[imc-ontario-stories] 7 Year Squat Update
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Sun Oct 24 12:24:44 PDT 2004
This is two stories sent to me via the ACA list.
First one is kind of disturbing in the writers view but the second is
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jamie Kneen" <jkneen at magma.ca>
To: "ACA" <aca-list at lists.mutualaid.org>
Sent: Sunday, October 24, 2004 2:53 PM
Subject: [Aca-list] Citizen: 246 Gilmour: 'The Occupation'
> Date: Sun, 24 Oct 2004 14:14:51 -0400
> From: Bob Thomson <bthomson at rogers.com>
> Subject: Citizen: 246 Gilmour: 'The Occupation'
> 246 Gilmour: 'The Occupation'
> A clash of opposing world views: Five accused calling themselves The Seven
> Year Squat take over a Gilmour Street house belonging to a man more
> preoccupied with caring for his dying parents than the vacant building.
> They face a 20-count indictment for the act, and fight it in court. After
> three weeks of testimony and 66 hours of deliberation, a jury of seven
> women and five men can't reach a decision on 18 counts, and acquit on two
> others. Says the owner of the house: 'How in the world do you explain that
> to me?'
> Ron Corbett
> The Ottawa Citizen
> October 23, 2004
> PHOTO CREDIT: Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen
> Richard Davis stands amid the rubble where the house at 246 Gilmour St.
> once stood. He scoffs at the suggestion by one of the squatters that he is
> '$200,000 richer' after selling the house. 'Rich on this house? You have
> to be kidding me,' he says.
> Two days ago, a jury foreman stood in courtroom 36 of the Elgin Street
> courthouse and said yes, on some of the charges, the jury had reached a
> The court registrar then began reading the 20-count indictment. The five
> accused, the courtroom filled behind them with friends, family members and
> supporters, craned forward in their chairs to listen.
> The jury had been deliberating for nearly three days. The deliberations
> had started after a three-week trial and, clearly, there had been some
> sort of debate in the jury room on what all the evidence and testimony had
> Crown attorney David Elhadad had tried to make it a straightforward legal
> case. The five accused took over a vacant house during G8 protests in
> Ottawa two years ago. They occupied the house without the owner's
> permission. They damaged the house. They refused to leave when police came
> to evict them.
> He had the evidence to back up those claims. All of the accused had been
> videotaped at the house, during the week of what came to be known as the
> "occupation." Some had given media interviews.
> Damage started with the word "SQUAT" spray-painted on the front of the old
> Tudor home, and you could move inside after that to see more graffiti --
> "Capitalism kills;" "Harm no one;" "Vegan militia."
> As for obstructing a police officer in the performance of their lawful
> duties, how about four of the five defendants refusing to leave the house
> when police came to evict them, that captured on videotape as well. One of
> the accused could even be seen giving the police the finger.
> There was a time when the case must have seemed a slam dunk.
> And yet the jury had been out for three nights. Clearly, something the
> defence had argued was giving them problems.
> It wasn't a skilled lawyer who had done the arguing. Which was surprising
> as well. Calling themselves the Seven Year Squat (a reference to how long
> the house on Gilmour Street had been left vacant), Dan Sawyer, Amanda
> Hiscocks, Rachelle Sauve, Amy Miller, and Nick Ackerley had defended
> themselves during the trial.
> They argued the house had been vacant for so long, in the middle of an
> affordable housing "crisis" in Ottawa, that there was a community need for
> the home that outweighed the rights of the homeowner.
> They argued the legal concepts of necessity -- a dire situation
> necessitated the breaking of the law -- and colour of right -- they had an
> honest belief they were not breaking the law.
> As defence witnesses, they called Ottawa Councillor Clive Doucet and
> former Public Service Alliance of Canada vice-president John Baglow. In
> their closing comments, they asked the jury to send a message about
> homelessness, and to acquit.
> In his closing address, Mr. Elhadad had asked them to uphold the Criminal
> Code of Canada, and convict.
> The jury had then left the courtroom, where now, 66 hours later, they were
> about to render their verdict.
> "On the first count of the indictment," said the court registrar, "how do
> you find?"
> The jury foreman, a young man dressed in jeans and a golf shirt, looked at
> the piece of paper in his hands and said:
> "Unable to agree."
> And then in response to the registrar's reading of the charges, he
> repeated the phrase seventeen times.
> When all the charges had been read, only two verdicts were rendered. Both
> Mr. Sawyer and Ms. Hiscocks were acquitted of criminal mischief causing
> After 28 months, five weeks of court time, untold sums of money spent on
> investigation and prosecution; after reams of media coverage and
> impassioned arguments on both sides; after one of the largest street
> protests in Ottawa's history and the commandeering of a private home as
> part of that protest; after the first public "squat" in the city's history
> and the police crackdown against it; the jury had come to this conclusion
> on what it all meant:
> We have no idea.
> It was a wet summer day, with torrential rains sweeping in from the
> Gatineau Hills, the sort of rain that stripped leaves and stung the skin,
> and while some made jokes afterwards that the people who took over 246
> Gilmour St. were merely looking for shelter, it was much more organized
> than that, as the banners that quickly hung from the third-floor balcony
> will attest.
> It was shortly after 2 p.m., June 26, 2002. Three thousand kilometres
> away, in Kananaskis, Alta., leaders of the G8 nations were holding their
> annual summit. In Ottawa, thousands of protesters -- unable to gain access
> to the mountain resort where then-prime minister Jean Chretien, U.S.
> President George W. Bush and the other leaders were meeting -- were
> marching on downtown streets, in a "snake parade" that meandered through
> the downtown core for hours.
> Gilmour Street was teeming with people when the first banner was unfurled.
> It read "Seven Year Squat." Before long, a crowd of people could be seen
> on the balcony of the boarded-up building.
> The "snake march" seemed to stop, while people began milling on the front
> lawn of the three-storey, red-brick house.
> Police surveillance teams were dispatched to the street and began
> videotaping, although the crucial first few minutes of the occupation were
> never caught on film. By the time police cameras arrived, a
> slogan-chanting throng had surrounded the house. It was difficult to even
> get a good sight line to the front porch.
> By 2:30 p.m., radio reports were mentioning the takeover of a house on
> Gilmour Street by G8 protesters. Minutes later, Richard Davis received a
> phone call from a friend, who told him to turn on the radio. While he
> listened, he started driving to the nearest on-ramp to the Queensway.
> When he reached Gilmour Street, Mr. Davis saw what he suspected --
> the house being occupied was his. He found a police officer, told him
> this, and the officer went to find another officer, who went to find
> another officer. Before long, he was surrounded by cops, one with a
> bullhorn asking him if he wanted the protesters removed, Mr. Davis saying
> yes, he wanted them removed, and then the snake march seemed to move like
> water around them, like some organism that had become agitated and, out
> the corner of his eye, Mr. Davis saw black-clad tactical officers getting
> out of a van, beginning to l ineup.
> Mr. Davis leaned in to the officer with the bullhorn, and in what would
> turn out to be a fateful decision, while straining to be overheard, asked:
> "Is this is the best time to be doing this?"
> Ottawa police never interfered with the occupation of 246 Gilmour St. on
> June 26, or the following day, when equally large protests were held on
> the streets of Ottawa.
> The snake parade on the second day of the G8 protests -- an even more
> intemperate day than the previous -- wound down Gilmour Street several
> times, the protesters clapping and whistling every time they reached the
> house. During the worst parts of the rainstorm, the march even seemed to
> decamp at 246 Gilmour, the house overflowing with people seeking shelter.
> By June 28, dozens of people were living in the house. The upper-floor
> balcony -- it was a tudor-style revival, with dark-wood beams and cream
> stucco -- had the word SQUAT spray-painted on it. Banners hung from the
> roof. A garden had been planted.
> It was on this day -- with the meetings in Kananaskis finished and
> downtown Ottawa open to traffic for the first time in two days --
> that Ottawa police got back in touch with Richard Davis and made a
> "I got a phone call from a police officer, asking if I still wanted the
> squatters evicted," he remembers. "I told them I did. They asked if I
> would be willing to come to the house, meet the squatters and tell them
> "I said if that would help, I would. Whatever they thought was best."
> The meeting that took place that day, between Mr. Davis and the squatters,
> was filmed by police. The videotape was played several times at the trial
> and is strangely moving.
> Mr. Davis, flanked by police officers, looking nervous and uncertain,
> strides to the middle of Gilmour Street, where three protesters are
> waiting for him. He keeps the conversation short, as the police have
> suggested, just a succinct request to leave, so they have it on tape, and,
> when he does as he's been asked, the protesters seem shocked by his
> brevity, by his mechanical tone.
> One protester asks Mr. Davis if he realizes there is a seven-year-wait for
> subsidized housing in Ottawa. Another asks his position on homelessness.
> Another asks if he intends to keep the house vacant for another seven
> His eyes grow wide as he gets peppered by questions but he says nothing,
> as the police have suggested, just stands there mute until a police
> officer finally moves him away.
> As he leaves, one of the squatters yells :
> "We should call this house the Richard Davis fiasco."
> It was a grand house once. Richard Davis remembers it well.
> His parents bought it in 1958, a large sturdy house with three apartments,
> the upper being perhaps one of the nicest three-bedrooms in Centretown, a
> glorious space with large, sunny rooms and dark, hardwood floors. His
> parents moved into one-half of the house themselves, in 1967, and he lived
> there for the next two years, while attending school.
> All told, his parents lived in the house for 23 years. There was still
> some of their furniture and family pictures in the house, when it was
> occupied in 2002.
> They left in 1990, his mother's failing health necessitating the move. His
> father's health went at the same time. What followed for Richard Davis, a
> now-retired real estate agent, was a long period of caregiving and sad,
> manic days.
> "My mother had Alzheimer's," he says, standing in the vacant lot that is
> now 246 Gilmour St. "We didn't realize it at first, but that's what it
> was. That's a horrible disease. I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
> His mother, once so meticulous with the household finances, forgot to pay
> bills. She let tenants go months without paying rent. In August 1995, the
> last tenant at 246 Gilmour St. just disappeared, and she never noticed,
> until hydro turned off the power in the apartment for non-payment and the
> pipes froze that November.
> It was around this time that Mr. Davis was given power of attorney over
> his mother's affairs.
> "That's one thing I don't think has ever been made clear enough in the
> media," he says. "I never owned this house. It was my mother's. Then it
> became part of her estate.
> "I was terribly limited in what I could do with it. As soon as I got power
> of attorney, I find out there's no income coming in, and a plumber is
> telling me it's going to cost $40,000 to fix the pipes. That's what I
> walked into."
> And so the work was put on hold. Until things settled down. Until there
> was a bit of breathing space to figure everything out.
> In the summer of 2002, seven years later, his mother's will was still
> being probated.
> "Do I wish now I had made some sort of court application, to sell the
> house back in the '90s?" says Mr. Davis. "Of course I do. I could have
> avoided all of this if I had. The house would probably still be here as
> He then looks around the vacant lot, says it is the first time he has been
> back since the new owner tore down the house; it's strange, the lot is
> smaller than he would have thought, and then he adds: "Problem was, my
> parents were dying. This house just wasn't high on my list of priorities."
> After the videotaped meeting between Mr. Davis and the three squatters,
> the police again decided against evicting the squatters.
> Nor did they do anything to pressure them for the next four days. During
> that time, according to the five people eventually charged with occupying
> the house, a "miraculous transformation" took place at 246 Gilmour St.
> "Let's be clear here," says Dan Sawyer, who admits to being one of the
> first on the scene the day the house was occupied. "Mr. Davis did not go
> the corner store for a loaf of bread and not come back. That house had
> been abandoned for seven years.
> "We did more with that house in seven days than he had in nearly a
> When it came time for trial, that was part of their defence. The squatters
> took an abandoned house and transformed it into something beautiful, a
> community formed around it, shelter was provided for people who needed it,
> even gardens were planted in those seven days.
> If the police had let them stay, the transformation would have continued.
> They were just beginning to pain tthewalls.Just
> beginning to st ripthewallpaper.
> Supporters were gathering around them as well. City Councillor Clive
> Doucet came by and later wrote a letter praising their "eloquent protest."
> The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which has its headquarters directly
> across the street, let the protesters use its washrooms and brought them
> sandwiches. PSAC vice-president John Baglow even brought over an African
> violet, as a sort of house-warming present.
> By July 2, it even appeared one of the squatters' core demands was about
> to be met. Police told them a meeting had been arranged with Ottawa Mayor
> Bob Chiarelli and ex-councillor Alex Munter, head of the city's social
> services committee.
> When three of the squatters reached city hall that day, though, neither
> the mayor nor Mr. Munter attended the meeting. Two city bureaucrats sat in
> for them. In court, Mr. Sawyer described the mood of both the squatters
> and the police after the meeting as "great disappointment."
> A feeling of listlessness drifted over Gilmour Street. An awaiting of the
> next move.
> At 2:38 a.m., it came.
> The jury that eventually decided the fate of the five people charged with
> occupying 246 Gilmour St. consisted of seven women and five men. A guess
> at their ages would put half below the age of 40, and half above. A couple
> looked prosperous. A couple less so.
> It seemed a good, representative jury, and yet rather than reaching
> consensus on what happened at 246 Gilmour St. in the summer of 2002, they
> became polarized.
> Of course, two worlds colliding would not be a unique occurrence in this
> story. The word colliding isn't even accurate. It's more like two worlds
> piledriving into each other. It's the theme of the story.
> At times the conflict seemed humorous, like when crown attorney Elhadad
> asked the judge to enforce courtroom decorum and get the defendants to
> remove a bobblehead doll from the defence table. (He lost the case, but
> won the bobblehead motion.)
> At times, it seemed all too real and threatening, like in the many police
> videotapes entered as evidence, the ones where young police officers were
> routinely surrounded during the G8 protests by masked, brick-taunting
> And other times it seemed sad and unnecessary, like the encounter between
> Richard Davis and the squatters on the third day of the occupation, when
> he followed police advice and did not engage them in conversation.
> In a later interview, Mr. Davis tells me he knows Dan Sawyer, from Octopus
> Bookstore in the Glebe, when Mr. Sawyer used to work there and he would go
> in from time to time to browse. He is a well-read man, enjoys a good
> debate, and he says he has nothing against Mr. Sawyer personally, or the
> other defendants for that matter, even respects them a little for coming
> to court, instead of running away, as some others did.
> The more he talks, the more I begin to wonder if there was a missed
> opportunity here, a chance of reconciling two world views, or at the very
> least, understanding the other view.
> It is an opportunity none of the protesters ever thought of pursuing. To
> this day, none of the five accused have ever talked to Mr. Davis, outside
> of questioning him in the courtroom.
> "I have nothing against Dan Sawyer or the other defendants," he says at
> the end of the interview. "I just think they should have talked to me
> before they moved into my house."
> The eviction of the squatters by Ottawa police in the early morning hours
> of July 3, and the subsequent arrest of 21 of them, was all captured on
> police videotape.
> Dan Sawyer was the first arrested, on the street in front of the house.
> Mandy Hiscocks was arrested next, found under several mattresses
> barricading the front door of 246 Gilmour.
> Nick Ackerley, Amy Miller and Rachelle Sauve (with the exception of Mr.
> Ackerley, all of the defendants are former university students in Ottawa)
> were arrested upon leaving the house at the end of the police
> intervention, seven hours later.
> The jury saw police enter the house by way of a battering ram through the
> front door while, at the same time, a fire department aerial crane smashed
> through a back window. Tear gas canisters were then fired into the house.
> For a long time that morning, as the sky brightened over what looked like
> a battle scene, the squatters were filmed craning their heads out a
> window, coughing and retching from the tear gas. While the Crown
> maintained it was a measured and proper police response to the situation,
> several of the jury members could be seen squirming uncomfortably at the
> And then, near the end of the videotape, near the end of the occupation
> itself, there came another of those perfect vignettes of two worlds
> "Come down, you've made your point," a police officer can be heard yelling
> to the squatters. And then Ms. Miller, a handkerchief in her hand, can be
> heard screaming back:
> "No, you've made your point."
> One hour later, the occupation was finished.
> Two days later, Mr. Davis returned to 246 Gilmour to retrieve some
> personal belongings and assess any damage done to the house.
> While he was there, a middle-aged woman parked her minivan, then walked
> over to a police officer and asked if she could get into the house to
> retrieve her daughter's sweater. Apparently it was her favourite.
> That same morning, Mr. Davis says, John Baglow also strode over from his
> office in the PSAC building, to ask a cop if he could get back his African
> Later that summer, Mr. Davis sold the house. The selling price was
> $200,000, half of what he could have sold it for when his mother first
> became ill; $55,000 less than he claimed to have had a firm offer to
> purchase, just days before the house was occupied.
> In their closing arguments, Ms. Hiscocks told the jury Mr. Davis sold the
> house and became "$200,000 richer."
> When he is told this, he laughs.
> "Ask her if she's heard of capital gains," he says. "Ask her if she's
> heard of property taxes. Ask her if she knows what an estate is. Rich on
> this house? You have to be kidding me."
> At one point during the three days of jury deliberations, while the five
> accused played Scrabble in the courtroom cafeteria, I asked them if they
> had any sympathy for Mr. Davis.
> "Sure I do," said Ms. Miller. "But the larger issue is the housing crisis
> in Ottawa. That's what matters most. Not Mr. Davis."
> Because it is against the law to publicly talk about its deliberations, it
> is impossible to know what troubled the jury about this case. The tension
> between some of the jury members seemed palpable in the courtroom when
> they read their verdict, but beyond that it's a mug's guessing game.
> Did some of the jury members buy the argument of necessity -- that the
> affordable housing situation in Ottawa is so dire the law needed to be
> Or did they simply get tripped up by reasonable doubt, as sometimes
> happens to a jury, anything less than a sign from God now suddenly
> The verdict was the final clash of opposing world views, and Mr. Davis,
> for one, will never understand it.
> "I didn't want any of the accused going to jail. They didn't do this to
> better themselves," he says. "But to be found not guilty of anything, how
> in the world can you explain that to me? How can they take over my house
> and not be guilty of anything?"
> As for the accused, the Crown can still retry them on the 18 charges that
> deadlocked the jury, and has until Dec. 3 to decide on going ahead with
> another trial. If so, Mr. Sawyer says they will gladly come back and go
> through the whole process again.
> "We beat them once," he said in front of the courthouse after the verdict.
> "We can beat them again."
> Ron Corbett can be reached at 726-6863, or by e-mail at
> rcorbett at thecitizen. canwest.com
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