Toronto Tamil Demonstration

    An image from one of the huge Tamil demonstrations held recently to urge the Canadian government to get more involved in the human tragedy unfolding in Sri Lanka.

    For days large numbers of Tamils have been gathering at points in the city then almost spontaneously moving to block traffic on major arteries as a way of calling attention to the unfolding horror in Sri Lanka.

    A large crowd on foot even walked up an on-ramp onto the Gardiner Expressway - a 6 lane highway that is the major artery into the downtown area - bringing the on-coming traffic, which was moving at highway speed, screeching to a halt and causing gridlock for hours (It took the intervention of the leader of the official opposition party to get them to come off the road)

    Here they are moving down Yonge Street, a main North/South route.

    The reason I was at Yonge and Queen St. that night was to shoot a red carpet event scheduled for the theatre in the background. I turned the corner and ... bam, ten thousand people are marching right over where it's supposed to happen.

    Obviously that plan never got off the ground.

    With large crowds shots like this it's best to find some kind of focus for the shot. I went up to a riot squad officer and asked if I could step out in front of them to do a shot of the line of police officers in the foreground, demonstrators behind (what the heck, I thought it was worth a try:)

    Got a predictably frosty response to that, and any other requests to somehow get around the line of police officers standing shoulder to shoulder blocking the view of the marchers, despite offering them press credentials.

    So moving up the street I found an opening in the police cordon and just stepped out into the flow of people joining the demonstrators. I slowly drifted down Yonge street, carried along by a human river of people, accompanied by polyrythmic drumming, chants and slogans shouted through megphones. Every so often I'd stop to shoot images as people moved around and past me.

    This shot was done with the Olympus E30 at 800 ISO, in live view with the flip out LCD angled downwards so I could hold the camera above head level. The lens used was the very sharp and lightweight Digital Zuiko 9-18mm lens.

    I think the Toronto Police are doing a superb job handling this emotional situation. They are out in force - and the riot police definitely don't look like a group you want to mess with - but are allowing a lot of leeway as these Canadian citizens go about exercising their right to call attention to what is happening in their homeland. It's a fine line, and Toronto's cops are showing the disciplne and planning that proves them to be a very professional police force.

    Toronto is home to one of the largest Tamil populations outside of Sri Lanka. Emotions among the demonstrators were very high. Numerous people stopped to talk to me, hand out press releases or gruesome photos from the war zone in Sri Lanka, and many tearfully thanked me for helping to focus attention on this human tragedy.

    All in all, a much more satisfying shoot than the just another red carpet event to feed our celebrity besotted culture.
    Earlier in the day I had been at the ROM photographing the opening of the Schad Gallery for Biodiversity, a major exhibit calling attention to the accelerating rate of species extinction.

    Some days you shoot nonsense all day long, other days you get to do important stuff that might play a small role in a much bigger drama.

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