On September 16, 2021, 100 people were present for a press conference of community members and lawyers representing those who were brutalized and charged by Toronto Police at Lamport Stadium this past July. Meeting in front of Mayor John Tory’s condominium entrance, community members peacefully made speeches highlighting the injustices taking place against the homeless population in the city. What followed was nothing short of brazen intimidation as unidentified, undercover officers suddenly apprehended three activists. It wasn’t until later in that day that a last-minute press release came out, detailing the multiple trumped-up charges laid against these and other activists.
The press conference itself was conducted without incident, despite the arrival of mounted police officers, who were clearly present to intimidate the gathering. Shortly after the press conference finished, the speakers, including Indigenous land defender Skyler Williams, left the area and were then immediately ambushed by undercover police officers. Witnesses say Williams in particular was manhandled by police who threw him against a wall and shoved him into an unmarked car. All of this occurred in front of the child of one of the activists, traumatizing the child. Two other participants at the press conference were arrested in this way.
In a statement later posted on Facebook, Williams said that he was arrested for his participation in the defence of the Lamport Stadium homeless encampment on July 21. He explained the importance of the struggle for the rights of the homeless to the Indigenous struggle, and that he will not be backing down from the fight
The writer of this article and other community members immediately rushed to 14 Division where the Encampment Support Network Toronto had announced the arrested activists had been taken. Once at 14 Division the excessive surveillance and policing was very apparent. A large drone flew over the 200 peaceful protesters who had gathered outside the police station; dozens of police officers were scattered around the entrance; a large, empty police bus drove slowly through the protest without apparent reason; and a large 360-degree camera was brought out to surveille all those in attendance. Thousands of dollars per hour in public tax dollars went into this carefully coordinated intimidation effort on the part of the City of Toronto and the Toronto Police Services. One independent community journalist asked me and my fellow activist to escort him out of the protest, out of fear that the police would ambush him.
After hours of waiting, all three of those arrested earlier in the day were released. However, several leading community members announced that the police had warned the crowd that we would all be rounded up and arrested if we left by going south on Dovercourt Street (towards Dundas West). In fear of mass arrests and violent tactics, that police had demonstrated a month earlier, community members rounded all of us up, including families and children, to safely exit northwards together.
This incident marks yet another disturbing chapter in the ongoing efforts to defend our homeless working class brothers and sisters in Toronto. If the brutal violence in Lamport Stadium wasn’t enough, the police made it very clear with yesterday’s arrests that they intend to continue to criminalize anyone who dares stand up for the most vulnerable in this city.
As we have written in the past, housing under capitalism is a profit-driven enterprise monopolized by wealthy landlords and protected by the government, police, media and the whole state. The task of overthrowing this system may not seem easy, but in reality the working class has the power to do so, since capitalism depends on our labour. This is exactly why there is a desperate need for organized labour to use the collective power of the working class in this fight, to not only defend the homeless encampments, but to fight for a new society, where workers own and control the vast wealth in society and put it towards human need. Once this process begins, once the leadership of the labour movement actually brings out the masses of workers who are right now watching these developments on social media and on TV at home, only then will we be able to see a path towards victory. Only then can we imagine for the first time the end of this capitalist system. And in doing so, build a society where no one lives in need—a socialist society.