As former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton arrived in Toronto for a public “moderated discussion” today, Front St. served as the dividing line between those in suits and those with boots.
But not only boots, as several hundred anti-Bush protesters across from the Metro Convention Centre hurled shoes, high heels, and even sandals at a large image of Bush to show their disdain for the former U.S. president and the supposed war crimes he committed in the Iraq war.
Despite the seriousness of the charges laid against Bush, the demonstration was fairly light-hearted, with activists chanting, playing music, rapping at the podium, and of course throwing their shoes to show opposition to Bush and Clinton speaking in Toronto.
“You ask me why I rap? You use lies to trap, send kids to Iraq, we won’t stand for that,” rapped Mohammad Ali Aumeer, president of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, who came to spread the message “Fund education, not occupation.”
“Ask me why I rap? For every service cap. Bodies lying flat, I won’t stand for that!” shouted Aumeer, much to the applause of the large crowd.
The other side of the street revealed a stark contrast, as audience members who paid upwards of $600 to see the former presidents speak on various issues for two hours quietly scuttled back to their cars as the event came to a close, many wearing formal attire. Tickets were said to go up to $2,500 a piece.
“For shame!” yelled protesters from across the street to those emerging from the conference, while a visible although laid-back police presence patrolled on horse and foot. “Paying to hear a war criminal!”
James Clark, a member of the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said he considers Bush a war criminal because of the large civilian casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as the human rights violations and accusations of torture at Guantanamo Bay.
“We want to say to Bush, that no matter where he goes around the world, we don’t think he should be treated like some kind of respected international statesman, but he should be treated like the war criminal he is.”
Protesters chanted a variety of slogans, such as “Blood on your hands!” with gloves painted red and “Do your job! Arrest George Bush!” directed to the police. But some bystanders, such as Anthony Easton feel demonstrations like this do more harm than good.
He cited a group of activists saying that 9/11 was an inside job, and he says hearing claims like that only “convinces people not to listen.”
“The problem with the left is that they get all these crazies together, and then people immediately dismiss what is traditionally referred to as the left because they think it’s filled with conspiracy nuts,” Easton said.
He thinks that by spreading what he sees as lies, they are in fact drawing parallels with the same administration that they protest against.
“The rhetoric they use, and the way they use misleading information is similar, and I think it does equal damage,” he said.
Others, such as Calgary native rights activist Splitting The Sky, said they opposed the event because they feel there was not true freedom of speech being practiced.
Splitting The Sky was arrested March 17 in Calgary for confronting Bush in person after a similar public speaking event. He was charged with assault and obstruction of justice. According to him, he asked to speak at today’s demonstration but his request was declined.
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re only about controlled opposition, some governmental organization is paying you to put on a protest,” he accused the event organizers as he yelled into the megaphone.
As the evening wore on the large crowd eventually scattered, and the demonstration ended without any violent incidents, except for an oversized portrait of Bush getting pummelled by a variety of shoes.