President, Durham Region Labour Council
It started off like many of our recent protests and pickets have: local groups of unions, parents of autistic children, students, community members, everyday people coming together to voice our concerns and opposition to the Ford agenda and government cuts. We found out Finance Minister Vic Fedeli would be speaking at the local Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce AGM, celebrating a budget for the corporate elite and we knew that it would be a chance to respond on behalf of the working class.
We quickly organized a picket through word-of-mouth, WhatsApp, email, and phone chats – keeping our organizing private as to keep our plans under wraps for the element of surprise. The protest was in response to a budget that is clearly for the corporate elite and not for the people.
The AGM was slated to begin at 11am on April 12. By 10:30 AM we had all four entrances completely blocked with around 80 protesters from all walks of life: local autism coalition, several local unions including Unifor, OPSEU, CUPE, ETFO, IBEW; $15 and Fairness/We Are Oshawa, Health Care coalition and more.
By 10:45 AM the Mercedes and BMWs began to roll in – or attempted to, but were met with a completely blockaded Convention Centre and peaceful protesters with literature on the various cuts to public services and the impact they will have. The Chamber of Commerce attendees either parked in the road and walked up or just drove away, deciding not to attend after we chatted with them.
We held the line solid and the only cars allowed in were employees or hotel guests unrelated to the Chamber of Commerce. Around noon, a few cars started to get more antsy as they were extremely tardy for the event and there were way less nearby parking spots.
That’s when a car with Durham Conservative MPP, Lindsey Park as passenger, decided to inch closer and closer to picketers. The two in the vehicle were repeatedly asked to back up and park in the road but continued to bump into the shins of protesters and, at one point, we could see Lindsey direct her driver to “keep going” and indicating to continue to drive into the protesters.
The vehicle with MPP Park continued repeated aggressive behaviour when literally all other attendees parked and walked in – including Vic Fedeli who had to speed walk sneakily by as protesters yelled, “SHAME” and parents of autistic children asked him to look them in the eye.
Same behaviour at second picket line
The repeated inching into and hitting protesters only stopped once police intervened. People did touch the vehicle, as folks can see in video footage, but only after they were struck by the vehicle while exercising their right to protest. They were attempting to get the attention of the driver and protect themselves and their friends, as well as their Charter Right to Assemble. It was a plain clothed police officer, who was in an unmarked vehicle nearby the entire time, that had to repeatedly bang on the window and ask the driver to stop and roll down the window – which the driver refused to do initially.
The driver then pulled to side the of the road and chatted with the police for several minutes and then proceeded to drive down to the fourth entrance where a line was set up and drive in aggressively once again.
Park issued a statement on the incident via email to our local news on DurhamRegion.com: “People have the right to peacefully protest, unfortunately sometimes people go too far,” she said. “I have to admit that it was stressful and scary to have people surround and bang on my car, but I should have handled the situation differently. I am thankful that nobody was hurt. Thankfully police were there to diffuse the situation.”
It’s a weird comment because she literally continued to try and drive through another picket line (fourth entrance) after talking with the police. She then jumped out of the car and hustle in by foot while we all yelled “Shame!” She knew that she was hitting protesters. The video evidence is very clear. No other Chamber of Commerce AGM attendee accused peaceful protesters of “going too far” – and Park, herself, is clearly the one who went too far. We suspect if the police had not intervened that she was intent on going through the line one way or another.
There’s definitely a metaphor in all of this – a Tory MPP doing whatever it takes to cater to and kiss the ring of the business elite, plowing through people to suck up to corporations, totally uncaring to the everyday folks she attempts to push past along the way.
The many, not the few
Various picketers were rattled by the reckless behaviour of this MPP and her driver, as for several it was their first protest – but after seeing such cavalier and uncaring attitude toward constituents and residents of Durham Region, are even more resolute in fighting for what’s right.
A shared experience like this amongst a growing activist community further emboldens us and creates a support system. Recent announcements that will result in larger classroom sizes, the privatization of health care, and cuts to autism funding have galvanized students, parents, educators, health care workers, patients, and communities right across our community to take action.
The resistance is building. We will fight like hell to protect the needs of the many, not the few. This is a critical moment in our community and we are ready. Was the lunch really worth it, Lindsey?