When the City of Ottawa installed speakers and started broadcasting muzak in busker Raymond Loomer’s favourite underpass, he cut the speaker wires one day in May 2009. He then taped the wire on the door of the office door of the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Area, a business lobby group that has waged a campaign to remove street people and performers from the city centre.
As a tin flute player, he was one of several buskers who relied on the unique acoustics of the downtown Ottawa underpass near the Rideau Centre shopping centre to make a living. Loomer is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He did not take kindly to having his live music replaced by a machine.
“They were playing music to interfere with our industry,” he said.
City police arrested Loomer and charged him with two counts of mischief under $5,000. He was convicted on May 25, 2010 with a sentence of 12 months probation and 20 hours community service. Loomer represented himself and has appealed, saying the city failed to provide bylaw information he could have used in his defense and that he has rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make a living and freedom of expression. He objected to the community service as “the slave style practices of government” for appropriating his labour power.
Loomer’s appeal will be heard on November 12, 2010 at the city courthouse.
Ottawa had introduced restrictive bylaws requiring street performers to get a license and perform in designated spots chosen by the city. Ontario’s Safe Streets Act, brought in to target squeegee kids, buskers and other street people making a living on the province’s streets, has set the stage for tighter controls on informal workers.
For more information, visit https://www.ottawaiww.org