“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.
22 thoughts on ““You should have left when you had a chance”: a first-person account of being detained at Queen and Spadina”
That intersection was open to the north for 30 – 45 minutes after protesters took it over. There was plenty of chance to leave before police arrived and blocked it from the north. Don’t assume that police will give you warning notice to shoo you out of somewhere you weren’t supposed to be in the first place.
“…you weren’t supposed to be in the first place”?
So now I need the police state and/or the government to tell me where I should and shouldn’t be. I’m sure you will be the first to board the trains to the death camps when the nice policemen tell you to. The Right of Assembly is guaranteed in the Charter and I will NOT be told when and where I cannot assemble in public. This was a public street! Should I have stayed home and cowered in front of my computer? I think you probably had that covered.
Who said we were not supposed to be there? I live up the street and was creating no trouble. We did not take over anything, we were marching along peacefully and we were stopped at that intersection. They had also stopped us at University and then let us continue after about 10 minutes, we were waiting for the same thing.
We are allowed to peacefully assemble, it is a fundamental right in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You obviously don’t know your rights. Sad you claim to be cultured.
I agree that the Media should have been spared. I do agree with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, you have the right to protest. Unfortunately, some group takes advantage of this charter to commit crime and no pay the time.
The cops were criticized for not doing enough on Saturday. People living and working downtown received warning to avoid those streets during the G20. (funny some people asked to have Friday off due to potential chaos, but shows up on site on Saturday and Sunday). If you choose to be there despite all the warnings pre and during the G20 in all media, then you have to accept the risk and not be a cry baby. If those people stayed home, maybe the cops could have done a better job.
What a lovely piece of writing.
If youre going to choose to be in a place where there are protesters at an event like this where a large deal of destruction has been done you can not complain about being detained. You made the choice to be there. I chose to avoid all areas with protesters and I had a great weekend! I think the police did a great job protecting our city. I do not feel my rights have been violated one bit!
It seems that your peers who chose violent protest are the ones to blame for the police having to act. I’m 100% for protesting and the right to do so but once cars were burned and windows smashed the police had to act.
People not police ruined it for you!
So one should assume it’s perfectly acceptable for riot police to smack an unarmed, nonviolent man in the forehead with a heavy riot shield, causing a blood-dripping gash, after hearding people like cattle, simply because they were at an intersection, a place where the police designated they should not have been at a certain time? Why didn’t the police even make an attempt to stop the PROPERTY destruction of mostly, if not all, targetd corporate buildings such as Starbucks, Subway, the Banks, etc., and the destruction of police cars downtown on Saturday? At least an hour and a half passed, before the police “acted.” Could it be, because they needed to justify the huge expense of the security/police industrial complex? Could it be, that they needed to, at the least, allow the aforementioned property desctruction to happen?
The only riots that occured throughout Toronto G8/G20 were the police and ISU rioting against unarmed peaceful protesters & organizers, independent media, bystanders, and gawkers. The government is mass media’s pimp. So they relayed the destruction of a few windows and cop cars, over and over on the propaganda networks, and somehow that justified the very violent surpression, and the malicious tactics the police used on PEOPLE throughout Saturday noon through Sunday evening (not to mention the climate of intimidation that was generated leading up to and throughout the summit). The billion +$ was spent on supressing dissidence of the G8/G20 and the global agenda of these so-called leaders, and banksters, not on public security, not on protecting the rights of citizens. If you didn’t feel that your rights, or the rights of your fellow citizens and human beings were violated throughout the weekend, you are an ideal productive consuming citizen for the state, and either pathetically misinformed or misguided, or perhaps a bit of both; then again, apathy leads to complicity. The police serve and protect the state, and corporations, not people. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely; Support our police, Support our troops? How about, Support our Activists! Is one to believe that police, like soldiers, serve the function to protect the rights and freedoms of the citizenry, when those rights and freedoms were fought and won by organized poltical and social activism, by the people, over years of selfless sacrifice and hardships, by the people whom were not afraid in the face of brute force, because they faced that brute force in solidarity, even if that meant bodily arrest, injury or death, by the people whom were not afraid to question and even denounce the legitimacy of institutions, be it a government, a bank, or slavery. The people who stood up, marched and demonstrated, as they did this past weekend; that has been, and always will be, the type of movement which has brought about all civil liberties, all inalienable rights, the sort of movement that has defended the oppressed, the poor, and working class, and has ensured that justice, in one forum or another, is carried to fruition.
I would appreciate this article a little more if you hadn’t already posted a photo essay on “hot cops”
Greg, I can see where you’re coming from, but it seems to me that you’re painting all cops with the brush. Which is exactly what some cops did with protesters. Why can’t we see both sides of things? Why does everything have to be humourless? It doesn’t take away from the seriousness of one matter to have levity with another.
It is unforgivable the way the police acted here. The comments being made here that somehow these people deserved this treatment is almost as bad.
Perhaps the treatment for the majority of these ‘protesters’ was unreasonable, however after the actions of others during this summit, the reaction of the police should have been expected and understandable.
Also, if these people can make such a fuss over the G20 summit, and the reaction of police to this standoff, why don’t they put these energies into something that would make a REAL change.
I’m not going to argue for the police OR the protesters, and I’m not even going to touch on the politics side. I wasn’t there; I don’t know the details, only what was on the news (don’t burn me for that, I don’t live anywhere near Toronto, thankfully). However, I will say that anyone that argues one side alone is blind. The protesters were in all likely hood peaceful and had full intentions of being so; of that I have no doubt. You also have to remember that the mob mentality is a crazy thing. This is exactly why the police have procedures in place (and probably doubly so because this was likely expected) to deal with this. You don’t send a few police officers in to a crowd to deal with a few looters or car burners. They’d get lynched. If you’re going to go in (and you have to when it’s gotten that bad) you go in hard and heavy. This is the only way to ensure the safety of the officers. The intent of their existence is the protect the general masses. They may have gotten a little crazy in some situations, but caution is the name of the game in these situations. Did they violate anyone’s rights? I don’t do politics, that’s for you to decide. Protesters have their place in society, so do the police. It is inevitable that they will clash, and the cops usually carry bigger sticks. Bottom line? Don’t think that the cops were out there just to beat you down. In my opinion.
Nik’s comment is one of the most reasonable and mature ones I’ve heard about the G20 protests.
Jonney? Thanks for putting me to sleep with your anti-capitalist tirade. I will say this: you did not sound peaceful at all when you addressed the cops, but then how could anyone possibly manage to say “asshole” in a peaceful manner?
Shame on those who claim their rights are violated without first looking to see if they have fulfilled their duties as citizens. You have the right to peacefully protest but if you become part of an angry mob that is destroying good citizen’s property then you have a duty recognise it. There was plenty of warning that this was not a place for peaceful protesters. If you were there, the police fulfilled their duty in detaining you and cleaning up the mess. The cost of your rights is pretty minimal compared to the Great Generations that fought wars for you.
I find it interesting that all of the ‘pro Public Service violence’ posters seem to feel its the job of *other demonstrators* to **police** their own community.
Funny, I thought we paid cops for that.
No, apparently, we’re supposed to not demonstrate & if we do, be prepared for a beating if *somebody else, somewhere else acts criminally*.
If we see something, we can’t alert the police who will arrest us for talking to them, instead, we should engage in vigilantism.
Way to go: can you find a more moronic solution?
I also find it interesting that if one of these ‘we don’t believe in public demonstrations’ folks were in the abused crowd of **peaceful** diverse peoples expressing their widely diverse views on any number of topics
…& caught a baton or teargas from a cop who had been *completely absent* from the actual Black Bloc (you know, the one that court documents have demonstrated the police already infiltrated) actions…
they’d be screaming bloody murder about how they were abused.
These folks *were not there*, *don’t want to hear anything about the facts from people who were*, but have absolutely no interest in letting facts get in the way of their calcified *opinions*.
Well, I guess ‘Fox News North’ will find fertile ground in a well-primed Canadian political landscape.
Apparently, Canadians are incapable of observational learning.
We only learn with a high-fructose corn syrup Monsanto carrot & WHINSEC-inspired ‘Miami Method’ baton.
I’m sorry, while I support the right of people to gather peacefully and spread a message, anyone who chose on Sunday, after the events of Saturday, to demonstrate ANYWHERE other than Queen’s Park, lacks common sense and was asking for trouble. If they had any interest at all in being peaceful and spreading a message, rather than just being a pain in the ass and getting in trouble, you would have chosen to demonstrate at Queen’s Park. These are lessons that 5 year-olds could teach. These “adult” protestors made decisions and suffered the consequences. Unfortunately, the consequence here was an altercation with police that would likely have been completely avoidable by simply following the very reasonable rules intended to ensure the safety of both person and property. Show respect for the process and it will show respect for you. I note that the above story does not report what the message was these protesters were spreading. Um, what was so important that they had to “protest” it at Queen and Spadina? Let me guess, they were there just so that they could “peacefully protest”. So they CHOSE to antagonize the police. There were other options but these people chose to be rebellious just for the sake of being rebellious. Make your bed, lie in it.
This article is written by a reporter who unfortunately was caught in the mess; a known and predictable side-effect of the job. Not saying that I would have wanted to be in his/her shoes and it sounds like it was horrible, but that is how he/she got his story!
I’m tired of this G20 crap. Let’s move on, shall we?
So, you were sleep-typing then? Seriously, you were and still are already asleep. You must have divine wisdom as to how everyone was addressing the police and what, if anything, they were chanting or yelling, or whatever the situation was everywhere throughout the protests of the illegitimate summit. So, according to your logic, or rather illogic, some obscenties from a few, justifies violent police agression against the many. I will say, that’s a very brutish sentiment.
Anti-capitalist tirade? Perhaps so. Then again, capitalism is a system of highly concentrated economies based on the exploitation of people and the earth. Something tells me, you enjoy the destruction and explotation of people and the earth. Don’t worry, you are not alone. There are many sheeple like you. Now go back to sheep. I mean sleep.
Human rights violated. I live at Queen Spadina and am allowed to walk freely at ANY time I want to -to go about my daily life. I pay to live here and paid for the cops salaries. Boo to the comments above that deny human rights.
Agree completely with you, David. The streets of Toronto belong to the people, not to violent criminals or to police. Some people just prefer to sacrafice liberty to ensure order, which is a slippery slope, if you ask me.
Oh, and “sk”, the riot police stormed Queen’s Park on Saturday (the so-called “safe zone”). So, gimme a break, it clearly wasn’t the designated worry-free zone it claimed to be. Also, the bike rally wound through the city all morning without a problem. I don’t see how that is different from these people wanting to march.
Everyone’s got their good points: the result of a still-robust democracy we have the fortune of enjoying.
Here: for those who were genuinely just passing thru at any place and exact moment the police started to box folks in, I really feel bad for you. Life isn’t fair, and you’re the sad tiny minority at the wrong place, wrong time. It happens. To me, too.
But for the benevolent folks who say we have rights to be at public places: everything in our legal/rights system has 2 words attached–WITHIN REASON.
When the authorities/gov’t need to use tougher-than-usual measures to respond to Saturday, it’s hard to argue for complete respect of unadulterated rights. The right to go gawk at the action and capture amateur iPhone videos doesn’t fly here. Nor is the idea of “I didn’t do nuthin wrong”. The police don’t know that, and can’t easily separate you from the “baddies”, unless you wore a 3 piece suit that day. Just to be safe, they’ll detain you a bit.
If you’re a protester, fine, you have a reason to be there. If not, ask yourself this: why risk the hassle of tangling with hot, wet, tired, possibly annoyed riot cops, and where you’d end up on the losing end for a couple of hours in nasty steel cages? So many street corners, why choose this one on a chaotic day?
For your rights to be somewhat trampled for 3 days, and really, just ONE day because of the expected clampdown after the Saturday monster-mash…isn’t really a “collapse” of our wonderful free society.
And it won’t be a “slippery” slope into police statism, since so many folks are screaming police tyranny. It’ll be kept in check.
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