“Sunday, June 27 is a day that I will never forget,” says Adam MacIsaac, an independent journalist and environmental activist from Prince Edward Island who came to Toronto to cover the G20 Summit for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.
He arrived at the G20 Alternative Media Centre (AMC) at some point between 9:30 – 10:00 PM. Visibly shaken, clothes in tatters, and soaking wet from the pouring rain outside, he begins to recount in detail what happened to him.
His ordeal is finally over, but his story is only beginning. Like several of his AMC colleagues, MacIsaac came to Toronto to cover the story of the G20 Summit and, unwittingly, became a part of the story instead.
Earlier that day, at approximately noon, MacIsaac was biking towards the G20 detention centre where he planned to record video footage of a ‘jail solidarity’ rally. Between the intersection of Bloor Street West and St. Thomas Street, MacIsaac witnessed police conducting illegal searches on a group of individuals.
He stopped, pulled out his video camera, and began to document the incident.
“I kept safe space for both the police and myself. I was then asked to back up. I had shown my pass [Alternative Media Centre pass] to show that I was media and not just a nosy person with a video camera. They then ripped my pass away and had also ripped my UN badge holder away from me, and said that this is not a legitimate media pass,” MacIsaac said.
“They then tackled me down and tried to pry the camera away from my hands. There were about four police officers on top of me applying pain compliance holds against me. Even though I was totally complying, they kept on screaming, ‘Stop resisting! Stop resisting!’”
According to MacIsaac, when he was tackled to the ground, his Sony NEX camera (altogether worth approximately $6, 000) was ripped out of his hand. When he was allowed to stand up, the camera was nowhere in sight.
“I can only assume police had taken it because it had content of them performing illegal actions, and also the fact that they want to silence media producers that are actually showing what police are doing here in Toronto during the G20 Summit,” he said.
“We are showing people that they [the police] are the violent ones; that vandalism is actually not violent, but police using weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons is actually violent…”
By now, the situation was serious – potentially life threatening – for MacIsaac. “While I was on the ground, I was continuously screaming out that I had a pacemaker due to my heart condition. Once they took me off the ground, one police officer lifted up my shirt, but didn’t lift it up past my abdomen, and said, ‘he doesn’t have a pacemaker scar; he’s lying’ – even though I do have the scar and also the documentation in my wallet...”
With no prior warning whatsoever, and without being duly informed of his legal rights, MacIsaac was assaulted by police. “I felt a very blunt object pressed into my groin area. One officer kicked me on the left side of my ribs and I also felt something like a stun device used,” he said. “I was then placed into handcuffs and put into the back of a police car. I had asked if I was being arrested and charged for anything; they did not tell me if I was being charged.”
Badly beaten, his heart rate rising, and the muscles all over his body beginning to violently spasm, he desperately requested medical assistance. “That’s when I thought that I was hit with a taser… I had asked the officer, they denied using it; they denied using it to the doctor at the hospital as well.”
Unable to deny MacIsaac medical assistance any longer, police officers called Toronto Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to the scene. Medics quickly checked his heart rate before transporting him to Saint Joseph’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.
At the hospital, MacIsaac was transferred to a small hospital room – his injured arm stayed handcuffed to the bedpost. “I continually asked if I was being charged with anything and they would not let me know; they said, ‘Oh, we don’t have your paperwork here.’”
According to MacIsaac, he repeatedly requested – and was denied – access to legal counsel.
“While I was at the hospital, a person came in saying they were from the hospital and asked me to sign a release form. They did not really explain anything about the release form, except that it was a form that released the Saint Joseph’s Hospital from being sued,” he said. “I had then requested legal counsel to look over the document before I signed it because I was unsure what the document was, or if it was actually a staff person form Saint Joseph’s Hospital. They then denied me legal counsel and no longer tried to get me to sign that document.”
MacIsaac would spend a total of 4 hours at the hospital, receiving multiple heart-rate tests but very little actual care. “The police officer who had originally handcuffed me, badge number 9929, had then been replaced by another officer and had left… the medical staff were going to cast my finger, but the police officer actually requested that they not cast half of my hand because they didn’t know what type of detention I would be put in and that I could potentially harm other people,” he said.
“So, in the end, all they did was put two pieces of tape around my ring finger and middle finger.”
From Saint Joseph’s Hospital, MacIsaac was then taken by police to the G20 detention centre. Under unforeseen circumstances, after several hours in detention, he finally arrived at his original target destination.
“Upon arriving at the detention centre, there was no space to sit; no space to lie down – it was a concrete floor; there were porta-potties with no doors and no toilet paper; there seemed to be little access to water,” he said. “I continually asked them where the rest of my personal items were – being my video camera, my backpack, my monopod, and my water bottle. They said that it was in transit...”
Until today, a full week later, the whereabouts of his equipment remains unknown. “The officer that had processed me said, ‘Well, maybe you’re just going to have to call Toronto Police and file a complaint, or hope that a $6,000 camera was passed in.’”
Following his release, MacIsaac was warned by police that he was prohibited from attending any further G20-related events or rallies, and that a failure to comply with these orders would result in his immediate arrest.
“By detaining me they are removing my right as a citizen to peacefully protest at any gatherings against the G20,” he said in response.
“I was not provided with any food at all or any water. Being detained for seven hours without even the basic right of water, and not even knowing why you’re being detained, I’m pretty sure is against the UN Declaration of Human Rights and also quite a few human rights acts here in Canada,” he said.
“Continually asking them if I was being charged and hearing the response ‘Oh, we don’t know where your paperwork is’ really makes me concerned about what the hell you really spent your $1.3 billion on…”
But MacIsaac’s story is hardly unique. The G8-G20 Integrated Security Unit’s indiscriminate attack on demonstrators, onlookers, and journalists alike resulted in the mass arrest of over 900 people over the course of the weekend – the largest ever in Canadian history.
Raids on houses in the middle of the night, mass arrests of demonstrators on bogus charges, and abductions of key organizers who would be driven around in unmarked police vans before finally being dumped off somewhere hours later have all been thoroughly documented in a recent report compiled by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).
Following eye-witness accounts and personal testimonies from several released detainees, it now appears that many of the arrests that took place were executed not only to harass and intimidate journalists like MacIsaac but also to simply remove people from the streets and away from the downtown core.
On the occasion where journalists were not beaten-up or prevented from doing their job, they could only stay on site to report under the explicit knowledge that they would eventually be round-up and arrested (along with everyone else in the vicinity).
Whereas the reporters from CP24, CBC, and TVO all vacated the scene upon being given the option to do so – not only abandoning the story, but also the various demonstrators at exactly the moment when they were most vulnerable and in need of the media’s attention – AMC and other independent journalists embedded themselves within the protests to get the story, at their own personal risk.
The concept of objectivity in this instance, if it can even be said to exist all, is paramount. During moments of crisis, journalists are faced with a difficult choice between ‘obedience to authority’ and ‘civic duty.’ MacIsaac clearly made the ‘wrong’ choice, and was punished accordingly.
Without independent journalists on site to document key events and hold institutions like the police to account, stories like the G20 Summit are little more than whatever the government (and by default, the mainstream media) says they are. If freedom of the press is indeed a litmus test of a healthy and functioning democracy, then, aside from a few brave independent and mainstream journalists, Canada failed miserably.
But MacIsaac has no illusions about the motives behind his arrest and lengthy detention: “They [the police] are targeting people who are speaking out against the violence that they are using….this is Canada; it’s not a country where you don’t have free speech laws. It is a country where journalists have the right to record in public spaces. But obviously these rights of mine were severely infringed upon, and having my personal equipment taken away has caused me a lot of unneeded stress, since all my footage over the week was on my camera.”
MacIsaac and fellow AMC colleagues Jesse Rosenfeld, Amy Miller, and Lisa Walter have recently filed a formal complaint with the office of the Independent Police Review Director over allegations of police brutality against them and other journalists during the G20 Summit.
Ali Mustafa is a freelance journalist, writer, and media activist. He is also a member of the G20 Alternative Media Centre. He resides in Toronto. His writing can be found at: http://frombeyondthemargins.blogspot.com/