Canada, Toronto, OCAP letter to Police Intelligence: Pope Squat

As we prepare for the Pope Squat, OCAP has been approached by Police Intelligence and asked to meet and discuss our plans. This reply has been sent to the Detective that put that offer to us.

June 26, 2002

Detective Constable Branko Novinc, Intelligence - Anti Terrorist and Threat Investigation, Toronto Police Service, 40 College Street, Toronto, ON

Dectective Constable Novinc:

You recently proposed to our organization that we hold some discussions around the 'Pope Squat' housing action that is planned for late July. We have carefully considered this and have decided that, while a level of liaison with the Police during the event is not ruled out, a meeting with Intelligence at this time would not be particularly helpful. We do, however, want to take this opportunity to clarify a few matters with you that relate to the Pope Squat. Because we want to make our intentions clear to the community as a whole, we shall be sharing these comments with a range of interested parties.

Firstly, we would just stress that which our public statements on this event have already made clear. We are in no way organizing to protest or disrupt the Pope's visit or to offend those who are gathering for World Catholic Youth Day. On the contrary, we will appeal to youth delegates and other Catholic people to support our efforts. We are acting during the Papal visit because the eyes of the world will be on Toronto and because the event raises moral issues that are favourable to challenging homelessness and under housing and NOT because we want to insult anyone's religious views.

Secondly, we sincerely hope that those in authority can behave reasonably during this event. The Pope Squat is a response to serious social grievances. There are 63,000 people on the waiting list for housing in Toronto and 2,000 more are evicted every month. A protest against this tragic state of affairs that simply moves a few people into an empty property is hardly an act of deranged extremism to be smashed with the full might of the State. To put things in perspective, there are many political jurisdictions where such an act would be an entirely civil matter that the police would play no part in. Certainly, the Pope Squat will be broadly supported and seen by many in this community as justified and praiseworthy. Hopefully, this consideration may have some impact on official thinking in July. If there are no tasers, laser sights and riot clubs this time around, we won't miss them.

Thirdly, we would like to point out that the Pope Squat is an actual attempt to open up a process of negotiation with the political decision makers. Other comparable actions that we have participated in have, in fact, led to progress and favourable results. The two buildings we squatted at 88-90 Carlton are now a social housing project. The Doctors Hospital was used as a shelter for the homeless, after we took action to press for this. The young people squatting the Canada Malting property, with OCAP as one of their major supporters, were given both the permission and resources that enabled them to stay on the site. Similarly, in this case, we are working to open discussions with municipal and provincial officials and have our action produce positive results for the constituency we represent.

Fourthly, we don't automatically refuse to speak to the Police but, to be quite frank, you're not the people we need to be talking to at the moment. The grievances we are addressing are the responsibility of those in political power. Catholic Youth Day, which forms the backdrop to our event, is funded by the municipal and provincial governments and one or both of these will have a considerable interest in the property that is the focus of this initiative. We're taking the liberty of copying this letter to the above mentioned levels of government and, in the weeks ahead, will be pushing for them to deal with the social injustices that give rise to the Pope Squat. If the understanding emerges that we are dealing with political issues and not police matters it will be a big step forward for all concerned.

We thank you for the consideration we know you will give these comments. No doubt, we shall have further dealings on this matter in due course.

The Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

cc: Ernie Eves
Mel Lastman
OCAP Allies

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