Criminilization of Dissent and Sheer Police Brutality at the G20
I've been following the very interesting discussion on my entry about the incident at Queen and Spadina Sunday night. Regular readers have promised never to read this site again. Some blame those at Queen and Spadina for being there, others feel the police mishandled things, everyone has an opinion.
Whether you agree or disagree with what went down, I think it's important we continue to ask questions and discuss things. Andrew pointed me to this note (name removed) wrote on her Facebook page.
On Saturday night, June 26th 2010, I was arrested without cause and forced to spend 18 hours at the G20 detention facility on Eastern Ave. A fairly large group of demonstrators were holding a peaceful gathering on the sidewalk outside the facility to stand in solidarity with other comrades and activists who had been targeted, followed, beaten, and arrested by police earlier in the weekend.* People were chanting, playing music, dancing, and exercising their rights to free speech and dissent within the law. It is worth emphasizing that there was absolutely no violence nor any threat of violence occurring. At about 1AM, our group was approached by hundreds of riot cops on all four sides, in full gear with masks, batons, guns, etc. After completely surrounding us, we were told through a loudspeaker that we were “breaching the peace” and that we had to disperse immediately. However, this order was impossible to fulfill as we were trapped and were not being given a way out. Five minutes later, we were given a second warning to leave the area, or “appropriate force” would be used against us. Once again, everyone in the group was asking the same question- HOW?? At this point, we wanted to leave and understood that we had to, but we couldn’t. Finally, after one of our group members pleaded with an officer, a small gap was created in the heavily fortified wall and we all began to file out, heading westward on Eastern Ave. We stuck closely together, for fear that any one person sticking out or walking alone would be individually targeted, as had happened earlier in the weekend. We quietly all left the surrounded zone and continued to walk down Eastern Ave, as riot cops continued to follow and surround us on either side of our line. Just before reaching Pape Ave, for some reason the cops suddenly cut off our line, trapping about half of the original group inside again. While the people at the front of the line were free to go home, the rest of us were told to put our hands on our heads. While we stood like that for fifteen minutes, I asked the guy standing beside me if we were actually getting arrested- he told me that getting arrested would be the best case scenario under these circumstances.
After being notified of our arrest, we were swarmed by a bunch of cops and each of us was handcuffed. Our bags were thoroughly searched, we were asked to provide ID, and all of our belongings were taken. It was very obvious that I was the first person my arresting officer had ever arrested, as she clearly had no idea what was going on (“Do we actually need to fill out this part of the arrest form?” “How do these handcuffs work?” “I totally forgot to check your pockets, do you have anything in there?” etc.) The only thing she had any confidence in doing was telling me that it’s a good thing I’m self-employed because after this I’ll have no hope of ever getting a job again (which is obviously completely false). Our pictures were taken and they put us in the back of three police wagons, which were essentially stuffy hot cages with metal benches and locks. We were driven to the G20 detention facility, which was literally just down the street as we had just come from it, and held in the wagons for about an hour and a half. While waiting, I could hear both the cries of the other prisoners (who we had just been rallying for) as well as the uproar of the people that had just assembled outside (who were rallying for us).
We were finally led inside the warehouse and locked up inside 3x6m metal cages. There were rows upon rows of these cages in there, bolted to the ground, crammed with people. Inside each cage was a small metal bench and a port-a-potty with no door and no toilet paper. It was freezing cold and they had taken both my sweater and my scarf. I spent the night on the dirty and cold cement floor with nine other women, shivering and huddled together to keep warm. The lights were on the entire time, and people in mine and neighbouring cages were continuously banging and shaking them, demanding to be let out. We begged the guard to bring us sweaters, but they had already run out of them a long time ago. Finally after it was obvious that people were going to get sick, we were given a total of three t-shirts and a couple of pairs of socks. We all took turns creating barriers in front of the bathroom so that we could each use the toilet with some level of privacy from all of the male cops walking around We were handcuffed the entire time, and some peoples’ handcuffs were on so tightly that their hands were going numb and fingers turning blue, but most of the guards refused to loosen them. We were given a styrofoam cup of water every couple of hours, and two sandwiches with cheese and butter inside them. I asked if I could have just a slice of bread because I’m lactose-intolerant (I’m actually vegan but wasn’t going to get into it) and they said no and told me to shut the fuck up. Most requests for anything, even just basic needs like menstrual pads, blankets, and medication, were either completely ignored or ridiculed. By the morning, after the Novotel mass arrests, 17 more women had been added to our cage, making it a total of 27. They included everyone from university professors to media reps to people who had just been walking down the street and got caught up in the mess.
On Sunday around mid-day, they finally started to process us. At this point, the entire prison was packed full of hundreds of tired, hungry, and understandably frustrated people, some of whom had been there for over twenty four hours. They had absolutely no grounds for holding us that long, and it was clear that we were being detained as political prisoners so that we couldn’t participate in any further actions on Sunday (and also so that they could fill their arrest quotas and justify spending absolutely absurd amounts of money (OUR money) on all of this and look like heroes etc etc.) Probably the most inspiring part of the entire bleak and incredibly dehumanizing process was the solidarity and support I received throughout, especially when walking past all of the other cages full of people while being led in handcuffs to the processing room. That is basically where I got the strength to keep going through this extremely nightmarish ordeal. While being processed, I was asked if I was aware why I had been arrested (NO), and told that I was going to be released without any charges, but also that if I was to protest again at the G20 I would be criminally charged.
I was then moved to the “catch and release” area of the prison and told that my right to use the telephone was being negated since I was going to be released soon (which didn’t happen, and despite making it very clear in the subsequent hours that I deserved to make a phone call, I was still ignored). The “catch and release” area is where I witnessed the most despicable treatment by fellow human beings that I have ever experienced in my life. The abuse of power on the part of the police and court officers was unlike anything I ever could have imagined. Instances of blatant racist, sexist, and homophobic abuse were severe and ongoing. I do not even wish to repeat some of the demeaning and frankly horrifying things that I heard some officers say to myself and to other people, especially to women. The constant mockery of detainees and systematic downplaying of the pitiful nature of our circumstances made me realize how morally bankrupt and disconnected from reality and from humanity these cops actually are. I kept getting moved around from cage to cage and kept getting lied to about getting released soon. I eventually ended up in a cage by myself across from a cage with about 35 men in it. These particular men had been denied food, water, and answers for many, many hours. When desperate pleas for water were made, the police replied by converging right in front of their cage and chatting while drinking their own bottled water. There was one “juvenile offender” in there, a 14 year-old boy, being treated in the exact same way as everyone else, including being denied a phone call to his parents or to a lawyer. There was also a man in there in critical condition, almost without a pulse, and it took me literally screaming at the top of my lungs to get someone to finally pay any attention to him.
I was also completely appalled at the sheer incompetency and disorganization of the police force. I couldn’t even count the amount of times I heard one officer say to another “I have no idea what is going on.” Nobody had any answers to any questions, whether they were our questions or their own questions to each other. If I ever hear another police officer say “We are working on it” or “We are trying our very best” I think I am going to lose it. This was the standard response to absolutely EVERYTHING. Many police officers even had the nerve to say things to me like “Trust me, I’m equally as frustrated as you are” or “I’ve been on my feet all day too so I know how you feel” or “I got woken up and called in to work in the middle of the night- this situation is unfair for everyone” or “It’s not that cold in here, you just FEEL cold because you’re tired” or “You wouldn’t be here in the first place if you weren’t so fucking violent!” The majority of them were just wasting time walking around trying to figure out what the hell they were supposed to be doing. They had no record of where anyone was in there, so every time they were looking for a specific person, they had to go around to every single cage and ask for them by name. Anytime I said anything to them (eg. “Why is the catch and release process all catch and no release?” “How many times are you going to walk by and pretend like you’re doing something?” “Why do I know more about the law than you do?” “Does your billion dollar budget not include FREE tap water?”), I feel that my release process became slower and slower. I realize these things may have been mildly insulting to them but they are all true and pale in comparison to how incredibly insulted I was to be locked up in that place.
Finally at almost 8pm on Saturday evening, my photo was taken again, my belongings returned, and I was released. At one point they had said that one of the reasons it was taking so long was because there had been a riot outside and the prison had been on lock-down. I think they forgot about the fact those of us inside actually know a lot of the people who were outside and have now been informed that there was no such riot and no such lock-down, so it was just another lie added to the long list. I am incredibly thankful that I had friends that managed to find out that I was in there and were waiting to take me home when I got out.
It is utterly reprehensible that something of this magnitude and level of injustice could occur in our city. Many peoples’ fundamental rights have been brutally violated and many people experienced much worse things than myself. This is but a microcosm of what occurs on our streets and in our prisons every single day. I will continue to refuse to be criminalized for expressing dissent against criminal and illegitimate institutions.
*A similarly peaceful demonstration had been held outside the holding facility the night before, in support of our friend Emomotimi Azorbo, a deaf black male who had been arrested on Friday for crossing the street at Yonge and College after police had verbally instructed him not to (he is DEAF). On Friday night we were simply trying to convince an ableist and shamefully ignorant police force to allow an ASL interpreter inside the facility so that Emomotimi would be able to communicate with his lawyer and with police investigators, as any hearing person would be able to. The police denied these pleas, effectively denying him of his basic rights under the Canadian Charter. Support is now pouring in from deaf communities and allies around the world.
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