By Henrieta Paukov
St. James Park in Toronto, adjacent to St. James Cathedral, is always a lively place, providing a leafy refuge for people walking their dogs, homeless people, parents with strollers, students from a nearby college, and the occasional film crew. Since Oct. 15, the park has been even busier, with protesters associated with Occupy Toronto setting up camp, complete with a media tent, a library, a food tent and portable toilets.
Occupy Toronto is a grassroots movement calling for an end to political and economic iniquities, mirroring similar movements worldwide. “We recognize that the movement is constructive, it is useful and it is necessary,” says the Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, rector of St. James Cathedral and the dean of Toronto. “It is happening everywhere. And we are delighted to welcome people on the grounds of the cathedral, providing it’s peaceful and dignified. And it has been, all along the way.” He points out that the cathedral has been “for 200 years, a place of generosity and hospitality, a place where conversations take place—theological, social, and political—and this is merely one aspect of that.”
With that in mind, the clergy and staff of St. James Cathedral have treated the protesters cordially, sharing electricity, welcoming some to worship services and providing Taizé candles for the camp’s spirituality tent. After one worship service, the protesters invited the Rev. Lisa Wang, an associate priest at the cathedral, to visit the camp and speak to them.
In a letter to the surrounding community, posted on the cathedral’s website, Dean Stoute explains that the anger some neighbours feel toward the cathedral in connection with Occupy Toronto is “misplaced,” as the cathedral does not have the power to evict the protesters.
“Even if we did have that power, we would be very reluctant to invoke it,” continues Dean Stoute in the letter. “We believe that we are blessed to live in a society where peaceful conversation can take place publicly and where citizens are free to voice their concerns without fear of violence or reprisals.”