Being detained for 18 hours in the 629 Eastern Avenue detention facility felt like ‘Canadian Bacon’ meets ‘1984’.
The beginning, for me:
So G20 Day 2 starts, and from what I know Montreal-based anarchist groups were largely responsible for property damage and arson in the city centre (confirmed?). That’s all I really knew when leaving Zach’s house, where we spent the afternoon shooting a music video for our song “Tired Hands”.
Around 8:30pm I heard from my friend Brett that rubber bullets were flying in Queen’s Park and that peaceful demonstrators were being rounded up by riot police. This, after a much smaller number of – I suppose anarchist – folks had damaged and spray-painted on shop fronts, ATMs and banks. Thinking things were either going to be settling down, or were at least going to be viewable from a safe distance, I grabbed my brother’s point-and-shoot camera – and also his bike, since mine was locked under both his and his girlfriend’s (this becomes important shortly) – and headed down to take some photos and some video to try to be another eye on the scene.
After grabbing some photos, and crossing Queen’s park via Gerrard, I heard, and then saw, a large number of people marching southward on Yonge. From the first audible chants I could tell it was a peaceful protest, and so I rode up and joined in from the back – still on the bike.
I wasn’t initially planning on joining the protest until I had been riding in the back for a while, and got a very positive vibe from the whole thing. Walking past damaged property, we were shouting ‘this isn’t what we wanted!’ and ‘peaceful protest!’ and other good and wholesome chants. It wasn’t until we reached somewhere near Queen Street (and even more so Front Street) that the riot police presence made itself known to us.
I stand by my thinking that it was good to join a peaceful and (hopefully) televised protest, in order to outweigh the echo-chamber coverage of the damage.
After pausing to stop and stand ground with instantly-forming walls of riot police at Queen, Adelaide and King streets, the majority of our marching time was then spent on Front Street. Here, we marched to within a good distance of the barricade wall (some stood close to it for a few moments) – but otherwise people just continued with the chants and even sang O’ Canada.
As we turned around to make our way back down Front Street, the police presence had quadrupled, and they began to surround us from every direction, rather than just at intersections. At this point the cops no longer stood their ground, but were given orders to march forward on us – creating a pressure behind us. Some guy did run a little too close to the riot police line, and may have thrown something small at them (water bottle that was lying on the ground?), and the riot police responded with rubber bullets– and I believe the first arrests were also made at this point. My camera missed the actual impact of the rubber bullets on this guy, but you can hear them just before everyone was forced to run.
At this point more than half of our protest group left the scene via Front Street, and didn’t turn south.
I’m not sure if what happened next was due to poor planning, or an utter lack of it, but we then made our way south on Yonge again, passing Union Station, and headed East on The Esplanade.
Here’s a map of my travel at this point: http://tinyurl.com/2dzuyln
This map doesn’t let me show that we also went west on Front Street for a bit, down to Union Station (where the barricade wall was), before returning to Front and Yonge.
When we reached the front doors of the ritzy Novotel hotel, the march organizers instructed us to sit and make some noise – to intentionally wake up some of the G20 delegates that were apparently’ staying there. One of them demanded that someone from the G20 come speak to us. Thinking this was going to work in the same fashion as the rest of the march – that police would surround us, intimidate us, and then announce a break in their wall to let us continue onward – we were mistaken.
From this point on, the attitude and resolve of the riot police took a noticeable turn toward the more aggressive. Have a look at this diagram to get an idea of what happened.
We were surrounded on both sides by riot police. We sat down. They kept moving in closer, grunting and smacking their batons and shields together, but everyone was assuring each other that ‘they’re just trying to scare us, then they’ll let us go.’
Next, I heard some murmurs of ‘they told us we can go out this way’ in conflicting directions, but every time someone tried to ask to leave via either direction, they were sworn at (I was told “Go F*ck yourself” by one cop while asking to leave, and looked at blankly by the others.
The police also started to point their laser sights at us, focusing on one individual who, once picked out by the laser, was nearly instantly grabbed by 3 or 4 riot police. They started with anyone looking remotely hippie-like or who had a bandanna, and also took out any black men right away as well – I’m not making this up. Watching the green laser sight sweep across us and then land on a black man right next to me was pretty terrifying – he scrambled in and amongst us, but we were so tightly confined that he couldn’t move. Police shoved anyone out of the way of an individual they were going to take next, and did so with terrifying speed and force.
TVO’s Steven Paikin was in there with us, and I could see and hear him becoming visibly upset every time the police moved in on us, at one point shouting “What the hell are they doing?!”
He was using his blackberry to tweet the events as they happened.
|moving again. down yonge st, south of front 11:10 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|hey david akin, crowd is passing your hotel on the esplanade 11:13 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|hotel guests waving out their windows. draws huge cheers 11:15 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|is that you waving akin? someome is. getting a helluva cheer 11:16 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|here come the cops again. weapons drawn. ppl sitting again. middle of esplanade 11:18 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|police in full riot gear moving closer. ppl still sitting in middle of street 11:20 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|almost 20 cops. new chant: “the whole world is watching.” coyne will not appreciate unoriginality 11:22 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|crowd surrounded. cops on both sides now 11:23 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|can’t tell what kinl of weapons are being pointed. can’t be live rounds, can it? new riot squad now here. why? this is peaceful. 11:27 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|suddenly 20 cops is now 100 11:27 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|don’t mind saying it…this is scary. one dumb person on either side & this could get dangerous. 11:28 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|the police should be smart & do nothing. this is not a violent crowd. they keep insisting it’s a peaceful protest 11:29 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|cops tightening their perimeter. why? they are forcing something they dont need to force 11:32 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|who is ordering these police to tighten the noose? it’s unnecessary. evwryone’s sitting. now tthety’ret motvintt into the crowd 11:33 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|cops moving closer why? 11:37 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|arresin people 11:47 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|mny arress now. inexplicable ppl say “we wan o go home cops overwhelming crowd 11:53 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|weapons are rubber bulles 11:54 PM Jun 26th via mobile web|
|i gone police escor me away 12:02 AM Jun 27th via mobile web|
|have left the demonstration on the esplanade. have got to a computer. here come a lot of tweets about what i saw. 12:37 AM Jun 27th via web|
|i saw police brutality tonight. it was unnecessary. they asked me to leave the site or they would arrest me. i told them i was dong my job. Sat Jun 26 2010 23:38:07|
|they repeated they would arrest me if i didn’t leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist. Sat Jun 26 2010 23:38:46|
|the journalist identified himself as working for “the guardian.” he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him….Sat Jun 26 2010 23:39:20|
|a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man’s back. Sat Jun 26 2010 23:39:59|
|no cameras recorded the assault. and it was an assault. Sat Jun 26 2010 23:40:41|
One correction, he seems to think police did announce that everyone should leave or be arrested. This may have been uttered to some leader of our protest, but if it was, was not relayed to any of us, and wasn’t said over the loudspeaker, as the police had been communicating to us the whole night.
The Guardian journalist was Jesse Rosenfeld – who I would later spend several hours talking to in a small cage near the end of my detainment. More on him later.
Anyways, so here the fact that I have my brother’s bike comes back into the story. As people are being grabbed by police, and it looks like they aren’t just targeting and arresting individuals who they (wrongly) assume are violent, but everyone, I had to make a quick decision about the bike I rode in on, and was next to me. The problem was that I didn’t have a bike lock for it, and people with bikes were being told to lock all of them together before being arrested. The police line had now advanced to within 5 feet from me.
I looked for a riot cop who would meet my eyes when I shouted “excuse me! Officer!” Finally one of them looked at me so I zeroed in on him. “I don’t have a lock for this bike, and I need to wait for my brother to come down here to get it!” He actually did respond, at first saying that I should find someone here who would let me lock it up with them (meanwhile people are being whacked and arrested right next to me). I shouted to everyone around me this request, but everyone was like ‘no can do!’ or was scrambling to avoid arrest.
I managed to call my brother who was at home, and told him that I was going to be arrested, I told him where we were and approximately where the bike would be, and had to hang up.
I then told the officer that my brother was coming down to get the bike, and he said “just make sure that they arrest you last.” A moment later, the laser sight was on me, and 3 riot cops came at me. I can only describe my feelings at that moment by describing my thought process: I’m in trouble, I’m going to get hurt, someone needs to call 911!
But it was ‘911’ that was charging at me.
One riot cop grabbed me by the neck, one pushed into me with his shield and another one had me under the arms. They whipped me around while I shouted at the officer who I had just made the ‘deal’ with about the bike – he stared blankly at me. They threw me to my knees and then picked me back up. After being carried through the riot police wall, one of the cops shouted “your bike is staying right here!”
At this point I was still tense from struggling, and the cop on my left shoulder spoke to me: “If you struggle one more time I’m going to smash you.” I was cuffed with plastic ties – very tight, fingers went tingly.
A moment later when I had tried to calm down, my bike helmet had slid down into my vision. I asked him to please move it up out of my eyes, and he smacked it down onto my nose. I asked him again, “No, I meant up – so that I can see.” He pushed it back up, smirking.
Next, I was placed in the street, seated on my knees in the rain. I was next to everyone else who was already tied and knelt. No one that I talked to had ever been arrested before, and came down for similar reasons as me. Many were journalists and photographers.
Then we were “Processed”, meaning searched and written up in the usual way. My brother managed to make it down to Church and Esplanade, and called me from someone’s cell phone. I missed the call since my phone was still in my pocket. Once an officer had walked by that was actually talking to us detainees, I caught his attention and asked him to hold the phone to my ear, and press redial.
Amazingly, he actually obliged and I got to tell my brother more specifics on where I was, and where the bike was. My brother didn’t end up getting through into the area for another 3 hours.
Then my photo was taken, and shackles were put on my hands and feet. We then stepped aboard a large bus with locked metal dividers between all of the seats. We were driven in a motorcade down to the 629 Eastern Avenue movie studio / detention facility that was built specifically for the G20. The place was an example of a calculated, tested and proven design for holding hundreds of people easily – and it was likely built by contractors who had built similar prisons around the world.
Here’s a diagram of the facility, drawn from memory, and probably a bit inaccurate in scale and possibly contents. Let me know if you were also in there and spot any problems with this.
[Click here to download a higher resolution PNG image.]
A. Front Gate to facility – pretty intimidating to arrive in a walled in facility out in a sparse area, when most people’s families had no idea where they were, and wouldn’t find out for 24-30 hours in some cases.
B. Buses unloaded here
C. Arrested men and women kept in separate cages. These were overcrowded, with nowhere to sit. And privacy when using the bathrooms was impossible. No toilet paper was provided unless asked for, and this was allowed infrequently. And everyone is cuffed the entire time, making a sanitary trip to the toilet impossible.
D. Chairs we were knelt onto while our hand and leg cuffs were removed. Plastic tie cuffs were put back on, and in my case were left on for the entire 18 hours. Many others had metal cuffs put on them.
E. Baggage scanner, similar to airport security.
F. Sign on the wall telling us that we’re going to be ‘recorded’ for the rest of our detainment, once stepping through this doorway. Chilling to think that there’s an 18 hour video, somewhere, of me in there. Some were in there for over 24-30 hours.
G. The two cells I spent most of the time in (we were moved sometime in the early hours of Sunday). We were right next to an air vent, and the place was freezing. Most of us were in t-shirts and shorts, and sat on the concrete floor. We all attempted to sleep at different times, but I don’t think anyone really did. It was incredibly loud in there, with people kicking their cages, shouting for guards, for water, medicine, bandages, or to have their cuffs loosened. At times the Court Services guards who monitored us in the cages would disappear for hours on end (I later found out this was because they were having to respond to the protest activity outside the facility). One guy had been out for a jog, and grabbed in the chaos, wearing only small shorts and a tank top. Another guy, Isaac, who I met first and spoke to most of the time, had been beaten by 5 police. He had been seated on the sidewalk, as a bystander during a police charge down Queen St. He had a large scrape on his upper thigh that looked like it was already getting infected – the guards never obliged him with a bandage, and one of his arresting officers (badge #8056) told him that he “hopes that gets infected”. Police rarely came to speak to us, and it was mostly Court Services officers dealing with the cages, moving more and more people in (to the point when none of us could lay down remotely comfortably) and there was also an evident disconnect between the Police and the guards. The guards mostly gave us cold stares – the way you look at someone you ‘know’ is guilty. But some of them, two female guards and one male in particular, stopped during their VERY infrequent rounds and listened to us a bit. Explaining the illegality of our arrest and these conditions, we managed to get one female guard (Christine) to break her cold stare, and nod to us – eventually wiping a tear. Officer Smith (Special Constable?) was in charge of the guards around us, and he was incredibly negligent – ignored and smirked at people’s requests, including requests to make our phone calls. At least in our cage, we were given water every 6 hours or so, and cheese on dinner roll ‘sandwiches’ twice. Later we got Tang, but it was so watered down and strange tasting. I heard of some detainees only getting one serving in 24 hours. I was given the number 1093 during my arrest, and the guards and police referred to everyone by their number eventually. One officer looked me in the eyes, at Location L on my map, and said “You’re 1093, remember that. That’s you.”
H. Once I was finally let out of the main holding cell where I was kept for at least 16 hours, I was moved into this area, Zone 2, where a bunch of cops stood sipping their Tim Hortons and talking casually. They were completely desensitized to the ghostly screams and banging on cages echoing all around them. Again, Canadian Bacon meets 1984.
I. Here is where we were finally booked, meeting 2 Police Sergeants who had us patted down in front of them by a younger officer, they reviewed all of my belongings yet again, and went through some of the legal statements they had to make. Not once did they look me in the eye, despite my sustained glares. The younger officer did look at me, but then looked away when I didn’t break the stare. It felt like the curtain was pulled away from the Wizard of Oz, and he was an old geezer (well, both of them), incapable of feeling anything for anyone detained, and completely bored with the procedures.
J. These are search rooms. I was given a level 2 search, which was a full-pat down and clothing/shoe search. Level 3 was a strip search, and I heard these being issued to people in line outside these fiberglass wall rooms.
K. Riot gear equipment cages.
L. Metal detector checkpoint. Moving from Zone 2 to 3.
M. Officers checked my file here. It was several pages long and contained several photographs (I know my photo was taken at least 4 times while in the facility, but they also took my picture and some video of me during the sit-down protest at the Esplanade a full 16 hours prior). Asking where I was being taken got me some jerk response from the guy at this checkpoint – he was probably one of the worst ones there. They decided at this point that I was to be held, again, in a smaller cage for another 2 hours while they went over everything in my file.
N. Riot gear equipment cages.
O. I was kept in one of these cages, along with Jesse Rosenfeld, the Guardian journalist who had been beaten. He was in good spirits, and was talking to us – encouraging us and every detainee who walked by. He and I were in there with 4 other guys who had spent an entire 24 hours in this even smaller cell – with no bathroom this time. One of them needed medication and only received it after something like 8 hours. Rosenfeld also spoke to the guards, telling them about all of the media coverage that is going to occur, and that they “won’t come out looking good”. One of the guards acknowledged this, and even acknowledged the violation of our rights, but concluded it was a “double edged sword” and that it was a good way to catch “the violent ones among you”.
P. More small cages, absolutely packed with people – some with sitting room, but most with only standing room. Again many were kept here for over 24 hours. Several men walked by this point wearing special access badges, but weren’t in police uniforms. I have no idea who they were, but my guess is that they may have been prison contractors, reviewing how their building functioned when in use.
Q. Here I was pushed right past a bank of telephones, there were, at most, 5 phones here. But no one was allowed to use them, as far as I could tell.
R. The final holding cage where we were put while our belongings were brought out in front of us. There were also a bunch of police here, standing idle, sipping their Tim Hortons.
S. Here we had our photo taken yet again. “Smile!” the officer said. “Nope”, I said.
T. Turnstile that led us out of the gate, and to the backs of the Riot police who were standing out there, opposing the peaceful protesters who had arrived across the street. I was sent out barefoot, with all of my belongings in a bag. I was told to leave and not join the protest or I’d be arrested again.
U. I was flashed with dozens of media cameras as soon as I crossed this line, and then made my way across the street.
V. Dozens of people rushed to me and asked how I was doing. It was really nice to see them all out there, because none of us inside had any clue there was such a gathering. As I walked away from the protest, I made my first phone calls (Mom, brother), and then realized they hadn’t given me back my shoes. I turned back to the protest, and asked a few people to join me as I would approach the riot police line guarding the facility entrance. They agreed and we crossed the street again. As I approached the officers tensed up and all looked at me. “I was just in there, and they didn’t give me my shoes!”. One of them smirked and said “How did you manage to walk out without shoes, and just notice this now?” I responded, “I was pushed out of here, not allowed to put on my shoes before leaving, walked away fearing arrest, and then I realized they were missing.” They just stared at me. I asked, “Can’t you bring out someone for me to speak to?” They replied, “No, we’re not allowed to do that.” I responded, “Isn’t that amazing? I just spent 18 hours in there, and not one officer was ever able to tell me what was going on, no one has permission to do anything other than what they’re ordered. You all just follow what comes from above, unquestioningly.” Some of them couldn’t look me in the eye, and looked down, some smirked as usual. The effect of compartmentalization on these officers stripped away any context of what was going on around them. Even those guards who brought us water desperately tried not to look at any of us, and just poured water into Dixie cups for us, sometimes spilling it in a panic.
W. Riot police in Dodge Caravans, waiting for the order to break up the peaceful protest around the corner.
These are not my own photos, but they were just given to me. http://torontoist.com/2010/06/a_first_photo_from_inside_the_g20s_temporary_detention_centre.php.
Imagine 25-40 people crammed in there. And it’s freezing in there as well.
From this perspective, the camera is right up against the other far corner of the cage.
I’m no legal expert, but as far as I can tell the following rights of mine (and yours) were violated by militarized Canadian police this weekend:
From the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Section 2: namely freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.
Section 7: right to life, liberty, and security of the person (if the prison we were in doesn’t violate this section’s laws against psychological manipulation, I don’t know what would)
Section 8: right from unreasonable search and seizure (check)
Section 9: freedom from arbitrary detainment or imprisonment (check)
Section 10: right to legal counsel and the guarantee of habeas corpus (check, i wasn’t allowed a phone call, and if I hadn’t managed a call to my brother before being tackled, my friends and family wouldn’t have known where i was the whole time)
Section 11: the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (check)
Section 12: right not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment (this applies more so to those who slept in cells next to someone’s vomit, while no Court Services guards bother to clean it up)
Another account from someone who was arrested at the Esplanade: