UPDATE: OCAP Jury Trial - Defense Continues, Support Still Needed

Thank you to all those who've filled the court room or sent messages of
support to the three OCAP defendants. John Clarke's testimony in chief
began yesterday afternoon, continued all day today, and will continue
tommorrow. John will likely face cross-examination on Thursday. We still
need your support (and bodies) in the court room.

Please note the times court is sitting this week and next:

361 University Ave
Court Room 2-8

Wednesday, April 16th, 10AM - 1PM - OFF EARLY FOR PASSOVER DINNER
Thursday, April 17th, 10AM - 4:30PM
Friday, April 18th, CLOSED - GOOD FRIDAY
Monday, April 21st, CLOSED - EASTER MONDAY
Tuesday, April 22nd, 10AM-4:30PM - Back to normal schedule.

Activist gets day in court
by Jim Coyle

April 15, 2003
Toronto Star

Had anti-poverty activist John Clarke been inclined to the other side of
the class war, he might well have attained by now a comfy position in high
political office or corporate boardroom.

Quite possibly, the Fraser Institute or some like-minded outfit would have
rewarded him for his long service with a fellowship or chair in something.

Now that Clarke is 48 and graying, the not-too-distant future might even
have promised a pocketful of directorships, the relatively taskless thanks
given business and political worthies to make their latter years as
pleasant as possible.

Such acclaim might have come John Clarke's way because in many respects he is the very model of what is prescribed in all those books on the Habits-of-Highly-Successful-Suits. He's smart, articulate, inventive.

He does more with less than most organization heads you'd want to meet. He has media savvy. He has tenacity in spades. And, as much as any man or woman in Canada, he has the courage of his convictions.

Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, John Clarke fills the business
set not to mention most politicians, a good many citizens, and the local
constabulary not with admiration, but with fear and loathing.

This city's king of the gadflies, its most rabid and in-your-face voice of
the underdog, and arguably the most vilified anti-poverty activist in
Ontario, got his day in court yesterday or more accurately began the first
of many days. Clarke is charged, along with two colleagues from the
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, with participating in a riot at the
Ontario Legislature in June, 2000. He is also charged with counselling
participation in a riot and counselling an assault on police officers.

For weeks now, he has sat watching the videotapes and hearing the
testimony of police officers about one of the uglier days in the
province's recent political history with riot gear, mounted horses, flying
bricks, flailing batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets and other such
things that Ontario residents had always associated with distant and
primitive places.

His lawyer, Peter Rosenthal, seemed to know that, for better or worse, the
trial is yet another pulpit for Clarke to preach the cause of social
justice, a battle in which he has been on the front lines for two decades.

"Without further ado, John Clarke," Rosenthal told the jury as his client
took the stand before Mr. Justice Lee Ferrier.

And what followed, of course, was a tutorial on the class struggle, on
provincial politics over the last 20 years in Ontario.

And how those without voice or power go about trying to be heard. In
Clarke's view, it isn't a game usefully played by Marquis of Queensberry
Rules.

John Ronald Clarke was born in England, followed his father to Canada in
1976 after his mother died, and joined him in a factory in London.

Out of work after the recession of the early 1980s, Clarke formed the London Union of Unemployed Workers. In 1989, he helped organize a march of workers from Windsor to Queen's Park. The next year he moved to Toronto to help found the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

And ever since, he's been a royal pain in the backside to just about any
government that came along.

Politicians over the years may have made "the fight of my life" a
fetching, if fleeting, campaign slogan. John Clarke took such undertakings
literally.

His activism introduced him to the final years of a Conservative dynasty
that had lasted the better part of half a century, he said, then made him
an unsought acquaintance of Liberal premier David Peterson, his NDP
successor Bob Rae, and the detested Common Sense Revolution that followed of Conservative Mike Harris.

Most of the social benefits enjoyed today were won by militant activism,
Clarke told the court. Post-war prosperity calmed things down. Activism,
such as it was, tended toward the polite and genteel.

During the Peterson era in the affluent late '80s, it meant lobbying for
improved social benefits, Clarke said, and "I think we had a very
significant contribution" to such reforms that occurred.

The Rae government, handcuffed by recession, was by and large a
disappointment to most social groups, he said.

Then came 1995.

"I think it would be fair to say that the Harris government was a
qualitative change in the situation," he told the court.

It took "a whole series of measures that were extremely harsh."

Not only did many of its immediate measures a drastic reduction in social
assistance, a weakening of tenant protection worsen the situation for
society's neediest, but the sort of reductions in regulatory safeguards
meant those with grievances about employment abuses or evictions had less
chance of getting wrongs righted.

From the Harris regime, there was no interest in consensus building, in
compromise, in giving opposition a hearing or a forum, Clarke said.

There was simply an agenda to be imposed.

OCAP had always believed in direct action, he said, in "going to the
source that's bringing misery to people's lives." The group's slogan
became Fight to Win.

"We believe that it's necessary to rediscover the kind of militancy that's
needed to shape social struggles."

That day at Queen's Park was all that and more.

It has been famously said that the poor are always with us. If that's the
case it seems likely that, come what may, John Clarke will be, too.

Long after the Petersons, the Raes, the Harrises with whom he has butted
heads have moved on to other things.

The trial continues.