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Transforming Power

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Judy Rebick is one of Canada's most celebrated and well-known feminist thinkers, critics and writers. She is the founder of rabble.ca.

Toronto is burning! Or is it?

| June 27, 2010
Lucas Oleniuk, Toronto Star

For people sitting at home and watching TV news last night, Toronto was burning. The same police car on Queen St W. burned and blew up over and over again. The same image of a young man very violently smashing Starbucks windows appeared over and over again. Windows smashed all along Yonge St. None of us had ever seen Toronto like this. It was shocking.

Lucas Oleniuk, Toronto Star

Most of the 400 protesters arrested last night and others who may have avoided arrest didn't see that violence. From their perspective, they were facing a violent police state. These demonstrations, militant but overwhelming peaceful, were resisting the right of the police to hold them to Queen Street. They think the people have a right to protest in a place where political leaders can hear them. They had nothing to do with torching police cars or trashing windows.

TVO host Steve Paiken was down at the Novotel last night with peaceful protesters.  He tweeted his experiences, "Shame on those that ordered peaceful protesters attacked and arrested. that is not consistent with democracy in toronto, G20 or no G20."

I was on Queen West and Spadina when the trouble started. David Fernandez has written an excellent report on what happened on his facebook page.

"Rewind to just before the riot happened, thousands of us marched in a very briskly moving group until we hit the intersection of Spadina and Queen. Folks from the labour movement tried in vain to encourage the march to move back up towards queens park, but the mood was clear. Many thousands of protestors were interested in being closer to the summit and letting the police know that we couldn't be intimidated.

But nothing official was planned. Labour walked back up the street leaving thousands to mill about in the confusion of what to do next. And in that confusion, several hundred people changed their clothes and took off together running down queen street while thousands of riot cops picked their noses. In full police view, they let a mob destroy banks and trash Yonge street.

And while riot cops had shields AND bikes and thousands of dollars in body armor to protect them from the remaining peaceful protestors, somehow they were so scared of us that they abandoned police cars."

The police spokesperson told Metro Morning today that they waited until later when it was safer to make arrests but that cannot be true. I was there and like David I believe the cops could have arrested the Black Bloc right at the beginning of the action but they abandoned their police cars and allowed them to burn, not even calling the fire department until the media had lots of time to photograph them. They had a water cannon but they didn't even use a fire extinguisher. Why?

A comment released to a media outlet last night from official police spokesperson tells some of the story, "We have never tried to curtail people's rights to lawfully protest. All you have to do is turn on the TV and see what's happening now. Police cars are getting torched, buildings are being vandalized, people are getting beat up and the so-called 'intimidating' police presence is essential to restoring order. That is the reality on the ground."

Police playing politics, justifying the expense and responding to the critiques building all week about excessive and arbitrary police powers. A politicized police force is unacceptable in a democratic society. There are serious questions that must be answered and they have not been satisfactory answered.

People were shocked last night by a city out of control but the Toronto police -- without all the huge expenditures, extra police from across the country and sophisticated new toys -- have kept the peace in riots with a lot more people and in hundreds of demonstrations much larger and often angry. I disagree with torching police cars and breaking windows and I have been debating these tactics for decades with people who think they accomplish something. But the bigger question here is why the police let it happen and make no mistake the police did let it happen. Why did the police let the city get out of control? And they did let it get out of control. The police knew exactly what would happen and how.

Christopher Watt was there when the first police car was torched,

"The officers clustered and formed a line. A second picket of officers lined up behind them, facing the crowd where I stood. They started to move, but they weren't clearing the street; they were clearing out and abandoning two police cars, including the one with the shattered windshield...

In moments like this, someone needs to make a decision. This time it was a man in dreadlocks and no shirt, red paint all over his torso. He moved towards the police car, grabbing the squawking police radio...

Following the lead of the dreadlocked man, someone else pulled what looked like a leather folder from inside the car and spread its contents over the trunk. A kid wearing sunglasses, his face covered by a scarf, inspected the paperwork. Soon after, the squad cars would be on fire. (The gas cap appeared to have been removed from one of them even before the crowd moved in.)"

It was a perfect storm. A massive police presence who were primed for "dangerous anarchists" after a week of peaceful protests. No more than one hundred, probably fewer, young men who think violent confrontations with the police will create a radicalization and expose the violence of the state. A new generation of young people who are becoming activists believing they live in a democratic society and are shocked by the degree of police violence arrayed to stop them.

But it is the police that let the handful of people using Black Bloc tactics run wild and then used the burning police cars and violent images as a media campaign to convince the people of Toronto that the cost and the excessive police presence was necessary. They knew what would happen and they knew how it would happen. It is the police that bear the responsibility for what happened last night. They were responsible for keeping the peace and they failed to do it.



A quick follow up to show the contrast, one day later, same location, same protesters, different police tactics. They were obviously ordered NOT to attack citizens today.
So no problems at all. None.

Monday June 28, 2010, rally at police station, College St.

 Here is something amazing.

The march on Mon June 28, went down University with no problems at the US embassy at all. (unlike the days before when it was surrounded literally with hundreds of riot cops with 4 ft long clubs, who did nothing but provoke anxiety and aggression).

But later it basically spontaneously went into the City Hall area from Queen. I was right at the front, and it was pretty spontaneous, people were walking there, standing, and then started to go into this tiny little entrance for the Jazz Fest.

Somehow, several thousand people managed to march into a tiny little entrance of the Jazz Fest, right past tables with trinkets. It appears that literally not one trinket was even bumped over by accident, by hundreds of people with bicycles, and thousands walking!

Later on Monday June 28, at Queens Park there were probably more than twice the numbers of people than before, and nothing happened, because the police were given new "orders" not to attack people. (of course all the riot cops were still there, but were hidden by Ryerson and other areas).

The days before, even less people at Queens Park, and the police called in a literal army of full-power riot police, horses, and then they attacked people constantly, and provoked them.

Today, they left people alone, and nothing happened. Why? Guess what, if the police had sent 400 riot police to Queens Park again today, and attacked with horses, the same thing would have happened, as people don't want to be attacked.

Instead, the police were ordered to be present a heavy, but standard police presence, and no one was provoked. It ain't rocket science.

Some people argued with the police about what happened on the weekend, and the police, humanly, argued back a bit. There was some communication, not a big drama either way. But some local communication.

But when the full-power riot squad attacks a peaceful protest, they provoke people to resist. Give people some space, and let them be calm, and nothing usually happens. (not always of course).

Also, the head of "security" on CBC news, showed that G20 "security" was run out of a room in Barrie Ontario on computer screens!

No wonder the police leaders had no idea of what was really going on on the street, and were given such incompetent and ridiculous "orders" in their ear-pieces.

Some guy watching a TV screen in Barrie, is moving a few riot squads around like a chess game, and ordering them to attack! To him its a video game.

Regardless, these Robocop remote-control police tactics have to end forever. Their job is maintain the peace, not to attack people and create riots! There is no question, the police attacks created  the rioting, except when the bb-vandals ran down Queen St from Spadina. I was there, I saw those few vandals plan something, and then run down Queen, that was unprovoked.

That is when the police should have stopped them. But as proven, they let the vandalism run for miles and miles, for over 2 hours. Too late, but of course that was part of the police plan, let them run amok, then come down with an army of riot police. That justifies the expenses.

Tonight, I even spoke with the head of police security right in front of the police station, as the rally gathered. I asked him why there were no police on Yonge for so many hours, as the few dozens vandals ran around. He said all his officers were "deployed" and that is why Yonge St was left unprotected for hours. Can you believe that, when they had thousands and thousands of them, no where to be seen, behind some fence.

I asked him why it took so long. He said they could not get around. I told him I could walk anywhere in minutes.

He actually said I personally should have arrested the vandals, as a citizen. This is the attitude of the head of police security, right in front of the police station for the protest today. That is his plan and attitude, let the citizens arrest vandals.

What a joke. They should have moved to contain any vandalism right away, not leave the city core. The only rational conclusion is that they police bosses decided to let the vandals trash downtown, to keep them away from their fence, and to justify their expenses.

As N. Klein said tonight, they send media releases out as the police car was burning, saying that justified their billions spent. The fact is they let it burn forever, so everyone could get a photo of it.

The police also attacked the crowds with full knowledge that the attack would provoke the crowd further. Obviously, the police big-wigs wanted riots to justify all the money they got, so they provoked the crowds. (except for the first attack by the bb-vandals on Queen).

The bottom line is it was either a plan to hijack lawful rights to protest, or absolute incompetence by the police bosses, or both.

Thanks goodness the citizens marched tonight, and nothing happened at all. It actually shows that the aggressive Robocop police attacks are the thing which can create a riot. Police power must be controlled, and kept in check.

It was very important to have that spontaneous walk through the city, as a peaceful protest. Its the overkill riot-police, and the police attacks on citizens, that can spark people into self-defense aggression.

Of course the police experts know this, that is their business. Its the police bosses, the guys who ordered the police to stay away from Yonge St for more than 2 hours, they are to blame. They are also to blame for later sending in a riot-army to attack citizens. They provoked all of it.

Again, today was a case-study. Same places, same people, different result. What was different? The police did not attack people with an army of riot police.

If the police would have attacked again today, with the riot police and horses, the same thing would have happened, in terms of a long stand-off, and the rest of it.

But the police were ordered to stand-back, I heard the orders being given, to NOT form lines, to stand back casually, and lay-off.

What is the conclusion? The entire script of attacking the citizens with an army of riot police to provoke riots was planned. On top of that, there were horrible incompetence in the orders given to police, to attack blindly.

The reality is that most of the protests on the weekend could have been like today, angry, loud, but peaceful, if the police would have backed off properly. But no, the police did 2 tactics...

- zero police for miles and hours

- an army of riot police attack people.

They decided against using appropriate middle-power crowd management techniques, like they did today. That is the only rational conclusion. The police planners, with some senio politicos wanted a bunch of riots, so they made it happen.

I was there on Queen... came up right when the cop cars were getting smashed, and the cops beat a hasty retreat. I was really surprised that they did nothing about it, then figured they were leaving the cars as an 'attraction' to keep ppl busy, which worked. I was there for at least an hour or more before they got torched. Most people there were having a good time doing more damage to the cars, or just watching others do it, and of course watching the spray-painted fella (who got me with his paint by accident, and was seriously high and swinging from the power lines at one point).

There were a few (very few) people who were trying to stop people from continuing on with the car smashing. One in particular was a journalist from NOW Magazine, who admonished the crowd for playing in to the whole situation, taking the bait, and helping the gov't justify the billion + spent on security while also taking attention away from what the real issues of this whole protest were. No-one gave a crap, they were too busy having fun with the cars and enjoying the entertainment.

The police are now "admitting" in an indirect way, that they allowed the vandals to run wild, and pushed the vandals north, to keep them away from the fence. That is all the police wanted to do, to keep the vandals away from the fence.

So they allowed the vandals to go north, and trash Yonge St for over 2 hours, with no police contact at all. After a while, they then pushed them further north into Queens Park, to pin them down for hours far away from the fence.

That was all police strategy, to keep vandals away from the fence. They knew if they allowed the vandals to trash the city, break windows, that would keep the vandals busy.

Just listen to what the police are now saying, that is what they are saying in a coded way. The city was left open as a sacrificial lamb to keep the vandals busy and away from the fence.

In reality, the police could have EASILY arrested all of the vandals on Queen as they moved east. The police arrest scores of drunk idiots looking for a fist-fight every weekend in the club district.

This is now an established fact. The police strategy was to leave the northern downtown wide open, to draw the vandals up there.

Its a win/win/win for the police. The fence was not touched, the trashed windows justified their billions, and that gave them a blank cheque to arrest everyone no questions asked. The people calling the shots for the police, are very clever, that is for sure.

I completely agree with Johanna's report posted June 27, 3:19pm.  There are always police on Yonge st.

any hour of any day. I can't understand the complete absence of police from Yonge street this Saturday

afternoon while a few thugs were thrashing it. There were hundreds of police in the side streets off Yonge who were standing

by doing nothing. On the below video you can see civilians fighting off the vandals and one tries to make a citizen's

arrest! A person in the video is heard calling 911, while 20,000 police officers are in the downtown area

but none tries to stop a few thugs? Why? The Toronto police always acts against trouble makers. Did they

have orders on this day not to?! Am I the only one who thinks there should be an inquiry into this.


I believe from the police perspective the protests could have been peaceful. Starting Saturday afternoon they stopped being peaceful.

After escalation by protesters police started escalating.

E.g. this does not look peaceful to me:

Protesters attacking police

As a previous poster mentioned people were smiling and cheering the destruction of the police cars and allowed black bloc protesters to hide in their midsts.

Even the Ontario Collation Against Poverty was peaceful.

After the mass desctruction started making the Police look bad they started basically arresting anyone at protests that didn't have a permit.

Queen's Park. Novotel, Eastern Ave, and Sunday later at Spadina and Queen.


So now the hacktivist "left" is reduced to complaining about the lack of policing in Toronto this weekend? Give me a break!

How many people were brutalized and manhandled by the black bloc? None. How many were brutalized and manhandled by the cops? Scores. And yet the "problem" seems to be that the police weren't doing enougth of the latter!

The police spokesman was just cornered on CBC news, and he admitted that the police let the vandals take over the streets, and take control of what was happening.

He said the police's job was to keep the fence intact.

So its true, its a fact. The police abandoned the city, and just let the vandals do whatever they wanted for all those hours, to keep them away from the fence.

Actually, looking at the hundreds of other arrests on Sunday, maybe they didn't arrest the cyclists out of the fear of dealing with a group of peaceful prptestors with with bicycles?

The Star posted a timeline. It was actually way longer than 30 minutes. The police allowed the vandals to run amok for about 2 hours. The police abandoned the entire Yonge area for 2 hours, and only later came up to Queens Park as riot police.

CP24 was getting reports by Bay/Queen that the vandals were going up Yonge, and defacing stores with feces, and they drove up to see. So the police knew exactly what was happening and where on Yonge for hours, and did nothing.

For 2 hours, the police let a few dozens vandals run wild.

And there were no police on Yonge for many more hours after that. That is a fact.


3:18 p.m. - The anarchists charge east down Queen St. near University Ave. They throw bricks at a CBC van.

3:23 p.m. - Protesters are arrested near the Rivoli on Queen St. Those in black are chanting "f-k s-t up." They hurl pieces of plywood at riot police, who did not confront the offenders.

3:57 p.m. - Protesters say they're heading north to Yonge-Dundas Square, abandoning the goal of reaching the security fence.

4:40 p.m. - Protesters smash windows at police headquarters. Nearby riot officers do not respond

5:23 p.m. - About 30 people sitting on the median at University and College are confronted by police, who close in from the north. Some were pepper sprayed, and others were hit with batons.

And of course, 24 hours too late, Yonge St has police on every corner.

And today, the police are randomly searching the bags of anyone they feel like. (illegal searches, but no one notices anymore, as they are picking on youths walking down the street).

The only ray of light was the cycling protest today. The bikers cruised all over town,  and somehow someone in the front figured out how to get around all the police roadblocks, and ended up right in front of the jail on 629 Eastern. There was minor police presence, and the cyclists started a peaceful protest.

Very soon thereafer,  busses full of riot police started to arrive, and position themselves. The cyclists were smart enough to realize that the way to stop the coming police violence, was to sit-down and be peaceful, which they did.

Eventually, after some back and forth, more riot police moved in, and they threatened to arrest everyone in 5 minutes. The protesters on bikes, understanding they have the legal right to peaceful assembly, refused to leave, but did back up to open the street. The cyclists behaved very intelligently again.

They chanted..."this is what Democracy looks like" and it actually seems the police authority on the scene perhaps realized the cyclists were correct. People have a right to peaceful assembly, as Canada is not a police state. We don't have to follow police orders on command. The police also have to respect the law.

But the riot police continued to get ready, and an attack on the peaceful protest was coming. But for some reason, right before the police were clearly getting ready to strike out, the police got the orders to retreat a bit. They slowly moved people behind their fence, and began to slowly retreat their position.

Of couse, just before the 6:00 news, all the riot police were replaced with smiling multi-racial multi-ethic police. What happened to all the 6' 8" angry white riot cops with shields and clubs? Coffee break during the live news.

It seems the difference here was that there was an older senior police officer in control, right up front, assessing the situation. Imagine that, first assessing the situation, instead of just attacking the peaceful demo blindly.

Eventually, some people began to be released from the jail,  a real bunch of dangerous criminals...that is...college students and young people looking dazed and tired with no shoes, who were arrested yesterday.

Since the police were forced to back down by the cyclists who knew their rights, and due to the media presence, the police were forced to back-down. And guess what, once the police backed down, then people calm down, then they move away on their own.

Part of the problem on Sat was that the police just came out with 100% power and attacked without notice. That upsets people in Canada, as most people know there is a right to peaceful assembly. As well, the police were way to Gung-ho to use all of their aggressive training, toys and tactics. They could have put down an attack of 10,000 rampaging drunk soccer hooligans.

In reality, there were a couple hundred people acting out, a few dozens breaking windows, and a few thousand more who were just trying to engage in peaceful protest.

But for the police and their political masters...Mission Accomplished. They scared the hell out of the city, closed down almost every business in downtown. They were able to demonize legitimate protesters, by allowing some vandals to run wild. The officers also would enjoy making $1,000 a day and trying out their toys and training.

If the police are going to continue with their violent attacks on peaceful dissent, then perhaps new strategies are needed, like passive sit-ins, which would prevent the aggressive police attacks, or at least expose them. Of course, when people get attacked, they tend to want to defend themselves.  But there has to be a way to defeat these new tactics being used by the police, on orders from their political masters.

10,000 people doing an organized mass sit-in, those who want to vandalize won't be able to, and the police are not going to be able to attack a huge sit-in, and get away with it as easily.

RS, that's right. I should have rephrased my comment better. All I was saying is that most of us assume that the hooligans that vandalize property during demonstrations are men and that yesterday I was surprised to see that a lot of them were in fact women. 

Johanna: There are also a lot of women in the police and army. That doesn't make those institutions feminist!

RS: I was shocked at the number of women in the black bloc. There were A LOT of them...

I agree completely. I began walking down from Yonge & Wellesley at 3:30 and reached College by about 4:00. During this time I only saw two pairs of policemen. At College and Yonge - one block over from police headquarters and two blocks over from the main protest site at Queen's Park - there wasn't a single cop to be seen.

Not long after arriving at the corner I began to see a lot more people walking up Yonge. I climbed up on the median in front of College Park and saw a huge crowd at Gerrard. 

It took the crowd about five minutes to get to where I was. The people right at the front were followed by the black bloc, about 50 to 100 of them. The minute they reached College Park they began smashing windows. They smashed most of the windows on that block, crossed College and attacked the Starbucks on the north side of the street. At this point everyone around me began asking "where are the police?", "where are the police?", "where are the police?"...and the answer is: nowhere, which is why it was possible for the mob to destroy as much as they did.  

The mob turned left on College and headed westward. I waited for them to pass by the police headquarters and then followed along. By the time I reached the police building the mob was almost at University. About 10 minutes had passed since the vandalism at the corner and only then did the doors of police headquarters open and a phalanx of armoured police began to file out of the building. Completely after the fact. People around me were angry and shouting they wanted answers for the lack of response.

What I saw happen at College Park is incomprehensible, and I don't mean the violence because that was expected. What I can't understand is the complete absence of police from that entire area, one of city's main thoroughfares. I don't know anything about policing or crowd control, but I've got to think that if you block the Front Street and the Convention Centre off people are going to go elsewhere and Yonge Street is a good bet. How could it have been left completely unprotected???

Other than utter disgust at the vandals and the lack of policing, I was left with one thought: how was the 1 billion spent? Something doesn't add up. They could not have blown all that money and still managed to leave the bulk of the city core unsecured. It seems a lot of the money went into buying equipment and not enough into containment and crowd management strategies and training. I believe this is also why we're hearing so many stories of people being detained and roughhoused.



What was said in this article is entirely correct, there are more comments at this link, that also detail exactly what happened from those who were there.


The labour protesters and marshalls left, and went back up Queen St.

The young vandals in black spent almost an hour modifying their clothes right on Queen, getting into their gear, and talking among themselves. The police and the police cameras would have seen that happening, everyone could see it. A group of citizens who were watching from the side, all predicted that this small group of people were going to start a riot, either to the south, or to the east. Even the untrained eye could see they had things on their back, one person even had garbage bags in pouches on his back, which were probably the feces? That group of vandals was openly and brazenly planning their attack for quite a long period of time, and the police literally did nothing. The vandals were psyching themselves up, and getting ready to run east, and nothing was done to even slow them down.


The small mob charged east, and the police did nothing for miles and for well over an hour. Nothing, as described in the link above.

They did allow the police car to openly burn on Queen street for an eternity, it could have spread and burnt down the entire area, with all those old buildings. 

Even the EMS paramedics parked in the middle of Queen, were making sarcastic comments about the firetrucks being too busy having dinner, as shown in the link above. It was totally outrageous, the street could have been torched by one single disturbed person.

There were 40 riot police right around the corner from the fire, with their helmets off, just casually sitting and standing there, and they said they knew there was a fire around the corner. They were obviously ordered not to do anything.

As stated by others who were actually there, the police chose to leave that entire area wide open. Thousands of police behind the fence, zero on Yonge St, or Queen, as shown in this same link.


 Its entirely correct to say that the police force is being used as a political instrument, and that the police bosses allowed the vandals to run wild. The police on the ground simply follow the orders from their earpieces. There were ordered not to do anything, hopefully those records can be accessed and verified.

The billion dollar police force, 10,000 police officers, chose not to stop a couple dozen youths openly dressed in black from vandalizing for miles down city streets. Anyone who was there could see how obvious it was.

Then the police chief goes on TV, and claims thousands "thugs" took over the city? Well guess what, the police chief was not even there to see what was happening. In fact, because there was no police presence anywhere, a few dozen vandals were allowed to trash the place. The police failed to do their duty to protect the merchants on Yonge St.

The police knew the vandals were targeting Yonge St, as they had notified the Eaton Center to close. Then why was there literally, literally not one single police officer anywhere on Yonge? Even just 20 police at each intersection would have stopped it.They could have easily covered the entire area, but they decided to abandon the city, and leave thousands of police standing behind a vacant fence.

As stated in the other link, police LITERALLY ran away from Yonge/Gerrard, and let the citizen store owners face the vandals without protection. The video shows one single vandal smashing the jewellry store at Yonge/Gerrard.

The police left the city-core wide open to be vandalized, that was obviously intentional, and as stated, its part of a political strategy to justify the billions spent. Anyone who was actually there, saw exactly what was going on.


We should always keep in mind that the government is responsible for holding its meetings and conducting its business in orderly and transparent ways.  There is no excuse for government to hold an event in such an unsafe and poorly planned way, especially given how predictable yesterday was. For a billion dollars, government could easily figure out how to implement an orderly and transparent G20 summit.

The entire approach, from police lining up in opposition to almost everyone, to focusing on a "line" around a meeting place and building a security perimeter (as if it is okay for outside the line to be unsafe), to merely pushing disruption into neighbourhoods, is flawed. Rather than creating a sense of openness and orderliness by using effective crowd management tactics the government stages a street fight in a way that is predictable, unproductive and disruptive.

This all comes in part from a flawed premise that it is the job of demonstrators to not speak up - to stay home and not protest when governments meet to decide our futures. True, we are are each responsible for our own actions, and it is often counterproductive to disrupt neighbourhoods or to stage a fight with the police (that's one reason I don't do this kind of protest). And obviously it is unsafe to riot. It's our job as demonstrators to hold ourselves to account for our actions and to respect each other in how we protest the government.

But it is the job of government to accommodate democratic participation, the job of government to hold its events in safe, orderly and transparent ways that involve all voices and respect democratic processes. And unlike me, the government has a billion dollars and 10,000 police to do its job, making it deplorable when it fails to do its job in this regard.

The black bloc feminist???? The black bloc was acting like a bunch of total macho thugs yestersay. They hijacked the demo and massively disrespected the rest of the protesters. They should be permanently booted from the movement. Judy is right on that the police behavior was and continues to be outrageous, but i've also had it with the black bloc jerks. They gave the cops the pretext they wanted for their repression. They owe everyone else a big apology. 

the number of women participating in the black bloc was astounding. Judy I'm wondering why you as a feminist feel the need to specifically negate the presence of women in this tactic.

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