as finance ministers from the G-20 countries debated sanctions against suspected terrorists at the Chateau Laurier last weekend, protestors were reeling from what they say was the violation of their democratic rights in the streets outside. Lawyers and activists claim that the use of snatch squads for "pre-emptive" arrests, the disproportionate use of force and the abrogation of arrestees' rights marred the first attempt to shut down a summit since Genoa -- and since September 11.
Significantly, of the 51 arrested, fewer than 10 demonstrators were actually charged, suggesting that arbitrary detention was really the name of the game. Among the charges were one assault police and one damage to property. All the others were lesser charges like breach of peace, obstruction of police and mischief.
Says Matt McGarvey, the lawyer coordinating the legal observers team: "The shocking thing was that police used attack dogs and carried shotguns to make the arrests as the demonstration was moving. I find it astonishing. The sense I get is that these were pre-emptive arrests of people who had not committed any offence but were suspected of being part of the Black Bloc."
XDuring the Saturday march, Farah Miranda, a University of Toronto student, cried as she told me that police "had just grabbed" two of her friends. "I swear they had no weapons," she said. Were they dressed in black? "You can't pick someone up because they're wearing black clothing," she sobbed.
Other protestors were not even able to reach the demonstration. Janice Jim from the University of Waterloo says her affinity group was held up by 50 officers at Laurier and Nelson. "They wouldn't let us through until they'd searched our bags and confiscated our gas masks," she says. Another activist claims police "threatened us with being thrown off a bridge if they didn't allow them to search their bags."
The police action on Friday was praised -- even by protestors -- for its restraint. But by Saturday evening activists were complaining that their legal rights were being suspended while they were in police custody. "No one arrested Saturday was allowed to call a lawyer of their choice," says McGarvey.
Some activist complaints recalled events in Quebec City last April. Sarah Dover of the organizers' legal collective was standing on an embankment near Elgin on Saturday when plastic bullets were fired. "No one was throwing anything," she says, "but a police officer stepped forward and pointed a gun at me anyway. Then another officer sprayed tear gas at us. As we ran, we could hear the sound of the bullets.'
Dana from the Street Medical Collective confirms that she dealt with 20 injuries, including severe dog bites, hypothermia from a police hose and plastic bullet wounds. "Two people needed stitches and one was sent to hospital. Another man's ankle was swollen up to the size of a grapefruit from where a plastic bullet hit him. We had to send him to the hospital."
Yet when I ask Louise La France, at the Ottawa police, she hasn't heard of demonstrators being hurt. By contrast, "10 police officers were injured on Friday," she says, one with severe lacerations to his face. "At one point, protestors were using a slingshot to fire metal nuts and bolts at officers. The tactics used reflected the need to preserve everyone's safety and the integrity of the perimeter," she says.
Soon police will have the new C-36 legislation to protect them. But not all activists fear a crackdown. As McGarvey wryly points out: "One thing Ottawa showed is that the police don't need C-36 to abuse their powers."