The Golden screw for 2013 is awarded to Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. Many people will be confused by this award. There are many who believe that OCAP is declining in importance; nobody pays much attention to it anymore.
But from what I have found about OCAP's motivations, I do not think they care much that they are not growing, attracting members, or getting much press. What it has become is a front for some hard line groups within the amorphous mass of communist groups in Toronto. It also acts as a "rent a thug" group for certain interests, and as a training ground for operatives for such interests.
It is hard to get good information about OCAP, because they really do not like being tracked and will physically attack people they see watching them. A few of these undercover right wing "cognitive agents" who have tried to infiltrate them have discovered this the hard way.
The core OCAP group seems mainly interested in confronting the police, in order to test the reaction. They are doing the hard line Trotskyist thing of trying to draw together a group of angry but naive people, fire them up, and then engineer a face off with the cops. Then they will abandon all who get into trouble, except for the core group.
This is the first key insight about OCAP; they are something used by some more deeply hidden network to continuously test the reaction of the police and other authorities to civil disturbances. They are also interested in the reactions of the public, and especially if their actions spark imitations or sympathetic actions.
The second insight is that they are completely disinterested in the causes which they claim to be organizing around. They once did some advocacy for people, calling it "direct action casework" but they seem to do little of that anymore. They are hard core revolutionaries who believe that nothing matters except to overthrow capitalism and establish the dictatorship of a communist party.
This means, of course, that they are people to stay away from, for your own safety. They are indifferent to the harm caused to other people by their actions. Their mentality is that it would be a great thing if the police killed somebody at one of their actions, because then they would have a martyr. They are contemptuous of people who choose to fight charges laid against them by police, even if they have a good case; that is "bourgeois".
Like most ultra radical groups, OCAP did not start out that way. It was gradually taken over as a front. There was a moderate element in it until at least 2003, when the writer was last involved with OCAP. This seems to have totally disappeared by now.
OCAP was started in 1988 as a group which dogged the premier David Peterson because of his welfare policies. It was somewhat passive during the Rae years but gained in strength during the premiership of Mike Harris. It gained even more stature during Julian Fantino's tenure as Toronto Police Chief.
There was an increasing tension between the "direct action" faction within OCAP, built around John Clarke, and the "casework" faction, which came to be lead by Sue Collis, who is married to Shawn Brant. A watershed seemed to be reached after the "Pope Squat" of 2002.
Collis and Brant often expressed frustration with Clarke but continued to work with him. Brant, a Mohawk indian, was the OCAP accountant. OCAP was established under some strange arrangement in which it was technically a private firm owned by John Clarke. After Collis and Brant left Toronto, harassment of moderating influences within OCAP increased, and the case work faction drifted away. More clearly deranged members came to be tolerated within the group.
As for the Pope Squat, it was never intended to be anything but another confrontation with the police. The OCAP leadership knew that police would not allow them to occupy a building without the owner's permission. However, they happened to occupy a building whose ownership was found to be unclear.
Some people moved into the building off the street, some idealistic people started cleaning the place up and rendering it habitable, and it began to succeed as a housing cooperative. It was discovered that if a moderate amount of money could be raised to pay off some back taxes, the cooperative set up by OCAP members could acquire title to the property.
This infuriated the "direct action" faction of OCAP, who started sneering that the group were turning into "real estate lawyers". Things were done to sabotage the cooperative, such as destroying cheques donated to the renovation fund. Eventually the city found a buyer for the building and OCAP was evicted.
Over the last decade OCAP has drifted from issue to issue, never focussing on any one thing for long enough to achieve results. Always, there are these attempts to form a front line against the police. Always, if there is no reaction to them, the most aggressive elements will accelerate the situation, with no check placed on them by the leaders. If there are no cops around, they will start smashing things up and threatening people.
One reason why they do little welfare advocacy anymore is that the attack dogs among them have threatened and harassed welfare workers, offending their union. They have lost the cooperation of welfare line workers whose cooperation had been essential to their "direct action casework". They have offended most union organizations, most famously the hotel worker's union.
Yet the core group have long had the idea that the unions should write them a blank cheque for their activities. A few union locals which are controlled by people of this same Trotskyist mentality still provide them some money. It is likely they are getting some money from FMTA, who several of their core members now work for.
Whether this still continues or not, at one time they were getting substantial revenues from selling illegal cigarettes brought from Shawn Brant's home reservation. But most of the core group are able to continue their activities because they have well paid positions or are supported by wealthy parents. These are the people who want to use poor and naive people as cannon fodder and then leave them to swing.
This is what makes these people so dangerous and offensive; they have been trained to incite violence while keeping clear of it themselves. They are thus valuable to certain organizations, as intimidators. They often drop their masks of earnestness to reveal their true callous and cynical selves.
Their reputation for violence is exaggerated. They only get violent when they know there will be no push back, otherwise they back off. They have trouble finding enough mentally disturbed and stupid people whom they can incite to do the violence for them in the setting of a public demonstration.
Often they are slandered by the police and police stooges, which also contain plenty of creepy people. For example, they are accused of throwing molotovs onto the steps of the legislature at the Queen's park "riot" of the year 2000. The best throwing arm in the world could not have thrown from where the crowds were.
At the trial of the "Queen's park five", who were acquitted by the good work of their lawyers despite their stupidity, it was shown by surveillance cameras exactly who threw the molotov. Someone came running out from behind a police trailer, threw the bomb, then ran back behind the trailer right past a cluster of cops who totally ignored him.
Not all OCAP people are prospering by their participation in the "revolutionary vanguard". John Clarke is notably poor. He is a strange individual, and not very bright. Yet he has considerable charisma. He is the kind of person who seems to have several layers of cover over his real motivations. There is no way to determine what he is really thinking but he clearly does not believe most of what he says.
In recent years Clarke and OCAP have become more hardened and secretive. In is unlikely that they see themselves as in decline although the Toronto police are much smarter these days in dealing with them. Rather than oblige OCAP by getting into a face off, they encircle them and keep a distance. They know who most of the people are, and can grab them later if they do something arrestible.
Most recently OCAP has been "organizing" around the city shelters policy, and especially the renovation of Seaton house. Their criticism of what the city is doing is not even coherent. They want more shelter beds and they want more low income housing.
With good reason, the city has decided that opening more homeless shelters solves nothing and more low income housing is what is needed in the central city. Toward this the city has taken some of the shelter space and turned it into housing. It seems some union leaders have been slipping OCAP some money because they are angry that the city's plans for Seaton house will reduce union jobs. For awhile this fall OCAP was absurdly preventing construction work to convert this space into new housing, under the rubric of demanding more housing.
OCAP also help delay construction of new housing by helping sleazy property speculators with a form of "block busting." A decrepit old building next door to Seaton house is needed for further expansion of the new low income housing project. It is owned by a real estate speculation company which wants exorbitant money for the property.
A group from OCAP, lead by Mark Brill, has been granted occupancy of the building, 311 George street, as a way of applying pressure to the city. The owner would really like to sell the tract for "redevelopment", presumably condominiums. So, OCAP is yelling " no more condos, low income housing" while aiding condo developers and helping to prevent construction of affordable housing.
As well, they have never noticed that no new condos are being built in that area and gentrification is stalled, for a variety of reasons. It is very hard to sell property around that area. But OCAP has never been much interested in facts.
They are "vanguardists", sometimes called Trotskyism or "fourth international" or "the permanent revolution". OCAP is now fully controlled by the people who have the idea that any solutions short of the violent overthrow of society are delusion. They are smarter and tougher than everybody else and they will keep agitating, and observing the response, until they find ways to get a riot going, get the police on the run, and turn it into a full scale revolution. Then they will be able to take power and try 1917 all over again. Of course, this time they will get it right.
Yes, they really do talk like this when they think you are one of them. They are not people you want to associate with. They are not people to donate money to. They are certainly not people to let your kids to community service placements with.
Why are they this year's golden screw recipients? This is a good year to call attention to all these phony super radical groups, of which OCAP is only the oldest and most notable. With evidence of economic deterioration coming, and a new wave of scapegoating and victimizing the old, poor, and sick, there is a need for a group like what the original founders of OCAP may have wanted to create.
What is really needed is an alternative to OCAP which can carry out direct actions, but which is not confused by ideology. It must be mentally and physically tough enough to not be coopted by the inevitable infiltration efforts by indoctrinated yo-yos. It needs to be focused on its goals, not on playing cat and mouse with the police.
However, OCAP is not going away any time soon. That likely will take a serious change in the social structure, so the pool of desperate and deranged people who can be recruited by OCAP is sharply reduced. Also, so that the police and judiciary can be trusted as protectors of rights, not as a danger to them, and more able to distinguish legitimate and illegitimate dissent and political activity.
Then it may be possible to do what really should be done about Clarke and the rest of the OCAP core group, and other groups like them. They should be placed under orders forbidding them to organize or participate in public demonstrations of any kind.