by Bruce Wark
The director of a film about a notable Canadian labour protest says he deliberately linked the historic events of 1935 to police repression at last summer’s G20 summit in Toronto. Alan Segal was speaking last night during a screening of his documentary Trek at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax.
The film shows a scene in which a Toronto cop was caught on camera threatening to arrest a young woman for blowing soap bubbles in his direction. “If the bubble touches me, you’re going to be arrested for assault,” he warns. “You’re gonna be in handcuffs, all right?" His voice rising in anger, he adds, “You touch me with that bubble and you’re going into custody.”
More than a thousand people were rounded up and held during the G20 protests, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.
Segal's film also depicts events 75 years earlier, during the Great Depression, when unemployed workers confined to relief camps in British Columbia went on strike demanding decent pay and better living and working conditions. The strikers were being paid only 20 cents a day to construct roads and public buildings. In April 1935, they marched to Vancouver, where they demanded that they be covered by workers’ compensation for workplace injuries and given the right to vote in federal elections.
In June 1935, more than a thousand strikers climbed atop railway boxcars to take their protests to Ottawa. As their numbers grew along the way, the Conservative government of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett ordered the railways and police to stop them. Bennett’s orders resulted in a bloody police riot in Regina on July 1, 1935, putting an end to the “On-to-Ottawa Trek.”
After last night’s showing, director Segal and his producer, Elroy Deimert, said the denial of labour and human rights of the Dirty Thirties is still relevant today, especially after Tuesday’s election of a right-wing Conservative majority government with views and policies similar to R.B. Bennett’s. Diebert is also the author of Pubs, Pulpits & Prairie Fires, a novel based on the On-to-Ottawa Trek. The film screening was part of the Halifax Mayworks festival, sponsored by the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council.