Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Detention Center Attempted to Break Spirits of Non-Violent Demonstrators

The month of June this year, 2010, finished with Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper hosting the G20 show, a $ 2 billion party of lavish waste and economic ruin. Fake lakes, plush golf greens for photo ops, 19,000 police in Toronto, and even an alleged surveillance submarine in Muskoka, without forgetting the dozens of kilometres of multi-million dollar fences sealing off sectors of Toronto and Huntsville.

The few days of the G20 summit in Toronto saw mass grassroots mobilizations and police repression which culminated in the illegal detention of over 900 demonstrators and activists. But equally as reprehensible as what happened on the streets of Toronto is what unfolded inside the detention centres over the course of the week. Myself, along with a few friends and around 200 other demonstrators were arrested the night of Saturday June 26th on the Esplanade, near the intersection of Front and Yonge. Detained at about 11 pm, the temporary holding facility at 629 Eastern avenue became our home for the rest of the night and for most of sunday.

From the beginning the whole operation resembled some sort of strange scientific experiment. The cells we were held in were actually cages, giant kennels sealed off from the back and the sides so as not to allow visual contact or communication with other detainees. Giant bright lights lined each room shining constantly, leaving us disoriented as to the time of day or night, and concrete floors and cold temperatures made sleeping virtually impossible.

We had to ask repeatedly for food and water; we received water about every six hours or more, and food was brought to our cage only twice over a 24 hour period. On a few occasions, while ignoring our demands for water for extended periods of time, officers even deliberately drank their water right in front of us, and while we were screaming to get medical attention for a diabetic cell mate who was practically collapsing from low blood sugar, they were too busy to seek help, but had time enough to get coffee and snacks at starbucks.

Girls were treated as badly as men and were even forced to use port o potties with no doors while men police officers looked on. Sexually degrading comments were thrown around with regularity. Minorities received very rough treatment, remaining cuffed the entire length of detention and generally were kept for the longest amounts of time, while the white detainess were often uncuffed.

95% of people I spoke with were never given the right to a phone call or to consult a lawyer. We were often told that the prison was overwhelmed with prisoners and that our release would be a slow process as a result, even that the number of detainees was so high that they had not sufficient food for everyone. The whole operation was marred with inefficiency and disorganization. The majority of officers had no idea what they were supposed to be doing and what was going on, and kept repeating that they were only following orders. On several occasions we observed as 20 to 30 officers stood around aimlessly doing nothing. The names of detainees who were nowhere to be found were called again, and again, and again, until we wondered whether this exercise was in fact disorganization, or the jail guards deliberately trying to create a sense of confusion and uncertainty. The whole experience was not only a test of patience, but of sanity

Fundamental human rights were violated on a significant scale, and yes I was angry along with the hundreds of others, but my main concern is that this outrageous piece of history does not repeat itself ever again. People say that this sort of thing should never happen in Canada, but something like this should never happen anywhere in the world, period.

Of course, the mainstream media made a mess of G20 coverage in Toronto, and hopefully the broad public can realize that police cars going up in flames were isolated incidents, and that the street giants in black banging shields and batons, with their rubber bullets and tear gas, and the hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and activists wrongfully arrested for trying to exercise free speech and expose the truth, is what should have dominated headlines.

This Article appears in America Latina Newspaper.

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