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What really happened in Toronto?

As you know, I spent much of the weekend watching birds having sex. But that wasn’t all I did. I also spent a fair amount of time glued to my computer, monitoring the constant stream of Twitter updates from protesters and journalists at the G8/G20 protests in Toronto. Trying to make sense of it.

At this point, I have far more questions than answers. For example, why did this happen?

Who set the five police cars on fire? With 19,000 cops on the ground, why were they permitted to do that? How did they get such easy access to police cars? Since – by all accounts I’ve heard – the vast majority of the 25,000 protesters were behaving legally and peacefully, why were peaceful protesters and journalists detained while the so-called Black Bloc were allowed to run rampant? Why were people beaten up? Could it possibly be true that detained women were literally threatened with rape by the police??

Amy Miller – Alternative Media Centre, Independent Journalist from Darren Puscas on Vimeo.

Now, in the aftermath, it’s all about the battle for public opinion. My political inclinations put me on the side of the protesters, but regardless of where our political inclinations lie, I think we should all want to know what really happened out there. I want a full public inquiry into the events of this weekend. There’s an unprecedented amount of video and photographic evidence which needs to be examined and analyzed in order to provide a more complete picture of what happened. There are thousands of eyewitnesses.

Someone asked me if I always think the cops are in the wrong. No, I do not. But they’re the ones with the most weaponry, armor, power and anonymity. They’re the ones vested with the authority to use that weaponry and power. Power is so easily abused, especially in large numbers, especially under the cloak of anonymity, and probably more so under volatile circumstances. I have no doubt that some police behaved in an entirely appropriate manner, and others did not. Same with the protesters. But the police can infiltrate and impersonate protesters to manipulate the situation (and have been known to do so), whereas the reverse is not true.

Even more important than any individual and spontaneous acts of wrongdoing, I want to know which acts of wrongdoing were part of the plan.

27 comments to What really happened in Toronto?

  • The police set the cars on fire. CTV reported it. Standard practice for the police to use plants to ignite violence in this kind of situation. The damage is minimal (and it was minimal, the police are very much in control) but it gives an air of legitimacy to the crackdown on our civil right to protest. Anyone who has been part of a protest movement can give you examples of this – happened at the Peace Camp, happened during the anti nuclear Litton Industries protests, happens all the time.

    My friend Carlos has more footage from Queen and Spadina if you want i’ll link to it later. The police tried to get him to stop shotting (from his apartment window with his iphone)

  • Amy Miller, in the second clip, was one of the squatters who took over that house on Gilmour Street during and after the G20 meeting here in Ottawa in 2002.

    http://www.rabble.ca/news/squatters-make-final-arguments-ottawa

    I don’t think arguments about who’s a journalist and who isn’t are usually very productive, but to the extent that the term is supposed to mean “impartial observer,” it may not apply here. Doesn’t mean that what she’s saying is false. But I want corroboration before I take it as fact.

    Separately, I think your point about the power the police have and how easily it’s abused is really, really important.

  • I want to know why the police did nothing while those people in black with their faces covered smashed all the glass in those buildings. There weren’t that many of the M-i-B from the videos I saw. Why weren’t at least a few of them arrested and unmasked? Those phony “anarchists” ruin a proper protest. People should be able to protest in peace.

    I think someone at the top of the chain of command needs to account for why the M-i-B got away with all that damage.

  • I agree with what mudmama wrote above. I think the police provoked a lot of the trouble themselves. For $1B I cannot figure out how they were not trained to differentiate peaceful protestors and journalists from the real trouble-makers. Also for that kind of money, how was control lost at all?

    I think the authorities wanted trouble to justify all of the expense, but I hope this backfires on them. They should have been able to maintain peace, considering that most people out there were peaceful.

  • XUP

    We’re not thinking that the police (if that’s who the Black Bloc guys were) did this on their own initiative, are we? Because I’m pretty sure they would not have created such mass chaos and destruction at an international political event without clear orders from way up high.

  • XUP

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised because this action has achieved exactly what it set out to do – to eclipse, negate and illegitimize all the genuine protesters and their messages. It also got 600 of them arrested which will, no doubt, stay on their records which has all sorts of ramifications to future political or anti-political activity. The riots also made the news all over the world — something the G20 alone didn’t quite manage.

  • Of course there was violence. There had to be violence to justify 19,000 police and a billion dollars spent. If the police didn’t actually start it they certainly stood by and did nothing about it so the obligatory footage could be used to justify the entire sorry mess.
    Go ahead and get 20 friends cover your faces and try walking down the street in any Canadian town today. You will be stopped and questioned in an instant. In TO a police care left behind on Queen st burns for 20 minutes before anyone shows up to do anything about it.
    Little Stevie has already said the “thugs” justified the expenses. I guess we just have to find out who the real “thugs” were.

  • @David – I have a friend who is a reporter for the Financial Post. She and I protested at Litton together. She lived at the peace Camp back in the 80’s.

    I’m sure you’ve read about Jesse Rosenfeld from the Guardian being beaten and arrested by police (likely because instead of “official media” acceditation he had been issued an alternative media pass.)

    Alternative media IS legitimate media.

    Do not discount Amy Miller because she is also a social activist.

  • I have heard about Jesse Rosenfeld. There’s certainly nothing that justifies what Steve Paikin — a guy without a horse in the race — says happened to him.

    Rosenfeld’s another interesting case, though. He’s a “from the Guardian” in the sense that he’s had two or three pieces posted on their web-only opinion site, for most of which pieces they don’t pay anything. And he clearly deeply loathes the institution of the G20 and things connected to that group.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/jun/25/g20-g8

    That gives him a reason to say and do things that make the G20 look bad. It doesn’t mean he did, but it means that having someone like Steve Paikin, who doesn’t have such an agenda and who has a long record of credibility, backing him up is helpful.

    As I say, arguing about the definition of a “journalist” isn’t something I think is very useful. Lots of what professional journalists write or air is wrong or incomplete or misses the point or, sometimes, is just outright lies. And people who aren’t “journalists” are right about all kinds of things all the time.

    I’m just saying the phrase “independent journalist” is probably not properly applied to Amy Miller when it comes to stories about the G20 and/or the security measures that surround its meetings, given her recent involvement in explicitly anti-G20 activities. So it’d be good to hear from a Steve Paikin-like figure corroborating what she says before taking them as fact.

  • So what about Michael Talbot from CityTV? He was also arrested and detained.

    I think the police had a definite bias against – and agenda – with media that they identified as independent or as alternative.

  • Mudmama, my first thought when I saw the burning cars was that they were part of the police strategy…either undercover cops impersonating protesters torched them, or they placed them there, unguarded, with easy access and video monitors, to see which of the protesters would destroy them.

    David, thank you, I didn’t know about Amy Miller’s activist history. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I do take your point about her perhaps not being an impartial observer. That being said, I don’t think any of us – professional journalists included – are impartial observers. Especially when we’re right in the middle of something like this.)

    Julia, I agree with you. Something doesn’t smell right in all this.

    Finola, I think this proves that a huge, expensive, over-the-top show of state power is not the route to peace and security.

    XUP, no, I’m not thinking that individual cops took the initiative to burn the cars. I think they might take the initiative to bash someone in the head with their shield, or punch someone in the stomach, but if the police did in fact burn the cars, then I think it was part of their overall strategy and directed from above.

    Dave, I think it’s clear that the truth is being suppressed, and it’s not going to be surrendered easily. But yeah. Who exactly were the real thugs?

    Mudmama, I really like your point that alternative media is legitimate media. However, I see David’s point too about how having an agenda can detract from one’s credibility.

    If Miller’s account of what transpired is accurate, heads should roll.

  • that’s the most level-headed look at it that I’ve seen yet. and appreciate the point that plainclothes can be among the protesters but general citizens cannot slip into uniform as readily. haven’t heard that point raised quite that way.

  • XUP

    “Steve Paikin, who doesn’t have such an agenda…” no pun intended?

  • Lisa in Toronto

    I have a lot of questions about this secretly-passed regulation added to an archaic law, to “protect” an area which may or may not have extended outside the security fence.
    If the Ontario govt did that this time, could they do it anytime they like over any public space?
    It was only by accident that the regulation was revealed on Friday, it was not slated to be public until next month.
    Now the govt claims no one was arrested under that law at all.
    CBC and other mainstream journalists were detained or threatened by police, despite their official media credentials.
    Is this entire situation a plan by the federal government to make us used to having riot police all over the city “just in case”, like in airports?
    I find the entire weekend creepy and demoralizing.
    Thanks for your sensible thoughts as usual.

  • futurelandfill

    I’d hazard a guess that many people think that the police and other security agents were acting as a coordinated team and that a central authority had developed a variety of responses to particular situations that could arise and that these strategies were well-understood and be deployed by the troops in the field.

    To some extent this may have been the case, but many of the police on the streets of Toronto were summoned from far and wide to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate their moxie on the Grand Stage.

    Bonding with the brotherhood? Check! Black armour dress-up day? Better than Halloween! Muscle up some stringy-haired hippie kids and maybe cop a feel hustling a cute girlie into the paddy-wagon? Just carrying out orders sir!

    I’m surprised that heads weren’t broken – there appears to have been no bloodshed to speak of and that’s a relief and a credit to whatever authority prevailed – presumably the troops had at least that order well-drilled in.

    As for the “black eye” the demos and the heavy-handed response have left on Toronto, well, I can’t think of anyone who would actually forego their planned visit there based on a few smashed windows, torched cop cars, or the phalanxes of Star Wars extras marching arm and arm down Queen West. It took the Stones and ACDC to wipe away the SARS scare a few years back. I’d say Broken Social Scene in Nathan Philips Square would pretty much cover this one.

  • “Agenda” pun intended. But I’m not really proud of it.

    I’m currently stunned by the revelation that the Toronto police seem to have invented the idea that the Ontario regulation letting them search people inside the security zone — problematic in itself, particularly the way it was passed — extended beyond the security fence, which it didn’t.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/they-came-to-attack-our-city-blair/article1622761/

    Easy enough now to say “Oops, our bad.”

  • Arden

    I’m tempted to say a pox on both their houses. I don’t personally believe any cops were dressing up as protesters and actually inciting the violence/destruction, but I am willing to believe that they were ordered to leave convenient cars for the burning, and to allow it to happen an only arrest at the end of the activities, in order to justify their heavy handed tactics in other places.

    I do want to point out that a lot of the videos and photos are taken out of context (If memory serves, the video where the people singing Oh Canada get charged by the riot police is actually a snatch and grab of specific people, and not a full on attack on all the protesters as it appears in the video, due to where it ends)

    I think most of the individual cops, and most of the protesters were just fine, and that the blame lies with the higher ups sending these orders down the line (and holding the summit in downtown Toronto in the first place, wtf?), and the anarchist assholes who descend upon the city just to create mayhem, and provide justification for heavy-handed “security” measures.

  • What struck me most about the past weekend’s images was the mirror images: on both sides, masked guys in black behaved badly. Apparently because they could.

    I recall that summit in Ottawa a few years back – the one where Amy & Co. trashed the house at 246 Gilmour – when I turned a corner onto Albert Street. I had to jump to avoid being stomped by a phalanx of police in the full riot ensemble: black body armour, helmets, facemasks, beating riot shields with nightsticks.

    They jostled pedestrians pretty roughly. Interesting thing was, the jostlees were, to my coyote eyes, end-of-day office commuters intent only on getting the hell back to their respective ‘burbs. I also recall clearly the expressions of a face or two behind the plexiglas riot shields. They were getting off on what they were doing.

    It was crude intimidation of civilians uninterested in demonstrations. I lost some respect for the police and official explanations for their behaviour, that day…

  • @ Arden Would a 10 minute video help you see how unprovoked this was?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8TNfqGxaeM&feature=channel

    This was shot by my friend Carlos from his apartment window at Spadina and Queen. He has no agenda whatsoever. Just a person who unfortunately lived right here.

    Follow his video stream, he posted several more if you want more footage.

  • AND ANOTHER THING!!! :-)

    I’m sick of the anarchist bashing here!

    I AM AN ANARCHIST. I’m a collectivist, and a pacifist.

    There is nothing in the definition of Anarchist that includes violent action against the State. SOME anarchists, just as SOME libertarians believe that terrorism has a legitimate place in taking down the State. In my experience most do not.

    As a teen when people would snidely ask why I was an anarchist and I knew they were not really interested in hearing how I moved from socialist to anarchist via an understanding of the critical faults inherent in the State, I’d simply respond ‘At least I’m not a Nihilist”. I knew that that is really what they thought Anarchism was.

    Anarchism is not meaningless.

    BTW There is no “Black Bloc” Anarchist group. The black bloc does not exist – it is a series of violent tactics used to fight against police and militaristic oppression of protest. I do not agree with black bloc tactics because I gfeel they silence other’s rights to protest through their decision to bring violence into North American protests. But the use of these tactics has a legitimate background based in State sanctioned and ordered violence against anti nuclear PEACEFUL protests in the 80’s.

    Don’t let the State define protest groups for you. Read, do your own research. Learn about the history of protest against the state.

    Ask yourself if knowing a billion dollars was spent on militaristic “security” might lead some members of the protest movement to believe that forming a black bloc might become necessary as a means to ensure free speech remains a right here.

    I disagree with that by the way.

  • http://www.torontosun.com/news/columnists/joe_warmington/2010/06/30/14564416.html

    Police insiders admit they were ordered not to engage with violent protestors during riot.

  • Police simply failed. So much money spent and it was good for nothing, except for even bigger distrust of citizens towards the government. Last week was completely mad in Toronto, I am so relieved it is over now.

  • katie

    Hey Zoom, been reading the blog for awhile and occasionally comment (mostly on Duncan related posts as I also have a big orange fluff ball of a cat).

    I live in Toronto and have not been able to tear myself away from all the coverage on this. As one commenter said previously, I also have not heard anyone else point out that the police can impersonate protesters but the reverse is not true. Well, someone tried on Thursday (well before all the violence started) and then was arrested yesterday. The part where he “impersonates” the police (some british military group I’m assuming he made up) is around the 6:25 mark, but this is the video of him “impersonating police” that got him arrested:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD3lF0ZSgb8&feature=player_embedded#!

    I read this article today and it reminded me of your post and thought I should comment.
    http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/830805–man-arrested-for-impersonating-officer-in-video

  • Lo

    I am from Toronto and still miss it while I continue to live in Ottawa. My sister and many friends still live in Toronto and many live in the downtown core and felt held hostage to this premeditated situation. My sister and 5 month old baby ended up stranded and had to be ‘rescued.’ They had stayed away from the streets (she lives just off Queen) for days but needed to get to the store…..It’s great that all the ‘important people/dignitaries’ are protected but what about the local peeps who live in the area of these G summits?? Yeah, the taxpayers that pay a lot of these VIP salaries. EVERYONE knows what is going to happen every time there is one of these ‘events’ yet they keep having them and the same things keep happening. What about protecting the very citizens that give up their city (without being asked) for these very events. The entire thing disgusts me..It’s like a weekend war and it’s premeditated!

  • BB

    The brutes.

    Doesn’t the video say it all? They met singing with batons.

    Nothing surprises me with police officers. I personally know people who have been brutalized and threatened with death at the hands of those who are supposedly empowered to protect the public.

    I wonder if it is this way everywhere?

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