A reader writes about her G20 weekend
Shocking submission detailing police brutality and intimidation written to Toronto Star writer, Antonia Zerbisias', Facebook page.
I'm not a young person (over 50) and I had no intention of protesting the G20 until I heard about the police trying to intimidate people into not exercising their democratic rights by obtaining sound cannons, rubber bullets and the new "law" that gave them the right of search and seizure within five metres of the security fence. I felt it was my responsibility to protect my rights and the rights of all Canadians by not being intimidated by the police threats and going out on the streets to demonstrate. I went to Queen's Park on Saturday to join the labour-organized march with my friend M33 (almost 60).
All was peaceful until we got to the American Consulate on University. The riot squad came out in a show of force, running down the sidewalk, beating their sticks against their shields and taking up positions behind the already massive barricades protecting the Consulate. I was walking with Oxfam – Oxfam...! A very scary group – when they brought out the big guns.
We got to Queen and Spadina and turned south, where we were met with a huge contingent of riot police. The tension ebbed and flowed. I was standing right beside the "Black Bloc" group. I had no idea who they were but didn't think much of them since a lot of people there had bandanas to protect themselves against the police-stated threat of tear gas. And there were points during the protest when the media put on gas masks. We picked a couple of golf balls up from the road so they couldn't be thrown at the police.
Things seemed to quiet down so we headed back to Queen Street. On Queen, we saw the infamous police cars. I couldn't figure out why there were just sitting there. There weren't a lot of protesters around and they easily could have been towed out. There wasn't a police officer in sight. I found that odd as well. Surely they would bring in the riot squad and surround the vehicles. But no.
As we walked along Queen Street, we saw some of the broken windows which are a shame but, again, I question the lack of police activity to stop the madness. Why did the police allow this to happen? And they did allow it to happen. They touted that they had the sound and water cannons, tear gas and sheer numbers. It could have been stopped. I've heard people say that the police were damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they had aggressively pursued the perpetrators and left the peaceful protesters to protest peacefully, I don't think anyone except very radical people would have had a problem. Instead they let the "Black Bloc" go wild and harassed the peaceful protesters in what I can only conclude is an attempt to justify the outrageous cost of this summit.
We got to York and Queen and could see people down near Wellington so went to join the peaceful protest there. The police tried to intimidate by making odd grunting noises. Again there was a level of tension but no problems. Then we were told that if we went over to Yonge they were letting people by the fence. So we walked down to Wellington and sat and protested peacefully by the fence for a while. I was very disturbed that the police did not have their badges on. So I said things to them like, "My name's Sherry, what's yours?" And asking why they didn't have badges and why they were afraid of identifying themselves. It was all very lighthearted and actually got a few chuckles from some of the officers. We decided to walk along the fence on Wellington and the police told us we could walk west. Then massive amounts of bicycle police showed up and started pushing us east. M33 has a sore ankle so we were at the back walking as fast as we could and were continually being pushed by the police. We walked north on Simcoe and then read Tweets saying there was trouble at Queen's Park so we started walking north on University.
One thing we noticed and commented on was how clean everything was after the 25,000 strong rally. Those water bottles and boxes they keep showing on TV to show how dirty the protesters were? They are the garbage left by the police. The protesters didn't have access to bottled water and boxed lunches.
We got to just south of College and were stopped from going further so went down a lane to College just west of University. We stayed a little while but nothing was going on and we couldn't get any information so we walked back to University, along Gerrard to home and watched the news.
At about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday we decided to see what was happening in our city. We walked west on Queen and got to Bay where we were stopped and M33's backpack was searched. Of course, they found the two golf balls (remember those? We didn't). We explained where we had gotten them and that we were trying to protect the police. They took the golf balls (of course). M33 had on a black t-shirt (we weren't aware of the dress code imposed by the police) with Russian writing on it. One of the officers asked what it said. M33 said he didn't know, he doesn't speak Russian. The officer's response was laughable. He said, "Are you sure?" as if it would be a crime if he did speak Russian. I thought the Cold War was over a decade ago.
After they let us go with many have a nice days, we continued west on Queen and got as far as the Sheraton Centre when a police SUV pulled up and the police aggressively blocked our way. We were so stunned, we didn't realize this was for us. About 10 officers surrounded us, they pushed M33 against the wall, formed a barricade around him of about eight officers, separating us with the "nice cop" talking to me and another standing behind me. As the "nice cop" was talking to me, a heavily-geared officer walked past and said something about me being at the fence yesterday. "Nice cop" was saying he was off work on Saturday and hadn't seen what went on and asked me tons of questions about where I was on Saturday and what I had done. At one point I said I was too old to be a troublemaker and one of the officers in the barricade line said, "You were pretty mouthy at the fence yesterday." I said, "If I'm the mouthy one why have you grabbed my friend and not me?" Meanwhile, M33 was having a much worse time than me.
Some of what was said and done to him: – Just give me a fucking reason to shoot you (this was said many times and quietly) – Put your hands at your sides or I'll break your hands – Get your face against the wall – Give me that backpack before I cut if off – When are you going back to Montreal? – Do you remember me from yesterday? – So what if he has ID – ID can be faked – Get out of our city; – The contents of his backpack was taken out and thrown on the ground – His iPhone was given to one officer and camera to another and the order was to "go through these and see what he's got" – And a constant stream of profanity-laced verbal abuse.
Amazingly, we were allowed to leave. We were extremely shaken and continued west on Queen to Grange Park to sit and calm down for a minute and discovered that the police had done something to M33's iPhone and it was not working. We then went to Queen and Augusta and had a couple of drinks.
Since we no longer had Twitter access to let us know what was going on, we decided to go home and watch the news and so started east on Queen. Somewhere around York, we ran into a peaceful protest heading west. Since the police were herding people west, there wasn't much we could do but go west. We joined the march which was chanting "Peaceful protest". There were no signs of black clad anarchists anywhere. None. None at all. If police have video, I would like to see it. As I said before, there were lots of people wearing bandannas in case of tear gas. People were doing nothing that was aggressive in any way.
As we got to Queen and Peter they stopped us. There were the typical chants of "Let us through" and "Peaceful protest", "Whose streets...? Our streets!" but nothing that could possibly be considered threatening.
They allowed us to continue to Queen and Spadina. With no warning, no one telling us to disperse, nothing, we were literally surrounded by hundreds of police in riot gear. The police at the south end said if you wanted to leave to go north but you couldn't. There were more police in riot gear to stop you.
At first we sat down and chanted (the "worst" chant was "You're sexy, you're cute – take off your riot suit"). We sang the national anthem (we had no idea what was happening on the other corner of Queen Street where the police attacked after the singing of the national anthem). The police continued to slowly close in on us. Each time we would stand with our hands in the air or flash peace signs. No one had any idea why we were being detained. And, of course, we were given no information.
And then the rain started. It poured and poured. Most people did not have appropriate clothing for the weather conditions (including me and M33) and got drenched and very cold to the point that many people were becoming hypothermic, shivering, teeth chattering. We all assumed that the only way that the police could save face and justify their actions was to arrest us all and we were resigned to that.
The police were picking individuals out of the crowd and arresting them (from the footage I saw later, none of them were Black Bloc and one was a film maker who had filmed the whole thing from the beginning). People were voluntarily giving themselves up to police for arrest so that they could get on a bus out of the rain they were so cold and wet. None of the people I was standing with were terrorists. I didn't see any terrorists among the mother with her child begging to be let through the police line, the rugby kids or the elderly couple trying to get home. After four hours or so (I really don't know how long we were out there), we were told that we were all being charged with public mischief but we would not be booked and could leave but they didn't use a megaphone or their sound cannon. They yelled this information so that three-quarters of the people couldn't hear that we were free. We got the news via broken telephone from those who were close.
We hobbled away north (the only way we were allowed to go), soaked to the skin, miserable, cold, angry, upset and not quite able to believe what just happened. We got back to Queen and started walking back east to home. There was a lot of media around but I haven't seen any of those interviews on TV.
There was no transit and I was cold, so I tried to get a cab. A cab pulled up, took one look at my drenched rat look and pulled away. We found a second cab and I got in and immediately asked the driver to turn off the A/C. He turned on the heat – bless him! We talked to him and he told us he was from Afghanistan. He was very disillusioned that this could happen here – a police state. He had left Afghanistan to get away from situations like this. We had to stop and get cigarettes and once I had done that I didn't have enough money on me to pay the cab. When we got home, I said I would go up and get money but the cab driver said he didn't want our money – we were heroes. He said he had five babies or he would have been out there himself. I gave him all the money I had – $5 and change for a $10+ fare. We shook hands with him and he thanked us and then got home to watch the news.
I watched Maguire justifying the horror I had just been through by saying there were Black Bloc in the group and they were donning masks and weapons were found discarded along the route. I was there – I saw NOTHING of the sort and I have pictures of the crowd and I see no one with a face covering. There was no "tense" situation until they surrounded us and even after that we did not cause any trouble. I said it before, show me the videos.
I couldn't sleep last night. I took the day off work, I'm so upset.
Monday morning we went to the Apple Store to get the phone fixed. We were looking over our shoulders, very nervous to be out on the streets. We went to the Eaton Centre and the Apple representative reset the phone but the on button didn't work. We told him what had actually happened to the phone. Despite the phone being out of warranty, he gave M33 a new phone. Unfortunately the phone wasn't password protected (it is now) so the officer was able to reset the phone to factory settings. The point was to delete the pictures M33 had taken Saturday. There were no pictures that were any different from thousands you can see on the internet.
And the aftermath. I'm looking over my shoulder when I go out. Anyone in a uniform makes me nervous. I'm hesitant to leave my apartment alone. I live at Queen and Jarvis, not the most upscale neighbourhood of the city and I have never been afraid. Today and for a long time to come, I am afraid and I cannot contact the police because it is them I fear. My opinion of the police has deteriorated as it has for many people that were on the streets this weekend. They and I know the truth.
Posted: June 30, 2010
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