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Toronto- On Guard For Whom? Cops Say They Were Protecting Kids Taken From Protestors, But I Wonder...

The lobby of metro hall on November 13 was a bureaucrat's nightmare - kids everywhere. Running. Crawling. Shouting. Drooling. Dressed for casual Friday on a Thursday. It was like Bring Your Kids To Work Day, but worse - Bring Your Kids To Other People's Work Day. The young ones weren't being acclimatized to the job market, but were still learning the ropes of one of the longest-standing practices: disobedience. This comes naturally to the under-three set, and I differ from many confirmed breeders in that I think it's important that they keep the skill sharp. Disobedience is one of the few abilities that diminish with age, and unless we get ample time to practice the ups and downs of being disagreeable, the impulse can go into remission, re-emerging later in unhealthy forms.

OCAPers are here to protest at the police services board upstairs over some strange new policing practice in which officers threaten parents who bring their kids to demos. The immediate issue is the "confiscation" of OCAP member PJ Lilley's son, Saoirse, at the squat action earlier this month opposite Don Jail.

In the four days following the squat action, other stories emerge. Two other OCAP members were threatened at the demo with having their children taken. Nancy (she doesn't want her last name revealed) related her encounter with an officer while standing across the street from the action.

"He said to me, 'You'd better be careful, or you're next,'" she recalled. "I asked why. He said I was endangering my child. I said, 'If there's any danger here, it's because of you. '" Other parents who attended the squat with kids in tow were not threatened - nor were they OCAP members.

Police deny any wrongdoing. "There was no abduction or kidnapping or whatever it is OCAP is going around saying," Sergeant Jim Muscat told me. "A female officer took the child into custody until its parents could be found." Once Saoirse was given to his father, Jeff, the police wanted to ensure a family reunion. "They (father and son) were placed in a vehicle for their protection and transportation, and taken to the police station where the child's mother was being held." During the scuffle, Lilley had been charged with assaulting police. She says she will fight the charges and file an official complaint.

That's a very touching story, but I can't help feeling a bit skeptical. Perhaps the sergeant can be forgiven for repeating the error-filled briefing he gave to his superiors.

If police wanted to find the child's parents, they might have looked to the woman whose shoulders they grabbed him from. Presumably, she was not fit to parent since she had assaulted an officer. While police surrounded the building and shoved people, onlookers shouted in outrage. This is when the alleged assault took place. I happened to be near Lilley at the time, and the officer's story puts a new spin on what I saw simply as an argument.

Apparently, while carrying a child, Lilley unleashed an attack that not only travelled 5 feet and passed through a fence and a row of police bicycles but was completely invisible. These frightening allegations clearly show that she must be a ninja.

Though "protecting a child" sounds good, what were they protecting him from? The squatters had already occupied the building. Activists were there to show support. That day, an eye looking for danger could only be drawn to the gang of jumpy officers, who protected the boy by bringing him toward the house in question, in the middle of the demonstration, ground zero for everyone's anxiety.

Police seemed hostile to the idea of returning the child. In the end, they agreed to hand him over, but only away from the protest, in a police cruiser. They were driven to 51 Division, where, contrary to Muscat's info, Lilley was not to be found.

Rather, officers called ahead to child services, informing them that they were bringing Saoirse. Not wanting to be complicit in kidnapping his own son, Jeff protested. Some passersby came over, and the police decided to let him go. The family eventually reunited at home, with some new extended relatives. "Those first few nights," says Lilley, "we had cops parked across from our house.

"It's very important that we continue to have a movement that is welcoming to parents, children, older people, people of all sorts of ages and abilities," she says. "If we lose that, we lose the ability to organize. We can't just have a movement of single 20-year-old guys who are ready to run."

Muscat dismisses the suggestion that police were trying to subvert this kind of diversity. "I have been to many demonstrations where there are families," he says. After all this, that doesn't make me feel better.