Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Week in the Life of a Protest

I got the call at 6:30 am on Monday morning; I was half asleep as I answered the phone. Typically people don’t call me in the “wee hours,” so it surely must have been important, right? Well, while I didn’t remember the details of the conversation, I did remember the context: a small group of about two dozen protestors had taken to occupying the grounds of the future home of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. But this story isn’t just about occupied land it was about occupied time, as the story garnered province-wide attention all last week.

The story started back in January, when new, grassroots opposition to the HCBP started to get louder in the town. The property located in the city’s south end between the Hanlon Expressway and Downey Rd. has been on the books to be the place for new business development for sometime. Concerns have been growing though amongst the Green-minded as the site is home to an old growth forest, which coupled with the possible presence of the endangered Jefferson Salamander makes the HCBP site highly sensitive.

The occupation began at 7 am on Monday. The protestors made camp and proceeded to disrupt workers from Drexler Construction who were hired by the city to construct a four-lane road. The workers were sent home and their equipment moved to avoid damage. Meanwhile, the protesters prepared for the long haul. Their intention, as I was told later on Monday, is to stay on the site until forcibly removed or the date of September 15th, when it would be too late in the season for construction to begin. It wouldn’t be until Wednesday afternoon when the city responded officially to the protest.

I first visited the protest site on Monday afternoon and I was greeted by two individuals who identified themselves as "Faren Carbridge" and "Keter Partwright." The talked about how they weren’t surprised that the “bureaucratic process” had failed, meaning the pursuit of stopping construction on the site through direct interaction with stakeholders and advocacy through awareness. “Faren” added that she was disgusted by the City’s promotion of its green roof and other environmental initiatives at the new city hall even as they planned to plough over such a huge tract of land for development. While the number of people on-site increased to anywhere between 40 and 60 at any given time, “Faren” and “Keter” said that many more are with them through letter writers to demonstrations put on in the city.

Wednesday afternoon saw delivery of an eviction notice by Peter Cartwright, the city’s Manager of Economic Development Services. It ordered that all protestors must vacate the land by 4 pm Thursday or be charged with criminal trespass. Come Thursday afternoon, the group had become literally entrenched on the site; blockades were put up along the farm path to the protesters camp and roads in and out of the area had ditches dug in front of them to prevent vehicle entry. Numbers at the camp had also swelled, as the protesters were prepared to stand their ground. "Everybody's decided what their own response is going to be," is all "Keter Partwright" would say in terms of the group’s plans in the event of forced eviction by police. Mostly though, he said that they were trying to focus on the positive experiences.

By 5:30 pm it seemed that the police weren’t coming, at least not that day. No further communication from the city was received until Friday when the protesters were served with notice that the city was seeking an injunction in court on Tuesday to force their removal. By that point though the occupation will have been eight days, and already a powerful point’s been made by a small group of dedicated local citizens. It should be noted for those occupying the HCBP land are not affiliated with the group Land Is More Important Than Sprawl (LIMITS) or other groups. They are individuals acting on their own in common purpose. For updates on these and other stories go to Guelph Politico at

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