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In The Streets And In The Courts: The 7 Year Squat Keeps Up The Fight

This September, eight squatters will go on trial in Ottawa, each facing a maximum possible sentence of 18 years in prison for standing up against poverty and homelessness.

In June of 2002, Canada hosted a summit of the eight largest economic national powers, the G8, in a remote Rocky Mountain resort. In solidarity with protests taking place around the world, activists from the across the Northeast called for two days of action in Ottawa under the banner "Take the Capital!" During the events in Ottawa, police and protesters alike were surprised when the first day's march stopped at 246 Gilmour Street, a house in the city's downtown.

Infamous for having been left to rot by its owner, the house at 246 Gilmour had been unoccupied for over seven years. In a city whose vacancy rate that year was 0.2%, and where 12 000 families sit on a seven year waiting list for social housing, it is criminal that usable, liveable buildings like 246 Gilmour remain empty and vacant, while the absentee landlord courts condo developers and parking companies for more profitable offers.

On June 26, 2002, amidst the actions and rallies of "Take the Capital!", 246 Gilmour Street ceased to be vacant. Unveiling from a second floor balcony a banner that read: "Sick of Waiting? OCCUPY!", the Seven Year Squat was born.

Suddenly, people had a safe place to sleep and the massive project of reversing the landowner's neglect began. Garbage was cleared out, floors and walls were cleaned, peeling paint was stripped, dangerous areas blocked off or fixed, gardens planted and hundreds of meals prepared and served. The work was non-stop. The occupiers aimed to convert the building into usable, liveable housing, run by the collective of individuals who lived and worked there.

The Seven Year Squat attempted to open discussion with the government of the City of Ottawa to secure their support for the conversion of 246 Gilmour Street to social housing. Reacting instead with massive surveillance and continual police intimidation and harassment, the Mayor's office made it clear they were yet again refusing to address issues of poverty and homelessness in Ottawa.

Fortunately, support for the action came from every other direction: tenants of nearby buildings, trade unionists, housing and anti-poverty activists from Ottawa and Hull, and even a few sympathetic city councillors. People from many of Ottawa's communities toured the house to see or participate in the work being done, and drop off donations of food and furniture.

Finally on July 2, due to mounting public support, a meeting was secured with City officials. Yet neither the Mayor nor the Councillors who promised they would attend were present when the meeting finally occurred. In disgust, the Seven Year Squat broke off negotiations - it was clear the City had no intention of engaging in a meaningful way with the demands of the occupiers of 246 Gilmour.

That night hundreds of police officers moved in, declaring the 3 square blocks around the squat a "crime scene" and arresting and evicting anyone within that zone. They shut down the entire neighbourhood, preventing media and the public from witnessing the violent raid and arrests that ensued.

The Ottawa tactical unit, in full riot gear, moved in with pepper spray, tear gas and batons, brutalizing occupiers, bystanders and media alike. In all 22 people were arrested on indictable charges including break and enter, multiple counts of mischief, unlawfully presence in a dwelling house and obstruct police. Over 110 criminal charges were laid.

In the Courts: The Trial of the Seven Year Squat

Now, 9 court appearances and 26 months later, the eight remaining Seven Year Squat defendants will finally have their day in court. With the Crown finally settling on 3 counts of mischief under $5000, break and enter and obstruct police, the defendants each face a maximum possible sentence of 18 years in prison. While this is of course very unlikely, the Crown has indicated he will likely push for jail time in the range of 6-9 months. Each of the Seven Year Squat defendants is self-representing, though there has been a great deal of support from many people with experience in the judicial shitstem.

The trial has been broken up into two sections. From August 30th-September 2, in Courtroom 35, at the Elgin St Provincial Courthouse in Ottawa, Ontario, the defendants will be arguing to have their case thrown out on Constitutional grounds.

The second section, the Trial by Jury, begins on September 27th and will run until at least October 22nd, also in Courtroom 35 of Ottawa.s Elgin Street Provincial Courthouse.

The defendants believe this is an important opportunity to speak out for housing rights at the highest level of the Ontario injustice system. The legal struggle is an alienating and expensive process for anyone, but with the community support, significant change is possible. Thanks go out particularly to the IWW General Defence Committee, CUPE 5500 and several anonymous financial donors for their support thus far.

Sadly the City has recently demolished 246 Gilmour, but the fight cntinues. The real crime remains poverty and homelessness.

How You Can Support the 7 Year Squat

To make the most of this opportunity to challenge the provincial injustice system and fight for housing rights, the Seven Year Squat defendants need the help and support of people committed to fighting poverty and homelessness in Canada.

There are many ways to get involved:

1) Pack the Courtrooms! Attending court between 10am-4pm each day, if you have the time, sends a message to the judge and jury that there is public support for the actions taken by the Seven Year Squat, and let.s them know that their decision won't go unnoticed.

2) Make a donation - As we are self-representing, the defendants have been denied access to legal aid. Defending yourself requires cash, in order to purchase transcripts, pay for witness transportation costs, etc. Any donation, would be greatly appreciated, and cheques can be made out to:

7yrsquat legal defence fund,
3-172 James St.
Ottawa ON
K1T 5M5.

3) Help out during the trial. There are lots of small but vital tasks to be done during the trial, from photocopying to serving food to postering and leafleting. Any help you can offer in taking care of these important tasks would be much appreciated.

4) Send letter of support to the defendants. If you contributed labour during the squat, slept a night, had a meal or just looked around, your testimony is potentially valuable. If you didn't but you support the Seven Year Squat, we would like to hear from you, too! Letters can be addressed to:

7 Year Squat,
172 James St., Apt. 3,
Ottawa, ON,
K1T 5M5

5) Support your local squat!

For more information, please contact dks@resist.ca or call (613) 868 5166.