G20 officer admitted targeting Quebecers: student

A Toronto police officer acknowledged targeting Quebecers for traffic stops during last weekend's G20 summit, a Montreal law student who was pulled over says.
People are led away last Sunday after being arrested in a morning raid on a University of Toronto student building. About 70 people, including 50 Quebecers, were taken into custody without incident on suspicions they contributed to disorder during protests against last weekend's G20 summit. ((Fred Thornhill/Reuters))

Police in Toronto acknowledged they were targeting Quebecers for traffic stops during last weekend's G20 summit, a Montreal law student who was pulled over says.

Jesse Gutman, a law student at McGill University taking a summer course in Toronto, said the officers who flagged down his car swore as they grumbled about people from Quebec.

Gutman began the G20 weekend as a legal observer, watching interactions between police and protesters on Friday, June 25, and taking notes, he said. Then on Saturday, he says he took part in an afternoon demonstration that started at Queen's Park, Ontario's legislature.

By that evening, more than 400 demonstrators, alleged vandals, journalists and bystanders had been rounded up after a small subset of the marchers broke away from the rally to smash store windows and burn several police cars.

Gutman said he decided to go to the protester detention centre, east of downtown Toronto, the next day "to see what was happening" outside.

"At that point, several hundred people had been taken in, and I just wanted to go see it. We weren't going to take any action," he said.

"They had been holding a vigil there and some people were just rounded up outside the detention centre, and I wanted to see it for myself. There were lots of other regular Toronto citizens doing the same thing."

Gutman got in his station wagon, which has Quebec licence plates, with some friends and they drove to the jail.

'We're pulling over people from Quebec'

Their visit was uneventful, but on the way home, the four were pulled over by police at Yonge and Carlton streets — about a block from Toronto police headquarters.

"I asked them, 'Is there a problem, sir?'" Gutman said. "They said, 'What are you doing in Toronto today?' So I said, 'I've been here taking a course. What's going on?'"

About 1,000 people marched in Montreal on Thursday to denounce mass arrests and police actions at last weekend's G20 summit in Toronto.

Gutman says the two constables who pulled him over, from a group of a dozen at the intersection, responded, "You know why we're pulling people over. We're pulling people over from Quebec, we're stopping people in buses, in cars."

The police then took issue with his vintage front licence plate. Quebec, like a few other provinces, only requires cars to carry a plate on the back, so some drivers in the province mount a non-matching special plate on the front, such as a European one.

Gutman said he tried to explain it to the officers.

"They were really harassing me, like, 'You really need to take off the plate' — and implying I'm a liar. I told them I used to be a high school teacher and now I'm a law student, and that I'm not lying about this. Then they started mocking me, 'Oh, you're a law student, you're someone who looks like they want to go to court.'"

The dozen officers started milling about the car and one of them began talking to Gutman's friend in the back seat, Montreal social worker Melissa Abboud, he said.

That's when one of the constables complained about Quebecers "coming to Toronto and ruining our city," according to Gutman. Abboud has since recounted the experience to the Montreal Gazette newspaper, saying she is "sure" about the officer's words because she took notes.

"She says, 'Excuse me, sir, can you please watch your profanity?'" Gutman recalled. "They get really angry and demand everyone's ID in the car. I'm a Quebecer, the other woman in the car is also a Quebecer, the other two are living in Quebec."

Police deny discrimination

The four were let go without major incident, but Gutman's tale echoes the experiences of some other Quebec residents who were in Toronto during the G20.

A woman who gave her name as Camille told a Montreal news conference on Monday that police targeted her and two others because they were speaking French and had a Quebec licence plate on their car. She was pulled over last Sunday on her way to a rally at the east-end detention centre and was arrested when officers found a book about anarchism in her vehicle.

In another case, about 50 Quebecers were taken into custody in a mass arrest Sunday morning at a University of Toronto student building where they were being billeted. Police allege they had "street-type weaponry."

The G20 security team firmly denied that Quebecers were being discriminated against.

"There was no targeting of any type of group," Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. David Woodford, a spokesman for the summit's Integrated Security Unit, told the media earlier this week.