We caught wind of a big anti-resource development protest being planned at the PDAC 2020 conference in Toronto last week. The title of this event was "People Before Profit: Evict the Corporate Villains!" On Saturday, we made a last-minute decision to fly to Toronto from Calgary to witness one of these radical demonstrations with our own eyes. We have to admit we thought we knew how these groups operated after watching their online presence, media coverage, and campaigns for the last five years. Still, even we were shocked at the level of organization and the lengths they will go. Here's a short video of ours from their four hour "Shut Down PDAC" "Shut Down Canada" event:
We got there 30 minutes before the protest started and discovered quickly that at least three well-staffed, multi-million dollar organizations, Greenpeace, 350 Canada, and Lead Now, were all present. Some of the published hosts included Extinction Rebellion Toronto, Toronto Anarchist Bookfair, Rising Tide Toronto, Fridays for Future Toronto, Climate Justice Toronto, and Mining Injustice Solidarity Network. Attendees slowly trickled in with their protest props and puppets, anti-extraction, anti-mining, anti-oil/gas, and anti-corporation signs. There were many "Wet'suwet'en solidarity" signs and small banners sewn to bags and clothing as well.
Just as we wondered out loud when it would start, an Indigenous man jumped up on a stone partition wall and started a very passionate and dramatic five-minute speech. He ended it by demanding that the crowd "take the street" to "let them know you're here." On the street, one of the hosts was on the mic thanking Gary and ready to kick off the speeches. At this point, we knew we were in for a big production. It's worth noting that a few days later, we discovered Gary is a longtime high profile activist in Ontario with connections to Idle No More.
Out of the 200-300 participants, only six-twelve were First Nations, and the majority of them were guest speakers and their companions. The rest of the attendees were mostly fresh, young urbanites or hippie type folks with grey hair.
The speeches were a mix of the non-indigenous ENGO organizers and, like Gary, high profile Indigenous activists. A big theme was indigenous rights and sovereignty. Not only did they have the speakers, signage, and props, they also had a small group of Afro-Brazilian drummers, except five out of six of them were caucasian. That’s right; there were more First Nations people and organizations attending PDAC in search of ways to lift their communities out of poverty and seeking long term opportunities for prosperity.
Of course, we heard overdramatic exaggerations, misinformation, outright lies, RCMP, police, and corporations continuously demonized, and the entire thing wreaked of hypocrisy. At one point Nigel from Indigenous Climate Action in Edmonton (yes, Nigel jumped on an airplane powered by jet fuel to protest fossil fuels in Toronto) spoke about impact benefit agreements. He said that they mean communities recognize that projects are going to damage land, water, and animals and that they get a payout for it. Seriously. Check it out:
Close to halfway through the very well planned and calculated schedule, they yelled, "let's march, some people stay here and some march down Lower Simcoe St."
The drumming band led the way, and they ended up around the corner blocking a garage parkade entrance of the conference center. The police were running frantically around us, trying to get on their bikes to get ahead of the march to stop traffic at other intersections that were ahead.
At the entrance, they put on a theatrical performance with the "pipeline snake," shouting misinformation through a mobile microphone while the crowd naively yelled, "SHAME." To conclude the excessively showy and animated production, they had a box with an on/off lever that went with the pipeline snake. When pulled to off, everyone zealously cheered. Next, the main emcee handed off the microphone to someone else who told the crowd to split up again and block the other entrance to the convention center.
The non-indigenous Afro-Brazilian drumming band retook the lead. This second group of blockaders continued down the street around the corner to the opposite side of the building. Again the emcee carried on with deceptive claims and sang a song about evicting PDAC. A heated argument broke out between someone attending the convention and a protester. Over the loud and obnoxious "Evict PDAC" song, the convention visitor shouted, "get a job!" and "you need mining for everything!". One of the protesters responded by saying he needed a brain and was fighting for the wrong side. Once police stepped forward to prevent a physical altercation, the pipeline snake and on/off switch reappeared. The speaker narrated as they took the front stage: "Here comes the pipeline and it's going to bring you jobs, Ewwww" and "but what about the jobs" with a whiny voice and cynical, sarcastic tone.
Eventually, the parkade blockaders, even rowdier and more boisterous than before, made their way back to ground zero, where they had a few speakers and dance party going on. They saved their most intense and nefarious stunt of the day for the end. Once they had all reconvened, one of the lead female organizers told the crowd to rush the front of the building and get inside if they could. Luckily there were enough police to block each doorway. A masked woman led the chants while the protesters grew more and more unhinged, pounding on the glass and provoking the police.
While there is much more we could have touched on here, we hope you now have a glimpse of what goes into these protests and #ShutDownCanada blockades. What we witnessed was a meticulously organized charade by obviously paid professionals. They had a perfectly scheduled program, the signs, puppets and, theatrics for the mainstream media cameras, as well as the dramatic chants, music, songs and, drummers to compliment the visuals. The high profile, seasoned guest speakers are trusted by their wide-eyed following. The militant type tactics disrupt and inconvenience everyday, innocent Canadians, and win the attention of journalists looking for that provocative story that will garner the most hits on social media. We've organized and attended multiple grassroots rallies, and we have to give credit where credit is due; they are pros. What's more evident now, though, is that there is nothing grassroots about this movement. They are well-funded, staffed, methodical, and know how to put on a show.
We hope you will continue to help spread the word about the anti-Canada, anti-everything movement by sharing this with your email contacts and on Facebook. We can't afford for them to go unchecked any longer!
P.S. If you would like to see more in-depth coverage of future protests because this is far from over, please consider donating $5 today. Also, if you haven’t signed up for email updates from us, please consider signing up now: