Justin and Lex @ G20
For three hours on June 26 the heart of Toronto’s financial district was in the hands of 2,000 protesters. Store fronts and police cars were destroyed as crowds of activists laid waste to Bay Street and Yonge Street. The police response was poorly organized and did little to protect property or unsuspecting civilians (not to mention the activists themselves).
The protest, which began in a heavy rain at 1:00 p.m. in front of Queen’s Park, Ontario’s legislature, was attended by 10,000 people including labour unions, anti-capitalists, feminists and a multitude of other groups. Event organizers had forwarded a plan to the police which projected the protest’s route from University Avenue, down to Queen Street West and back up Spadina Avenue to College Street and Queen’s Park.
The plan lasted only until the turn onto Queen Street, where a group of protesters wearing black bandanas attempted to rush the police barricade at Duncan Street. Composed of members of the “Black Bloc,” the bandana clad protesters set out to reach the G20 security fence—built around the G20 venue: the Metro Convention Centre. After the protesters were beaten back by riot police, injuring at least one protester, the crowd continued to Spadina Avenue where the protest loitered for nearly 20 minutes.
While the protesters waited and organized, the police provided an avenue of escape west along Queen Street—quickly dismissed by the protesters as a trap. It was. With the heads of all the bandanna groups planning their next move, the way was opened as the police to the east retreated—why they did that we will never know, but it is suspicious considering it opened downtown Toronto to assault. At 2:20 p.m. the protesters surged east on Queen Street, destroying police cars guarded by single cops. At that time, an undercover cop pulled out a collapsible baton and began striking a protester who attacked the police cars. The undercover cop was quickly subdued.
For the next three hours the protesters were unopposed as the police presence disappeared.
Turning north for a quick detour, protesters cut through a parking lot and lit the dumpsters of a restaurant on fire, while others took rocks from the gardens in front of nearby row houses for use as weapons later on.
Turning south at Nathan Phillips Square, the protesters set about destroying the store fronts of Bay Street, concentrating on destroying American franchises like Starbucks. While it is frightening to have large glass windows shatter beside you, the sounds of protesters trying to break them is worse. Like gunshots, rocks bounce off the glass and like a manic drum, sticks pound and beat the glass.
Moving south and reaching Bay Street at King Street—the heart of Toronto’s financial district and only three blocks from the Metro Convention Centre, protesters fell on abandoned police vehicles. One police car was torched and sent up a thick plume of black smoke. Flares and ammunition inside the police car were cooked off and the vehicles gas tank eventually spilled all over the pavement. The police never intervened despite being only a block away.
It has since been revealed that the police car may have been abandoned there by the Toronto Police as a distraction (or as an excuse for agent provacateurs to act violently). If so, it worked, giving riot cops the time to form a line to the south, blocking protesters the clear line of sight on the security fence that they had enjoyed for 10 minutes.
A deserted landscape of shattered glass and destroyed street furniture was all that was left. Cars were directed through the protesters by helpful activists as the police were nowhere to be found.
It was a deeply emotional time for some Torontonians who walked through the streets shouting, “No, no. What have you done?” to the protesters. Others chose to leave the protest. “I don’t want to be here,” said a young volunteer medic as the protest turned towards Queen’s Park. “This isn’t a protest anymore, its a riot.”
I met a German reporter on Yonge Street and advised him to hide his press pass—the press was being targeted by some of the protesters. The reporter had one question: “Where are the police? I was told this cost $1 billion, I don’t know how much that is in Euros but I think its a lot.”
As the protest turned towards Ontario’s legislative building, many of the bandana-clad protesters changed into normal street clothes. Standing in front of Queen’s Park, the protest suddenly became behaved again as people milled about and began to sit down. That lasted less than 10 minutes, as the Toronto riot police showed up. Protesters soon began to climb a nearby transit structure. Threat matched by threat.
Reinforcements soon arrived in the form of the Montreal Police—a warm feeling suddenly filled me: the Toronto Police had spent the day either hiding or playing catch up. This is not a role the Montreal Police have ever been comfortable with, they have a short temper and a quick trigger finger. Nine minutes after taking over the line protecting Ontario’s legislature—a hilarious idea any other day—the Montreal Police opened fire with rubber bullets, narrowly missing civilians. They soon followed up with tear gas. Ah, how I miss Montreal.
What happened next was completely unnecessary. With the Toronto Police taking the flanks and circling the crowd in front of Queen’s Park, the Montreal Police beat there shields and attacked. With my goggles on my face I ran back, only to meet police surging from the back. I was ordered to the right and threatened with a baton. I held up my press pass.
“I don’t give a fuck about that,” the Toronto cop said, coiling his baton to strike me. I took a step back and his partner’s baton connected with my shoulder, encouraging me to move. Running to the east of the crowd, I met another line of riot cops, who ordered me back the way I came. I stood trapped and decided to risk the menacing shields and batons and run through their lines. I made it. Lex was also hit by a riot cop as she was a step ahead of me the whole time. Her knees are now a mess of purple.
I was now on the grounds of Queen’s Park, 20 feet from where I had been previously. Calls of “MEDIC” started coming from the crowd rushing towards me. No police medics came forward as six injured people were carried away from the riot police, two with head wounds. Bloodied, the now middle class crowd of Torontonian—most of the anarchists had left—walked forward. Looking at the police who had just attacked them without warning, they sang O’ Canada.
Five minutes later the cops retreated from the area they had just taken.
At that time, a stalemate had set in. The Montreal Police had move off the line and two or four CH-146 helicopters, Canadian Army attack helicopters began circling Queen’s Park. Large swathes of downtown Toronto were destroyed, the police had utterly failed at protecting the city and they were mad.
“The whole world is watching,” the crowd began to chant.