Police state in Toronto
Toronto residentrecounts how he and hundreds of others--some protesters and some total bystanders--were swept up by police during the G20 summit.
I'M GOING to start by saying that at no point in this note will I be exaggerating, bending the truth or lying in any way. I can also say I've never felt this angry, violated or betrayed.
Second, to those who are disgusted with the violence and vandalism--I agree. It was disgusting, but happened to property, by a small group. You can see the photos everywhere of the few individuals who did that. They were also allowed to by police, who parked the cars and left. Everywhere else there was organized riot police in the thousands. They left Yonge Street alone--why? Just read more than the headlines and photo ops.
I'm not going to wig out in a conspiracy theory way, just read for yourself. The Black Bloc caused so much distraction and carnage. It happened to me, and I still find it hard to believe, I don't want to believe it. My country broke my heart.
So here is what happened.
PART ONE: Grandmas, Idiots and High School Reunions
I was home during the day on Saturday, June 26th, until around 1 p.m. when I went over to Allan Gardens Park (which is literally across the street from my apartment). Hey, if Mayor David Miller was encouraging people to get out do things in the city, why not? There were a few tents left over from the Tent City, which slept there the night before. Various groups were getting signs still ready to march over to the Free Speech Zone at Queen's Park--far away from all things G20.
I met a group of grandmothers who were marching on behalf of grandmothers in Third World countries who have adopted millions of children whose parents have died of AIDS. (To all those who are speaking out against the violence in the streets of Toronto and damning the protesters--where were your voices of outrage at this? Or do you only care when the irreplaceable Starbucks has its window smashed? When it's on your front doorstep you cry and give the rest of the world your apathy--why are you only upset now?)
I walk with the grannies and arrive in Queens Park. There are thousands of police in all kinds of riot gear, mounted police units (the chant of "Get those animals off those horses" made me laugh). There were students, seniors, media, everyone, thousands! And it was so peaceful and a tremendous sense of community. The riot squads were quite scary, but people were chanting, "You're pretty, you're cute, take off the ugly riot suit!" which also made me laugh, and many of the officers in the riot gear laughed, too. One of them quipped, "I wish, this thing's hot."
Cool, this was fun. Good messages, free speech, the grannies alongside the burly boys of the United Steelworkers Canada. Someone gave me a marker and bristol board. I made a sign that read, "Apathy Will Kill You." After a while of awesome speeches, interesting people and wasted money ($1.2 billion...?), I give away my sign and head home to Jarvis & Gerrard. Like on the way there, cops are lined up everywhere, watching everything--no holes anywhere. Strange absence of cops at Yonge and Dundas Square...they were all over it earlier...
At home, I soon read about the violence happening along Yonge...what? Where are the cops? It's guys in ALL black, easy to see. Why are they just running along with no one to stop them...there were cops there. Okay. Weird. These guys suck for doing this, because this is all anyone will see and read about. And now it's justification for the gross amount of force and money spent. Then comes word about the police cars parked and abandoned, they even rolled down the windows before leaving. What? No radios or any equipment inside the cop cars? No police in sight? Arrest these idiots before they ruin any chance at--oh, too late. So then the media starts to assemble the evening news with the fiery money shots of Yonge Street and the burning cars. Vandal assholes taking the bait and acting in a predictable destructive way. Idiots.
Argghh! But, hey, at least things were cool in the "Free Speech Zone". My girlfriend Kate gets home with her co-worker Ben and their friend Simon at around 7 p.m. She asks if it's okay to go out and see what's going on. I said sure, the Free Speech Zone is awesome, there's all kinds of causes, we can go take a look.
So off we go along College Street. There are people on sidewalks and taxis and cars, all very normal. We got to Bay and College when around 20 mini-vans full of riot cops honked their horns and went flying through the intersection--I had never seen anything like it, it was crazy. We arrived at University Avenue to find it completely blocked off by riot cops in full gear. The "Free Speech Zone" was completely blocked in. The cops wouldn't answer any questions, wouldn't move, wouldn't look at you. Nothing. Then rows of riot police form on College behind us, start banging their shields and march in, followed by a rows of mounted horse units. Then out of nowhere, two young guys are pepper-sprayed nearby--everyone runs, nothing is said by police, no announcements. People help the guys and pick them up, they don't know what happened or why.
Up on the steps of a building, I see a friend from high school: Derek. We head over, catch up--he came down to see what was happening, but was blocked off from Queen's Park on all sides. Shortly after, some "homeless people" threw on armbands, had extending nightsticks, tackled people standing around and dragged them behind the dense line of riot cops, and dragged them away. Secret undercover homeless police--oo la la. Still no messages from the police and no violence to be seen, except from them.
I remember on JackAss when Johnny tried being Tasered and pepper-sprayed and said the spray was the worst thing he's ever had done to him and never again--poor dudes on the ground. Nothing happened. So, guess the day was over, and police didn't want the protest getting any bigger (is what we thought). Derek went back to Mississauga, and we decided to head home, and Simon went to a bar.
PART TWO: A Blue Raspberry Slushie and the Lost Tactical Squads--A Saturday Night in Toronto
Now 9 p.m. Kate, Ben and I were thirsty, and I remembered reading a story about the ice cream truck guy that parked at City Hall at Queen and Bay and how G20 was killing his business, and I like blue raspberry slushies. So down we went. He was up front with his feet on the dashboard. I was very thirsty at this point, so it was great. The streets seemed a little empty, but people were around, walking, going places to eat, taxis and cars driving around. Seemed like the oncoming rain and shutout from the police killed the protests. We said, "All people will talk about is the violence, too bad."
Then things changed around us. It was now just after 9 p.m.--all the violence from earlier in the day was long over, and the vandals who committed it gone. Vans and buses of riot police and tactical teams were swarming. We couldn't see any protesters, but the streets were filing with cops, cars tried backing away and had to jump the curb. People were getting confused, and no cop were saying anything.
We thought it best to head east and get home right now--who knew what was happening? The guys in green tactical gear were pretty scary and shouting to each other, "We're in the wrong place, go west! Go west!" They got in their vehicles of all kinds (from armored personnel carries to Budget panel vans), with big gas guns, crazy gear. Kate needed a bathroom desperately, but nothing was open now, and there were quite scary police squads everywhere--now very confusing as to what's happening. We see two construction workers peeking their heads out of the door of a store. We run over, and Kate talks her way into the bathroom. We talk to the guys, it's confusing, but no signs of violence. The workers wish us well and head back inside.
We're now at Bay Street and King Street, trying to head east. The sky opens up and the rain pours on down. Heavy. We see a group marching AWAY from the fence, away from G20. They get blocked in by police, but are then let go and told to move east--great, towards home! It's a crowd of maybe 200 people, all kinds. Some flags and signs lead the group. The free speech zone was shut down, so I guess there was nowhere else to go.
We live in Canada, so before you say that everyone should have gone home--no. Is that the country you want to live in? Where you can't speak up? One day, you'll have to actually face an issue of injustice that will make you actually stand up and go outside and use your freedom, use your voice--and you'll be glad you can. Imagine if you couldn't? What country does that make you think of? So with no instructions from the surrounding police, I ask someone marching in the street, and they seem to think it's back to Allan Gardens Park. Perfect! We live there!
PART THREE: Tommy Taylor, You're Under Arrest
So the three of us follow, on the sidewalk, away from the central group. Occasional clapping along with some great slogans that were chanted. There are regular people on the street watching, who live and work in the area. We get to Front Street, continue south to the Esplanade, and stop in front of the Novotel. Hrm? Apparently, the workers are on strike at Novotel for unfair treatment, and some delegates from the G20 will be staying there.
We are across the street on the sidewalk, in front of The Keg. The marchers sit down and chant "peaceful protest." And it is. Everyone is calm; it's actually pretty awesome to see. There are some awful things in this world, and when our economic and political leaders gather in one place to decide the world's solutions and futures (including the government of China), people are going to want to have their voices heard. That's the Constitution, thankfully.
Then they start singing "Give Peace a Chance." Wow, it's actually a cliché of a protest! It was a lot of fun, a great thing to witness live, instead of stock footage from the 1960s and '70s when people were changing the way sexuality, gender and ethnicity are treated in North America. Without public protests, we would still have slavery, and women couldn't vote. Would you go back and tell those people to go home?
No word from police yet, and why would there be? It's 10 at night on Saturday on a small sub-street in Toronto with no traffic tonight. Everyone's peaceful and out of the way, and only in a number of 200. It actually seemed like just a little whimper from the numbers I saw together earlier, but at least they had heart and spirit. We join in singing "Give Peace a Chance"--how could you not, it felt so great. Then, riot cops show up on the sides of the street. Uh oh. They're blocking it off, time to go.
We head toward them to leave. They say "Get back"; no problem. We turn to leave the other way, and more riot cops say, "Get back." Okay, We ask if we can please leave--no response. They haven't said anything. There are journalists in here. A couple comes out of The Keg and tries to leave. They're told, "It's too late." Too late for what, they ask, and are told nothing. We ask again (Kate has become quite distraught and upset) if we can please leave and are told, "You should have left when we told you."
Wait, what? When? Everyone is saying the same thing. The phone number for legal aid starts making the rounds. People write it on their arms and hands (I already had it on a post-it note). The guy from The Keg can't believe it. The guy in the wheelchair on his way home is stunned. The confused guy with cerebral palsy is freaking out and scared. A few First Nations people around us say, "Well, this is familiar. Welcome to our club everyone." A gay couple hugs, in tears. An older lady (the splitting image of Jane Goodall) asks what's happening. The media with the huge cameras seem at a loss.
The riot police have the full gear, shields, helmets, masks down, saying nothing. The leaders of the march ask for a negotiator to get people out of here. No response. They give official media a chance to leave if they have badges, but no one else. Not even people who have obvious news cameras and photo cameras. Steve Paikin from TVO managed to get out. We all chant, "Let us go!" They begin pulling people out of the sitting crowd and take them away. There was no resisting, they turned around and offered their hands. Then a riot cop with a classic cop mustache announces, "You're all under arrest. You will all be charged, and you cannot leave. "
We can't believe we're about to be arrested. They won't tell us why we are under arrest, which they legally have to. We were on the sidewalk the whole time. People from the condo above The Keg throw things down at the group. We throw nothing back, and a few riot police laughed. The workers in The Keg are all at the window, confused, one of them starts crying and walks away. Everyone is trying to find out why we just can't go home. Then the riot squads form a half circle around us, shield to shield.
People angry, afraid. We were nowhere close to the fence, there was no violence--what was this? People singing a John Lennon song all arrested? Confusing. Upsetting. I want to get out of there with Kate and go home, and I can't. I hate the way this made me feel. I didn't do anything. Nothing was happening here with these people, whom I was now a part of. Some sat down, many were on dying cell phones trying to call family and friends, some kids trying to call parents and asking to borrow phones, journalists calling their offices for help...scary.
The unmoving riot officers had arm badges saying they were from Calgary. Then all at once, they took some pill and took a sip from the tubes attached to their riot gear. It became clear they were a little confused, a supervisor was yelling at them that they were in a wrong formation, some of them tripped over each other.
I noticed the street was blocked off at both ends, no media anywhere at either end...denied access to see what was happening down here. Soon, the street was full of buses and paddy wagons, and riot cops outnumbered people 5 to 1. Many of the cops behind the semi-circle took off gear and lay down, sweaty on the sidewalk, obviously overworked. One by one, officers would come through the shrinking semi-circle line and take people roughly away. People would turn and offer their hands peacefully, waiting to go.
Next to us was a guy with a green mohawk, a punky looking guy. Two approaching arresting officers laughed and said, "I want to get this guy right here." They pushed through the other people, grabbed and spun him around, and pushed him away roughly. He didn't say anything or resist in anyway. Jesus. Another male officer says to the gay couple "I'll go find some lady officers to arrest you boys." His patch says Toronto. Really? Sure enough, two female officers take one of them away.
We can see people put into paddy wagons, or filling buses. I use Ben's phone to call my parents, who were out. I call the legal aid number, no answer. I call my friend Chris Legacy (we were going to hang out on Sunday, now maybe not). He is out. I tell his mom Linda what is happening. She is worried and hopes we're okay and wants us to call when we can.
They push through the crowd and pick out Ben (who has a bright yellow shirt, his work uniform shirt, he's Brazilian with long black hair and a beard). Kate and I kiss, then they take Kate away, and there is not a thing I can do except watch them handcuff her and make her walk away backwards. I hated the feeling I had at the moment, I never felt it before, and I hated I was being forced to feel it.
I turned and offered my hands. I was handcuffed and made to walk backwards across the street to officers in front of the Novotel. I'm handed over, searched, asked my name--all very peaceful. My arresting officer, Toronto Constable Caesar, asked me if I understood I was being arrested--I said I understood, but I didn't know why. He paused, "You're being charged with--" He stops, talks with someone else, moves me and says, "Mischief." Another officer comes over with a form and a clipboard. Caesar says, "Finally got a clipboard, huh?" The officer replies, "Yeah, this thing is fucked up."
My official arrest time is 12:48 a.m. But they've held me since 10:30 p.m. They search me, take my house keys and a post-it note from my pocket (that's all I had). I give the answers to the form questions and am put in metal handcuffs (hands in front now). Caesar says they need my shoe laces, so sits me down on the curb and takes them off and bags them. He helps me up.
I can see Kate with other officers, random people all over, forms being filled out, and handcuffs going on. I see officers in bucket hats and ask, "Who are those guys with the Gilligan hats?" I'm told those are officers from Saskatoon, an officer then jokes, "Yeah, those hats are gay." Another adds, "Well, most of them are faggots anyway. Except the dykes." They laugh. Real police solidarity there. Cops everywhere are chugging bottles of Gatorade and water, and throwing the bottles to the ground. We all had stickers with numbers stuck on us, and pink wristbands with the same number. I was #0106. No one has read me my rights. I hoped I would end up in a wagon with Kate.
PART 4: Taken on a Ride
So, handcuffed and waiting around, I see cops on the sidewalk lying on their shields, gulping Gatorade. Kate is put into a paddy wagon. I'm brought over to a different one and put in after a young guy. The back of the wagon has two seating areas, divided by a steel wall. There are no lights; the back wall is angled so you have to hunch over. I introduce myself to my fellow prisoner; he does the same. His story is much like mine. Forty-five minutes later, we now have six guys on the bench. The last one in is a photojournalist, the officers toss in his evidence bag (with big fancy camera and case) "That's my camera!" he yells. They laugh and slam the door.
The police attitude is very relaxed, casual, many smiling and laughing. I overheard many talking about the confusion they faced in the day and right now. The other guys tell me they never had their rights read either and were all told different reasons for the arrest--"disturbing the peace," "obstructing Justice" and so on. No one clear reason we were all there. I can only make out their silhouettes when they lean forward, no lights.
We can hear the guys on the other side of the truck. One of my six guys shouts "Tim?" "Yeah?" we hear back. Turns out they went to elementary school together in rural Ontario way back when. The ages of the guys in the truck range from 15 to 47. The only light that comes in is from tiny circles in the metal doors. The glass is dirty, so we can't make out too much.
We drive for one minute and stop. They turn off the truck and leave. The truck behind us backs over and stays put, still on. Our truck now begins to smell of fumes. I don't think this was on purpose, as the drivers seemed confused about where to go; we could make out there was many discussions happening between all kinds of officers outside. But diesel fume headaches started in. After another 10 minuets, we drove to a large prisoner transfer bus.
One by one, we were let out of the small truck and lead aboard the bus. The first portion of the bus had sectioned-off pairs of seats with plastic and metal cages with their own doors. Inside were female prisoners, two by two. I saw Kate sitting with another young girl. She didn't see me, she looked so sad. The back section was all open seating. They told us it was two to a seat and move to the back. We filled up all the seats and were left with one extra guy. They yelled at him, "Sit down now!" He told them there were no more seats, and they yelled "GET IN A SEAT NOW!" So he sat on the floor.
Some girls were asking about a bathroom, as we've been in police custody for almost four hours now. No reply. "Where are we going?" No reply. "Will we get a phone call?" No reply. Some of the guys had no shoes, some had no laces and some still had their shoes fully intact. The mix on the bus was great. All ethnicities, ages and genders. Protesters, pedestrians, media, the homeless, tourists--but mostly everyone in there was from Toronto. So with about 12 girls up front and about 20 guys in the back, all in handcuffs, off we went. I tried calling to Kate, but she couldn't hear me. No one had any phones, cameras, no way to record anything from here on out.
No one could believe what was happening to us. We all talked about our rights, what phone number to call, where we might be headed--the general thought was the new detention centre they built inside the Toronto Movie Studios at Pape and Eastern. And sure enough, as the bus left the St. Lawrence Market area, we headed east. There was a sense of outrage on the bus, but when we got our phone call and legal counsel, this would be exposed for the farce it was. A girl started getting really wild and screaming--it was a bit much. A few guys laughed, and I heard a "shut up"--it was unmistakably Kate, she wasn't into the girl next to her losing her mind just yet. I called out "I love you!" Another guy joked, "Will you be my prison wife?"
We arrived outside of the wet and dark Toronto Film Studio, with its large gates and armored guards and dozens of police cars and fenced-off areas. It was creepy. The buildings were huge and grey with red signs with white numbers on them. It was something from a George Orwell novel. Large spotlights pointing down from posts in the rain. Our bus was stopped in front of a large garage door to one of the hanger-sized buildings. The door rolls open a light pours out from it. We drive inside.
PART 5: Behind the Grey Door
As we go in, there are rows of cages on the lefthand side. Chain cages full of people. From what I could see, they were all young people in these cages, maybe the young offenders. I have never seen anything like this, only in Holocaust films, sci-fi films or pictures of Guantánamo Bay (and no, I'm not comparing this to those events, I'm just sharing what came to mind and the only things I can reference it to).
There are skids of bottled water and Gatorade the police are drinking from. The men on the bus are talking about how the police cars were abandoned and no police officers stopped the infamous Black Bloc. We all agreed that we were the hundreds of protesters left at the end of the day, long after the violence was done that afternoon. But hey, how do you justify to the people of Canada that we spent $1.2 billion? You arrest all the protesters.
We thought we might held for 24 hours so that the streets would be cleared from people demonstrating their right to free speech. I mean, they closed down the "Free Speech Zone" in a public space, so...why were we there? Finally, an officer comes on the bus and states "come forward and give your number."
So one by one, we go. Outside, we are handed off to a Court Service officer, all with "Special Constable" patches. Some have removed their nametags, others have them still on. Some are Barrie Court Services, some Toronto. I'm given to a shorter female constable who removed my metal cuffs and put me in the plastic binds--she had trouble getting them tight enough. "My gloves are too sweaty," she says, a male office grabs the tie and pulls them--tight. My wrists are already raw from the cuffs; I say they are too tight. "You'll live," I'm told. Oh.
She asks where I'm supposed to go, no one really knew. Everyone there seemed a little overworked and confused. Someone told her to make sure I read "the sign." She takes me towards an ominous black corridor--it was this pocket of darkness in this hanger that led to another section. Kate had already disappeared inside it. She stops in front of a sign, which states that all video and audio would be recorded in the cells and could be used as evidence, etc., etc. She asked if I understood, and I said I did. I was actually happy to read that, in case anything in violation of the law happened to me inside. We walked into the darkness...
PART 6: Welcome to Cell Block OL 6 in Detention Level 2, Prisoner #0106, or Come for the Cup of Water, Stay for the Condom-Ball.
Inside the former movie studio, I almost can't believe it. I've never seen this outside of movies. It is almost unreal. There are no windows to be seen. The cavernous ceiling is 200 feet high, I can barely see it. It makes the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark look small. Hanging down to about 15 feet off the ground are rows of intense florescent lights--dozens of rows as far as I can see in either direction. Over each cell is a small black pod containing a camera.
It appears to be a maze made of industrial shelving, construction office trailers, wooden decks, and walkways and cages. The cages are roughly 12-foot-by-20-foot, and around 10 foot high. There is sheet metal on three sides; the front side has a sliding door section that locks. Inside each cage is a porta-potty with the door removed, no toilet paper. It reaches close to the ceiling and is about four-foot-by-four-foot around. The porta-potties were bright orange, with an elaborate art deco-style molding--a $1.2 billion dollar porta-potty to be sure.
I pass rows of the cages with people bleeding, crying, slumped on the concrete floor, huddled, asking to call family, asking for water, asking what the charge is, wanting to know their rights. All the officers were ignoring them and laughing. Laughing at people. I have never seen anything like this.
My officer was asking where to take me--no officers knew. One officer tells her, "Who knows? This place just got fucked up. Good luck." She sighs. Finally it's decided, and I'm taken down a row of cages. I see Kate in a cage with about 30 girls, huddled, still wet and in this place (which I just notice is freezing). She smiles. "I love you!" I call to her. I hear, "I love you too!" as I'm brought around the corner. I see the girls have no door on their potty, with mostly male officers around them walking by, looking in.
We're near the wall, and I see a cage full of about 35 men. Cell Block OL 6 says a white sign on the cage door. In I go. I recognize some of the guys from the bus and paddy wagon. Hello agains are said. We are still handcuffed with the vinyl ties; I now have a cut on my wrist. I see the guy with the green mohawkish cut--he looks troubled.
Soon enough, a few more guys are brought. There are no 40 men in the cell. The young, short male office with spiky orange hair and a shirt labeled Toronto Police jokes to us, "What do they think, this is Auschwitz?" This is what he said. Forty witnesses and the video/audio equipment that was right above us. They have since stated this footage would be made public. Amazing, I can't wait. There is one steel bench in the cell that seats five. There is standing room only. The floor is cold concrete, dirty and covered in chipped splotches of bright green paint--from when the movie studio would use green screen. Anyone who sat was covered in a bright green dust.
It was now around 2 a.m. I've been held since 10:30 p.m., not read my rights, not explained anything, not yet charged, no phone call. And in an overcrowded cell with no access to water. Every guy had to pee; there was a line around the inside of the cell to piss. Trying to pee with your hand cuffed together was horrible, but we all managed. The outhouse was messy. No toilet paper. So here we all were. Ages from 16 to 78. Three German men asked why the guard made a joke about Auschwitz. They were here from Germany, left a bar, got arrested. They said they had no idea Canada was like this. They said the world thought we were free. They said, "Poor Canadians, this is shame".
The stories from the men in the cell were all very similar. Some were protesters in the Novotel march, one man was having dinner at The Keg with his girlfriend (who was also arrested), there were two journalists, a homeless old man with a big grey bird and long hair with scruffy clothes- he was almost in tears and confused. He said they grabbed him walking on Carlton. He then asked us, "What's a G20?" Sick. The 16-year-old kid hasn't been able to call his parents, and now he's locked up with 39 men. The cage houses all kinds. There's a young gay couple curled up together. Wet socks and feet and clothes in this freezing, unending hanger. And now we're thirsty.
Stories are exchanged. We all discuss what to say to our lawyers or legal aid when we call. One guy explains how he was working at a music store up at Ossington, left work, saw his buddy across the street, gave him the rock and roll horns sign with his hand. Then a cop saw him and said, "Don't give the cops the finger!" while running at him and then tackling him. He was bleeding and his clothes ripped. He was shocked.
Still thirsty. We ask why were in here. "Because you committed a crime," quips a Barrie Court Services officer--a tall, bald man with one hell of mean streak. It looked ugly. Some officers were laughing and joking at us. I was feeling the crowded cell growing tense and angry. One Black, shorter male Toronto Officer came over as we began pleading for an explanation, for water and for some of us to be moved into another cell. He came over and said, "This is wrong. Guys, I'm sorry, this is fucked up. But there's nothing I can do. This place is just chaos. I'm sorry." He leaves. Very thirsty.
In police custody for six hours now, no water, no anything. We start to get worried. We are still very polite to guards: "Please, we need water. Please help us. Please help this 16-year-old kid. Please split us up, we can't even all sit in here." We look at the camera and beg for help. We can hear people in the other cells, yelling and begging for water.
We hear a girl 'Please! I need my medication! HELP ME!" I yell "Help that girl, what the hell is going on here!" Other cages begin to yell. I find out later this girl was in my girlfriend's cell and was way passed her medication time. The male officers were laughing in at her and tapping their keys along the bars leering at the girls in wet clothes. Finally, two female officers took the girl away. They also had a 17-year-old girl in her cage as well. Still thirsty.
Seven hours into custody, the people break. A shout for water breaks into a little riot, all cells yelling water, shaking the cages, and kicking at the doors. People with cracked lips and cracking voices - I've been awake for 22 hours now. Luckily a guy in our cell kept a watch. The place is going insane, we are told by guards "We're working on it!" some are apologizing, some are obviously lost and confused, others are laughing.
Finally, water reaches our cell. They have a blue jug on an office chair, rolling it around with one officer pushing, one with a key, and one holding styrofoam Dixie cups. We are told to line up. Many of the men say, "Thank you". I had to beg for water. BEG FOR WATER! For nine hours. I hated being made to feel grateful for this tiny sip of water. Many gulped their cup down, some took it slow. "So shut up now," said the officer. Well, guess who was starting to get hungry after eight hours in custody?
An older First Nations man produces a condom and blows it up into a balloon. We all laugh--the water did us good. In fact, we all got along really well, making the best of things we could. Quiet guys, big loud guys, punks, well-dressed men, journalists, people who were at work, protesters, homeless, gay guys. We all got along, totally united.
So, with this condom balloon, we started bouncing it around, like volleyball. We then called it Condom-Ball. The rules were to bounce it with your elbows or legs, and try and catch the tip in your empty dixie cup (as they were tied together, like a volleyball bump already--too easy). Some guys got really into it, some were laughing, some thought it was gross, but funny. We joked about starting a condom-ball league. We'd rent the cages and have teams of 40 guys on each one. I'm looking forward the security footage from our cell--look at these crazy violent protesters...playing games.
Some dude popped the condom with his cuffs, and we all jokingly booed him. Then the First Nations guy pulled out another condom. We cheered. The guy who broke the last one volunteered for blow-up duty. Someone said, "When we get out, I'm gonna say being in a cell with 40 guys sucked until we found a condom." We all laughed our asses off. Soon, people tired of the game, as we were wet, crowded and hungry, and still didn't know anything.
PART 7: Awake for 25 Hours So Far, Imprisoned for 10 of Them
It was a weird feeling, being locked in a cage. Told by my captors that it was wrong (but also laughed at by others), begging for food and water. Then, down the hall, across from my cell I saw this: The bald Barrie officer was dragging in a kid with mild cerebral palsy (I saw him with a friend while they were arrested, he was so scared). He pushed, and then they said something to him, his clothes were torn, and his eyes read from crying. I guess they wanted his shoes, because he struggled to lift his leg (his pants were falling down). Then the officer slammed his leg down and said, "Never mind. Stop being stupid." he laughed at the kid, as did the other officer. Away they went. Heard a door slam.
The guy who took his girlfriend to The Keg tells us how he told her it would be safe out. "The violence was long over, and even the mayor had said to go and enjoy Toronto." He called out for his girl, "Trudy?" We hear a "Yeah? Is that you Sean?" He looks happy and yells, "Yeah, baby!" She yells back, "It's over!" and we all start laughing. Later, I find out from Kate that Trudy was in her cell and also yelled, "Just joking!" but we didn't hear because we were all laughing.
The laughs were hard to come by. I was still sick that I begged for water and had been here for 11 hours, and I hadn't done a thing. And that I watched helpless, as they roughed up a kid with CP. This was like some sick, twisted social experiment. All handcuffed, we ask "What if we have shit? No toilet paper!" Forty-five minutes later, they push a few sheets threw the fence. "We're bound, we can't even wipe!" The male officer says, "Figure it out boys." Laughs. We make a pact that none of us will shit.
I find out from Kate that the girls had to make a human wall when using the bathroom and help wipe each other. They also had to beg for toilet paper. Apparently, they didn't think girls needed much for the bathroom. Women asked for tampons or pads, and the male guards laughed and said, "That explains your attitude."
It was 6 a.m., and we couldn't lie down or even all sit. We tried rotating on the steel bench. It was freezing. The Germans missed their flight. Another guy visiting his girlfriend from Manitoba missed his bus. Trudy's boyfriend tells us she was to be on a bus up north to camp, where she would be a counselor to children with disabilities. Good thing those kids are now safe from her--I mean, the woman had dinner at The Keg! Oh no! We hear that one cell contains a lawyer, who has stated that all our rights had been violated. Another holds a TTC Streetcar Driver in full uniform, whose streetcar was caught in a blocked-off zone. He left his vehicle and was arrested. What?
People are hungry. We plead to the passing guards for food or and explanation, or to tell us what's happening--even to split us up so we can lie on the cold concrete. They say we will be processed, interviewed, charged and released in about maybe three hours--we can also make a call then to legal aid. And food? "We're working on it."
We ask they guards how they could be a part of this. Some look guilty as hell, some laugh. We get the attention of Toronto Special Constable White, a short balding man with glasses. He comes to us. We all desperately and calmly explain what's happening to us. White listens, apologizes, admits that it's wrong, and says, "I'm just a pea in a pod. I can't help." So the old "I'm just following orders," which followers of human right violators have used for ages--wrong is wrong, whether it's your paycheck or not. But hey, this is the G20, blood money for all!
White leaves us, apologizing and saying he's going to try and help. Ten hours, a sip of water, no food, nothing. The gay couple has curled up on each other, trying to sleep and keep warm. The man next me says, "I'm jealous." I say, "Me too."
PART 8: "Food" for the Disillusioned
You know what smells? Forty guys who haven't showered in 30 hours, with an open-door outhouse and wet socks. I wonder what happened to Ben? Tension is mounting in the cell, some guys are getting wild-eyed. Some are starting to freak out. We've been in the cage for 10 hours, crammed together.
Finally, food arrives in the form of a plastic-wrapped dinner roll with a slice of processed cheese in it, and slathered in butter. Everyone digs into their food, devouring them. It's around 8:30 a.m. One guys asks, "Why is there so much butter?" The officer replies, "It's not butter, it's margarine." He jokes back, "I can't believe it's not butter!" Some us laugh, some are too into the sandwich to notice anything else.
I suggest we write a message in the chain ceiling with our Dixie cups for the people watching on the camera. We all decide "HELP" is the best option--maybe they'll do something and at least split us up. A quiet young guy in glasses puts it up. Nicely done. I find out that Kate's cell (Cell Block OL 5) made a peace symbol and that Ben's cell block (OL 2) made a chandelier from some danger tape they pulled inside, the cups and the ends of the plastic handcuffs they chewed off. Fancy. I hope the officers on the other sides of the cameras saw the dangerous people they had.
Then two officers arrive and take away the green mohawk guy. We ask about the rest of us, and we're told "soon." That's all. We ask about our rights and and Toronto Court Services Special Constable #99257 says, "We can hold you for as long as it takes to process you." I ask him, "Is that the law? What if it takes four years to process, you can hold us?" He says, "Yes." I tell him he's lying. I demand to know his name (his nametag was off). He says, "Your fault if you believe me," looks nervous and quickly leaves. Never gave a name.
We were told many times about being processed, and we'd reach what they called "the Otherside." What was there? I don't know. They said that we'd have to wait again there anyway. What was this Otherside? Someone suggested we'd be turned into cheese slices. I said I would make terrible Soylent Green. A few guys laughed emptily.
PART 9: No Help for a Broken Heart
We are thirsty again. It's been 15 hours in police custody. Still 39 guys crowded in the cage. Getting very scary. Awake for around 30 hours. Had one sip of water and cheese shit-bun.
The 16 year old hasn't been able to call his parents. We yell for someone to help us, to help this 16-year-old kid--for someone to do anything, to please help us. We get the attention of a Black female Toronto Special Constable Ottey, with short hair and glasses. We tell her about the 16 year old. She writes down his information and says she'll do something about it. I see her several times in the next few hours, ignoring us as we ask for an update. Poor kid. His poor parents. We see officer White a few more times, he always apologizes. They say they are looking for people they suspect of bigger crimes first. An officer comes by and yells "Islam! Is there an Islam in here?" Nope, no one by that name here.
We start losing it a little bit. Saying to every officer, "You know this is wrong, look at us in here!" We hear from the other cells that some only have 20 or 15 guys. Why is this happening? How is this happening? Some guys start screaming, kicking the cage and shaking it. We can hear this happening all over the place. We yell for help. Some cops are laughing, some look devastated and helpless. I'm so thirsty, and I'm screaming for water. It felt like nothing I've ever felt before. A prisoner. Innocent. Screaming at my captors for water. Right then, my heart broke.
I looked around at the screaming men, the scared kid, the huddled couple, the disgusted Germans, the confused old man, the First Nations man who didn't seem surprised at all, the guards laughing, the others dismayed. Thought about the peaceful things I saw at the park, the grandmothers with AIDS orphans, Kate taken away in handcuffs, the kid with CP roughed up, begging for water, and my heart simply broke. That's the only way I can describe it. My beloved country, my city. I looked down at my t-shirt--bright blue with a big white maple leaf and in bold, capped letters below: FREEDOM. I kid you not. I was proud to wear that shirt earlier that day. Now it stung.
I was so helpless and empty. For those of you who may not think this sounds like much, or is justified, you weren't there. People from all walks of life were breaking in that place, including police officers. One guy lost it and went into "Fucking pigs! Fucking giving us swine flu! Fuck you!" I always thought people who said things like this don't appreciate that the police have a hard job and deal with so much crap. But right then, I got this guy and those people--people who have been victims of the police.
Are all cops bad? No. But they give into their own kind of mob mentality. I saw the blood lust in those riot cops' eyes and the disregarded from some of these guards. One man yelled, "We are people! We pay your salary through taxes!" The officer yelled, "You don't paying any fucking taxes, look at you!". The university-educated, employed man in awe asked, "What the hell do you mean?" He walks away laughing.
We yell and scream, beg and cry out. Eventually officers arrive and say "You've been in here too long. Sorry, we'll move some of you" and take six guys, then another six. I went with the second six.
PART 10: Meet the New Rat Cage, Just Like the Old Rat Cage
I'm led down to Cell Block OL 2. Across from us are large sections of industrial shelves, and we can see into the area where four trailers meet--they each have a door. The door I can see says "Booking Room 10" with a red light above it. Cops lean on the railing, laughing and dancing when people chant slogans from their cells. They think it's hilarious.
Coming on 15 hours in custody. There are already around 15 men in this cell. They tell us some guys got removed a while ago. There are many similar stories in here and another journalist. There is one guy in an English soccer jersey who tells me he was at a bar, stepped out for a smoke and was arrested. He was a huge soccer fan and was about to miss the big Germany-England match. The 16 year old was now in this cell. Around 10 a.m., there was a shift change in officers, and we began begging for water again--maybe these guards would help us. I notice the evidence shelves under label OL 6--there are five bags, but there were 40 guys in that cell. Where's all our stuff?
My mouth was pasty and dry. Some guys' mouths were cracked. We were once again ignored and told to wait. More promises of the Otherside. Some try to sleep on the concrete and share the single metal bench.
Officers wander the hallways aimlessly, some calling out names, asking each other what happened to certain prisoners--confused. Several officers repeatedly pass our cell, asking for the same names and numbers. Why don't they know where they put anyone? There were hundreds of officers in this place. Why so slow to process? What was the charge? Where is our phone call? I beg for more water. I'm getting dizzy and have been up for 31 hours. The lights never dimmed, no blankets. The majority of everyone I've met so far lives in Toronto.
Another cheese sandwich arrives. My mouth was so dry I had trouble swallowing. Some guys used theirs as pillows. One man asks a guard if he has any kids. The guard says he does and so what? The man says that his two kids have no idea where he is and were expecting him two hours ago. The guard writes some info down and says he'll see what he can do. I'm seeing some spots and getting woozy.
PART 11: Lights Out Tommy Taylor
The next thing I know, I'm outside the cell, surrounded by a few guards. An older female guard with short dark hair and glasses is offering me a cup of watered-down Tang and instructing my binds be cut. I'm given a second cup of juice and new, looser cuffs. They ask if I'm okay. I'm so confused about why I'm outside the cell and ask "What's going on?" They ask if I'm alright, and I say "I guess so." Then they open the cage and put me back.
The guys make room on the bench and sit me down, asking if I'm okay. "What happened?" I ask with a now splitting headache. "You passed out, man!" they tell me. Timber. Over I went, boom to the ground. They yelled to the guards for help, the officers wouldn't come in to get me, so the guys had to pick me up and take me to the door. I was then up on my feet and being given juice...so the blanks were now filled in.
I passed out. After begging for water. I passed out and fell over in jail. What was happening to me? No sleep, no water. The men went nuts. "Is this what it takes, a guy passing out! Christ!! What's wrong with you monsters!" My head kills. They ask for medical attention for me. I second the motion, and we're told, "Not right now." Guys slump to the floor in defeat.
The female officer who helped me aids in bringing some watery orange Tang to all the cells. We line up, quietly and broken for our drink. I find out from Kate that this same female officer broke down and cried with the women at their cell. She was sobbing and apologizing, "This is wrong, you shouldn't be here. This is all so wrong." Their own officers couldn't handle it. She was worn down by the injustices she was being ordered to do. This happened in Toronto.
Across from our cell, Special Constable C. Smit, a short white female officer with blonde/brown hair stands guard. We nicely talk with her through the cage. "Please tell us how you can do this? We are begging for water in here. This guy is only 16, and this guy passed out. Your co-workers laugh. They are joking to us about our rights and laughing at a disabled kid. You know this is wrong, what's happening." After too much of this, with tears in her eyes, she breaks: "I don't know anything, no one here knows anything! I'm not even a cop." She then leaves in a hurry. Madness.
PART 12: Live from Cell Block OL 1, It's Test Their Logik!
So from out of the blue in the cage next ours, a rap starts. About the G8/G20. It's awesome, and holy hell, it's the rap from a video I watched from a rap duo appearing at the party that was supposed to happen Saturday night. And holy hell, those rappers, Test Their Logik, are in jail. And now they're singing live in prison. Every cage joining in the chorus, "G8, G20, they few, we many!" They do the whole song, the place gets pumped, and they finish with everyone singing. Then, when it's over, we all clap, yell, cheer and rattle our cages. It was so awesome; it reminded me of when the prisoners hear the opera song in The Shawshank Redemption. Brilliant moment for all of us in detention hell. The song is "Crash the Meeting."
PART 13: See You in the Parking Lot, Special Constable Milrod
The "fuck the pigs" guy is losing his damn mind. A young guy on the new officer shift, with reddish hair and a goatee, seems ready for a fight. He says to the guys in our cell, "I want to see all you guys outside in the parking lot, then we'll see what's what. I'll take you down." Wow. He walks away laughing. I inform an actual Toronto police officer of what he said and his name. Next time we saw Milrod, his nametag was gone, and he didn't look at us or speak to us. It's on camera Milrod, with 30 witnesses.
The cops are stilling searching for random names. They claim processing is taking long. One officer says, "We had to arrest 1,000 people, so wait." We theorize that we'll be held until just before the legal 24 hours they can hold without charging, which coincides with the end of the G20 summit. Spirits are broken, guys lying all around. Two are removed for processing, and they tell us they are clearing our cell next. Finally. It's almost 3 p.m., we're told when we ask for the time.
The only evidence I can see that it's the day is a tiny hole 200 feet up, with light on the outside. I wonder if anyone knows what happened down at the Novotel or what's happening in here? We've only seen officers--no lawyers, medics or media (other than the ones in cages). It's getting close to 24 hours in custody. I haven't slept in 40 hours and new prisoners are being brought in. We're told they are trying to process the women first, as they are out of room for female prisoners. I find a silver lining in that, hoping Kate might have gone home.
PART 14: Time to Rush and Time for Rain
So they tell us they've doubled the staff and will be moving quickly. Some guys have pulled their hands out of the plastic cuffs. Some are too tight. Some guys are still in metal cuffs. 22 hours in cuffs. Bloody wrists. My head is in hell, my elbow hurts, and my wrists kill. I pull my one hand out finally. Finally, I can stretch my arms, after 22 horrid hours. Rub my wrists, but it stings. I guess I always saw people rub their wrists in movies after removing handcuffs--that's bull, it hurts too much. The guards don't care that we're doing this. Why were we all in handcuffs if we were already locked up?
So bags of evidence are rushed around as officers call out names, holding photographs of some guys, looking around. They mostly just call numbers. My wrist tag is pretty worn out by now, but I remember my number, 0106. The crazy fuck-the-police guy has exactly 12 stickers on his body with his name. Looks like the police had fun with him. I hear them say "Santos!" That's Ben's last name! I few minutes later, I see Ben taken down a hallway with his evidence bag. Awesome, I think. See you soon, buddy!
We're told we're being taken straight outside. No processing, no interview, no phone calls. We're leaving. The officer who was there when we first arrived and made the Auschwitz joke comes back in for his next day of work, sees us and says, "Holy shit, you guys are still here? What the fuck is going on here?" and walks away. A few more guys are taken from our cell, we're all calling each other brother now, pounding our handcuffed fists and reminding each other of how we'll stay in touch, and to tell everyone what's happening in here. Then there is a loud steady booming. A rainstorm. The sound fills the entire chasm. Sounds like heavy rain. They finally take the 16-year-old kid.
As time passes, I think about what do when I'm out. Then I hear my name. I almost can't believe it. 23 hours. Was it over? I answered questions about my date of birth and address. They opened the door and led me away. Around the corner, back through another area to the fabled Otherside.
PART 15: Break on Through to the Otherside
So, just after the G20 was officially over, just before the legal 24 hours they could hold me, I was being rushed out. Convenient. They found a way to keep 500 legal protesters from their constitutional rights. In this country. Canada. My shirt feels dirty. When I make it to the Otherside, I see signs that let me know I was a Level 2 Detainee, and I was heading in Levels 3 and 4.
Inside this hanger, more cages and metal detectors. The L3 area housed small groups of men and women, looking battered, some bleeding. They all made peace sign and told me to tell everyone about them. Down another hall, rows of single person cells. These look like leaders, organizers, many bloody. I see the green mohawk guy. He says "Adios."
I'm then put into another cage with some former cellmates. They tell me not to worry--they are taking us out one by one from here. There is a younger Black guy with an awesome baseball cap. An officer asks, "How'd you get to keep that hat?" "Because I look good in it," he replies smoothly. We all laugh, including the officers. I'm taken out, cuffs cut off and put against a wall to have my photo taken again.
Against the wall, I'm told that was arrested for "breach of peace." I will not be charged, but if I am arrested for this or a similar crime again, I will be charged and appear in court. Do not join any more protests and assemblies during the G20. Do you understand these terms. I said I did. He then said, "And the bad news is it's raining cats and dogs out there. Take him out." I try to take my jacket from my evidence bag, but am told to head out, don't stop.
I'm out in the pouring rain, it's around 9:30 p.m., still a little light. I'm told to cross the parking lot. There are large gates with a turnstile to the side. Go through the turnstile, riot cops tell me. Out I go. A crowd across the street under tarps and umbrellas cheers for me. I see a basket of apples, I eat four and gulp a glass of water. Pats on the back. My mind is ablaze, I can't focus. I don't see Ben or Kate.
PART 16: Scream
The detention centre was at Eastern Avenue and Pape. I have no money, no wallet, no phone. My head is aching, my wrists raw, body sore and awake for 43 hours. I walk up Pape to Queen. I have a long walk home to Jarvis/Gerrard. My keys and shoelaces are in a bag. Some people didn't get their shoes back. Standing in the rain. No shoes. The anger is welling up inside, my brain is exploding, tears are filling my eyes, and I scream and punch the construction wall next to me. How did this happen? Where are my friends? What did I do? Who was in charge in there? I'm crushed, lost and might as have been hit like by a truck.
I make my way finally to a pay phone by a bar. It's raining and dark. I make a collect call home. Kate answers. She was out around 4 p.m. and was told nothing about me. I have trouble speaking when she asks if I'm okay. I can barely keep it together. I tell her I'm fine. I'm not. She asks if they beat me--I don't know. I'm standing, soaking wet in the rain on a collect call on a payphone, with cars whizzing by. It took everything not to fall to my knees. She says take a cab, she's called my parents, and the Legacy's are worried. Come home. She hasn't heard from Ben. He's not answering his phone. I finally hail a cab and fall into it.
PART 17: Homecoming
I arrive home at 11 p.m. Kate's waiting outside. We hug and kiss. I'm starving, soaked, thirsty and sore. We go inside, I call my family and my friend Chris. I can't talk long, I just tell them I'm home and safe. Ben's mom hasn't heard from him, he's not answering his phone. We finally hear from him at 1 a.m. They detained him and accused him of being Black Bloc. He was still in a bright yellow shirt from work. Horrible things happened to him and Kate.
I peel off my soaking wet Canada Freedom t-shirt. I throw it on the ground and get a lighter. I want to burn it. I don't. I drink juice, we eat. We're so sad. Our lives have changed. I was shivering and couldn't form sentences. A shower. I couldn't sleep. I had 38 e-mails. Where are you? My production team for the show I'm directing at SummerWorks wonder where I am, we have things to do. I send brief messages, make a note on Facebook.
I also notice how many people are raging about the protesters on Facebook. Of course, the news is all about burning cop cars and broken windows. Things went exactly as I said when I saw those photos the previous afternoon. Jesus, it worked. Everyone got spoonfed a justification for the $1.2 billion spent.
NOW: That's all true. Think about it. Is this Canada? Do you think this is right? You don't want to live in a country where this happens. It's changed my whole outlook and attitude on life. My responsibility to every human being in this world. Plato said, "The Price of Apathy towards public affairs is to be Ruled by Evil Men." I used that as a tagline for a play I co-wrote and directed in the 2006 Toronto Fringe, called Lifeboat. Back then, I felt pretty good that I explored these issues in my theatre work. Now I know it has to be a part of my life.
The world needs you. Educate yourself. Your comfort is shame; your looking away kills people. You're not small. You're not helpless. You can do something. You have a voice. Don't let them silence you before you even try to speak.
First published at Facebook.