In June 2010, I travelled to Toronto from Vancouver to protest the G20 summit. I was driven to do this by my disagreement with the interests of and decisions made by the G8 and the G20. I feel that this elite group of financially preoccupied individuals has not been asked to and is not entitled to make globally influential decisions on behalf of the rest of the world. Their interests are mainly colonial, capital-centered, and self-rewarding. Their concern for wealth and profit far surpasses concern for people and the environment. The impact of their war-profiteering, earth-raping, human and animal enslaving projects are irreversible and detrimental. They are annihilating our future.
The summits themselves are extravagant, excessive and expensive. Well-dressed delegates and their spouses dine on several hundred dollar dinner plates while billions starve. This year, an indoor fake lake was built for the occasion, while the real ones are contaminated with toxic pollution. An estimated 930 million was spent on security alone. Yet somehow there is not enough money to feed, house and provide medical care to the less fortunate people of the world. Developing nations face continual debt, due to current and past occupation by the wealthy G8/G20 states who have fraudulently promised them aid and prosperity. They are responsible for world trade, which is out of control; resulting in monumental poverty, exploitation as well as cultural and ecological destruction. For those reasons, amongst countless more, I felt ardently enough to travel to Toronto and oppose in solidarity.
When I arrived in Toronto on Thursday the 24th I was taken aback by the overwhelming police presence. We had a late night, following a 3 am vehicle search. Police had been flown in from all over the country. That weekend I saw police on bikes, police in vehicles, on motor cycles, on horses, in full riot gear, in plain clothes, dressed as protesters and police toting rubber bullet rifles and L-RAD sound cannons.
On Saturday June 26th, I woke up following a great night in the Tent City set up in Allen Gardens Park. I returned to where I was staying and prepared for the Peoples First march, which followed the labor demonstration and began in Queens Park. Thousands gathered in the rain and began to march. For just under one hour I walked in solidarity with my friends and other protestors. Then, the march began to separate at Spadina and Richmond. Half of the group seemed to be following the police guided route while the rest attempted to move further down Richmond. It became confusing and crowded. I felt disoriented and claustrophobic and was separated from my friends. People stopped moving as rows of riot police blocked the front of the march.
I stepped up onto the sidewalk to breathe, attempted to locate my friends in the crowd and to get a look at the police activity. I was standing beside several reporters and cameras. I felt nervous when I saw that there were horses and masked police armed with tear gas canisters behind the main blockade. Frustrated, I tried to make eye contact with the riot police and to ask one if he even knew what the G8/G20 was and if so why he felt compelled to protect their summit. Of course he did not answer. I was disturbed by the fear inspired by their armed, intimidating presence. They were not called there to protect me. They were there to protect the unjust delegates and institutions that I was protesting.
Then I began talking to a few people beside me. We smelled vinegar and saw that many people were taking out soaked handkerchiefs, used as a precaution to protect against tear gas. I am particularly uneasy about gas as I have asthma and contact lenses. Someone loudly said, “They’re bringing out the gas!” So I turned around and reached into my backpack to get my gas mask. At this point my only concern was putting it on and getting out of there. I did not even consider my close proximity to the riot police on my left. As I began to put my mask on I was abruptly and violently grabbed by number 52. He was a huge man, wearing no name tag. I was picked up and bent face first over a café patio fence. With his knee in between my legs and his shield firmly on my head and back he held me there for over one minute, pinching me between the fence and his shield and body.
At this point I was not very interested in resisting arrest, I was actually not even thinking about the fact that I was being arrested. I was only thinking that I was being attacked by someone and that I needed help. I was very scared and screaming loudly. I heard him yelling back and forth with the other police, arguing or trying to determine what to do. I recall “Get her out of here!” and some confusion. I think that they were irritated at the media behind us and the people filming the ordeal. Eventually he picked me up and heaved me out of sight, behind the police blockade and around the corner of a building.
It was a brick building and I was roughly pushed against it, despite my inability to resist, which resulted from an incredible size and strength advantage on his part as well as the shock that I was in. He smashed my face into the bricks before putting on zip ties so painfully tight that I later had blisters. I could feel my lip was split open and blood was filling in my mouth.
As he and another man coarsely led me to a vehicle I firmly repeated, “Why am I being arrested? Why am I being arrested? You have to tell me why I am being arrested.” He shouted his reply to me, “Shut the fuck up”. Several other police emptied my bag and patted me down. They yelled at me about my mask and would not answer my questions. One woman, wearing a gas mask, replaced my zip ties with cuffs and said “why do you have this mask?”I told her it was to protect myself and pointed out the irony of the fact that she was asking me while wearing a full gas mask herself. My picture was taken and I was put into the back of a police van.
After a few minutes alone in the back of the van, a man in a gas mask opened the first door and said “Don’t spit on me!” Through the holes in the second door he yelled my rights and informed me that I was being charged with “breach of peace”. He slammed the door and shortly after the van started up and drove for a long time until reaching what I later learned was the temporary detention facility at the Toronto Film Studio. This facility has since been appropriately coined “Torontanomo Bay” and “the Bash n’ Stash” amongst other names.
For several minutes I was left in the back of the parked truck in the loading garage while a group of police had a casual discussion outside, ignoring my pleas for a toilet. Eventually I was taken to an empty cage where my belt was removed. This was annoying as I was wearing broken pants which would not stay up and my hand cuffs made it difficult to keep them up. I had to use the door-less toilet in front of three police, one male and two females, who did not watch directly but who made rude comments. There was no toilet paper and, following my request for some, it was tossed through the bars. I had to get up and retrieve it from the ground with my pants half off and it was embarrassing. A group of officers further away, in eye sight and hearing range, were childishly mocking and laughing at me.
I was informed that I would be strip searched. The male officer suggested that I was hoping to be touched by men but would instead be searched by females. I was led to another room where my rights and charge were read again, this time with the suggestion that I was intending to use a weapon (gas). They kept making mistakes and so this took a long time.
Then I was led to another area to be strip searched. One man from the group that was previously mocking me said loudly “What the fuck is that, a boy or a girl?” The search was humiliating. My clothes and earrings were removed and I had to bend over and cough three times while two female officers examined. I was not able to get my nose ring out and so they told me that they would rip it out or cut it off. Finally one suggested that I be taken to a medic. In sock feet, I was led outside to the medical building. My nose ring was pried out and the medic said he needed to attend to my split lip and did so by disinfecting it.
I was first put in a cage with one other girl but she was removed within the first hour. For the next twelve or thirteen hours I was alone. At first I was positive and remained active, doing yoga, singing loudly, talking with others in the room and swinging from the top of my cage. After about four hours I was led to make a phone call, and I called the legal aid number that I had written on the inside of my pants pocket. The officers who led me there stood right outside the booth in listening range of my conversation. Then I asked to see the lawyer in the building, who happened to also be from the same legal aid group as I had called. I was permitted to see him and he was a very nice person. Alarmed and disgusted by my story, he told me that my arrest was unlawful and completely absurd and that I should not be there. I was informed that the courthouse was going to close soon and so I would have to spend the night in the cage. When I left his room two cops led me back to the phone as the lawyer I had spoken to on the phone had called back. Again standing near enough to hear my conversation, the officers were complaining very loudly that I was taking too long.
I was searched again, revealing a previously missed pair of earplugs in my pocket. When hassled, I suggested they might have been found had I coughed four times instead of just three. They were not amused and I was taken back to my cage.
After about twelve hours another girl joined me in my cell. At this time the mass arrests had been made in Queens Park and elsewhere. I was very glad to see someone else as I had become incredibly cold and depressed. I was also very hungry as I was unable to eat the one white wheat bun and slice of processed cheese that was offered every seven or eight hours due to an allergy and being vegan. I was very thirsty as well but most of all I was overwhelmingly freezing cold. I found it impossible to lie or even sit on the bench or floor. The bench itself was so narrow I could not fit widthwise on it to lie, and would not have wanted to as it was metal and even colder than the floor. I tried to rest standing up or kneeling in such a way that only my feet touched the ground. Before, I had attempted to make a “turtle” type of shelter inside my sweater by pulling in my head, arms and legs. It only worked for so long.
So the girl and I became friends and huddled together or did exercise for warmth. She told me stories of her arrests and others. She had been brutally arrested for nothing and threatened that she would be taken somewhere “that there were no cameras”. I learned that other prisoners were being shuffled around the building from cage to cage, and that some cages of the same size as mine were full of twenty to forty people!
I heard comments from passing cops that were really disturbing. For example, “They look like cats and dogs in there, ha ha ha“, and “We should have poker sticks….”. I was told to sleep on the toilet to stay warm, or when asking for water I was told that there was water in the toilet that I could drink. Even when the whole building was chanting for water we were continuously lied to and denied. When I questioned the mental state of an officer with the ability to statically view another human who is cold, thirsty and scared in a cage I was met with a smirk and “It’s just my job”. Another sympathized with Nazis when I compared his unquestionable compliancy to cruel orders with theirs.
The cages, somewhat of human sized dog kennels, had three solid sides to prevent us from seeing one another. The “open” end of the cage faced the back of another ahead of it. The floor was very filthy and the dust was bothering my asthma and eyes. The bright orange toilet was a plastic porta-potty without a door. We were not permitted blankets as apparently they could be used as suicide aids. Or, as one officer put it, because; “this isn’t a fuckin’ hotel”. I heard someone respond “It is Canada though, isn’t it?”
Unlike many people who came after me, I was lucky enough to receive socks and a green sweater. When I was given the latter I quickly checked the tag. Honduras. I thanked them for the sweater, made by impoverished Honduran people, sewing clothes for rich people in exchange for slave wages and horrendous conditions. I suggested that if the police continue protecting the G8/G20, perhaps a few more foreign sweat shops can be set up so that at the next summit, prisoners can have some cheap blankets. I think that one of them got the joke.
My new friend was taken away to another cage, shortly after we were joined by a third girl. She was a year younger than me, eighteen, and had been arrested in Queens park just as she was trying to leave and go to bed. She was in a t-shirt, very cold and wanted to phone her mom. At this point, no one was getting phone calls despite the lies about the phones being really busy and backed up. They kept lying to us about some list that they were following. Some people were even threatened to be, or punished by having their names moved to the bottom of this non-existent “list”.
Another girl was put in our cage, making us three again. It was now morning and I heard one officer tell another to “turn up the heat”. I hadn’t slept at all. I don’t think anyone had. Nine o clock, the time I had been given as when I would see my lawyer again, came and went. At this point my behavior and moods would fluctuate dramatically. One minute I would be swinging from the roof, next comforting the other girls, then yelling at the police and then lying on the floor crying. I was getting really anxious and exhausted.
Finally, at about noon, several officers stood at the door and one read my name. “Russell”. They quizzed me on my date of birth and then firmly led me out. We walked through the telephone room, and none were in use. I asked why no one was getting phone calls, there were clearly phones available. One officer laughed and told me that no one would to get to use the phone; they would almost all be released later today.
I waited with two other girls. Several police around us discussed the disorganization in the detention center. I was given my property bag and led into a room where a man sat behind a desk. I was told that I was being let out, “Catch and Release”. I laughed and said that it sounded like a sport for them. The man behind the desk counted back the money I had in my wallet that had been seized with my property, and he told me to not go to any protests and not to talk to media. I did not respond, but told him some of the degrading, disturbing behavior I witnessed or received at the hands of his officers. His response was that they may need to “have a meeting, or something.” My picture was taken against a wall and I was released.
I was escorted out onto the street in my socks, clutching my plastic bag of property, by several police. I expected to be lost and to have a difficult time navigating back to where I was staying in Toronto. One cop said “smile for the camera” and I heard cheering and clapping ahead. I stepped through the black gate and was swarmed by a dozen cameras while crossing the road. I wasn’t prepared to talk to any but once across I was met by people giving water and food and support. One of my friends was there, and we sat in the grass while I talked to a few reporters. Shortly after, I ran away as the crowd was attacked by rubber bullets and tear gas.
Following my arrest I became ill and paranoid. Toronto had been transformed into a police state, and I could not be alone for fear that I would be detained again. Luckily, unlike many others, I did not experience any really severe post traumatic stress or other serious effects. However my resulting view of the police force is permanent and significant. There was a point while in the cage that I had no doubt that many of those officers would shoot me in the head if ordered to do so. I saw no limitation to their robotic compliance. Worse, I saw smug satisfaction in their dehumanizing, degrading duties. They acted like high school bullies, watered-down Nazis. Maybe each individual was “just doing a job”, but at what point is that excuse invalid?
One thousand people were arrested at the Toronto G20 summit, most without charge. My story is not unique, and it is not nearly the worst. These stories need to be heard. The police force and the authorities that command them must be investigated and seriously reconsidered. People have to start paying attention. It is our world too. The G8/G20 do not have our interests, they do not have our voices.
In peace and solidarity,