Global Street Party, 16 May 1998 - report


RTS Toronto arrestees: court date Wed 20th

Hi everyone - I just recently returned from court where some 2 dozen activists came down early on a warm Sunday morning to show support for the four arrestees at the Toronto Reclaim the Streets.

Gregory Herrington is being held until the next court date, which will take place this coming Wednesday May 20 at 10am in room 101 of Toronto Old City Hall, located at Queen and Bay St. Greg seemed in rough shape: his arm was put in a cast, and he was going to the hospital later today.

Everyone in Toronto who made it out to yesterday's Reclaim the Streets - including the 300 people who remained for the rest of the afternoon at Christie Pits to drum, dance and celebrate - should come down to court Wednesday morning to show their solidarity with Greg and the other three arrestees, who will be legally represented by Clayton Ruby.

Darren O'Donnell was released around 12:30 am Sunday, which was a few hours after most of us had left the vigil outside 14 Division police station. He's in good spirits and had his charges reduced from 'assault police' (which is quite ludicrous for anyone who knows Darren or witnessed the arrest) to something more obscure. Kevin Thomas and Brian Burch are also both in good shape. However, it's Greg that I'm worried about because he was obviously picked out of the crowd by the police, and now has to spend the long weekend in jail with a broken arm.

Activist/videographer David Hermolin has emerged mostly unharmed from the event, after having his foot stepped on by a police horse. I saw him after emerging from the hospital yesterday, and he said that with a little polysporin and a tetnus shot he'll be OK. We're all looking forward seeing to David and Jonathan Kulp's footage, which will likely end up in an Undercurrents U.K. collaborative video on the Global Street Party, along with footage from Reclaim the Streets events around the world.

Date: Sat, 16 May 1998 23:16:01 -0400
From: (Brian Burch)

An exciting protest occured along one of Toronto's major streets the afternoon of May 16th. Hundreds of people took over Bloor Street from Roberts to west of Brunswick in an effort to bring attention to a world free from cars and exploitation. Some organizers were telling participants that the party would continue to 5:00 o'clock, making part of the downtown of the capital of Ontario at liberated zone for 4 hours.

Puppets, children drawing chalk pictures on the street, lots of drumming and dancing in the intersection made this event, from about 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. one of the most liberting experiences I have had in a period of activism stretching back to 1969.

However, the police conspired to wreck the tone of the day. At two o'clock rumours starting spreading through the crowd that the police had arrested one of the participants. Officers were going through the crowd with knives to cut streamers and burst ballons, pushing people out of the way and threatening to arrest people who interfered with them.

The demonstration split over this. A large portion marched north along a side street and eventually made their way to Christie pits, keeping a spirited protest going through an area of town not used to seeing demonstrations.

A slightly smaller group, but still over 100, kept to the published agenda of the day and insisted on continuing to reclaim the street that the organizers had led the participants to. Individuals from groups such as Toronto Action for Social Change, the Industrial Workers of the World, the New Socialist Group and the Ontario Coalition against Poverty seemed to be core of this group, but a lot of individuals who were excited by the concept of the streets being for cyclists and pedistrians took part.

Weaving their way through police cars and horses, this group took two lanes of traffic to continue the protest along Bloor Street to Christie Pits (Christie and Bloor). At this point the police became more confrontational, including riding a horse directly at one of the protesters. Several people then sat down in the roadway, reminding the police that this demonstration was peaceful but that the streets were for everyone. One of the organizers, an unsuccessful candidate for Toronto City Council, came by and told the people trying to keep the streets reclaimed that, despite what the organizers told individuals earlier, the plan all along was to be off the street by 2:00 p.m.

I (Brian Burch) insisted that the organizers then come to talk to us directly before we would agree to give back the street. Officers then immidiately came over to me, ordered me off the street, and when I said something along the lines of "I'd rather be arrested than give up my right to protest", promptly arrested me.

I do not know yet what happened to the group that went into Christie Pits for a celebration. I do know that dozens of people went into the streets to demand that I be released. That effort was unsuccessful. I was brought to 14 Division when, having been first told I was being held under the catch-all 'breach of the peace' - which allows the police to hold someone without trial until they feel that the accused isn't likely to re-offend or the event ends - I was told I was being charged with unawful assembly.

The Canadian Criminal Code has this to say about the law:

"63.(1) An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembeled as to cause persons int he neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they:

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or
(b) will be that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.

66. Every one who is a member of an unlawful assembly is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction."

This means that sitting in the road has resulted in a charge that could end up in a jail term of up to 6 months and a fine of $2,000.

At 14 Division I learned that I was not the only one arrested. Kevin Thomas, better known as one of the Friends of the Lubicon sued by Dashowa for organizing a very successful boycott, was also in custody, having been charged with unlawful assembly as well. Darren Odonnell and Gregory Herrington were also in custody, having been charged both the Unlawful Assembly and assault police.

Kevin Thomas and I were released from 14 Division at about 8:30 p.m.. We are to appear in 101 Court of Old City Hall tomorrow (Sunday) at 10:00 a.m. Gregory Herrington and Darren Odonnell, who are being kept in custody overnight, will also be appearing at that time.

I have not seen Kevin Thomas' release conditions, but mine ban me from going into the area patroled by police from 14 Division (Spadina to Lansdowne, Duport to Lakeshore). I am also forbidden from communicating with my co-accused.

There were about 40 people outside the jail when I was released. It was a momement of joy to see such a range of supportive people.

For more information contact TASC at + 1 416-651-5800 or

RTS Toronto - arrests and quick report

I'm just writing to pass along word from the Toronto action. I wasn't one of the organizers, but someone asked me to pass the word.

The main action was a success - 500 people I think, marched up Bathurst St to shut down Bloor St West for five blocks in a busy coffee and bookstore area between Spadina and Bathurst Streets. There was lots of spirit, drumming, dancing, street theatre and play.

Later things took a turn. Apparently the organizers planned to march down Bloor ten blocks or so, to the Christie Pits, a large park -- the site of a major anti-fascist street fight in the 1930s, that played an important part in shutting down pro-fascist organizing in Toronto at that time.

Before that march started, the cops started to turn up the volume on their intimidation tactics. They started to harass people sitting on the street, and went wild cutting the rainbow web of fabric ropes tied across the streets and stomping balloons in a frenzy that might have be funny if their intent - shut down the street party, keep cop control - had not been so clear.

One person was arrested at this point, and the crowd was divided as some drifted away and some marched on side streets to Christie Pits, while some stayed on Bloor. After pressure and confrontation, the police, apparently wishing to avoid pushing *too* far, opened their blockade of the street, and we marched down Bloor to the Pits. At that point - about three and a half hours after the street party started - some people remained on the street in front of the park. When the police tried to push them off the street, they responded by sitting-in on the street. Two more street-reclaimers were arrested at this point, simply for not letting the cops bully them off the street, and calling on others to stay brave, to stay in the street.

While some called on us to leave the street and go into the park, we sat in around the cop van where our friends were held. After the cops freed their van to take away the arrestees, we held the street for a short time, before marching to the local police headquarters to support the arrested reclaimers and call for their release. About sixty people marched to Metro Toronto Police 14 Division, and one more person was arrested as we marched. Many of us stayed at the cop shop, sitting in on the lawn in front of 14 Division for more than three hours, until all four had spoken to a lawyer, two reclaimers were released, the other two had their release hearing set for the morning. We have organized to attend the morning hearing, Sunday, May 17, 9 am, room 101, Old City Hall courthouse, at Queen and Bay St, downtown Toronto.

More from Brian...

On Saturday, May 16th hundreds of people from all walks of life danced, laughed, wove ribbons, drew pictures of hope and celebrated together the reclaiming of communal space. This took place along several blocks of Bloor Street, a major street in down town Toronto. For about 1 and 1/2 hours Toronto had a liberated space. By 2:30, riding horses in the crowd, waving knives in the air to cut down ribbons and burst ballons members of Toronto's police force helped to spoil the mood of the Reclaim The Streets/Global Street Party event in Toronto. By 4:00 o'clock, 4 people were in custody. And, while Kevin Thomas (charged with Unlawful Assembly), Brian Burch (charged with Unlawful Assembly) and Darren Odonnell (charged with Unlawful Assembly and Assist Escape), were released on the 16th, Gregory Herrington was kept in custody for several days. Gregory Herrington was fine when he was arrested, but when he briefly appeared in court in front of a J.P. on the 17th, his right arm was in a cast.

This morning (Wednesday May 20th) Gregory Herrington, now charged with unlawful assembly plus 3 counts of assault police and one count of assault with a weapon, was released on $2,000.00 surety bail. This is the most series range of changes levied against any of the participants in the Toronto Reclaim the Streets/Global Street Party activities, indeed against any political activist in Toronto in well over a decade.

The J.P. who granted bail to Gregory Herrington on Wednesday also amended Brian Burch's release conditions to permit him to take public transit through 14 Division. (I shouldn't refer to myself this way, but my freelance writer persona expects it). His original release condition banned him from going within the boundaries of 14 Division for any purpose.

Brian Burch, Kevin Thomas, Darren Odonnell and Gregory Herrington are to appear for a set-date hearing on June 12th at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom 111 of Old City Hall Courts (NE corner of Queen and Bay in downtown Toronto). The presence of supporters in the courtroom is always welcome.

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