Resisting the U.S. Consulate "No-Protest" Zone, March, 2002
After September 11, 2001, police established a "No-Protest" zone in front of the U.S. consulate in Toronto. This section of sidewalk had for decades been a gathering place for those opposed to U.S. policies. The sidewalk remained open to those who were regular pedestrians. It was only those with signs or banners who were prevented from passing in front of the symbolof the U.S. empire in Toronto.
We decided to challenge this no-protest zone after an attempt to deliver a letter to the U.S. Consul General regarding the illegal detention of Palestinian-Canadian Shakir Baloch in the U.S. was stopped before we got close to thebuilding on University Ave.
A. an open letter we wrote to the Consulate informing them of our intention to defy the no-protest zone
B. a press release announcing the action,
C. and a report on the liberation of the sidewalk.
Toronto Action for Social Change
A Division of Homes not Bombs Ontario
Building Community Through Nonviolent Action
PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
(416) 651-5800; firstname.lastname@example.org
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Antoinette Marowitz Regarding the
"No-Protest Zone" in front of the U.S. Consulate
Consul General of the U.S.
360 University Ave.
Toronto, ON M5G 1S4
(Faxed to 416 595-0051 on March 8, 2002)
Original sent by registered mail March 8, 2002
Hi there, it's us again, with another lengthy letter. But there's just so much to discuss, and we still haven't had a reply to our last letter of February 13!
Anyway, we are writing to inform you of a nonviolent vigil taking place in front of the United States consulate (on the sidewalk at 360 University Ave.) at 12 noon on Wednesday, March 20, to protest the ongoing war against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and countless other countries targetted by your government. We are also gathering to protest the "no-protest zone" in front of the consulate.
We write this advance notice to you just as we extend this courtesy to any individual or institution whose policies might be the focus of our protest.
We write as individuals who have hundreds of times gathered in front of your building to express our horror, our disbelief, our rejection and resistance of your government's policies, whether that has been the torture and murder of people in Vietnam and Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Iraq and the Philippines, or any of scores of other countries which have been the unfortunate victim of what the great American Martin Luther King, Jr., called the greatest purveyor of violence on earth today: the US government.
We do not plan this protest to condemn you or other employees of the consul general. While we wholly disagree with the policies of your government, we recognize, ultimately, that policies are made by and carried out by individuals, each with a conscience that needs to be exercised regularly lest it fall into disuse. One purpose of such demonstrations is to awaken that dormant conscience as one of the necessary steps toward achieving a just resolution of an unjust situation.
Hence, we gather in front of your building in the spirit of hope, hope that you will dialogue with us, hear our concerns about the roots of global injustice and inequality, and relate them to your government not simply as a matter of basic procedure, but as an attempt to end the madness currently gripping our planet.
We will be gathering in what is clearly a public and symbolic space, the U.S. Consulate at 360 University, on the first day of spring, a time for renewal and reflection on where we've been and where we're going. We will nonviolently call for peace and justice in the world and for an alternative to the kinds of policies sustained not only by the US government, but also by our own, policies which strangle hope and life out of billions of the poor on a daily basis.
Significantly, we also gather, as Martin Luther King, Jr., did in Memphis in 1968, a few fateful days before he was murdered by your government (a fact affirmed recently by a U.S. grand jury), to protest for the right to protest.
As you are no doubt aware, police have prevented anyone from protesting on the public sidewalk in front of your building, yet people without placards or banners are free to walk in front of the building. This is similar to the ban on such protests in front of the White House, a ban dripping with irony given that the current slaughter of the innocents taking place abroad, like so many slaughters before, is being conducted in the name of freedom.
We in Toronto saw the irony of this policy ever since September 11, when anyone with a sympathetic message for the people of the U.S. was allowed to not only gather at the consulate, but to spend hours there mourning, reflecting, and placing placards and candles at the foot of the building. But those who came with similar messages of condolence and pleas for peace and justice were immediately shunted away, across the great expanse of University Avenue.
When on February 13 a small group of us attempted to deliver a letter to you regarding the case of wrongly jailed Canadian Shakir Baloch -- still shackled in a U.S. prison as one of the thousands swept up in racial profiling by your own secret police -- we were stopped by the RCMP and Metro Police and told we were not allowed to stand in front of the consulate.
When our vigil was complete and we took down our signs, we were told we could proceed in front of the building on our way to the subway. Hence, it appears to us this policy of prohibiting protests in front of the U.S. consulate has nothing to do with security. Rather, it seems about securing the status quo of war without end, the status quo of being able to conduct this war without visible protest against it, at the very structure in Toronto which most clearly symbolizes the policies of the government leading that war: the United States.
And so, as we prepare for our protest March 20, we are inspired by the words of Martin Luther King (in whose name your government has decreed a national holiday). On the last speech of his life, April 3, 1968, King addressed sanitation workers concerned about an illegal injunction prohibiting a march scheduled for the next day:
"All we say to America is, 'Be true to what you said on paper.' If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they haven't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read about the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read about the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say we aren't going to let any fire hoses or police dogs turn us around, we aren't going to let any injunctions turn us around. We are going on."
In Canada, we too have committed to such basic rights, but they are only words on paper unless we infuse them with life, just as spring infuses the flowers in front of your building.
We have researched this matter carefully: gone to the planning office to obtain maps which show the obvious, that the sidewalk in front of the U.S. consulate is indeed a public right of way; researched Canadian Supreme Court precedents which declare the right to assemble peacefully and to express ourselves; and reflected on our responsibility as people living on this planet who must nonviolently speak out, regardless of the consequences, for an end to the war and the "security" hysteria which justifies the war.
As we write, it has just been reported that a new study from the Centers for Disease Control, which was completed in August 2001, reveals that for all Americans born after 1951 "all organs and tissues of the body have received some radiation exposure." The "right" to test in the open air the nuclear weapons which would bring about a massive scourge of cancer on North Americans was only possible because it was bought with the currency of the Red Scare, which history clearly shows was more of a red herring.
Now the massive terror being visited upon the poor of the world is similarly based on the unsubstantiated claim that "foreign terrorists" are under every bed, and a constant state of vigilance, warfare, and desecration of all life forms in the environment are necessary to preserve some vague notion of freedom which, as was stated above, does not seem to exist either in front of the White House or in front of the U.S. Consulate here in Toronto.
We are among the billions across the globe who wish to live our lives in peace with justice for all people, and as such will be insisting on our right to call for these rights on the first day of spring.
Looking forward to meeting you on the 20th.
The folks at TASC and Homes not Bombs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MARCH 19. 2002
Demonstrators to Challenge "No-Protest" Zone at U.S. Consulate
Nonviolent Attempt to Vigil on Sidewalk in Front of U.S. Consulate Takes Place Wednesday, March 20, 12 noon, 360 University Ave.
Protesting the fact that the only people in Canada who are not allowed to walk on the public sidewalk in front of the U.S. Consulate at 360 University Avenue are those publicly opposed to U.S. policies, demonstrators will attempt to defy the "no-protest" zone at 12 noon on Wednesday, March 20.
Ever since the events of September 11 in the U.S., anyone with a message in opposition to U.S. policies of war and repression has not been allowed with a placard or banner in front of the consulate or on the west side of the street. Yet people walk by the consulate every day without being checked, a sign that the "concern" about protests is not about security but about the peace message protesters bring.
"Last we checked, Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we need to ensure those rights are in place for everyone, not just those who go along with the war," explains a TASC spokesperson.
The group wrote an open letter outlining these concerns to U.S. Consul General Antoinette Marowitz two weeks ago, but has heard no response from her. Instead, within two hours of faxing the letter, the group received a number of calls from the RCMP.
"We're curious how a simple vigil for peace and justice gets turned into a matter of national security."
Demonstrators will leave from Church of the Holy Trinity (behind the Eaton Centre) at approximately 11:45 am on their way to the consulate. For more information call (416) 651-5800.
TORONTO, March 20, 2002 -- The no-protest zone on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Consulate in Toronto was finally liberated today as a space where protests against U.S. policy could occur.
About 15 members of Toronto Action for Social Change, Hamilton Action for Social Change, and Homes not Bombs gathered today and risked arrest by openly defying the policy which has prohibited such gatherings there since September 11, 2001. (Since that date, groups which have attempted to hold protests there have been told to cross over to the other side of University Avenue).
Despite the presence of some two dozen Metro Police, RCMP, private security, members of the Anti-Terrorism and Counter-Intelligence squad, and an obviously eager police wagon crew, no arrests were made.
Instead, the group stood for over an hour in the "first day of spring" rain, handing out flyers and joking that just as Czechoslovakia enjoyed a 1968 Prague Spring of liberation, perhaps this was one small signal of hope for a 2002 Toronto Spring.
Some of the protesters dialogued with police and RCMP, asking why there was a sudden turnaround on the issue of sidewalk protests since we had decided to make an issue of the no-protest zone. Hems and haws were the order of the response, however, with the explanation that "there's been no turnaround," "we didn't have details of that demo" where people were turned away, or "there is no policy, it's a case-by-case threat determination" which allows police to decide how to respond to demos.
On St. Valentine's Eve last month, a group of about a dozen people had attempted to deliver a letter to the consul general regarding the detention of numerous Canadians held in American prisons as a result of racial profiling, but were denied access to the sidewalk in front of the building by police and RCMP who explained this was now standard procedure to "protect" everyone concerned. (Once the placards and banners had come down, though, the group was allowed to pass in front of the building on the way to the subway -- hence, the issue was not a question of security, but the type of message we were bringing).
The group subsequently wrote to the consul general explaining why they would return in defiance of this policy. That letter was immediately passed to the RCMP.
Plans for today's demo were not as well received as we had originally hoped; some questioned the wisdom of going to the consulate because they felt the security hysteria would cloud the issue of freedom of speech and assembly, while others felt we should have gone through a process of approaching the police brass to get some sort of determination about who, exactly, should be allowed in front of the building.
In the end, however, we felt that this was a matter of principle, and that the security hysteria which has been responsible for the denial of civil liberties to thousands of people across North America -- largely of Middle Eastern or Arabic background or Muslim faith, as well as those who protest these violations -- should be confronted head-on by simply showing up at the public sidewalk in front of the consulate with our messages about ending the war and releasing political and racial profiling detainees.
We also felt that this should not be a matter of talking with the police beforehand, because standing on a sidewalk with a placard should not be a matter up for discussion with armed agents of the state. Such an approach, we feel, almost instantly declares us somehow guilty of wanting to do something for which approval would hopefully be granted by those in power.
Whether the sidewalk will remain a liberated space is, of course, up to all of us. Today was a test which worked, but we must continue to reclaim public space regardless of how unpopular or difficult the consequences.
Special thanks to folks who came in from as far away as Stratford, Durham, Dundas, Kitchener and Hamilton.
For more info. contact TASC at PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0, email@example.com