Sarah-Joyce Battersby, Toronto Star, April 4, 2016
Black Lives Matter demonstrators packed up #BLMTOtentcity on Monday and issued a 300-hour deadline for decision-makers to respond to the group’s demands–about the same length of time the sit-in protest lasted.
As the occupation came to an end, organizers stressed this was not the end of their protest.
“Don’t think just because we’re gone, we’re finished,” one of the group’s co-founders Alexandria Williams told supporters rallying at the encampment site.
“You know it’s going to come back, and you know we’re coming back stronger every single time.”
Organizers declined to elaborate on what the group’s next action might look like.
“That action will look like how it will look like,” Yusra Khogali told the Star.
Within the next 300 hours, or 12 and a half days, the group is demanding public meetings with Mayor John Tory, police Chief Mark Saunders and Premier Kathleen Wynne, who briefly met with protesters outside Queen’s Park.
“I am here because I think this is such an important issue,” Wynne told the crowd. “In my heart I believe that we all need to work together to make sure we get this right. The reason I’m out here is I want you to understand that.”
Wynne told the protesters that she would not be addressing the issue at that moment, but would be setting up a meeting “ASAP” with the organizers. The premier said there may be public meetings, but private meetings would also be needed.
It’s the first time in many years that an Ontario premier has held an impromptu face-to-face meeting with demonstrators, and it comes just days after protesters visited Wynne’s North Toronto home.
The premier was accompanied Monday by Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur, Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi and Culture Minister Michael Coteau, who is overseeing the new anti-racism directorate.
Black Lives Matter organizer Janaya Khan said “it’s an important step” to speak with Wynne.
“I think that Premier Wynne walking out here made a very strategic move. We’re hoping that it’s more than just a photo op,” Khan said.
“What we’re seeking is accountability and transparency in the process towards securing our demands, which is our ultimate goal.”
Activists had camped been outside police headquarters since March 20 in the wake of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) decision not to charge the unnamed officer who shot and killed 45-year-old Andrew Loku last year.
Reached for comment Monday afternoon, Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash repeated his position that Saunders is open to a meeting provided it be in private.
“The chief has extended an invitation, and we’ve yet to hear back,” he said.
Mayor Tory was on a business mission in San Francisco on Monday and leaves for another in Asia from April 7 to 16. His office provided this response to the end of the demonstration:
“The Mayor has offered to meet with Black Lives Matter Toronto several times and remains willing to meet when he returns to the city. Unfortunately, the new 300 hour deadline issued today by Black Lives Matter is during the Mayor’s business mission to Japan and China.”
Tory will continue to work with Wynne’s government “to address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter Toronto and open further dialogue with Toronto’s black community,” the statement added.
Following the meeting with Wynne, organizers and supporters rallied outside Queen’s Park with an air of victory before marching along College St. to police headquarters behind a banner reading, “Which side of history are you on?”
By the time the march arrived, the encampment looked sparse, with many of the sleeping bags, blankets, and posters that had covered the space already removed.
Police shut down traffic between Bay and Yonge Sts., as some supporters danced in the street while others pulled tape off the windows, wiped down the walls and served up one last hot meal.
Before their departure, demonstrators unfurled two signs displayed on the columns at the police headquarters reading: “You are on notice. Your anti-blackness has been exposed. We are not finished.”