Another peaceful protest at Queen and Spadina -

Another peaceful protest at Queen and Spadina

Until it wasn’t


I don’t think I have the right to use this photograph here, but I’d urge everyone to have a look at it because it’s already iconic. Here’s another really good one of the same scene. Now think again about what civil dissent has looked like on the streets of Toronto this weekend.

For complete coverage of this story click here

I wasn’t at Queen and Spadina when the lines finally closed in around an otherwise peaceful protest. It was the same thing we’ve seen again and again throughout the weekend. It was the same thing when the police cleared the “designated” protest site at Queens Park north. It was the same thing last night when I was boxed in with 80 or so demonstrators outside the Pape/Eastern detention center. It’s the same thing now–only this time they’ve boxed in an immense number of people and the media and television crews who were there to film the (non-existent) riot and the (non-existent) violence have started to notice the other story. Quite a number of them have unwittingly become part of the story, finding themselves on the other side of police lines, treated as protesters, identifying with protesters, or simply arrested no matter their press credentials.

This is a breaking story as I write this. I’ll head back out in a moment. But for those tired of the media storm and sick of the images of burning cars out there, please tune in to your televisions tomorrow, read a variety of news sources, and hear what journalists are trying to tell you; what they are already telling us via twitter in real time. The ability to peacefully assemble and to protest in Toronto has been entirely suspended. It doesn’t matter who, where, how, or what you’re saying. The new police power is essentially “leave as soon as we say so or you’re part of the problem and will be arrested.”

As you read these accounts from other journalists and media types who finally experienced what it’s like out there, please consider that Queen and Spadina was not a unique encounter–only the biggest and perhaps the final one. Police tactics and mentality of this sort do not excuse violence. Please do not imagine I am suggesting otherwise. But also, don’t allow yourself to be tricked into regarding anyone who refuses to immediately and unconditionally cooperate with every police demand issued for every reason as “violent.” Police have never had unilateral powers to order our citizens in this way and they still do not. Our rule of law has not changed.

Or maybe it has. It’s terrifying to me how many people feel this is a measured and appropriate response. Show some scary stuff on television, create an identifiable fear-inducing peril (the Black Bloc!), rope the media into cooperating with your message with constant and repeating coverage of the same material and bam, you’ve got a blank cheque. At least in America it took 9/11 to threaten their commitment to civil liberties. It’s sad how much they compromised but anyone would admit they had good cause. In Canada, for all we trumpet our civic values, all it takes is repeating video images of some police cars that were burned yesterday, and a few damaged Starbucks, and too many people are eager to be rescued on any terms at all.

Think carefully what you wish for.


Another peaceful protest at Queen and Spadina

  1. I completely agree, and while it is ridiculous that the press and reporters are even being arrested with the protesters, at least it will deliver a news report that shows the sides of the protesters and the extreme and highly unecessary measures of force that the police are taking.

  2. Please consider this:

    So much for protections against unreasonable search and seizure (Section 8, Constitution Act, 1982), evidently police can lawfully (I have my doubts) demand to search the backpacks of people entering Allan Gardens, which, incidentally, is nowhere near the security zone.

  3. Update – I’m not going back out again until the torrential downpour is over.

  4. I hate those stupid “backpacks” what do you nutbars have them anyway??? We never had them when I was a kid growing up in Toronto.and we got along just fine.

    I dont blame the police for checking those things,

    security is very tight right now, backpacks are not needed at all.

  5. Well, Brian, evidently you do not value your civil rights. Would you like an arbitrary strip search to go with a search of your personal property? It’s not as if you seem to think that the police require things like “probable cause”, so they might as well do whatever that want in the interest of “security”. Perhaps they should be able to demand to see identification of any random person on the street – just to make sure, of course, that you have a right to be there, notwithstanding your fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly.

    What other Charter rights and freedoms can be tossed by the wayside by your pathetic commitment to a free and democratic society? I don’t care a wit what kind of point the (non-vandal) protesters are trying to make. It doesn’t matter. They have an absolute right to exercise their freedom of expression and assembly.

  6. I was there in the crowd with 2 friends, for some reason the cop about to arrest me let me walk away instead, i didn’t see anyone else being given this treatment and can’t find any word on what happened to everyone else that i was with. Do we know if these people were temporarily detained or fully arrested and brought to eastern ave??
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  7. You’re a fool. If police cars were burned yesterday, and stores were vandalized yesterday – and who would have predicted either of those – who knows what else will happen? The police have become more aggressive in response to the actions of the mob. What else would you have them do?

  8. Pingback: Jeff » Ongoing G20 coverage

  9. I heard about the riots in Toronto, as an expat of Toronto I think the protests are to be expected, contained and hopefully noted by the attendees of the summit. Its a shame the focus is on violence, but that’s what people want to read.
    When are the G20 representatives going to recognise that our future depends on them making some hard descisions on environmental issues.
    Send in David Suzuki.

  10. I just got released from the north side of spadina at queen, because a medic thought I looked hypothermic. Totally peaceful group of people, including many who had simply been passers by were caught between two lines of riot police. Before it rained, the police had begun to pick individuals out of the crowd of perhaps 500 and arresting them one by one. Some cops said that they would be arresting everyone eventually for illegal assembly. Once the rain started, they stopped any move to get anyone out of there by arrest or otherwise. People were held in the pouring rain for several hours. I was one of the first people released, and I got out around 9pm. They said they let me out because I looked hypothermic, but they came to get me immediately after I took my camera out to start taking video testimony from cold wet people.

    This was outrageous. Holding people in the pouring rain to the point where they are near hypothermia, and all for the egregious offence of allegedly illegal assembly.

    Too bad the general population doesn’t care about civil liberties anymore.

    I have a lot of pictures of this that you could use if you need them – only a few in the rain because I was trying to protect my camera though.

  11. Jeff, I was in the queen spadina protest this evening. It was very peaceful but none ever told us to disperse. They surrounded us from a distance and closed in. We never had the chance to go away peacefully.

    A fascinating thing happened at the shift changes of the riot police. New crews came in acting tough, and by the end of their shift couldn’t look into anyones eyes. The last shift we asked if we could use their riot shields for umbrellas and they looked very conflicted. On the one hand they were told all protesters want to hurt them, but all they could see were people shivering in the rain.

  12. I remember seeing rob get pulled out. The cops were acting like elephants surrounding their young scared that the soaking wet protestors were going to get them. lol

  13. Oh for God’s sake, stop with the swooning histrionics, will you? Welcome to the world, Canadian media. What, you didn’t think “it” (violent political protest) could happen there, in the land of good government, order, etc? You thought your little yellow press cards would let you flit about like bluebirds above the fray?

    Grow up. Stay away from protest zones if you don’t want to get caught up in the messy consequences of uncertain police confronting large crowds infiltrated by nasty elements. If they’d let them run amok, would you have been happy then?

    I suppose that would have made a better story for you to pimp than getting penned in and having your gear soaked. Save the poor-me syndrome for someone who cares.

  14. Jonathon and J Cline are absolutely right. What would you actually have them do? They have to do their job, if you don’t want to be arrested, then you should (like the other millions of people who work, live and go to school in Toronto) stay away.
    You say that this city is where you’ve spent your entire adult life, are you really willing to see it destroyed? There were risks of Molotov cocktails being used to burn down buildings and I know I certainly would not like to chance the burning of my city’s streets and even more chaos to erupt. Also, some 60 odd protesters were found at a U of T building though the every university door is to be closed. They aren’t playing by any sort of rules and yet the police are bound by them. If they’re arresting you for illegal assembly, do you think that you were by chance assembling illegally?

    It’s a little exhausting hearing people drone on about their civic rights. Do you know what the constitution prizes above all else? You may be protected by your rights until you are about to infringe on the rights of another individual. Are you blocking a major intersection? Do you think that maybe that is not within your rights to do as you maybe endangering other people?
    I have seen the picture you posted (thank you for that by the way) and it is a terrifying situation but then you said that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Shouldn’t protesters have had the foresight to be terrified of those kinds of consequences BEFORE assembling here? It really is analogous to children behaving badly until they get caught and then regretting their actions as they are being punished.

    Think before you act.

    Oh and please don’t tell me that there aren’t other ways of protesting or defending a cause. I am an activist myself and I can tell you that I do not feel that sitting outside in the pouring rain holding a lousy sign is BETTER than actually getting out there on the streets and DOING SOMETHING! And sadly, to be honest, I am not even sure who is listening to those protests as difficult as it may be to come to terms with. Rarely any of the news coverage is on the actual causes and I can guarantee if the PM and other world leaders may not even be being briefed on the security issues outside their meetings, they probably are not discussing the causes being protested outside far away from their proceedings. It’s really unfortunate for the people who really want their cause to be heard and I can empathize as I have been faced with those hopeless situations so many times. In my experience, politics is much too bureaucratic and tedious to be able to have an immediate positive influence. You have to go out there and change things street level for yourselves.

  15. I really can’t commit to answers to the length and extent of yours, similar to above, but I’ll do my best to bring it back to the basics.

    First, whether or not you understand the message protesters are attempting to convey (I can’t claim I always do) is entirely irrelevant. Freedom of expression isn’t dependent on coherency, which is relative anyway.

    Second, whether or not you agree with the message protesters are bringing (when you understand it) is only relevant to the extent that our commitment to free expression is tested most in relation to messages we don’t agree with. Freedom of expression that applies only to people we like is no freedom at all.

    Third, the fact that you’ve successfully adopted other approaches in the past and may advocate for them (please, don’t imagine you are somehow unique in this) does not invalidate louder and more obnoxious tactics that stay within the bounds of the law. It’s fine that your chosen tactics seem to rely implicitly on the goodwill of authorities. Have you considered how you’ll ever respond if you lose faith in that goodwill? Have you tried to empathize with those who already have? Do you even realize that the protections built into our society are premised on the idea that people who most need to express their views distrust the authorities of the day?

    You are free to think the protesters, in this instance, are full of shit. You’re certainly free to express that view. But remember that one day you may actually have something that YOU need to express and it just may be (shocking though it may seem) that your opportunities to do so are not universally respected or allowed. If that day ever comes, you might do well to remember that your freedom of expression rests on the backs of people who have the courage to push it to the limits, and not passively shut up and go away as soon as someone in uniform insists on it.

    I don’t always like what people are saying either. I certainly don’t always agree with it. But I’m still glad it’s happening. If it weren’t, I’d gradually find that I have the most radical opinion left. And not only would that be sad, but I’m also dead sure someone would be trying to round me up in consequence too.

  16. Thanks Jeff, I do appreciate the effort.
    And I would only like to ask that you not assume that I’m saying anything. I actually do not think that the protesters are full of s*** (sorry I don’t swear in person or otherwise) and I think you slightly miss what I am trying to say (as most of the time I cannot even find where you have related your statements back to my arguements). I actually am sorry to see (at least from where I am standing) that their causes are not being given the proper attention as they hoped. I do empathize as clearly they must be desperate to have their word heard. I am simply saying that I don’t know if there are that many people paying attention with all the news coverage being focused on the violent acts. Their efforts are being thwarted by the attention grabbing anarchists and I certainly do not appreciate that either.
    And as for the one day that I might possibly be unable to express my views freely, well when that day comes, you can probably expect me sitting in that stupid intersection with everyone else expecting to be arrested, ready to push the envelope too. But at least I would be aware of the fact that I am endangering myself and practice extreme caution. The only reason that these protesters were stopped was because there were immediate and costly threats (not only financially but to the well being of others) and I would never wish to possibly endanger another human life or another’s livelihood for the sake of my campaign. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen large groups of people protesting abortion, the wars etc on the streets of Toronto. They remain peaceful and are undisturbed so long as they remain that way. This particular protest ran the risk of becoming violent and that is why they had to be stopped.

  17. Sorry and by particular protest, I meant that from what we’ve seen over the past while (the G20 protests in general), there is a risk that something might erupt and certainly not necessarily from the peaceful protesters whatsoever.

  18. @Ashley Okay, you’re right, I started to put you into a box of my own design and I apologize for that. But I think the message that needs to be heard and understood by more people (and the media was doing an awful job, until maybe Queen/Spadina) is that there are perfectly peaceful protests occurring just as there is violence occurring. And believe me, police absolutely have the ability (should they choose to use it) to tell one from the other.

    As crazy as it may seem, to those only watching the news, Toronto was not one big ball of chaos this weekend. At the very moment when one unfortunate Starbucks was getting smashed in the middle of a nasty bit of violence, there was another Starbucks two blocks over calmly serving lattes. And in fact the overwhelming majority of the Starbucks in the city were doing this, in the very same moment protests were going on downtown.

    People are saying the response to peaceful protesters is justified with a single broad sweep – as though something happening on the other side of the city justifies behaviour at a different site, under different circumstances, towards different people. With due respect, anything that really sucks is going to anger some people. And if their anger justifies retaliation against you we have a serious problem.

    I can only say that I denounce violence and I’m upset when I see it. But that doesn’t chance my view that much of the protest I was witnessing was peaceful, nonthreatening, and yet still stomped on with all the force it would take to quell a riot. Police over-reacted badly. I don’t wish to demonize them for it but I am interested in answers and solutions for the future. At the very time we most needed them to provide and restore peace (and seriously, we paid enough for it, my taxes as well as anyone else’s) they contributed to the problems. No plan could have prevented all of this. Some trouble was inevitable. But I’m convinced, 100%, it didn’t need to be this bad.

    I apologize again for attacking your views as I did.

  19. Question for Ashley, since when can a molotov cocktail burn down buildings? They kind of work on cars because of the fuel tanks and ther burnable interior, but you would need a whole lot more to burn downa building that’s up to standard with their safety code. I do not support the use of violent means, however, I can’t help but question why in gods name would police cruiseers be left abandoned in a street.

    Also, for such an organized group, you would think the ISU could of organised a quick response team to resopnd to the violent protesters. It’s not like they did not anticipate their arrival.

    I hate to admit it, but the violent protest worked towards building up support for the police. It was in their best interest to let it go on for a little while. The meaner it got, the more justification they have for everything that is happening today.

    Let’s say one of your alternative means is a bake sale. Would it be alright for the police to shut you down because a few months ago they found needles in certain fruits? Who knows, you may have used those fruits, or you may be trying to sell bad food?

    Police should always require probable cause before searching or arresting somone. If these plain clothes police offiers really identified specific trouble makers, why did they not have cameras to capture the evidence. It’s not exactly like cameras would have been out of place or too costly. Especially with such a large budget.

  20. My main concern is the mixed responses from police. Saturday we witnessed rampant destruction by a relatively small group. They carried on for nearly an hour with no effort by the police to put a stop to it.I actually witnessed the police pull back and allow not only chain stores and banks be vandalized, but also mom and pop stores.

    Flash forward to Sunday and we witnessed the police clear designated protest areas, attack peaceful protesters and round up citizens.

    I would also like to note that I am extremely disappointed with the legitimate protesters and OCAP who didn’t openly condemn the actions of the so called Black Bloc. Their inaction and the action of the police, truly allowed anarchy to rule our streets. A pox on both your houses…

  21. Not a problem Jeff, I just don’t want my message to be misconstrued or unfairly generalized. I know it must be difficult to write and receive feedback of these likes and I applaud your willingness and courage to address those comments. Also, I just want to assure you, I certainly don’t believe that Toronto was in complete chaos, I understand only that there were areas of particular wreckage incited by selected individuals. I had actually been downtown for a G20 welcome party and I can honestly say that it was completely normal in the areas where I was present. I am aware of the way media portrays things but the videos cannot be exaggerated nor can the destruction be masked but rest assured, I am aware that this ‘chaos’ was limited (and I say that loosely) to specific sections of the city.

    @Joel I actually have never encountered a Molotov cocktail nor have I ever been motivated to research their mechanics. All I know is that they are often used by vandals to create lots of damage. But then perhaps consider this, can a cigarette or even a match not burn something down? (My home was nearly burned down because (allegedly) someone had thrown a cigarette butt into our next door neighbour’s yard.)

    We don’t know what kind of buildings individuals will target and we certainly do not know how motivated they are to do anything. I do not believe that the police or even we should be in the business of underestimating the motivation or potential action of others especially during an event like the G20. This would be extremely careless and a recipe for disaster, no?

  22. On Sat protestors comitted some violent acts – They included smashing windows (a misdemeanor), spray painting (less than a misdeamenor) and burning a police car (fine that’s a criminal act)

    Most of us will agree those whom comitted these acts should be punished

    However, In response to the ‘violence’ (lol) Toronto Police comitted more violent acts than did the protestors, which included beating people with batons, pepper spraying them, arresting them for no cause, taking their civil liberties away by not allowing to peacefully gather in Queens park, where the city told them was the place they could peacefully gather, and then holding them hostage on Queen & Spadina for 4 hrs in the rain

    Do most of us agree that everyone one of these police acts, violent in nature, should go punished?
    No, some of us think the Police has the right to do this, and that is more than shameful

    The reality is, not a single police officer will ever be punished for what happended in Toronto on either Saturday or Sunday, except alot of us will never look at our police department ever again in the same light

  23. Remarkable unedited CTV footage!

    Who is the brave man attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of a hooded thug who is smashing a window. Does he appear to fail because some in the “peaceful” crowd turn on him?

    Who are the two brave men at the doors of a store – standing up to the hooded cowards? What’s their opinion of the “peaceful” protesters?

    Who is the “peaceful” man carrying the CUPE sign, steps away from the hooded vandals, and apparently following in their path?

  24. bob, those people are collaborators with an oppressive and destructive global economic system. the heroes are the folks that dearrested and stood in solidarity!