It’s been twelve years today since the the Quebec City protests against the FTAA. On 22 April 2001, some two- to three-hundred Trent students, exhausted, battered and soaked in tear gas from three days of police repression started trickling back from Quebec City after the Summit of the Americas. I was one of them.
More than two years later, on 13 November 2003, the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP ruled that “RCMP members used excessive and unjustified force in releasing tear gas to move the protesters when a more measured response could have been attempted first.” A public apology to the protesters was later issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, although the large numbers of officers imported from the Sûreté du Québec, the Ontario Provincial Police and various municipal police forces were never chastised.
Frighteningly, I found out a couple of years ago from a veteran friend of mine that a large number of Canadian Armed Forces troops were also inside the perimeter that weekend, waiting in underground parking garages “in case they were needed”.
From April 2001 to May 2008 (I recently did the math) I was personally involved in 35 separate direct actions or demonstrations. Some were simple, one-day rallies and marches and others were multi-day demonstrations halfway across the province, such as the Montebello demonstrations. The single longest direct action I’ve was involved with was the 22-day occupation of 1130 Water Street Peterborough in 2003 to protest the closure of affordable housing. Many were marches in Ottawa or Toronto, some for OCAP, some for Equal Marriage, some for the First Nations, some against the War in Iraq. The last “big action” I participated in was the occupation at Queens’ Park in support of the Ardoch Algonquin and Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug First Nations against uranium mining companies back in May of 2008.
Since 2008 I’ve curtailed my physical presence at protests, mostly because I’m old, at least for street marches. I’ve got scars, old broken bones which ache in the cold (i.e. sleeping on the lawn at Queen’s Park), a reconstructed left knee and a fair bit of PTSD. It adds up, and your life changes, and you make different choices. But I still care, and I still contribute to these causes, even if I’m not in the front lines anymore. Knowing that the G20 demonstrations in Toronto were going to be a complete clusterfuck I stayed away. I followed the Occupy movement with great interest, but aside from a visit to Occupy Toronto on November 11, 2011, I stayed away. I stayed away, but I never quit.
Some days, I don’t know what the point of it all was. Other days I feel like those days are the proudest of my life. For seven years I was a full-time activist; for five years after that I’ve been trying to settle down and build a life for myself. Twelve years is a long time — more than a third of my entire life so far. I don’t know if that was worth it, all the aches and pains, the years I’m lagging behind my peers in terms of family and career, the emotional fallout and the nights — like last night — when the nightmares wake me up. But I think it’s safe to say that the person I am today would not exist without those years which started on April 20, 2001.
“He didn’t know what damn good it did to accumulate more and more experiences like that as you lived, so that you could forget them all when you died — unless somehow what mattered was doing something with them: the older you got, the wiser you grew, the more power you got within your hands.
Maybe that was what it meant. Doing something.”