Toronto Action for Social Change
P.O. Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
(416) 651-5800; e-mail: email@example.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 1998
What was supposed to have been a short 20-25 minute vigil and information leaflet by one person turned into a 90-minute educational event when Loblaws executives, private security, and Metro Police all descended on the Bathurst/St. Clair store to try to prevent customers from receiving flyers about the grocery chain's role in perpetuating hunger in Ontario.
After police threatened arrest and insisted that Toronto Action for Social Change (TASC) members are all banned from Loblaws property, leafletters Matthew Behrens and Laurel Smith decided to prolong their flyering on the sidewalk until darkness fell. A team of Metro police in a cruiser and police jeep, joined by two carloads of private security and Loblaws executives, re-inforced the strong message that Loblaws is not interested in opening a dialogue on ending the root causes of hunger in Ontario.
As they have throughout their month-long Fast to End Hunger and Homelessness, TASC members leafletted the Loblaws store to draw connections between the corporate grocery chain's practices and the growing incidence of hunger in Ontario. Those practices include glowing support for the Harris Tories, unpaid deferred taxes of over $56 million, paying President Richard Currie in excess of $8 million in 1997, and profiting off food drives by selling at retail prices goods which people donate to the food drive.
"We were both pretty tired, and figured if no one else showed up to take part in the vigil, we would leave after maybe 15 minutes," explained Behrens, who had barely stepped into the parking lot before he was accosted by two plainclothes security (videotaping his every move), a Loblaws executive, and Debbie Regina, Senior Manager of Loss Prevention at Loblaws, who immediately ordered him off the property.
Surprised to see such a well-prepared welcoming party for an event which was not publicly advertised, Behrens asked why yet again an anti-hunger message was being squashed by Loblaws, which itself purports to show an interest in ending hunger through food drive sponsorship. The Loblaws team refused to discuss the issue, and as soon as Behrens turned to walk away, he was stopped by a Metro police cruiser and two officers who had been waiting, concealed, to pounce.
They threatened to arrest Behrens unless he offered identification, despite Behrens' protests that he did not need to identify himself unless he was under arrest.
Behrens was joined on the sidewalk by Laurel Smith, doubling the size of the vigil. This threat did not go unnoticed by Loblaws, and within minutes the police jeep marked "Supervisor" for 13 division was on the scene to confer with fellow officers about the new, complex nature of this threat.
"We decided that since Loblaws contributes to so many thousands of people going without supper every day in this province, that we, along with the Loblaws executives, would all be a little late for supper," says Smith, who stayed, under the watchful eye of Metro police and the Loblaws security/executive team, until 7:30 pm.
"The good thing is, we handed out a lot more leaflets than we expected to, a lot more people saw our message from the street, and we had some good conversations with customers who were disgusted to find police vehicles in the Loblaws parking lot defending corporate hypocrites from two people armed only with pieces of paper. Thanks to Loblaws, what could have been a disappointing and disheartening vigil turned into a really good educational event. Thank goodness they chose not to ignore us!"
Loblaws has arrested 10 members of TASC at prior anti-hunger events, often in the middle of food drives. Among those arrested have been the Easter Bunny and three bunny helpers, Santa Claus and two elves, Honest Shawn, Robin Hood and a schoolteacher who simply happened to read a leaflet after he finished shopping. All go to trial in November, December and January
TASC will continue its corporate hypocrite pickets at Loblaws, demanding a public dialogue on ending the grocery chain's role in the perpetuation of hunger in Ontario.
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