Anti-poverty group hosts

Students protest budget on MPP John Gerretsen’s lawn

The Kingston Coalition Against Poverty staged a protest on MPP John Gerretsen’s front lawn.
The Kingston Coalition Against Poverty staged a protest on MPP John Gerretsen’s front lawn.
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If Kingston and the Islands MPP John Gerretsen had looked out his kitchen window on Friday, Mar. 10, he would have seen some uninvited guests.

The Kingston Coalition Against Poverty (KCAP) hosted a “Have-Not Hoedown” on Gerretsen’s front lawn in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Ontario provincial budget.

KCAP is lobbying Gerretsen to raise social assistance rates by 40 per cent, effectively restoring them to 1995 levels.

Gerretsen is the MPP for Kingston and the Islands and also the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

KCAP prepared and brought a pledge sheet to the event in the hopes that Gerretsen would sign it. The pledge also stipulated that he would agree to resign his seat and cabinet post unless the government raises social assistance rates.

Approximately 40 people—a mix of students and other activists—gathered in City Park to listen to the series of speakers who began the rally.

Ivan Stoiljkovic, a history PhD student at Queen’s and a KCAP member, spoke out against the current state of housing in Kingston and elicited cheers from the crowd.

“It’s perfectly legal to kick people out of where they’re sleeping. It is illegal to take an empty building and sleep in it,” he said. “How can the Minister of Housing live in luxury while 30 people are living in a basement?”

The rally continued with a march down King Street. Protestors waved flags, banners and signs, banged drums and chanted, “The people, united, will never be defeated!” Christopher Canning, one of the drummers and a sociology PhD student at Queen’s, said it’s important for students to participate in such a cause.

“This is a direct form of communication to Gerretsen,” he said. “I think it’s important as students to be involved in a cause not separate from the community.”

When the protesters arrived at Gerretsen’s house, there were two police cars parked outside. As the demonstrators cooked chili and hot dogs and played Frisbee on Gerretsen’s front lawn, the police requested that they keep off the minister’s property.

John Clarke, leader of Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, made a speech about the cause in front of the house.

“How can a man who lives in a place like this sympathize and understand what it is like to be homeless?” he asked. “The days when people accept poverty and hunger are over.”

As the protest continued, the police presence increased as two more cars arrived.

When participants approached the front door to give Gerretsen their pledge, police informed them he was not at home. They were asked to leave the property.

Eric de Domenico, ArtSci ’08, said he was not a member of KCAP, but attended the rally in solidarity. He described the exchange between demonstrators and police as peaceful, and said neither party was there for confrontation.

“[We are] not trespassing until the property owner tells us to leave. They said he was not home,” he said. “It was kind of a stand-off and then they kind of bullied us off.” The pledge was left on Gerretsen’s doorstep after the rally.

Paul Quick, one of the event’s organizers, said that because of the police presence already at the house, Gerretsen must have known about the rally in advance.

“I think it says a lot that he decided not to come,” he said. “[The rally] was a huge success.”

Gerretsen was unavailable for comment after the event.

Gerretsen’s Communications Assistant Melanie Francis said that in regards to the protest, everyone has the right to demonstrate peacefully. When asked whether Gerretsen received the pledge left on his doorstep, Francis declined to comment.

She did, however, say that Gerretsen would not be resigning.

“Mr. Gerretsen has no plans to resign his position,” she said. “As long as the Premier [Dalton McGuinty] would like him to be there, he will be there.”

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