Human Shields on the Gardiner?

Tamil Protest on the Gardiner

This is a tale of two photographs.

The above photograph is entitled Tamil Protest on the Gardiner and is by Neil McIntyre. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

Much ink has been spilt over the move by hundreds of Tamil-Canadians, protesting our government’s inaction while the Sri Lankan civil war takes a turn for the worse for the Tamils there, to march onto the Gardiner Expressway and snarl traffic throughout downtown Toronto for several hours on a Sunday evening. A fair chunk of it is full of shock and outrage that these individuals would have the temerity to block a highway, and cost Sunday drivers a few hours of (admittedly, significant) inconvenience. Among the more hysterical screeds to be found online is the horror that the Tamils, expressing support for “terrorists”, were using their women and children as human shields against the cars.

Let’s be clear: what the protesters did was patently illegal, and they did risk life and property through their reckless actions. If charges are laid against organizers of this protest, I think that’s fair and just. However, I think we should ramp down the rhetoric. I mean, ‘human shields’? Come on!

The weirdest thing about the whole event and its aftermath is that this isn’t the first time protesters have shut down the Gardiner Expressway. I can recall two other incidents where this Toronto arterial was taken offline this past decade alone. There was, for instance, a march by Native protesters against the then Liberal government, I believe, over the slow pace of progress in redressing the various injustices committed by our government against aboriginal Canadians. This, I believe, got some ink — perhaps not as much as when another group of aboriginal protesters shut down the 401 in Eastern Ontario, but some. However, the incident quickly blew over.

Then there was the time that dozens, if not hundreds, of cycling activists participating in a “critical mass” rally decided en masse to swarm up the Jarvis Street onramp and onto the Gardiner Expressway, eventually taking over every westbound lane until the police were able to funnel these people off the highway via the Dunn Street offramp, seven kilometres to the west. The event remarkably went without incident, with hardly any confrontations between the cyclists and irate drivers. One person was arrested for the stunt, and only because he refused to follow police orders to get off the highway; two more were ticketed.

This event occurred almost a year ago, on a Friday evening at the end of rush hour, which suggests that the potential for disruption as a result could have been significantly higher.

And how much ink was spilled on this protest? How much spit was flecked by people in their outrage? Hardly any as far as I can see. And, get a load of this picture below courtesy Nick Syperek of TOBike, and used with permission.

Critical Mass Protest

Are those… children I see biking at the front of this photograph? Are those women and children? Oh, my God, are those (gasp!) human shields?! How dare they!

And that’s precisely the outrage I didn’t hear following this earlier stunt that’s all over the place when a group of ethnic Canadians decide to protest horrible events at home.

Which begs the question: why was so little ink spilt on these earlier events that’s now been spilt on this recent event? Why was the accusation of the use of women and children as “human shields” raised now rather than the time before?

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