By Allan Woods and Elaine O’Connor
A first-year Ryerson urban regional planning student was one of six people arrested after an afternoon of peaceful protesting erupted into a ten-minute clash with police.
A contingent of about 150 student activists — some wearing bandannas and camouflage shirts over their faces to hide their identities — stormed the CBC building on Front Street West last Friday around 3:30 p.m., chanting “Tory, Tory, Tory. Out, out, out.”
They gathered to denounce among other things, the introduction of private universities in Ontario as the provincial conservative party’s policy convention went on across the street at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
The clash ended almost as quickly as it began, but in the short time managed to tarnish the peaceful gathering of about 300 students who had taken over nearby Simcoe Park between noon and 3 p.m. About 20 Ryerson students met at Lake Devo at 11 a.m. and marched to the gathering, meeting up with representatives from other schools and social activist groups.
Sean Donnegan, 19, who lives in O’Keefe House, said he was standing outside the broadcaster’s building when the horde of people stormed in but didn’t follow them.
As protesters made their way back out the doors, they were met by a line of about 200 well-armed riot police who began making arrests.
Amid pushing, shoving, and screams of “shame” from the students, Donnegan, bleeding from the head and chin, was handcuffed, taken into police custody and charged with multiple offences, including assault and obstructing a peace officer.
“I didn’t do anything criminal,” said Donnegan, who wouldn’t elaborate because of his court date on Nov. 1. “But I did something in their eyes to justify arresting me. Perhaps they’re all a little bit testosterone-charged.”
Donnegan said he was later told by doctors at the CanHealth walk-in medical clinic that his jaw was nearly broken.
“All of a sudden [the police] opened the doors and grabbed Sean,” said Annette Bourdeau, a first-year journalism student who was at the protests with Donnegan. “They threw him on the ground and started kicking him.”
One woman had her shirt torn off when police tried to remove her from the scene, Bordeau said, leaving her wearing only a bra.
“I didn’t realize this kind of stuff happened until I actually saw it going on,” she said.
Some protesters were reluctant to leave after the crowd dispersed east on Front Street as far as University Avenue. A group of about 20 people stood their ground with police, one of them spitting on the pavement and proclaiming “I have no weapons,” as he held his arms out in the air.
“We have proved our point for today,” Joel Harden, former president of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, yelled into a megaphone.
Other protesters, who came out to listen to the bands and picket peacefully, weren’t overly thrilled with the manner in which the day ended.
“[Storming the building] was not our plan,” said CFS campaigns co-ordinator Pam Frache.
Even Erin George, president of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario and former RyeSAC president, suggested the rush into the CBC lobby was instigated by people who showed up near the end of the rally.
Earlier in the day George said she didn’t anticipate violence.
“We are here to have a peacefully organized demonstration and a celebration of our resistance,” she said.
Still, some thought the mini-riot was the only way to convince the government to open its eyes to the issues that they think plague students, such as privatization, escalating tuition and decreasing accessibility.
“We’re not going to lose sleep over this,” said Alex Lisman, 22, a second-year image arts student and RyeSAC’s education issues commissioner.
Outside Union Station, Harden denounced the actions of police. “It’s very clear who’s violent,” he said. “This state is violent.”
Davin Charney, 28, Derek Laventure, 24, Lily Phan, 23, Jessie Black-Allen, 23, and Hamid Izadi, 21, were also arrested and face numerous charges related to the clash, including assaulting a police officer and obstructing a peace officer. They were released from police custody in the day.