Asleep at City Hall

By Tooker Gomberg, Toronto, Canada.

Tooker is rudely awakened – and doesn’t like what he sees.

I am jolted from my sleep by the sound of shoveling snow. Opening my eyes, I panic- someone is filling in my escape tunnel. I am about to be entrapped in the snow dome, or quinzee, that Jean and I have spent two hours building just outside the front doors of Toronto City Hall.

I am confused and vulnerable as the roof caves in on my head and soon I am covered in snow, as is my sleeping bag, and my belongings. Then the laughter and the taunts begin.

Two police officers are responsible. Badge number 3281 and his partner chuckle that they are concerned for my safety. The structure might collapse and suffocate me, they say.

And besides, there is the bylaw prohibiting the erecting of structures in public spaces they tell me.

Of course, they miss the point. Our monthly campout at City Hall the night before City Council meets is a protest against homelessness in Toronto, the city unable to create housing but desperate for Olympic glory.

The quinzee is a quintessentially Canadian structure. In a pinch, it may save you from freezing to death. Just pile up a large mound of snow, let it sit for a couple of hours, and dig it out. With an empty croissant box, we scooped and piled the snow till it was five feet high and over six feet in diameter.

But my chilled dwelling isn’t the only thing that collapses. So do my plans for a court challenge against attempts to prevent these kinds of protests. In October, when a group of us were camping out in the square (tents this time), we were all ticketed for trespassing.

Last Friday, I had my day in court. As my name was called, I was asked if I was prepared to proceed. The Justice of the Peace seemed oblivious to the letter I had written requesting postponement of my trial as well as disclosure of all the notes of the police officers involved.

I intended to defend myself with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, notably with Section 2 (b), or was it not 2 (b). Never forget 2(b): “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression”.

Pitching a tent, building a quinzee, or just sleeping under the stars to protest is a fundamental right.

But the Crown foiled my plans by withdrawing the ticket. It was over before we even had a chance to respond.

“Why are they dropping the ticket?”, I blurt out to the Justice of the Peace. “The case is withdrawn,” he says, “You’re free to go.”

If you want to beat the system sometimes just showing up is enough.

I was off the hook, but how many others are woken up at night, harassed, forced to move on, beaten? And how can those councillors pushing for the Olympic games sleep themselves when they know they have traded away the needs of the poor for sports arenas and cocktail parties for the elite?