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As Many As 10,000 Protestors Create Commuter Chaos At Union Station During Afternoon Rush Hour
Friday January 30, 2009
It has been an extraordinary day in the downtown core, a spectacle rarely if ever seen in this city. The cause: a day long downtown-wide massive protest by Canadian Sri Lankans, designed to attract attention to what they call acts of genocide in their homeland.
The human chain demonstration stretched from Bloor St. to University Ave. and Yonge St. and snaked all the way to Front.
But it was at that final destination that the crowds truly tried to make their point. As many 5-10,000 people wound up at Union Station, causing such an overwhelming sea of humanity that police were forced to close off the roadway for a time.
Mounted units, traffic cops and even the RIDE spotcheck command post were all called into action while chaos prevailed around the transit hub. The assembled multitude was peaceful, a remarkable achievement for such a large gathering, but it was inside the typical transit hubs where chaos reigned.
Police were able to finally open a small corridor to allow pedestrians and travellers to get through.
A man named George was one of those caught in the gridlock while attending a library convention downtown. He didn't seem to mind the inconvenience it caused. "I'll support the protesters, it's a good cause," he confirms. "But, you know what? There's thousands of people that have been affected."
But while police did their best to clear the way, when commuters finally did get down to Union Station it was hardly clear sailing. It was so crowded in the subway the line waiting to get in stretched all the way back to the area where passengers pay their fares.
And it was almost as bad uptown. Busy Bloor Station was so filled with passengers, the TTC was forced to stop all its trains before they entered the station to ensure safety.
It was a long day for authorities, who were hopping since the protest began earlier in the morning. Drivers were also affected, as the protestors kept to the sidewalk but provided an endless visual distraction for blocks.
It was an amazing sight, all the more so because it stayed so peaceful. "There are probably thousands, tens of thousands of Tamils here all trying to bring some attention to their cause," confirmed CityNews reporter Francis D'Souza at the height of the madness. "You can see them on the street corners here trying to hand out pamphlets just to let people know what they're actually talking about."
He believes they more than achieved their aims. "Their message is 'stop Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka.' If that's what they wanted, that's what they're getting right now. Because the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use Union Station every day are trying to get through and listening to their message."
How busy was it at the height of the protest? D'Souza reveals he was forced to get out of the CityNews vehicle and walk to the scene. His cameraman and all his equipment didn't get through the gridlock until 25 minutes later.
The protestors had promised their massive march would end at 6pm. True to their word, as the dinner hour struck, the crowds slowly began to disperse and left the area, creating yet more headaches for an already swollen public transit system.