Name: Josh N.
Purpose of Attendance:
To show opposition to the massive funneling of public resources into the private sector in an attempt to save the financial and corporate sectors from their own profit driven system. Part of the aim of G20 meetings, in my view, is the continuation of this profit driven system at the expense of the civil society.
The main march against the G20 was put on by labour unions, women’s groups and other civil society organizations. Despite heavy rain it was estimated that around 20,000 people attended. The march started at Queen’s Park and then looped around Queen Street and Spadina, back to the park. There were hundreds of police in riot gear, on bikes, on horses and in vans and buses blocking all intersections. At Spadina many people chose to try to bring the protest closer to the fence but I felt this wouldn’t be possible. Instead, I walked east along Queen, amidst groups of scattered protesters. There was no cohesion or focus; it seemed the protest was finished. The police presence as well, had suddenly and dramatically diminished. There were some riot police blocking southbound intersections but access to the north was open. It felt as though the police had vacated the area. I heard that at this time police had abandoned cars and allowed people to destroy them, and that Yonge Street was being smashed up by a few dozen “Black Bloc.” According to some of my friends, Yonge Street was mostly deserted by police, and that the officers they saw did not attempt to stop vandalism.
At Bay and Richmond, the Steelworkers came marching south and forced the police line to withdraw back to Adelaide. Many marchers converged on the area. The situation quickly turned from a scattered gathering of onlookers into a protest. This new march got as far as King Street before police stood their ground. The situation turned static and I left the area.
Soon, the police left all their southbound blockades. It was now possible to walk down to the fence on Front Street. There were hundreds of protesters within metres of the fence but the sensation was one of total aimlessness and a strange empty quiet. It seemed that the police had succeeded in breaking up the marches. Around 7:00pm, we heard that people in Queen’s Park (the designated protest zone) were being trampled by riot police on horses. I walked up University to see what was going on.
I arrived and saw hundreds of police officers blocking the entrance to Queen’s Park. I asked police why Queen’s Park was closed. They answered that, “the whole park is off limits, you can’t go in, get out of here!”
We walked north to find an entrance to the park. Riot police blocked all pathways. Three of my friends managed to get into the park just before one pathway was closed off by police. I heard the police laughing at the way our group scattered when they pointed their guns (tear gas/rubber bullets, I don’t know). Eventually we entered the park from the north. I met up with two of the friends who got in earlier and found out that the third, a young woman, was arrested while sitting on the grass.
Queen’s Park was now surrounded. Behind a front line of police with shields, batons, gas masks and guns, we saw hundreds of others marching in formation. I couldn’t believe that the police would try to force everyone from Queen’s Park, the supposed safe protest zone and the public legislature. Every few minutes a line of riot police would run forward shouting and brandishing batons, then five or six would break out of the line and snatch someone, often photographers, to be dragged behind police lines and arrested. Many people were arrested in this way including independent and corporate journalists.
The crowd alternated between defiance and terror. The police began firing rubber bullets and tear gas. I saw someone get sprayed in the face with tear gas at close range. I saw two men backing away from the police get shot by rubber bullets, one in the knee and one in the groin. Both were bleeding and had difficulty walking. Every time the police fired on the crowd, people panicked and started running. Many people fell and were trampled.
Police encircled the park in order to totally disperse the gathering. Their pincer move had the opposite effect. As we were pushed onto Harbord Street, we became more concentrated. The peaceful, scattered crowd at Queen’s Park was transformed into an angry mob. Everyone was furious that we had been denied our democratic right to assemble. Numbering about 1000, we walked eastward along Bloor, chanting slogans and informing passers-by of the rout from Queen’s Park.
The make-up of the march was mostly unionists and random protesters from throughout the day. There was no evidence of Black Bloc type protesters or anyone with intentions of vandalism, even after the brutal attack we experienced at Queen’s Park.
The crowd walked along Yonge to Adelaide before police started to close us in. It was a very confusing time as there were no leaders. A few people were potentially police provocateurs as they were continually attempting to get people to charge the police lines and “prepare for a fight”. No one wanted to fight, though, and we marched along King Street and through an office park to the fence. The crowd gathered in front of the fence and sang Oh Canada. I did not trust that the police would have a change of heart and decided to leave the area, just as more riot police began arriving in busses.
It was now dark and I had a feeling of terror as I saw that the crowd that I had just left was being surrounded. A friend and I had no choice but to walk past a group of riot police. We tried to look neutral and ignore them, fearing we would be arrested. One of them said, “Are these guys involved? Yeah, look at their backpacks!” We struggled to maintain composure, were not stopped and were able to continue.
We stood on the corner of York and King and watched police pour into the area. As they marched past us, some of them shouted to us, “Go home! It’s not safe for you here! Get the fuck out of here!” This was a horrifying experience. There was no one who could do anything to moderate the actions of the police. Just before we left the area the police shot tear gas into the confined office park where we had just been. These people were not allowed to disperse and were arrested en masse (illegal). This is where the majority of the 500 arrests on Saturday happened – one giant and totally unjustified violent arrest of totally peaceful protestors.
I woke up feeling exhausted and scared. I had nightmares of police breaking into the apartment and arresting us in the night, which happened to at least four activists that night. My friends and I didn’t know what to do. We decided to see if we could provide support to anyone who was trying to make their voice heard. We walked towards Queen’s Park in a group of five people. It wasn’t long before we were stopped by six police officers. They demanded that we submit to a search, saying, “Get your hands out of your fucking pockets or we will arrest you, right now!” My only choice was to submit to illegal police search or be arrested on the spot. Whatever rights I had as a Canadian citizen vanished.
One officer told us, “Toronto is changing boys!” We spent about 15 minutes being interrogated and verbally abused by the police. They:
• accused us of vandalism and violence against police officers;
• called protesting an extreme sport for leftist whiners and told us to, “join a real sport”
• responded to our claim that their actions were illegal by saying, “Oh you know your rights. You know what: your rights don’t matter anymore.”
• told us that our problem was we don’t know how to listen, that “we are all the same”
• said to my visible minority friend, “If I were in a foreign country I would just shut up and hand over my ID!”
• accused us of being “lazy university students” who have “never worked for a pay check in your lives”
• told us to “suck it up and get used to because you are going to searched every ten steps from here until downtown”
• confiscated a set of earplugs and poured out all of our water bottles.
I felt shell shocked and paranoid. There were dozens of police on every corner. I saw people being stopped and searched and a few being arrested.
Overall Experience & Lessons
As I write this I am saddened and demoralized. The police have certainly succeeded in terrifying thousands of ordinary citizens this weekend. Its important to understand that the media is mostly portraying the situation as a violent riot which the police justifiably responded to. This is not the case. The police allowed the vandalism to occur and then attacked, harassed and arrested hundreds of peaceful protestors. The majority of protesters did not respond violently even when gassed and shot for no reason.
As far as I am concerned it doesn’t matter if you like the G20 or not, or if you think people should protest it or not. The fact is that the police have exercised powers in excess of those of the war measures act on the streets of Toronto and are violently attacking citizens with impunity.