THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2010
8.30 a.m. -- Get out of taxi at north side of Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park ; notice wooden barricades, scaffolding surrounding the pinkish sandstone structure. “Geez, they must be really worried about this HST rally,” I grin at a security guard, who is giving me the evil eye. He’s looking real hard at the carrying bag I’m toting that contains a wooden box with the 1764 Covenant Chain wampum belt replica. (Now that I think about it, the box is about the same dimensions as a rifle case.) “Just renovations,” he replies, without so much as a sliver of a smile.
8.45 a.m. -- Meet Grand Council Chief Pat in front of steps at south side of building. He’s alone, and there are at least 30 cops standing at ease behind him, guarding the front entrance to the Legislature. “That would be a fair fight,” I think to myself. “Where is everybody?” he wonders. Organizers have been promoting this anti-HST protest on the Internet like it was the Second Coming. A lady police officer with sergeant’s stripes on her shoulder approaches. I guess two Indians qualifies as a demonstration.
9 a.m. – Sergeant Blondie is very polite and asks what our plans are, assuring us that neither she nor her 29 colleagues --wearing bright yellow windbreakers, not to mention sidearms – wants anything bad to happen today. Gary Sault, an Elder from the Mississaugas of New Credit is offering some smudge to what has now swollen to a veritable mob of five aboriginals, including some vicious-looking outlaws from the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. “Would you care to join us?” I ask the sergeant. She whips off her bullet-proof bicycle helmet and joins in.
9.15 a.m. – Rally organizer Shawna Bigcanoe Snache arrives. She is an imposing young woman from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation who has thought about becoming a law enforcement officer. Alongside Shawna, Sgt. Blondie looks like the Frito Bandito. “We better go in now,” she motions to GCC Pat and me, who are to participate in a news conference in the Legislature’s media studio.
9.20 a.m. – Security guard on the front steps asks me where do I think I am going. “In here,” I motion with my chin, Anishinaabe-style. “Okay,” he shrugs, not nearly so perturbed about the big bag I am carrying as that guy was on the north side of the building.
9.30 a.m. – At a big desk inside the legislature’s front door a security guard asks for our names and checks a list he has been provided. None of our names are on it so he asks us to sign his sheet. He doesn’t even notice my big carrying bag. Before you can say “Mike Harris sucks” we have been issued with clip-on badges to the media studio, and paper passes to the Members’ and Visitor’s galleries.
9.45 a.m. – Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop kicks off the news conference, which he has organized because provincial Conservatives in Toronto say they’re against this horrible Harmonized Sales Tax. I don’t have the heart to tell him that the HST is the brainchild of federal Conservatives in Ottawa. Maybe they have a bad connection.
Grand Council Chief Pat says “We’re drawing a line in the sand”, I say “This wampum belt is the rule of law”, and we’re out of there. As we start to leave one nice young woman asks would I please describe the wampum belt into her microphone because her report will be on radio and her listeners won’t get to see it, which kind of makes sense, but they won’t get to see GCC Pat either and she doesn’t ask me to describe what he looks like.
10. 15 a.m. – Decide to take in Question Period because rally outside isn’t supposed to have a head of steam until after lunch. Give wampum belt to Matt, one of rally organizers, so he can have security guards give him dirty looks for a while. Another security guard stops me as we pass through body-screening at entrance to Visitor’s Gallery. “What’s in there?” he growls, after his wand beeps at the medicine bag around my neck. “Well if you want to find an Elder I’ll be glad to show him,” I reply. I let him put it through X-Ray machine but refuse to open it. “It’s a coin-like object,” I volunteer. “Would you stop me if I was wearing a big crucifix?” Officer Scowly relents and lets me pass, taking a chance that I will not smite the province’s 107 legislators with whatever deadly weapon might be concealed in my two-inch-square deerskin pouch.
11.30 a.m. – Now I understand why there is so much security in this building. If taxpayers knew what their elected MPPS do during Question Period they’d want to tar and feather the whole lot of them! Visitors are witness to something like a professional wrestling match without the body contact. The Speaker, whose unfortunate job it is to try and maintain decorum, rises three times to ask members to pulleeeze behave themselves, reminding them that there are groups of students in the gallery.
Visitors are not allowed to speak – MPPs try to out-shout and make fun of one another and emit a variety of barnyard-type sounds. Visitors are not permitted to write anything down or have cellphones – MPPs scribble away at documents instead of listening to debates, scan their Blackberries and read the morning papers.
12 Noon – Lunch. We try to figure out how we can make our anti-HST demonstration as raucous and noisy as Question Period.
1 p.m. – Crowd gathers on Queen’s Park lawn -- there are now about 100 police officers riding horses, bicycles, motorcycles. Lots of plainclothes guys, too, wearing their secret-service sunglasses and talking into their sleeves. Speakers include elders, Grand Chiefs, just plain folks to whom paying 13 cents more on the dollar after July 1st would be more than the family budget could stand. When Shawn Brant from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory says a few words the plainclothes cops really start talking into their sleeves.
3.30 p.m. – I always wondered what it would feel like to walk down the middle of Yonge Street at rush hour. It’s even better with a police escort and big drum.
4 p.m. – It’s been a long day and the wampum belt box is getting heavier. Heading across the lawn I pass the mounted policemen and thank them for their work today. One of the horses snorts, making a sound just like some of those we heard in Question Period.
“Who does that horse think he is?”, I wondered. “Nobody elected him.”
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.