Toronto's Occupy Spring

| April 5, 2012
In a response to police brutality against Occupy Toronto members, 100 activists blockaded 52 Division on Dundas Street. Photo: David Coombs/rabble.ca

Despite its concrete setting, Occupy Toronto's Osgoode location was a growing seed. But for the Toronto police, it was more like a useless weed instead of a miracle of spring.

At 1 p.m. on Friday, March 30, 2012, Toronto police responded to a trespass call regarding the Occupy encampment at 361 University Avenue in downtown Toronto.

This was not the first time Occupy Toronto has been at this location. It had occupied the same space between City Hall and Osgoode Hall in late January, 2012, after a large anti-Ford rally.

This time, Occupy Osgoode, known simply as Occupy Oz, had been occupied for four days with the understanding that no tents and structures would be erected. While there were no tents up that week, police had noted that people were sleeping inside what became known as Occu-pods.

According to Occupy Osgoode, they had permission to stay at that location from the property manager. Toronto police gave a different story, stating that this was the second time they had asked the protesters to remove their tents and gear.

Things came to a head on Friday, March 30, after eviction notices were handed out by police. That afternoon, Angela Turvey, working for the Occupy Toronto livestream team, was filming. Two officers ordered the occupiers at the Osgoode Hall location to pack up their belongings. In her video, Occupy Osgoode member John Erb, raises his voice in objection to the eviction and is subsequently arrested. Police are heard mentioning something about "inciting."

Shortly thereafter, Angela Turvey was arrested for filming the arrest of John Erb. You can view what her camera caught before she was arrested here.

In this video of Turvey's arrest, filmed by another occupier, you can hear her screaming in pain. As blood pours from her face onto the pavement, she shouts that she is not resisting arrest. In the background in the last seconds of the video, a police officer tackles another occupier to the ground.

This video shows Craig Poirier and Alice Evonic after they have been arrested, while in this video you can see the police carry away an unconscious John Erb and leave him on the pavement to wait for an ambulance. The narrator in the last video states, "If I wasn't militant before, I'm ready to be now." At the end of the clip, a member of the Toronto Fire Department can be seen cleaning up the blood.

These videos would become important as occupiers alleged that police brutality took place during the arrests. This is especially true in the case of Angela Turvey's arrest. Witnesses have stated that they saw Toronto police use their "handcuffs like brass knuckles" across her face. In the second video posted, you can see blood pouring from Turvey's head onto the pavement.

Of the four arrested that Friday afternoon, two were taken to hospital for injuries sustained during their arrests. Angela Turvey was taken to St. Michael's Hospital where she was treated for a broken nose, broken orbital bone, and a gash to the head which took seven stitches to close. John Erb was under police guard while he was being treated at Toronto General. Toronto police referred to these injuries requiring hospitalization as "minor" despite the fact that bones were broken.

The Toronto police have charged the following occupiers:

John Erb, 44, of no fixed address, is charged with:
1. Cause Disturbance
2. Assault with Intent to Resist Arrest
3. Assault Peace Officer
4. Possession of Marijuana
5. Fail to Comply Probation

Craig Poirier, 35, of no fixed address, is charged with:
1. Obstruct Peace Officer
2. Assault with Intent to Resist Arrest
3. Possession of Marijuana

Alice Evonic, 19, of no fixed address, is charged with:
1. Obstruct Peace Officer

Angela Turvey, 36, of no fixed address, is charged with:
1. Obstruct Peace Officer
2. Assault with Intent to Resist Arrest

That night, Occupy Toronto held a march against police brutality in solidarity with Turvey and the other occupiers who were arrested earlier.

Eighty activists set up a brief blockade of Dundas Avenue outside 52 Division. They then marched to Queen Street West and University Avenue, holding that intersection for 10 minutes. It was while marching up University back to the Occupy Osgoode camp that Toronto police threw a bicycle into the march. One protester was arrested during that evening's march and was denied bail in a hearing Saturday afternoon.

The next day -- Saturday, March 31 -- Occupy Toronto returned en masse to the streets. More than a hundred people set up another barricade on Dundas in front of 52 Division and remained there from 4:30 p.m. until roughly 2:20 a.m. You can view rabble's photos of the blockade here.

Occupiers created a human chain across Dundas and declared the blockade would remain until their four demands were met:

1. Unconditional release of three Occupiers still being held in Toronto jails.

2. All charges dropped against all those arrested on Friday.

3. A public inquiry into Toronto police violence on Friday.

4. The officers involved must be tried in civilian court.

As 6 p.m. approached, an announcement went out that Occupy Toronto would be holding their Saturday General Assembly (GA) in the middle of Dundas in the heart of downtown Toronto in solidarity with the blockade. Throughout the night, the Toronto police department attempted to negotiate with the activists blockading 52 Division and used the People's Mic as a public address system.

The occupiers holding down the blockade in front of 52 Division refused to move. At 2:30 a.m., the police moved in and pushed the blockade onto the sidewalk. This resulted in two more arrests. Both individuals were both charged with mischief and interfering with property.

This brings the Occupy Toronto arrests that weekend up to seven. As of Tuesday, April 3, Turvey, Evonic and Poirier -- three of the four original arrested occupiers -- have been released from custody with bail conditions such as non-association. They have also been ordered not to return to Osgoode Hall. Curiously, while Toronto police stated in its press release that officers were called in to enact a trespass order, none of those arrested were later charged under the Trespass to Property Act.

On Sunday, April 1, a police spokeswoman told the Globe and Mail that she was unaware of any allegations of police misconduct in regards to Turvey's arrest. Also, there were no indications that the province's Special Investigations Unit, which probes deaths and serious injuries that occur in police custody, would look into Turvey's case.

This despite the Saturday blockade that occurred right outside 52 Division, where the police officers responsible for arresting and injuring Turvey's are assigned.

On Monday April 2, both the lawyer for Turvey and the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) announced they would be looking into Angela Turvey's arrest. In any case, where someone is seriously injured while in police custody, this normally triggers an automatic SIU review.

Under the Police Services Act, "A chief of police shall notify the SIU immediately of an incident involving one or more of his or her police officers that may reasonably be considered to fall within the investigative mandate of the SIU, as set out in subsection 113 (5) of the Act. O. Reg. 267/10, s. 3."

According to reports from the Toronto Sun, SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon said the unit only "learned of the incident through media reports. ...[The] unit made special note to mention that it was not called in to conduct this investigation by Toronto Police but was responding to media reports of the incident outside of Osgoode Hall where four people were arrested and two taken to hospital."

The media received the video from Occupiers filming the arrests, including that of Turvey.
On a radio show Sunday, April 1, hosted weekly by Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug Ford commented, "We believe in demonstrations and if someone wants to go out and peacefully protest, God bless 'em." But, he continued, "if someone wants to break the law -- and I'm not saying they did -- if someone wants to camp out in front of somewhere they shouldn't, then they should move on."

Despite the violence against Occupy Toronto on the weekend, occupiers held a new weekly GA on Monday, April 2. Seventy people attended the meeting to pass a proposal regarding Decolonizing Occupy Toronto. This new General Assembly, which will meet every Monday night at 7 p.m. at Cloud Gardens (Richmond Street, between Yonge and Bay Streets), brought out more people than any other GA in the city since St. James Park was raided by police on November 24, 2011.

Planning events have begun for the Occupy May Day in Toronto. Events on Occupy May Day include a rally at Nathan Phillips Square starting at 4 p.m. rabble.ca is the official media sponsor of this event.

Krystalline Kraus writes the Activist Communiqué blog for rabble.ca.

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