Eyewitness accounts of police brutality and indiscriminate arrests

| June 28, 2010
Riot police go after protesters outside the G20 in Toronto. Saturday, June 26. Photo: Cornelius Heesters.

The rabble.ca editor's inbox has been filling up with first-hand accounts of over-the-top reactions by riot police against protesters, tourists, and Toronto residents. Here is a selection.

FROM DAVID COLES, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP), who reflects after marching in The People First March on Saturday, June 26:

Well, after spending about $2 billion, the security forces got to break in their hardware.

We gathered at Queen's Park and marched down University toward the security fence on Saturday. It was a beautiful sight to see all of us.

When we wanted to turn south down Spadina, several rows of police blocked us at Richmond. We were quite hemmed in, and the atmosphere got quite tense. At one point a row of police with masks and balaclavas got down on their knees and got ready to shoot C.S. gas at us. That's when I started talking to them. It seems to have worked because they didn't gas us. The atmosphere lightened and some of the kids, because they were mostly kids, started to leave.

Later on, bands of "demonstrators" wandered through the city smashing windows of small businesses, and torching police cars.

Seems kind of goofy that there were abandoned police cars in the streets. And it seems weird that they stopped us so effectively but didn't stop the "demonstrators."

I think some of the masked vandals were cops. After all the police told us they would be using "infiltrators."

It seems like a set up to discredit the labour and civil society movements.

On Friday, there was a spontaneous demonstration that started in the east end of Toronto and then marched down College -- at the corner of Yonge the police decided to stop it and sent in hundreds of guys in riot gear to block them.

Me and some of my union brothers and sisters went down to protect the kids. The police wouldn't let us join the march, but didn't know what to make of a guy in a suit. I kept at it, demanding to be allowed to join the march, and finally a police officer stepped out from behind the one I was talking to, put out his two arms and gave me a good shove. He shoved me a second time with one arm. But eventually they let us in.

Meantime, thousands of our members have lost their jobs, and are running out of Employment Insurance. What about them?

The "global royalty" of the G20 don't want to hear from us. They have decided to do an end run around the United Nations and are organizing the world to fit their whims, and to pick our pockets.

Down with the G20 and their austerity budgets,

Dave Coles

Watch Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP), at the march by clicking here.


FROM MANGLA BANSAL, filmmaker:

The week leading up to the G20 and the riots was strange. Police officers by the 20s were sitting in the shade, drinking coffee, eating chocolate bars. For me, a civilian, who has seen the Olympics, will tell you that this is VERY different. There is no need for five cops on each corner of an intersection. No need. Especially when they are sitting around talking to one another with their coffee or chocolate bars. It's an insult that we as civilians are paying for that!

I went to see the parade/march to Allen Gardens for the Toronto G20 tent city. Hundreds of cops followed protesters on their bicycles. There was an additional couple hundred just lining the streets. Once the protesters were in Allen Gardens the police grouped off again and went back to chatting, drinking coffee and eating chocolate bars.

The riots on Saturday, June 26, were just outrageous. Angry protesters started smashing windows down Yonge and Queen Street, they then moved on to College Street to The University of Toronto Campus. Once I felt safe enough, I went to check out the aftermath.

There is one particular case of some protesters smashing a window of a Starbucks coffee shop with a woman sitting at the window. The woman was balling and crying when the police pulled her out of the glass afterwards. I just don't understand what the police were doing. They seemed to be trying their best not to get too involved. They stepped back and let most of it happen. They didn't want to be the wrong ones in the situation.

When marching together behind non-violent protesters they show their authority, but they still let the ignorant civilians make their violent point. There were hundreds of protesters who were non-violent, who had a solid statement to make, but the violent ones have even turned their message into a joke. I would look at some youth who continued to hold up their signs on Yonge Street and wondered if they felt betrayed by everything. Or if they even understood truly what had happened and that some people now view them as being a part what has happened.

Some shops with broken windows were going on with business as usual. The Bell store was still selling phones. As I was taking a picture, a man came up beside me and said, "That is a great shot of capitalism today if I ever saw one." I agreed. Some other independent shopkeepers that were spared started boarding their windows with cardboard. I went up to one and asked the restaurant owner if his windows had also been smashed, he laughed and said "No, this is only in-case."

I managed to get a picture of some violent protesters who openly showed their choice of using force. They were dressed in camouflage; they spattered their faces with fake blood and even had special effects makeup showing various fake bloody gashes on their faces. It was a sad sight. Then I turned around and literally in the same spot there were happy Ghanaians waving their flag down Yonge Street screaming happily over their win against the USA in the FIFA World Cup.

What a lovely contrast.

Mangla Bansal


FROM LARRY ROUSSEAU, Regional Vice President, NCR-TB, Élément National Co., who was at the detainee holding centre for those arrested on Sunday, June 27.

At approximately 10:40 a.m., we arrived at the Eastern Ave. detainee holding centre (Toronto Film Studios location). This is a large sprawling complex of warehouses and film studios with lots of parking for buses and vehicles, perfect for a detainee processing centre, it seems. Must have cost a pretty penny. Part of the billion dollar boondoggle, no doubt.

Across the street from the complex on the northern side at the intersection of Pape and Eastern there were approximately 100 protesters assembled, quite peacefully, chanting slogans of solidarity for detainees held inside. Things were quite relaxed, in fact, and Terry was able to cross over to the south side and join several media photographers who were just clicking away. There was a strong media presence, but things were relaxed. In fact I ran into one of our raging grannies from Ottawa, Ria, and we posed for pictures. There was a bass guitar player with a portable sound system right in front of the line of cops. [The latter] were keeping the crowd to the north side of Eastern Avenue, backing onto Pape Avenue.

I milled about and joined in on the chanting and generally, found things to be somewhat more relaxed than I expected. Then, a round of applause and cheering erupted from the crowd. Yes, across the street, one lone woman, quite young, not more than 5-ft. tall, was walking to the gates; she had obviously just been released, as she was carrying a plastic bag with her things. A great cheer went up as she got to the sidewalk and she was immediately surrounded by reporters and cameras.

So this was the threat to Canada's security, eh? How young she looked, I thought, surely not much older than my own daughter, and looked as if she was still in shock and in a daze. I ran over to get a closer look, but the crowd around her was too thick as she started to make her way up Pape Avenue. I thought to myself that the last thing she probably wanted was to talk to anyone; she probably wanted to get home, take a shower, and just hug her loved ones and get in her bed and wonder what the hell was happening to the world, and what the hell is happening to Canada.

About a couple of minutes after that, an older guy with a graying scruffy beard came out, and another cheer went up. So they were starting to release detainees, I thought. But that was not even a trickle. Rumour had it that there were at least 500 detainees inside. The facility could probably hold thousands. Anyhow, the release was a good sign. The crowd perked up, and the chanting as well as the mood picked up considerably. I reflected on the optics of it all. Certainly, with all the media now lining up to gather comments from what did not look like committed Black Bloc anarchists but rather people who got rounded up, the world would be getting a front row view of Stephen Harper's new phase of the Canadian Security Complex.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it really all happened quite suddenly, as these things often do. From the left side (no pun intended), coming from the eastern side of Eastern Avenue, three speeding vans (Dodge Caravans) came to a screeching halt directly behind the police line, in the centre of the intersection. Out of each van at least three or four burly plain-clothed men and one woman rushed out and charged the crowd knocking over whoever was in their paths. I quickly realized that there was no way that those vans could do what they were doing, nor the occupants go where they were going, without the complete complicity and knowledge of the police line.

This was planned. And executed with lightning speed. At least three protesters if not four, including the bass guitar player I believe, were wrestled to the ground, and bundled into the vans and at the same time, the police line which had been on the north side of Eastern Avenue moved about 50 feet into Pape Avenue, pushing the crowd back holding their batons menacingly and threatening anyone who confronted them. Two or three minutes, max.

Moments before this all started I had moved up onto the steps of an apartment building on the northeast corner of Eastern and Pape to get a better view of the crowd. I was about five steps up, not quite on the balcony, but with a clear view. There was a fair bit of mayhem, and the thing about violence is that while it is happening, the brain is still catching up with what exactly is going on. People were getting hurt.

The natural reaction of the crowd was to move back. We were frozen in space and time, and some shock, it was happening all too quickly. Once the new detainees had been abducted, I cannot call it otherwise, and bundled into the vans, the vans took off, and slowly the more committed protesters came forward as far as they would dare and squatted down on the street, with many protesters now yelling "shame!" repeatedly, as the original police line backed down a little.

Clearly, this had been a police aggression. The crowd up to this point had made no threatening moves, had not made one aggressive gesture, and the police had no apparent reason to move in. Which begs the question, why the unmarked vans with the police in civilian clothing, why the rush into the crowd to take out what seemed to be targeted individuals, why the abductions, and why the entire manner in which the abductions were conducted? Why no mention of this in the media to date??

Soon after the vans departed with their abductees, the bigger guns came out. And the police slowly but surely moved all remaining protesters back up Pape Avenue, and even shot a few smoke grenades into the departing crowds to move them along, and finally, dispersed the crowd. All afternoon, the media painted the situation as police "dealing with a situation caused by the protesters." Really??

Let us assume that there were individuals in the crowd which the police had identified from an earlier event the day before, which is quite the assumption. I really don't buy the "we know who the suspects are, we are just now rounding them up" line, to explain the "abductions." [It] is such a dubious and legally slippery slope in terms of basic human rights and habeas corpus, which form the very foundations of our Western legal system.

This is what we have seen happening for so long in Latin America, in certain areas of the Middle East and Africa, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere in the world. Security forces come out of nowhere and violently bundle "suspects" into cars or vans, and take off. I had heard of it so much during my childhood, of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes in Haiti, or the police, arresting opposition leaders, students, you name it. To see it happening before my very eyes had me in complete and utter shock. This is what it's like. This is what it feels like. This is terrorism. This is terrifying. And yet, the police continue to say that at high noon on Eastern Avenue, it was the protesters fault. I saw it with my own eyes!!! It was not the protesters. That is a lie!

We have seen it with the security certificates against certain terrorism suspects such as Mohamed Harkat. Now expanded to protests across Canada, you say? What could possibly have justified such an action in Toronto at the corner of Eastern and Pape? G20 or no G20, I don't care who was in the crowd, there was no immediate threat. Other than perhaps the public relations or media optics threat to the new Canadian Security Complex. An intimidating, freedom of expression crushing, corporate state oppression.

So, finally, there are four torched police cruisers, fully equipped, let's put that at $100,000 each. Half a million, max. There are several, perhaps even many, storefront windows taken out, let's put that at $1 million, $2 million, max. The damages done this past weekend are probably about the same as can be found on a very raucous night following a Stanley Cup win by a Canadian home team, such as has been seen in places like Montreal, and, yes, even in Toronto.

In my humble opinion, the torched police cruisers are entirely the fault of the police services. In all four cases, in light of the abandonment of the vehicles by the police, the torchings could have been completely, COMPLETELY, avoided. It is not as if there were not enough police reinforcements available to keep those cars out of harm's way until the tow truck comes to pull them away. And that is IF, and a very big IF, said cars were out of commission in the first place. What happened to these cruisers, did they break down?? Out of gas? A billion and a half dollars and we got clunkers patrolling the streets during the G20??

I saw one of the cars abandoned, with its windows rolled down by the way, which I found amazing, with laptop and things still inside! The first thought I had was that the cars were completely vulnerable to being vandalized. Anyone, anyone, would have, should have, must have thought the same. I find it absolutely inconceivable that ANYONE working in police services and especially the officers responsible for those cars would not have come to that very same conclusion. I must ask if that was not the plan all along. Think about it. Four cars that could have been guarded by a dozen police officers each, 50 officers in total (out of what, 25,000 available?).

And the official line is that they were all occupied elsewhere. Heck, they were looking at it all from down the street! However, protecting the assets maybe would have avoided the pictures, the message, the spin, of violent protest. How many of the storefront windows were smashed under the very eyes and noses of riot police who simply stood by and watched?? What the heck were the 25,000 police officers hired to do if not provide security?? I can only conclude that this violence was allowed to be perpetrated. Perhaps with the very real intent of spinning the message, as has now been done, increasingly today, to legitimize the entire $1.5 billion boondoggle.

The message now seems to be spun that certain groups alone are responsible for the violence, ALL of the violence. I must disagree. I charge that the police allowed the violence to happen, by the very fact that they were entirely capable of stopping the violence done to the four torched cars AND the storefronts. All backed up by one and a half billion dollars in manpower and equipment. I can only conclude that the entire operation was allowed to run the course it did for a very sinister reason. And that is the most violent, and frightening, reality of all. À qui profite le crime?

Benjamin Franklin, father of the American Revolution, a most peaceful and brilliant revolutionary who was instrumental in helping to achieve America's independence from the totalitarian British rule of King George III, once said that "any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." This is a win-win for the Canadian Security Complex, and a lose-lose for Canadian society.

Larry Rousseau

 

FROM KATE GARVIE, Member of the Sierra Youth Coalition and employee of Green Communities Canada, who witnessed the following on Sunday, June 27:

Is it possible to get this up on your site? The conversation with the police is fairly unique since it gives a disturbing look into what the police carrying out these abuses are thinking!

Events witnessed between 12:35-1:45 June 27th 2010 at the corners of Elizabeth and Dundas by the Bay Street Bus Terminal.

While walking to the bus terminal to leave Toronto, I saw a man being thrown to the ground and hit by four police officers with several other officers present. Another citizen was being pushed into the street by an officer. The man was clearly upset that his friend was being assaulted by the police so I stopped to speak with him to see if I could help.

According to this man he and his friend had been walking down the street after eating lunch. (They were attending a conference connected to their PhD research as far as I understood.) They saw a man being pushed around and searched by police across the road and the man's friend had gone across the road to ask if they were inside the security perimeter and if they man was in trouble because as far as they could tell he was getting in trouble for just taking pictures.

As soon as the man asked if they were inside the security perimeter he was thrown against the wall of a restaurant. He tried to pull away and four officers jumped on him. This is when I started watching. The man was handcuffed with a plastic zip tie and was kept lying on the ground for several minutes. He appeared to have injuries on his knees and head. A police officer kept his foot on his back with significant pressure even though he wasn't resisting.

When an officer saw us across the street he came over and asked if we knew the man being arrested. The friend explained that they were just staying in Toronto for a conference. When I asked the police officer what had happened he started yelling in my face "What's in your purse? What's in your purse?" and made me open it. He then said that "This is never going to happen again in this city." I told him that this man appeared to have nothing to do with the protests, peaceful or otherwise. He replied "you're all responsible for this."

A man then came across the road and asked us if we knew the man being arrested. He had been sitting inside the restaurant when the assault took place and had taken pictures of the man on the ground surrounded by police. He had his camera taken and the pictures were erased. When he protested the police response was "this is a whole new world today."

Another officer then came over and started telling us that the man was being charged with assault and resisting his arrest. He would spend the night in prison and maybe get bail. He couldn't promise this though because "Harper is pissed." He then went on to say that we were dressed just like the black bloc. The man who had been arrested was wearing a polo t-shirt and cargo shorts. I was wearing jeans, and a green t-shirt. He then said like the other officer that "this would never happen again in Toronto."

When we said we had nothing to do with the black bloc, he said that the terrorists were in the sewers and were going to contaminate our water system and we would all die. He also said that yesterday during the protests on Saturday that they had no idea what people were doing behind the big banners and people could have been heating up super glue to produce cyanide and killed everyone.

They then took away three people in a police van. The second police officer came back over and said that they were going to take him to a holding centre and not to worry because they weren't going to "beat the crap out of him." He then told all of us to leave or we would be searched. Right when he was telling me that if we didn't leave I would be searched another officer started yelling "don't run from me," and I saw two girls who had been walking away stop and wait for four to six police officers to come over and ask to see their bags. The police proceeded to open all of their bags, take everything out. They appeared to turn on their computer and go through pictures on a camera. One girl was put in handcuffs. She was just standing talking with them. They were detained for about 20 minutes. I recognized her from peaceful protests the previous day so I stayed to make sure she was alright. The eventually released her and she left with her friend.

During the hour that I was on the corner of Elizabeth and Dundas I saw three people arrested, five people searched and one person beaten by police. Several people were yelled at for taking pictures and had pictures deleted from their cameras.

Kate Garvie

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