G20 – Day Two

I started off Sunday quietly – first, I was exhausted from walking (and occasionally running) all around town, so I slept in until well after 12.  I decided to at least start off the day quietly so I went to Cawthra Square Park by The 519 for the “OASIS Free Speech Zone;” originally, I believe, an event to counter / protest Pride Toronto’s censorship of QuAIA, since revoked.  It was a remarkably small group of people, all in good moods and mingling, making free speech buttons and so on.  I stayed for a bit, and met up with Darcy. 

We went for a walk down Yonge Street and got as far as Granby where we came across a crowd of people.  It took me a minute to realize what was going on – there was a group of about six young people, mostly women, who had been arrested and were being processed. They were literally doing the mugshots on the street, and for some reason they police had removed all of their shoes.  A crowd had gathered and was taking photos and video – the police actually seemed to be quite happy to let us do so.  At one point an officer asked a photographer why he was shooting through a store window (which the store owner eventually asked him to leave), got a satisfactory answer and left him alone.

It was unclear what the charges were against these people (they’d already been handcuffed when we arrived).  Shortly after we noticed that four young (teenaged) girls were being detained and questioned – one was wearing a clown nose.  That whole part of things became so odd but nothing really seemed to be happening so we eventually moved on – me South on Yonge and Darcy back home.

I walked down Yonge photographing what was left of the aftermath (as of midday today there was still broken glass scattered along the sidewalks).  At one point I spotted a handful of police officers peering in a broken window looking confused about why it hadn’t been repaired or boarded up (I wondered the same thing – what was Urban Outfitters thinking?)  In fact, along most of Yonge Street there were bands of officers, about a dozen per group, wandering up and down the street.  I tweeted that they were 24 hours too late.

I ran into yet another friend I had gone to university (and high school for that matter) with and we stopped and chatted for a while (we hadn’t seen one another in years, despite both living in Toronto).  While we were chatting the “bike bloc,” a group of explicitly peaceful cyclists demanding bicyclists’ rights (and trying to counter the black bloc’s violent tactics of the day before), rode Westward on Queen past Yonge Street. I’d been following the tweets of where they were but they’d apparently been circling downtown for a while.

We followed slowly in that direction – we had no intention of catching up to them as that was obviously impossible for pedestrians to do – and headed along Queen but only after seeing numerous people detained by the police.  They stopped a black man who seemed very confused at the corner of Yonge & Queen, and then a white man wearing a black “homeland security” t-shirt in front of City Hall.  I got pictures of both and was asked no questions – in fact I wasn’t even paid any attention to.

We saw a crowd at King and Bay and I’d heard the “prayer vigil” group had made its way down there.  We arrived to find a crowd of people, most milling about not sure what was going on. We eventually discovered there were about a dozen protestors sitting peacefully in the street.  There was a line of riot police preventing anyone from going South on Bay but no one really seemed to be trying to do so anyway.  There were a number of (I hope ironic) anti-protest protestors. 

Seemingly out of nowhere the Bike Bloc appeared from the East and stopped at the intersection chanting “peaceful protest, peaceful protest.”  I found Justin and Andrew, the former who’d arrived on his bike independently around the same time, the latter who’d been riding with the group.  The bike bloc left soon after, happily ringing their bells, and Justin left with the group.  It was around this point when the riot police (who I noticed were no longer carrying batons, but merely had wooden dowel) stepped their line forward, but then immediately did a little dance and traded shifts with some non-riot-gear Toronto Police.  The officer pointing a camera at everyone in the crowd (including, multiple times, myself – I would still like to know what they’re doing with my image), didn’t however, go anywhere.  Most of the officers remaining didn’t mind posing for photos with people – a trend that continued very inconsistently throughout the weekend.

We parted ways with Andrew (I lost track of where he went but later it sounded like he was near Queen / Spadina) and headed back up to Queen Street and headed East.  We noticed the Jazz Fest was going on so decided to stop in to take in what was going on on stage.  I grabbed a veggie burger and we sat and chatted by the fountain – the police temporarily infiltrated the otherwise completely empty JazzFM tent, I said jokingly, as there were three officers randomly wandering around.  I’d noticed on Saturday though, that organizers were smart – they’d made the entranceway banners in TD greens but left its logo off.

My university friend went home and I headed East, after seeing tweets from Justin that he was boxed in on all sides by police, and Andrew that police were harassing him for using his cell phone to “feed information.”  (Keep in mind my goal for the weekend: To observe).  En route, I passed a number of very bored looking police officers along Queen and University, most of them were just sitting on the concrete infrastructure that was around.  Half way along, standing in front of two University of Western Ontario coach buses clearly used to transport police, I came across an officer in full riot gear with visor up and tear gas gun in hand posing for photos with tourists.  It was almost like a circus or something.

Before I got to the crowds, I came across a number of streetcars that were being reversed and turned around – which was entertaining to watch so I stopped to video for a while.  I originally saw some on the line stopped and waiting to move, stopped by the congestion of people and tweeted @BradTTC that they should be moved out as it sounded like a lot of things were about to go down.  As I was hitting Send I realized they were already doing it – it was quite interesting and involved a surprising amount of manual labour.

I got to Queen and Peter where I saw multiple lines of riot police near Steve’s Music Store standing ominously but not doing anything.  From where I was standing, the crowd was primarily onlookers, people who had been dining (or were still dining) at the restaurants on Queen Street, and a whole lot of people taking pictures.  And, most likely, there were a number of activists in the group that had ended up there for one reason or another – one big reason I’ve discovered is that when everyone else (Including Justin) was segregated, a bunch of other people in the protests were actually left outside.  Shortly after I arrived the entire crowd burst into O Canada rather spontaneously.  I hit record on my camera.

As if on cue, the last line of the anthem was immediately followed by screams and what I can only describe as a stampede.  I ran with the rest of the group but had learned from earlier incident at Queen’s Park that running not only invites police harassment but also leads to worse stampedes.  As I was slowing done to turn the camera back towards the crowd (I have some wonderful footage of the sidewalk from when I was running) a girl came walking by screaming and crying and someone identified that her finger was broken.  I only got a brief glimpse but it was bent out of shape and bleeding all over – thankfully someone immediately took her away to a medic, I really hope she was okay.

Soon after this I realized they were kettling again as they had done at Queen’s Park, only they had the advantage of buildings and streets here.  The line coming from Spadina was also moving Eastward, leaving crowds of spectators trapped.  The only way out at that moment was Soho Street, Northbound, a route which I tweeted about and followed – after lingering for a bit in the parking lot at the Northwest corner of Queen & Soho.  As if in a movie, cue the thunder.  The air had been thick and heavy for a while with obvious thunderclouds overhead, and a very heavy rain was obviously next.

At this point a lot became unclear.  I worked my way up Soho peacefully without much more than a bunch of dirty looks from crowds of police officers coming in from the North on bikes.  I don’t know where they came from but I could only assume they were filling the remaining gap that I had walked out of just in time.  The stampede I was expecting never happened, but the street (Soho) I and others were dumped onto was a quiet residential street, and it’s where all the media vehicles were parked.  The fact that there have been no reports of damage to the street or media vehicles there despite the crowds speaks volumes to who was not there.

At this point, literally moments after I left Queen via Soho and got to the first side street (Phoebe Street, apparently), it began to pour.  And I don’t mean a light spring rain; I mean the streets were flooded in less than five minutes.  I stood under a tree to tweet but was still getting wet so I moved away quickly, over to Beverley and up to Dundas, in search of somewhere dry to stand to wait out the rain.  I found the AGO.  And its beautiful overhang.  And collection of assorted tourists and residents that were also cowering there from the rain. 

And so I sat there, not talking to anyone as I was madly following Twitter to find out what was going on.  It wasn’t clear who was where, but what was almost certain was that Justin was trapped at Queen and Spadina.  In a group, which someone tweeted around when I arrived at the AGO.  Sitting there, I removed my jacket to let it dry a bit and just sat and tweeted.  I (and everyone else on Twitter) tweeted at the mayor who was completely non-responsive to anyone (despite his usual twitter addictions).  We were hearing rumours of rubber bullets and tear gas being prepared for, and media being arrested, people forcibly removed, etc.  I tweeted my location so everyone would know where I was, and that I was safe.  Sitting there, reflecting on the week (earthquake, tornado, the insanity going on around me, and now the torrential rains), I tweeted “this may actually be the apocalypse.”  I kind of felt like it was.

Then, at 7:30, I tweeted: “I seem to be gathering a crowd of protestors and onlookers who got away. they’re all very wet. as am I. this will be a wet concert #G20.”  [I had tickets to the Esthero concert that night, and was planning to go straight there as soon as the rain let up].  Within three minutes (according to the timestamps on my tweets, likely closer to two minutes), a gang of about a dozen bike cops showed up and screamed “Move! Now!” at the dozen or so people that had ended up there.  That was the only direction we received. Move. Now. Not where, or how far.  Just to move.  Now.  [Into the pouring rain, I might add.  I later heard more reports that anyone taking shelter anywhere was subject to the same treatment].

So, despite being pretty sure that they had no legal grounds upon which to tell us to do so, I grabbed my jacket, and started walking (and tweeting).  As I was leaving, and had gotten to the other end of the building (almost at McCaul) another group of officers came up McCaul and started detaining people.  They stopped two or three guys very near to me so, not clear on whether I had “moved” far enough but willing to risk it, I pointed my video camera at them doing so – they were starting to inspect their backpacks and such, it was starting to seem ordinary at this point.  I had barely raised my hand to start recording when I was turned towards the wall and my hand lowered by an officer whose face I only saw at the end of this whole ordeal.

It’s hard to make out from the video (here) but our conversation was as follows (note that he was patting me down the entire time):
Him: Do you have anything on you that can hurt me?
Me: No.
Him: Do you have anything on you?
Me: No.
Him: Did you not hear the LRAD message?
Me: Pardon me?
Him: The LRAD message?
Me: What was the LRAD message?
Him: This is no longer a peaceful assembly [muffled – I think he said “everyone was told to leave”]… [feels my sunglasses in my jacket’s breast pocket] Glasses?
Me: Sunglasses
Him: Nothing else on you?
Me: No.
Him: Okay, are you now leaving?
Me: Yes, I will leave, if you’re telling me to leave I’ll leave.  Which way do I go?
Him: Just keep going that way [pointing Eastwards down Dundas]
Another office, heckling: Keep going buddy

[I learned later that “LRAD” is Long-Range Acoustic Device (“sound cannon”), and after speaking to people who were on scene at Queen & Spadina, no one else seemed to hear it either.  I’ll also add that I was not “assembling” with anyone as I was sitting, alone, on a little concrete ledge. The largest group of people there was maybe 3, the rest were random people staying out of the rain.  We were pretty peaceful, in fact most people were not really doing anything other than waiting for the rain to stop so they (we) could go wherever we were trying to get to].

Not heard on the video was me, being the freaking Canadian that I am, saying “thank you” after he directed me Eastwards.  Moving on…

From there I headed East on Dundas.  I had literally nowhere to go, and within 10 seconds of going back out in the rain I was soaked through.  My passport, which I’d been carrying in my pocket, is still wet, as are the clothes I was wearing (27 hours ago at this point).  I can’t even imagine what an hour of detention in that rain was like for Justin and the others that were still trapped back at Queen and Spadina, but at this point I was glad to be away from any police officers, and was thinking of nothing more than how to find somewhere warm and dry.  I was shaking, either from cold or fear (I honestly thought I was being arrested – which I understand is the only way that search would have been legal).  I got to Dundas & Chestnut, and found a Lebanese take-out restaurant that was still open so I bought a smoothie and sat, dried off, and tweeted angrily about what had just happened.

I was at this point terrified to even go back onto the street – not sure how big of a “zone” was off limits to people to be in (I had honestly thought the AGO to be reasonably far away), and also beginning to feel that bone-chilling wet cold.  Via Twitter, I learned that we had still not heard from Justin, and was beginning to assume the worst.  Considering how disgustingly cold I was, I could only imagine what it was like for people who hadn’t had the 20 minute break under cover like I had.  I decided I couldn’t sit there feeling sorry for myself anymore, and remembered that the concert was starting soon, so I gave in and walked the rest of the way to Yonge Street, and found the only remaining entrance to the Yonge Subway (the mall entrances had long since been locked down – a major flaw in the choice to move the entrances into corporate property).

I got home and tweeted again, and caught up on what was going on (after a much-needed long hot shower).  Most startling was that not one politician was saying a damn thing.  There were still about one to two hundred people trapped in the rain at Queen and Spadina, with threats still going around of various forms of weaponry, and stories of people who were walking their dogs or buying groceries trapped amongst everyone else.  And Olivia Chow was tweeting about a banquet she was at.  I kept reading updates and was in tears thinking of all the people going through a million times worse than what I went through.  At 8:49 I saw a tweet from @acorntati saying that Justin was fine and “in good spirits” which I could only assume to mean that whatever hell he was putting up with, he was at least okay. 

Realizing there was actually nothing left that I could do, I grabbed what was left of my ticket to the Esthero concert (most of which stayed dry due to being tucked inside my not-so-lucky passport), and headed out.  I was honestly terrified about the trip there and back.  I took the subway both ways to make it go as quickly as possible (not to mention that I was late to leave because of everything that happened – mostly the rain) and thankfully wasn’t detained or harassed in either direction.  I’m glad I went – it did eventually get my mind of things and it was a great show.

Some tweets had gone around suggesting some of us get together and I ended up finding Justin with some others debriefing at O’Grady’s. 

I got home and spent the rest of the evening (and well into the morning) tweeting, uploading photos and videos, and just trying to get my mind in order.  In a scatter, some of us arranged a meeting via Twitter with our MPP, who was helpful and clearly understood that what happened this weekend was not acceptable.  Hopefully, with some work, we can all act to make sure this never happens again.  I can only hope.

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