G20: Talking to people at Queen and Spadina

A protester holds up a boom box on Queen and Spadina. (Rose D'Souza)

By Rose D'Souza, G20 citizen contributor

RoseDsouza2010.jpgI never thought that I would spend my last day as a Torontonian huddled with hundreds of other people at the northeast corner of Queen and Spadina, trying to keep warm from the heavy downpour of rain, while surrounded by police on the second day of the G20 summit.

Although I imagined other ways to spend my last day living downtown before moving back in with my parents, I do not regret becoming involved in the G20 protests.

I fell in love with Toronto after living in the Annex during my final undergraduate year and while I am upset with how authorities handled the protests, I have never felt prouder to be a Torontonian in a crowd of people who revived the city's "good" reputation by taking care of each other when we had no one else to rely on.

In the hour leading up to the standoff, a large crowd of protesters and observers biked, walked, and danced down Queen Street West for conflicting but peaceful reasons. In fact, most of the faces in the crowd were quite young and as we stood together bonding over our shared experience, members of my generation revealed that they were more than just "young punks who didn't know anything" as was acrimoniously expressed in one of several conversations I've overheard since the weekend.

rosedkidsfloor.jpg A group of young protesters take to the streets. (Rose D'Souza)

One teenage couple who had recently moved from London, Ont., chose to join in the march to support the police as a response to violence that occurred during the previous day.

AUDIO: Listen to the interview

 Another group of young adults disliked the excessive police presence but led a chant of "Whose streets? Our streets!" as a way of also expressing their intention to protect their hipster neighbourhood from the Black Bloc's destructive reign.

More often than not, most of the crowd who were corralled by the police were not protesters or politically informed, instead they were curious onlookers who either deliberately chose to take pictures because "this [was] history in the making," as one teenager said, or had accidentally walked into the crowd as the police surprisingly advanced from each corner of the Queen and Spadina intersection less than 20 minutes after the peaceful chanting began.

AUDIO: Listen to interview with a group of boys accidentally trapped at Queen and Spadina

In a sudden change of moods, people were no longer smiling at the antics of some outgoing protesters as they were stunned to hear from the surrounding police officers that everyone was going to be charged with conspiracy to commit public mischief just for being in the area. Rather than angrily reacting to the rising tension presented by the police, the crowd started to chant "peaceful protest" and sing the Canadian national anthem as a goodwill gesture. Yet there was no turning back, without a megaphone or any other method to warn the crowd, Queen and Spadina quickly turned into a makeshift detention centre for shoppers, onlookers, cyclists, and anyone else who happened to be there.

It was less a standoff and more like a waiting game that only had two outcomes: either the police would reach into the crowd to arrest an individual they believed had taken part in the previous day's violence, or a person would voluntarily be detained in hopes that such a risk would not actually result in criminal charges. Several people around me - mostly young men - were snatched from the crowd seemingly on the basis of their appearance. As I chatted with Joseph, the summit's Waldo who appeared in many newspaper photos holding an "everything is ok" sign, he was taken by police. Perhaps for his slight notoriety.

EverythingisOKr.jpg The man with the sign, spotted around town during the G20 weekend. (Nikki Whaites)

Despite the tense situation, despite the police not answering any questions, despite the heavy thunderstorm, Torontonians remained calm. Strangers became quick friends who comforted each other, sharing umbrellas and phones. If someone tried to shout something to the police, they were swiftly reproached by their neighbours. One woman shouted at the crowd not to "do anything stupid people, stay peaceful."

Two hours later, I turned myself in thinking that an arrest and criminal charge couldn't be worse than shivering in the rain. I was quickly searched for weapons, because at five-foot-one in a light pink raincoat, I must have posed a serious threat. Plastic cuffs were slapped tightly on my wrists and I joined my new friends in line as we waited to be processed. To my disappointment, instead of being shipped into the welcoming warmth of a Court Services truck, we were held in a single file line for another hour in the rain, one cop per detainee.

Luckily I was paired with a wonderful cop who sympathized with my predicament. Instead of standing sulking in the rain like most of the other detainees, I struck up a friendship with my police officer, who was only four years older than me. Although three hours had since past, we were not given any water or food but I was lucky enough to be paired with an officer that offered me the occasional piece of chocolate. At that moment, my police officer and I came to an understanding that not all protesters were violent and not all police officers were aggressive.  

After waiting in line with my hands tied in plastic cuffs behind my back, I was given regular handcuffs and placed into a dark Court Services truck with five other girls. Each girl had a different story: two of them were human rights workers and one had the unfortunate luck of going in the wrong direction when she stepped off the streetcar, which basically meant she was arrested for shopping in the area. Instead of anger and resentment, we consoled each other by salivating over the hot, delicious food we would eat as soon as we were released.

The police finally let us go an hour after we entered the small, dank truck that did not have any lights inside. I was given a verbal warning and allowed to go home five hours after standing in the rain in handcuffs without any information on what was going on and why I was being detained.

However, although I am outraged by the aggressive tactics of the police, I continue to be impressed by my fellow Canadians for our amiable nature. I met several wonderful people from all over the city regardless of their political views or opinions, particularly my police officer, who surprisingly contacted me later in the night to make sure that I was safe and warm.

Everyone I met expressed their fierce devotion and love for our Toronto, and that's why I can genuinely say that while I now reside in a nearby city, I still "live" in Toronto.