The Movement Defence Committee
One year ago, Toronto became a police state to protect the leaders of the G20. One year ago, thousands gathered in the streets to protest the G20’s austerity agenda, and to demand social, racial, gender and environmental justice.
One year ago, Toronto police spent $125 million on G20 policing—out of a total ‘security’ budget of one billion dollars. 19,000 officers were deployed for protest marches that attracted upwards of 30,000 people. The police spent the weekend patrolling downtown in heavily-armed groups, using property destruction as a pretext for a continuing pattern of on-the-spot interrogations and illegal searches.
1,100 people were ultimately arrested, often violently. The majority of arrestees were held in make-shift cages without access to lawyers, medical care, or adequate food and water. Most were not charged with any crime, and 59% of those who were charged have seen those charges withdrawn.
Women were subjected to sexual harassment, queers and disabled people were assaulted. People were targeted for intimidation and arrest because they spoke French, were from racialized communities, or ‘looked like activists’ or wore black.
And then, just two weeks ago, another mass gathering took place, which erupted in rioting. Thousands of people took to the streets after the Stanley Cup loss by the Vancouver Canucks, and a night of property destruction, burning cars, looting and physical violence ensued.
Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Constable Jana McGuiness unintentionally highlighted the differing police tactics when she explained the VPD’s approach. She told the media “you don’t want to punish the whole group for the actions of a few.”
But when the “actions of a few” are a form of political protest—against cuts to social services, against ever-increasing corporate power, against environmental destruction, and against the ongoing colonization of Aboriginal land—then mass repression, collective punishment and rampant violations of civil liberties is exactly what happens.
Wearing our political stripes on our sleeves is far riskier in Canada than wearing a hockey jersey, and the reasons we take to the streets seems to determine the police’s response far more than our actions. And it’s not just any political message that attracts such treatment. It is specifically those social justice movements from the left, and organizing by oppressed communities, that face the brunt of state repression.
So yes, police repression during the G20 was extreme. But it is not unprecedented.
Calling police action during the G20 ‘heavy-handed,’ or an over-reaction to the protests, is misleading. Seeing police violence during the G20 as a one-off, isolated event during which “the public” lost its trust in police, is a mistake.
Looking beyond the media spotlight, incidents of police violence are systemic, not isolated.
When over 1000, mostly white, mostly young, mostly middle class people are assaulted and arrested by police officers on the lawn of Queen’s Park, it’s a big deal. Screaming newspaper headlines reveal how police officers who break the law and beat up those they’ve detained usually get away with a slap on the wrist—if that.
But when those same officers assault people at night, in alleyways, and in interview rooms—people who disproportionately come from racialized and low-income communities—it rarely makes the news. And in those cases, even a slap on the wrist is hard to come by.
In two years time, on the second anniversary of one of the largest mass-arrests in Canadian history, we hope to celebrate justice for all victims of police abuse.
Making this hope a reality will take dedication, creativity, and courage. It will require building a social movement that is powerful and organized enough to win justice. Our mobilization will inevitably face repression from the State. The Movement Defence Committee will do all we can to support these movements going forward.
The Movement Defence Committee
We encourage you to support the G20 Defendants, other victims of police abuse and community-based social movements. Many people still face charges from the G20. Some of the defendants are challenging their draconian bail conditions, others are launching lawsuits against the police. Community organizations are continuing to engage in struggles against police violence and the G20 policies of austerity.
You can support G20 defendants by donating to the legal defence fund. If you are facing charges from the G20 you can also apply to the fund to help pay your legal costs. You can find information here: http://g20legaldefencefund.wordpress.com/
You can find information on some current community-based organizations and their campaigns here: http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/story/june-2011-our-streets-are-still-fire/7580