Canadian Military Told to Vacate Moss Park Armoury

People's Move-In Date Set for May 30

March 15, 2003

Saturday's Toronto rally against the escalating war in Iraq ended in a most appropriate place: the Moss Park Armoury, symbol of the fact that Canada spends 700% more on war than on affordable housing.

Thousands of people converged on the Queen/Jarvis site of the largely unused, block-long facility that protesters hope to transform into enough low-cost affordable housing units to house up to 375 people. They declared Canada should build homes, not blow them up.

At the conclusion of the rally, name cards representing the hundreds of people who have died as a result of homelessness on Toronto streets were affixed both to military equipment on the armoury's front lot, as well as on to the remains of a mattress on which a homeless man was burned to death earlier this month.

"Their names wouldn't be on these cards if this armoury had been open all these freezing nights!" proclaimed Beric German of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC).

Shortly thereafter, a Notice to Vacate, authorized jointly by Homes not Bombs and the TDRC under the legally binding U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, was taped to the front door of the facility, giving the military until Friday, May 30 to move out. Police eventually tore it down and threw it inside the building--hence, the military has been officially served notice by an armed agent of the state!

"Welcome to the future site of the Moss Park Community Housing Cooperative," Vera Etches of Homes not Bombs welcomed the crowd. Etches, a community doctor who has worked at the Seaton House hostel, has also been part of the weekly Tuesday evening vigils at the armoury which began in May, 2002.

Etches announced our plans to move in to the armoury and begin renovations of the building on Friday, May 30. If we are not allowed in at that time, we will camp out on the grounds until we are allowed in, creating a safe space for homeless people to sleep.

As a few military officials stood inside the massive, empty armoury, refusing to open the doors to protesters, scores of Toronto police, joined by the horse unit, video surveillance unit, police wagons, and the ever-present counter-terrorism unit, stood by to ensure that no housing would be built on this March afternoon.

As the rally wound down, dozens of people sat in front of a police line on the front steps of the armoury, enjoying the sudden burst of slightly warmer weather, listening to music and discussing a range of issues.

"We're just getting a feel for how the future front porch of this housing community will feel," said one person as a little child danced nearby to music being played by a group further down the snow-covered lawn.

One protester debated a police officer on the relative merits of horse manure versus dog poop, with the police officer opining that the reason why there are no laws requiring police horses to be cleaned up after is their waste products are not toxic.

It was the kind of scene one might expect on any number of front porches as spring begins to dawn, and one which hopefully will come to pass at the intersection of Jarvis and Queen in one of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods.

People did not leave the demo site very quickly; it was almost as if they could feel that this place would soon be a real community, and that everyone standing there, talking, singing, having fun, were showing the city that such a thing was truly possible.

In the meantime, architects commissioned by Homes not Bombs are finishing off their plans to transform the building into a living community, with an envelope-roof and rooftop vegetable gardens, a child care space, and large courtyard for community use.

Efforts to keep up the political pressure go on as well, and the weekly Tuesday evening vigils continue at 6 pm at the Queen Street entrance to the armoury.

It has been almost a year since Toronto City Council passed a resolution calling on the federal government to open Fort York as an emergency shelter.

Although the federal government has still not responded to that request (and this past month in Toronto alone, 6 homeless people have died as Fort York and Moss Park stood empty), War minister John McCallum finally caved to pressure following 10 months of persistent writing, phone calls, and faxes, and met on March 14 with representatives of Homes not Bombs, TDRC, St. Brigid's Housing Society and the CAW to discuss plans to transform the armoury.

We told McCallum that he needs to declare the armoury surplus and have it transferred to the city of Toronto and then into the hands of those who will build housing for the homeless. We also stressed the need for opening an emergency shelter on site in the short term.

McCallum expressed his sympathy with the idea, and said his assistant would look into the current use of the armoury. He also asked to see a business plan, which we will have ready by month's end.

We reminded McCallum that even with a brutal regime of sanctions enforced in part by Canada, the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein has built more affordable housing than the "democracy" of Canada in the past decade. He was in the end presented with a peace zucchini in the hopes that he, along with his fellow war ministers, would drop phallic symbols like this, instead of cruise missiles, on the people of Iraq.

McCallum seemed pleased to receive the zucchini, and immediately connected this presentation with the last time Homes not Bombs was at his door, at that time protected by police who easily outnumbered zucchini-wielding peacniks.

It is hoped that the next time we see McCallum, we will be able to present him with a zucchini grown in the rooftop garden of the Moss Park Community Housing Cooperative.

To join us in bringing to reality this vision of a transformed armoury into truly affordable housing, contact Homes not Bombs at (416) 651-5800, or join us on Tuesday nights as we continue the outreach work and build towards our move-in date--Friday, May 30!

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