Criminal lawyer, daughter of a police officer, and Parkdale resident Riali Johannesson was one of dozens caught up in a mass detention outside the anti-G-20 convergence space. She tells us about how the experience of having watching her community’s rights temporarily stripped has increased her empathy for her clients from more marginalized communities. With police giving them no explanation for the mass detention, residents of Parkdale gathered in huge numbers to pressure the police to leave.
Produced by Jesse Freeston
Cover photo courtesy of Benji Bilheimer
JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: One of the largely untold stories of the G-20 are the events that took place in the community of Parkdale, just west of downtown Toronto. Parkdale played host to the Convergence Centre, where those coming to protest the G-20 could meet, eat food, and sleep. In the early afternoon of Sunday the 27th, the Toronto Community Mobilization Network held a press conference. This followed the previous afternoon’s smashing of corporate storefronts, banks, and burning of police cars. But the conference organizers were there to talk about the police actions against people, which at that point had included a series of violent mass arrests, home raids of activists, accusations of illegal searches, and assaults. The organizers said that Toronto had become a microcosm for the world.
MARYAM ADRANGI, TORONTO COMMUNITY MOBILIZATION NETWORK: ï¿½the G-8 and G-20 policies and structures pretty much bring violence wherever they hit, due to war and occupation, increasing poverty, increasing hunger, environmental destruction, forced migration.
FREESTON: While the event wrapped up, word arrived that just a few blocks to the east, the police were surrounding the Convergence Centre. When we arrived, they had sealed the area around the building and detained a small group. People from the community gathered around to see what was going on.
DEMONSTRATOR: Well, I have an opinion. Arrest me, too.
DEMONSTRATOR: We have opinions! Arrest us!
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POLICE OFFICER: If the bubble touches me, you’re going to be arrested for assault. Do you understand me?
POLICE OFFICER: Yes, that’s right. It’s a deliberate act on your behalf and I’m going to arrest you. Do you understand me?
DEMONSTRATOR: I understand [inaudible]
POLICE OFFICER: Right. You’re going to be in handcuffs.
FREESTON: Lawyer and Parkdale resident Riali Johannesson was at the press conference.
RIALI JOHANNESSON, LAWYER AND PARKDALE RESIDENT: Somebody from the community who knows that I’m a lawyer said, “You’re the lawyer. You’ve got to get down there. There’s somebody who needs you.” So I came. I immediately identified myself to one of the many police officers. And he came back to me after about 20 minutes and said that the person did not want to exercise his right to counsel, despite what I had heard from at least two other people.
FREESTON: Then police began to encircle the crowd and put some onlookers under arrest.
JOHANNESSON: So I knew that this was a situation very much in flux. So I stayed put where the police officer had told me to stand. I think that following their advice was the best thing to do in that circumstance. Turns out I was wrong.
FREESTON: That’s when the lawyer who came to provide counsel to the detained was herself detained.
JOHANNESSON: A large police officer grabbed me by the arm and shoved me into what later turned out to be the kettling area, which is just across the street from us here.
FREESTON: Kettling is a police tactic whereby people are surrounded and then forced into a small public space, often for multiple hours. Police say it is a preventative action to stop destruction of property before it happens. It is by its nature an indiscriminate violation of people’s rights to assembly and mobility, and people are often held without receiving any information regarding the nature of their detention. This tactic was employed on numerous occasions during the G-20.
DETAINEE: I’m just walking by, and he started hitting me, and they locked us in here.
JOHANNESSON: The police started pulling people out, saying things like, “You, you’ve got a number on your arm. You’re under arrest. You, you’ve got a bandanna around your neck. You’re under arrest. Backpack? Under arrest.” They were pulling people out at random, just giving those very simple, yet clear, yet illegal reasons. And I actually saw a police officer put a young girlï¿½she must have been about 18 or 20 years oldï¿½into a choke hold, picked her up so her legs were dangling off the ground, and while she was screaming he said, “You’re under arrest for having a number on your arm,” and he pulled her away.
FREESTON: Given the history of mass arrests at protests in North America, many who participate write numbers for lawyers on their bodies.
JOHANNESSON: When people are arrested, their belongings are often taken from them, and it’s important that they know how to get in touch with a lawyer.
FREESTON: Johannesson volunteers with the Movement Defense Committee, which provides legal support to social justice organizations.
JOHANNESSON: The real irony is that we told people to do this so that they could have access to counsel, and it turned out that people were actually being arrested for having those numbers on their arms. And so they did need us after all, just because of the legal advice that we had given to them to write numbers [inaudible]
FREESTON: Over the next few hours, many community members gathered to denounce the police actions.
DEMONSTRATOR: Where’s your warrants? Where’s your arrest warrants?
WITNESS: A lot of people being trapped by police, who were trying to leave the situationï¿½that’s what I see, and that’s kind of crazy. And they’re arresting people who are doing absolutely nothing.
DEMONSTRATOR: We don’t want this in Parkdale. We don’t want an occupation in Parkdale.
PARKDALE RESIDENT: We’d just like to know what’s going on. It’s our neighborhood.
FREESTON: For the entirety of the operation, neither the media, those detained, nor concerned community members were told what was going on.
DEMONSTRATOR: If you guys were behind us, that would make a difference.
POLICE OFFICER: We’re neutral.
DEMONSTRATOR: No, you’re human.
POLICE OFFICER: We’re neutral.
FREESTON: At least three officers were filming those who had gathered in the area.
JOHANNESSON: There was a tremendous amount of intelligence-gathering that was going on, and I believe that that was one of the main purposes of the mass detention here. They were filling out contact cards. Contact cards are something that the Toronto Police Service use as an intelligence-gathering measure. They tend to target young black men. The Toronto Star in fact got copies of all of the contact cards that the Toronto Police Service officers had filled out over a two-year period, I believe, and disproportionately it was young black men in certain postal codes who had contact cards filled out. And those cards are a very powerful thing. In my criminal law practice, I have seen people who have come into further contact with the police, and because their information is on file, they have been detained further for further investigation. It’s not a criminal record, but it’s definitely starting you up the steps toward something like that. The things that went on last weekend were happening to those of us who don’t usually have contact with the police in this way. It really opened my eyes as a criminal defense lawyer, to be put in that situation that I deal with all the time. But when I deal with it, I’m in a position of power. I deal with it after the facts; I deal with it intellectually. To be there in the middle of my neighborhood, surrounded by a few hundred police officers, is something that I never thought would happen to me in my life. I’m in some ways glad that it happened, because it has given me an even greater level of empathy for what happens to the people who I try to help every day. My father was a police officer. I’ve grown up with them. I don’t even have the typical criminal defense lawyer mistrust of the police. If anything, I have to be careful not to give them the benefit of the doubt too often. But this is the first time in my life that I have been so afraid of the police.
FREESTON: Some people were told they were suspects in the previous day’s broken windows and burnt police cars.
DETAINEE: I was just getting on my bike to leave, and they said that somebody over there pointed at me and said that I was part of yesterday’s fires. And then they went to go get him, and apparently couldn’t find them, and then said that I could go.
JOHANNESSON: They eventually told the bulk group of us that we would be allowed to leave as long as we provided identification to the officers and as long as we allowed searches of our bagsï¿½huge breaches of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that I could go on about for hours.
FREESTON: After arresting roughly 20 people, the police left the neighborhood. The Real News spoke to some of those who had been detained.
JENNA, DETAINED AND RELEASED: They thought we were passing a weapon. One of the police officers grabbed me, dragged me to the side. I turned around to face him to talk to him, and instead he grabbed my other arm, spun me around, kneed me in the ass, and then threw me on the ground and dragged me. Then he grabbed me and put me against a car. So a woman came up. She started searching me. She just lifted up my top in front of everybody, my bra and all. She didn’t care who was looking. She didn’t care if I was being exposed. She told me I was a baby. This is definitely not normal at all. What these two cops did to me was, like, completely outrageous.
HICHAM, DETAINED AND RELEASED: In my case, my real beef was the way I was treated, mostly. First of all, the fact that I was being detained without doing anything, without breaking any law, and secondly, because I was made fun of. That was the part that was also insulting, personally. They made fun of my nose. One of them told me I have a banana on my face, and another guy said that my nose is going to have a hard time handling what’s going on. And I don’t know if this was a reference to my, I don’t know, “hook nose” or something, but that’s what happened.
FREESTON: Organizer Chelsea Flook pointed out the irony of the event’s timing.
CHELSEA FLOOK, TORONTO COMMUNITY MOBILIZATION NETWORK: Yeah. Well, up the street, there was a press conference held about issues such as police abuses of people’s rights and abuse of powers against actual physical people. And then there’s violence, as it’s called, against property. So these are things that are not being differentiated in the mainstream media. We wanted to point out that, you know, I have three friends who are in the hospital, and everyone else is in jail. And so that to me is violent.
FREESTON: Flook was one of those detained.
FLOOK: We were standing around and we sang some songs, did some chants.
FREESTON: Recent public opinion polls show that two-thirds of Canadians support the police actions during the G-20. Johannesson disagrees with that majority and attributes the poll data to ignorance.
JOHANNESSON: Your average Canadian, who has the full protection of those rights every single day, all day long, their entire life long, in my experience, doesn’t appreciate the tremendous value of those rights until they need to avail themselves of the rights.
FREESTON: For Johannesson, the community response on that day confirmed why she loves living in Parkdale.
JOHANNESSON: People are so friendly. It’s a very small little community. So I think that when people were walking past, the shock of seeing the police officers in our little community was huge. And I think that’s what really got people saying “get out of our neighborhood”, because it is our neighborhood. I’m not saying it’s not a welcoming neighborhood, because it very much is, but it’s ours, and we’re possessive about it and we care very much about people who are here.
End of Transcript
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