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Small Victory for the Poor and Homeless

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Issue: 21 Section: Ottawa Geography: Ontario Otta Topics: social movements, poverty

August 25, 2004

Small Victory for the Poor and Homeless

by Jane Scharf

Activists put up "Wanted" posters around the city bearing the likeness of Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli. The group says Chiarelli is "wanted for a citizens' arrest" because he has "committed crimes against panhandlers, homeless and protestors." They say he has continually incited police to violence against these groups-including seven-year squatters and homeless action strikers. A citizens' posse was formed to arrest the mayor at his City Hall office at high noon August 16.

Members of the Homeless Action Strike and supporters located on City Hall property since July 1 stormed the Heritage Building, which houses the mayor's office. The group occupied the hallway outside Chiarelli's office and demanded a meeting to make charges of crimes against homeless, panhandlers and protestors.

The main players in this action were Ryan McGrath, Laura Doepe, panhandlers Prosconto Smith and Sue Clark, and squeegee kid Jesse McVicar. Several other activists and members of the press were also present for the occupation.

Police kicked Proscanto Smith's wheelchair out of the way, handcuffing him and issuing a ticket for panhandling. He was there to read charges about the abuse of panhandlers on Ottawa streets.

Jesse was there to issue charges that the city of Ottawa is not protecting children who are wards of the Children's Aid Society from neglect and abuse. Once these children are released from care, he said, they become street youth caught in a brutal cycle of deprivation and abuse. Further, he charged the mayor for failing to accord the necessary resources and compassion to meet the needs of these homeless persons; instead they are regularity arrested for panhandling and sleeping outside.

Sue Clark charged that the mayor is orchestrating a war on the poor. She said she wanted to let him know that they are not going to take it anymore.

Ryan and Laura led the demands for the mayor to meet the group to hear the charges. Initially the mayor refused to meet the group, calling the charges a "dead issue". The group asserted that they would not leave the building until a meeting was agreed to. The group read demands over a megaphone, played a siren, blew whistles and banged their fists on the door.

After a two hour standoff, city officials agreed to a meeting with the group, though a date has not been set.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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