Hundreds of demonstrators demanding the resignation of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and an independent, public inquiry into police actions and treatment of G20 protesters thronged a rowdy but peaceful rally at Queen’s Park Thursday night.
Among the participating groups were Canadians Advocating Political Participation, Amnesty International and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, all there to decry what they called a violation of human rights over the G20 weekend, including alleged police intimidation, brutality and mass arrests.
“We want an independent review to take a good, long, hard look at the conditions in the detention facilities,” Shanaaz Gokool, a spokesperson with Amnesty International, told the cheering crowd gathered in front of the legislature.
“Who made the decision that Canadians could be treated like that?”
Tommy Taylor, a 29-year-old Toronto resident, told protesters he was arrested on Saturday night while getting a soda in front of City Hall. He described conditions at the G20 detention facilities as “out of a George Orwell novel.”
“There were cages of people screaming for water, and male officers could see women going to the washroom.” He says he and his fellow inmates were given Styrofoam cups when they asked for toilet paper.
Gokool called for an inquiry that looked into how many arrested were charged, who made the decision to have the G20 in Toronto and whether police presence in the city deterred peaceful citizens from protesting.
Justin Arjoon, one of the rally organizers, said organizers were calling for Blair to resign primarily because of what he called “misinformation surrounding the special laws passed for the G20 weekend.”
Volunteers walked around collecting donations to help with legal costs of demonstrators facing charges, as protesters called for the release of all remaining detainees. The number of G20 demonstrators still detained is not known, but volunteers with the Toronto Community Mobilization Network estimate between 30 and 100 people remain in jail.
The demonstration was followed by a march that went south on University Avenue, east on Dundas Street, then north on Bay Street then back to Queen’s Park.
Demonstrators chanted “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Bill Blair has got to go,” and carried signs reading “To Serve and Protect Who?” and “Get Your Goons Off My Civil Liberties.”
The otherwise peaceful protest became temporarily tense when protesters bottlenecked at the corner of College and Bay Streets, prompting police — in a scene reminiscent of the G20 weekend — to form a barrier with bikes and mounted officers. Some protesters then approached police, a few yelling “shame” and “how do you sleep at night” in their faces.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has stated that an internal task force will examine “all aspects” of summit policing by the municipal forces, OPP and RCMP in the G20 Integrated Security Unit.
Blair and other senior Toronto police officers have said G20 security forces have nothing to apologize for, although Staff Supt. Jeff McGuire conceded earlier this week, “We’re not suggesting we’re perfect,” adding police were “doing the best we can.”
According to a new Angus Reid poll that surveyed 1,003 Canadians and 503 Torontonians in the wake of the G20, 73 per cent of Torontonians and 66 per cent of Canadians believe police treatment of protesters was justified during the summit.
Also Thursday, about 1,000 protesters marched peacefully through downtown Montreal on to condemn the way police handled security at the summit.
Unionist Francis Lagace, one of the few marchers sporting a suit and tie, had been in Toronto for the summit.
“Those people were arrested without knowing why, they were detained in horrendous conditions,” he said. “This is a clear violation of human rights in Canada.”
Montreal’s Anti-Capitalist Convergence, who organized the march, also say Quebecers were unfairly targeted at last weekend’s summit.
They estimate between 200 and 250 Quebecers were detained in Toronto during the summit protests, which saw about 900 people taken into custody.
Laurence Olivier, 22, said she was saying at a friend’s home in Toronto last weekend. She was relaxing there after a day spent protesting and when the police came knocking.
She was in the shower when she heard someone at the bathroom door yelling: “Police.”
“I thought it was a joke it seemed so surreal,” she said.
She said she and a friend were arrested and taken to the temporary detention centre where the bulk of detained protesters were held.
She said she was held for eight hours and released without charge. “It’s unbelievable I was arrested in my shower, coming back from a march where I had done nothing wrong.” Amnesty International, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Civil Liberties Association are also calling for a review. The three hour march wound through Montreal’s trendy Plateau district for three hours before converging in front of the headquarters of the Montreal police union.
Fears of violence proved unfounded when the crowd then dispersed. Protest organizers had previously described window-smashing Black Bloc tactics as a legitimate form of protest. Organizers had refused to give police an itinerary of the march. Montreal police confirmed two arrests during the demonstration, one for a breach of probation and another for assaulting a police officer. Both individuals were later released.