Jury of One
During my first visit to the site off Downey Road Thursday, I was momentarily struck by the mature trees and soft lapping of Hanlon Creek. It’s a wonderful spot, if you can ignore the jagged tree stumps and plastic silt barrier; the remnants of work crews.
That’s as far as the Drexler Construction work crew got, before protesters forced them to shut down.
And since Monday morning, this land has been home to a core group of about 30.
On Wednesday afternoon, protesters were served with a trespass notice, giving them 24 hours to pack up their tents and shove off.
Not bloody likely.
Since the occupation began, it’s been perfectly clear the protesters have no intention of leaving the land at the mercy of the city and its hired demolition crew to be transformed into a bustling industrial complex.
The protesters will not simply move along to an “alternate” protest site offered by the city and allow Drexler’s bulldozers to continue their path of destruction, nor will they tuck and run at the first sign of police officers coming to enforce the trespassing notice.
There will not be an amicable ending.
The city and Guelph Police surely know this, but hopefully both sides can – or, if it’s happened by the time you’re reading this, did – find a way to end the conflict safely.
I admit I went to the site Thursday believing I would find many familiar faces among the protestors. Guelph has a well-documented history of anarchist protests, and from covering these events and related court proceedings I have become familiar with the city’s more active ne’r-do-wells.
My impression of Guelph protesters – shared, I’m sure, by other residents and the local constabulary – is that they cling to an issue and then set about causing as much trouble as they can in the name of that issue. Think burning barricades on the Hanlon Expressway and Gordon Street, for example.
Social issues become an excuse for causing trouble and tussling with the police. The actual cause is secondary, if it was ever a real consideration at all.
But those I spoke to this week were, for the most part, different. They’re nice kids, albeit initially suspicious of me with my cop-like hair and golf shirt. I don’t get the sense these Hanlon Creek protesters relish the thought of fighting with the police, or anyone else for that matter.
Rather, I believe they truly care about the property and about the ecological and social impacts of what the city envisions upon it.
I don’t think, however, this is a battle they can win.
As I drove around the site before venturing in Thursday, I noticed at one point along Downey Road you can see, in a straight line, the encampment and, beyond it, the Fairfield Marriott Inn across the Hanlon Expressway.
In fact, look in any direction from the camp site and it is clear you are in the city, from the roofs of luxury houses visible to the north to the peaks of luxury hotels to the southeast and cellphone towers in between.
This development is going to be built, and work on it will resume soon.
The city has insisted it has taken all the necessary steps to protect the ecosystem. I don’t know if that’s true, and I’m sure the best way to protect what’s there would be to just scrap the whole project.
But I’ve also been around long enough to know that’s not going to happen.
I suspect the protesters, while they might not admit it, know it, too.