Toronto — Trial and Error: Lamport Stadium and Beyond

Anonymous submission to North Shore

Most people are aware by now that Toronto police and city workers cleared an encampment in Lamport stadium in late July. This report back will not be summarizing the events of that day, or providing much insight into the specific structures involved with eviction, as much of that has already been written. The goal is to hopefully prompt discussion about changes that we are seeing, and to encourage more imagination, exploration and sharing!

Prior to the eviction of Trinity Bellwoods Park in June, community members succeeded in preventing an earlier eviction attempt at Lamport Stadium in May through what had become the conventional response at the time: a mix of chanting, linking arms in front of structures, and refusing to leave when asked by officers/city staff. Several people were arrested,including a resident of the encampment, and a “tiny shelter” was destroyed. The following 3 encampment clearings (Bellwoods, Alexandra Park, and Lamport stadium, chronologically) were where we started to see the new tactic of overwhelming numbers of police and private security enclosing the encampment with a fence before forcing people out.

There is already much discussion in certain circles as to whether or not the events at Lamport stadium (most notably the attempted barricade and near-simultaneous break through the fence) made sense from a tactical standpoint, or how to negotiate security v.s. consent on the ground, etc etc. I think those discussions are worth having, but what I feel is missing from conversation is the fact that previous resistance to the police tactic of fencing people in and dragging them out has been pretty ineffective. Once people are entirely enclosed, the fight is basically over. At least, until Lamport, when people tried something new. We need to seize on this impulse and begin experimenting with new forms of resistance that put us in the advantageous position.

The July Lamport Stadium eviction defense was a failure. It would be foolish to view it as anything else, due to the fact that all of the residents were evicted. However, many interesting things happened. Here is  short and incomplete list:

  • People self organized supply deliveries, despite the fact that police were actively attempting to prevent them. This often looked like people waiting for opportune moments to throw a bag of items to their friends, or sneaky hand-offs through the fence.
  • Some brave and kind soul(s) cleaned up what had to be one of the worst porta-potties I have ever seen, allowing people to freely use the washroom during a 9 hour long period of captivity.
  • A tactic was introduced where everyone present would loudly repeat anything that seemed like an incriminating instruction to protect anyone from being identified as a leader (EG.”Grab a pallet, make a line”)
  • People who had been around pepper spray in the past self-organized demonstrations on eyewash and provided people with water as police were forming up to move in
  • people had drinks and a barbecue
  • someone made a really good playlist to keep people in good spirits through the day
  • a barricade was made! Pallets, mattresses, garbage bins and other debris were used to form a line between the majority of the tents and the police. Much of the material was already on site, but it appears some of it had been collected prior to the eviction.
  • de-arrests occurred with many people pulling their friends away from the cops
  • the fence was broken through from the outside
  • people dragged injured and pepper-spray-blinded people away from police lines, retreating to safety.
  • those who managed to escape the sweep without being arrested blocked off king street while finding out where arrestees had been taken, and then split into two groups that marched up the streets to 14 division

The ways people were able to maintain incredibly high morale despite spending around 9 hours in a fenced in-area surrounded by cops, and the fact that we had the audacity to build a barricade as they were preparing to clear us out really seemed to freak them out. Unfortunately, the barricade also caused a great deal of stress to some people on the ground. Through later conversations it seems as though people didn’t fully understand or feel comfortable with what they were directed to do.

It can be tricky to balance taking direction from people who are in a position of representing the wishes of the encampment residents, and trying to decide on a personal level what feels comfortable and appropriate in the moment. An excellent way forward is to form your own relationships with the residents of the encampment, and find ways that you can support them based on your overlapping priorities and comfort levels. Forming affinity groups allows for a broader spectrum of action, allowing people to sidestep the mediation of a group that aims to represent the diverse and sometimes conflicting interests and desires of encampment residents. Please note: when forming affinity groups, it is important to factor in the dynamics of social capital, disability, power imbalance etc, and bear in mind that the most helpful thing that happened that day at Lamport was likely the porta-potty getting cleaned up, and not the barricade being built.

The fact that a group of people were able to rattle the police so severely with  high morale and a poorly formed barricade suggests that they were not anticipating any level of resistance greater than frightened and largely compliant people standing with linked arms, waiting to be lead away. Imagine what would happen if starting now, people refused to follow the same tired script that we have been, and searched for more creative and disruptive things that lead to more possibilities for self actualization in a situation, and less of us getting arrested? Showing up and being caged in is a losing formula, but the events at Lamport showed us that it doesn’t take that much joy or resistance to shake the cops up. A small departure from their original plan threw them into confusion. We need new strategies, new experiments and new ways to help each other grow stronger. I urge you to find a few people you really trust and start trying things, no matter where you are, or what projects you’re working on. The more things we try, the more we will find out, and the more skills we will have to share with each other.

Some bourgeois press coverage of the Lamport Stadium eviction: