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Unravelling the G20

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

New Year’s Day 2011: Toronto slept and nursed a city wide hangover. Iron gates were pulled over shop windows and the occasional car floated down forgotten streets. It felt like the calm before the storm and eerily similar to a weekend last June, when downtown Toronto was told to pack up, lock down, and shut up. I still shudder when I see a boy in blue…

Before the spectacle of the holidays gave us collective amnesia, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin released a report confirming the province of Ontario had resurrected the 71-year-old Public Works Protection Act, giving the Toronto police war time powers in peace time. This gave police the power to detain and arrest anyone who breached the security fence. Moreover, the act was shrouded in secrecy, allowing the Toronto police to search and detain people who were, “simply in the vicinity of the security fence.”

When the story about the law broke Friday June 25, ‘vicinity’ was defined as five metres from the fence and was loosely called the 5-metre rule. A few days later, the public found out the 5-metre rule had never existed. No one, including the Toronto police or the Ontario government bothered to clear up the mistake until the weekend was over and more than a thousand people had been caught up in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.

Although, the police didn’t have the legal authority to search and detain people 5-metres from the fence, that didn’t stop them from conducting illegal searches all over the downtown core, from Allan Gardens, to the Art Gallery of Ontario. These searches began before Saturday’s People First March, where a 1.3 billion dollar security budget was no match for a few dozen people dressed in black, armed with sticks and stones.

Dozens of illegal searches happened on Friday June 25 at the Justice for Our Communities march in Allan Gardens. I was there to gawk at the massive police presence and enjoy some sunshine. On my way into the park, I was stopped by four cops on bikes.

Bike Cop: Please open you’re bag.

Me: I wasn’t aware that you can search people in a public park.

Bike Cop: If you want to come in, we have to search your bag.

Bike Cop 2: You don’t have to come in.

I stood there for a moment thinking about it, looking confused.

I decided to move. I walked around the perimeter. Everything seemed surreal in the brilliant sunlight. The light mood of people chatting inside the park contrasted sharply with the gravity of the situation. Did someone really give police orders to illegally search hundreds of people in a public park?

I walked by scene after scene of illegal search and resistance. I felt like I walked into a paranoid conspiracy theory. Finally, there was a spot where the police presence was virtually non-existent and that’s where the news media stood, waiting for something to happen.

I walked into the park hassle free and wondered afterwards why no one from the mainstream press was covering the issue of illegal searches. Then, the full spectacle of the G20 weekend hit like a bad dream and the suspension of these legal rights paled in comparison to reports of arbitrary arrest, excessive police force, and inhumane detention conditions.

Six months later, the dust is settling and we can look back to G20 with fresh eyes. We can make connections and start questioning. Sure, I had a full independent inquiry on my Christmas list, but it’s election year and the Ontario government has a lot to loose. They did after all, declare war weeks before the first window was smashed.


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Cara (Cara)
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