I spent the week of the G8/G20 in Edmonton following Twitter feeds, text messages, and Facebook updates as many of the people I have worked with over the years were being beaten, intimidated, arrested and having their civil rights eroded during the G8 in Toronto. I found myself feeling helpless wishing there was something more I could do.
Lately, it feels like one catastrophe after another. As I watched the stories pile in from eye witnesses, those being kettled, arrested, beaten and intimidated, I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was literally glued to the TV news stations, social media and my cell phone, waiting for word from those on the streets.
Earlier in the week many of those arrested had successfully participated in large peaceful protests that brought forward important issues being ignored by G8 leaders. Indigenous peoples rights, maternal health, immigrant rights, climate change and the tar sands were all on the agenda of those on the streets but ignored by our leaders. Saturday started off as a big success with 25,000 people marching in the streets of Toronto. I was congratulating friends on their hard work and success of the week only to see it all unravel on Saturday afternoon.
There was little to no media coverage of the successful rally, only pictures of burning cop cars and smashed store fronts with no police in sight. Soon after, the media was reporting on mass arrests at Queens Park where the rally had ended and people were enjoying a sunny afternoon. The park was filled with children, elderly, young, old and people of all walks of life. Curiosity had also brought out people that just wanted to check out what was going on. All were to be abruptly shook up by brutal police force and mass arrests.
The stories start pouring through the Internet of police attacking innocent protesters in the park in a response to the vandalism on Yonge Street. While these tactics are debated online and off, I was more concerned with the police response to those that obviously had nothing to do with it. Stories poured in of children and parents frightened out of the park, a peaceful protester trampled by a police horse, reporters arrested and beaten, deplorable name-calling by police and unaggravated and brutal arrests of people that I hold near and dear.
All I kept thinking was “Is this all really happening?” The arrests went on through the night with heavy-handed police response. By early morning there were over 500 people arrested and Sunday proved to be just as crazy with another 500 people arrested at jail support rallies, raids and random seizures of people and their belongings. Journalists who tried to report the arrests often found themselves being arrested themselves, often with brutal force.
Once arrested and put into the temporary jail erected for the G8, the stories only seemed to get worse. Reports have come in about lack of access to food, water, sanitary cells and access to medical aid. Some detainees were denied access to medication including a diabetic who had to be taken to a hospital after falling unconscious. Many people were held in the cells still in cuffs and left for over 24 hours. Complaints are currently being filed for racial slurs, sexual assault, segregation of queer detainees, detainment of minors in a adult facility, no access to phone, no lawyers, rights not read and overcrowded jail cells to name a few.
The Chief of Police continues to defend the acts of the police, stating they were merely doing their job and that no laws were broken by the police, only by those that were arrested. Keep in mind that most of the 1000 or so arrested were released without charges. Many groups are now calling for an independent inquiry into police action during the G20 summit, calling officer conduct at times “disproportionate, arbitrary and excessive.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is calling for an independent investigation. This is being supported by Amnesty International who is calling for a review of the security measure of the G8/G20.
There is even a website were people can share their stories.
It seems ridiculous that Canada spent the $1.4 billion on the security for the G8/G20 when we so badly need those kinds of resources for combating the climate crisis and moving towards a just and sustainable planet. We can no longer allow this government to continue to marginalize and intimidate grassroots community voices with draconian tactics.
The one good thing that has come out of all of this is that people are pissed. Not just the regular radical activist but Joe Public and his family are angry.
Thanks Toronto, because the movement just got bigger.