DISPATCH FROM THE G20: The First Confrontation on Queen Street

Dispatch from the G20 in Toronto June 26-7, 2010. Article follows photos 


‘On the pavement, thinkin’ about the government.’ (Bay St near King, June 26)


‘There’s a man with a gun over there’ (Bay St at king St. June 26/10)


Bay at King St. June 26, 2010
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”


“Whose Streets?” (Bay St & King St June 26/10)


“Our Streets.” 10,000 people in the street. (Spadina Ave at Wellington, June 26/10)


‘The pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handles.’
First police car burns on Queen St east of Spadina (about 6:30pm June 26/10). The second police car, seen on the right, was also abandoned by police. It went up about 7:50 pm.


‘When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.’
Riot police poured onto University Avenue to protect the American Consulate (which was cleverly disguised with a Canadian Flag) after most of the demonstrators had already peacefully passed it. (June 26/10)


‘When men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go.’
After the first police car burned, riot police pushed peaceful demonstrators into traffic on Spadina Avenue. (June 26/10 about 7:00 pm)

27 June 2010

I can still remember, as an undergrad, the
debate at York University about the War Measures Act in 1970. That will give
you some idea of my age and that I am not a black-shirted anarchist. Unlike
York University, the University of Toronto (where I am now a student) shut
itself down in the face of the G20, thereby helping to shut down rational and
intelligent debate. That left the only one venue where both sides would come
together – the streets in front of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. So, in
the spirit of bearing witness (which has a long and honourable tradition in
western culture), my wife and I took our cameras and joined the big
demonstration march down University Avenue on Saturday afternoon, June 26.

All along the way, the police did a good job of
keeping order and allowing people to express their concerns – although at the
US consulate they brought out the riot police after most of the parade had
passed. Toronto police, with nothing between us and them but their bikes, were
doing a fine job of steering the parade around the consulate, so I’m not sure
what the point of the riot squad was. We knew that there were 20,000 police
troops in Toronto and only 10,000 demonstrators on the streets, so maybe they
were just practicing their maneuvers. We marched on down University and west
along Queen.

Most of the parade turned north again on
Spadina at Queen. Some, still hoping for a debate, I guess, turned south on
Spadina and were stopped by a three rows of riot police officers and a mounted
patrol, still three city blocks from the security fence. We were between the
lines of police and a growing crowd (not ‘mob’ as we were described later by
Toronto police chief Bill Blair). Everyone was singing and chanting. We didn’t
push at the police and they didn’t push at us. They simply stood and waited us
out.

Nevertheless, it was at Queen Street and Spadina that Saturday afternoon that everything changed and from what I witnessed, it was the police who changed it.

After the parade had more or less left the area
of Queen St, we saw the police block off a section of Queen Street around Peter
St. They drove two police cars into the area and then left them in the road,
next to people on the street with their windows open and gear on the front
seat. The police left the area, but they left both cars behind, windows open
and unattended. We thought this was very strange, given their public statements
of concern about vandalism.

Eventually we drifted away too, first to
another confrontation on Bay and Richmond and then to a peaceful walk along the
entire Wellington Street perimeter of the fence, joking sometimes with the
police inside it. It wasn’t the debate I was looking for, but at least it was a
conversation.

Coming back up Spadina, about 6:25 pm we saw
smoke coming up from Queen Street just east of Spadina. We went, along with a
number of others, to see what the smoke was all about. Again we saw no, or very
few black-clothed demonstrators, in fact most of the demonstrators had
dispersed and, from the film we took, most of the people seemed to be ordinary
citizens, many residents in the area, taking pictures with their cell phones.

When we got there couple of minutes later, we
saw that it was one of the squad cars the police had abandoned earlier that was
on fire. The fire department had the situation well in hand and was putting out
the fire. Again, Toronto police had formed a perimeter with their bikes and no
one was getting in the way of officers or firemen doing their duty.

At about 6:35, a phalanx of riot squad officers
marched up Queen from Spadina, which everyone thought was rather silly, given
there was no trouble. About 6:45 the riot police (mostly OPP officers) backed
us all to the east side of the intersection of Queen and Spadina. No one
resisted or even objected, until they began to push us into the intersection and into northbound traffic.

Once they had done that, they began to
threatened citizens with arrest if we didn’t get off the road they had pushed
us into. They pushed the crowd (which was not large compared to earlier in the
day) right through the intersection and then blocked the intersection. I
thought they might be clearing it for emergency vehicles, but none came out of
Queen that way.

Finally, after making everyone, including
residents of the Queen West neighbourhood angry, the police left the
intersection and Queen Street. They again left the second police car behind.
Shortly after that, just after 7:50 pm, we saw smoke billowing up from the
second police car. Small explosions erupted from the car and the flames were
very high, threatening nearby property. Again, we wondered why the police had
abandoned their squad cars in an area where they must have known some people
would be tempted to destroy them.

This time, no fire trucks came. The mood of the
crowd was not one that would lead me to believe that anyone would have
interfered if fire trucks arrived. However, the riot squad came back up Spadina
Ave from south of Queen Street. They cleared the intersection again and made
several bluff runs at people there. However, we saw no fire trucks come and it
appeared as though the police were letting their car burn out of control.

We left the area not long after being cleared
north of the intersection of Spadina Queen along with some other folk who told
us they too were very puzzled by the actions of police. I heard more than one
person comment that the police seemed to be more interested in pushing people
around than in dealing with either the burning car or the vandalism.

Indeed the whole Queen St operation had the air
of something planned, and we could not escape the feeing that the police wanted
the cars to burn so they could justify further action. I didn’t want even think
about the implications of that, but I couldn’t help remembering the August 2007
news reports in which Québec Provincial Police admitted they put masked police
officers among demonstrators during the Security and Prosperity Partnership meeting at Montebello with instructions to provoke the crowd to acts of violence.

There was certainly vandalism by black
sweat-shirted teenagers (the so-called Black Bloc) elsewhere in the City, but
on Queen Street, on the evening of June 26 the greatest threat to public safety
came from riot-suited police men and women. And it wasn’t necessary.

 

From Toronto media reports of later events, there were
four other peaceful demonstrations interrupted by riot police action:

1. On Saturday afternoon, June 26,
the police cleared Queen’s Park of demonstrators, forcing them onto the streets and into the commercial area of University and Bloor. Queen’s Park is behind the Ontario Legislature and it had been designated as a ‘green zone,’ a no-hassle area for demonstrators to assemble and meet.

2. On Sunday afternoon, June 27,
riot police forcefully detained about 100 people (not all of them demonstrators) for 4 hours in a driving rainstorm at the corner of Spadina and Queen Streets. Some were arrested including a CBC reporter for having a gas mask.

3. On Sunday afternoon, June 27,
police rounded up and arrested a number of peaceful demonstrators at the Esplanade, just south of the security fence. Police arrested, beat and detained a Guardian UK reporter.

4. On Sunday evening, June 27,
police in riot gear waded into a peaceful demonstration in front of the temporary detention centre on Eastern Avenue to arrest demonstrators in support of the nearly 1000 people arrested and stuffed into cages inside.

 

“But I don’t
want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here.
I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come
here.”

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About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at david.mclaren@utoronto.ca. In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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