Simply put, the G8 and G20 Summits that took place in Huntsville and Toronto from June 25th to 27th 2010 were resolutely overshadowed by the unprecedented police brutality that took place in downtown Toronto.
By Sunday June 27th, 2010, it is widely reported that around 800-900 arrests were made, with the detainees held in a make-shift detention facility at 629 Eastern Avenue. By as early as Saturday evening, parts of downtown Toronto looked like a warzone.
How did this all transpire? The story is both complicated and unprecedented.
The weekend of protests organized by large civil society groups like the Canadian Labour Congress, the Defenders of the Land, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, etc. remained largely peaceful.
On Thursday June 24th, 2010, the indigenous rights rally, although heavily monitored, went almost without a hitch. However, it was also on this day that most people found out that the Public Works Act had been passed in secret on June 2nd, 2010 by the provincial legislature, which allows for anyone five metres away from the G20 security fence to be searched and questioned. Dave Vasey, who refused to show his ID and who claims to have had no idea of the legislation, was arrested. Astoundingly, Toronto police chief Bill Blair admitted openly that he lied about the existence of such a law to “keep away the criminals”. This, rightly, has caused a firestorm of protest and discontent, even with the National Post.
Friday, June 25th, 2010 saw few confrontations at the anti-poverty rally organized by OCAP, but the protests were largely peaceful. However, Emomotimi Azorbo, who is deaf and did not hear the police’s call to clear the street, was beaten and arrested. For the larger public, this incident was perhaps the first sign that the conduct of policing bodies throughout the weekend would raise loud alarm bells.
The major turning point came on Saturday, June 26th, 2010. The largest protest of the week, organized by “big labour”, saw dozens of civil society groups marching in downtown Toronto at a number of around 25,000 or so. Remarkably, this colossal demonstration went peacefully. However, occurring simultaneously with this huge demonstration were acts of vandalism by a small number of people, who tore through Yonge Street, Queen Street, and other parts of the downtown core, smashing shop/bank windows (there have been no reports of injuries from these acts, as they were mostly symbolic). The collective identity of these “protestors” are largely unknown, although they have been clumsily labelled “The Black Bloc”, a supposed “anarchist” body, by most of the corporate media. Furthermore, the hype that these “riots” have caused should be put into context by reminding people of events such as the hockey riots Canada saw a couple of years ago. In other words, they are not unprecedented.
What transpired later on in the day throughout downtown Toronto will live in infamy in the memory of this city. Riot police, part of the ISU that cost $930 million in tax payer dollars, used tear gas for the first time in the city’s history. In fact, it was clear that at one point, the police simply stopped distinguishing between peaceful protestors, rioters, and bystanders. The exact time of this shift in policy cannot be accurately pinpointed, but the change in atmosphere was nonetheless thick in the air.
As the violence took on a life of its own, two police cruisers were smashed and almost flipped over on the intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Street. A number of police cars were also set on fire. Curiously, all these cruisers were left unattended, a rather careless act in light of the violent atmosphere that enveloped much of the city. In fact, Naomi Klein described the very next day on Democracy Now the nature of this police absence as a “police strike”. The ISU, trying to justify its usage of the summits as an ATM machine, used the rioting as an excuse to flex their muscle, thereby hoping to show their city how important and money-worthy they were. It even got to the point they appointed undercover agents to join in the rioting.
Numerous streets were also blocked off by riot police, who moved to different sections of the city without warning. The Queen’s Park area (University Street and College Street) was occupied by around 20,000 police officers, and one university student was almost trampled by police on horseback, as tear gas was shot for the first time in Toronto’s history.
Sunday June 27th, 2010, the last day of the summits, saw more of the same, as peaceful protestors were dispersed violently with tear gas and batons as they gathered around the detention facility calling for the release of over 500 detainees. On the same day, at least 70 people were arrested from the University of Toronto Graduate School Union, with the police claiming that they were illegally-housed “anarchists”, mostly coming from Montreal. Furthermore, the G20 convergence area on Queen Street West was raided, with around 30 arrests being made. The day eventually ended with a stand-off at Spadina Street and Queen Street, were peaceful protestors were again arrested and dispersed.
This unprecedented weekend put large question marks on the state of Canadian democracy. Many will have to answer for the violence that tore through the streets if Toronto. While the summits are now over here in Toronto, it has also been over-shadowed.