On Sunday June 27th, at 10 am, I gathered with a group of peaceful activists and community members at Jimmy Simpson Park. It was a solidarity rally for people who had been arrested in the past few days during the G20 summit. People slowly poured in, probably 50-100 protestors by the time we left. Media was milling about and people were chatting and sitting down in groups around the southern part of the park.
The person who seemed to be organizing it was speaking to one of the police there, but most of the cops were on the other side of the street and still in vans. He also made announcements to the crowd, stressing that this was completely peaceful and advising people to leave calmly and in groups if the cops ordered us to disperse. The police officer said that the cops would facilitate our march down Queen to Logan, and then south to Eastern and over to the detention facility. As we moved onto the street, police officers indeed held traffic at bay and allowed us to march on half of the street.
We were all clapping in unison for much of the march, often singing the classic solidarity chant. It was the most peaceful thing imaginable. The cops escorting us along the street side of the march were mostly calm although I overheard one of them rudely yelling at a protestor to move over. When we arrived at the detention centre, cops told us to gather across the street from the facility (north side of Eastern, on Pape) and to stay behind the line of the curb. We all moved there cooperatively and mingled about the area. People were chanting solidarity, freedom for political prisoners, etc etc. Someone had brought a guitar and was playing music. Others were chalking birds and messages of solidarity on the pavement. There were a couple parents who were there with their kids, and people were chatting and completely peaceful. I don’t think there was any possible way for this to have been a less confrontational situation on the part of the protestors. There was a line of cops along the north side of Eastern, without riot gear or helmets, and the whole thing seemed cooperative and calm.
At least two or three times when we were there, someone was released from the detention facility. They were swarmed immediately with media, but the group cheered them and welcomed them out of prison. The organizer announced that they were providing food, cigarettes and logistical help for transport for the people being released. Things continued in this manner for over an hour.
Then suddenly, just before noon, at two vans (that I saw) pulled up in front of the protest. Doors opened immediately and police, many in plain clothes, poured out, running into the crowd with batons and grabbing protestors. They surrounded individuals with their shields and batons, violently shoved them to the ground, and dragged them back behind police lines. Everyone was on their feet and moving backwards as the police line advanced. People were very clearly shaken up but we wanted to stay calm and things seemed to cool down. We all sat down, put our hands in peace signs in the air, and began chanting “We’re peaceful, how ‘bout you?”
Just five or ten minutes later, completely unprovoked, the cops surged forward again. I got up in a panic and we all tried to figure out what was going on. Suddenly an officer fired something into the crowd. Everyone started to get away as the cops came closer and closer. I don’t know what was shot, I saw what seemed to be rubber bullets. Someone fell to the ground and was taken by the police. Then they shot what looked like a gas canister of some kind that started releasing smoke or gas or something. Everyone panicked more and we all tried to find our friends and get out of there. As we ran the cops seemed to be taking people down again, it was all very frenzied as we tried to escape.
I made it up to Queen St with some of my friends just as vans of cops arrived at the north side of the block and seemed to be shutting off the exit. We regrouped a block west and waited for other members of our group who’d been delayed in getting out. I was lucky enough to make it out, but heard that over twenty people from the protest were arrested.
I cannot stress this enough: it was a completely peaceful protest. People were being arrested in a brutal, violent, and seemingly random way, and the entire peaceful crowd of protesters was targeted. I’d been following the police violence on the internet, and seeing videos and reports, again and again, of them surrounding people, and taking them down, and brutalizing peaceful crowds. This attack was unprovoked, unacceptable and completely inhumane and I hope all those responsible are held accountable for their unjustifiable actions.