Porter: Tales of horror from a police state — ours
I sat in a plain, ordinary downtown hotel seminar room for two days this week, listening, one after another, to utterly jarring stories of police sadism at the G20.
Tales of women forced to pee through their jeans. Naked students ordered to lift their testicles for inspection. A woman snatched from a downtown corner and dropped off near midnight in the shadows of Scarborough, no directions or hope of finding her way home.
The hearings by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and National Union of Public and General Employees were focused on the summit this past summer in Toronto. But it often felt like a history lesson on 1935 Germany.
John Pruyn hobbled to the front of the room, leaning on a metal ski pole. The 57-year-old Christmas tree farmer and Canada Revenue Agency worker had his left leg ripped off in a gruesome accident 17 years ago. He now walks with a metal prosthetic.
He was sitting with his 24-year-old daughter in the designated “free speech” zone at Queen’s Park during the protest on Saturday, June 26, when riot police jumped him, he told the room. They knocked off his glasses, handcuffed him and told him to stand. He couldn’t. One officer ripped off his prosthetic leg, he said. “He tells me to put it back on. Of course, I can’t put my leg back on with my hands behind my back.”
“Then he says ‘hop.’”
Pruyn spent 27 hours in the Eastern Avenue flashy-film-studio-turned-squalid detention centre before police let him go, without his walking sticks or glasses. His charges had been “lost,” he said.
“These weren’t thugs being arrested,” Pruyn told the room, his voice breaking. “Just people who wanted to get a message out.”
The thugs, we all now know, were the men and women dressed in black who ransacked Yonge Street on Saturday afternoon, unimpeded by the city’s 5,400 armed-to-the-teeth police officers. We all had been warned for weeks that “violent anarchists” were coming. That’s why we needed the $5-million fence, we were told, the eardrum-splitting sound gun normally reserved for Somali pirates, the secret five-metre search and question law that turned out to apply to not just five metres.
There was no violence, but lots of vandalism, and that is why the once-immobile police sprung into action, we were told, treating protesters like rapists — beating them, tying them up, denying them water in a cold cell.
Except, the police activity wasn’t a reaction, if you believe Sean Salvati’s story.
Salvati was the 10th person to slip behind the skirted table Thursday afternoon. He looked like a guy’s guy — jeans, long-sleeve T-shirt, short brown hair. He’s 32 and works as a paralegal.
He went to a Blue Jays game with four buddies three nights before the G20 summit. On his way out, he passed two police officers. He wished them good luck on Saturday, before hopping into a cab.
The cab made it two blocks before he was “pulled forcefully” out by the same officers and asked about his “suspicious comment.”
After an hour-long interrogation by a growing number of officers, he was arrested for “being intoxicated in a public place.” He’d drunk 31/2 beers over the course of the ball game.
At the station, Salvati said he was violently strip-searched — “they kicked me in the knees, kneed me in the torso, slapped me in the face, dragged me along the floor until my pants and underwear were removed” — and left naked in a holding cell for four hours. He was never permitted to speak to a lawyer. Upon his release, he asked the sergeant for the name of the officers who interviewed him.
“I was told nobody came to interview me. I imagined the entire interview,” he said.
None of the stories have been proven in court, nor will many ever reach a courtroom, although Salvati plans to sue police.
Even if some of it was theatrical licence, the nasty details piled up. Kicking. Punching. Threats of gang rape. All this from people paid well to protect us.
Their job is to enforce the law. Instead they themselves broke it.
Many people in the room wore poppies. The session stopped early for Remembrance Day, so people could hurry to ceremonies. That irony wasn’t lost on us. What is freedom worth, if it can be so thoughtlessly snatched away? What was all that fighting for?
“One of the main tenets of the rule of law is police will not overreact,” said Paul Cavalluzzo, the Toronto lawyer who acted as lead counsel on both the Walkerton and Maher Arar inquiries. “Otherwise we will end up being a police state.”
Twice, I heard the sad statement, “I wasn’t even protesting.” A businessman was so frightened by what he saw on the streets that weekend he didn’t want to be photographed at the hearing. He worried police were watching him.
It reminded me of that slippery slope and a line from Auden’s Refugee Blues: “Once we had a country and we thought it fair.”
First it was the anarchists, who deserved the draconian measures. Then the protesters. Then anyone wearing black. Then anyone on Queen Street. Then anyone in a cab who casually said something nice to a police officer.
Rights are not easily gained. Nor should they be easily withdrawn, for a weekend, for an evening, for a moment.
Our faith in our police was effortlessly broken. It will take careful effort and months of hard work to rebuild it.
If you take your constitutional rights as seriously as I do, send a protest letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding a public inquiry. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Porter can be reached at email@example.com
Lulu Maxwell, 17, Grade 12, Rosedale Heights
Maxwell and a friend were hanging around near Queen and Dufferin Sts. at a convergence centre for protesters on Sunday afternoon when police started making arrests. “My friend was blowing bubbles and I was scribbling peace signs on the sidewalk.”
Within minutes, her friend was grabbed and Lulu was put up against a wall. Her backpack was searched and Lulu says an officer said she could be charged with possession of dangerous weapons “because I had eyewash solution in my backpack.”
She was taken to the detention centre and almost 12 hours after her arrest was allowed to call her parents. She was released, without charges being laid, at 5 a. m.
Natalie Logan, 21, U of T student
Logan was taking photos at The Esplanade on Saturday evening when she was arrested.
“I was documenting the protest when the police started encircling everyone,” she said. She was taken to the detention centre at 3:30 a.m. “Before they handcuffed me, I peed in a bottle because I knew I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”
She wasn’t charged and suddenly released at 3:30 p.m., more than 14 hours after her arrest. “I am embarrassed for my city, embarrassed for Toronto Police and embarrassed that this could happen.”
Selwyn Firth, 59, Toronto mayoral candidate
Wanting a better view of a protest outside Queen’s Park on Saturday, Firth walked to an elevated U of T building. When police told him to leave, he identified himself as a mayoral candidate. He refused and was forced to the ground, his cheek lacerated. He was arrested for obstruction.
“I wasn’t obstructing anyone, I was asking questions,” said Firth, who was taken to the Eastern Ave. detention centre where he needed insulin for his Type 1 diabetes. Sunday morning he was taken to the Finch Ave., courthouse and again needed insulin, so was sent to hospital. He later returned to court and was released on $1,000 bail. He is considering suing the city and police.
Erin Boynton, 24, London, Ont.
She was arrested at The Esplanade early Sunday morning after police boxed dozens of protesters in.
“I was with a protest marching peacefully down Yonge from Dundas Square,” she said. “When the cops came at us, many people scattered and those who were left in front of the (Novotel) got arrested.” She said police came from all sides and “squished us in. They didn’t give us a warning to leave…. just announced that we are arresting all of you.”
She said a lot of people at the detention centre were innocent bystanders. “The police violated all our rights . . . there was police brutality. Quite frankly, it was quite disgusting.” Boynton wasn’t charged.
Cameron Fenton, 24, journalist with Dominion in Montreal
“A bunch of us were peacefully protesting (near the Eastern Ave. detention centre) at about 2:30 a.m. when police told us that it was an unlawful assembly and we had to leave,” said Fenton. But they were boxed in and couldn’t leave. Some time later, about 30 of them were walking about two blocks away when they were boxed in again by police.
Everyone was arrested. Fenton said he was never read his legal rights or allowed to make a phone call. “It was cold, there was barely any food or water… there was no place in the cages to even sit,” he said Monday. “That detention centre was tantamount to torture.” He was released on Sunday afternoon, after more than 17 hours in detention.
Emily Berrigan, 23, project manager for a local non-government agency
Berrigan spent her 23rd birthday Saturday night in a detention centre on charges of obstruction and unlawful demonstration.
She was with Oxfam Canada for the labour march in the morning, protesting peacefully. She went to Queen’s Park around 8 p.m. for her bike and within 10 minutes was arrested. She was taken to the detention centre at 9 p.m. and got nothing to eat or drink until 5 a.m., when she was given a sandwich and some water, she said. “The cage I was in had been pepper-sprayed and it stung our eyes and skin,” she said. At about 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, she was taken to the courts at Finch Ave. and released by 7 p.m. “That’s inhumane,” she said.
Adam MacIsaac, P.E.I.
MacIsaac, an independent journalist in town for the G20, took out his video camera to document police search methods and says he was aggressively thrown to the ground. Police began kicking him in the ribs and stunning him with a stun gun. “I have a pacemaker!” he screamed repeatedly, but says they didn’t listen.
MacIsaac was eventually taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital where he was handcuffed to a hospital bed. He says officers harassed him; one repeatedly asked if his pacemaker battery was nuclear. He was later taken to the detention centre and left alone in the back of police cruiser. When police let him go seven hours later, they said they had no idea where his $6000 worth of equipment went. They told him to file a complaint.
Amy Miller, Montreal
Miller, an independent journalist, was on her way to the jail solidarity protest Sunday around noon with fellow journalist Adam MacIsaac. She stopped at Bloor and St. Thomas Sts. where she saw police officers searching a group of young people carrying backpacks. She says police attacked her.
“I was throttled at the neck and held down. Next thing you know I was being cuffed and put in one of the wagons.” She says she was threatened and harassed by police at the Eastern Ave. detention centre. “I was told I was going to be raped, I was told I was going to be gangbanged, I was told that they were going to make sure that I was never going to want to act as a journalist again.”
She also says she spoke to numerous young women who were strip-searched by male officers.
Steve Cruikshank, 28, Newmarket
Cruikshank was among those boxed in by police “without warning” at the Queen St. and Spadina Ave. intersection Sunday evening. Officers kept yelling at people to “Move” but there was nowhere to go. Cruikshank said he asked where they should go and was hit in the face with a riot shield.
He was arrested for breaching the peace and, with 50 others, taken to the Eastern Ave. detention centre.
“I asked for medical attention and they said ‘No’, that I was ‘barely bleeding.’ I asked for a lawyer and wasn’t given access. I asked to make a phone call and they laughed.” About three hours later, he was released without charge.
Stefanie Roy, 21, Joliette, Que.
Roy said she was arrested early Sunday evening “for nothing.”
“We were sitting in front of a bank, talking and wanting to go home, when two big cars came up and police came out of them,” she said. They searched her car and found a hammer and a hatchet that happened to be there from a long time ago, Roy said. She was charged with possessing weapons. Police seized her laptop, boots, and a key-chain photo of her son.
The charge was dropped on Monday, but she is still missing her boots. “I’m not going back in there,” she said, standing in her socks and staring at the detention centre.
Jean-Christophe Martel, 21, Granby, Que.
Martel was arrested on the subway at 11 a.m. Sunday after police searched his bags and found something they considered to be heroin in his emergency medical kit. Police charged him with trafficking heroin.
Martel says he was not involved with the violence in any way.
After 24 hours, he was released from the detention centre Monday afternoon and the charge against him was dropped.
“I’m going back to Quebec,” he said. “I’ll never leave that province again.”
Guillaume Lemarron, 24, Montreal
Lemarron came with friends to the protest, and acted as a street medic on Saturday. They were arrested on Sunday while heading to the Greyhound station to leave town. Lemarron said the bandages and supplies he used in his work were misconstrued as bandanas. He was charged with wearing a disguise.
During the arrest, his glasses were broken. Lemarron said he was protesting for “a better world” and a new democracy. “It’s in the past,” he said of his detention. “But I will not forget what they have done to me and others.”
Gabrielle Neveu, 21, Montreal
Neveu came to Toronto to raise awareness for better health care in developing countries. Neveu had a bandana around her neck. She agreed to let police search her bag but her boyfriend didn’t. The tension escalated. “I don’t think I would have got arrested if I was alone,” she said.
Police charged her with wearing a disguise. She was placed in the back of a police van that soon filled with other people. The van was taken to the detention centre where she stayed until Monday afternoon. Some people were strip-searched. “People were exhausted. No one had the energy to scream,” she said. The charge was later dropped.
Sasha Morrison, 28, Toronto
On Sunday, Morrison was talking to a friend on Queen St. when police searched her bag and discovered an air filter mask. She was charged with wearing a mask with intent. “I’m wearing a mask?” she said “It’s a bogus charge.”
Morrison, a graffiti artist, sometimes works on projects with police. As she stood talking to media, an officer came by and said “Good to see you,” not realizing she had been arrested. She was seething after a 19-hour detention. “I’m vegan. I haven’t had anything to eat until three hours ago.”
David Breed, 34, Toronto
On Sunday, Breed and his girlfriend had stopped to watch the bike rally and were planning to get something to eat before going home to change for his shift as a security guard. “I was not involved in the protest,” he said. “I was standing on the sidewalk.”
Breed was wearing black. Police searched him and found a retractable screwdriver and a Swiss army knife. He was arrested and charged with having concealed weapons. He’d had the knife since he was 10. Breed’s girlfriend, Jennifer Booth, had a legal number scrawled on her arm, but said she didn’t intend to get in trouble. “I’ve been to a lot of these things and he hasn’t,” she said after his release Monday. The charge against Breed has not been dropped.
Philip Dwek, 25, Toronto, medical student
On Sunday evening, Dwek was headed home after studying in a coffee shop when he ran into a crowd at the corner of Queen St. and Spadina Ave. He found himself surrounded by riot police.
“We were in the rain and it was freezing cold, I was trying to hide my medical book, trying to cover it under my shirt,” recalled Dwek, adding police eventually gave him a plastic bag for his book. He was arrested for conspiracy to cause mischief, put in a van and taken to 43 Division, then later released. It cost $60 to get back by taxi.
Dwek understands police were trying to prevent a repeat of the Saturday violence but wishes they were able to tell the protestors and bystanders from the “rebels without a cause.”
Joshua Enns, studying to be math teacher at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo
Enns was arrested during a prayer vigil on Sunday. Police took him behind a bus and searched his bag. He forgot about the “dollar store pocket knife” in his backpack he uses to cut fruit. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
“I don’t endorse violence personally,” he said. “I didn’t come down for the show.” Enns was strip-searched at the detention centre. He couldn’t sleep with the fluorescent lights. He still faces the weapons charge. “Hopefully this will be cleared up so I’ll be able to teach.”
Matthew Beatty, 32, Ajax high school teacher
A volunteer legal observer with Movement Defence Committee (MDC) for the G20 weekend, Beatty was following a protest march down The Esplanade on Saturday evening when he was arrested. “I was on the sidewalks, never jeered or chanted with the crowd,” he said.
He was handcuffed and put in a “cage” with 20 others at the Eastern Ave. detention centre. “There were 40 people in one cage — it was brutal, and it was cold.” People were asking for toilet paper to wrap their arms and legs because of the cold, he said. During 18 hours in custody, he was given three cheese sandwiches, three cups of water and a cup of flavoured juice.
Tim V. Wight, 23
Wight says he was at Queen’s Park participating in a peaceful protest all day Saturday. “I was there . . . to protest my concerns about the stripping of human rights within the city and the blatant waste of a billion dollars.”
When police entered the park , Wight began to ask questions about why they were entering a peaceful protest zone. Police told him to move and said they would hit him if he didn’t back up. He prepared to leave but then officers grabbed him, knocked him down and kicked him twice in the face with heavy boots. He was treated for a concussion and had to have his forehead stitched.
Maryam Adrangi, 24
The spokeswoman for the Toronto Community Mobilization Network was arrested Sunday outside activist “convergence space” at Queen and Noble on Sunday afternoon. She said she was driven around the city in an unmarked police van for four hours, taken to the detention centre for about 30 minutes and released without charge.
Adrangi, who was born in Iran, said she endured racist and sexist comments from police, who made fun of her name and the photos they took of her. “I was really angry and frustrated that the cops felt entitled to do that to people,” she said.
“One cop said to me, ‘If you were my daughter I would slap you in the mouth.’ ”