Joel Duff, Ontario organizer at the Canadian Federation of Students, picked up the large white bullhorn in his right hand.
Raising the electronic megaphone upwards, he tilted his head back and squeezed the pistol grip trigger switch as he prepared to address an audience of close to 5,000 assembled on the front lawn at Queen’s Park.
“We are here because more than 900 people were arrested on the streets of Toronto,” he said, referring to the largest mass arrest in Canadian history two weeks ago during the G20 summit.
“We had 20,000 police descend upon our city from Calgary and Edmonton and Montreal. We had the Surete du Quebec, the RCMP and CSIS working together under a nefarious organization called the G20 Integrated Security Unit and to date no one has taken responsibility for who was calling the shots.”
Many of those arrested were held for up to 36 hours without charge in cages inside the G20 Eastern Avenue Detention Centre.
“There was no basis for those arrests,” said Duff as the early afternoon sunlight reflected off his orange tinted lenses and the sweat rolled down his face.
Duff and other supporters gathered at Queen’s Park Saturday, protesting against the transformation of Toronto into a “police state” during the last weekend of June and calling for an independent public inquiry.
Men and women, young and old, gay and straight, union and non-unionists came to the exact spot, where two weeks ago the designated protest zone turned into the designated arrest zone and common civil liberties were suspended south of Bloor Street between Yonge Street and Spadina Avenue as well as other parts of the city.
At that time, the only group calling for a public inquiry was the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Since then, they’ve been joined by more than 15 other organizations and thousands of individuals.
“We want a public inquiry at the provincial and federal level that points the finger at who’s responsible for this,” said Judy Rebick, authour and activist. “We want to know who gave the order to turn our city into a police state.”
Adrienne Telford, a lawyer at Cavalluzzo, Hayes Shilton McIntyre & Cornish LLP in Toronto and a member of the Movement Defense Committee (MDC), spoke about the need for “accountability for the police and state brutality” incurred during the G20.
The MDC wants to know why more than 1,000 people were arrested and detained “under illegal and shameful conditions” and “denied access to appropriate food, water and medical treatment.”
“We’re here to demand accountability for the discriminatory treatment of queers, Quebecers, people with disabilities and many others,” said Telford, wearing a black outfit that two weeks ago would have probably earned her an arrest and an extended stay at the detention centre.
“This is about the criminalization of dissent and a state that has fingerprinted and photographed thousands of people who were exercising their democratic rights.”
Telford pointed out the importance of also looking at the broader issues, including the communities that are targeted by police on a daily basis.
Following the speeches at Queen’s Park, protesters marched west on College Street to Spadina Avenue where they headed south to Queen Street to reclaim the intersection that was taken from them two weeks ago.
“This is what democracy looks like,” chanted the protesters as they approached the corner. In the middle of Spadina and Queen, they sat down, raised their arms and made peace signs while Judy Rebick led them in a chorus of “Whose streets, our streets.”
“This is the corner where 200 of our fellow protesters were kettled by the police in the pouring rain for three hours,” said Rebick, standing on the back of a pickup truck. “And we’re sitting here to take this corner back. Never again should people be abused just for exercising their right to speech.
The crowd erupted in applause.
“Sisters and brothers, we’ve managed to take over this intersection as a symbolic gesture to say that our civil liberties will not be taken away,” said Sid Ryan, president, Ontario Federation of Labour.
“So now let’s march down to the fence and take back that part of our city too.”
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