Summit officials have abandoned Trinity Bellwoods Park as the G20’s official demonstration area, but at least one group still plans to rally there in June.
In an about-face Thursday, the G20’s Integrated Security Unit announced it will be moving the protest zone, explaining the change as a response to complaints from area residents and consultations with city hall.
The security unit has yet to announce the new site, but the Ontario Federation of Labour says it’s sticking with Trinity Bellwoods.
The OFL expects thousands to attend its G8 and G20 march on June 26, organized in conjunction with groups such as Oxfam, Greenpeace and the Canadian Labour Congress.
The OFL plan is to meet at Queen’s Park and march along University Ave. and Queen St. W., concluding at Trinity Bellwoods, chosen last week by summit officials as a “designated speech area” for G20 protesters.
“We plan on keeping our rally at the park because nobody has told us otherwise; not the police, not the city,” said OFL president Sid Ryan.
But area residents oppose even this labour rally. At a meeting Thursday night, the Trinity Bellwoods Community Association voted 33-0 against the rally being held in the park.
Resident Steffan Randstrom said he was skeptical the labour rally would only attract peaceful demonstrators. “People will travel here from all over the world to do crazy s—,” he said. “Why do you choose a residential park for such an event? I’ve got kids and I don’t want them to meet crazy anarchists.”
The OFL’s Laurie Hardwick and Toronto police Const. George Tucker, of the Integrated Security Unit, tried to calm their concerns.
“We have no intention of doing any damage to your community,” Hardwick said. She assured them most of the demonstrators would be out of the park by about 4 p.m.
Hardwick estimated the crowd at 5,000, but residents worried the numbers could swell to more than 20,000.
“Why isn’t this happening at the CNE?” said David Ginsberg. With thousands of people in the park, “our kids are not going to be able to play,” he said.
Outside in the park, Anne Louise Pearl, who was walking her dog, said she was happy the designated speech area was being moved from the heavily used park.
But she was also concerned about the OFL rally, noting some recently planted saplings might be damaged. “I still don’t understand why they have to use this park.”
Mark Critoph, a graphic design professor in the park with his daughter Asha, 6, said he supports people’s right to protest and did not want to fall prey to the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome. “I would not attend it, but it’s got to be somewhere,” he said.
Mark Gelineau, manager of Great Stuff, a nearby clothing store, said he felt better upon hearing the park would only host the labour rally, which might attract business, instead of a designated protest zone, which might attract vandals. “Rallies are usually positive things,” he said.
The OFL’s Ryan said his rally venue was chosen prior to summit officials picking Trinity Bellwoods as the designated speech area. He said the OFL worked closely with police to select the site. The federation originally wanted Coronation Park but settled on Trinity Bellwoods after police asked them to find an alternative location that didn’t require marching across the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Blvd.
Ryan said the OFL already has permits for the parade route and Queen’s Park but has only a conditional permit so far for Trinity Bellwoods. However, the federation is already making permit payments and meeting its obligations, even hiring 300 marshals to keep radical protesters from infiltrating its rally.
“City hall has to approve the permit but I can’t see why the Canadian Labour Congress or OFL would have a rally permit turned down,” Ryan said. “That would be highly unusual.”
Summit officials say they have no issue with the OFL using Trinity Bellwoods as long as its permit is approved by the city.
City councillor and mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone said he was “totally unhappy” when Trinity Bellwoods was announced as the protest site. He thinks the park, bordered by homes and families, is no place for protesters.
Pantalone said he brought his concerns to Police Chief Bill Blair, who told him Wednesday the site would be moved. He said Queen’s Park is now being considered for the protest zone.
But for Ryan, the summit is an international event being staged by the federal government — protesting outside the Legislature would be pointless.
“Queen’s Park is not an acceptable site,” he said. “It’s too far away. You don’t even get an opportunity to get down to the perimeter of the security fence.”
He said the OFL wrote a letter to city hall Thursday morning, offering to move the rally if the city would find a more suitable location. Ryan said he has yet to hear back.
Ryan is frustrated with the reaction to the OFL’s use of the park as a rally site and said the group is fully committed to protesting peacefully, as is its democratic right.
“These politicians that are complaining, they stand with us at protests all across the city, all across the country, and then we have a protest and they say, ‘Not in my backyard,’” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Meanwhile, NORAD conducted flight tests throughout the day on Thursday in preparation of the G8 and G20 summits. The tests are to continue into Friday.
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