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One Year Later: How Being a G20 Detainee Changed Me

The main change I’ve noticed in myself since the G20 is how much I hate cops now. Not only am I uncomfortable around them, as most people are—I hate them.
I didn’t feel this way before the G20. But now, this newfound hatred permeates every part of my existence: from walking down streets to browsing on Facebook and everywhere in between. I firmly believe that police functioned during the G20 as enemies of democracy, civil rights, and social justice, and that they function in similar ways, around the world and in Canada, every single day.
This newly altered perception of police is regrettable. It has cost me a lot—socially, politically, and psychologically. Allow me to explain.

About two months ago I went to an old friend’s wedding with my partner. The groom and I had had a small falling out in high school, but we had both long forgotten what it was over; I thought his wedding would be a good opportunity to reconnect. His parents and brother came from Alberta, and told me how much they had missed me, how glad they were to see me again as a fully fledged adult, and how happy the groom was that I was able to make it.
It all made me feel very warm and happy.
The wedding was beautiful. At the reception, the speeches were touching, but someone beside me at our table began complaining that they were too long. “I mean, I want to eat,” he said. Soon after he told us he was a Toronto police officer.
My partner and I were initially turned off far more by his occupation than by his wanting the speeches to end. We agreed not to press him about being a cop, his opinions on the G20 policing, or anything else. We were there to have a good time, not cause a scene. As the night went on, he and I had a few drinks together, and I have to admit, I really warmed up to him. Not my favourite person in the world, but nowhere near my least favourite either. Turns out, there’s more to police than the uniform: they’re still real people under there who just want to have a good time. And we all definitely had a great time.
But no matter how much I drank and how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the questions I wasn’t asking him: “Where were you that weekend?” “Did you shove my partner’s face in the mud?” “Did you humiliate my best friend by forcing him to strip down, bend over, and lift his balls so you could fully search him, all the while recommending he stop trying to be a ‘political hero’?” “Did you help cram me into a paddywagon and accuse me of being an anarchist—as if that were a crime—before dumping me 25 kilometres from my home and telling me to make my own way back?”
I updated my Facebook status during the wedding, with something like “Wedding seating arrangements are pretty funny sometimes” and in the subsequent comments I passingly called the officer “a bit of a douchebag.” A few days later the groom messaged me, calling me out for being a douchebag myself, having openly and flagrantly insulted his wedding guests on my Facebook wall. I couldn’t disagree.
My heart instantly sank very deep. It had become so routine for me to express frustration about any interaction I had with police that I didn’t even think about how disrespectful it was in this instance. I apologized profusely, and he sent me a short email reading simply “No worries. Water under the bridge.” Still, we haven’t spoken since. My cop hatred seems to have broken what social ties he and I had rebuilt or retained. I doubt we’ll ever be good friends again.
Thinking about this makes me feel sad, and extremely socially isolated. Obviously.
One might expect that, even if cop-hating alienates me from some people, it would at least bring me closer to those people who share my politics and experiences. Somewhat ironically though, a distrust of police can actually make it harder to connect with those people in Toronto who do, in fact, share my politics and G20 experience.
Toronto hosted an academic conference on anarchism this past January, and since it was a five-minute walk from my house I went with a curious friend. Anarchist intellectuals, after all, are among the few willing to theorize about the democratic barriers presented by police repression of protests, and to speculate about how police tactics can be circumvented or mitigated in order to facilitate social progress. I wanted to hear people talk about that, about how to prevent things like Toronto’s G20 from happening again. I was excited to meet people who, like me, see the G20 summit as an unjust method of economic policy-making, amounting to little more than the open collusion of rich nations against the global labouring poor. I wanted to hear people agree that such summits were always facilitated by the police repression of a citizenry mobilized to disrupt their injustice, and that this clearly makes the police enemies of global justice. I wanted to feel welcomed and see my political views openly accepted in a group.
I wore a favourite hat along with my black and red T-shirt.
One panelist, discussing police repression, wondered aloud whether undercover police were in attendance, noting how horrible (but not implausible) it would be if the riot squad suddenly barged in and arrested everyone on conspiracy charges. At the thought of being arrested again, trapped by police in an enclosed space, I let go a kind of nervous laugh, as I often do when I’m extremely uncomfortable.
The entire room of at least 50 people immediately turned around to stare at me, wondering what I thought was so funny. My face must have instantly gone a deep shade of red. For the rest of the day, I’m sure, every single one of them thought I was a cop and I had lost any chance of being trusted—at the very least, that’s how I felt.
I attended the second day despite feeling very embarrassed and alienated. I knew very few people there, wore different clothes, and shaved what beard I had, so I doubted anyone would recognize me.
During an afternoon panel an organizer suddenly rushed in, grabbing the panelist’s microphones and recording devices. “The cops are outside,” she said, “and they brought guns.” I almost fainted. Sure enough, several police were outside, carrying loaded shotguns. Several brave individuals told the police they would not be let inside, and thankfully they didn’t force their way in. I hid in a corner.
Shortly thereafter I overheard three girls in conversation about the startling police presence. One of them mentioned “that guy from yesterday, wearing the black and red T-shirt with the hat” and how he (i.e. I) “was totally a cop.” I paused to eavesdrop, hoping I had misheard. Another agreed with the first, noting how I had laughed at the mention of a police raid, and thereby given myself away. Then they all looked at me, standing there, listening in on them. I felt they recognized me. I felt horribly embarrassed. I quickly moved on, not wanting to be confronted and accused of being a police infiltrator.
But, after a few seconds, I realized how stupid and divisive it was to run away from that rather than confront it. So, I turned around to just tell them I wasn’t a cop. Whether they believed me or not, I thought it was appropriate to at least acknowledge I had heard them.
Unfortunately, they were already gone.
As a 6-foot-tall, 220-pound middle-class white male in his late twenties who consistently wears T-shirts and jeans, it’s all too easy for a skeptical activist to perceive me as an undercover cop. I myself have had small bouts of paranoia over several new acquaintances, but this was the first time I’d overheard people discussing the “fact” that I was a cop.
I haven’t been to an activist meeting of any kind since. I just can’t deal with good people believing I’m something we both have come to hate.
This intense isolation is by far the most regrettable effect I still feel a year after Toronto’s G20. The worst part? After a year of thinking through it all, I still don’t know what to do about any of it.

The author woke up on June 27, 2010, to a Facebook message from his best friend’s mother, saying he’d been arrested at around 5 p.m. in Queen’s Park the day before. He and his partner spent the entire day on the streets, peacefully objecting to the imposed police state and demanding that his friend and all other detainees be released. The author and his partner were subject to several unlawful searches as a result, and witnessed innumerable other rights violations across the city. Walking home after vocally opposing the Queen and Spadina kettling, the pair were suddenly ambushed and arrested by a group of bike cops. His partner was quickly released, but the author was held by police for more than three hours and repeatedly told he was an “anarchist asshole” who was “going to be [there] for a while.” He was eventually driven to a police station on the outskirts of Toronto, released (still soaking wet) without charges, and told to get off police property or risk being re-arrested.
The author’s name has been withheld upon request.

For complete G20 retrospective coverage, go to One Year Later.


  • themacguy

    You hit the nail on the head when you admitted to be a douchebag. People like you throw around the terms “police state” and “fascists” without having a clue as to what they actually mean. I suggest that you travel to somewhere in the world where the police and military actually march in the streets and maintain order to get the feel of what a real police state is. You left wing crybabies are still whining about something that happened a year ago as a result of you all being somewhere that you were openly and numerous times told not to be and then further told to leave. You didn't and you suffered the consequences. Suck it up tinkerbell, life goes on. Carrying on with this irrational fear of police is akin to slipping and falling in the shower and then stinking like a pig the rest of your life because you're afraid to bathe. The lot of you make me sick.

  • Barnfeline

    As someone who has witnessed police brutality towards myself and my friends for our ethnicity (indigenous Canadian), I can relate to this article very strongly.  For example, one of my best friends was accused by some RCMP officers of stealing his own car because “no drunk Indian could own a car” when his car broke down one morning before class.  He was lucky enough to pull out his insurance and drivers licence when they were in the process of arresting him with no evidence (he was also sober, I should point out).     

    You want to trust the police; you want them to be the heroes on TV shows like CSI or Law and Order, but when that notion is shattered repeatedly it is crushing (at least it was for me). When the police aren't serving and protecting, but harassing, it leaves you unable to trust the police, which is incredibly unfortunate.  

    I don't think all police officers are untrustworthy; to the contrary, one of the reasons that it has been so crushing for me to not be able to automatically trust police officers is because my uncle was a decorated police chief who took his job very seriously and he was great at it.  Unfortunately, as I've seen anywhere I've lived and with the G20, you can't trust all of to take their jobs of serving and protecting the citizens seriously.

  • Bryanna Reilly

    I'm not going to get into a big discussion with you because I imagine that your silly opinion is already set, but I'll just say this: Think about the illogic of needing something worse to judge something being bad. Such as murder being more wrong than violent assault say, so the assault shouldn't matter.
    Ridiculous. The thing is, we don't live in those places, we live here. And we are still complex enough human beings to also recognize that fascism and cruel dictatorships in other places are terrible and in fact many of us work in various ways to try and support the people under those regimes and groups trying to end them. 
    And if we can understand those two, separate things, you should be able to as well. So stop your whining/reading about things that make you upset then. Honestly, it's bad for your blood pressure.

  • Calvin K

    Don't assume the authority or someone who can bully you is automatically justified in their actions. It's actually the citizens duty to keep the government in check in a democratic society. 

    In this case the peaceful protesters have the constitution and laws on their side, it's actually the police force that overstep their power – the abuse of power is widely, even internationally acknowledged. 
    If you don't feel the need to exercise your rights, that's fine. Don't condemn others for exercising theirs. 
    It's really not left nor right wing. Civil rights don't take sides.

  • Rob Camp

    The G20 changed me as well.  I cannot look at protestors and not see the worst anymore.  Yes, it was likely a small group who caused the havoc, destruction and ransacking but to me it paints the whole group the same.

    I am not sure it has cost me as much other than I am not as open to some ideologues as I might have been in the past and I have little trust and belief in the objectives and motives of the those who protest in large groups.

    Having been told by one of the G20 protestors that violence is necessary to be heard and this is required with the new policing techniques being used at these summits (to get media involvement etc) then I really can only see the worst.

    While I have not called out my protesting friends on Facebook or called them names, I do not believe that I look at them the same way.  Do any of them believe in violence and destruction as the method to get the message across?  I do not want to know.

    All I know is we spent way too much on security and now will spend way too much discussing the results.  Money that can and should have been spent on something important like education or poverty.

    And of course we are still talking about it (and the Star is still writing about it).

  • Toronto_Dave

    So let me see if I understand your argument:

    “Stop talking about fascism. The authorities of the state attempted to intimidate you from assembling publicly to express dissent. You didn't listen to said authorities, so they had every right to crush you. Don't like it? Try going to a country where state authorities intimidate people from assembling publicly to express dissent and crush them brutally when they disobey.”

    Whatever you say.

  • Christarchy

    Thank you for sharing this. I have to comment on the Anarchist Studies Conference. I really hope that your experience there won't dissuade you from being involved in anarchist communities. First off, it was a terrible conference, badly organised. Second, did I mention it was a terrible conference?
    I know that being assumed for being undercover is one of the worst things that can happen to an activist but at the same time in the same way that you were freaked out when the cops showed up, I think as an entire community in the wake of the G20 we are ALL hyper aware and paranoid about undercover officers. This is because they were so successful. It turns out that one of the cops that infiltrated for months lived as a roomate with someone I know. That's a terrible breach of trust I can't even imagine. But they're good, it happened. Years ago I worked for an organisation that was infiltrated by the FBI and there was only one reason it was successful-because no one called the cop out on anything (he was extremely homophobic, sexxist etc). I'm NOT saying you are these things but he continued to be in our space even taking over the organisation because none of us thought we were infiltrated. This was far less serious in our minds than something like anti-globilisation rallies (we were volunteers cleaning up New Orleans) and our naiievity ended up destroying people's lives. So as much as it sucks, I'm glad we're being aware.
    I really hope that you find some solidarity with good folks. As someone who took a baby to the G20 I was criticized within the movement and even the guy who was arrested for setting the cop car on fire told me he was going to call CAS on me, but at the same time I've persisted and found some good people and feel supported in a way I hadn't previously. /endrant
    Know that you have my full support and solidarity.