I’m not going anywhere.”

A scrum of occupiers quickly forms. Marshals step between Pride and the television crew. Mongeau steps back from the fracas to call police into the park. He wants Delaney arrested, but, minutes later, police still haven’t arrived. Word spreads around camp that Delaney and her cameraman both assaulted Pride. The conservative Sun News has produced a few hit jobs on the Occupy movement, and Delaney’s presence is agitating the protesters. 

“I’m placing you under citizen’s arrest,” Mongeau says to Delaney. 

“Don’t touch me,” Delaney replies. “Don’t touch the camera.” 

The crowd roars; cameras roll. The occupiers encircle Mongeau and Delaney. Someone jabs his hand in to block the camera. Another gives Sun News the finger. “That’s not cool,” says a Rasta named Shawnie, watching over the pack. “People need to calm down.”

Two bicycle cops roll into the park. The occupiers disperse; no one wants to be around the police. The cops speak with a few protesters, shake hands and—much to everyone’s displeasure—escort Delaney from the park without arresting her. 

Later that evening, at the General Assembly, a fist fight breaks out. It’s the first of many altercations to erupt overnight. The mood in the camp becomes fractured and tense. 

About two weeks earlier, on October 18, a man named Kirk Warrington had shown up at the encampment. Warrington is best known for his spasmodic diatribes, blond dreadlocks and well-documented theatrics during the anti-G20 protests in 2010, which saw him dancing on police cars and doing yoga atop statues. “It’s funny,” says Jegundu Richardson, a marshal on the Greeting Committee, with a smile and a raised eyebrow. “Police showed up on day three looking for him. Then, the next day, Kirk’s here.” 

Richardson—a short, soft-spoken Rasta who walks with a limp—thinks police deliberately directed Warrington, along with other delinquents, into the park. Walking home one night, he says, he saw a cop telling a local hoodlum to “take his act” to the Occupy camp. By November, protesters claim that there are several cases of police “directing crazies” into the park. Richardson thinks police are testing the movement—seeing how it deals with the same criminality that cops face daily. 

On Thursday, November 3, after another day of dust-ups, temper tantrums and bad press in the mainstream media, the midday General Assembly—or “GA”—gathers to address the growing in-camp violence. A mining-justice activist named Sakura Saunders, wearing a red jacket and a black fur-lined hat, is presenting a proposal at the meeting. 

“Mic check!” says Thomas Zaugg, a local wonk.

“Mic check,” everyone in the circle repeats. Known as the human microphone, or the people’s mic, this call-and-response is a signature feature of the Occupy movement. 

“I don’t understand,” says Zaugg. (“I don’t understand,” say the repeatniks.)

“Why some people.” (“Why some people.”)

“Don’t use the people’s mic.” (“Don’t use the people’s mic.”)

“Okay—mic check!” Saunders interrupts, trying to get the conversation back on track. (“Mic check.”)

“I have a really strong voice,” says Saunders. (“I have a really stro…”)

“No—I don’t need the people’s mic. And we’re not a very big group right now,” she says to the circle, stretching out some words for emphasis. “Listen, I know people are angry. I know people are yelling at each other. But we can overcome these obstacles.” She nods continually and wears her always-encouraging smile. As the meeting winds to a close, working groups are dispatched to discuss the root causes of the violence hampering the camp, and to suggest some solutions for the evening’s meeting. 

That night, a small circle, huddled and chilled, gathers on the southwest side of the gazebo. The tungsten glow of a floodlight rakes everyone’s faces. Turnout is low. Kirk Warrington paces back and forth. Davyn Calfchild of the Siksika Nation stands on the perimeter of the Assembly’s ring, flanked by a few friends. Before the city or the church squatted the park, the custodians of the land were the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations. And now—according to Occupy lore—St. James Park desecrates a Mohawk burial ground. The indigenous contingent is upset about the drug and alcohol use on the site. They want Mohawk Warriors—the Aboriginal militiamen who often patrol land-claims standoffs—to step in. 

“We have an elder sitting here,” says Calfchild, referring to a woman who addressed the GA earlier. “Her concerns are being ignored.”

“The addicts were here first,” says Warrington, stumbling from the shadows toward Calfchild. “They should have a voice, too.” The two men stand face to face, their hostility palpable. 

“Marshal!” yells an occupier. “Marshal!” echoes another. Warrington and Calfchild size each other up. The marshals try to separate them, but Warrington breaks through, and he and Calfchild start to scrap. Though he’s shorter than Warrington, Calfchild flips him on his back. More occupiers and marshals step in to defuse the standoff, and the meeting disbands without deciding how to resolve the in-camp tensions.  

Informally, marshals already have a system in place for dealing with delicate situations. They meet nightly in a large white tent set up on a berm east of the gazebo. Generally, they try to identify the underlying problem in an outburst—whether mental illness, drugs or alcohol abuse is involved. Then they distract agitators by engaging them in a non-aggressive discussion, trying to talk people down with reason and logic—and by listening to their grievances. Basically, the marshals put their bodies on the line. 

Later that night, another incident flares. A long-time park resident known as Leland is drunk and ornery, berating some music-playing hippies in the gazebo. Everyone in the camp is wary of confronting him. Richardson approaches Leland to talk, listen and de-escalate the situation. 

“Take it easy,” Richardson says. 

“Get these kids out of my fuckin’ park,” Leland demands. 

“Take it easy,” Richardson repeats. 

Leland wastes no time. He grabs a guitar stand and starts swinging it overhead in circles. Richardson steps back, hands raised, palms up. Wild and wobbly, Leland stumbles forward. Too drunk to be accurate, but still dangerous, he misses Richardson, and his follow-through slingshots him into another group on the gazebo. 

More marshals arrive, but they’re too late. Leland pushes a woman, who strikes back with a torrent of curses. The marshals move toward Leland, creating a wall between him and the woman, and summon the police liaison. The woman wants to press charges. The crowd has swelled, and, outnumbered, Leland backs off to his tent. In response, the group—composed of both activists and the homeless—becomes a mob and moves to surround him. People are fed up with his belligerence. They want to boot him out of the park. 

Mongeau arrives. Leland is in his tent, and the occupiers are starting to pull its pegs up. “You’ve got three choices, Leland,” Mongeau calls through the canvas. “You leave, I bring you to the police or they come drag you out.”

No response. 

“You may be the toughest, bravest guy in this park, but you’re acting like a coward right now,” says Mongeau. “Get out here!” The mob starts pulling the tent, with Leland still inside it, toward Jarvis Street. The marshals invite the police into the park, and they take Leland in. It’s Occupy Toronto’s second arrest, after the sexual assault in the opening week. As the police drag Leland away, a powder keg of tension explodes, and fights break out all over camp. Among the front-line marshals, the evening becomes known as Hell Night. 

“I’M GONNA BLOW UP PETRO-CAN” 

November 6 passes smoothly, but Occupy Toronto remains divided and morale is low. A few nights earlier, there was another sexual assault, and, feeling vulnerable, some female occupiers packed up and left. The General Assemblies have failed to reach consensus on how to deal with violence and substance abuse. Some occupiers have voiced their displeasure about the police entering the park and the unilateral decision-making behind Leland’s arrest. Marshals take flak for their perceived heavy-handedness. 

After a long week of bickering, the Sunday-night GA is narrowing in on reaching consensus for a policy on drug and alcohol use, and on how to deal with fights. But the camp still can’t decide whether outsiders—such as the police or Mohawk Warriors—should be invited in. With over two hundred people at the meeting, it’s the largest gathering in weeks. 

“If we don’t get rid of our undesirables,” a man named Frank says, without using the people’s mic, “it’ll be the end of us.” Frank, an older marshal and photographer, has been a firm advocate of a zero-tolerance policy toward drugs, alcohol and violence. He also supports asking the police to arrest troublemakers. Many in the camp are starting to agree with him. 

“The problems we had in the past are getting better,” Warrington pleads. “We are not a mob. We’re not running anyone out of this park unless the collective agrees.”  

In the distance, away from the GA, a familiar call floods the camp: “Marshal!” 

On the east side of the park, a dope deal has gone bad. Michael, a drug pusher, is accused of having someone’s money, and he drops his pants to show he’s not hiding anything. He then flaunts his genitals at a theatre of onlookers, including an underage woman. Shane, the street kid, furiously belts Michael across the face with a stick. A melee erupts, and Michael is jumped before he can even pull his pants up. When marshals arrive, they start to separate the brawlers. But the crowd is angry, and a crew of marshals and activists starts tearing down Michael’s tent. 

Antonin Mongeau tells Michael he’s going to the police. “I just saw you expose yourself,” he says, and walks toward the southwest corner of the park. That’s when Denis the Russian, an activist with a drinking problem, shows up. He’s a friend of Michael’s, and when he sees people destroying the tent they share, he pulls out a yellow box cutter. Everyone takes a step back. 

Back at the GA, the collective is abuzz. The attendees wiggle their hands in a climax of agreement—the “spirit fingers” that are the Occupy movement’s signal of assent—and consensus is reached on a code of conduct for the park. It’s the first major agreement on this controversial issue. But there’s little time for celebration. The mob around Denis and Michael is riled up, and the marshals are overmatched. Irish Pride is outside the park, speaking with the cops on the northeast corner. He’s not a police liaison, but he’s asking them to enter the park and rescue Michael for his own safety. They refuse. “You better call an ambulance, then,” Pride says. He sees a gang of occupiers chasing Michael up Jarvis, and takes off after them. 

At the corner of Jarvis and Richmond, the horde finds Michael, dark-haired and expressionless, hunching behind the counter of a gas station. He uses his wife, who followed him there, as a human shield to protect himself from his pursuers. Outside, at the pumps, Denis the Russian grabs a nozzle in one hand and a lighter in the other. “I’m gonna blow up Petro-Canada,” he tells the mob around him, his voice slurring. Drunk and stoned, he brings his hands together, striking the lighter. Sparks fly. “I’m gonna blow up Petro-Can,” he says again, trying to divert the crowd’s attention.  

Pride steps in to guard the store entrance and keep the mob at bay. He opens his black flip phone and dials 911. More marshals have arrived, and Frank slips past Pride, opens the glass door and shuffles inside the store, cornering Michael against the window.

“You’re not wanted back at the park,” Frank says. “You’re not setting foot in that camp again.”

Michael laughs. “Fuck you!”

“No matter what happens,” Frank responds, “you’re going to jail tonight.” 

The cops arrive. Mongeau points them inside. When they enter, Michael moves away from his wife, and Frank steps back. With four officers in the store, Michael surrenders. Handcuffs click around his wrists. Outside, more police cars arrive, along with a pack of yellow-jacketed bike cops. At the pump, Denis is bent and bouncing, raving in broken Russian, his eyes zoned and glassy. The yellow jackets strike. Denis doesn’t struggle or resist. Minutes later, he and Michael are yoked in separate cars. 

With Michael and Denis detained, the horde calms down. But something strange happens: police open the car door that cages Michael and let him out. There’s a moment of stunned dissonance. 

Then the mob snaps out of it, and a small crew pursues Michael, who flees across the street. Mongeau flags a cop—the same officer who, earlier that night, had asked Mongeau for help in tracking down a missing teenage girl, whom police suspect is at the Occupy camp. “Look, you’re asking me to find this girl, and you can’t even arrest this guy for exposing himself,” he says, pointing in Michael’s direction. “You arrest that guy and I’ll find your girl.” The group that followed Michael stops after two blocks, when it sees Michael speaking with police by a marked minivan at the roadside. The door opens, and Michael gets in. The van zips back toward Petro Canada. The police move Michael from the minivan back into the car. 

At St. James Park, the GA rejoices after reaching consensus on an unwritten code of conduct and eviction policy. Emphasis is placed on creating a safe, non-oppressive environment, accessible to everyone in the 99 percent. The threat of police intervention will be used to hold violent troublemakers accountable. Community service workers who volunteer with the homeless in the area will be consulted regarding drug and alcohol abuse. 

But Warrington is twitchy. As night wanes into morning, he tests the eviction policy in a fit of spastic malice, pushing and berating other campers. Calls for marshals fill the night. After a few weeks of dealing with Warrington, and with the GA’s decision still fresh, the occupiers are fed up. When marshals descend on the scene, they start edging Warrington toward Adelaide Street—where the police, already notified, are waiting—and tell him they’re making a citizen’s arrest.  

The police confront Warrington at the edge of the park. They manhandle him, but he resists, squirms free and sprints away. Ever dexterous, he hops a chain-link fence into a construction zone that lines the church property. Police follow him into the worksite and nab him. Over the course of just a few hours, three of Occupy Toronto’s biggest troublemakers have been jailed. A sense of calm permeates the community. It doesn’t last long.

CONCERNED CITIZENS

In the area northeast of the gazebo, a circle of five tents is pegged down under a tree, covered by a DayGlo dome of tarps and patched by a few lengths of plywood. Marshals have dubbed this the “jungle gym.” There, Phoenix Laforest, a transgendered woman with a shoulder-length mullet, runs a benevolent dope den, where drug users take shelter under the big-top cover. 

Inside her tent, Laforest is high and has a plan. She’s put shaving cream on cardboard boxes, a creation she thinks will insulate and fireproof her shanty, and, searching through her things for a lighter, she plans to fire-test it right away. The marshals catch wind of her “tweaker project”—a fidgety quirk that infects many methamphetamine users. There have been a few tent fires in camp, and the marshals talk Laforest out of her test. 

But three hours later, as dawn breaks, more alarms sound at the jungle gym. A week earlier, a kid with a cane and a gangster lean had entered the park, and the marshals were warned to steer clear of him. They nickname him Dropz because of his multiple tear-shaped facial tattoos. Now, they learn that he has overdosed. No one is surprised. The police accompany emergency personnel into the park, with the occupiers’ consent. Before they enter the jungle gym, Dropz, inside his tent, is sober enough to empty his bag of white powder onto the ground. A short time later, medics remove him on a stretcher and shuttle him to a nearby hospital. 

It’s Tuesday, November 8. At the noon Assembly, while Laforest sleeps, occupiers discuss how to react. The overdose is making waves in the media, generating worrisome coverage. After a drug death at Occupy Vancouver prompted eviction threats, the Toronto occupiers decide to act.  

They plan an intervention for that afternoon; Laforest’s jungle gym has to go. Local outreach workers join the camp’s Health and Wellness Committee to reason with Laforest. The community forms two circles around the perimeter of the drug bunker to keep spectators and journalists at a distance. Laforest, who is just waking up, is confused. After a few minutes inside her tent, where the volunteers explain the situation, she walks outside and starts ripping at a tarp, then pulls away a sheet of plywood. Either she takes down the jungle gym or the marshals do it for her. 

“I can’t believe you guys are doing this to me,” she says. “This is my home. And I love you guys.”

“We love you too, Phoenix,” says an anonymous voice from the circle.  

By the end of the night, the jungle gym is a heap. The camp decides that only the dome-like structure—a fire and flood hazard—needs to be removed; Laforest and her clan are allowed to re-peg their tents. Laforest sets up shop at the north end of the park, by Adelaide, in a white canvas tent with exposed mesh sides. In the morning, she starts building a tree house out of wooden skids and leftover debris—she wants to respect the folkloric native burial ground by not sleeping on sacred land. “It makes me sick to think I’m stepping on peoples’ graves,” Laforest says, before climbing up a makeshift ladder into her tree. The occupiers accept Laforest as member of the community. But there are new rules for the 99 percent. 

Since the GA decision on November 6, open drug and alcohol abuse has no longer been tolerated in the park. (Medical-marijuana users are exempt.) Campers are expected to get high and booze up out of sight, and to be more responsible. With the camp nearing its one-month anniversary, the occupiers grow increasingly tight-knit, and the marshals spend less time dealing with the fear and fury that used to infest the park. 

But word of Occupy Toronto’s dysfunction has spread through the local residential and business community. On Tuesday, after Dropz’s overdose, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday lashes out, saying the occupiers are “squatting” in the park. The next day, at a press conference, Mayor Ford announces that he wants Occupy Toronto to “move on.” “They’ve had a peaceful protest,” he says. “I think it’s time we asked them to leave.” Meanwhile, Patrick McMurray—owner of the Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill, located directly across from the park—decides to host a meeting about what he calls the “illegal” demonstration.  

That Thursday evening, on November 10, the occupiers find out about the Starfish meeting. Some of them storm across Adelaide to crash it. They want to listen in, participate and address the meeting’s concerns. Journalists are waiting, ready to record the skirmish. The occupiers have their own cameras rolling, too. When they arrive at the Starfish, reporters and people from the meeting block the door. Others come out to confront the protesters under the spotlight of the cameras. 

“This meeting is for res-i-dents,” says a man with a grey moustache and dark-rimmed glasses. “You’re not a resident.” 

“What a lovely way of thinking,” says an activist named Thomas Sniedzins. “People who don’t have a residence are just tossed aside and not cared about?” 

“We don’t come interrupt your meetings, do we?” asks the man.  

“Well, this is an open meeting for concerned citizens,” Sniedzins reasons. “I’m a concerned citizen.”

“It’s not for concerned citizens,” coughs the man. “It’s for res-i-dents!”

As the arguments play out, Claudia Rodriguez, a local Occupy organizer, feminist and volunteer facilitator, slips inside the restaurant as a regular patron. She and her friends order food and wait. Rodriguez sits quietly during the twelve-person meeting, but partway through, she’s recognized. “You’re one of them,” one woman says, pointing at her. With her cover blown, Rodriguez slowly finishes her wine and oysters, then leaves. At the Starfish meeting, media outlets later report, local businesses complain of lost revenue, and residents worry about violence, drugs and fires. They want the mayor to do something. 

WARNING SIGNS

In St. James Park, the occupiers talk about when, not if, an eviction might come. After the Starfish meeting and the mayor’s speech, most expect the worst. On November 15, the media tent receives breaking news over the late-night online wire: Occupy Wall Street is being evicted. The owner of Zuccotti Park—which, incidentally, is the Toronto-based Brookfield Properties—has joined with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD to force the protesters out. Around two hundred people are reportedly arrested. The encampment that started it all is gone.

In Toronto, on the one-month anniversary of the camp’s founding, the occupiers wake to a bright sun and the news from New York. They plan an impromptu march to Brookfield’s Bay Street flagship to protest Occupy Wall Street’s eviction. Bike cops clear the road as drum-banging, placard-waving demonstrators step onto King Street and march west. Another line of yellow jackets takes up the rear, followed by the media. 

But back at St. James Park, with many occupiers gone, more bike cops swarm the campground. They accompany bylaw-enforcement officers, who adorn tents with a letter from the City of Toronto: an eviction notice. The city is seeking to clear the park of structures and keep trespassers out between 12:01 am and 5:30 am. When the news reaches the march on Bay Street, everyone turns back to the park. “I’m on private property,” says one man, pointing to the unseen line that divides the church’s land from the city’s; his tent is on the church side. “I’m not going anywhere.”

In response to the city’s ultimatum, Occupy Toronto, with union support, retains a labour and human-rights lawyer named Susan Ursel. On behalf of a group of five occupiers, including Bryan Batty, Ursel argues that the act of occupying public space is a form of free expression enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That would make the city’s bylaw, which is subordinate to the Charter, an unlawful order—rendering the eviction illegal. By day’s end, the occupiers are granted a stay of eviction by Justice David Brown, who sequesters himself to consider the competing arguments. The decision is expected on Friday, November 18, but is then postponed until the following Monday.

St. James Church, established in 1797, will be the lynchpin to any successful eviction. It owns the bulk of the park, and the property line between church and city is ill defined. So far, there has been goodwill between Occupy Toronto and the parish; after all, Christ evicted moneychangers, not protesters, from Herod’s Temple. But at a press conference on November 21, Reverend Douglas Stoute announces that, while he remains “sympathetic” to the occupiers, his church will comply with the city’s wishes. 

That afternoon, Justice Brown delivers his decision. The “protesters are breaking the law,” he writes. “I conclude that the trespass notice is constitutionally valid. The city may enforce it.” Almost immediately, about twenty police and bylaw-enforcement officers descend on the park with more eviction notices, informing the occupiers of the court’s decision. One protester starts collecting the letters and burning them. Another follows the police with his guitar, strumming harder and harder as they go. Another tries, and fails, to rally a chant of “fuck the police.” 

Most occupiers slip into bunker mode. They’ve seen the harsh raids that disbanded the Occupy camps in the US. Everyone remembers the police brutality that marred the anti-G20 protests, when Toronto cops arrested some 1,100 people, holding most of them in cramped cells without charge. Some occupiers pack up and leave immediately, fearing a surprise nighttime attack, like the one Occupy Wall Street faced. Others plan to resist. 

One group of occupiers marches toward the library yurt, chains in hand. They open the four-foot-tall door and clear the circular room. Since Mayor Ford has threatened closures and cutbacks to the Toronto Public Library system, the protesters see their library as a symbolic point of resistance; they also want to avoid what happened during the Occupy Wall Street eviction, when the NYPD destroyed much of the camp’s impressive book collection. Two men, Brandon Gray and Jordon Walsh, chain themselves in front of the library door. Others bulwark the yurt with wooden skids and scraps of plywood, creating a rectangular bunker in front of the entrance that renders it nearly impenetrable. “You guys need to build a roof over that wall,” says a masked bystander. “Otherwise, the cops will flank you from behind.” Several more people occupy the inside of the yurt; they will refuse to leave when police arrive. Later that afternoon, as occupiers fortify the gazebo and other areas of the park, about five hundred union members flood the camp, chanting, “We are the 99 percent!”  

Meanwhile, the occupiers divide themselves into three levels of resistance. Only they know who is who. “Green-line” protesters are those unable to risk arrest. “Orange-line” protesters are willing to be jailed, but also wish to avoid a criminal record—they’re tasked with protecting green-liners from police. “Red-line” occupiers are prepared to resist eviction and, like those in the library yurt, engage in civil disobedience. 

After a peaceful Tuesday night, on November 22, the First Nations occupiers let their sacred fire go out. “This way, cops won’t desecrate our religion,” says Calfchild. “And we won’t be offended.” They set another fire close by, in a purgatorial spot that hugs the city-church property line, and erect a tent around it. A nearby sign reads, “Place of worship.” Later that day, three people—Massawe McCord-Franco, Trey Marechal and Jegundu Richardson—form a negotiating team that, come eviction time, will deal with police on behalf of the red-line occupiers. As darkness sets in, there is the tragic sense that eviction has come just as Occupy Toronto started to resolve its internal tensions. Few people sleep that night—most are too jittery from anxiety and coffee. 

EVICTION

On Wednesday, November 23, in the early-morning dark, a battalion of police rolls through downtown Toronto. White vans and coach-style buses idle along the south side of King Street East, opposite St. James Park. A mobile Central Field Command vehicle parks on Jarvis. Police and city workers descend on the neighbourhood, creating a line on the eastern flank of the park. Bike cops assemble on King, along the park’s southern garden. Inside the camp, guitars strum, drums beat and longhairs chant songs. 

The front line of bicycle cops breaks formation, and a stocky officer fills the gap. Strapped to his chest and stomach, like a knapsack put on backward, is a notorious G20 toy: a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, used to amplify announcements and emit painful blasts of sound. A high-ranking grey-haired cop from the Public Safety Unit steps beside him. “Excuse me, could you step to the side?” he asks a curious onlooker. “I need to create a safe zone here.”  

Back in the park, an activist named Brooks Ash, wearing a white bandana and his usual blue vest, runs to the fenced garden that divides the occupiers from the police, a bullhorn at his side. Lifting it, he tells the cops, “You are not welcome in this park.” On the other side of the line, the officer next to the LRAD stands with its microphone in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other. “The police are now asking for your co-operation in complying with this order by removing your belongings and vacating the park using the northwest pedestrian pathway,” the grey-haired officer declares, reading from the paper. Ash turns and runs back. “They’re coming,” he shouts. The police are ordered to advance. The beat cops and yellow jackets cross the threshold shortly before sunrise.  

Inside the library yurt, the small group of occupiers sits up. “They’re coming!” says a masked orange-liner in front, where a line of punks stands, ready to fight. “They’re coming!” repeats another. The call echoes throughout the park. More occupiers circle the library, adding to its defence. Others run to protect the gazebo, which is now enclosed with sheets of scrap wood. Some people sit calmly in the fire tent. Others run to the front line. Near King Street, flashlights dance over the crest of a berm as a group of police and city employees move forward. 

The municipal workers are tasked with cleaning the park of rubbish. They tag and number the tents so that owners can retrieve their belongings later. Near the logistics tent, a yellow jacket speaks with Michael Vessey outside his campsite, where he’s lived for over a month.

“You need to take that down immediately,” the bike cop says, pointing to Vessey’s tent.

“And what happens if I don’t?” asks Vessey, fatigued. “Are you going to touch my stuff?” 

The officer shoots Vessey a silent look, turns to a clique of cops and walks away. 

“Excuse me,” yells Vessey. “Excuse me, officer. I want to see a warrant.” He chases after the pack of cops, who ignore him. “Excuse me officer, can I see a warrant?” 

A truck plows through the park toward the fire tent. Cops and city workers follow, prompting many occupiers to clear out. An oblong semi-circle of bike and beat cops forms a massive human chain, using the church’s wall and a construction site as a backstop, to cordon off the area. No one can get within a few metres of the white pop-up tent.

Inside the police circle, a white Court Services van backs up to the tent, and more cops arrive, lining up to create additional human barriers. Sitting around the fire are a few protesters, who refuse to leave. Police enter the tent, handcuff the protesters and load them into the van. The crowd outside starts repeating a mantra: “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” 

Once full, the van drives to Jarvis, at the northeast corner of the park, where the Central Field Command station waits. Police start processing the occupiers from the fire. They’re each given a summons and released on the spot. The charge: trespassing. City workers start dismantling the fire tent; eventually, its scraps end up in the waste truck.   

At the library, the three negotiators—Richardson, McCord-Franco and Marechal—are speaking with Inspector Gary Meissner. The five library occupiers have a list of demands: they want safe passage for the books, the yurt and the people within. They also want police to pack up and leave—to let Occupy Toronto continue. Officials balk at the last demand, but agree to the other requests. 

After the crew inside the library consents to the deal, everyone exits the yurt but Brandon Gray, who stays behind to move books out. Two people—Andrew Johnston and Meaghan McClelland—squeeze inside the bunker to help clean it and pass the books to safety. A chain of people forms outside, transferring the books from person to person and securing them in a stash of milk crates. 

In the bunker, Gray is still chained beside the yurt’s door, while Johnston and McClelland remain inside to finish cleaning. A truck backs up, and men in orange-and-yellow suits approach the yurt. One has a crowbar, which he wedges into a joint in the bunker, the wood creaking and snapping as he pulls back. The occupiers start to notice the demolition unfolding at the library, as more workers in jumpsuits, along with a few cops, arrive. 

The crowd chants, “Don’t hurt the yurt!” More police slip between the library and the crowd, forming another cordon around the entrance. Before the chain is sealed, an occupier known as Joey Asshole, dressed in black and holding a black flag, climbs on top of the bunker’s roof. Four occupiers are now in the yurt: Joey, McClelland, Gray and Johnston. 

Trey Marechal arrives at the library, where he speaks with McCord-Franco and Staff Inspector Bill Neadles from the PSU. Neadles asks him what the people in the yurt want. Marechal walks over, looks up at Joey and gets his attention. On the roof, Joey bends down on one knee to talk. 

“Joey, what do you want?” Marechal asks.

“I want to get arrested,” Joey says flatly. 

“Okay,” says Marechal. He turns back to speak with Inspector Neadles. “This protester’s demand is that he be arrested,” Marechal says. “And, seeing as you brought so many of your fine officers with you today, I was wondering if you could help facilitate this process.”

Inspector Neadles shoots Marechal a furrowed, stunned look, then turns to speak with his fellow officers. 

“Negotiations for the yurt have failed,” Joey yells to the crowd, his black flag raised high. “We’re not leaving!”

A six-man police team, wearing protective goggles, leather gloves and hardhats, steps inside the cordon and moves to the front of the yurt. One of them uses a saw to open an entrance in the shipping skids that hold the exterior bunker together. With the library’s defenses penetrated, Joey steps down from the roof. Police walk him to a waiting van. 

Inside the bunker, police look to McClelland as their next arrest—she’s standing right in front of them, wearing a shocked expression, pressed behind a wooden two-by-four that buttresses the library door. “I’m not leaving,” she tells the police, who say that they’ll have to use force. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll go with you, but I don’t want to.” Before McClelland surrenders to police, she looks at Gray and shakes his hand. 

Gray remains chained to the yurt; no one has the keys to the locks that bind him. Dressed in black, wearing a riot-cop helmet with a face shield, he’s been chained to the library for two days. The crowd starts chanting his name: “Brandon! Brandon! Brandon!” Four cops, huddled around him, cut his chains. He goes limp and hits the ground; he’s the only one from the library to engage in passive non-compliance. It takes five cops to carry him back to the van. The occupiers follow, chanting, “Let him go!” 

The final obstacle in the bunker is the two-by-four that spans the library door. The police need to hacksaw it in order to open the yurt and get at Johnston, the last occupier inside. Two cops grab hold of the two-by-four while another starts sawing back and forth, using short, sharp strokes. He snaps the timber, opens the door and talks to Johnston. When Johnston exits the yurt, police snatch him. “Yo, come on,” he says. “Let me clean the rest of the yurt.” 

Before the van can drive the short distance to the Central Field Command vehicle, where the arrested occupiers will be processed and released, protesters flip the script on the police and block its path. The occupiers start arguing with the cops, saying that, if protesters are only being ticketed for trespassing, there is no need for them to be arrested and driven to the Command. They should simply be written a summons on the spot instead. A protest chaplain named Alexa Gilmour steps in to speak with the occupiers blocking the van; they are only delaying the inevitable. While Michael Vessey hangs from the tree above the van, spitting curses at the police, two occupiers agree to accompany Gilmour and the van to the command centre, to ensure the detainees are released as promised. 

Once the van arrives at the Central Field Command vehicle, the library occupiers are processed, one by one. In the park, there’s not a tent left standing. All that remains is a muddy no man’s land. Taylor Chelsea stands atop a berm, soaking it all in. Chelsea was involved in the original meetings that helped Occupy Toronto get started nearly two months ago. She spots Jacqui Delaney, the Sun News reporter, walking along a footpath with a colleague. “Weren’t you banned from this park,” Chelsea asks, smiling, “for your violent behavior?”