2010, Politics, Society

2010 G20 in Toronto

Disclaimer: I didn’t know how to go about doing this. Maybe I’m paranoid (I certainly felt paranoid on Sunday…), but I worry that posting this will in someway have a negative affect on my career. I think there are many people in the governance and corporate worlds who – implicitly if not explicitly – feel that even being associated with something like the violence on the G20 weekend is subversive. But I have decided to do something, and I’m not trying to sound pompous even though I know that’s how it will come out: this post is more important than my career prospects. If someone thinks I can’t handle a position of responsibility because I support human rights, then so be it. I really don’t want to live in a world where people feel that way, as much as I know I do (and will for the rest of my life).

Before I get to my actual experiences of last Saturday and Sunday, I think we can pinpoint a number of decisions that were made prior to the summits which helped cause this mess. Some of these mistakes were foreseeable while others maybe not so much.

The cost could never be justified:

I sincerely doubt $500 million would have bought half as much security. I think that any taxpayer should be outraged that Canadian’s forked over more than $1 billion essentially to increase our international prestige and to convince the world (as we always try, and fail, to do) that Canada is important.

Don’t have both summits at the same time and / or in the same country / region:

I don’t know why they held both summits together, but they did. It seems unnecessary, it should have been financially prohibitive, and it confuses the purposes of the two. It also further heightens the fear of the leaders and increases their perceived need for security, me thinks.

If you must have both summits at the same time in the same country, don’t hold them in two separate places:

Putting them both in Muskoka or Toronto would have (theoretically) decreased costs (especially security costs) a huge amount because they would have had to employ far less people for the whole thing.

Don’t hold these summits in the downtowns of large population centres:

This is obvious. It is more obvious today than it was two weeks ago, but it seemed obvious to me then. Before I volunteered to monitor with the CCLA (Canadian Civil Liberties Association), I was thinking “I will stay the fuck away from Toronto that weekend” because I knew it could only be a mess.

If you must hold the summit(s) in your largest city, do not keep the police from doing their jobs:

Part of the problem with what happened, and part of the reason Torontonians are so seemingly so supportive of the huge abuses committed by police is because they feel the property damage justifies such abuses. If Toronto Police Services (TPS) had been allowed to perform their regular duties, and the fence-defending was left to the imported cops, it is likely that less of the property damage would have occurred. TPS’ mandate should be the protection of Torontonians and their property. They were removed from this job for a few days and the city and its citizens suffered the consequences. I firmly believe that if TPS, or even some portion of TPS’ resources, had been assigned to doing normal police work, there would have been less violence.

The police don’t need to be militarized from the outset:

I do not understand why, if there really were only 100 “anarchists,” the world leaders required thousands of riot cops. The assumption is that they were required. They weren’t required until Saturday. We can debate about whether they were required after that. Riot cops should be a last resort to mob violence, not the original plan for peaceful protests. In the CCLA report available on their website (ccla.org), they note that people have indeed studied crowd control and found their are far more effective ways of dealing with crowds than erecting walls of shields.

I don’t blame Chief Blair for this. He was put in a difficult, perhaps no-win, situation by poor planning on the parts of the federal and provincial governments and whomever else was involved in the organizing of the summits. I do think he shares responsibility, especially for what happened on Saturday night and on Sunday, but he is far from the sole person responsible.

After all this, here is what I did last weekend:

(Yesterday means the 26th of June, 2010 and today means the 27th of June, 2010.)

Yesterday I watched a peaceful union protest go down university from Queen’s Park and turn onto Queen. Freedom of movement was a little restricted but there were few police at first, except around the US Consulate.

Once we got near Queen things changed. There were police everywhere, blocking each street in two rows (one of regular cops, one on Richmond of riot police). The union members were all very well behaved. They were marching in their groups and listening to their marshals. The problem, I guess, were the people following at the back (whom I was with, in order to see what happened).

At Spadina and Queen, the main protest went north, but some people tried to get to the fence by going south. I don’t know why the police picked Richmond and Spadina to stop them. They did. I watched a standoff for probably over an hour and a half. Tear gas was threatened multiple times. I saw people pushed unnecessarily. Four people were detained, although one was arrested and three released. I saw some horses charge people on Richmond. But on the whole things were fairly civil. People who lived in the area weren’t allowed to go home, but it definitely wasn’t a terrible situation. For the most part, the protesters grew less and less interested and sort of drifted away. By the time my monitoring buddy and I left, there were maybe 1/4th the protesters who had originally showed up still at the intersection. The police recognized this by replacing the riot cops with a bike fence (a tactic they have used a lot of times). Though I recognize the restriction of freedom here, the whole thing really wasn’t a big deal. It turned out that what was happening on Queen itself was a whole other ballgame.

I never saw these “black bloc” folks that ran up Queen Street beating the cars and breaking the windows, I just saw the aftermath. People continued to break the cars and this one guy (who has been all over the news) was using the PA system and sirens of a cop car as his personal turntable. From where I stood, the police could have easily come around the corner and stopped this at any time. They have stated their priority was otherwise. Either that was the case, and they thought these cars were some kind of distraction to lure them away from their defensive positions, or the cars were left there deliberately, to make some kind of scene to justify the budget. I am leaning towards the former, but at the time it really did seem like the latter. I should mention that this was the only place in the entire city that I thought was chaotic. At no point do I agree with the media that the police “lost control” of Toronto. Blocks away people were acting like nothing was going on because many were unaware that anything was indeed going on.

We roamed around downtown for a while, which was like a ghost town (but in no way dangerous). We saw more riot cops chasing some protesters up York. We got there late so we don’t know what happened. We went along the fence and watched people get randomly searched for no reason, and we watched the cops hassle every single person (with special passes to get inside) attempting to enter the restricted area.

Trying to find our way to some form of transit, we headed in the direction of Spadina again (we were farther downtown). We realized we were near the broken police cars and, assuming they had been towed away, we went to see what was left of the mess. We found that the crowd had changed but the cars were still there. The DJing guy was clearly drunk and / or high (he could barely walk, his pants were falling down) and was lighting one car on fire. (By the way, never once did we see him in any march anywhere, I think he was just a lunatic.) At first the fire was under it and then it engulfed the thing. The crowd was just curious. I didn’t recognize anyone from earlier. After the car lit on fire three cops appeared from nowhere and arrested him. Three cops. It was at least 1 hour and 20 minutes later. A few other cops came by to escort him away, but it just proved my point that they could have stopped this earlier if they had really wanted to (whatever their reasons). (This never happens if TPS just do their normal jobs.)

On the way up a side street to Bloor we asked some cops why they hadn’t stopped the fire. Playing good cop bad cop, one told us they had didn’t have enough resources – despite my hearing rumours of 20,000 police and private security personnel in Toronto and Huntsville – and the other ordered us to go home, not knowing anything about who we were, where we lived, what we were doing, etc. We were just walking up the street and wanted to know why cop cars had been allowed to burn.

The shit hit the fan later. I don’t know a whole lot. I know that two of the three night protests I heard of were supposedly violent, but that the one at the detention centre (where everyone was supposedly eventually arrested) was peaceful. Two of our monitors were arrested and last I heard they still hadn’t been released over 12 hours later (despite ample documentation which we carried to show our intent and purpose of monitoring the protests for civil liberties violations).

Today was a totally different story. We went to observe a protest at the detention centre that was supposedly low risk. We went because we were told that the police had, because of last night, classified all protests suddenly as “high risk.” When we got to the organization point, there were few visible police (though many more hiding in unmarked cars around the corner) and few protesters. They were negotiating about where it would be. It seemed civil.

Nothing was happening to so we headed down to the detention centre. There, my partner and I were detained for several minutes for writing notes. We were also mocked for our stated purpose, as the bad cop (in this situation again they were playing good cop bad cop) didn’t seem to think that civil liberties were worth protecting, or that the two of us could do anything to protect them.

Learning that the protest was a go and was coming down to Eastern Avenue, we ran over to the cross street. We observed a totally peaceful, orderly protest march up Eastern to the film studio. There the police asked the protesters to move onto Pape and eventually they did so. Everyone was very respectful. The police were as polite about asking them to move as I could imagine and the protesters were only taking so much time to move because some of them were singing and not paying attention. It seemed totally innocent. We almost left.

A van was sitting in the middle of eastern Avenue. We thought they were locals because they didn’t look like cops, until we realized it had been sitting there for minutes. Then we saw a walkie talkie inside.

Without any warning from anyone, another van pulled up behind it and seemingly ten (but it was all so fast I don’t remember) plain clothes “officers” rushed the crowd through police lines. None identified themselves as police. They attacked the crowd. They didn’t enter it, they attacked it. They punched people. They used those wands that extend from a small little thing to a 2 foot long stick. They grabbed two people, beat them, dragged them across the pavement, threw them in the vans, and took off. A couple of the plain clothes officers retreated into the detention centre but before they did they threatened all of us repeatedly. These two people could have probably been arrested by four riot cops, had they really been the anarchist ringleaders they were supposed to be. (It’s hard to know when people estimate 200 vandals but the cops have locked up 500 people, that is pretty terrible arithmetic.) While and after this happened the police charged the crowd and beat them back even though nobody had done anything. Riot cops began to show up. Two more people were arrested (one of whom was severely beaten and had his head between a curb and a cop’s knee) and who knows how many were beaten. The cops took someone’s bike. We weren’t able to see the riot cops rush them so much, because the regular cops ordered us back around the corner. One told a member of the media, “I don’t care if you’re media, if you come forward you will get hurt.” We heard shots (rubber bullets? blanks? don’t know) and a loud bang (attributed to both tear gas a smoke bomb). The riot cops were being led by the very same officer who had coordinated with the protest. They told them it was okay to protest, then they beat the shit out of them.

Once we had circled the block to come down Pape Avenue from the north (Queen Street) to get a better view, all (or almost all) the protesters were gone. But the police insisted on clearing Pape Avenue of all people. They ordered the media to back off, they searched people, they ordered people off their porches and inside their homes. They ordered a woman trying to walk her dog to get back in her house or run up the street. There was one guy with a megaphone who I don’t believe was present as the detention centre earlier. I saw no one else I could place from the protest. Only media and residents.

By the time the cops (in two rows like yesterday, regular cops followed by riot cops) made it up to Queen, they had created a new protest group: the residents. Residents were screaming at them about not being able to access their homes, about having cops in a residential area, and so forth. The respective ages of these groups were markedly different so I really believe they were two separate groups of people. The police would not let anyone back on Pape Avenue, though they were letting those on Pape to exit their houses.

As we walked along Queen Street (as the police on Queen weren’t going anywhere or doing much of anything except blocking the street) we saw that all streets heading south were blocked, as if they had created a perimeter around the detention centre.

On both days, nearby neighbourhoods were totally oblivious to what was happening so I really don’t see how anyone can claim the city was gripped by chaos, or that the police lost control of the city. (Should police be about controlling a city? It isn’t a military base.)

The actions of the cops today shocked me and alarmed me to an extent I was not expecting. I have never participated in a protest. I am sure this stuff goes on much more than I know, but it was new to me. I think the actions of the police were totally unjustifiable. Unfortunately, all we have are license plates pretty much. But anyway, I am appalled. I think that this is a low point, at least in my personal experience, for the respect of rights and freedoms in Toronto. I did not feel like I was living in a free country this afternoon. As the lawyer I was with said, even if those two were serial killers, they still could have arrested them properly without harm to themselves. Instead they pulled some fascist bullshit.

This is unfortunate. Blair sounded like a reasonable man last night. What he is saying and what the police under him are doing don’t seem to gel. It’s one thing to want to round up vandals, but we’re talking about property damage here, not murder. The use of force should be proportionate and so should the suspension of liberty. There was no moderation today. This whole thing has been a travesty, from the cost to the behaviour of the police (today, if not last night…and as I said, I saw nothing horrible from the police on Saturday while I was out). The fact that the police were, from the start, more concerned with the security of a few politicians rather than with the citizens and property of the city of Toronto is also a major concern. It is very unfortunate that most people seem to think that broken windows and burnt cars should warrant any response the police wish.”

And one more thing:

Our two monitors who were arrested Saturday night had everything taken away from them including their emergency contact information – we had numbers for the CCLA, numbers for our supervisors, and the number of an on-call lawyer who would be ready to come try to get us out – on a tiny laminated card. Whenever they were allowed their phone call (and this seems to have been 8-12 hours after they were arrested) they could only call their parents or friends. In order to prevent this happening to us we wrote the numbers on our skin, under our clothes (so the cops wouldn’t think it suspicious that we had info on our arms). That seems extreme. What is someone going to do with a 1×2 laminated card?

Please take this seriously. It affects all of us.

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