New footage from Toronto G20 detention centre released

Four years later, those caught in mass arrests push for justice
Police club a crowd of activists during a protest at the G20 Summit in Toronto Saturday, June 26, 2010. Police violated civil rights, detained people illegally, and used excessive force during the G20 summit two years ago, a new report concludes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

During the G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010, more than 1,100 people were arrested—the largest mass arrest in Canadian history—and the city morphed into a mini police state, with more than 10,000 police officers brought in to quash dissent. It’s been four years since that tumultuous weekend, but it’s safe to say that people, albeit a small number, won’t be over it any time soon—and they shouldn’t be.

On Wednesday night, two dozen people who were detained that weekend gathered at a church on Charles Street to view newly unearthed security-camera footage from inside the makeshift detention centre at a film studio on Eastern Avenue that held nearly 900 detainees in 85 cages. This includes John Pruyn, an amputee and former Revenue Canada employee, now 61, who was attacked and had his prosthetic leg ripped off by police while he was sitting down at the “free speech zone” at Queen’s Park at the end of a protest march. He was held in one of those cages for almost 30 hours. This also includes Tommy Taylor, who was arrested near the Novotel hotel and thrown in a cage for 23 hours with up to 40 people at a time.

I, too, was arrested at the G20, but my story certainly pales in comparison. As a human-rights monitor during the summit for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, my job was to watch how police and protestors interacted. I was rounded up— or “kettled”—by police at Queen and Spadina and spent hours in the back of a court-services vehicle with several other women, and a 15-year-old girl who was out buying groceries. Luckily, I was released before being taken to the hellhole that was the Eastern Avenue detention centre. I sometimes tell the story at boring parties or when I’m asked to come up with something “interesting” about myself in a hurry, but, other than that, I don’t think about it much and it really hasn’t affected my life.

The same cannot be said for those who were reliving the hours, sometimes days, they spent in those cages with very little food and water, and portable toilets with the doors removed. We watched some of the 30 hours of footage obtained by street pastor and documentary filmmaker Doug Johnson Hatlem through a Freedom of Information request. He filed it on behalf of Gabriel Jacobs, a paraplegic panhandler who was dragged from his wheelchair by police, taken to the detention centre and left on the concrete floor of a cage to writhe in his own feces. Jacobs settled a human rights claim against the Toronto police for an undisclosed amount in 2012. This is the first time a large chunk of footage from inside the detention centre has been released; all that was publicly available before are a few still images and short video clips from court cases. One of the most disturbing parts of the footage is that it confirms security cameras were filming the rooms where people were strip-searched.

After watching the clips, which mostly just show Jacobs, since the request could only pertain to him, the group sat in a circle to discuss and decide what to do with the footage. Two designated “active listeners” were there for anyone who wanted to chat privately. “I still have nightmares about it every single night,” Pruyn said as he held back tears. He rested his left hand on his thin metal leg. Even though he also settled a human rights claim against the Toronto Police, the one thing he really wants is an apology. “Everyone knows how easily Canadians apologize,” he says, “but not in this case.” And Pruyn, whose daughter was also detained, isn’t going to rest until he gets one. The identities of the officers who beat him up are unknown, so, next May, Pruyn and his daughter will bike across Canada, from Victoria to St. John’s, N.L., going to police stations and MPs’ offices, making speeches and asking for an apology.

Pruyn says his brother always tells him he got what he deserved for going into Toronto that weekend, that it was his fault he got arrested and he should have stayed at home. Many Canadians who are sick of hearing and talking about the Toronto G20 share this sentiment. But the police tactics and violence displayed four years ago were an exaggeration of the worst of policing that is repeated across the country every day. It’s been almost one year since 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot and killed by the Toronto Police, and the 2012 student protests in Montreal were met with mass arrests, projectile launchers and rubber bullets. Francis Grenier lost the use of one eye from a stun grenade. As for the justice system, a new report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association finds that the number of “legally innocent” people held in pre-trial detention is at its highest level in Canadian history, despite the fact that our crime rate is the lowest it’s been since 1987. Between 2012 and 2013, there were about 25,000 people in detention on any given day.

We may not need to go door-to-door asking for forgiveness, but Canadians must keep demanding better from our police and justice systems, and this means remembering what happened at the G20.