Why Occupy Toronto Failed

 How the opportunity to advance liberty was doomed from the start

By: James Di Fiore

I wanted to be there with them, shoulder to shoulder, as they marched to St. James Park in downtown Toronto. I hoped we were to stand in solidarity with the protesters in New York, participating in a conversation about corporate corruption and their governmental enablers. I, like many, felt like we were watching history unfold. The Arab Spring had planted a seed of revolution of sorts, and while we were a watered down western version motivated by different circumstances, apathy was being replaced with passion…and I liked it

And then I watched it all fall down.

Being a moderate, it is difficult to get behind any movement. Moderates can usually see both sides of a coin and view ideology as a barrier between problems and solutions. While I witnessed New York City mobilize against Wall Street corruption I was simultaneously witnessing Toronto ride the coat tails of that movement. At first I gave the protesters a pass for not having a coherent message. After all, conservative ideologues were already lobbing those kinds of critiques against Occupy Wall Street activists, ignoring the underlying issue of crony capitalism or the lack of prosecutorial vigour against white collar swindlers. But as the first week progressed it was clear that Occupy Toronto had lost any tangible or even symbolic connection with OWS, to the point that I found myself agreeing with some of the milder criticisms leveled by the likes of Charles Adler or Rex Murphy. When you are agreeing with the editorializing of Adler, you know something is not how it should be.

St. James Park’s tag line is ‘A City Within a Park’, but a quick stroll through the makeshift camp and it became clear what went wrong. For all the talk of other movements being co-opted by the Koch Brothers or public sector unions, rarely have we seen a movement so rapidly co-opted by Kensington Market anarchists and Queen and Bathurst squeegie kids, many of whom viewed St. James as a temporary hangout rather than a home base for serious political discussion. And let’s be honest; a leaderless movement has a quicker expiry date than organic sour dough, especially when participants spend more time worrying about tent pegs than political consensus.

And there is a list of problems Occupy Toronto could have spotlighted. Corporate welfare, the omnibus Crime Bill, campaign financing legislation, draconian drug laws, federal overspending, provincial overspending, and a host of other issues that directly place corporate favourtism over personal liberties, but when your movement is dependent on the communications savvy of an inarticulate, unsophisticated mob, your chances of making any political or social headway disintegrates.

All they had to do was create a comprehensive vision with the list of inequalities and injustices that already exist in Canada, but they opted for a disjointed and sloppy squat posse destined for failure. Not only did they fail at shining a light on any relevant issues, they may have succeeded in snookering the progress real activists had been working towards by becoming their accidental spokespersons, rallying an incoherent cry and killing all credibility in the process. 



  1. Not such a great analysis. Any picture of a social movement in it’s early days will tend to be inchoate and confusing. That’s because the movement hasn’t formed its character and methods. Given the above, the writer’s main problem with OT seems to be that they aren’t using the same old methods; the usual leadership; the stale ideology: all the things we are comfortable with and which have so often failed. You can’t walk shoulder to shoulder with these people because you’re unfamiliar with them

    Instead, the “Kensington anarchists and Queen and Bathurst squeegee kids” are creating their own movement. It’ll take time, but the momentum and energy is there. It’s too bad you won’t be there. One of the dirty secrets of democracy is that – for it to truly work – you’re often forced to sit at the table with people you are uncomfortable with. That’s why you’ve got to choose between feeling a little uncomfortable for a little while or sitting on the same old fence while the same old scenario plays out yet again.


  2. I used to live in Kensington and threw club events near Queen and Bathurst. But I also know what a general lack of momentum and understanding looks like. This was not a movement, traditional or otherwise. The people who were front and center are actually hurting the movement. Like it or not, intellect and the ability to rationalize, ascertain and discuss opposing views with civility counts. If you want to be an anarchist then fine, but do not expect to grow in numbers if you can’t even organize a serious political discussion.

    Thanks for reading.


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