Toronto Appeal: No More Police State Tactics!

by Judy Rebick
Below is a statement that you are being asked to sign. We believe it is urgent to get as many signatures on a call for a public inquiry. We believe it is possible to shift the terms to debate, and to shine a spotlight on the abusive police practices during the G8/G20. But we need your help to do that.

Please sign on and circulate the call widely to friends, colleagues, allies and networks who might be willing to sign.

Email with your name, affiliation and which category you prefer to be placed in (trade unionists, faculty, students, community activists, legal workers, teachers, cultural workers, arrested and detained)

+  + + + + + + + + + + + + +

The police response to the protests against the G8/G20 in Toronto was the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, surpassing the 1993 Clayoquot Sound logging blockade.

It constituted the most far-reaching single assault on political rights in the Canadian state since the War Measures Act of 1970.

This response fits the pattern of militarized policing at global summits, which consistently produce mass arrests. It also builds on long histories of police brutality in this city and across Canada, particularly aimed at people of colour, indigenous peoples, and poor communities. The use of these police state methods is increasing as the social divides produced by neoliberal policies deepen.

In Toronto, this ground was further prepared by extraordinary legislation passed in secret by the Ontario government that designated the G20 security zone as a “public work.” Police deliberately misled the public to believe that anyone appearing within five metres of the four mile long wall surrounding the G20 zone could be searched without warning and arrested for failing to state their purpose for being near the fence.

As part of the $1 billion security buildup, there was a massive police presence on the streets of Toronto, beginning days before the summit. Police stocked up on — and paraded before the media — weapons ranging from sound cannons that can cause permanent hearing loss, to water cannons, tear gas, riot gear, and other devices.

The police presence significantly increased at the Indigenous Solidarity rally on Thursday, June 24, where over 1,000 people gathered to protest the G20 and its entrenchment of global racist colonization. On Friday, June 25, security tactics were further escalated in response to the large community rally. A large section of downtown Toronto streets was taken over by police in riot gear, in parked vans and buses, in buildings and helicopters, on horses and on bikes. Within this highly militarized atmosphere the police incited tensions with the violent attack and arrest of a young, deaf, black man. It is a travesty of justice that he was denied access to an ASL interpreter. That is the equivalent of being taken into custody and having your mouth duck taped shut.

On Saturday, June 26, the mass arrest of protesters began. The pretext for this crackdown was the limited property damage in protests that day, which was similar to recent hockey riots in various cities but treated very differently, as pointed out by journalist Linda McQuaig.

We believe it is important to openly discuss and debate the effectiveness of various tactics used in activist mobilizations. However, the key issue remains the security build-up and police response that was completely out of proportion to Saturday’s events.

Over the course of the weekend, more than 1,000 people were detained. Core activists were arrested in their homes or grabbed on the streets by police snatch squads. These targeted arrests reveal a disturbing degree of racial profiling of both residents and visitors to Toronto, consistent with ongoing police practices.

On Sunday, June 27, people who gathered peacefully outside the massive temporary jail set up on Eastern Avenue were beaten by police and shot with rubber bullets and tear gas “muzzle blasts.” Scores of protestors and bystanders were penned in for long periods by police at Queen St. and Spadina Ave. Many in the crowd were eventually arrested, as were several activists blockaded in and around the activist Convergence Space.

In the week leading up to the summit, Conservative Cabinet Minister Stockwell Day signaled a particular focus on “anarchists” for this security crackdown. This simplistic targeting of a long-standing political tradition was further used by police to justify assaults on all demonstrators as well as the round-up of activists by claiming they were hunting for the “Black Bloc.” This criminalization of activists aimed to silence attempts to address the real issues presented by the G20.

It is clear that long-term police plans, including the heavy infiltration of activist organizations, were at work in the mass arrests on Saturday and Sunday. The closure of many public institutions, including the University of Toronto, attempted to create a ghost town in the core of the city to facilitate the arrest of activists.

Statements by the Mayor of Toronto and Chief of Police have focused on labeling non-Torontonians as the source of disturbances. The image of “dangerous outsiders” draws on racial and ethnic stereotypes and suggests that it is not legitimate for people from outside Toronto to exercise their rights to political expression, free association and freedom of movement. The G20 is a global assault that requires global solidarity in response.

The hundreds who were detained faced dismal and abusive conditions. People were held in overcrowded cages and denied access to food, water, and legal counsel. Friends and families did not have access to information about who was detained or when they might be processed or released. The reports of those released from detention reveal a pervasive pattern of sexual, gender, trans, homophobic and racist harassment by police.

This assault on civil and political rights must never be allowed to happen again.

We the undersigned call for:

  1. The immediate release of all those detained
  2. A full campaign to defend the civil rights of those facing charges arising from this extraordinary policing regime, especially those facing excessive charges and/or punitive bail conditions that criminalize, limit mobility, and curtail rights in the long term.
  3. An independent public inquiry into police actions during the summit, including disclosure on the role of police infiltrators leading up to and during events, and the chain of command for the extraordinary crackdown on legal rights and protests.
  4. An end to the targeting of anarchists by the Conservative government and the police.
  5. The resignation of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair

Initial Signatories

  • Abigail Bakan Toronto Professor of Politics Studies, Queen’s University
  • James Cairns Toronto Assistant Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University (Brantford)
  • Kate Cairns Montreal PhD student, OISE/UT
  • Deborah Cowen Toronto Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
  • Sue Ferguson Toronto Wilfrid Laurier University-Brantford
  • Naomi Klein Toronto Author
  • David McNally Toronto Professor of Political Science, York University
  • Mary-Jo Nadeau Toronto Lecturer, University of Toronto, Mississauga
  • Eroca Nicols Toronto Toronto Dance Community Love-In
  • Jenny Peto Toronto Activist
  • Judy Rebick Toronto CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy
  • Alan Sears Toronto Sociology, Ryerson University
  • Rinaldo Walcott Toronto Professor, OISE University of Toronto
  • Cynthia Wright Toronto York University, Member of CUPE 3903

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + +  + + + + + + + + +

Socialist Voice note: For further information and analysis of the G20 meeting and related events in Toronto, see articles posted on The Bullet (Socialist Project) and The Killing Train.