Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canada Day 2010

I would like to wish my fellow Canadians a Happy Canada Day, but unfortunately I am not in a celebratory mood, the events of last weekend in Toronto still weighing very heavily on my mind. I was listening to some of the spin being offered by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair yesterday on CFRB as he was being interviewed by the host, failed politician John Tory. Mr. Tory presented him with questions that, on one level seemed reasonable enough, but upon hearing Bill Blair's responses, I realized were only props to offer the Chief a platform from which he uttered his too pat explanations for the actions of his police as well as his failure to inform the public of the 'fact' that the sweeping powers he allegedly requested months earlier from the MCGuinty Government did not exist. (The latter was explained by telling the audience that he was too busy with protesters to set the record straight.)

As well, interestingly enough, at least in the 45 minutes of the show I heard, no mention was made of the failure of the McGuinty Government to inform the public of the 'truth' about the 5 metre rule.

Incidently, it is now Day 6 since Premiere McGuinty has been heard from, apparently in too many meetings to be able to spend a moment to address some very troubling questions. Or is he hoping that the public has an extraordinarily short attention span and that all will be forgotten by next week?

This morning I read the Globe and Mail's Facts and Arguments page, which offers an eyewitness account of the police storming the peaceful assembly of citizens outside of the detention centre where so many protesters, none of whom were Black Bloc anarchists as far as I know, were being held after having had their Charter Rights violated.

Here is the the essay:

Swept from a peaceful protest

It was like a Sunday school picnic outside the G20 detention centre. Then police officers stormed the crowd of protesters. There was smoke and sounds of shooting

Cinders McLeod

From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2010 6:05PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2010 6:27PM EDT

It was a slow start to the day. My teenaged son and daughter turned on the television to find that the number of G20 protest-related arrests had risen to 400 from 70 since the Saturday night before.

Craig Kielburger of Me to We and Free the Children fame was interviewing a young woman who was joining a march to the temporary detention centre in Toronto’s east end because her friend had been arrested the night before. My son Diarmid had wanted me to walk with him on Saturday, but it had been some time since I had marched.
I had gone on quite a few during the years I lived in London and Glasgow – including the infamous poll tax march of 1990. I still had my yellow “The Enemy Within” button from the Thatcher days. (My community took ironic possession of her insult). So I knew the spirit wasn’t completely lost. We had spent most of Saturday in front of the TV. Now Diarmid and Anya were asking me if we could join the group at the detention centre.

I had watched that centre grow over the past few months – watched them bring in the concrete ramparts and fencing and witnessed the growing police presence. It was a menacing landmark in my Toronto neighbourhood, and I didn’t feel good about it from the start. I didn’t feel good about the swell of arrests overnight. And I didn’t feel good about teaching my children that we should just sit and let the world be interpreted to us by TV. Did good citizens stay home and mimic the broadcasters or endeavour to find the truth out for themselves?

I thought since the detention centre was local and far away from the G20 security zone, it would be a gentle introduction into the peaceful art of protest. I cared for the community, I cared for the people who were unjustly detained and I cared that my children cared too.

So we got together a knapsack with water and cameras and walked the 15 minutes to the detention centre. My partner David was going to walk our puppy first, then join us.

It was warm and we were chatty as we walked to be part of something. When we arrived, we stood back from the small crowd. Some were sitting, some standing, all facing the police lined up in front of the detention centre. Some were singing, some chanting, some drawing birds in chalk on the pavement. There were young folk, folk my age, folk with dogs, folk with children on their shoulders, older folk and media.
I think there were three releases from the prison in the hour we were there. Every time someone was released, the crowd cheered and the media swarmed. It reminded me of the Sunday school picnic feeling that existed in Trafalgar Square before the horses stormed 20 years ago.

I should have listened to my parallel thinking, for with no warning, there was a sudden penetration and retreat in the crowd. The police had moved in for a couple of arrests.

I called Diarmid and Anya in closer. David was there now. He was our anchor as we moved in and out to take pictures. Tensions eased a little.

Then, without warning, police officers stormed the peaceful crowd, swinging their sticks and throwing people to the ground.

I saw Anya being pushed by one of the group of police. I screamed out her name. They threw the young man next to her to the ground. Diarmid ran toward the skirmish just as a kind boy pulled Anya out of the policemen’s path. She looked so thin and vulnerable and 14 in her short shorts beside the black, violent swarm.
The front line of protesters sat down again, hands held in the air in peace signs, chanting, “We are peaceful, how ’bout you.”

Someone called out to take care because a line of police officers was approaching from the other end of the street. I had just enough time to take in the notion that we were surrounded when a line of riot police moved in on the crowd. There was smoke and sounds of shooting. Diarmid and Anya ran to us and we all turned to run down a side alley. I felt a punch on my back and calmly thought, “Oh, that’s what a rubber bullet feels like.”

We found our way to the nearest street and headed for home. Diarmid and Anya walked side by side, all sibling rivalry forgotten. They now had a common enemy: injustice. They knew the police had a job to do, but what they had witnessed wasn’t it.

There were three haunting moments for me. One was seeing a young girl being slung to the ground and then forced, skinny limbs everywhere, into an unmarked police van. Another was seeing my daughter stand beside danger. That moment will never leave me. And the last was seeing people walking up the street, hands above their heads in surrender as if they had committed some terrible crime. Walking? Talking? Caring? We didn’t commit the criminal act, unless the laws have secretly changed overnight and the powers that be have neglected to inform us of those changes too.

Once home, we downloaded our photos, posted them online and listened to the news tell us what we knew not to be true (that there were no rubber bullets fired). Anya was on the phone to a local news station wanting to tell her story, but she never got through. I understand why it was so important to her, for the same reason I wrote this.

We tell our stories to regain our sense of self and our sense of our rights after they have been so brutally, and without warning, taken away from us. We tell them to protect the values we feel are Canadian. To serve and protect. Whom? What? O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. Tell me: Who are the guards of Canada?

Cinders McLeod is a design editor at The Globe and Mail and lives in Toronto.

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