Toronto activists protesting Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the upcoming Olympic Games in Russia blocked a Coca-Cola delivery truck and splashed it with the popular beverage following a Sept 3 protest outside the Loblaws store at Church and Carlton streets.
Protesters chanted, “Boycott Coke, this ain’t no joke” and “Queer rights for Russia.”
The truck's driver rolled up his window and refused to comment. After a few moments, he drove away. (Check out Xtra's photo gallery here.)
Organizer Zach NoCameco Ruiter says the group is demanding that Loblaws grocery stores stop selling Coca-Cola, which is one of the major sponsors of the Sochi Games.
The event was part of All Out’s worldwide event Speak Out for Russia, which took place in more than 35 cities.
Ruiter first led the group inside the Loblaws store to occupy the entrance foyer. Members of Toronto Police Service and Loblaws security, who declined to comment, stopped the group from going further inside. But Ruiter says he is asking only for solidarity from Loblaws.
“Loblaws calls itself an ally of this community, our community,” he yelled through a megaphone. “This store marches in our Pride parade. They are getting rich off our pink dollars. Now, will they really be an ally and dump Coke from their shelves? Do they care that queers are being beaten and killed in Russia?”
After the group returned to the sidewalk outside, store manager John Carlos Terceros addressed the crowd, providing activists with phone numbers for Coca-Cola and the Loblaws head office. Terceros declined to speak to Xtra.
Brian De Matos, another of the event's organizers, says he is disappointed that Loblaws is ignoring a reasonable request from the queer community. “We found out today where Loblaws places their values,” he says. “It’s queer dollars over queer bodies, unfortunately . . . There are lots of small and independent businesses that have shut down because of them, because we prioritize cheap prices. It shows how important it is for queers to support the businesses that are on our side.”
Susan Gapka, who is a Pride Toronto board member and is currently seeking the NDP nomination for the federal by-election in Toronto Centre, says activists are smart to target Loblaws. She says that she had a negative experience with store security last year and that Loblaws is no ally of the queer community. "Security harassed me while shopping three minutes after closing," says Gapka. “I haven’t shopped here since. When I complained at the time, they escorted me out of the store."
Gapka says she later filed an official complaint with customer service but has never received a response "so I have been boycotting Loblaws since . . . I’m here supporting my community, who are speaking out on those horrendous anti-gay laws passed in Russia, and that needs to change . . . I would like to see Loblaws do the same thing.”
The group later marched up Church Street, stopping at Wellesley Street to dump a bottle of Coca-Cola at the intersection. After the blockade of the Coca-Cola truck at Gloucester Street, the march ended at the Russian consulate, at Church and Bloor streets.
“We have to keep demanding justice for people whose rights are being violated in any country,” says Derek Soberall, founder of Occupy Canada. “With the focus on the Russian Olympics, and Coke being a major sponsor, we have to make our voices heard. [The queer community] has my support.”
Activists around the world have been targeting Coca-Cola to demand the company suspend its sponsorship of the Olympics. The company has sponsored the Games since 1928.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is calling on all Olympic corporate sponsors — Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Panasonic, Samsung Mobile, The Dow Chemical Company, Visa, Omega Watches and Atos — to boycott the Sochi Games, warning that their brands will forever be synonymous with an anti-gay Olympics.
On Sept 8, the Toronto queer activist group #TOwithRussia plans to protest Russia’s homophobia with a rally in Dundas Square. The rally will conclude with a march to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, where activists will stage a kiss-in and a performance by Toronto ensemble Choir! Choir! Choir!