OCAP distrupts city hall budget committee meeting

Banging on bongo drums and shaking tambourines, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) made its presence felt at a morning budget committee meeting at Toronto City Hall on Feb. 10.

Screaming slogans into city councillors’ ears, jumping on tables and making fiery speeches, the OCAP held the protest to “fight [Mayor Rob] Ford’s cuts.”

“Don’t underestimate Ford,” OCAP leader John Clarke said. “Behind his dull-witted intransigence stands a whole organized move to destruct everything in this city that people have fought for.”

OCAP was joined by other groups, including No One Is Illegal Toronto, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, Community Solidarity Network and AIDS Action Now.

Const. Wendy Drummond said police were called in because public safety was at risk.

“We were asked by security during the meeting to remove people from the room for their safety,” she said.

As the police cleared protesters from the meeting room, one officer was struck and suffered minor leg injuries.

Two protesters were arrested in the melee, one for assaulting a police officer and the other for obstructing a police officer. Some activists banging on the glass doors to Ford’s office and others yelled insults at the police, calling them “pigs” and “Nazis”.

The protesters denounced council proposed cuts to bus routes, 10 of which are in Scarborough, and what they said is a shortage of beds at homeless shelters.

Budget committee chair Mike Del Grande denied that shelters were closing down due to budget cuts.

“I am not aware that we are cutting social services,” he said. “We are reallocating (resources). There are no bed cuts. People are going to hotels, which is a model that the city has used in the past.  There is no food reduction.”

Del Grande said OCAP had every opportunity to voice its concerns at the four public budget consultations. He added this type of disruption does not advance anyone’s cause.

An hour after the protest, councillors voted to use the money saved by a freeze on council wages to fight bedbugs. Of over $100,000 dollars saved, $87,000 will go toward public health initiatives to fight bedbugs, while the remaining will go to student nutrition programs.