The contrast is staggering. In the large cities of southern Ontario, Occupy Ottawa and Occupy Toronto protesters were evicted this morning from the tent cities they set up last month to protest economic disparities. One thousand kilometers further north (652 miles), the residents of the Attawapiskat First Nation have been living in tents and sheds without water or electricity for years and no one is doing anything about it.
Attawapiskat Declares State of Emergency
It has been three weeks since the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency due to the third world living conditions in this Northern Ontario community on the shores of James Bay. The daily high temperature doesn’t reach above the freezing mark anymore and as we descend into winter, the weather will only get worse.
According to the Ottawa Citizen, the living conditions are horrible and deteriorating:
For at least the past two years, many residents – including in some cases, multiple generations of one family – in the community have been living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity and indoor plumbing.
At least 90 people have resorted to living in two construction workers’ portables equipped with only two washrooms and four showers to use among them.
Others are using buckets as washroom facilities and sleep in fear of fire because of wood-burning stoves in their homes, the chief said.
Further evidence of the disastrous conditions can be seen in a video posted by Charlie Angus, the NDP Member of Parliament for Timmins James-Bay.
The images show residents, including children, with injuries and illnesses caused by their crowded and unsanitary living conditions. People are frequently burned and scalded by makeshift wood stoves in crowded spaces, tents become long-term homes for families with small children, mold is growing in their living quarters and people are at serious and constant risk of infections.
Charlie Angus wrote the Huffington Post Canada article on the emergency facing his constituents. He noted that no federal or provincial government official has visited the community, no aid agencies have offered help and no disaster management teams have stepped in. The residents, far from the decision makers in Toronto and Ottawa, are simply ignored and forgotten.
Occupy Ottawa and Occupy Toronto Protesters Evicted from Their Tent Cities
In Ottawa and Toronto, protesters set up camps in public parks last month. This morning at 2:00am, around 100 police officers descended on Ottawa’s Confederation Park to enforce eviction notes that were posted earlier in the week. A small number of people were arrested and additional protests are planned following the shut down of the camp. In Toronto, police moved into the Occupy Toronto camp at St. James park around 6:00am and began photographing and tagging each tent. They then removed unoccupied tents and warned protesters who were present to immediately remove their tents and leave the park.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
It is hard for politicians to ignore the 99% when they are practically sitting on their doorstep. The Occupy Toronto and Occupy Ottawa tent cities were a visible and constant presence in major parks in the downtown core of large Canadian cities. It is easier, however, to ignore the 99% when they are a thousand kilometers away.
In the Huffington Post Canada, Angus wrote:
Try to imagine this situation happening in anywhere else in this country. We all remember how the army was sent into Toronto when the mayor felt that citizens were being discomforted by a snowstorm. Compare that massive mobilization of resources with the disregard being shown for the families in Attawapiskat.
Ironically, there is a push to shut down some of the tent cities set up by Occupy protesters because officials are concerned about the effect of unsanitary conditions on the health of the protesters. Where is the concern for the unsanitary conditions and the health of the people of Attawapiskat? Perhaps instead of worrying about people voluntarily living in tents in Canada’s cities, politicians and public officials could start worrying about those Canadians who are forced to live in tents.
Has the 99% Made Its Point?
They’ve made their point and now it is time for them to leave. That is a phrase that has been uttered in news commentary, by politicians, and on social media. Perhaps they have made their point, but is that what they set out to do? Although the Occupy movement has sometimes been criticized for a lack of focus, it is fairly clear that it is about more than just making a point. The Occupy protestors around the world are looking for change. They are looking for hope for the people who have been failed by the current system. They are looking for ways to address social injustice and economic disparities.
The people of Attawapiskat First Nation are among those who have been failed. They are an example of the 99%. They are in dire need of help from aid agencies and governments. It is time for officials to do more than say “we’ve heard your point.” It is time for them to be part of the change and to address this issue head on.
Photo credit: marc falardeau on flickr