Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Portraits of four people who were 'kettled' by police at the intersection of Queen St. West and Spadina Ave. during the G20 summit on June 27 2010. From left are Emmanuel Lopez ; Justin Stayshyn ; Eda Martinovic and Kate Copeland (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Portraits of four people who were 'kettled' by police at the intersection of Queen St. West and Spadina Ave. during the G20 summit on June 27 2010. From left are Emmanuel Lopez ; Justin Stayshyn ; Eda Martinovic and Kate Copeland (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

A look inside the G20 'kettle' at Queen and Spadina Add to ...

On the last Sunday of June, Eda Martinovic, a stay-at-home mother in Mississauga, coaxed her brother into babysitting her daughters, 3 and 4, so she could go shopping in downtown Toronto. She needed a dress for a wedding and figured she'd find one on the busy Queen Street West retail strip.

But her quest proved unsuccessful, so Ms. Martinovic, 31, decided to surprise her husband. He's a driver with the Toronto Transit Commission, and she sometimes takes a ride on his bus so they can chat. The two grew up in the same town in the former Yugoslavia, which her family left in 1995 to escape the ethnic conflict.

More related to this story

As she walked west along Queen to catch the streetcar at Spadina, Ms. Martinovic had no way of knowing that an acquaintance was already at the intersection. Kate Copeland, a 24-year-old office manager, lives in the northwest part of Toronto, and comes downtown with her boyfriend on weekends. They and some friends were planning to visit Mr. Tasty Fries, their favourite chip truck, before taking in a jazz concert. On the way, they noticed a throng walking west and, curious, decided to tag along and see where it was going.

Several blocks to the south, the G20 economic summit was wrapping up, as city residents were still coming to terms with the mayhem that had played out in the streets around the fortified Metro Convention Centre. The police were on high alert for trouble-makers, but the throng on Queen Street was made up largely of peaceful protesters and cyclists who'd taken part in a rally downtown.

Passing an anti-summit sit-in taking place at King and Bay, the rally picked up Justin Stayshyn, a 35-year-old social-media strategist who lives near Queen and Spadina. The day before, he had witnessed a small group of anarchists employing the infamous "black bloc" tactic, concealing their identities with masks and uniformly black clothes, ripping through his neighbourhood, trashing stores and torching police cruisers. In the belief that thoughtful demonstrations are crucial to civic life, he had taken part in the King and Bay sit-in, but when he saw where the passersby were going, decided to join them and then head home.

However, just as Ms. Martinovic never got to surprise her husband and Ms. Copeland never made it to the chip truck, Mr. Stayshyn didn't wind up at his front door. Instead, all three were trapped at Queen and Spadina and subjected to treatment so jarring that, more than just ruin their plans, it changed forever the way they see the people whose job it is to serve and protect.

This week, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair admitted to a parliamentary committee that "approximately 90" of the roughly 10,000 members of the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) assembled to safeguard the G20 summit that weekend disobeyed his department's policy by removing their names tags.

But as what took place at Queen and Spadina demonstrates, the resounding criticism of the way in which the ISU conducted itself is much more about what its members did than what they failed to do.

The kettle

When she reached Spadina, planning to head north and take the Bloor subway line out to her husband's bus route, Ms. Martinovic was surprised to find about 300 people sitting in the intersection. Marchers and bystanders alike were hemmed in by police on bicycles to the south and to the west.

She had seen some of the previous day's chaos on television, but assumed the trouble was over. Even the size of the crowd didn't alarm her - everyone seemed peaceful, and she stopped briefly to read a couple of placards.

Seeing crowds blocking her way north on Spadina, she decided to make her way over to the next street to the west, but the bike cops told her to turn around. Which she did, only to find a solid wall of riot police had sprung up behind her.

"I was basically in a box," she recalls. "Coming from ex-Yugoslavia, I realized this was not good."

Ms. Martinovic and those around her were being subjected to "kettling," a controversial crowd-control tactic that has been used to neutralize mass demonstrations around the world. It was employed in Toronto even though encircling and containing large groups had been declared illegal and sparked multimillion-dollar class-action awards in other countries - a year earlier, a man had died after being shoved to the ground when protesters were cordoned off during a G20 gathering in London.

Someone told her it would be wise to sit down, so she did. "My parents brought me here to be safe," she says. "The last thing that I wanted to do was get involved in a conflict with police."

A little to the north, Mr. Stayshyn was thinking of heading home, a just a few blocks away, when he noticed all the alleys had been blocked by officers in riot gear. "Something felt really wrong," he recalls.

Ms. Copeland and her boyfriend had just decided to leave when they saw a line of police advancing south toward them. Panicking, they ran east but hit the riot squad that Ms. Martinovic had encountered. Ms. Copeland searched for shelter - in the entrance to a bar, behind a hot-dog stand, then an ice-cream truck - hoping the police would pass by, but each time was herded back to the street.

The south, east and west sides of the intersection were blocked, and a wall of police was marching from the north, a unit recruited for the weekend from the London Police Service. Clad in black body suits and helmets with visors, they raised their batons and full-length shields and forced their way through the crowd, turning one "kettle" into two. About 250 people were trapped between the London police and those marching from the north, while a much smaller group of 30 or so was contained by the original riot lines.

Chief Blair later told The Globe and Mail that the crowd was ordered to disperse on three separate occasions, warnings that Ms. Martinovic, Ms. Copeland, Mr. Stayshyn and more than a dozen other witnesses who were interviewed say they did not hear. In videos of the episode posted online, officers can be heard shouting "Leave or you will be arrested now" and "Time to go home." But by this point it was too late. Police were closing in and the crowd had no escape.

Ms. Martinovic was trapped in the smaller corral with a motley crew: One man had come from Kingston, Ont., to protest against G20 economic policy, while a woman employed as an administrator in Toronto's financial district was an amateur photographer there to record the event. (Afterward, she would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.)

Emmanuel Lopez, meanwhile, had just come back from shopping at the Eaton Centre, and stepped off the Queen streetcar minutes before the police made their move. At first he mistook the protest for a street party, and later looked back at the experience in awe. "I've been living in this area for 25 years, 25 years, and nothing like this has ever happened."

The police move in

At 6:15 p.m., perhaps 20 minutes after Ms. Martinovic reached the scene, the eastern riot line, made up of Ontario Provincial Police, began to advance on the smaller kettle, beating its shields in unison. People quickly found themselves being forced backward into the police stationed behind them. Videos show a 27-year-old construction worker named Jason MacDonald being hit with a shield and beginning to bleed above one eye.

Squeezed together, the crowd watched as two people were arrested without incident. Then, a group of police darted in, put a man in a chokehold and dragged him off by his neck. "It was like something out of The Blair Witch Project movie," Ms. Martinovic says.

A girl started to cry as more officers charged into the group, grabbing Ms. Martinovic, Mr. MacDonald and several others, forcing them face-down on the ground. Mr. MacDonald later filed an intent to sue, claiming he was assaulted during his arrest.

Placed in plastic wrist restraints, Ms. Martinovic had her glasses taken away and was told she was being charged with conspiracy to commit mischief. Then her arresting officer paused, asked a sergeant for advice and abruptly changed the charge to breach of the peace, which is not a criminal offence, but allows police to detain a suspect up to 24 hours. Then she was lined up beside a police van.

At this point, the clouds opened, producing a chilly downpour that was to last for hours and flood two major highways.

Trapped in the larger kettle, Ms. Copeland was in tears. At first she had begged to be arrested, afraid the police would use rubber bullets as they had during the uproar the previous day. No one would respond, but when it began to rain, she heard an officer telling people to line up to be arrested, so she volunteered, was placed in restraints and loaded into a van for a journey that went on for more than an hour. A middle-aged woman beside her asked repeatedly to go the washroom, but her requests were denied. Eventually, she lost control of her bladder.

When the vehicle finally stopped at the rear of a building, its occupants were informed that they were at Keele Street and Finch Avenue on the outskirts of Toronto, nearly 20 kilometres from Queen and Spadina.

Eastern Avenue

Ms. Martinovic was taken in the opposite direction - to a special G20 detention centre that had been set up on Eastern Avenue. But after arriving, the vehicle sat for more than an hour with its doors shut as its occupants' wet clothes and body heat created a stifling sauna. Mr. Lopez says he thought he was going to pass out, and people banged on the walls, pleading for relief. After their sixth attempt, someone cracked open a door.

When they were finally unloaded and allowed to use the washroom, Ms. Martinovic was embarrassed to find that the stall everyone was sharing had no door. After that, they sat on the concrete floor and waited.

Back at Queen and Spadina, Mr. Stayshyn was still being kettled in the cold rain. He had identification, including his passport, but says that, even though he's more than six feet tall, he was too intimidated to approach the police to say he lived in the area and ask to leave. Only after the downpour started and someone noticed his lips had turned blue did he try - and was told that the entire group was to be arrested, including three German tourists who'd come to the corner for hot dogs, some Irish rugby players still holding their ball and a guy who'd been on his way home from the gym.

Also in the crowd was Sherry Good, a 51-year-old administrative assistant who became the chief plaintiff in the first of two class-action lawsuits stemming from G20 weekend.

As the night darkened, the RCMP arrived to reinforce the southern flank of the kettle, joining the Toronto, London, York Region and provincial police already on duty. Mr. Stayshyn says the Mounties were more heavily protected than the others - even their ears were covered, making him think that communication would be difficult. Two buses pulled up to transport prisoners. He was scared.

It was at this point that Chief Blair says he began to reassess the situation. "The circumstances changed there. The rain, the passage of time, the fact that the [summit's]motorcades had left - the risk ended."Around 10 p.m., he gave the order to release all detainees without charge.

At the Eastern Avenue detention centre, Ms. Martinovic and the others were simply told they were free to go and led to the door. Outside, she was given an apple and a ride to the subway. It was well after midnight when she got home to Mississauga. Her husband was frantic; he hadn't heard from her in seven hours.

Up at Keele and Finch, Ms. Copeland also found herself being shown the door. Wandering into the street, she called her boyfriend, and discovered that he had been brought there as well. A friend came to pick them up.

Mr. Stayshyn learned that, after four long hours, freedom was at hand when he heard a cheer go up from the crowd at Queen and Spadina. He walked three blocks to his home, took a hot shower and went to bed.

The official story

Soon after the kettle was emptied, Staff Superintendent Jeff McGuire spoke to media about the incident. He said that, as police were escorting the march from downtown, "we gained significant evidence to suggest that we had members of black bloc-type people involved in the crowd," such as "people who, during the walk, actually donned masks."

Weapons were recovered along the route, he said, and the masked people were arrested within sight of others participating in the march. The mass detention was ordered to prevent criminal acts by the masked protesters and by others who, he said, "chose not to disassociate themselves from this group."

Asked about innocent bystanders, Staff Supt. McGuire said: "I cannot apologize to them, and I won't."

Many witnesses, including Globe and Mail reporters who followed the marchers from the sit-in at King and Bay, say they saw no protesters all in black or wearing masks. But in his interview the next day, Chief Blair confirmed that more than 60 people dressed that way had been arrested, and weapons had been seized.

He also said the police believed the crowd would disrupt motorcades leaving the summit, even though Queen and Spadina is well north of the convention centre and not on a major route to the airport.

A month later, however, after complaints about the behaviour of the police had sparked the lawsuits and official reviews by the local force's civilian-oversight body, the Toronto Police Services Board, and by the provincial watchdog, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, Chief Blair conceded that mistakes had been made, especially at Queen and Spadina.

"We probably could have, and should have, reacted quicker," he said. "When I became aware of it, I said, 'That's it - release them all immediately and unconditionally.' And that was done. But it probably could have happened sooner."

And who exactly were the suspected anarchists? When asked, the police directed requests for details to the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, whose spokesperson said that, without the names of those charged, no information could be provided.

And why were the bystanders detained even though the arrests had already been made? Because, the chief said, police couldn't be sure that no other trouble-makers were lurking in the crowd.

The aftermath

Kate Copeland says that she grew up in a family with traditional values and was taught to trust the police: "I used to be super, super pro-cops. I was always told I could rely on them." Now, however, "every time I go by a police car, I feel super nervous."

In the days that followed, she noticed on Facebook that Eda Martinovic had been at Queen and Spadina as well. The two made contact, traded stories and have grown closer as friends.

Ms. Martinovic says the experience now colours what it means to be a Canadian. "For the past 15 years, I've felt safe - I don't feel safe any more." Undemocratic action by police "can happen anywhere, to anyone. And I do plan to tell my little girls and their little girls: 'Never take anything for granted.' "

Justin Stayshyn is no more inclined to forgive and forget. He says that, as an online strategist for Pride Toronto, he once respected the force, ironically, for supporting the Pride Parade - the gay community's annual march.

Since the G20, however, "it feels like Toronto police betrayed the citizens of the city."

Single page

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeToronto

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories