This past June, I went on a road trip across Canada with 15 other people to attend the G20 summit happening June 25-27th in Toronto, Ontario. We knew that activists from all over Canada were going to be there, protesting the fact that the leaders from the 20 richest countries in the world were meeting to exclusively decide the economic fate of our planet. Although these select, few countries may wield the most economic and financial power, it is the poor people and countries of this world, the greater majority, who will be the most affected by the decisions that the G20 leaders make.
Our aim, by traveling thousands of kilometres in a brightly coloured van from Vancouver to Toronto, was to send a message to the G20 leaders about global justice and solidarity. In addition, our aim was to add our collective voices to the debate, by joining hands with the masses of people protesting to create a better future and to have our voices heard.
Departing from the Vancouver People’s Summit on Sunday, June 20th 2010, we spent 4 days on the road in a “cozy” 15-passenger van, stopping in Calgary and Winnipeg to pick up passengers along the way. Our demographics consisted of an equal number of men and women, from varying backgrounds and political views, ranging in age from 19-40 years old. Many interesting conversations were had, and debates held, on the future of our planet and what we expected the protests in Toronto were going to be like at the G20 summit. Despite the amount of research that had been done into past North American and European confrontations between protesters and the state, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the extreme violation of human and civil rights we witnessed and experienced in Toronto during that weekend.
In Toronto we saw a large amount of police brutality and unlawful arrests occur in defense of the G20. On Sunday June 27th, Cops with rubber bullet guns and tear gas canisters attacked peaceful protesters, as they sat in a semi-circle holding hands and singing kumbaya in front of the makeshift detention centre. There was one man I spoke to, a Toronto Transit City employee, who told me about how he was arbitrarily arrested by police on his way to work on Saturday, and held in custody for 36 hours. It didn’t matter whether you were a protester, a reporter, or merely a pedestrian; no one was safe.
Several of the people I traveled with got arrested in Toronto that weekend, and I heard from them, first-hand, what imprisonment in the detention centre was like. First off, any pre-conceived notions detainees had of human rights owed to them were completely disregarded by police officers. When asked for a glass of water, medical aid, or their one phone call, police just turned to them and said, “Welcome to G20-land. You have no rights in here.” It was so cold in the cells that they had to take turns huddling in porta-potties in order to keep warm. People screamed and cried throughout the night. One of my friends was so traumatized by the experience that he couldn’t speak for days afterwards; they held him in there for 72 hours.
It is shocking stories like these that are fuelling the current demand for a public inquiry into the G20. The inhumane treatment, bogus charges, and violent arrests are all under public scrutiny. Also, one question on everyone’s mind is: why did police decide to act aggressively towards peaceful protesters, and innocent bystanders, instead of the actual rioters?
One thing I learned from this experience is how the mainstream media can inadequately portray the realities of an event, and it becomes up to us to read between the lines and figure out the truth for ourselves. The news that I saw on TV would show a clip of a burning cop car and then a person getting arrested right afterwards. They failed to mention that those two clips were shot on completely different days. This is irresponsible, sensationalist-driven reporting and one of the reasons why independent media cooperatives like the Vancouver Media Co-op and Rabble.ca are so important.
If you are interested in hearing more about what really happened during the G20 weekend and how you can help make the public inquiry a reality, check out some of the social justice exposé groups that have been created on Facebook:
Together, we can make sure that the severe infringement on civil liberties and human rights that occurred during the G20 summit never happens in Canada again.
By Flavia Kajoba