Toronto Tamil protest increasingly disruptive

Toronto Tamil Protest – latest demonstration

[read the full post here]

The Tamil community has probably lost much moral support as a result of the disruptions yesterday. I first reported on their denigrating verbal assault on a defenceless homeless woman on University Avenue and the protesters attempts to dislodge her from the small patch of concrete she sleeps on last week. I lost respect for their protests then, even though I support an end to the violence in Sri Lanka.

Many will be similarly opposed to the local Tamil community’s support of the Tamil Tigers, offficially known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and classified as terrorists by the Canadian government. Many in history have called rebels freedom fighters, and to a certain extent the designation is often decided by the winning side in a civil war. But terrorism has an uglier side, and I’m reminded that some in Canada viewed the FLQ – the Front de Liberation du Quebec – as freedom fighters – when in fact they were violent criminals best known for murdering Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte and stuffing him in the trunk of a car. The FLQ committed more than 200 violent crimes including terrorist bombings resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians….

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The distateful under-belly of the Tamil protest in Toronto

Discrimination and hate-speech mar protest

(read the rest here – Canada News)

Harassing the homeless: deplorable conduct

One incident, not reported in the news until now, revealed to me the distasteful underbelly of the Tamil protest movement in the GTA and their view of the community they have chosen to live in. I work for Project417 a grassroots charity that helps the homeless out on the streets of Toronto. I’m out there several nights a week with volunteer groups of about ten to fifteen people, meeting with our homeless friends who are absolutely without shelter, sleeping on the streets of Toronto. As we passed the Tamil protest one night recently on University Avenue in front of the Court buildings we were headed to visit one friend, a homeless lady who has been sleeping nearby for several months – right through the depths of the winter…

Groups of protesters began visiting her, many of them Tamil Canadian youth. They yelled at her, they swore at her. They told her to leave, because they didn’t want her sleeping there. They said she was dirty and indecent. They said they didn’t want to be near her disease (their faulty asumption, our friend is healthy). They called her a prostitute (whore) and a drug addict, neither of which is the case. Unfortunately, I was supervising several youth volunteers (youth, by the way, who were with me delivering food and friendly smiles to the homeless) and had to leave, so I don’t know how the night progressed, but I fear the worst.

Here is an example of a not so desirable, but instructive view of the Tamil protesters. Claiming to be speaking out for fairness and a humanitarian cause – they prove to be blind to the needs of people in their own GTA communty…

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Youth Grafitti Artists still treated as criminals



Grafitti – a fact of life in most urban areas, has always been a topic of much controversy. Some see it as art and expression, while others see it as vandalism, and a barometer of criminal gang activities. All municipalities have laws prohibiting grafitti to varying degrees and by far the majority of grafitti and “tagging” is created by youth. [ all photos with the article by ACoats 2007]

Reported last week on the CBC – “Manitoba man arrested after posting graffiti on Facebook“. [note – the man was a youth under 17 when posting the tags – A tag is the unique, stylized signature of the person who created the graffiti]

And my comments posted with the article:

Grafitti: nuisance and crime? or, art and free speech? The majority flows from the spray cans and brushes of our youth – as was this “creator”. Is it vandalism, or expression? Which is more visually disturbing – a taggers signature, or a giant 50% OFF SALE sign? Which is more depressing to see plastered all over the city – grafitti artists’ tags and names or public signage in bold black and red, “NO LOITERING”, “NO SHIRTS, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE”? Note to business owners – you want attention? Engage a tagger to liven up that blank concrete wall or make your window display more relevant. Note to Selkirk and St. Clements’ councils and the RCMP – treating grafitti as crime will never end it. You need to support community initiatives which give youth alternatives to gangs. You have far worse problems in your midst than tagging. The Five Man Electrical Band’s anthem, “Signs” is still worth a listen…

Living and working on the streets of Toronto, I see my share of grafitti and I feel it falls into four categories: street art, social commentary, tagging and lastly destructive defacement. You can see from the photo below, that this tag has a destructive element in blocking a store window. You should also know that the storefront was empty for months, and the only view it offered to the street was peeling, yellowed newspaper taped in place.

window grafitti on SpadinaIt could have been worse – in this area, taggers have taken to using glass cutters on windows to carve their grafitti right into the window, causing shopowners to replace the whole window at a very high cost. This is destructive tagging as protest and defacement.

So Hip It Hurts mural

So Hip It Hurts mural

Here, on Queen Street West in Toronto, a clothing store commissioned a large grafitti mural on a second floor sidewall of their store. Normally, I find these murals remain untouched, but this one has been defaced by other street artists and taggers alike.

City of Angels muralAlso on Queen West, the City of Angels store mural has remained untouched by taggers for years, and Grossman’s Tavern, a blues club, has had it’s beautiful yellow facade left untouched until only recently.

Grossmans Tavern or Big Yellow

Grossmans Tavern or Big Yellow

apple iPod grafitti :: Compare street artists, taggers and other grafitti to    the  corporate grafitti and other “approved” legal signage and banners around the city. Which is more pleasing to the eye? Apple’s iPod campaign at the left or the literally thousands of signs that compete for space in the same Chinatown district so plagued by grafitti. Maybe taggers  are reacting to the senseless commercial sign pollution of their neighbourhoods.

Is Toronto's sign bylaw being obeyed?

Is Toronto's sign bylaw being obeyed?

Then there’s the famous “Hug me tree” on Queen West. The photo below is as it appeared a couple of years ago, but then a turf war broke out between the original street artist, who’d cared for it for years, and a newcomer who thought the space deserved a change.  They’ve repainted and sculpted it back and forth and it now stands in disrepair. Perhaps the spring weather will bring it new life.

Hug Me TreeIn the following three photos compare the street art graffiti  to bland booze ads or blank crumbling brick.  Is the painted over brick better esthetically than the tag it covered?

Contrast - which is more appealing?

Contrast - which is more appealing?

Housing Not War Campaign Clouds Issue

There is a recent trend in homelessness advocacy to target the anti-war sentiments to gain support for the homeless. The TDRC ( Toronto Disaster Relief Committee) among other public advocates have launched a campaign called ” Housing not War”. The basis of the campaign is to stop spending billions on Canada’s war against terrorism in Afghanistan so that the money may be spent for humanitarian needs for housing and other homelessnss initiatives here at home. Even normally well respected advocates like Cathy Crowe, Street Nurse, have joined the campaign and are publishing many anti-war statistics in an effort to heighten public awareness about the need for anti-poverty housing funds. Anti-war rallies and demonstrations are being held under the banner “Housing not War”.

After much reflection, I’d have to say they are on the wrong track. To specifically target Canadian government expenditures on the Afghan war in counterpoint to the issus of homelessness and poverty is short-sighted. It’s marketing grandstanding at it’s worst (or best). Yes, it attracts attention to a much ignored subject here in Canada – the plight of the homeless and under-housed. It garners media attention and raises public awareness, but at a cost. By specifically claiming that homelessness would not exist but for the cost of the war overseas, “Housing not War” is clouding the real issues about homelessness and poverty in Canada. Furthermore, by aligning with dedicated anti-war organizations, the effectiveness of homeless advocacy is diverted.

I have to say that I am opposed to the Afghan conflict and have been since the outset. No war makes sense – it is all morally wrong. I want the troops home now, not 2010 or 2011. For those of us who grew up in the sixties, it’s depressing to see how little we have learned. For those who think the war is defensive, a war on terrorism, or a reasonable response to terrorist attacks, remember that the West (including Canada) is responsible for the Mid-east conflicts through their support of British, French and even American colonialism in the region for more than a hundred years. Check the maps from the Paris 1919 peace talks to see how they carved up the entire Third world and Middle East regions to see the true roots of conflict. Until the West admits their error and commits to reparations for decades of big corporate exploitation, they will continue to breed terrorists. The current conflict guarantees a supply of anti-west sentiments for a century to come. Canada’s traditional role as peacekeeper is permanently damaged. Stop the war now – just don’t tie it in to the suffering of the homeless here at home.

Homelessness and poverty in Canada have existed throughout our history as a country – even in peacetime – it’s current state is a disaster and shameful to all. There is no direct fiscal connection between the Defense Department budget and federal funding of anti-poverty initiatives. There is no lack of general government revenue that could be directed towards helping solve homelessness. To claim otherwise is to ignore the extent of the the problem of poverty in Canada. What is missing is the public will to effect change. Hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds earmarked for housing have not been spent, and are mired in red tape and federal-provincial bickering. Countless other billions are wasted at all government levels through mismanagement and the plain greed of society at large at the expense of the poor.

You could just as easily target many other Federal govrnment expenditures as the Defence budget, or cost of Afganistan. How about the National Gun Registry? – more than a billion dollars to track gun ownership by law abiding Canadians? Less than 2% of registered weapons are involved in a crime.

What the crisis is, is lack of prioritization when it comes to poverty and homelessness. Let’s look at some other government expenditures:

  • Highways and Infrastructure spending
  • Post-secondary Education
  • Arctic Sovereignty
  • CRTC, public broadcasting and the CBC
  • Corporate tax incentives & grants

Feel free to add to the list if you can think of others not as important as children going hungry, a street youth mortality rate 8.5 times greater than yours, the mentally challenged sleeping on sidewalks, seniors and physically disabled living below the poverty line.

Finally, take a look in the mirror – we are products of the consumer era. Canadians’ personal credit card debt is billions and billions. And we take for granted that our “discretionary” spending has skyrocketed in the last fifty years. What we call necessities, like cell phones, iPods, Blackberries and SUVs, are merely disguised luxuries.  Before you call on the defense Department to divert funds from Afghanistan, try diverting more of your own to help the homeless and the helpless.

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