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"Pope Squat" , TORONTO, SOLIDARITY STILL NEEDED

"POPE SQUAT" is named in anticipation of the Pope's upcoming visit. The will travel through Americas, blessing cannonizing...While the details in this forward are specific, the issues and strategic concerns are not. Solidarity knows no geography. Squats and tents are everywhere
Sat, 27 Jul 2002 23:07:57 -0400

From: Stephen Watson
Greetings,

PLEASE CIRCULATE WIDELY

Yesterday, I sent out an urgent appeal for solidarity to CAW and other union, community and social activists calling for our physical presence at the OCAP "Pope Squat" occupation at 1510 King Street West in Toronto.

The occupation is organized by OCAP to demand of the city and the province
thatthe site itself, the site of mass evictions last year, be turned into social housing. The occupation is raising other demands which address the
homelessness crisis. The demands are to build 2000 affordable, social housing units a year in Toronto, restore rent controls, enforce orders
to repair substandard and unsafe housing stock, hike the minimum wage to
$10 an hour, restore cuts to social assistance, and stop economic evictions.

The message I sent yesterday, Friday, and Day 2 of the occupation, said that the Toronto police were massing their riot squad at about 4:45 pm.

This was NOT a false alarm. A large body of police did, in fact, appear. However, it turns out that the police were using the pretext of a search for a weapon to enter the building and search people there. Obviously
there was no weapon at the site. The occupation is well run and managed and
no weapons or illegal drugs are allowed by the democratic self-management
of the occupation. It's safe to say this police action was a propaganda exercise in intimidation.

Having said that, the fact remains that the following is still true: Solidarity is urgently needed everyday of the occupation and beyond.
Union and community activists should visit the site at 1510 King Street West between Jameson and Roncesvalles in Parkdale. Depending on which direction you are coming from, use the Jameson or Dunn exits off the Gardiner and proceed north to King Street. Then go west on King. Finding a parking spot is not all that difficult.

In particular, the CAW president is urging our leadership and activists to come down and join in the many political and cultural activities at the site as well as just to show your solidarity by being visibly there.

Below I have copied in the list of activities at the site over the next few
days. CAW President Buzz Hargrove has received a complete report on the
brilliant strategic and tactical victory in peaceful, civil disobedience
addressing a serious social crisis this occupation represents. Buzz is looking for an opportunity to visit the site in person as soon as possible. Depending
on his schedule and availability, he will take part in a press conference
next week in support of the occupation. He urges as many CAW activists as possible to come down to the occupation. Our presence adds to the safety of the people maintaining the building. You will find a group of people
who are co-operative, friendly, festive, inspired, and getting things
done.

The CAW and CUPE flags are flying from the site and more union flags will appear as the occupation progresses. Weeks ago the Toronto Area Director Munir Khalid wrote Police Chief Fantino and Mayor Lastman and all the members of the city council and police services board to urge that the police not interfere with the occupation, to recognize the occupation as a political act, not a criminal matter, which must be answered by the elected politicians with serious
negotiations.

CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan has written a letter with a similar message to Fantino. Naturally, we in the CAW and brothers and sisters in CUPE would like to think that our messages carry decisive weight and there's no doubt we
sent a strong message but the fact is that the Mayor is in a real political crisis now and it is primarily because he would be very hard pressed to find any real, justifiable pretext for calling on the police force to evict the occupation.

The last reported owner is a numbered company which has been declared defunct for failing to even file reports. The company has thousands of dollars in outstanding, unpaid property taxes. Ordered repairs were never done. It was the site of brutal, unjust evictions the community protested at the time. Read Thomas Walcom's report in the Toronto Star today for more details. Clearly, the city has no moral and likely no legal justification for any heavy-handed action against present occupants.

All this makes a very strong case for the city to find a negotiated solution to convert building to social housing as OCAP is proposing. OCAP has asked for a meeting with the Mayor on Monday, July 29, at 12 noon. The delegation will consist of many community leaders. Serious proposals on conversion of the site to social housing will be presented. The mayor should see the opportunity here for a victory for the whole community, a victory for peaceful negotiation, and lasting tribute to the Pope's visit.

Nevertheless, hate, especially class hatred of the poor, is still a powerful force in the world and may yet overcome good sense in this situation and so we cannot be so naive as to think the danger of a violent police intervention has disappeared.

A union cannot advise its members to interfere with a police operation, but there is a moral imperative to show our peaceful, firm resolve to denounce repression.

As soon as rentable port-a-potties become available again -- another major event in the city had them all snatched up -- one will be ordered for
the site and the cost will be covered by the CAW.

Solidarity,

Steve Watson, CAW staff