OCAP Protest Wasn't A `stunt'

Apr. 18, 2003. 01:00 AM

Demonstration targeted Tory policies, trial told
By Harold Levy
Staff Reporter

John Clarke denies that a violent anti-poverty demonstration at Queen's Park on June 15, 2000, was "a political stunt by an egotistical maniac."

Clarke, who is charged with counselling others to riot and to assault police, came under blistering cross-examination by prosecutor Vincent Paris yesterday. Paris accused him of using the demonstration to propel the Toronto-based Ontario Coalition of Poverty (OCAP) to international stature.

Clarke, 48, retorted that OCAP, which sponsored the demonstration, had already established an impressive reputation for advocating on behalf of homeless people.

"The truth is that we are not living in wretched obscurity," said Clarke, an organizer for OCAP. "We are not the nobodies you suggest."

Paris asked Clarke why he led the crowd of 1,500 protesters to the barricaded front steps of Queen's Park, since he must have known there was no chance their demand to address the Legislature would be granted.

"Wasn't it all about street theatre?" he charged, suggesting OCAP's real purpose was to attract the media and anger the crowd.

But Clarke insisted the crowd wasn't going "berserk" at the time.

"There was no explosion of anger," he said. "The crowd moved up to the front in an orderly manner."

He testified earlier that the situation only deteriorated into violence after crowd-control police made a "punch-out" manoeuvre into the crowd.

"Was it a cynical exercise to create a mode of an anger? The answer is no," Clarke told Paris. "Our goal was certainly to highlight grievances.

"It was an angry political demonstration about a situation that was unfortunate."

Clarke has testified that OCAP organized the demonstration to protest drastic cuts to social assistance and new legislation that he said forced tenants on to the streets and placed tough restrictions on squeegee people.

Paris asked Clarke why he had not researched the rules of Parliament to determine if there was any procedure that allowed citizens to address the Legislature, citing a press interview in which Clarke said, "I don't give a rat's ass about parliamentary tradition."

"What I meant is that we are not concerned about the niceties of tradition," Clarke replied, adding he believed any OCAP request would be decided by "(then-premier) Mike Harris and the Tory party," not the Legislature.

Clarke rejected Paris' suggestion that OCAP preferred an aggressive confrontation.

He insisted the demonstration was not about "what John Clarke wants and John Clarke getting what he wants," as Paris suggested, but rather about getting concessions from the premier.

Paris questioned Clarke intensively on whether OCAP planned to use marbles during the demonstration. Although a police officer has testified he saw protesters with marbles that day, Clarke said he saw no sign of marbles.

"I would have opposed the idea," he replied. "It would have been a profound mistake ... Horses would lose their footing, and the gathering would end up in shambles."

The jurors were shown a video of protesters throwing bicycles and portions of barricades into the path of police horses and the horses stumbling over them.

Asked if the risk to horses was considered during the planning of the event, Clarke replied, "We would not want to see police horses hurt. Speaking personally, I think they are very beautiful animals. I think it is tragic to see police horses hurt."

Clarke insisted OCAP's plan was to create a line of bicycles to stop police horses from advancing on the protesters. He said he never imagined police would ride right through the bicycles.

The trial continues Tuesday.