Protesters disrupt PDAC gala

On the evening of March 9, a grass hut was erected outside the Canadian Room at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, as part of the Southeast Asian theme of the concluding ceremony of the convention of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada. Moments later, the hut had been toppled by roughly 30 protesters targeting engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin (SNC-T), sponsor of the evening’s wine bar and tropical drinks.

About six of the protesters attempted to enter the Canadian Room, as their colleagues chanted “Say no to S-N-C!” Some were confronted by about a dozen hotel security and kitchen staff. Several scuffles ensued. One protester was arrested and charged with one count of mischief after the low-hanging grass hut was completely destroyed. A hotel security official had his glasses broken, but the event proceeded without further incident.

“The grass hut effectively acted as a buffer,” said PDAC staffer Lynne Beckett.

Police said the protesters were from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). Police officers at the hotel said they did not receive in advance an official protest route from OCAP, but were aware that a protest would take place that night in the downtown core. About 30 protestors broke away from the original protest on Yonge Street and the splinter group entered the hotel from the main entrance on Front Street and headed for the Canadian Room. One Toronto police officer could be seen in the lobby calling for back-up a few minutes before the mele.

It is not the first time SNC-Lavalin has been targeted by the OCAP. On two previous occasions, OCAP held peaceful demonstrations outside the company’s Toronto offices, said SNC Executive Vice-President Pierre Duhaime.

The OCAP calls SNC-Lavalin a “war profiteer,” in one of its brochures. The literature says SNC-Technologies, a subsidiary, has a contract providing the U.S. military with 300-500 million bullets and other munitions. The company is the only ammunition manufacturer in Canada, and its defence unit generated almost $300 million in revenue in 2003, compared with $240 million generated by the mining and metallurgy unit. SNC-Lavalin’s web site says its defence unit “mainly includes the manufacturing of ammunition, including the related propellants, for the military and paramilitary markets.”

The OCAP has a history of violent protests. In June 2001, the group ransacked the Whitby, Ont., office of James Flaherty, the province’s finance minister at the time. The protesters turned over filing cabinets, threw furniture into the street, and painted obscenities on the walls.

In June 1999, 46 OCAP protesters were arrested after clashing with Toronto police outside Queen’s Park.

The OCAP has roughly 300 core members and an annual budget of $500,000, most of which is funded by the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Before the convention, a group calling itself the Autonomy and Solidarity Movement provided details of scheduled protests outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, site of the PDAC convention. This group once protested inside the offices of Barrick Gold (ABX-T) in Toronto.

“We don’t mind protesters and demonstrations like they had planned to do outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, but the incident at the Canadian Room is just unacceptable,” said PDAC President Anthony Andrews. “I don’t think there’s anything constructive about it. In spite of [the OCAP’s] mischief, does anybody know what they stand for? I doubt it. Whereas the World Wildlife Fund, Ducks Unlimited, and organizations like that have credibility because their approach is rational and reasonable.”


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