Anti-Racist Action were surprised by police violence at their Heritage Front protest
On January 26, several Toronto dailies ran dramatic photos of police horses attacking anti-racist protesters. They reported that the demonstrators had been blocking the doors to the courthouse, and were scattered by police to grant members of the racist Heritage Front their lawful right of entry to a public building. Kevin Thomas, an organizer of the anti-racist demonstration, spent the next week trying to undo that story, which he says reporters must have gleaned directly from the police. According to Kevin, the 500 peaceful protesters were standing to the side of the building, in no way obstructing the entrance, when the police attacked.
Anti-Racist Action (ARA) organized the demonstration when they heard that the Heritage Front were planning to intimidate participants at hearings beginning that day on the legality of their telephone hateline. The hateline "vsciously attacks immigrants, people of color, First Nations people, the Jewish community, women, lesbians and gays, people with HIV and AIDS, and antifascists," says ARA. The hearings with the Ontario Human Rights Commission were initiated by the Native Canadian Centre, whose group Klan-Busters works with ARA.
According to Kevin, the racist group had publicly threatened the anti-racist group in the weeks leading up to the demonstration, so the 500 protesters were coached in self protection. They stood with arms linked, and everyone had a "buddy" to look out for. Marshals made it clear, however, that this was a nonviolent demonstration. The group stood peacefully chanting for 45 minutes, while the police lined up their horses.
The 30 or so people who turned up to represent the Heritage Front would probably not have attacked a demonstration 500 strong. But before the racist group was even within shouting distance of the courthouse, the police horses charged into the crowd, says Kevin. While the Anti-Racist Action group was in disarray, The Heritage Front was given a police escort into the building.
A day later, Chief of Police Bill McCormack said that the Heritage Front had been offered access through a side door, to avoid contact with the other demonstration, and they refused.
ARA held a press conference with many other progressive groups to set the story straight. The Ontario Union of Public Employees, the Black Action Defence Committee, and the Law Union of Ontario, among others, came to express their support. The conference established the legitimacy of the protesters and gave the media a very different account of the events.
Spokespeople for ARA accused the police of collusion with the Heritage Front. They demanded that the police drop charges against demonstrators who tried to push away the horses; that the Attorney-General investigate the police's possible complicity with the Heritage Front; and that there be an independent civilian review of police crowd control procedures.
Previous Anti-Racist Action demonstrations have been nonviolent. ARA organized a demonstration on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, protesting the German government's inaction against the rising tide of neofascism, and against the presence in Toronto of right-wing politician Pat Buchanan. Subsequently they surrounded and pelted with eggs a meeting hall which was hosting several internationally prominent neo-Nazi speakers. They also marched against "queer-bashing" in Montreal.
ARA holds weekly meetings. To find out more, contact them through the Klan-Busters, at 968-2127.
Janet Creery is managing editor of Peace Magazine.