“Unsustainable industries that are largely subsidized by the G20 are creating the climate crisis. It was really important for me to make these issues known”

Why my civil liberties were violated:

–       Arrested with no communication, negotiation, forewarning from the police

–       Not being given the option of ending the protest, instead completely surrounded by police for approximately 15-20 minutes before the arrest.

–       Violation of my right to freedom of speech and assembly, right to engage in peaceful protest.

–       Did not receive legal counsel within the 20 hours I spent in the detention centre. Yet my belongings were searched and I was detained.

Why I was Protesting at the G20

I planned for the week of demonstrations during the G8G20 for months.  I do community organizing around the devastating social and environment impacts of the fossil fuel and extractive industries, particularly the Alberta Tar Sands, on indigenous and rural communities and ecosystems worldwide, and how these unsustainable industries that are largely subsidized by the G20 are creating the climate crisis.   It was really important for me to make these issues known as the G20 took over our city, and schemed around how to grow destructive industrial projects that exploit people and the planet for the unimaginable wealth of a select few.

I organized a peaceful creative demonstration on June 23rd with friends, called the Toxic Tour of Toronto, to highlight some of the institutions, banks, politicians responsible for the unregulated growth of the mining industry.  I then participated in all the demonstrations for the remainder of the week including a spontaneous march on Saturday evening, June 26th.

Protest Zone or War Zone?  It began at Queens Park.

After being searched twice, illegally, before the G20 even started, I was really curious to see what kind of actions the police would justify once they actually arrived in the city.

On Saturday late afternoon, after the mass demonstration, People First! We Deserve Better, many people headed by to Queens Park – where the march started – to network, celebrate, and to enjoy the sunshine that afternoon.

That afternoon, Queens Park that had been designated by the police as the designated protest zone, was transformed into a war zone right in downtown Toronto.  Thousands of police raided the park and using weapons, horses and direct force to intimidate and harass people.  Whether or not you were “protesting” or merely walking through the park, the police indiscriminately began to detain and arrest people.

Approximately 1000 people left the park in a hurry, afraid of being harmed and arrested for no apparent reason. Out of rage and intolerance for the blatant police brutality that had just occurred, the crowd decided to march eastbound on Bloor Street and make their voices heard.  They continued to march for hours and I joined by at around Bay and Wellington. The group had reached the fence and was chanting in front of a police line that eventually moved from the front of the fence to behind.

We continued to march northbound in peaceful protest to Bay and Adelaide where we were boxed in by police lines on all sides.  The police were equipped in full riot gear and were banging on their shields and marching inwards on all sides to intimidate.  The shot rubber bullets at the crowd and it appeared that things would only get worse.  But once a protester negotiated for them to let us go, one police line moved aside and we all cheered in relief.  Yet we continued to march.  We felt that as long as the G20 felt it was alright to bring havoc to our city, to spend over 1 billion dollars and flood our streets with 20000 ill trained police to protect themselves and world leaders from our voices of dissent regarding their destructive economic policies, than we felt it was our responsibility as Canadian citizens to exercise our rights for freedom of speech and assembly.

We continued marching to Novotel on The Esplanade, the hotel where workers were on strike and some delegates of the G20 were staying.  Nobody entered the hotel and there was virtually no traffic.  We sat in front of the hotel in solidarity with the workers and chanted.  We were once again surrounded by riot police within approximately 15 minutes with no where to go.  We made it very clear that the protest was peaceful by sitting on the road and making peace signs with our hands. Over the course of 15 -20 minutes, the police lines moved incremently slowly while banging on their shields.  We asked the police to bring a representative forward and negotiate with us.  We had a right to peacefully protest and wanted to understand what part of our actions were illegal.  The police as I experienced all week long refused to communicate with us.  It was like they were explicitly told not to speak with protesters which seems very strange to me when the Toronto Police Service is supposed to be protecting the community which means protecting our rights, including the right for freedom of speech and assembly.  Instead we were treated like the “enemy” or “criminals” that did not deserve to be spoken to.  I have organized many direct actions , and while police have almost always treated us like a “problem” they have also always communicated with us and laid out an agreement with us.  This communication and negotiation was non-existent during the G20.

Within 30-40 minutes of arriving at Novotel, we were surrounded by the police lines at a close distance and still had no where to go.  Suddenly, everyone was snatched from the group, 2-3 police per person and taken behind the police lines where we were all arrested and processed on the streets.  Two men grabbed me, and one said immediately “do you know why you’re arrested?.”  I said no.  He said “because you were asked to leave and you didn’t.”  They never asked us to leave, in fact they didn’t say anything at all. There was no communication with us whatsoever.

I was arrested at approximately 10:30pm.  The lady who processed me was quite rough with me.  I was on my knees, handcuffed behind my back with twist ties, and wasn’t allowed to look up.  Every time she asked me a question, she squeezed the back of my neck and kicked me in the butt.  It was so strange and humiliating.  Her aggressive tone – yelling actually – and rough contact with me eventually brought me to tears because it was very clear to me she had no understanding of what non-violent civil disobedience has achieved for women in the women’s rights movement.  She would never, a women of colour, be part of the police force if it were not for people protesting the status quo.  I let myself cry for a few minutes and then found my composure again.  I was proud to put myself in a vulnerable position like this, and just kept reminding myself that the G20 were the real criminals propagating the same economic policies that have brought extreme poverty, human rights atrocities and environmental destruction for decades.  Ironically, when the women officer learned that I was Iranian after going through my passport, she softened up and said “Sweety, why are you here? You shouldn’t be here.  You are pretty and intelligent.” Then she told me to look at the name on her uniform – an Iranian last name.  She again told me I shouldn’t be here and to not come back tomorrow, and forced me to respond that I would not return.  I experienced reverse discrimination and got a small taste of what it must be like to be in a position of power and privilege because of your race.

I was placed in a paddy wagon with about 5-6 other women and what felt like 1½ hours later we were released in the detainment centre on Eastern Avenue.  When I was released from the paddy wagon, there was 1 officer who confirmed who I was and led me to the first holding cell, while approximately 8-10 officers watched.  Another intimidation tactic or did the majority of police officers have nothing to do?  Either way a waste of our tax payers money.

There were about 15 women in the first cell.  After 11/2 – 2 hours I was moved to the next level of processing where I was searched and spoke with the warden. I was told that the process would include: speaking to the warden, a body search, my right to legal counsel, and a final questioning by “investigators.” I never got passed the second step of speaking to the warden, who just asked me some procedural questions about my name, address, etc. He also went through my property bag and questioned me about a few items, such as the apple cider vinegar that is used as protection against tear gas.  During the search, they took away my shoes and sweater even though they searched both thoroughly and it was extremely cold in the warehouse.  I said to the lady that searched me once she removed my sweater “it’s cold though.”  She said “I know.”

For the next 18-20 hours I was placed in a 6X8 cell with several other women, 4 to start with and 11 women by the end.  We were fed approximately ever 7 hours and received water in Dixie cups about 4 times during my time in the detention centre.   As I mentioned earlier, it was extremely cold and we did not have blankets or beds to sleep in.  So we slept on the cold cement floor and held each other for warmth.  Some women received sweaters, jogging pants and socks once requested.  There was no toilet so we were led to another empty cell with a portopotty that had no door on it.  We had to relieve ourselves and deal with menstruation completely exposed as police officers walked by.  This was completely violating.

We never received our phone call.  We asked to speak with officers constantly in order to demand that we received legal counsel.  We never did.  We yelled, reminded each and every officer that walked by that it was our right to receive a phone call as soon as possible.  We reminded them that our friends and family would be deeply concerned that we had gone missing.  We were given several excuses:

A)   They only had 8 phones and had line ups at the phones

B)    We would get our legal counsel shortly (they told us this several times over 20 hours)

C)   They weren’t sure why we didn’t get our legal counsel yet

D)   That we would be released shortly

E)   That they were not responsible for giving phone calls so they couldn’t help.  When asked who could help, they didn’t know.

F)    When told, it was a violation of our rights to be refused our phone calls, officers would reply “I know. I know.” And would keep walking.

Most officers passing by the cell wouldn’t speak with us so these responses were based on those who did stop to answer our questions or those who provided water, the cheese sandwiches or took people to the washroom.

In general, the detention centre seems very poorly organized.  Whether this was purposely to create confusion and anxiety in detainees or if it was actual disorganization is irrelevant.  When any task was being accomplished by 1-2 officers, several others – between 3-20 – would standby and observe.  Why is this necessary?  Why is valuable tax payers money being wasted like this?  Why does almost very police officer seem to be confused themselves about what’s happening and what the process was?

Unforgettable moments:

–       When a group of officers in plain clothing walked by our cell, one said “look at these misfit toys”

–       The freezing cold.  We were all shivering and within minutes of knowing each other cuddled very closely on the cement floor in an attempt to get some sleep.

–       When moved to the release cell that held over 20 women, only 3 women were still handcuffed (mine were released within 11/2 hours of arriving to the detention centre).  These women were the only women of colour in the cell, and they were furious that they were the only ones still handcuffed after 20 hours.  This was blatant racism.  Period.

–       When a young woman in my cell speaking with a police officer said “ please look at me and not at my breasts”

–       When after screaming in rage (After 18hours) for not having received our phone calls and having had no communications about our arrest with any officers, one young women officer was sympathetic and said she would do anything in her power to get us release.  Within 11/2 hours she released all the women in our cell one by one.

–       One police officer who seemed most compassionate, told us that to him, this work was a pay cheque and all he wanted was to retire and go to Brazil.

–       Being let out with all my clothes still in property bags, not allowed to even put my shoes on, walking outside the detention centre and greeted by 150-200 people there in jail solidarity.

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