G20 police used imaginary law to jail harass demonstrators and jailed protestors in dangerous and abusive "detention center"

Last week's G20 summit in Toronto saw the extraordinary -- and appalling -- use of outdoor caged "detention centers" to house demonstrators who'd been arrested (and often ended up filled with random passers-by who were indiscriminately swept up police during the demonstrations).

Now the Toronto police have admitted that the law used to harass and search many of those demonstrators wasn't a real law, just something that they made up.

At the same time, disturbing first hand reports of the dangerous and abusive conditions inside the detention centers are emerging online.

Blog.to just got a press tour of the center and has photos.

(Thanks, Chris, Aaron, and Tim!)


  1. The cells were inside an old movie studio, not outside.

    The conduct of the Police this weekend was appalling. I’m embarrassed to call myself Canadian.

    1. Cory & BoingBoing – please try to get the facts straight when reporting on G20 stuff. What happened was bad enough – we don’t need inaccurate reporting on top of everything else.

      These cells were located inside an old movie studio, not outside. See the photos and descriptions on the Blog.to page you linked to. The ceiling of the building is clearly visible in multiple photos.

      1. You may be asking the wrong editor, if the request is to get news wholly correct without needing corrections to the post.

  2. So we the taxpayers paid for them to abuse us and now we will pay for lawsuits from them making laws up and abusing people. That’s lovely. Can i stop paying taxes now?

    1. Although I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that there were squads of undercover cops doing some of the rioting the article you linked to is really lame and is pretty much evidence free. Two examples:
      1 – There’s a lot of rubbish about footwear. For example he says that the hexagonal yellow spots on the footwear are a secret cop recognition code. I’ve got those spots on my boots too! They have “Vibram ™” inscribed on them to show you that the soles are made of this really great, durable material: I swear by it! He goes on to say that a lot of the footwear is really tough looking and similar looking so they must all have been bought in bulk by the undercover cops. Well if you’re going out rioting, whoever you are, you want really good boots and there aren’t too many different design solutions for said boots. The soccer hooligans call them “Romper-Stomper” boots and you can get them at Mark’s Work Warehouse for about $100.
      2 – There’s a picture of a guy pushing a spindly aluminium chair through a window (not clear if the chair is breaking the window or if it’s already broken). The description says that the guy doing this is clearly too fit to be a “seedy anarchist” and therefore a buff soldier. I don’t know what the hell kind of anarchist this guy’s been hanging out with but most of the ones I know are in fantastic shape. I knew one anarchist gal who installed a bar over the door to her office so that she could do chin-ups now and then throughout the day. She could do them until most people got bored watching her do them.
      It’s probably more accurate to say he’s not an anarchist because he’s being violent. Anarchist = violent? Huh?!

  3. I wonder if the graphic artists who created the cell labelling signs knew the purpose of their work? And the movers, chem-toilet suppliers, assemblers, bench suppliers, caterers (c’mon, at least the guards would have had refreshments!), etc. who supplied all this stuff thought?

    And I wonder if any of them thought about the fact that they themselves might have been held in those pens, should they have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Why do people always think “this isn’t for me—it’s for those people who don’t respect our laws and culture!” not get it? Oh, right. Hand to mouth economics… if I don’t do this, someone else will, and I won’t cover my bills this month… I wonder if this was a topic of the official discussions? Probably, but the points made were likely about “what do we need to do to keep things exactly like this?”

  4. If I had been locked up in one of those things under the conditions described I would be giving serious thought to getting some revenge in the very near future.

  5. What is it about police chiefs named Blair?

    Am I imagining it, or was the head of the UK police at the time of the 2009 summit called Blair, too?

    1. Our former Prime Minister’s predecessor was called Blair – Tony Blair – if that helps :) He was an idiot.

  6. I wonder if the graphic artists who created the cell labelling signs knew the purpose of their work? And the movers, chem-toilet suppliers, assemblers, bench suppliers, caterers (c’mon, at least the guards would have had refreshments!), etc. who supplied all this stuff thought?

    I agree with you on all but one point: Changing the font to Helvetica isn’t considered graphic design any more. ;P

  7. The cells pictured were indoor, and, if some accounts are to be believed, located next to aircon units so that they were freezing cold — presumably much colder than it would have been had they been outside.

    Inside <> better.

  8. I wonder if the G20 brings cages with them everywhere they go? Sort of like a touring band with a big stage show. Maybe they even have roadies?

    That’s got to be an awkward answer when someone asks what you do:

    “Oh well… I’m a cage assembler… with the G20. Yeah… cool bunch of dudes, they travel the world and throw this big party for rich people in a new city each time. Really awesome time, great food, open bar… but people are always trying to crash the party so we have all these cages to set up…”

  9. As these detention centers demonstrate, this isn’t a fluke. This isn’t certain cops “going too far”. This isn’t even the city of Toronto going too far. This is standard operating procedure.

    This model of repression has been the norm for almost 10 years now. We’ve seen it in Pittsburgh, DC, Quebec, Philadelphia, New York, and let’s not forget Miami. It’s been employed, revised, and perfected by different cities all over North America, and the culmination is what we saw in Toronto last week.

    So it’s missing the point to be outraged at only these particular cops, or this particular city, or even country. This is a system of control which has been very deliberately cultivated by the same trans-national elites whose interests are represented at meetings like the G20. All levels of power are party to it, from CEOs of mega-corps to heads of state all the way down to the paramilitary foot soldiers with their batons and gas masks.

    Our fight has got to be against all of them if we have any chance of winning.

    1. I agree. I’m curious to see what the next round they push it to is like.

      I read a comment by someone who said it could be worse, which is true, and these people will collective keep pushing towards that.

      I think people should be more unhappy and more active against these things because they will keep evolving back to a draconian state.

      America is pretty apathetic towards this kind of thing, I’m reminded of this every time I fly.

  10. I came to Canada from the UK 6 years ago, in part to escape an increasingly intrusive and oppressive society to what seemed like a more liberal and benevolent one. I’m currently waiting for my citizenship swearing-in ceremony date having recently taken the test so this is the most recent of several depressing reality checks.

  11. A little marketing would have done them some good. Don’t call them “detention centers”–call them “freedom cages.”

  12. what’s upsetting me about this whole thing is how many comments I’m seeing throughout the internet of people just shrugging and blaming all the protesters, saying they had plenty of warning to simply “not be downtown”. I’ve been outside Canada for about 7 years and maybe I’ve been infected by the US attitudes about personal freedom (remember, “life liberty and pursuit of happiness” vs. “peace order and good government”) but I’m a bit appalled at that attitude. it’s even coming from some of my friends.

    just because you link arms across a street and yell shit out doesn’t grant permission for someone to throw you on the ground and hurt you. maybe I’m crazy.

  13. Just to clarify – people weren’t jailed under the ‘imaginary law’. They were jailed under pre-existing laws. Those are the ones that should be examined.

    Also, the papers got the new law wrong, went into rabid media mode, and the police did not correct them, but did tell them where the law in question was posted online.

    Should we blame the police for misleading, or the papers for not doing their damn job and reading the laws they were reporting on?

  14. I’m surprised that governments are allowed to get away with this kind of behavior. It just goes to show how much governments are more like “do as I say, not as I do” or “my way or the highway” than “lead by example”. Or maybe they are leading by example, teaching people that it’s ok to do anything you want if you have the power and authority.

  15. I’m curious. What does protesting accomplish in the grand scheme of things? Wouldn’t more subtle subversive activities be more effective?

  16. The worse the police make it look (including through the deployment of agent provocateurs) then the bigger their budgets are.

    They planned for the worst case scenario and would have looked even more foolish if the detention centers stood empty.

    Besides, what are a bunch of hippie protesters and common peons going to do about being falsely arrested, you know, aside from wave signs and chant about it?

    Hopefully, something.

  17. Those are almost identical to the cages they kept us in when they did mass arrests in New York City after the 2004 Republican National Convention. (I was working as a reporter covering the protests, not there protesting)

    Except the cages we were in were in an abandoned bus depot and we spent upwards of two days covered in motor oil, gasoline and chemicals that burnt our skin.

    The protesters referred to the bus depot – Pier 57 – as Gitmo on the Hudson.

    Here’s someone’s cell phone photo from Pier 57: http://www.prisonplanet.com/images/february2006/010206pier57.jpg

    Beth Rankin

  18. I agree. THANK YOU. Canadians are letting our Charter of Rights and Freedoms be shredded with a shrug. “You shouldn’t have gone downtown, you should have known better.” This is our city, not the government’s or the police’s, and we cannot stand for what happened this weekend. If we do, we’ll lose everything that makes us Canadian.

    It hurts so much that people don’t understand that. Don’t understand that this is their rights we’re talking about. That those people arrested might hate what they say, but they put their bodies on the line for the right to say it.

    Also, there was a peaceful protest and march on Monday of about 1500 people at Police HQ. So there’s that.

  19. Appalling to say the least…here’s a link to a CBC report of first-hand accounts from journalists who were arrested without regard for press credentials, verbally abused, and subsequently detained for several hours. The accounts of verbal abuse speak to the mentality of the arresting and detaining officers. I suppose that crowd control is precarious in nature, if a few protesters get of hand, cars get burned and windows get smashed, however, if riot police get of hand, civil liberties get squashed and physical violence ensues.

    CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/06/29/g20-oiprd-reporters-complaint.html

  20. To all the moronic conspiracy theorists out there who believe that people owning black boots means they are military (I wear the same black boots shown here, most likely CATs, to work at a retail job).

    Please, do show me where the military/police officers of the black bloc group are in this video.

    I also love how people think that wearing a press badge excludes you from having to follow direction from the officers who are out there to do one thing, protect people. Apart from minor scrapes and a cold cell (at a MAKESHIFT detention center), no ones liberties were treaded on, just stretched so that the public as a whole may be safe. Anyone who actually lives in the downtown core were VERY thankful for the heavy hand the police showed, in protecting them and keeping damage to a minimum.

    This Canadian citizen stands behind those officers and understand their dilemma when it comes to public protection.

    I know this is quite the opposite view from most BB readers, but its how I feel.

    1. Funny, Scazza, but a Canadian friend of mine right on the scene disagrees.

      He lives close enough to have taken a good picture of the burning police car that some idiot set on fire, but he’s posted on FB that he’s more ashamed of and appalled by the Canadian police than the protestors.

      Next claim?

      Oh, BTW, thanks for speaking for “the Canadian citizen”. I’m sure the other 34 million of them have agreed that you should speak for them, and it’s just coincidence that the couple I know completely disagree with you.

    2. “Anyone who actually lives in the downtown core were VERY thankful for the heavy hand the police showed, in protecting them and keeping damage to a minimum.”

      I don’t personally live in the downtown core, I just work there, but I know quite a number of people who do live there and the majority of them think the police were out of control. Not to mention no where to be seen for the 1.5 to 2 hours that the Black Bloc were rioting and destroying Toronto. The reporters had no problem tracking them before the violence, during the riots and afterwards where they huddled into a big group removing their black clothing (check out the Toronto Star website for a number of these pictures).

      Anyways, you should never make assumptions and try to speak for a large group of people.

      Do Facebook groups help anything? I don’t think so but the Facebook group asking for an inquiry into events started out with just a few hundred people yesterday and is now over 21,000:
      If anything the growing numbers are reported in the media, putting pressure on politicians to open up an inquiry.

    3. “in protecting them and keeping damage to a minimum.”

      They protected a fence. The anarchist vandals could have torched anything north of Queen – the cops didn’t try to stop them and then they used the damage to justify attacks on peaceful protesters. Fortunately the anarchists were decent folks who didn’t want to beat up and kidnap random people and stick them in cages.

      I live downtown. I walked home on Queen st. Saturday more afraid of the cops than any “rioters.”

  21. As a Canadian, I thank you for covering this.

    My friend spent almost a day in here. He sent a group email (after sleeping 30 minutes) about his experience. Here is a non-edited quote:

    “and although torontonamo is a separate point, there is a connection to the police crackdown and the mass arrests. that is, of the 25 other people i shared my overcrowded cage with, not a single one was in there for something legitimate. a lot had been at queens park or the novotel. two were punk kids who were beat up and arrested for wearing black and knew nothing about the g20. i was also with a fully uniformed ttc attendant who was jumped by riot cops leaving queens park subway station. he was kept in for 30 hours. we were also with a 17 year old kid (who had been at the novotel), who was only wearing a t-shirt and was shivering from the cold the whole time and who, of course, had not been allowed to call his parents. (we were all, in fact, effectively disappeared for the entirety of our detention as we were allowed no calls, and the cops werent giving any information about anyone to the outside world.) then there was the self-proclaimed apolitical freelance photographer who had been tackled by a plainclothes officer while running away from riot cops. the same plainclothes officer had just, moments earlier, been inciting the crowd to get closer and to throw stuff at the cops. he was passed to riot cops who stepped on his head and kicked him in the face. he was covered in blood in our cell and was passing in and out of consciousness. obviously there was no medical attention. i asked him, as we left together 20+ hours later, if he felt less apolitical now, at least with respect to the police as an institution and the state that is supposed to oversee it. you can imagine his response. ”

  22. OK, it’s official. Since even a semblance of security trumps all rights, freedoms, and speech of any sort, lockdowns are necessary. Anyone who defies the lockdown order, for any reason, including going to work or coming home, must be incarcerated indefinitely.

    Arresting people who are actually in the process of violence, however, is far too risky. After all, they might burn a cop’s finger or something! Better to harass and arrest the mouthy pacifists.

    As a bonus, this interferes with Pride Week. No doubt the Tories hope that this combined with Canada Day will dilute Pride events exponentially.

  23. Too bad (or lucky I suppose) that photographs don’t convey smells…

    …the idea that the detention centers are indoors makes the idea of them even less appealing for some reason.

  24. It should be noted that despite this completely inhumane treatment of human beings it’s impossible to put a number on how much property was saved. Then, when you look to the reality of the situation, you can tell that this building did absolutely nothing to stop or slow down vandals willing to cause problems.

    The Canadian government was completely powerless to the banking interests who ram this down our throats every year, Toronto is just it’s latest victim. It gets worse every year because they commit mass fraud like it’s their business model. If they spend half the money they spent on security on prosecution for these assholes it would solve more problems than this cell ever could. The police were jailing the wrong people, either they jailed too many non-violent humans, and they left out in the real world the people stealing from all of us. What a waste.

  25. Welcome to Kanada, please insert your anal probe and step to the back of the line for your identification tattoo. We will be with you in 20-30 hours to explain when and where you can walk in public, anyone voicing concern or speaking up in protest please get in the “assault me” line and make sure to ask for the full treatment if you want to talk about “your rights”

    thank you and enjoy your stay in Kanada

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