TORONTO - Lots of people gathered and marched in protest. At least 500 in the Church parking lot at first glance; probably closer to 1,000 judging by the 200-metre long trail of marchers along the designated route 4 abreast.
They wanted to express their strong objections to Villa Charities Inc’s plans to demolish Columbus Centre. And did so peacefully and respectfully along the 1.5-kilometre route.
It was an eclectic mix of people: young and those who used to be; academics, lawyers, bankers, professionals, entrepreneurs, teachers, homemakers, retirees, men, women, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Protestants, members of the Columbus Centre, local residents and others from as far away as Concord, Woodbridge, Scarborough, Mississauga and Burlington.
They were joined, in a multi-party show of support, by Mayor John Tory (Conservative), and Councillor Josh Colle. Ministers (Liberals) Laura Albanese and Steven Del Duca, already previously committed to other transportation related town hall meetings, sent their regrets. Former MPP Odoardo Di Santo (NDP) marched with the group, as did another former MPP, Laureano Leone (Liberal). Toronto Catholic District School Board Vice-Chair, Frank D’Amico, also stopped by for a “first-hand look” at the level of protest. Gina…, newly minted President of the COMITES was also there.
Any politician “worth his/her salt” would have been impressed with the size, and conduct, of the crowd turn-out. Local MPP, Mike Colle, sponsor of the event, along with Ian Mac Donald of the CASA group should have been pleased, and were, with the response.
Strangely absent were the PC Leader – reportedly “tight” with several Board members of Villa Charities, among them Con Di Nino and Sam Ciccolini – his nominated candidates from the community, and Angela Kennedy Chair, of the TDCSB, and now also PC candidate. They got the memo.
Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the marchers. Several Media outlets gloried in the news bites showered upon them by eager protesters ready to tell the story: the “little guy” pushing back against the “big bully” - an arrogant and rogue Board of Governors at Villa Charities Inc.
VCI countered with a tactic that can only be termed [kindly] as puerile, asinine and spiteful. It peppered boulevards along the route with signs that resembled those carried by the marchers, but inscribed with the words “reimagine…” as if to say “andate a quel paese”.
Neither the Chair, Aldo Cundari, nor the CEO, Anthony De Caita, seemed to think it opportune to come out of hiding to address the crowd. Yet, they too were alerted in time.
They may have found solace in not being alone. Villa Charities, which bills itself as the “Voice of the Community”, has been silent for some time. So has the National Congress of Italian Canadians, and, for that matter, Centro Scuola, the Canadian Business and Professional Association and the Italian Canadian Chamber of Commerce (Ontario).
Others were/are not so reticent. As word that the Ontario Municipal Board has set the date, December 16, for a first hearing on the VCI-TCDSB project wend its way among the marchers, it released a suppressed anger among some demonstrators.
One in particular took a bullhorn, and turning in the direction of the main entrance of the Columbus Centre yelled out “thieves, liars, shame on you!”