The social significance of Toronto's June 15 homeless "riot"
Date Written:  2000-06-24
Publisher:  International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)
Year Published:  2000
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX14988

What happened on June 15 bears close attention for what it says about the trajectory of politics in Ontario and the country as a whole. The police ran amok, attacking not only anyone participating in the demonstration, but even medical personnel tending the wounded. Moreover, the police were acting at the behest of a Tory provincial government that has done real violence to the poor, by slashing welfare benefits by 21.5 percent, eliminating social housing and abolishing rent controls.



Some assessment of the politics of OCAP is in order here, not only to understand what happened at Queen's Park, but more importantly to shed light on the how the struggle against homelessness and social inequality can be carried forward.

OCAP has been subjected to a torrent of criticism in the media and by mainstream politicians. Typically, the group is characterized as a bunch of extremists who exploit the poor and homeless for their own sinister aims. In a front-page column the Toronto Star, the semi-official voice of liberalism in Ontario, claimed sympathy with the “inchoate anger” of “the province's underclass,” while expressing outrage that the homeless and their supporters would violate the norms of the established social and political order.

Still, one commonly heard criticism of OCAP rings true—that the group's antics play directly into the hands of the Harris government. It is perfectly clear, both from the group's statements and its record, that its intentions were to put on a show for the media at Queen's Park, just as it had done on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in February of 1999. Because the police knew just what to expect from Clarke's group, they had a free hand to turn what was intended as an innocuous protest stunt into a “riot” and to paint the opponents of the government as “violent.”


OCAP, however, has drawn no lessons from this experience and consequently can offer no way forward for working people. Indeed, its protest antics serve to direct the attention of workers and youth away from the crisis of working class leadership and perspective, and to promote the belief that at most what is required to beat back the big business offensive on workers' rights, jobs and living standards is a revival of trade union militancy and protest politics.

“Direct Action” is a euphemism for noisier, more muscular protests, that aim to put pressure on the political establishment by attracting maximum media coverage. It is by definition the opposite of a struggle to mobilize the working class as an independent political force, advancing its own program to reorganize economic and social life.

Thus the central demand of the June 15 demonstration was that the homeless should be permitted to address the Ontario Legislature—as if homelessness would be solved if only the Tories and their parliamentary opponents were better acquainted with the extent and scope of the problem.

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