“You should have left when you had a chance”: a first-person account of being detained at Queen and Spadina
A couple hours into our detainment at Queen and Spadina on Sunday, soaked and shivering, her press accreditation around her neck, my companion asked one of the riot police for any scrap of information he could tell us. “Please tell us what’s happening. Is there any way at all we can leave?”
“You should have left when you had a chance,” he said.
But we never had a chance: there was no loudspeaker announcement of what was to come and no indication of what the police wanted when they corralled us into the intersection. At most of the weekend’s G20 protests, the media and gawkers could stand on the edges, avoiding the confrontation. This time, we were all surrounded.
One moment, it was a few hundred relatively sedate people—Sunday afternoon Queen West people—some with protest signs and others with shopping bags, milling about the intersection being watched over by a row of Toronto’s finest. Then the troops arrived. About eight vans’ worth of riot police marched north on Spadina toward Queen. An armoured vehicle drove up with a gunman on top, barrel pointed at us.
The teenager beside me, wearing new sneakers and a carefully maintained afro, said to his friend, “Oh shit, is that riot heading for us?”
That was the confused sentiment of about half the people trying to peer past the police line: “Where’s the riot? Whoa, look how big those guns are. Are those horse trailers? I want to see a horse!”
Everyone had some sort of camera. As the riot police got into position, some dudes behind me yelled, “Yo, bro, move over. You’re ruining our shot.”
Then we heard marching coming down Queen from the east, and people started to panic:
“There’s nowhere to go.”
“North,” said a photographer behind me.
“No, they’ve set up there, too.”
“Yeah, right. Then how are we supposed to get out?” said the teens.
“Move, move, move,” the riot police started chanting as they slowly tightened around us, banging their batons on their shields. Suddenly they charged, pushing people up against the McDonald’s and cleaving the group in two. The other smaller group was getting squeezed like a hay bale.
“Where are we supposed to go?” people yelled. Police videographers circled us, taking video of our anxious faces. Then they started the arrests. A small phalanx of officers would burst through, grab someone, usually a young man, and drag him behind the line where, face to the ground, his hands were zip-strapped. Their friends screamed. This continued for hours.
It started raining. Thunder cracked. There were only a few umbrellas to go around. I leaned over my camera bag to keep it dry. The water in the street started rising; my shoes were quickly drenched, and trash was flowing by my feet. I noticed this because I was still huddled over my waterlogged bag, the water flowing into my mouth and my eyes. A York Region officer approached me and asked if I was OK. I said I was protecting my camera, and he left. Moments later, the police let out a man who needed an insulin shot.
The cops did another regular shift change. People applauded. “See you later,” someone yelled.
After about three hours or so, the rain let up, and the wind got colder. My cellphone started vibrating erratically from waterlogged circuits. A rumour went around that we would be tear-gassed and sound-cannoned. Others said cops had told them we were all just waiting to be arrested and strip searched. “Anything to get out of these clothes,” I thought. Another detainee asked if anyone wanted cookies. As he rooted through his backpack, a cop raised his rifle until the barrel was pointed right at the man’s head.
Best. Cookie. Ever.
People shook uncontrollably. I lost feeling in my hands. A guy who claimed to be downtown buying a soccer jersey told me, “Argentina is amazing, but Germany is gonna win it for sure!” Toward 10 p.m., chartered TTC buses started arriving. An officer started yelling at the crowd, “Wouldn’t you like to go on a bus and get out of the rain?” Some people cheered. “Don’t fucking cheer,” said the soccer fan quietly.
As people were being cuffed and put on the buses, an older officer came up to us. “Would you like to leave?” “Uh, yeah,” we told him. Then he yelled to the crowd, “Start walking and go directly to your destination,” and, just like that, the police line opened up, and we started walking stiffly north on Spadina. People started power walking, as if maybe the police would change their minds—some cried.
I looked for an alley to pee in.