Occupation: Toronto High Park

by Gary McHale

June 1, 2011 - The Regional

On May 13, 2011 members of Red Power United started camping out overnight in High Park in Toronto claiming the area was a native burial ground. The City of Toronto had already paid for two separate studies and both concluded there was none. Not surprisingly, the Native occupiers rejected both studies and stated they only believe in their oral history.

On the first day of the occupation two Mohawk Warrior Flags and a Six Nations Confederacy Flag were raised. Publicly leading this occupation was Harrison Friesen a member of Red Power United. For the first week the Toronto media had a love affair presenting Mr. Friesen as the great saviour of High Park from the bad white youth who were destroying the park by riding mountain bikes in one small corner of the park. Joe Warmington, Toronto Sun reporter, was one of the few Toronto reporters who refused to call it anything but an illegal occupation in High Park.

Within days of the occupation the City of Toronto provided permits to have fires to keep warm, provided a port-o-potty and a shed to store tools. While the City rejected any idea of a native burial ground it appeared the City had given in to the occupiers. As such we announced we would rally in High Park on May 28 to hand out fliers to local residents about the dangers of allowing Native protesters to believe they had rights to occupy the land.

Within a few days all Native flags were removed from the park, Native protesters were ordered to leave the park and the City placed a fence around the area. Native protesters posted videos claiming the City had agreed that the fence would ensure they could use the land while denying access to others. There was also a video posted threatening the City if it failed to live up to Native demands then a full occupation would occur.

One of the administrators of Red Power's facebook account is Tracy Bomberry from Six Nations who organized the 5 year anniversary cerebrations on DCE this past March 1. Red Power supports the use of criminal behaviour to shut down highways in Toronto and supports violent criminals like Leonard Peltier who was convicted in 1977 for killing 2 FBI agents.

On May 8, 2010 Ms. Bomberry was a guest speaker at an event with Black Action Defense Committee and the Anarchist Black Cross Federation who were responsible for the violence at the G8/G20 in Toronto. At this event Skyler Williams was declared to be a Six Nations political prisoner. At the time of his arrest at Stirling Woods he was already charged for smuggling at Cornwall, charged regarding the attack on the CHCH camera crew from 2006 and had outstanding arrest warrants from Six Nations police - hardly a political prisoner.

Several groups started posting a call for people to do a counter-protest in High Park against us. On the morning of the 28th, Toronto Police contacted me about our plans and also informed me that people were not allowed in the fenced off area. At the same time the Toronto Police made it clear to me that no one would be permitted to attack me personally or any member of our group. We had the right to be in the park and no one would be allowed even to interfere with our plan. I thanked the officer telling him that has not been our experience with the OPP who repeatedly allow others to interfere with us and to physically assault us.

By 2 pm we arrived at High Park whereby we were met by the Toronto Police and Richard Ubbens, Director of the Parks Dept., who freely answered all our questions. He was absolutely clear that the City has ordered the police to arrest anyone attempting to occupy any area of the park or to stay overnight in the park.

Mr. Ubbens was a very pleasant man to talk to who admitted there were troublemakers but the City was not about to fence off areas for use by Natives only. He then informed me that he had decided to give us a tour of the area and allow us inside the fenced in area.

High Park is quite large - approx. 2 miles long by 1/4 mile wide. For anyone who loves the outdoors and nature the park is beautiful with a little zoo, a few ponds, many trees well over 200 years old and many different birds.

We walked to the fenced in area about a mile away with 8 officers on bikes, a few police cars that came and went, a few bloggers from Toronto and local residents . The fence was opened up to allow our group and media into the area while Mr. Ubbens explained the problem.

Mr. Ubbens stated that is was common for the City to work with local volunteers to help restore park land. He admitted that it was unfortunate that there were those who took advantage of the city's desire to restore the park area and make it into something it was not. He was particularly upset by one individual who put up the Native flags in the park and told the media it was an occupation.

What was of greater importance to everyone wasn't the words spoken by the Toronto Police or Mr. Ubbens but their actions. Unlike Caledonia where the radicals dictate terms to the police and to governments, the Toronto Police had promised they would ensure we could carry out our plans, the City demonstrated that they didn't create a Native only area in High Park so in the end their actions prove that in High Park all people must obey the law and be allowed to use the park.

Too bad the OPP and McGuinty couldn't learn from Toronto which is to stop obeying the demands of the radicals and start upholding the rights of all citizens.

The difference between High Park and Caledonia is that the City of Toronto and the Toronto Police never gave up control. In Caledonia, Haldimand Council was the first to give in then the OPP then the McGuinty government. Once control was lost the town was doomed.