The undercover police officers who infiltrated two activist communities in southern Ontario played key roles in planning the G20 protests – going so far as identifying targets for mayhem, The Globe and Mail has learned.
One officer helped develop a list of locations for protesters to congregate at or vandalize; another was such a prominent presence in pre-G20 marches that his face was twice featured in newspapers alongside the activists he was spying on.
But despite having information – both from the list and in meetings – that protesters were considering gathering on Queen Street and embarking on a smashing rampage that would target Starbucks, Commerce Court and other specific businesses and offices, police were unable to stop the vandalism.
Asked why police didn’t do more, a spokesman for Toronto Police said it would be inappropriate to comment. “These cases may be over but the inquiries looking into the G20 have not yet reported,” Mark Pugash said.
The investigation, which lasted more than a year and a half, culminated in a plea deal on Tuesday that will see six activists go to jail for counselling others to damage property and, in two cases, counselling others to obstruct a peace officer.
The remaining 11 co-defendants had all of the charges against them withdrawn.
The activists were arrested on the first day of the summit, roused from their beds or snatched from a taxi before the protests began. Since then, all 17 have lived in jail, under house arrest or faced strict bail conditions that prevented them from associating with each other or attending protests.
The Crown’s case turned on intelligence collected by Brenda Carey and Bindo Showan, two OPP officers who infiltrated activist communities in Guelph and Kitchener so successfully that they were able to participate in regular meetings and form close personal friendships with some members.
The pair was among 12 undercover agents who participated in an RCMP-led Joint Intelligence Group that monitored threats to the G20 summit.
Constable Carey, a middle-aged woman with a pixie hair cut and a quiet demeanour, moved into an activist house on a quiet street in Guelph, Ont., where she was known for her reliability and organizational skills. Constable Showan became a trusted friend to some Kitchener activists, and drove many of them to and from meetings in his van.
Both joined SOAR, a Kitchener-based anarchist movement, and the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, two groups that became increasingly focused on planning protest activity at the G20 as the summit approached.
And the information the two gathered over the course of some 15 planning meetings suggests the officers knew where protesters would be most likely to engage in vandalism.
One of the key pieces of evidence the Crown presented against the activists came from a “tourist attraction list” of locations in Toronto, mostly corporate headquarters and government offices that the Crown suggested could be used as targets for vandalism.
Some of the locations on the list were ultimately targeted by protesters during the riot on June 26. Commerce Court, the headquarters of CIBC at King and Bay streets was, among other things, attacked by a black-clad man wielding a pickaxe, who succeeded in smashing a large plate-glass window on the building’s ground floor.
According to the court document, the list was circulated by Alex Hundert on June 11, 2010. Mr. Hundert, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of counselling to commit mischief and counselling to obstruct a police officer, said such lists are standard for groups preparing for large summits, and are usually generated by asking for suggestions from local activists.
He said he worked with Constable Carey, the undercover officer living in Guelph, and several others to compile it. “Brenda played a major role in producing the target list that I had to plead guilty for,” Mr. Hundert said, adding, “Other than myself there was nobody more involved.”
He said Constable Carey advocated for the list to be distributed as widely as possible and ultimately approved of his work in pulling it together with an e-mail saying “that looks good.”
Mr. Hundert added that it never occurred to him at the time that the list would get him in trouble because it didn’t explicitly advise people to vandalize anything.
At the activists’ final planning meeting, held at the 519 community centre in Toronto’s gay village the night before the G20 riots took place, Constable Carey wore a wire.
The court document indicates that activists at the meeting discussed targeting businesses such as Starbucks, the Gap, Le Chateau and Scotiabank on John Street. They also talked about breaking off from the main labour march the following day and using Black Bloc vandalism tactics. The tactics involve black-clad protesters engaging in acts of vandalism, then shedding those clothes and blending back into the crowd.
At the end of the meeting, activists couldn’t agree on a specific plan. But the mayhem on the afternoon of the 26th closely mirrored some of the Crown’s submissions on what activists discussed that night. The breakaway march began on Queen Street, near Spadina Avenue, when protesters dressed in black formed up around a red flare, then headed east to start the vandalism rampage. Some of the first businesses attacked were around John Street, including a Starbucks.
Vandalism is common during protests at global summits, and activists say they believe the window smashing was inevitable as soon as Canada decided to hold the G20 in downtown Toronto.
Mr. Hundert said police should have been able to figure out from the meetings they attended where the vandalism was most likely to occur. But he added plans for the breakaway march were also announced in a public call-out to other activists.
“They didn’t need to infiltrate anything, or spend any money to know that,” Mr. Hundert said. “All they had to do was read the call-out.”
Asked how much was spent on the undercover operation, RCMP spokesman Greg Cox said the force will not reveal the cost because doing so could “compromise future undercover operations.”
Julia Kerr, whose charges were dropped on Tuesday, said her resolve as a feminist and an anarchist was strengthened by the experience. “If their objective was to try and stop this, you cannot stop this,” Ms. Kerr said over a cellphone from an Occupy Toronto gathering at Nathan Phillips Square Tuesday night.
Mr. Hundert, meanwhile, who Constable Showan identified in court as a leader in SOAR, said the officers’ presence had a lasting and unintended impact on the groups they infiltrated.
“The things I think most parts of the broader public would agree are the more endearing things about anarchists, especially militant anarchists: loyalty, inclusivity, seeing the best in people, those are the things that took a hit,” he said.
“And the anti-police sentiment [of anarchists]that lots of people, I’m sure, would argue are some of the more abrasive parts of militant anarchism, is only hardened.”
Constables Showan and Carey could not be immediately reached for comment.
In all, six people pleaded guilty to counselling to commit mischief on Tuesday: Mr. Hundert, Mandy Hiscocks, Leah Henderson, Peter Hopperton, Adam Lewis and Erik Lankin. Mr. Hundert and Ms. Hiscocks also pleaded guilty to counselling to obstruct police.
Both the Crown and defence have agreed to jail sentences of 13 1/2 months for Mr. Hundert, 16 months for Ms. Hiscocks, 10 months for Ms. Henderson, 5 months and 12 days for Mr. Hopperton, 3 months for Mr. Lankin and 3 1/2 months for Mr. Lewis.
Ms. Kerr, Terrance Luscombe, Syed Hussan, Patrick Cadorette, Paul Sauder, Meghan Lankin, Willian Van Driel, Sterling Stutz, Monica Peters, David Prychitka and Joanna Adamiak had all charges against them dropped.
An overview of the undercover investigation into activist organizations planning protests against the G20 summit contains minutes for 15 meetings attended by police infiltrators. The document, which was filed in court, describes sessions in Toronto, Guelph, Peterborough and Kingston, with activists from across Southern Ontario and Quebec. There were various groups involved, including Anti-War at Laurier, a Kitchener-Waterloo-based student organization, and the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance (SOAR). The minutes also describe spokes councils, which were larger meetings to co-ordinate between different groups. Here are four of the meetings:
February 7, 2010 -- Anti-G20 organizing meeting in Peterborough
According to the overview, fifteen people from different cities gathered to talk about whether they should plan G20 protests together. At one point, the document says, one activist suggested holding protests outside the Don Jail if there were mass arrests at the summit and the undercover officer advised him arrestees would actually make their first court appearances at Old City Hall.
May 9, 2010 -- Returning to Guelph after a SOAR meeting in Toronto
Activists Mandy Hiscocks and Monica Peters expressed concern about police infiltration, the overview says, and said Alex Hundert had investigated the background of one man they were suspicious about. Unbeknownst to them, the person they were confiding in was an undercover officer.
May 26 to 29, 2010 -- A cottage on Lower Lake Buckhorn
During a three-day retreat, members of Anti-War at Laurier discussed everything from how to free someone from police custody on the street – a technique called “de-arresting” – to dealing with interrogation, the overview says. They also split into “affinity groups,” small groups that would attend protests together at the G20.
June 26, 2010 – Spokes council at 519 Church Street, a community centre in Toronto’s gay village
Held on the eve of the main day of protests, this meeting would become central to the Crown’s case against the 17 people charged with conspiracy. One undercover officer recorded it, with authorization from provincial court Justice Joseph Kenkel. The document says there were discussions about targeting specific businesses, but participants in the meeting say it ended with no concrete plan for the following day.
- Adrian Morrow