The streetscape of Toronto is overlaid in our minds with stories from the G20 protests. In one such story, memorialized on Youtube, a man refuses to be searched, asserting his rights as a citizen of Canada. “This ain’t Canada now” say the police in the grainy video. “This is G20 land.”
Such interactions were typical during a week, when, in an atmosphere that approached de-facto martial law, over 1000 people were held in inhumane conditions in the Eastern Avenue detention centre. No one knows how many people were detained, dumped from police vans without money or cell phone in remote parts of Scarborough or Etobicoke, searched illegally, kettled by police, sexually assaulted, or beaten.
The police continue to trot out the ‘few bad apples’ line, with only two of their number facing investigation. However, Zexi Wang, a student union leader during the protests, said violations of civil liberties were routine: “In all of the demonstrations and actions that I went to over the G20 weekend, people were snatched by the police, beaten and harassed, sometimes for just walking by the scene of a demonstration. My friends and I were beaten with batons and shot at with rubber bullets.“
Systemic repression doesn’t occur only at summit protests, said Jessica Denyer of the Community Solidarity Network. “It's important not to exceptionalize what happened during the G20 summit as just some type of "G20 land" where anything went in terms of police repression. Tactics of police violence used during the G20 are used everyday in poor and racialized communities across Toronto-- from ID checks and intimidation to assault.”
On June 27th of last year, during solidarity protests on Eastern Avenue, under imminent threat of arrest, I interviewed an indigenous woman called Ray for the Toronto Media Co-op. “This is real life, this is the real Canada.” she told me. “This happens everyday but now you can see it. For us Native people, this is what we know...how ironic that this day in June 2010 it's happening to you now, as non-native people. We've got to stand up for each other. Because whatever they do to Native people they will eventually do to everybody.”
Today, people are gathering at Queens Park, the very site of the brutal clearance by police of the ‘free speech zone” one year ago. For Marcell Rodden, his arrest at the G20 did not dissuade him from further activism: “We have to exploit every opportunity of freedom to challenge capitalist authority.” he told The Spoke.
‘G20 land’ is Canada, but people will continue to struggle against capitalist austerity towards a better world.
Syed Hussan, a migrant justice organizer, said “ Since the G20, organizations such as No One Is Illegal and OCAP have seen a surge in new members, relationships between social movements that usually only organize sectorally have greatly increased. The anger, and the fierce hope that burns in the hearts of those that struggle for a just world could not possibly be dampened by such a thing as a few days of police repression. For many this fire has actually grown hotter.”
(illustrations first published in Project Ballyhoo)