Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Toronto.
Tags: anarchism, bill blair, bridette depape, Canada, catherine porter, chief blair, civil liberties, democracy, free speech, G20, g20 summit, leah henderson, peaceful protest, police brutality, police riot, political activism, political protest, richard lautens, roger hollander, sandro contenta, sid ryan, Stephen Harper, toronto, toronto g20, toronto police
Published On Sat Jun 25 2011. Toronto Star
A festive reveller joins the gathering at Queen’s Park to mark the first anniversary of the G20 at Queen’s Park.
RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR
Sandro ContentaStaff Reporter
if (jQuery('.ts-main_article2_image').width() John Pruyn says the thought of returning to the site where police allegedly yanked off his prosthetic leg during last year’s G20 summit made him sick to his stomach.
But while speaking at the “G20 Redux” rally at Queen’s Park Saturday, his voice was strong and clear.
“To this day, I still don’t know why I was dragged away (by police) from Queen’s Park. I still feel like I was kidnapped,” said Pruyn, 58, recalling how he was manhandled by police and thrown in detention.
“Bill Blair should resign or should be fired for what happened at the G20,” Pruyn added, referring to Toronto’s police chief. “Mr. Blair allowed the police to beat us … In effect, he allowed the police to loot and riot.”
A retired Revenue Canada employee, Pruyn says he was resting with his family at Queen’s Park — after participating in a peaceful protest march on June 26, 2010 — when he was allegedly “attacked” by several police officers, one of whom “ripped off” his leg. He was released without charge a day later. He says police never gave him back his walking aids, or the $33 he had in his pocket. In an interview, he said he can’t discuss the settlement he received after complaining to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
He was one of nine speakers cheered by some 400 people for insisting that Blair resign, and for demanding a public inquiry into police actions during the summit. Some officers violated police policy by taking off their badge numbers and name tags while rounding up protesters. More than 1,100 people were detained — the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history. Most were never charged. Some speakers also called for charges to be dropped against 56 people still before the courts.
In an interview with the Star Friday, Blair rejected calls for his resignation. A 70-page report released by police Thursday indicated the service was overwhelmed and underprepared to respond to the “dynamic situations” the G20 posed.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty have both flatly rejected calls for a public inquiry. Nathalie Des Rosiers, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, described that as “dangerous for democracy.”
“We’re allowing a culture of impunity to develop,” she told the rally. “If we tolerate (police) illegality when we see it, we sanction abuses that go on when we don’t.”
“A truth commission is what we need,” she added.
Police kept a low profile throughout the rally. Rarely were more than eight of them visible at any one time. They sat on bicycles on the edges of Queen’s Park circle. More could be seen patrolling the streets on their bikes. Now and then a couple of officers would ride close to the crowd, but the atmosphere was never tense.
The music was live, and the signs were colourful, most aimed at police. “You were put here to protect us, but who protects us from you?” read one. “We know what you did last summer, and we’re still pissed,” read another.
Many interviewed said they suspected police officers — thousands of whom patrolled the streets during the summit — of deliberately allowing police cruisers to be burned and shop windows to be smashed as an excuse to crack down hard.
“I just want them to be transparent about the whole thing,” bartender Karen Nickel, 45, said in an interview. Nickel said she was slammed with a police riot shield while protesting peacefully.
Several speakers referred to an exclusive Star poll Saturday indicating that 67 per cent of Torontonians want a public inquiry into G20 policing, 54 per cent believe the police response to demonstrations was unjustified, and 44 per cent say their confidence in police has dropped.
“A year later, I want to know who was responsible for sending the cops at Queen’s Park to beat the crap out of citizens,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, noting police had told his union that Queen’s Park would be a designated protest area.
“You let us down, Chief Blair. You did not protect the citizens of this community, Chief Blair,” Ryan said, accusing the chief of protecting the identity of police officers who beat up peaceful protesters. “Because of that cone of silence you engaged in, we are demanding here today that you step down.”
Brigette DePape, who was recently fired as a Senate page for holding up a “Stop Harper” sign during the Speech from the Throne, equated the police response during the G20 to Harper’s Conservative agenda.
“The social chaos and pain he inflicted on this city is a microcosm of the social chaos and pain he wants to inflict on this country,” she told the rally. “But we will stop him.”
After the rally, about 100 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Toronto, heading to Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave., where a year earlier protesters were hemmed in by police in a controversial crowd-control technique known as “kettling.” The marchers later went to police headquarters and then back to Queen’s Park. Some traffic was disrupted, but police characterized the protest as peaceful and said there were no incidents.
Porter: For G20 accused Leah Henderson, 2010 was the year her life ended
Published On Fri Jun 24 20
Leah Henderson spent 25 days in jail before being released on a hefty, $100,000 bail. The conditions of her release were harsh.
RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR
For Leah Henderson, 2010 was the year her life ended. She was arrested at gunpoint, jailed and then trapped in a house. She lost her job and her fiancé because of draconian bail conditions.
The alleged G20 protest organizer hasn’t spoken to some of her closest friends for a year now, even when one’s mother died and another was married. She couldn’t dash out for toothpaste or milk. And most important for a person whose weeks were once packed with as many as 10 meetings to help organize political actions, she hasn’t gone to one single protest meeting.
But 2010 was also the year Henderson’s friends saved her life.
When she was still in a Milton jail awaiting bail, a team of five pals coordinated their schedules and cars to visit her. Once she was released to full house arrest, they’d drop by with the roti she was craving. They slept over on New Year’s Eve, planned wig and martini parties at her home, divided their engagement parties into shifts so she and her co-accused could come without breaching their bail conditions.
One friend moved to a new apartment so she could become Henderson’s surety and live with her.
“In all honesty, I didn’t know I had relationships this deep, this important and that I could count on in this way,” Henderson tells me as we take one of her friend’s golden retrievers for a walk.
Those close to her depict Henderson, 26, as a caring, committed den mother of activists in Toronto — cooking for meetings and mentoring new recruits. The Crown depicts her and her former common-law partner Alex Hundert, as dangerous anarchists with the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance who intended to attack Metro Hall, Goldman Sachs, The Bay and a number of consulates during the G20 weekend.
Early in the morning of the big, June 26 labour march that ended in disaster, police officers kicked through Henderson and Hundert’s apartment door with their guns drawn.
“I was contemplating getting out of bed to put my pants on,” she recalls. “But then I saw the red laser bouncing down the hall towards me. I just put my hands up and stayed in bed.”
Together with 15 other people, she was charged with three counts of conspiracy: to commit mischief over $5000, to assault police, and to obstruct justice. She spent 25 days in jail before being released on hefty, $100,000 bail. The conditions were harsh. She couldn’t leave her home unaccompanied by a surety. She had a nighttime curfew. She couldn’t help plan or attend a public demonstration. She couldn’t communicate with any of her co-accused, many of whom were close friends. She could see Hundert only if they were supervised by both his and her sureties —awkward, since they were each living with one of his divorced parents.
They broke up in October.
“It was exhausting, the navigating of schedules,” Henderson says. “It was an enormous pressure. We had been such important foundation of support for each other, and now we were going through an incredibly hard thing which we couldn’t go through together.”
Up to that Saturday morning, Henderson worked as a paralegal, making a $100,000 salary. Although her law firm sent a letter to court stating it still wanted her to work there, her bail conditions made it impossible.
Now she lives on welfare.
My question to the Crown: isn’t Leah Henderson innocent till proven guilty?
I watched in horror as stores were smashed and cop cars burned that Saturday afternoon. But there is a wide gulf separating vandalism from violence against people. The Black Block is not the Hell’s Angels. How are these bail conditions reasonable?
Henderson defines herself as an anarchist. To her, that means a commitment to “non-hierarchical locally-driven communities.” She had travelled around North America to protest at previous G20 meetings. To her, Toronto’s event was an opportunity to both protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s right-wing measures and to form new networks with activists from across the country. For the past year, she’d spent most nights preparing for the weekend.
“Hands down, the hardest part of this year has been not participating socially the way I think ethical,” she said. “I felt I was being ripped away from my community and isolated.”
In March, after Jaggi Singh — one of Henderson’s co-accused — contested his bail conditions, Henderson’s house arrest was lifted and her curfew softened. She can now go out at night with a chaperone approved of in writing by her surety.
She moved out of Hundert’s mother’s home and into the apartment of a childhood friend, who posted an additional $20,000 bail for her.
She reclaimed some of her activism in very subtle ways. While she used to facilitate events, Henderson now caters them — cooking up vegetarian lasagnas for a Council of Canadians’ meeting and quiche and cinnamon buns for a midwifery event. She babysits for friends and walks their dogs so they can go out to activist gatherings. She transcribes the jotted notes from friends’ meetings into something intelligible.
“It was really important for my self-care and survival to find ways I could support others,” she says. “I’m not going to spend the next how many years just taking.”
Henderson’s trial won’t start for another year — at the earliest. If her bail conditions were meant to smother her activism, they’ve had the opposite effect.
Catherine Porter’s column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at email@example.com