It’s been over a year and people are still talking about the mass mobilization of protest and the repressive tactics used by authorities at the Toronto G20 Summit. Justin Saunders and Joseph Cami were there with a film crew and their documentary Tales from the G20 screens tonight in Montreal at Cinema Politica at Concordia.
Stephanie Laughlin interviewed Saunders and Cami about the film, what happened at the G20, what it means for the future of activism, the Occupy movement and upcoming projects.
Stephanie Laughlin: What was your role at the G20?
Justin Saunders\ Joseph Cami: As filmmakers, we wore the hats of documentarians, not demonstrators, trying to portray the G20 reality on our side of the fence with an open mind and a sincere interest in the voices we encountered along the way. But in the lead up to the G20, many of the people involved in the project were also involved with the mobilization itself.
SL: Why did you feel it was necessary to make this film?
JS\JC: This film was made collectively both as an exercise in counter-propaganda and as an attempt to make a high-production value documentary that deals with street protests. We were particularly interested in breaking the usual ‘riot porn’ framework that is common in activist-oriented media. The film itself seeks to explore the militarization of public space, and how the quashing of dissent has become an accepted and unchallenged reality in our society, especially in a context where state and corporate media spin and/or outright deny these problems even exist.
But most of the issues and voices found in the film are simply representations of what we found along the way, along the march, with our cameras on and our minds open to the possibility that perhaps the reason why the wall was erected was not to keep people out, but rather to keep out the ideas about equality and justice that many protestors were there to defend.
SL: How did the Toronto G20 affect the future of protests?
JS\JC: The G20 Summit had a deep impact on the political climate in the city. Certainly, the dissent it prompted had not been seen for at least 10 years, since the anti-poverty actions organized by OCAP and the infamous Queen’s Park Riot. So to some extent this was a refocusing moment for social movements in the city, and a number of Torontonians were politicized as a result of the heavy-handed state repression of dissent.
Yet this repression also had a chilling effect on grassroots activism, as several prominent community organizers were arrested and charged with conspiracy, and now face the prospect of lengthy prison sentences, imposed for the ‘crime’ of helping to facilitate the logistics of a large-scale demonstration.
SL: What are your thoughts about the future of the occupy movement?
JS\JC: There is a tremendous amount of possibility in this current movement, and it has already achieved a measure of longevity, broad support and widespread adoption; there are also obvious relationships to existing anti-austerity and pro-democracy struggles in Europe, North Africa, the
Middle East and elsewhere. However, there is a pressing need for serious political education in this newly politicized constituency, as well as a danger that these occupations will become too inwardly focused.
Their success will depend on the degree to which they can build momentum for external action, and make connections to other movements. By the same token, it is incumbent on experienced social justice activists to help with this process. There has been a notable lack of such participation thus far.
SL: Is this film screening again anywhere soon?
JS: The film is available to Cinema Politica locals for programming in their respective cities. We would also like to have another screening in Toronto sometime during the winter. We also hope that other festivals will pick it up.
SL: Any future projects you can talk about?
JS\JC: We recently completed a project about the emergence of the surveillance state in Canada. It’s a short documentary series that is part of a broader campaign to draw attention to Orwellian legislation being rammed through Parliament by Canada’s ruling Conservative Party. The films are online at unlawfulaccess.net
We also have a feature-length documentary film in the works about surveillance and and the closing down of a democratic society.
Tales from the G20 screens along with END: CIV tonight in Montreal at Cinema Politica, Concordia University, 1455 deMaisonneuve West, room H-110, for full CP Schedule, please visit cinemapolitica.org
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.
A couple of days after the G20 summit ended in Toronto, a story surfaced through journalist Amy Miller about female prisoners (arrested while peacefully protesting) being strip searched in the presence of male cops. We reported it here as did several other media outlets. Now, we can put at least two faces to the story: those of Maryse and Jacynthe Poisson.
The two 21-year-old students, twin sisters in fact, who also work with childred and marginalized people respectively, told La Presse how they were arrested while they slept in a gymnasium at the University of Toronto on the Sunday morning along with 200 other women. Apparently they had made the mistake of booking their transport to Toronto on a bus organized by the CLAC, something which is not a crime under any definition.
While in custody, they were strip-searched twice, one time with the door open, not given enough food and had their shoes, bras and Jacynthe’s glasses taken from them, none of which were returned upon their release almost 60 hours later. The Toronto Police also refused to return their IDs. At the end of the ordeal, after forcing the sisters to sign a document, a police officer, presumably either ignorant of what was going on or just on some sort of absurd adrenaline rush quipped: “next time, commit your crimes in Quebec!”
Just what crimes was he referring to? Protesting the G20? Can’t be that, that is every citizen’s right in a free democracy. Maybe he was referring to the crimes of depriving people of their human rights and sexual abuse (what else would you call an unwarranted strip-search). If so, he should have addressed his comments to the officers responsible for what happened to the sisters and not the protesters themselves.
This story, while a particularly appalling example of police oppression, is in no way an isolated incident. With countless stories of illegal arrest and detainment circulating and politicians and police officials acting like they did nothing wrong, it can’t be stressed enough that if you have a complaint related to G20 policing or know someone who does, this is the last day to file it. You can find out how to do so here:
The Toronto Police Department is scheduled to release a list today of ten people most wanted in connection with violence at the G20 Summit. We’ve obtained an advanced copy, so here are the top five:
1. Stephen Harper: Wanted for scheduling his photo-op in a city that didn’t want it and where he knew there would be trouble. He knew that he could use that trouble as an excuse to bring on violent police repression which would show the world and his opponents that he could and would do anything he wants, minority government and individual rights not withstanding. Yeah, Harper’s a bully, but he’s also an extravagant one who spent more than a billion taxpayer dollars on this disaster.
2. The Conservative Party of Canada: Wanted for trying to filibuster a federal inquiry into police actions and tactics during the G20. Good thing the opposition parties still want to make this an issue, even withstanding accusations by the Tories that they’re somehow in cahoots with anarchist window smashers by wanting answers on why over 1000 people, mostly peaceful protesters and a few random Torontonians, were arrested for no reason whatsoever and in some cases threatened and beaten. Honestly, do the Conservatives really think people are that stupid?
4. Most mainstream media and several politicians: Wanted for propagating the myth that all that happened in Toronto was a bunch of anarchists breaking and burning stuff and doing nothing about the detainees. Jean Charest, for example, didn’t do anything and a good number of those arrested were from Quebec. Thankfully Amir Khadir of Quebec Solidaire did speak up and even posted bail, which got activist Jaggi Singh released.
5. The Toronto Police Bureaucracy: Wanted for continuing to go on the offensive against some protesters, who they didn’t want to stop when they were committing the acts that they are now wanted for and downplaying the public outcry over their own tactics.
Well, if the last point didn’t make it clear, the wanted list above, while conforming with reality, isn’t the one the Toronto cops announced today. If they don’t want to take the criticism of their actions seriously, it’s up to everyone else to do so.
Why should I give a poot about foreign countries when here are plenty of crises going on right here. In fact, to heck with anything happening there. There is no there. There is only here. Ok.
The truth is, that no amount of protesting is going to make a damned bit of difference regardless of what we do, so why bother trying? Big Brother is always watching you and will act very severely if you make the slightest slip-up. Google Earth will soon become Google live-feed. There are photo radar stations popping up everywhere, causing more accidents and more injuries and fatalities issuing from them, or as a very sinister form of cash-grab political taxpayer-bilking! And they claim it’s a safety issue? BULL SHIT! It’s a blatant cash-grab, purely and unadulterated.
Another example was at the G20 summit last week in T-Zero. Many innocent people were arrested, some of them simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many businesses were damaged by the black bloc terrorists, who were, no doubt, put in place to cause trouble and to give the police an excuse. The government will most likely not help pay to repair the damages.
They could have met somewhere remote, but politicians are generally egomaniacs and therefore want to be seen.
But enough about that!
Why should I give a poot about foreign countries when here are plenty of crises going on right here. In fact, to heck with anything happening there. There is no there. There is only here. Ok.
I need to somehow make this somewhat longer. It’s very late and I need to get up very early for work tomorrow. I know. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll repeat myself.
Please, do not become paranoid, but there is always some governmental Big Brother who’s watching you and will act very severely if you make the slightest slip-up. Google Earth will soon become Google live-feed. There are photo radar stations popping up everywhere, causing more accidents and more injuries and fatalities issuing from them, or as a very sinister form of cash-grab political taxpayer-bilking! And they claim it’s a safety issue? BULL SHIT! It’s a blatant cash-grab, pure and unadulterated. In any way, shape or form.
Another example was at the G20 summit last week in Toronto. Toronto is not exactly an innocent city. Many innocent people were arrested, however, not everyone was. Some of those arrested were arrested simply because they were students, because they happened to wear black that day, or because their vehicle ha Quebec license plates, or for simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many businesses were damaged by the black bloc terrorists, which consisted largely of police and military officers, who were, no doubt, put in place to cause trouble, and to give the police an excuse. The government will most likely not help pay to repair the damages.
They could have met somewhere remote, but politicians are generally egomaniacs and therefore want to be seen.
Stephen Harper always struck me as a bully, but this past weekend, he proved to the world that he really was one. Like any good bully, he got his cronies, in this case the Toronto Police, to do all the dirty work and some of it was quite dirty.
After standing by as their own cars burned and the windows of some local businesses got smashed by black bloc agent provocatâ€¦erâ€¦anarchists, the Toronto cops proceeded to round up close to a thousand people. Most of them were peaceful protesters and some of them were just ordinary Torontonians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
People were detained for hours on end, others days. One of our correspondents here at Forget The Box was also arrested for no good reason and reported on the conditions of her detainment. While it’s the type of story that can make anyone who believes in the right to protest squirm, sadly, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Shortly after the spectacle ended, reports surfaced of police giving rape threats to some female detainees and male officers strip-searching female protesters. I’ll let journalist Amy Miller tell the story:
If you go with Naomi Klein’s take on events, all the repression was basically a labour action by the cops in order to justify the billion plus spent on security, which they had asked and been criticized for. That makes sense, but let’s not forget that the ultimate decision to allow such a budget and in fact to allow such an event to take place in Toronto in the first place lies with the government.
Could Harper not have known that holding his elaborate photo-op in a large city where he has no elected MPs would draw serious resistance and opposition? Could he not have known that strongarm police tactics would only lead to negative press and distract attention from any decisions made inside the summit?
Well, maybe that’s the point. Maybe the G20 didn’t have much new to say. Honestly I don’t have the slightest clue what happened inside the meetings and I really don’t care. The real politics at play here are the politics of an emerging police state where dissenters and other assorted random people are rounded up and abused.
Yes, our minority Prime Minister is acting like a despot and wants everyone to know it. He wants people to know that he can occupy a major city, hold a photo op that could be held anywhere and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. He’s on a power trip and civil liberties won’t rain on his parade.
Hopefully, people will keep making this an issue. There have been several solidarity actions since, so let’s hope this keeps up and let’s also hope it can be used to throw Harper out. If that happens, I only hope that it is clear that it is Harper’s bully tactics that cost him his job and similar suppressions of the right to protest will not be tolerated in Canadaâ€¦ever!
My name is Alison Henderson and I was one of the innocent protesters arrested at the G20 Summit protest on Saturday June 26, 2010. I attended the protest to fulfill my democratic obligation as a concerned citizen of this interdependent world, to speak out against injustice. I attended because the G20 is an illegitimate and undemocratic body through which imperial corporate powers solidify and perpetuate social inequality and injustice in the world.
I went to Queens Park in Toronto at 1pm to join the G20 Summit protest. Upon my arrival I was submersed in a sea of political protesters. People were protesting issues as diverse as freedom of expression, globalization, capitalism, corporate greed, aboriginal rights, fair trade, maternal rights, queer rights and environmental protection. Although each group and individual had their own reasons for attending the protests, we were all united through solidarity and our collective dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The protest left Queen’s Park and made its way down University Ave. shortly before 2pm. The crowd was peaceful but definitely loud! We cheered nonstop, yelling “this is what democracy looks like!” People were dancing and singing and laughing, there were instruments and colorful signs and props! I have never felt so apart of something so strong and united. I marched side by side with people of all ages, from children to seniors.
Contrary to the picture painted by the mainstream media there weren’t just “hippies” present either. I saw protestors wearing basketball jerseys and sweater-vests. We marched together along the designated protest route, down University, west on Queen, up Spadina and east on College and made our way back to Queen’s Park. QP was the designated safe haven for protesters of the G20 Summit.
Not long after I arrived back in Queen’s Park, the police began pushing us out. They lined up side by side in full riot gear, with hardly a space between them. They began banging on their shields to the beat of dum, dum, dum, dum, as they marched towards us. We asked the police why we were being forced to leave. We did not get a response, I had no idea why we were being forced out or what was going on. They just stared at us straight faced trying to intimidate and frighten everyone. I remember people yelling “we have the right to protest!” and “why you are making us leave? We are being peaceful!” No reply. They continued to push peaceful protestors out of the designated protest zone without cause or provocation. I never witness a single act of violence or vandalism, except for from the police officers.
I would like to pause here for a brief moment before I continue, to talk about the Black Bloc. They broke off from us early on in the protest and were no longer apart of out peaceful group. The police were fully aware of this, they did not go after them to stop their acts of destruction and the vandalism. They instead chose to remain by us peaceful protestors and left shopkeepers alone to defend their property on Yong Street. Perhaps the police used the actions of the Black Bloc as a scapegoat to justify the cost of security and their attempt at silencing peaceful protesters. Whatever the Black Bloc did, we can not be held accountable for. I’m confident that the police were fully aware that we were two separate and distinct groups, with two very different tactics and messages. This story is just my story, and I am going to leave the Black Bloc out of it because they had nothing to do with us.
Back to Queen’s Park. The police continued to force us out and push us back. There were protestors sitting on the ground peacefully singing, with peace signs high in the air. All of a sudden and without warning, the police from one section of the line quickly charged at a group of chanting people. They would single out one or two people from the crowd like heat-seeking missiles and then ripped them across the grass and dragged into the crowd of police to be arrested. A girl I met said she was dragged through horse excrement and beat with a baton as the police arrested her for sitting in the grass. When the police got about halfway up Queens Park, some began to gallop up the pathway on horseback. Groups of six or seven huge horses chased peaceful and confused people out of the area. People were getting trampled or pushed over by the horses, because they were shocked and disoriented and did not know which way to go.
After the police herded us out of Queen’s Park like cattle, we walked up the west side of Queen’s Park Crescent. To my right I could see hundreds of police officers hiding deep in the park. We took the protest west on to Harbord street. At this point, police presence finally faded behind us. They appeared to be allowing us to protest on the street and did not attempt to stop us. We took the protest up Devonshire Place in the University of Toronto to Bloor Street, where we proceeded to march east.
As we marched, we did so right down the middle of Bloor Street blocking traffic, some cars honked in support, while others sat silently as they waited for the protest to pass them by. At this point there was still no police presence. We continued east, cheering and chanting until we turned south down Yonge street. We began singing O’Canada and various Beatles songs, for the most part people along Yonge appeared to be supporting us and joined in our singing when we passed. We even picked up a few new protestors along the way. I texted my mother and told her how beautiful I thought it all was. There was no violence or hostility whatsoever at that time, in fact I never saw aggression between the protestors of any kind during the protest. The protest headed down Yonge and continued south, a festival-like mood still pulsated eagerly in the air.
On our way, we stage a peaceful sit in, most of us sat down on the ground in the pouring rain, arms raised with middle and index fingers pointing at the sky. By now it was about ten o’clock. There were now rows of full gear riot police standing in front of us. At this point, we demanded to speak with somebody from the G20. Obviously nobody came. A man with a megaphone stood up in front of the crowd and explained to the police exactly what and why we were doing what we were doing. What is very important to understand, is that from what I could see from my vantage point, communication between protestors and police was non-existent. They never told us to stop, or where to go or what they wanted us to do. And if they did, absolutely nobody was able to hear them. They just stood there silently and aggressively once again, staring us down.
About half an hour later we got up and headed south, we were headed to the fence, but not to break it down, or enter it, or even touch it. We were headed there to peacefully protest well in front of it, so that we could comply with the fake five-meter law. We did so for a few minutes until we saw police retreating from the fence, seemingly to head up a side street and attack us from behind. Afraid that what happened to those innocent people in QP might happen to us, we began to move east along Front Street. We made our way to The Esplanade and stopped in front of the Novatel Hotel, where some heads of state were lodging.
Outside of the Novatel we continued our demand to speak to a participant of the G20 Summit. We stood together singing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” and then began chanting to the rooms above us, “no justice, no sleep!” The entire time I was in the crowd, I still did not see a single act of violence amongst the protesters whatsoever and neither did the police. They could not have. We all began to sit down together in the street to create another peaceful sit in. It was the greatest act of solidarity I had ever witnessed, let alone been a part of, it was empowering. But that empowerment quickly disappeared as rows riot police seemed to materialize in front of us out of the cold wet air. It was one of those things that’s really fun, until all of a sudden it isn’t, like when you’re playing sports and you suddenly sprain your ankle. They advanced towards us through the rain beating on their shields. They stopped about ten feet in front of us, angrier than I had even seen anybody, the rain still whipping in my face, I began to get a little frightened, the pathetic fallacy was all too eerie. It’s hard to remember the exact order of events, but at one point, a woman from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) from Montreal stood up from the crowd and walked over to the police in an attempt to create some sort of dialogue. I’m not sure what was said, but obviously no agreement or constructive dialogue took place, because riot police moved in behind us. A man sitting cross legged and crouched over into a ball with his hands over his head was the first to go. They casually, but purposefully, consumed him like a child drinking his first chocolate milkshake.
The chants in the crowd shifted from excited demands, to reminders to the police that we were peaceful protestors; “peaceful protest! peaceful protest! peaceful protest! peaceful protest! peaceful protest!” We chanted. “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching!” Reminding them that they would be held accountable for their actions.
The police moved in on us from both sides now, they were coming at us from the East and the West. To the North of us was a Spaghetti Factory and to the South was the Novatel. They were boxing us in, alluding to our fate on Eastern Avenue. I was sitting on the sidewalk at the front of the protest and before long a riot cop’s plastic shield was pressing up against my shoulder. I moved back as much as I could, which wasn’t much before I was practically on top of other protestors. Now people were getting scared.
All around me, people were begging the wall of police to give them a way out and the police just stood there, silent and power hungry. People were crying, and screaming, “where do you want us to go?!” And I haerd people say, “we’ll leave – just tell us what you want us to do!” There was no dialogue and no one knew what to do. They had quarantined us between two buildings and were slowly moving in, banging their batons to that familiar rhythm on their shields. I still don’t understand why we were not given any information, not a single police officer would speak to us.
My story moves much quicker now, as I can remember a low voice behind me yelling, “this one!” Something swooped down on to me from behind, grabbed my backpack and yanked me into a cluster of police officers. The only thing I could think to say at that moment was “I’m not resisting arrest! I’m not resisting arrest!” Thank god the officer agreed. He could easily have accused me of doing so, as I would learn they had done to many others.
I was told I was being arrested for breaching the peace and was taken behind the row of officers arresting the crowd and was told to put my hands behind my back. After I was cuffed with thick plastic zip-ties, I was pushed to my knees and my legs were shackled. I waited there, freezing in the rain for someone to come and speak to me. Finally an officer came over to me, read me my rights and asked me some personal information about myself. He then asked me if I would like to give him the phone number of somebody I wanted them to contact on my behalf. I gave him my mother’s cell phone number and he told me she would be notified of my arrest. I would later learn that she was not.
I asked him why they had not allowed us to continue our peaceful protest in Queen’s Park that evening. He told me that because the protest had become violent, it was no longer a legal protest and thus QP was no longer a legal safe haven. I sat back down in the rain for the next half hour confused and disheartened. Feeling very much like a pawn.
Finally the officer who arrested me came back and said, “I have to take a picture with you.” I felt like a trophy on a mantel piece or a huge marlin being dangled in front of the camera. I was then shuffled along and escorted to a paddy-wagon. I was taken to the front of the wagon where I was placed in a very small compartment with another girl, there was about a foot of space in front of me dividing us and the other girls in the next section.
We sat idle in the wagon for what seemed like hours, but must have only been about a half hour, until we finally began to move. I did my best to get a sense of where I was being taken by peering through the grate to my right. “Gardiner Expressway……” I had no idea where we were going. Finally the wagon stopped moving and I eagerly awaited my release from the cramped and crowded cell. We waited and waited, I could see through the grate a large group of officers enjoying a cigarette break right beside the vehicle. They were laughing and exchanging elaborate stories as if they didn’t realized that there were scared and innocent people locked up right beside them. As we sat, I got to know the girl sitting beside me, she was a waitress at Swiss Chalet and had joined the protest to support one of her family members who had been involved in organizing it.
Finally, I heard a garage door open and the wagon drove into what looked to me like a warehouse. As we drove in, we passed a few cages. They had taken us to some sort of human pound. There were women in one of the cages and men in the others. Inside the cages was a single bench and a porta-potty with no door. I was asked to get out of the wagon and was taken into the female cage. It was a morbid feeling inside the cage, but spirits were high. One of the “bodies” in our cage immediately took charge and began reciting us our rights as prisoners. She gave us the phone number of the Movement Defense Committee, a group of lawyers that got together specifically to defend the arrestees of the G20 protest. She suggested that we contact them when we were granted our phone calls. We all recited that number in unison over and over again, even the men in the cell next over joined in. I will probably remember that number for the rest of my life.
Women we using their bodies to make a human door whenever somebody used the toilet. Using the actual toilet was a challenge in and of itself because all of our wrists were still bound with zip ties. The teamwork was incredible, most of the time no directions inside the cage had to be given, we just knew what to do. I sat on the cold floor of the cage still wet from the rain for what seemed like two or three hours with about thirty other girls. We exchanged our respective tales of capture and reasons for protesting. Not surprisingly, none of the girls had been violent, in fact many were peace activists or independent journalist who before that night, could never have imagined themselves in police custody. Some were bystanders, or people on their way home from work who somehow got caught in the cross fire. One girl I spoke to didn’t even know what the G20 was. I didn’t speak to a single person who had ever been arrested before, during the entire duration of my detainment.
The police called us out of the cage one by one. Every time an officer approached the cage, my heart raced with the hope that my name would be called next. The first time it was called, it was so that the police could take a picture of me behind a whiteboard with my name and a number on it. This was the second time they had done this, the first time was in the rain in front of the Novotel.
After my picture was taken, I was sent back into the cage, only to be called out again shortly after, to have my photo taken once more because they had spelt my name wrong the last time. Disorganization like this would become a trademark of our detainment. Finally I was escorted out of the cage and was told I would be speaking to an officer of some sort. Before I was taken into the next room, I was read a sign that stated everything I did from then on would be video and audio recorded.
I was pulled through a corridor and was taken into another cage, I was not in this cage for very long, maybe about an hour or so. I was tired by that point, it must have been two in the morning. I didn’t do much talking, nobody did. We just sat there in disbelief. By this time I think I had been given a single 6 oz. cup of water. I waited for my name to be called again, as I was told it would be. Eventually a kind looking police officer walked up to the gate and called out for Alison Henderson. I rushed over to him and wrapped my fingers around the wires of the cage. He said the last thing I would ever have expected him to ask me;
“Alison, do you have a twin sister by any chance?” I shook my head. “Oh,” he said “it’s just because we have the same picture of you twice, under two separate names.” I’m not sure if he thought I was lying or not. At this point, I began to get frustrated at the apparent lack of communication and organization among the police officers. He then told me I would be taken to be questioned and would receive food and access to a phone. Then he left and I anxiously waited for his return. He came back for me about twenty minutes later and escorted me out of the cage. I could feel the other girls’ eyes all over me when I exited the cage, as they looked on in envy.
I was taken to a series of trailers and was taken to trailer number two. When I entered the makeshift office, I was asked to put my hands on the wall and was immediately patted down by a female officer. I then sat down, was read my rights and was asked for my personal information once again, age, date of birth, information I had already been asked. The officer beside me then proceeded to lift my backpack on to the table and began to remove its contents. At one point the officer removed a DVD of Romeo Dellair’s documentary â€˜Shake Hands with the Devil” from my bag. He lifted it up and said “shake hands with the DEVIL?!” Not having any idea what it was about and probably thinking I was some sort of satanic cult member. He then accused the DVD of being bootlegged when it was not. He kept announcing to the officer who was writing down my information on the other side of the desk that I was in possession of an illegal DVD. It became clear to me then that false allegations like that was the reason for so many arrests that weekend.
After my meeting, I was taken to yet another smaller cell (we decided that it was about six by nine feet,) and was told I would finally be given food and a telephone. On my way, the zip ties around my wrists were finally removed. When I arrived at my final and most memorable cell, there were four girls already inside. A few of them had been given warm clothing by the officers because it was so cold. As I was still wet from the rain, I asked an officer for a pair of sweatpants. She said she would see what she could do and returned shortly after with a pair of evergreen sweatpants. I asked if I could remove my wet jeans and replace them with the cozy sweatpants. She said no, so I put them on top, although I did get to replace my wet socks with a brand new pair of â€˜prison socks.’
Shortly after I arrived, or what seemed like shortly, another young woman was delivered to the cage. Over the next few hours many others would also be delivered, until we would finally reach a maximum of about eleven or twelve. We talked and got to know each other a little bit, as we all sat shoulder to shoulder in the corner of the cage for warmth. The formation of a friendship was quickly sped up, however, when we became so cold that we all decided to lay in a row on the concrete floor of the cage and spoon each other.
We did so for some time, I was still freezing as the cold floor must have been sucking the heat out of me. I drifted in an out of sleep for a couple of minutes, but couldn’t get much more sleep than that. Big bright florescent lights shone down on us for the entire duration of our detainment like a permanent glass sun. As I lay awake on the floor I heard a police officer mutter “holy shit,” as he walked past. Another officer called us “dogs.” After my body became too sore to continue laying on the concrete and I could no longer block out the screaming around me, I got up and sat in a ball for while.
Eventually the entire line disbanded as we joined in with the detainees in the other cages in a collective demand for our rights. People were banging on the side of their cages for hours and hours, just begging for water, or a phone call or a lawyer or to use the washroom. These cages were not equipped with porta-pottys. Some women had to wait for hours until they somehow managed to grab the attention of an officer to escort them to the washroom.
Many people were crying, one girl in my cage who began to cry sad “I just don’t understand how people can treat other people like this” as she reclused into the corner. I could hear girls screaming as loudly as they could from the other side of the room. The truth is that we heckled the officers and they heckled us right back. But all we had were our words and they had everything else.
None of us in the cage had received a single phone call or the right to council. We heard that some of the girls in the next cell over had gotten to speak to lawyers over the phone. They told us that they had offered an officer one of their cheese buns in exchange for speaking with a lawyer. We tried that. It didn’t work. Instead, one officer told us to use it as a pillow and go to sleep. We were desperate. Nobody knew where I was. I just sat there worrying about the people who were worrying about me.
We were all very hungry and thirsty, I think food came around three times for us while we were detained. The â€˜meals’ we were given consisted of two thin hamburger buns with margarine and a slice of soy cheese in the middle (props to the police for being vegan friendly). We all scarfed down the cheese bun the first time around. After we finished eating however, we quickly realized our mistake because it took a couple hours for a single cup of water to come our way. From then on we were very careful about when we ate, because we were uncertain when the next time water would be coming around. I remember one specific dry spell where I became very thirsty, I asked an officer for water and he informed me that I had just drank.
Uncertainty in detainment became the only consistent thing. Every time an officer would walk by we would beg them for any little bit of information. Nobody knew anything. Nobody. I asked one officer if she had any idea how long we would be detained for, she looked my in the eye and said sarcastically, “a looong time!” Many of the officers would not even turn their heads in our direction. The police were clearly very disorganized.
I heard rumors of a few people getting phone calls, some speaking to lawyers, inconsistent charges, police loosing people’s property and paperwork. The list goes on. There was also lack of any order whatsoever in which people were released, I can only assume it was whoever’s paperwork was found first. There was a young woman in my cage who had been detained for twenty three and a half hours with no charge, no lawyer and no phone call.
After a very long time, about fifteen hours, we finally got the attention of a concerned police officer. She said she would try very hard to get us released. She asked us if we either wanted our phone calls or to speak with the legal council that was present at the detention centre. Some of us said legal, and others said phone call. As I waited for her return, I peered through the side of the cage and saw a young woman with a sling around her left arm and placed in solitary confinement. I asked her if she was okay and what had happened, she told me she was shot with a rubber bullet. The officer finally came back to our cage and said something along the lines of “Fuck the phone call! I’m just going to try and get you guys out of here!” We all smiled instantaneously, I think I may have even done a little dance. About an hour later she came back and called the first name.
I was finally released at approximately 6pm on Sunday June 27th. I was in police custody for approximately nineteen hours. I made my long awaited exit of the temporary holding facility, walked around one final wall of police officers and burst into tears upon seeing how many supporters there were waiting for us outside. People offered me water and food, use of their cell phones, lots of hugs and told me where I was. I shared a cab home with a friend I had made in the cage and was finally on my way home.
I remember writing last week that it would have been nice to make it to Toronto for the weekend to be apart of the G20 Summit protests. After that article was posted I remember thinking “What am I stupid? Nothing good ever happens in Toronto!” boy was I right.
I’ve never seen such a spectacular failure on everyone’s account for a political gathering in my life. The activists, the police, the politicians, even the anarchists all had their reasons for being there, but it would have been just as productive and a hell of a lot cheaper if no one had bothered to show up.
Let us start with the politicians and the twenty leaders from twenty nations representing eighty-five percent of the world’s wealth. They had a working dinner, watched a little soccer, had dozens of photo ops and the biggest consensus they could come up with by the end of the weekend was that they should all reduce government spending. Reduce government spending at each nation’s own pace on top of it. For an issue that weak and palpable you’d think a simple conference call between them would have sufficed.
Law enforcement didn’t impress me all that much either. For the two day weekend they had over twenty thousand officers, most of which were dressed head to toe in full riot gear in order to protect (in the words of police chief Bill Blair) the safety and well being of regular citizens. They had two officers for every one protester and didn’t seem to protect anyone but themselves when the violence erupted. Furthermore, with a fraction of the number of activists we saw in Quebec City and Seattle they managed to arrest more people than in both of those places and they included regular citizens and journalists.
That leads me to the “anarchists” and their black bloc tactics. There was only about fifty of them and they would have been better described as thrill seekers or shit disturbers. Real anarchists usually don’t destroy property with the sole purpose of getting on Youtube or getting a nice picture of a bat going through a window for their laptop. I don’t mind when activists destroy property as a tool or political statement so long as they have a good cause and don’t hide behind a mask. Either way, I have to say that even the near riot was a failure. The streets of Toronto didn’t look any worse than the streets of Montreal do after a Canadiens playoff game.
That leaves us with the regular protesters, everyday people like you and me trying to make this a better place for everyone and everything. Too bad those voices of yours didn’t really get heard after Friday, another downer on a weekend full of disappointment I suppose, although this one was not of your own making, but a failure none the less. Oddly enough it wasn’t even the politicians who had to silence you, but the cops, thrill seekers and mediaâ€¦ at least there is always a next time. I just hope it doesn’t cost a billion more dollars.
Being from Montreal, I never thought there would be days that I’d rather be in Toronto. This coming weekend, leaders of the top 20 industrialized nations in the world will descend upon Toronto for the G20 summit followed as closely as possible by thousands of protesters. I wish I could be one of them.
Activists of all shapes and sizes should be out en mass to show their discontent about everything, whether it’s global warming or poverty, the fake lake or Stephen Harper’s awful haircut. The point is I don’t think there has ever been less of a shortage of things to complain about.
Any given dissident could carry a dozen different protest signs if only they had enough hands. Think about itâ€¦ Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, global warming, unemployment, the economy, gay rights, immigration, global poverty, etc. the list goes on and on. Hopefully some of those voices will get to be heard.
Everyone by now knows of the cost of the twin summits in Huntsville & Toronto totaling a billion dollars plus, estimates are about nine hundred million for security alone. In fact there’s as much being spent on security for these two day summits that were spent on the entire 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. With that kind of price tag I have to wonder if it’s the governments aim to keep the protesters out of trouble or to keep them quiet.
One way or another I’m sure the malcontents will do everything in their power to make their opinions known and rightfully so, but I can’t help but think that things are going to get very ugly. Harper’s goal of showing off the beauty of Canada’s largest city just might backfire as the rest of the world will only see fortress Toronto and the turmoil around it.
With so many police being present and such a big demonstration expected it is hard to believe everything will go smoothly. A high level of police enforcement always puts fear into people and of course when people are afraid they tend to do stupid things. All it takes is one spark from the cops or the protesters to start the fire and let’s not forget the criminal element who might try and disrupt things for their own gain.
It almost feels as if the conservative government is challenging protesters by spending so much to fence or wall off blocks of downtown Toronto. The more money they spend the bigger the challenge and everyone knows a wall or meager fence can’t hold back an angry mob (who remembers Quebec City?).
All in all, I have no idea what’s going to happen this weekend, but I don’t think it’s going to be pretty. I just hope everyone has a chance to be heard and nobody’s freedom or civil rights get trampled on. More importantly though, I hope no one gets hurtâ€¦ or killed.