At an Undisclosed Location

Laird Barrett · The G20 Protests

I live two blocks away from the temporary detention centre that the Integrated Security Unit has set up on the east side of Toronto for the G20 summit. It’s normally a film studio, but is now fortified with an additional security fence and guarded by police officers. You can see it in this video, made by an alternative media group last Thursday, two days before the summit began. The journalists are approached by two plain-clothes police officers who take their details and then refer them to a police spokesman who insists that the detention centre is at an undisclosed location while gesturing towards the film studio.

There wasn’t much action in this area of Toronto on Saturday as the world leaders were arriving. The protests were taking place downtown. After demonstrators were turned back from the security fence around the G20 site, police cars were set on fire and shop windows smashed. Government officials and the media agreed however that the majority of protesters were peaceful and that the destruction was being caused by ‘anarchic elements’ using ‘black bloc’ tactics.

By Sunday morning more than 500 people had been arrested and were being processed through the detention centre. A group of protesters had arrived to chant outside. I was watching the England-Germany game when I heard shots being fired. I turned on the radio: a frantic CBC reporter on the move from the scene was abruptly cut away from for a scheduled programme about the idylls of small-town Canada.

I went out to see what was going on. Riot police had driven the protesters up a side street away from the detention centre. The demonstrators had spilled out at the intersection at the top of the street where the riot police now stood three-deep. Police cars and paddy vans lurked around corners.

The locals meanwhile went on about their business, walking their dogs or doing their Sunday shopping. A coffee shop terrace fifteen feet from the riot police was full of people, who only occasionally glanced up from their books or conversations.

What I had failed to see for myself I saw later on the internet and TV. Images of the police using muzzle blasts to disperse the protesters – the shots that I had heard earlier – were quickly up on local news websites. There was footage of riot police charging and trampling a group of demonstrators singing the national anthem. The protest ended with the kettling of hundreds of people, protesters but also passers-by, for three hours in the rain while police pulled out, photographed and arrested people one by one. Several people said they had tried to explain that they were simply out for dinner or had been waiting for a streetcar, only to be met with stony silence. At 9.45 p.m., as media and online pressure mounted, the police stood down and people walked or ran away.

The total number of arrests stands at over 850. At least 150 people are still in custody at the detention centre this morning. The protests are scheduled to continue today, even though most of the G20 leaders left yesterday evening. Toronto’s police chief is expecting further arrests.


  • 28 June 2010 at 9:37pm
    grubbybest says:
    Only when the G20 operatives are referred to as G20 masters and not as G20 leaders will the credibility of the reports be considered.

  • 29 June 2010 at 12:22am
    olorac says:
    An interesting reminder of the plight of the "innocent bystander" and an example of how the police now regard all of us as potential terrorists. Disappointing that the CBC did not find this newsworthy.

  • 29 June 2010 at 6:50am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Years of propaganda are having their effect. The authorities are forced into using their vast reserves of police in order to prove that the state is in danger from 200 anarchists singing in the street. Many more would join in if there was not the danger of being kettled for hours in the sun or the rain and being traeted as a violent criminal. Tactics of the protesters need to be reconsidered.

  • 29 June 2010 at 11:04am
    Joe Morison says:
    It's a grim prospect because even the most benign forms of protest will get someone labelled a 'domestic extremist'
    and it's very scary to think what one day the state might do with that label.
    Money has been poured into a security system which has to justify itself; when, after 9/11, Blair proudly said "We asked the police what they wanted, and we gave it to them", my heart sank with shame and i remembered Willy Whitelaw as quoted by Simon Jenkins: 'He boasted how after any security lapse, the police would come to beg for new and draconian powers. He laughed and sent them packing, saying only a bunch of softies would erode British liberty to give themselves an easier job. He said they laughed in return and remarked that "it was worth a try"'. Most politicians, in contrast, are so enthralled by power that anything that enhance's the state's is almost by definition a good thing. The Lib-Con's are making good noises but i doubt it will come to much, but still i think it's only throu' the ballot box that we can bring about change; but with Murdoch and co. constantly feeding the fear, there doesn't seem much hope of that.

    • 29 June 2010 at 5:00pm
      Laird Barrett says: @ Joe Morison
      I agree that the labeling of peaceful protesters and bystanders as threats to security is very frightening. The Integrated Security Unit in Toronto did exactly this during the G20.

      The police defended their three-hour kettling of hundreds of people at the Queen and Spadina intersection by claiming that a few individuals wearing masks and carrying weapons had been identified in the area, that those individuals were using crowds as cover. When questioned by reporters why the individuals with masks and weapons were not simply identified and removed from the crowd, the police spokesman said that they were, but that those in the vicinity were complicit by not “actively disassociating” themselves. What this would involve, particularly for those waiting for a streetcar or passing by was not elaborated upon, although apparently approaching officers in the closing cordon to explain why you were there was insufficient.

      People were charged with “disturbing the public peace” for not “actively disassociating” themselves. The police have refused to apologize for their actions at Queen and Spadina. They suggest that those with complaints should file them individually with the department. The city’s political leadership has strongly commend the police actions.

    • 29 June 2010 at 5:07pm
      Laird Barrett says: @ Laird Barrett
      Excuse me: "...commended the police actions."

    • 29 June 2010 at 6:26pm
      CGlass says: @ Laird Barrett
      There was at least one credible suggestion that the reason for the prolonged kettling was so police could use facial recognition technology to find protesters who had may have previously been violent. Sounds a bit 'Gattaca', true. Couple that with reports from the protesters and 'innocent bystanders' that they were lined up and filmed for several seconds, followed by comments from police to the effect 'No, that's not one we're looking for', and the whole thing gets a bit more scary.

      If that was happening, one wonders what are they doing with that information now that the summit is over - how long are they allowed to keep it under law? Will it be destroyed relatively soon, much like the information the police collected in conjunction with issuing ID to those residents in the fenced zone? Or could it be saved for an undefined amount of time - the basis of a somewhat permanent database of dissenters, gawkers and people waiting for a streetcar? Given that most of those kettled were not arrested and merely 'unofficially detained', it could be further problematic that individuals were given no information as to reasons they were being filmed, and no permission of any sort was sought. I hope that in the coming days we will receive further information on this, but given the silence and evasion of authorities in the last 48 hours, that would be unduly optimistic.

  • 29 June 2010 at 1:31pm
    CGlass says:
    It's hardly novel to talk about the internet as a democratic medium; however, I do think events like this underscore the point. Searching the G20 hashtag, I began to follow coverage of the protest and police reaction on Twitter from the point the violence began on Saturday afternoon - before any mainstream media source had picked the story up - to long after major media outlets had dropped it for shows about 'the idylls of small-town Canada' (or in the case of CNN, Larry King interviewing Lady Gaga).

    In not unrelated news, as of this morning, the G20 Detention Centre had 30 unique check-ins on foursquare, along with predictable complaints about service. Incidentally, if you're looking for a decent place to eat in Leslieville, I suggest Table 17. The food and service are great and, apparently unlike the Detention Centre, the ladies' has a door.

    • 29 June 2010 at 5:06pm
      Laird Barrett says: @ CGlass
      The "did this... Try to avoid going here. Not the best service and the clientele are all hooligans!" comment about the G20 detention centre on fourquare is outstanding.

      Warming to see humour amongst those that were arrested.

  • 30 June 2010 at 9:31am
    Joe Morison says:
    The depressing politics of this is exemplified in Labour's response to Ken Clark's admirable desire to move this country away from its US style obsession with punishment: "Soft on crime!" the shout goes up. The same will happen when the next terrorist attack in this country is successful: "We told you so, the so called 'liberties' they have returned to you were really the liberty of terrorists to kill us". The red tops will back them and the government will have almost no option if it wants to survive.

    Truly, the security apparatus and the movement that inspires terrorists are symbiotically linked. It is only brave and principled politicians who can operate the control which stops that mutual growth - and where are they?
    Of course, there are forces that want to kill or enslave us, and we need our (on the whole) brave and dedicated security personnel to stop them: it's the intoxication of power that seems to fill most politicians that makes them so contemptuous of the citizens that they are there to serve, and which allows malign security practice to abuse us feed the resentment of those liable to attack us.

  • 3 July 2010 at 6:57pm
    Laird Barrett says:
    Video from within the police cordon at the Queen and Spadina intersection during the G20:

    Photos from inside the temporary detention centre:

  • 9 July 2010 at 5:44pm
    aaitken says:
    Dear LJAB, a colleague has drafted a letter/petition “condemning the G20 policing as an attack not only on civil liberties (an attack that particularly targeted young people, queer and youth of colour), but also on our larger project of civic education”.
    While it is directed at educators, I think it will interest readers as it addresses the issue of the “criminalization of witnessing”. I appreciate your own witnessing.

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