Three officers hurt, five students arrested in anti-Bush protest

A protest linked to the inauguration of US President George W. Bush turned violent at York University on Thursday, resulting in injuries to three paid-duty constables and the arrest of five demonstrators, reported the Toronto Star Jan. 21. The news was echoed in the city’s other major newspapers and on television and radio news casts. The incident was also mentioned in a Canadian Press story about anti-Bush protests across the country.

The officers, who were not seriously injured, were attacked as they tried to remove the demonstrators for trespassing, according to Toronto police. “Two of the officers were punched in the head while a third had hot coffee poured on him,” Constable Isabelle Cotton said in a news release. One of the demonstrators also attempted to seize a Glock pistol from one of the officers, she added. Police Chief Julian Fantino called the incident “regrettable.”

“It was highly ironic and regrettable that the officers, whose sole purpose was to watch over a peaceful anti-war demonstration, were subjected to any violence,” Fantino said.

Dan Freeman-Maloy, a York student and one of the protest organizers, agreed the demonstration was to have been a peaceful event involving about 30 people, who met in Vari Hall, a central campus gathering place, at about 1 pm. The protest, Freeman-Maloy said, “was supposed to be pretty tame, just to speak out on the inauguration of President Bush [and also] talking against oppression on campus.”

After repeated requests by campus security for the group to disperse, police were called in. York spokesperson George McNeillie said, “The use of violence on or off campus is totally unacceptable.” 

The National Post quoted Richard Fisher, York’s chief communications officer: “This isn’t about free speech. This is about allowing people to attend classes without being disrupted.” He said the protesters were using megaphones in the academic corridors.

The Toronto Sun said Nancy White, media relations director, said the protest began around 1:30pm in the rotunda of Vari Hall and lasted about 40 minutes. “The group came in and they became extremely aggressive, shouting anti-Bush obscenities,” she said. The police were called by University security staff who tried to speak to the leader of the group. “They started shoving a police officer and throwing punches. One of the officers had a hot beverage thrown at him.”

Lance Maresky, a second-year psychology student, said he was heading to class when he heard shouting. “I … saw about 10 police officers standing in front of a guy shouting into a megaphone and 15 other people,” said Maresky. When the police tried to grab the demonstrator with the megaphone, Maresky said “all hell broke loose. “One of the guys started swinging at the cops and hit one of them in the head with the megaphone.”

Mayor sweeping poor out of sight

In a letter to the Toronto Star Jan. 21, Stefan Kipfer, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, was critical of Toronto’s Regent Park redevelopment project: “Of the 5,100 units (which is the long-term target for the area), only a fourth (as opposed to the original 40 per cent) will be Rent Geared to Income (RGI) units. Why these shrinking numbers?,” he asked. “Toronto Community Housing Corporation and the city seem to agree with developers that privatizing the rebuilding of Regent Park requires minimizing the number of subsidized units. City Hall is also giving in to ratepayers and small businesses in Cabbagetown and east downtown. Next to pushing for fewer RGI units, these groups also object to the higher densities planned for the site,” he wrote. “If city council accepts the decision of the community council next week, it would send another disturbing signal to low-income Torontonians (many of whom are women and Canadians of colour). Shortly after the release of its homelessness strategy (which wants to get the homeless off the street with force, if necessary), city hall would make it clear that the poor are no longer welcome in central Toronto. Mayor David Miller’s broom is starting to sweep some of our co-citizens out of sight. Ex-mayor Mel Lastman would agree.”

On air

  • John Caldwell, astronomy professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, said photographs taken by the European Space Agency probe of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, appear dimly lit because of a smog atmosphere and distance from the sun, in an interview on CBC Radio’s “Morning Edition” in Saskatchewan Jan. 20.