Five women were arrested on Jun 3 when police broke up a housing squat at Sherbourne and Bloor. The occupation was part of a much larger protest that drew more than 300 people.
“Today we are beginning to take action,” said protest marshal and queer activist Leanne Cusitar at the demonstration. “Today, as women and allies, we are choosing to take it up a bar. We are saying, enough is enough and today we are drawing a line in the sand.”
As part of a protest to demand safe and affordable housing for women fleeing violence, a handful of women had occupied the building at 4 Howard St. Organized by the Women Against Poverty Collective, the action was supposed to draw attention to the shortage of available housing for women and trans folks and their children who are survivors of violence. Instead, the women and their allies became victims of reported police violence when police drove horses into the crowds.
It had started out as a peaceful protest. A crowd gathered at noon for a rally at Cawthra Square Park behind the 519 Community Centre.
“It makes me really angry that there are thousands of women in this province, in this country, in this city, who go homeless, lose their children and lose their lives because they have no choices, because the system is broken,” poverty activist Josephine Grey told the crowd. “Because no one cares enough to put some bricks and mortar together. That’s not right. I didn’t vote for that.”
Bike police were in attendance but seemed upbeat and even helped with traffic control on the march itself.
Before reaching the squat marchers headed up to Hayden St to the spot where Bly Markis, a homeless woman, was killed on Apr 28. Then the march continued on, with men bringing up the rear, to a field near the squat which four women had secretly entered the night before.
“I’d like to welcome everybody to our new abode,” one squatter shouted out the window while the crowd cheered.
At approximately 7:30pm, police moved in and dragged the women out of the building in handcuffs. They used horses to break up and drive back the crowd.
“[Police] moved swiftly to remove the handful of squatters from the occupied building,” says supporter Graeme Bacque, “and then ruthlessly broke up the supporter’s rally by driving horses into the crowd over and over again. As so often happens, this completely peaceful action was met with shocking violence from the state.”
Although police didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time, Insp Gordon Sneddon denied the use of force in an interview with City Pulse news following the incident.
“There was no force at all,” said Sneddon. “We’d spoken to the organizers on numerous occasions asking them to move, and that wasn’t forthcoming.”
Organizers are asking any-one with video or photos of the police action to contact them. They are also asking anyone who was injured by a police officer or horse or from being pushed in the chaos to go to the doctor to have the injuries documented.