Police raid on U of T graduate students' union - Macleans.ca

Police raid on U of T graduate students’ union

Still more questions than answers


Early Sunday morning (or late Saturday night–depending on perspective) police raided the offices and space of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) at the University of Toronto. They arrested approximately 70 activists who were billeted there, using the GSU’s pub and small gymnasium as temporary accommodations for the G20 summit protests. Along with the visitors, police arrested Daniel Vandervoot, the GSU’s External Commissioner, and another executive who is as yet unidentified. Thus far they have not yet been released from custody.

The GSU has issued a press release condemning the arrests and they are supported in a similar statement by other student groups and by Canadian Union of Public Employees. This is essentially the same group of organizations that opposed campus closure in the first instance and which defied it by maintaining their own operations to the greatest extent possible.

Anton Neschadim is an Executive-At-Large with the GSU and he has the unenviable task, at present, of fielding inquiries from the media, from university administration, and from distressed friends and family members of those detained. Anton stresses that he was not on site for the arrests and was not responsible for coordinating the billeting of visiting activists, but with the two executives who were responsible still in police custody he was willing to answer some questions for us.

In their press release, the GSU “categorically denies any involvement in any undemocratic activity.” This seems a vague claim, so I asked Anton to clarify. He says “we did not provide the use of our space for any kind of illegal, undemocratic activity.” Although not blind to the possibility that one or more guests of the GSU might have committed some crime during the protests, Anton states that there is currently no evidence of this.

The GSU took steps to acquire signed waivers from all their guests. So there is, somewhere, a reasonable list of who was staying there. Unfortunately police took these documents with them when they raided the space and so that information is unavailable. Anton states that guests of the GSU would have been people from the student movement, and that some collaboration with the Toronto Community Mobilization Network was part of this arrangement.

The worst case scenario, naturally, would be if those responsible for any of the violence in Toronto were using the GSU offices as a staging ground–either as invited guests or else by mingling with them. Clearly police are attempting to convey this idea and raided the space on that theory. They describe “weapons of opportunity” in the form of bricks and sharpened sticks, as well as black clothing found on site. Anton points out, quite rightly, that these objects are fairly ubiquitous. The GSU has sticks for their picketing signs on hand and there are bricks and stones all over the U of T campus. The suggestion that there is something inherently suspicious in owning a black t-shirt is too absurd to even engage with it.

What if, despite all this, one or more GSU guests really are guilty of something violent? Anton confronts this possibility head on. “We’re really not responsible for any individual’s actions. Steps were taken but we’re not police. The type of accommodation we provided was for allies and friendly individuals and organizations that we commonly work with.” He likens the GSU’s relationship to their guests as similar to that of any hotel or hostel. And while that may be a little disingenuous it does raise an interesting point. Everyone from outside Toronto who was here this past weekend was surely staying somewhere. Are the friends and family members of every outside visitor made personally responsible for their actions simply by giving them a place to sleep?

To their credit, the university administration seems to be adopting a “wait and see” approach to these arrests, and is not willing to condemn the GSU simply for hosting guests in its space. While understandably very concerned, Anton reports that the university is still “gathering facts and information around what happened” and is in close communication with the GSU. Anton also states that the university was informed the GSU would be billeting people, as it has done in the past for similar events and occasions.

Looking at the arrests as an outside observer, it’s hard to agree with demands that “all arrested activists be released.” No one is currently in a position to know what charges may be laid against the guests of the GSU, and it may indeed be the case that someone was involved in genuinely criminal acts. But it’s also obvious that even if this were true, it would be only a few out of the 70 or so arrested on site who fall into this category. Most (if not all) were simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time, yet for the right reasons.

It may fly in the face of the “arrest ’em all!” mentality that has pervaded the media in wake of some truly regrettable violence on the streets of Toronto, but the mass arrests at the GSU offices should be a reminder to everyone that Canadian law does not promote guilt by association. While the GSU may have been inviting problems by hosting friends and like-minded activists for this event, they hardly become guilty by extension even if someone did something criminal and stupid elsewhere in the city that day, and neither do the other activists who were arrested on site with them. As more news develops around these arrests, it should prompt some tough questions about just how much freedom we are willing to surrender in the name of security.


Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. You can also follow me on Twitter.


Police raid on U of T graduate students’ union

  1. I hope that the revelations like those that follow have inspired you to some rethink:
    “the Anti-Capitalist Convergence
    About 50 members of [the] group were picked up in the Sunday morning police raid at the University of Toronto, after her group publicized their plan to stay at the university on its website.
    The group, which ran an active campaign to get protesters to Toronto – one document on its website says “Let’s attack the G20” – wouldn’t distance itself from the violence associated with the Black Bloc, the group linked to setting police cruisers on fire and smashing storefronts. “For us that’s not violence. It’s a form of expression,” said Mathieu Francoeur, another spokesman for the anti-capitalist group.http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/g8-g20/news/montreal-protest-organizers-accuse-g20-police-of-profiling-against-quebeckers/article1622392/
    “They also make no apologies for the broken windows and other mayhem that all but overshadowed the meeting of world leaders, describing it as a form of expression.
    “For us it’s not violence,” said Mathieu Francoeur, a spokesperson for the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, a group of Montreal social activists and anarchists that organized buses for about 450 to Toronto. “It’s a means of expression and doesn’t compare to the economic and state violence we’re subjected to.”
    The “smashing that happened in Toronto,” he explained, was against symbols of capitalism.”


    As an alumni and former employee of U of Toronto I am less than sympathetic to the claims of the GSU executive that allowing the protesters to stay was an innocuous event. If they went to the trouble of getting names of their guests, they could surely have done a little googling afterwards and discovered that they were hosting an anarchist group. Bad research skills do not impress me.

  2. Compliments to the astute leader of a Toronto bike group. He culled anyone who was wearing a mask. Shame on others who openly allowed criminals to infiltrate their ranks – hiding behind a cowardly sham of plausible deniabilety. Shame on the so called “peace activists” passively watched others go on an orgy of destruction, in some instances encouraging them with cheers while taunting the police. This is nothing more than violence tourism, a selfish personal reality experience completely lacking in any moral fibre. A true peace activist would not tolerate violence of any sort. Compliments to those who captured criminals “in the act” on film and will pass this evidence on to police. At Vancouver Olympics bloc bloc showed up and the crowd turned on them. What happened in Toronto? See for yourself.


  3. Okay, one further time here.

    When police themselves are unwilling to act in units of less than eight members, heavily armed and armoured as they are, it’s simply unreasonable to expect individual citizens to intervene. In an instance such as the organized bike rally, the leaders of the rally did indeed have the opportunity to proactively identify potentially violent outsiders. They did so and I applaud them for it also. But you can’t put that obligation on all peaceful protesters in all situations. It’s simply unreasonable, and demands more of unarmed citizens than police are themselves willing to do.

    Again and again, I can only return to this point, when police disperse and disrupt organized, peaceful groups who are attempting to protest responsibly they actually increase the potential for violence. Imagine yourself on the street with 20 real life friends who you know and trust. When stuff happens you have the courage to intervene, knowing the people around you. You can also identify outsiders. Now imagine that group dispersed, and you’re alone in a group of people you don’t know. They may be friends and allies – hopefully. You can’t count on their help if you get in a violent altercation. Worst case scenario, they support violence themselves and might even turn on you.

    It’s fine to applaud those who took steps to reduce violence, as independent and responsible citizens. But please, stop blinding yourself to the ways in which police actions actually limited opportunities to do so. And stop placing demands on people who simply want to express themselves that they take personal risks to restrain violence or else become complicit in it. It’s only another backhanded way to dismiss those with a peaceful message, which indirectly allows those who are violent to dominate the entire dialogue. If that’s all you can obsess about, you’re giving them what they want just as much as anyone else.


    Last weekend the G20 and protesters accomplished much more than one could ever imagine globally. It now can be said that one of the most peaceful cities in North America, Toronto aka “Hogtown,” can RIOT! With the overwhelming magnitude of the Police Riot Squad (1000’s) in control; a handful of goons, not protesters, can willfully damage property without physically hurting one person or getting busted! Can any other global community claim fame to that one? 3 CHEERS!!!

    Police claim to have done a bang up job and we all thank them from the depths of our pockets. There’s no if and or buts about it; the authorities, right under everyone’s noses, refused to stop the rioters. The police while ignoring everyone else’s rights and freedoms, to the point of actually drawing blood from peaceful protesters, managed to somehow maintained a major role in the overall offensive coming out unscathed with impunity? As our leaders pat you on the backs for a job well done and sticking their noses up at the people we applaud with acceptance. 3 CHEERS!!!

    Meanwhile… PM Harper, in his concluding speech to the world at the G20 summit told viewers that Canada’s sovereignty is finished. Again… 3 CHEERS!!!

    My question is… who, as in what splinter group, not excluding his reference to the G8 as like minded democratic allies in health, drugs, war, policies etc.; ordered Harper to dismantle “Canada” (famously known as a global peace keeping nation) and for what purpose? I hear the Queen’s in the area and Canada is Crown property. What a chunk of real estate! 3 CHEERS FOR THE QUEEN!!!

    For the small sum of $1.2 billion (Can), our fearless leader bought into a perpetual global dictatorship. We are a proud and thankful people and will now happily bow to no recourse or protection what so ever. 3 CHEERS!!!

    Happy Canada Day… ops correction! Let’s be politically correct and keep with the times. It will written that on July 1st 2010 Canada became the New World Order’s “First District” surpassing all expectations and tests; a guiding light for others to follow. Let me be the first. A toast; HAPPY NEW WORLD ORDER DAY EVERYBODY!!! One more time… 3 CHEERS!!!

  5. Is that the same Daniel Vandervoort who co-hosted a Ryerson radio chat about “Echo of Freedom, Radical Podcast: 67 – Is It OK to Kill Cops?” Would that be him?

  6. Thank your for your post Sam!

    It helps me understand additionally what a challenge the police had. The U of T student newspaper “The Varsity” seems to confirm that the Anti-Capitalist Convergence group was housed at U of T, and some U of T grad students are clearly not happy about this.


    I value the freedoms of expression and assembly that we enjoy in Canada! I also value the balance that our law gives, which trumps these freedoms when threats to peace, safety, life and property arise.

    Angus Reid poll says 73% of Torontonians and 2/3rds of Canadians believe police treatment of protesters was justified during the G20 summit..

    81% of Torontonians were disgusted with the protests, 74% are angry, 65% are sad and 61% feel ashamed.


    There appeared to be a lack of a coherent peaceful message in these protests. There appeared to be swarms of gawkers. We saw too many seemingly foolish people taking pictures and taunting the police, seeing how far they could push the police, and then apparently complaining about human rights violations if they got a scratch or no more than cheese sandwiches, and water during their brief detention. When one young clearly well fed female interviewed by CTV after her very brief detention complained about getting “fed only twice” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because in the exact same period of time, in the comfort of my home, I had fed myself only once. What a sense of spoiled entitlement.

    No one was killed or seriously injured. That’s truly remarkable. In many countries, protests result in live ammunition, death or lengthy imprisonments. Remember China? The man who stood in front of the communist tank in Tiananmen Square cannot be found.

    Jeff, I think your definition of “peaceful” protest might be different from mine and it’s on this point that your argument looses much of it’s strength.

    For example, I think you described the group that you were part of as:
    A) “ non-violent and as peaceful as any action on the streets could be.”

    Yet you also used these words to describe what was apparently the same group . . .
    B) “we were making a lot of noise, and it was 1 am.” . . . a few of the protesters began “to move aggressively towards the police,” there was some “taunting the police” . . . you sought to be where “the action” was” . . . the nearby media were “sensing blood,” . . . they were “just hoping for some tear gas and would love nothing more than to see me get clubbed on the head” . . . the police had issued a “final ultimatum,” and you said that “police were insisting that we leave.”

    Jeff, A) does not equal B).

    The police were practically begging people not to come to a difficult area of the city. That you were all able to depart this scene in the middle of the night suggests to me that the police, in your situation, showed remarkable restraint. And out of that, you encouraged more people to come into the city.

    Your article above suggests that an arm of a publicly funded institution (U of T) may have been used to house individuals with criminal intent. My public tax dollars at work! I hope you follow up on this. This ultra-left Anti-Capitalist Convergence group is one of the forces behind yesterday’s protest in Montreal.

    I find it galling that some protesters who did damage in Toronto and hid criminals, tarnishing all protesters, are still trying to protest and win over public opinion.

    I also find it concerning that the public may have been misled or given incomplete information by Toronto Police leadership about the law. It’s essential to be truthful and transparent with the public about the law. We’ll see how this part of the story plays out.

  7. You know, Bob, I’ve done my best to engage with you, but if at this stage you are reduced to culling three word phrases from a piece I took pains to write carefully then I’m through.

    What bothers me most about recent events in Toronto isn’t the people who disagree with me. There are any number of lessons to learn from this and all of them are important. What bothers me most is the people who insist on reducing the situation to either “police good / protesters bad” OR “police bad / protesters good” arguments. Either approach denies all nuance to the situation. Either approach contributes to the likelihood it will happen again.

    You might want to consider how much dialogue you’ve ever successfully had with someone who waits for the first two or three words they can jump on, out of a coherent argument, and ignores everything else you have to say. Then you might want to consider just how much this situation really demands an effort from every side to understand one another. And then, quite frankly, you should ask if you haven’t become part of the problem yourself. Because you seem awfully good at pointing fingers, so perhaps a little self-examination is in order as well.