I can still remember, as an undergrad, the debate at York University about the War Measures Act in 1972. That will give you some idea of my age and that I am not a black-shirted anarchist. I was very disappointed that the University of Toronto closed the university and with it, a chance for intelligent debate on the G20. So, in the spirit of bearing witness, my wife and I took our cameras and joined the demonstration march at Queen’s Park at 1 pm Saturday. We walked down University Ave and along Queen West but were stopped from moving south of Queen.
All along the way, the police did a good job of keeping order and allowing people to express their concerns – although at the US consulate they brought out the riot police after most of the parade had passed. Toronto police, with nothing between us and them but their bikes, were doing a fine job of steering the parade around the consulate, so I’m not sure what the point of the riot squad was.
But it was at Queen Street that things changed and from what I witnessed, it was the police who changed it.
After the parade had more or less left the area, we saw the police block off a section of Queen Street around Peter St. They drove 2 police cars into the area and then left them in the road, next to people on the street with their windows open and gear on the front seat (see the attached photo through the window of the police car: 26-06-10_1550.jpg). The police left the area, but they left both cars behind, windows open and unattended. We thought this was very strange, given their public statements of concern about vandalism.
At this time I saw perhaps three broken windows on store fronts along Queen Street. We left the area for a while to walk along the perimeter of the security fence (it was easy to get to and there were no demonstrators). It was very peaceful and we joked with police inside the fence.
Coming back up Spadina, about 6:25 pm we saw smoke coming up from Queen Street just east of Spadina. We went, along with a number of others, to see what the smoke was all about. Again we saw no, or very few black-hooded demonstrators, in fact most of the demonstrators had dispersed and, from the film we took, most of the people seemed to be ordinary citizens, many residents in the area, taking pictures with their cell phones.
Aq couple of minutes after we got there, we saw that it was one of the police cars the police had abandoned earlier that was on fire. The fire department had the situation well in hand and were putting out the fire. Again, Toronto police had formed a perimeter with their bikes and no one was getting in the way of officers or firemen doing their duty.
At about 6:35, a phalanx of riot squad officers marched up Queen from Spadina, which everyone thought was rather silly, given there was no trouble. About 6:45 the riot police (mostly OPP officers) backed us all back to the east side of the intersection of Queen and Spadina. No one resisted or even objected, until they began to push us into the intersection and into northbound traffic. (See attached photo, taken from the video tape I took).
Once they had done that, they began to threatened citizens with arrest if we didn’t get off the road they had pushed us into. They pushed the crowd (which was not large compared to earlier in the day) right through the intersection and then blocked the intersection. I thought they might be clearing it for emergency vehicles, but none came out of Queen that way.
Finally, after making everyone angry, the police left the intersection and Queen Street. They again left the second police car behind. Shortly after that, just after 7:50 pm, we saw smoke billowing up from the second police car. Small explosions erupted from the car and the flames were very high, threatening nearby property. Again, we wondered why the police had abandoned their squad cars in an area where they must have known some people would be tempted to destroy them.
This time, no fire trucks came. The mood of the crowd was not one that would lead me to believe that anyone would have interfered if fire trucks arrived. However, the riot squad came back up Spadina Ave from south of Queen Street. They cleared the intersection again and made several bluff runs at people there. However, we saw no fire trucks come and it appeared as though the police were letting their car burn out of control.
We left the area not long after being cleared north of the intersection of Spadina and Queen along with some other folk who told us they too were very puzzled by the actions of police. I heard more than one person comment that the police seemed to be more interested in pushing people around than in dealing with public safety matters. Indeed the whole Queen St. operation had the air of something planned, and we could not escape the feeing that the police wanted the cars burned so they could justify further action, including, at about 8:30 pm, clearing Queen’s Park (the area designated as the official protest zone) of people who had gathered there.
Now there may well have been vandalism by black sweat-shirted teenagers elsewhere, but on Queen Street, on the evening of June 26 all the dangerous provocation I saw came from riot-suited police men and women. And it wasn’t necessary.