Medics at G20 protests speak out against police brutality

| July 5, 2010

The mainstream media has convinced many to focus on burning police cruisers and shattered shop windows as the key images of the Toronto G20 Summit. What have largely been ignored are the chilling details of police violence on protesters and bystanders: both in terms of direct injuries on the streets and violence in detainment, the effects of which will be long-lasting.

What has also been neglected is the structural violence [1] that will result from the decisions made by the leaders who attended the G20 Summit; decisions that thousands came out to protest.

The Toronto Street Medics is an independent organization of volunteers with various levels of health training. We provided preventative health services and first aid to protesters and bystanders. Such support is not an apolitical act. We saw our actions as enabling others to exercise their right to dissent and we freely provided care to all. For many, this is linked to the principle that health is a human right. For others, this is tied to a commitment to social justice, seeing health as essential for political engagement.

We gave out water and sunscreen, but we also dealt with severe injuries. All of the serious injuries we treated were inflicted by the police. While violence against property received a great deal of coverage, violence against people -- broken bones, cracked heads and eyes filled with pepper spray - has yet to feature prominently in any mainstream media. Our teams of medics witnessed and treated people who had been struck in the head by police batons, had lacerations from police shields and had been trampled by police horses (See examples here, here, here and here).

Medics escorted several victims to nearby hospitals who were later diagnosed with concussions and fractures. Many others provided first aid, beyond the Toronto Street Medics; hence these reports are only a part of the bigger picture.

Street Medics faced barriers in many instances. We witnessed people being seriously injured behind police lines who could not be assisted. Our concern for these individuals is immense. Several medics were detained by police and intimidated, despite identifying themselves. Medical equipment, such as gauze, band aids and gloves, was confiscated. We were intimidated and made to feel that what we were doing was illegal. In fact, we were simply providing first-aid.

Further violence occurred in detention. We assisted a number of people upon their release who shared their experiences with us. People were denied basic necessities, including water, food and appropriate toilet facilities. Rights were denied, including prompt access to legal services. Access to health services, including to personal medications for chronic diseases, was curtailed. For the people we assisted, medications were not returned upon their release. People were forced to frantically seek new prescriptions and purchase medications, with at least one case of withdrawal from a medication occurring. Some experienced sexual violence while in detention and many have reported symptoms of anxiety and trauma (See here and here).

Like other organizations (see here and here), Toronto Street Medics is demanding an investigation into violent police action at these protests and conditions within the detention centre. An independent body must conduct this, one without any connection to the police or the Integrated Security Unit. Further, those still in detention, given the conditions and context of their imprisonment, should be released.

However, this is not enough. First, as a community, we must begin to recognize a pattern: the criminalization of dissent. Our hard fought rights to protest, to assemble and to be free from unlawful detention are being eroded. This process accelerated in the years following 9/11, under the auspices of the "War on Terrorism". Many of the police powers granted during that time have been retained and used to quell dissent. In fact, the term "terrorism" was applied to some of the demonstrators this past week.

Second, we must recognize that arbitrary arrest, detention and police violence are everyday occurrences for some, including Indigenous communities, people of colour, sex workers, the homeless and our community members with precarious status. We are collectively guilty of paying attention only when unusual suspects fall victim, such as the university student, the journalist or the bystander. Recommendations for change must address the violence that marginalized communities face daily.

Third, while over 900 people were being arrested in the streets by a security force that cost nearly $1 billion, the leaders of the world's largest economies collectively agreed to focus on austerity measures. "Growth-friendly plans to deliver fiscal sustainability" is code language for cutting social spending while lowering taxes for corporations and financial institutes. The impact of such policies on health care, education, job security and welfare will be devastating, particularly in communities in the Global South and marginalized communities here. This, as well as the undemocratic way such decisions are made, is what thousands were protesting over the past week. Yet their voices have been scarcely heard.

As health providers, we learn that making a diagnosis is about pattern-recognition. Here, that pattern is clear: violence against people in the streets, violence against people through economic policy. What is our proposed treatment? Transparent, democratic, participatory decision-making and action that prioritizes health, dignity and social justice ahead of economic growth. This weekend, we witnessed brutality, but we also saw individuals helping strangers and communities coming together. Another world is possible.

[1] "Structural violence" refers to the harm caused by social, economic and political systems and processes. Galtung J. Violence, peace and peace research. J Peace Res. 1969;6(3):167-191. P. Farmer. 2003. Pathologies of Power:Health,Human Rights and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Andrew, Malika and Michaela are all resident physicians in Toronto. This article was written in conjunction with Alison Gorbould, Paul Harrison, Vanessa Lehan-Streisel, Abeer Majeed MD, Nanky Rai, Priya Raju MD, Sarah Reaburn, Alicia Ridge RN, Samir Shaheen-Hussain MD, Sophie Schoen RN, Katie Wolk, Mubarak Cheema, Ritika Goel MD, and Tomislav Svoboda MD for the Toronto Street Medics.

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What about the posttraumatic stress many protesters and detainees will experience as a result of violence witnessed or suffered?  This should not be minimized or trivialised.  The  OPP thugs should be charged with assault and put in cages.

Police are fortunate no one was killed by their reckless and shocking brutality.  They should be arrested not peaceful citizens exercising their rights to free speech and movement. Harper should be defeated over this.  Sooner than later.

This leaked military document is critical to understanding the militaristic tactics being perpetrated upon innocent civilians on Canadian soil. The tactics used by US special forces abroad, as laid out in this booklet, are virtually the same tactics that are now progressively being utilized by our police forces.  To understand and expose their tactics is to render them useless. Must read and please pass this on!


"US Special Forces Foreign Internal Defense Operations, FM 3-05.202, Feb 2007

FM 3-05.202: Special Forces Foreign Internal Defense Operations is the 110 page manual for US Special Forces support, including undeclared support, of foreign governments against internal revolt or insurgency, such as in El Salvador, Colombia, Somalia and the post occupation governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. The manual was made US military doctrine (policy) in February 2007. It supersedes the 1994/2004 version FM 31-20-3: Foreign Internal Defense Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Special Forces, which Wikileaks described as follows:

The document, which is official US Special Forces policy, directly advocates training paramilitaries, pervasive surveillance, censorship, press control, restrictions on labor unions & political parties, suspending habeas corpus, warrantless searches, detainment without charge, bribery, employing terrorists, false flag operations, concealing human rights abuses from journalists, and extensive use of "psychological operations" (propaganda) to make these and other "population & resource control" measures palatable."

Document freely accessible here:



  Let's pump up the volume on our own voices of dissent.

Defeating Harper is only part of the solution --  of course we have to cut short this autocratic regime that makes a mockery of transparency and accountability . But we need to bear in mind that it was the Liberals (who should change their name to the Neoliberal Party) who laid the foundations long before the Cons took over. 

This is part of an international game plan that began with Gladio and got a new boost under Reagan --  we can't fall into the silliness of blaming one leader or one party when it's global and has its brain in corporate retreats, its nerve in the synapses between board rooms and beholden politicians and its brawn in the US and NATO.

Why should we expect anything different over here from those who have brought repression to so many other countries?  A case of chickens coming home to roost. 



It may be "global" and each and every leader who colludes requires to be held accountable and take responsibility for his/her own actions.  The Liberals may have laid the foundation but Harper grabbed the ball and ran with it with glee.  His autocratic manner is scary!  Can you imagine what he would do with a majority? 

Conditions faced by the detainees were, by all accounts, appalling and the conditions under which they were released were equally so.

That said, it's difficult to condemn the actions and 'zero tolerance' policies that were adopted on Sunday given the events that took place on Saturday.  The actions of police in this case were reactive - not to any immediate threat, but to the violence that occurred the day before. 

While I feel that there are certain officers that undoubtedly acted in a manner that is beyond what is acceptable, and that these officers should be held accountable for their actions, I find it difficult to say that the police did a poor job on the whole.

I would suggest that the police, like the protesters, have some bad apples that should be punished but on the whole that their actions (from the perspective of the police and the protesters alike) were reasonable.

Having said this, there is absolutely no excuse for what happened after the arrests or after the release.

Well it looks as though there were more than a "few bad applies" when one examines the brutality that took place!  People throughout the world are talking about this monstrosity of an event that took place in Toronto. Today I read a piece by an Ottawa Citizen journalist who happened to be in Toronto at the time of the assaults by the police.  His name is David Warren I think.  In any case, he wasn't even in the protest and was simply a bystander absolutely shocked at what he saw before him.  He stated that he had never seen anything like this in his life in ANY country he has visited.  Quite a statement.

The police were the 'criminals' in this event and innocent citizens were hauled away like cattle, often quite brutally, and placed in a "Detention Centre"!  This is Canada here  - a supposedly civilized and democratic country.  The PEACEFUL protesters and bystanders were attacked by the police.  Must one experience this for oneself to understand the intimidation, the horror of it?  I hope not!  What about the alledged sexual abuse that took place?  Yep - "a few bad apples"?  It is clear by the numerous videos that there was more criminality on the part of the police officers than the few windows smashed and police cars LEFT to burn.  Why didn't the police come in on these particular people, I ask?  A question that must be asked very seriously.  Instead, they brutally assault innocent, peaceful people.  To look the other to all of this is to give these criminals more license to beat up and/or man-handle more innocent people!  It does no-one a favour but the thugs who deserve to be put in the slammer for what they did to people. 



It's clear that Saturday's mandate and Sunday's were very different.

I don't doubt that a journalist from the 'Ottawa Citizen' had never seen "anything like this" as I doubt he'd ever attended a protest that lasted several days and saw the level of vandalism that these protests saw.  By all accounts, the actions taken in Seattle were considerably worse.

I agree and am completely unforgiving however on any of the brutality which took place in the detention centers or when protesters were released from these facilities.  There were certainly 'criminal' actions which took place on the part of certain "bad apples" (and yes, I maintain that these were by no means the majority) and these people should be punished in accordance with the law.

I feel that if we want to ensure that the message that unwarranted police brutality has no place in this country that it's important not to overstate the case.  Making accusations against 'the police' as a unit is unwarranted and, frankly, counter-productive.  "This is Canada" and slinging around sweeping accusations of criminal behaviour at any group is decidedly un-Canadian.

The case has not been overstated by a long shot.  Many individuals feel too intimidated to come forward with their stories.  When A VERY FEW police officers themselves come forward to challenge the VAST NUMBER OF BAD APPLES they are seen as turn coats and not taken seriously. They are then in jeopardy themselves.  This is the nature of bullying.  This is how obedience training occurs. This is a global issue not just a Canadian issue. Police and military violence is on the increase and many "centrists" were arrested while the idiots who burned a couple of cop cars walk free.   You can see on a number of videos that the police walk backward away from the burning cop car.  I ask you "WHY".

 I feel we must not be in denial or minimize a very serious and very widespread abuse of police authority.





Again, the mandate on Saturday was clearly different than what it was on Sunday.  I've heard it suggested that those cars that were burned were old models, which ought to have already been recycled, and that they were intended to be diversionary.  Saturday's strategy was based on dispersing crowds and was a response to the meaningful and peaceful protests which took place earlier in the week.  Sunday's strategy was more proactive and was based on the violence and vandalism which took place the preceding day.  You'll get no argument from me that more often than not, they 'got the wrong guy' but the efforts were largely informed by recent history.

To suggest that officers simply aren't saying what they saw seems implausible.  If there were mass police violence then why was it not captured by mainstream media video?  Or are they 'in on it' too?  What you're suggesting seems 'possible' but doesn't seem like the most likely of the 'possible' scenarios. 

Centrist: your 'operative words' re mainstream media "Or are they in on it too".  They were there weren't they?  Ooops, they just missd it all, right? Gimme a break.

Does them having  "missed [sic] it" mean that it didn't happen on the scale you're trying to suggest it did or that they are, in fact, 'in on it'?  I'd have to say that it's probably the former rather than the latter.

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