G20 – Day One

I originally planned to do this as one big entry but am breaking it into two. Here are my accounts of Saturday. 


I will start by saying that this will be long and rambly. I’m trying to consolidate all my thoughts into one place as I need to put together a complete picture of my weekend.  The fear and occasional panic already did a good job of making me forget some moments so I just need to dump everything I know down.

I will also clear state my intentions for this weekend: I intended to be, and was, only an observer.  There are lots of reasons to hate the G20, and to hate the things that it is responsible for, but not one of those was clear or specific enough for me to actually stand in a crowd and support it.  I wanted to see what the protestors were saying, doing, and supporting.  And I wanted to see how the protests would play out and what role the police would play.

Accompanying photos are on Flickr and some videos too big for Flickr are on YouTube.  You can also see the tweets on Twitter, but viewing historical data is difficult.  I’ll add up front, and will probably mention again, that Twitter was my primary source of information for the weekend, and my primary way of sharing information.  As I learned later, the police were also following tweets.

Historically, the Toronto police have done an outstanding job of maintaining order during protests of all sizes – usually allowing protestors to go where they wanted as long as they aren’t damaging things, hurting anyone, or in any danger themselves.  Well, I shouldn’t say “historically,” but perhaps “recently.”

I didn’t see anything Friday night. I chose instead to go out, have some drinks, and dance at The Barn.  This of course meant sleeping in late on Saturday, which I was fine with.

I left the house Saturday around 1:50 to see the protest at Queen’s Park. It had started at 1 and had worked its way southwards on University to Queen Street.  I walked behind it, seeing relatively little evidence of it except for an unfortunate amount of litter.   I caught up to the end of the protest around Dundas, most of those at that part were Free Tibet’ers, Tamils, Vietnam-human-rights’ers, and a handful of unions.  The march itself was being followed by two police cars, a CP24 van, a school bus, and two WheelTrans vans.  These vehicles ultimately followed all the way along the route.  As the protest (and I) got down to Queen Street, the police were blocking the sidewalks and all points of access to Queen Street other than the road itself, which was for the protestors.  Not wanting to be part of the protest, I backtracked up to Dundas and walked down Spadina to meet up with the crowd there.

At Queen and Spadina I saw a large crowd of confused-looking protestors.  The police had blocked off Queen Street West of Spadina, and Spadina South of Queen.  The only way to go was either North (where I think the police wanted them to go), or East.  For the most part, they were all just sort of standing around, chanting, cheering, etc.  Very shortly after I arrived, the teachers and the unions, along with a handful of others realized something that I probably should have, and headed North en masse.  That still left (easily) thousands stopped in the intersection at Queen and Spadina.

Nothing really happened for a little while, but as I was wandering around taking photos, I saw a burst of light and smoke in the Southwest corner of the intersection.  Someone was waving a smoke flare in the air – from its location, I’m almost certain it was a demonstrator and not the police.  I decided to get to the South side of Queen to get some more pictures and scope out the crowd.  Once I found my way around a handful of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) marshals who were trying to keep their own people from leaving the street but also trapped a couple of us in the process, I discovered that the protestors had been allowed to go a little bit South on Spadina but not very far; they were facing a long line of police in riot gear (as they were, presumably, on the West side).

I wandered around the crowd and found lots of people cheering and waving banners, flags, and signs, and generally just having a good time peacefully demonstrating.  There were also quite a few people who were lining the sidewalks either surprised by the large group of people that had come upon them, and a number of people like me who were photographing and tweeting the events.

Seemingly out of nowhere, about 3-4 dozen people dressed in black wearing black bandanas over their faces (most looked young but it was hard to tell) double-backed fast towards the East along Queen Street.  They ran fast, and they ran in a pack.  I didn’t see, but saw immediately afterwards, one of them smash the front windshield of a police vehicle.  A lot of other protestors, seeing it as the only direction of safe travel, went (at a much slower pace) Eastwards as well, and in general most people were walking or running in every direction – no one seemed to know what was going on.

I was around Queen and Peter at this point, and witnessed a Black Bloc (those black-clad people) person literally pick a street fight with one of the cops that were surrounding their vehicle.  There were riot police on all the side streets and they were converging around the area, at first I felt like we were being locked in but later discovered that Northbound on Spadina remained an option, as did Eastbound on Queen.  This sort of led to a series of people harassing the police (there were many chants of “Fuck the police”), with the police surrounding the vehicle looking completely trapped but also holding their ground.  Eventually things settled and people moved on for the most part.  It looks like they were able to get the school bus and WheelTrans vehicles out of the way – though it’s entirely unclear why they were following in the first place.

Torontoist had tweeted that there were smashed store fronts at Queen and Peter – there weren’t.  I called bullshit via Twitter but discovered rapidly that they had the right story, just the wrong location.  I took a walk to the East, since the crowds at this point were mostly just dispersing, and it seemed like that’s where people were going.  When I got to John I realized what store fronts people were talking about.  Starbucks was of course the first hit, but countless other businesses and media vehicles were trashed all along Queen Street all the way to Yonge.  CBC vans and TTC streetcars, too, were broken or graffitied on.  Mailboxes had been thrown all over the street.  It was a disaster zone.  And there were no police to be seen – anywhere.  You can see the graffiti in the Flickr stream, most of it read “Kill cops,” “bomb the banks,” and all sorts of other horrific stuff.

I saw reports of fires at Bay and King street – two police cars were on fire by the time I got anywhere near (they had blocked off the street South of Adelaide).  The complete lack of police presence meant that traffic was starting to flow on Queen AND Bay, which I can only hope eventually figured out it wasn’t safe to travel into the mess further.  I stopped to take some photographs of the smoke billowing up from the middle of our financial centre.

 

I walked over to Yonge to find more police officers at its South end, many on horseback or bicycles, along with a number in riot gear – not really going anywhere fast.  I witnessed a guy, who looked clearly confused, get detained, asked questions, and searched before the police let him go.  Unfortunately my camera was not on ‘record’ like I thought it was so I missed most of it on my video.

Eventually I witnessed the most unusual ceremony of police in riot gear marching in formation and beating their shields headed North up Yonge.  Part way through I noticed that some of what I thought were random photographers in the crowd were getting gestured to by a couple of officers at the back.  I’m certain I’ve been photographed by a number of CSIS agents along the day but at least at that point, they all seemed to be ignoring me.

I made my way North on Yonge Street to see more destruction all over the place.  Store windows were smashed in left and right, litter bins that were left on the streets (despite them removing the permanent affixed ones, they left unaffixed wire ones all over the place) were thrown through Starbucks windows.  I continued North and it was more of the same, except for the occasional pocket of people watching the World Cup through windows of the businesses that were still open.  American Apparel was completely wrecked, with the windows smashed multiple times, mannequins scattered or thrown everywhere, and feces (presumably from police horses?) through onto the shattered glass.  It was disgusting.

As I got past the Foot Locker and Pizza Pizza I ran into someone I went to university with and stopped to chat for a bit. While we were chatting, a handful of teenagers started looting from the broken store windows… grabbing all the left shoes they could get their hands on.  Again, there were zero police officers around so they got away.  I kept heading North to document what was left of the street and, since it was late in the afternoon and batteries (camera, iPhone, and me) were running out I headed home for dinner. 

While home I followed on Twitter that the actual protestors had been moved North to University and College, near where a family “G20 picnic” was happening somewhere at Queen’s Park.  After dinner I headed over to see what was going on – post tear-gassing.  I arrived to Queen’s Park North to find literally no one but a handful of media looking bored inside their vans.

I was wondering where everything was, since Queen’s Park North was supposed to be the official protest zone.  I headed South and found it.  What I found was a large group of people, mostly looking confused and milling about.  Every couple of minutes the crowd would surge with people running towards the North – it wasn’t really clear what was happening.  I originally thought police were throwing things but I think they were just marching forward.

Soon after I arrived, police on horseback started parading around the Queen’s Park South lawn, seemingly trying to break up the group.  They trampled at least one person in the meantime – I caught it on videotape, though was too far to get a good shot.  It wasn’t really clear what was going on and what the protestors were supposed to do.  It rapidly became obvious that the police were closing in the exits from Queen’s Park South so I left before that happened and headed up to Queen’s Park North and sat on a bench to tweet. 

About 5-10 minutes later I saw a crowd of less than a hundred come up the East side of Queen’s Park Road chanting angrily but demanding their rights from the police.  The one with the megaphone was a 17 year old (so he said) who kept demanding the right to peaceful assembly.  There didn’t seem to be any real issues in this group, the police were mostly just observing them.  I couldn’t figure out what had happened to the rest of the protestors, when they all appeared over the bridge on the West side.

I went over to photograph what was going on.  I overheard someone shout “Tell me what I’m doing wrong and I’ll stop doing it!” which was a pretty logical thing to say – it was totally unclear what the police wanted from these people.  There was a line of Montreal police loosely spaced along the North end of the legislative building but they slowly moved forward and then angled to the East, joined by a few other packs of riot police.  I moved North to avoid being blocked in again, as they formed a cohesive line preventing protestors from entering Queen’s Park North (which puzzled the protestors, who were trying to enter the park because they didn’t want to be forced onto the U of T campus to justify the university’s closure).  Protest organizers seemed to be trying to tell people to go into the park where they were supposed to be but they were prevented from doing so by the lines of police.

So, with nowhere else to go and the wall of police behind them (I ultimately estimated 200-300 police officers in riot gear and/or on horses), the protestors all ended up on Hoskin headed straight into U of T.  After watching the huge group of people, protestors and police, move out I headed North to Bloor to walk over and head it off at the pass.  I didn’t have to get far as the protestors took the first right and headed to Bloor instead of staying on campus.  They showed up and turned East on Bloor towards Yonge Street.

This was the most peaceful group of people I’ve ever seen.  They marched Eastwards and made their way around the cars that were still stuck in the traffic – politely going around and not giving anyone a hard time. I even saw them picking up the traffic cones that had been knocked over either by themselves or a careless vehicle.  I ran into a friend of mine from Hamilton who was marching with the group and followed her along for a bit.  What struck me almost immediately is that the 200-300 police that were behind them were gone. There was not one officer anywhere to be seen.  These same people that were such a threat that they deserved to be herded and trampled were now being left to roam free through the streets.  Of course, nothing happened, they marked peacefully down Yonge Street, nothing was damaged, and everyone was in good spirits.

Walking down Yonge Street I ran into two people I went to university with (this became a trend over the weekend) who were in a number of the protests and had lost the crowd. We walked down Yonge Street to try to catch up to it but never did find it.  We got to Bay & Richmond where we had to stop for a motorcade of dozens of unmarked vans full of police.  At that point, with nothing exciting (or at least nothing safe) going on, and a protest scheduled for the village at 11PM, I headed home.  I got home shortly after 10 to learn that the protest in the village was cancelled, and moved to the temporary detention centre site where people were being held that had been arrested throughout the day.  Around 11:30 I took a walk around the neighbourhood to see if anything was going on at all and called it a night.

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