G20 security: Detained

Security fence in downtown Toronto. (Zach Bussey)

zach52.jpgBy Zach Bussey, G20 citizen blogger

Monday, June 21 commenced the first day of police security operations. Naturally, as a resident of Toronto, I was curious to see the full scope of the fences and police force. When I got down there, I wasn't disappointed. Police were on every street corner, in cruisers, on horses, on bikes and on foot.

To get a full feel for how big the fenced-off area was, I took a walk around the entire fence. Something that felt similar to a walk on Vancouver's seawall, but much less beautiful. It actually proved to be quite fun to have a structured walk to follow.

G20 security fence in front of Union Station. (Zach Bussey)

But this is where the story turns a little bit. Walking back through the downtown core, I snapped a few pictures of fences, police on corners and other interesting sights. My activity apparently raised some suspicion because within seconds of snapping a photo of a group of police standing beside a fence, two police officers approached me and questioned me about what I was doing.

I told them that I was there because it's not every day your city is turned into a war zone and it was interesting. This was an apparently insufficient answer as they asked me to come with them to the side of a building, removed from the main sidewalk. They questioned me again about my intent and also my name. I gave it to them openly. I had no ill intent being there, I just wanted to experience what we Torontonians were experiencing.

A group of police officers near Union Station. (Zach Bussey)

They had me sit there for roughly 25 to 30 minutes, without telling me why I was being detained. Nightmarish scenarios entered my mind: visions of being arrested for the duration of the meetings, maybe I'd have a permanent record now, or be put on a watch list, or maybe I'd even be tortured! These did not prove to be the case as a female police officer, who seemed shocked to see me there, told me kindly that I could leave. Apparently my 30-minute timeout was over.

What? Really? No waterboarding for me? Great! But wait... why was I detained anyway? Why wasn't I informed of what I was being held for? Immediately I recounted my story in 140 characters on Twitter, I felt violated. The lack of communication had me in a frenzy of frustration.

I sat down and sent a text message to my dad, a guy I can always turn to with problems who'll provide a voice of reason and he assured me I was fine (Happy Belated Father's Day!). Then, after taking a few deep breaths, I started to think it through.

Perhaps I did something they thought was suspicious? I was wearing a polo shirt and shorts, so among those in suits, I did stand out a bit. Then I admit, I was caught in the excitement of it all and was making strange decisions where I'd turn back and go the way I just came from, or cross the street without really realizing I'd not be able to get through the fence. So maybe there was some cause for concern.

I've come to accept and am okay with what happened today. I understand tension is high and they've got to keep their eyes open for security threats. Maybe they had first-day jitters too?
I think all of us can accept that mistakes can be made. But there has to be better handling if this is going to be a common occurrence this week. Police need to communicate better with who they are questioning.

No one is going to accept a temporary suspension of our rights because world leaders are in town. So please Integrated Security Unit, do it right. This is Canada -- the best country in the world. I think I deserved better.

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