This past weekend was my first trip back to Toronto in nearly a year. That’s because I avoided it like the plague.
Last year I was a student at the University of Toronto, but after the “events” that took place at the 2010 G20 there was no going back. On June 26th 2010, I was attacked by several police officers in full riot gear. I was ripped from the sidewalk outside of the Novotel in Toronto, pushed to the ground, shackled, crammed into a paddy wagon and illegally slammed in a dog cage for 24 hours.
But they went easy on me. That weekend I saw protesters get trampled by police horses in Queens Park. Activist John Pruyn had his prosthetic leg violently torn from his body and was told to “hop,” and then dragged away by police. I saw people get shot in the back with rubber bullets. There were people being dragged through horse shit and spat on by police. Arms were broken. People were snatched off of the sidewalks and taken away by police vans. Seamus Parker was arrested and initially charged (the charges were later dropped) for administering first aid…his gauze was allegedly his weapon! People’s heads were bashed in. Sean Salvati was made to parade naked in front of officers and was forced to endured illegal solitary confinement while completely naked. Women were violated by male officers. And I can’t tell you how much further the list goes on…
That weekend I got a taste of what it was like to be a political prisoner in my own country. To be forcibly ‘shut up’ by my own government because I did (and do) not think or feel the same way. As a progressive activist, it is at once both motivating and devastating to me to think that what I experienced is just the tip of the repression that so many in this world have to endure every single day.
Instead of returning to finish my studies at U of T the following September, I moved to Australia to clear my head. But how can a person clear their head of a thing like this. It was an ambitious effort. After spending some time on the other side of the world, I came to realize that in effect I was running away. Trying to forget about what happened to me and so many others that weekend was exactly the opposite of what I should have been doing.
If I, and my fellow activists, simply forgot about the police brutality at the G20, several things would have followed. First and foremost, we would have let arepressive, undemocratic Canadian government win. Doing nothing about this would be setting a regressive precedent that would have laid the groundwork for my children, and my children’s children’s rights to be trampled. Forgetting abuses like that, is the same as telling the O.P.P, the Toronto Police and the Harper government that what they did to us was okay. In doing nothing – we would have been just as guilty.
Well it’s not okay! What happened that fateful summer day was the largest assault on Canadian civil liberties in recent history. And if that wasn’t bad enough, my government didn’t even care enough to ‘look into it.’
I am still trying to work out why this all happened. I am trying to figure out why I was not given a reasonable chance to leave when the police kettled us, quarantining us between the Spaghetti Factory and the Novotel. Why when people were screaming and crying and begging the police to give them a way out, did the police just stare right through them. Why were they playing games with us? We were scared. Why were onlookers and passersby trapped for hours in the rain? Why were people targeted because they ‘looked gay’ or ‘like activists’ or because they wore black or spoke French? Why did the police attack us in the designated protest zone? Why were there bogus secret laws? Why were misdemeanours used to justify the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history? Why were we kept soaking wet for hours in a freezing dog cage, with no phone call or access to a lawyer for peacefully protesting? How come nobody has said sorry?
These are questions that everyone present that day and many others, want and deserve answers to. Instead, we have been left in the dark clinging to whatever pieces of information police chief Bill Blair or Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty or Stephen Harper will graciously slip us. So far, all calls for a full federal inquiry have been denied by all three parties mentioned above. Denied, denied, denied!
This lock down is unacceptable and categorically undemocratic! The people of Canada have the right to know who called the shots that day. We have the right to know how and why these mistakes were made. Regardless of how you feel about police actions that day, or whichever way your political compass may point, I think we can all agree that a full federal inquiry is needed.
This past Saturday, the one year anniversary of the G20, I attended the ‘G20 Redux’ in Queens Park in Toronto. The event was co-organized by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Canadians. That afternoon, hundreds of activists and supporters joined together to renew the call for a full public inquiry into police actions during last year’s G20.
The festival was a great success, with speakers such as Brigette DePape and Rabble.ca co-founder and activist Judy Rebick. The overall tone and energy of the event was positive, as it was organized as a festival rather than a protest. Emotions were still high however, especially in light of recent events in Vancouver. “We had some window breaking and cop car burning in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago… and you know what, six cop cars were burned and a hell of a lot more windows were broken and a lot of people were put in the hospital…and only 100 people were arrested…so you tell me!” Rebick stated in a heated speech. “Less damage, no attacks on persons at all! No violence. Just vandalism. We now have absolute evidence that the people arrested are political prisoners!” People cheered and held up signs like the one that read, “I know what you did last summer,” with an image of a bloodied police club on it.
After the gathering wound down a smaller group, myself included, broke off into a march around the city. The march included an eclectic mix of hundreds of people, united by a collective call for a full public inquiry. The march traced a similar route to the one taken at the G20, making its first stop at the intersection of Queen St. and Spadina Ave. The scene of the infamous police kettling of up to 500 people that took place on June 27th of last year. The march then chanted its way through the downtown core to Toronto Police headquarters. Upon arrival the group vehemently chanted for the resignation of police chief Bill Blair, who is widely blamed for the police “misconduct.” “Hey hey, ho ho, Bill Blair has got to go!” we cheered.
A Toronto Police Service (TPS) report addressing police actions during the G20, released last Thursday, is filled with excuses as to why shit hit the fan that weekend. In the report, Bill Blair blames most of the “disorder” on Stephen Harper, who he claims changed the location of the summit on too short notice. “In June of 2008, Prime Minister Harper announced that Canada would host the 2010 G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario, on June 25 and June 26, allowing policing authorities in that region two years to plan the event,” Blair wrote. “In December 2009, the Prime Minister announced that Toronto would host the 2010 G20 Summit on June 26 and June 27. This gave the Toronto Police Service (TPS) six months to plan for the largest security event in Canadian history.”
I would like Mr. Blair to explain how lack of planning explains police leaving shop owners to fend for themselves, while they arrested a 20 year old social worker for blowing bubbles. I would like to know how it justifies bashing in the heads of peaceful protesters. I think six months ought to be enough time to teach your staff not to do that. The report offers no explanation as to why Black Bloc tactics went ignored, why police badges were removed from more than 108 officer uniforms and why bystanders were snatched from the streets and thrown into cages.
No, this just wont do, Mr. Blair. We have questions and we want answers. If the Toronto Police Service won’t answer these questions for us, who will? We want a full public inquiry into the events that unfolded that transformative weekend. We want accountability, understanding, justice and closure.