Guelphites call for G20 inqury
Tuesday, July 6, 20101 Comment
About 100 people gathered outside Guelph City Hall on Monday, calling for an independent inquiry into the actions of police dur
They came together to share stories, offer support - and demand answers.
About 100 people gathered outside Guelph City Hall on Monday, calling for an independent inquiry into the actions of police during the G20 Summit in Toronto last weekend.
Allegations of mistreatment by police, questions over tactics and the use of mass arrests against demonstrators were some of reasons organizers said an investigation was necessary.
“I consider myself lucky,” said Veronica Majewski, 26, one of the rally organizers, who was in Toronto during the G20. “I did not do anything differently from lots of other people who were arrested. I attended protests.”
“I consider it a stark example of the arbitrariness of many of the arrests.”
More than 900 people were arrested in relation to the G20 Summit, the largest mass-arrest in Canadian history.
Many of those detained were later released without being charged.
Citizens and journalists have since complained that police were reckless and aggressive in picking up and searching people without cause. Organizations including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have also called for an independent review of police tactics and conditions at the detention centre on Eastern Avenue where many protesters were held.
In addition to pressuring the Ontario government to launch an inquiry, Majewski said events like these helped provide support for people who were unfairly detained during the G20.
“It’s cathartic to know that people are listening and that people are understood,” she explained.
It was also a fundraiser of sorts, with volunteers collecting donations for the Movement Defense Committee representating those facing charges in relation to G20 protests.
Among those still in custody is Mandy Hiscocks, a staff member at OPIRG Guelph who police allege was one of the ringleaders behind G20-related vandalism.
The crowd listened to testimonials from those who encountered police during the G20. A resident named Greg spoke of how police kicked and pushed protesters out of the designated protest zone near Queen’s Park on Saturday, shortly after so-called “Black Block” protesters vandalized businesses and police vehicles along Queen Street.
“I think the idea of a designated protest zone was absurd to begin with… But forcing people out of the Orwellian-named Designated Protest Zone is a complete travesty,” he said.
Many were trying to leave when they were arrested, he added
Later that evening, Greg said he participated in a protest expressing support for striking workers at the Novotel Hotel.
At one point, he said police warned protesters they would be arrested if they didn’t disperse, and told those who wanted to leave to walk over to a designated area.
“When they walked into that small space, each and every one of them was arrested,” said Greg.
He said he was held for 18 hours at Eastern Avenue without being allowed a phone call or access to council. He was eventually released without charge.
Roisin Lyder, a former CSA Board Member representing the Guelph Campus Co-op, said she and a friend were trying to board a Greyhound Bus to leave the city after attending rally on Saturday when a group of police stopped them.
"They searched my bags. They took out my camera and looked through the pictures," she said.
Lyder said police also taunted them, chanting "The police united will never be divided." When her friend protested being questioned, police handcuffed her.
Police eventually let them board the bus, warning them not to return.
Lyder said the experience left her shaken.
“I was treated very badly by people who are paid with our tax dollars."
The location of the rally was chosen because members of Guelph Police Services worked as part of the 19,000-strong Integrated Security Unit formed for the G8 and G20 summits, explained organizer Molly McManus.
“The city gives a lot of money to police, and the police were lended [sic] to the G20,” explained McManus. Across the street from the protest, two police cruisers watched over the gathering.
Many present at the protest expressed suspicion that police failed to stop property destruction caused by the Black Bloc, and accused authorities of letting vandals run amok as a pretext to crack down on peaceful protesters.
"Either the $1 billion spent on security was wasted on completely incompetent policing... or there was something sinister at play," one audience member suggested.
The question of whether G20-related vandalism should be supported was also hotly contested, after one speaker was heckled by the crowd for suggesting Black Block members hurt the message of protesters.
While talking about his experiences participating in a Labour March on Saturday, Tristan argued that the Black Block "did a lot of damage to the protest."
"A few broken windows isn't going to be very subversive," he claimed, before being drowned out by rebuttals and calls of "Shame!"
Organizers quickly asked the crowd to allow the speaker to finish.
Majewski reminded the crowd that activists needed to respect diversity of opinion, but also "diversity of tactics."
"We need to show solidarity, otherwise we will be divided," she said.