This film shows just how easily our freedom can be taken away
Don't see yourself as a protestor? Kettle, a short doc by Lucius Dechausay, could be your wake-up call
Last weekend, 673 Women's Marches took place around the world in response to the first day of Donald Trump's presidency. Organizers of the Women's March on Washington estimate 4.9 million people around the world participated; in Toronto alone, organizers of that sister march say that 50,000 people turned out for the demonstration, which would make it one of the largest such events in the city's history.
Covering a wide range of issues, from reproductive rights and climate change to immigration policy and an end to racism and misogyny, the march had no specific demands but instead united people under a general banner of social justice.
As I looked at photographs of the day, I was reminded of the 2010 G20 protests that took place in Toronto.
Kettle is a short documentary by Lucius Dechausay that explores some of the controversial tactics used during those protests. It premiered at the Hot Docs Film Festival last year and is now streaming on CBC Docs.
Dechausay and I work together at CBC Arts, and we spoke about the film earlier this week, comparing notes on our different experiences at the G20 protests and the significance this film has in the current political climate. Here's some of our chat.
Why did you decide to make Kettle?
It was actually three years or four years after the G20. I kind of assumed that we would have this huge public debate about it, because it was the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. It was this huge moment. But in this very Canadian way, we just...didn't.
We're almost too polite to just dive in and talk about the issues of policing and talk about the issues of protest. So it just sort of died.
How did you acquire all of the recordings and footage that you ended up including in the film?
I was there taking pictures and video and the other people who were in the film had cell phones and they were taking cell phone video, so some of their video was also in the film.
And then a large part of it is also from Freedom of Information requests. That was a process that took probably a year and a half in and of itself, just to acquire that footage [of police].
What was it like listening to those recordings and hearing these police officers and what they were thinking?
I was totally shocked. Totally shocked.
When you listen to the tapes, there are OPP officers who don't believe in kettling. They believe in providing a route for people to actually disperse and leave the area. The serious protestors, the people who are committed to the cause, are going to stay, and then that becomes a much smaller group, and then they deal with that group. That's what they're trained to do.
Toronto Police Service, they adopted kettling as this tactic. They were hoping that in arresting 300 people at that intersection, that at least one person had to be involved in something — and yet nobody was charged in that entire incident.
In your research did you find out where kettling came from? Who came up with it?
Yeah, it's credited to the G20 in London [in 2009]. And as soon as it was used, it became controversial because there was a street vendor who was just walking home, like not part of the protest, and due to the kettle, he ended up being in this altercation where he was pushed, people were running and he had a heart attack and he died.
"I was literally walking home [...] and then you're suddenly surrounded by 300 officers." - Lucius Dechausay
And so right from the get-go they knew that this was a tactic that actually puts people in harm's way because it agitates the situation. It doesn't calm the situation.
A lot of the people that you interview in the film are unintended participants who were just walking home or just passing through the intersection. Why did you want to include their voices?
Well, I think it's a voice that resonates with a lot of people — because the police tried to frame it in a way to say that everyone was terrorists. When you actually look through the transcripts, they interchangeably use the words "protestor" and "terrorist" all throughout.
Which is scary.
Which is incredibly scary. It's so scary.
A lot can happen to somebody that they label "terrorist" without people blinking an eye.
Absolutely. And then when you look at the state violence against the people, you recognize where that's coming from. There's a certain fear, there's a certain intimidation that comes with thinking that you're gonna show up on scene and there's 300 terrorists in an intersection versus 300 people who are just walking through.
This film, to me, was about how easily your freedom can be taken away, and that might be news for some.
Absolutely. I think that freedom is something that people don't think about depending on your class structure.
For me, it's something that I think about constantly because the first time that I was ever pulled over by the police, guns were drawn [on me]. And that is a situation that most people don't feel. It escalated in a way that was so intense. And to me, that feeling was the same.
[I] assumed that we would have this huge public debate about it, because it was the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. [...] But in this very Canadian way, we just...didn't.- Lucius Dechausay, filmmaker
When the kettling started, I was literally walking home. So I don't have my guard up. I'm getting dinner. I'm hungry. And then suddenly you're surrounded by 300 officers, who are banging their shields in a very violent, aggressive manner, pushing people and pinning you against the side of a building.
I was there at the G20 protests in the Queen's Park area, and I've been to many protests but that was a transformative one for me because it was so intensely scary. I would describe it as a traumatic experience. Would you describe your experience as traumatic?
Oh, I think absolutely. And for me it was so intense. The police didn't give any announcements other than, "You're under arrest." So you had no idea what they were planning on doing. And then you saw people getting arrested — they were getting dragged out in a very aggressive manner. So you knew it was gonna be bad.
Your film premiered last year. It is now available for everyone to see and it arrives at a very critical and interesting moment in politics. What role do you think your film can play in this historical moment?
One of the main themes that I tried to explore in the film is the attack on protest in general. I think that it's meant to be a wake-up call for people who don't see themselves as protestors. Because if you're not out in the streets, yelling and trying to create some form of change, then the world is going to change around you for you. To me, that is the biggest thing that I wanted to share with this film.
Watch Kettle below.
Learn more about the film and read Lucius Dechausay's account of the day he was kettled by police in Toronto on CBC Short Docs.