Bursting ‘Officer Bubbles’

September 29, 2010
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In recent hours, a video produced for  The Real News by my colleague Nazrul Islam and I has officially gone viral. It depicts 20-year-old Courtney Winkels, a social worker from outside Toronto, blowing bubbles near a line of police during the G20 summit of world leaders. Const. Adam Josephs, as of yesterday better known as ‘Officer Bubbles’, appears on the scene to inform Winkels that “if the bubble touches me, you’re going to be arrested for assault.” Winkels puts the bubbles away while continuing to receive arrest threats from the officer. Moments later, Winkels is arrested.

I wish Winkels arrest could be chalked up to one officer’s absurd overreaction to bubbles. The truth, unfortunately, is that Winkels probably would have been arrested that day regardless of her bubbles.

The police line you see in the video was stopping people from walking near the G20 convergence space, a place where people opposed to the G20 gathered to eat, sleep, and discuss. On this day, police were detaining a group heading home to Montreal, and minutes after the bubbles incident, they quickly sealed in Winkels and everyone else that had gathered to watch. Winkels was one of roughly twenty to be arrested, while dozens more were detained for more than two hours. Those not arrested were only released after showing identification, submitting to a search, and filling out a ‘contact card’ that goes on their file at the police department. All representing violations of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There’s more to the story, much of which is contained in another video published in conjunction with ‘Officer Bubbles’. In fact, the ‘Officer Bubbles’ video was intended to be no more than an ‘appendix’ to the longer video. The ‘appendix’ was intended in order to show all the footage we had of that particularly curious, and now famous, exchange. Intention, however, plays no role in the wacky world of YouTube. For only a few days later, Nazrul and I found ourselves watching a panel of law professionals on Fox News debating the legality of arresting someone for blowing bubbles. (For the record, host and lawyer  Megyn Kelly concluded the segment by siding with the cop, calling Winkels a “punk”.)

As for Winkels, now released she faces charges of ‘Conspiracy to Mischief’. According to her, the charges were pressed after medical supplies were discovered in her bag. If that’s the case, Winkels would be one of numerous street medics and others carrying protective equipment to be jailed amongst the roughly 1100 organizers, residents, concerned parents, journalists, and other people that made up the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.

So, the focus on whether or not Winkels should be arrested for blowing bubbles, while understandably entertaining, is yet another shift away from discussing what really happened in Toronto. Much of the Canadian media has fixated on individual cases of police misconduct, debating whether or not individual officers abused their authority. I know because I was the subject of a similar debate after being punched in the face by an officer while filming police misconduct. In the numerous interviews I did on my experience, my attempts to situate the attack in the broader context was routinely edited out in favor of framing the event as a personal interest story, stripped of all context and significance. Viewers were left cursing (or praising) one overly aggressive officer instead of pondering the systemic violation of peoples’ rights to assembly, expression, due process, free press, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

Still further from the light is any investigation as to who ordered such a citywide violation, and more importantly, why?

Police argue the suspension of rights was necessary to respond to the destruction of property that took place on Saturday afternoon. Many facts stand in the way of this, not the least of which being all the home raids, targeted arrests, and illegal searches that took place before a single bank window was smashed.

“We’re in a period where there’s been massive job losses and cuts to social services, and that’s only going to intensify as the austerity measures passed at the G20 come into effect,” says Farrah Miranda of the migrant rights organization No One Is Illegal. In this setting, Miranda calls the crackdown an attempt to “silence and intimidate” dissidents. If she’s right, it hasn’t worked on her. Miranda was one of the community organizers targeted on the Saturday morning, pulled out of a taxicab by plain-clothes officers and put in an unmarked minivan.

So, consider this my mea culpa for the role we played in opening up another tent at the post-G20 circus. Come one! Come all! Place your bets on who provoked who . . . Was it the cop? Or was it the demonstrator?

Just don’t ask why they were facing off in the first place.

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Jesse Freeston

Jesse Freeston is a Canadian video journalist and filmmaker. His work focuses primarily on social movements in North and Central America, but he has also done investigative work around topics such as the military-industrial complex, the global economic crisis, and undocumented migration. He is mostly known for exposing fraud [1][2] in the Honduran election of…