It is 3:30 EST in Toronto and the aggressive, anti-establishment sounds of hip hop groups Testament and Illogic are entertaining protesters gathered in front of the University Courthouse, the last stop in a three-hour march through the city’s downtown core and financial district.
The climate and environmental justice movements are airing their grievances in anticipation of this weekend’s G20 summit. Unfortunately, attempts to get closer to the actual participants have been stymied by heavy police presence. According to one organizer, who acted as a “corporate clown” and emcee during the march, Toronto Police refused a request to extend the march past the courthouse to the perimeter fence surrounding the G20 security zone.
“They said absolutely no chance,” the spokesperson said. Organizers had visions of attaching symbolic photos to the security fence showing environmental devastation in areas such as Canada’s tar sands in Alberta — one of the main focuses of the day’s action.
Today was designated as an “official day of environmental protest” by the Toronto Community Mobilization Network. A Toxic Tour of Toronto was the action of the day. But for a while, police and members of the media outnumbered the marchers.
It wasn’t long, however, before an enthusiastic contingent of protesters descended on the park carrying signs that cried foul over a variety of environmental issues, including climate change, tar sands oil and indigenous land rights.
The Toxic Tour included three stops— a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, the offices of Barrick Gold and the aforementioned University Courthouse—meant to bring attention to the environmental issues surrounding the mining practices of Canadian companies such as Barrick Gold (75 % of the world’s mining operations are headquartered in Canada, according to Kimia Ghomeshi, one of the Toxic Tour’s organizers) as well as the Royal Bank of Canada, for its funding of tar sands development.
Speakers prior to the march included Jasmine Thomas of the Carrier Sekani First Nation and Isaiah Kipyegon of Toroitich, Kenya, who is travelling the country to bring attention to the climate justice issue.
Catching up with Kipyegon as the march got underway, he said that his country is already experiencing very serious climatic changes.
“We know that they have been caused by the actions of Canada and other countries,” Kipyegon said. “So I’m just here to let them know that people are dying out of starvation and hunger and that there is so much drought, floods and more tropical diseases that ever before and something has to be done.”
Although a number of African countries have been invited to the G8 and G20 summits as special guests, Kipyegon’s home country of Kenya is not one of them. “Absolutely not,” he said. “They don’t invite you unless you are rich or you are culpable.”
Things got tense during the march when protester Dan Kellar squared off with a Toronto police officer who, apparently, tried to confiscate his flag. A group of officers and protesters faced off before the officer, in a fit of common sense, decided to back off.
When asked about the incident, Rob MacDonald, an officer handling media for the Toronto Police said, ”There is no danger regarding a flag, if it is used as a flag. But they can easily be turned into weapons and that is where the concern comes into play.
Perhaps 500-strong at its peak, the march dwindled towards the end of the tour, as police numbers grew. Bikes were used to guide protesters down city streets and onto the courtyard in front of the courthouse.
Protests continue this evening with the Peoples Assembly, where community-minded individuals get in organization mode, looking to find new and creative ways to advance the climate justice and environmental agendas building on the successful meetings in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
In addition, the Climate Action Network will be introducing Canada’s Climate Change Calendar billed as “an online resource that documents the impacts of climate change on more than 170 countries around the world” tonight at the Hotshot Gallery in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood.
Ron Johnson is based in Toronto, Canada, where he is an editor for Post City magazines and contributes to The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, The National Post and the London Business Times. He is covering the G20 Summit (2010) in Toronto for Earth Island Journal.