It began as a peaceful rally, the most peaceful I had seen in the three days of demonstrations. It ended with roughly a hundred people - the elderly, shoppers with bags of groceries, people walking dogs or just curious to see a protest - held in torrential rain for four hours, penned in by rows of riot police. Slowly, one by one, they were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit public mischief, handcuffed and led to buses headed for a prisoner detention centre.
I was among those arrested.
I had been following the demonstrations for three days, live-tweeting what was happening in the city. I followed the 25,000-strong protest that left from Queen's Park on Saturday, with marchers from Oxfam and Amnesty International. The protest was marred by a minority of violent extremists who left a trail of broken windows and overturned mailboxes.
On Sunday, the protests resumed downtown. I caught up with one at King and Bay in the afternoon.
When we got to the intersection of Queen and Spadina, the police had blocked two exits: southbound and westbound. Mass confusion about where to go. A marcher with a megaphone ordered people to join others riding north, but people milled about, unsure. Suddenly, out of the crowd stepped two police leading a man in handcuffs to an alleyway north of Queen. Many followed his route, asking police why he was arrested. Then I looked up the street and realized: Police in riot gear are now coming south, toward us. We're possibly trapped.
I asked an officer the way out and he pointed to the southeast corner. I didn't make it there. When I realized we were trapped, I went to the southwest corner and asked to be let go. "You can't leave," said the cop. A woman next to me, 40-ish, thin, with nervous facial tics and a pet dog, asked to leave as well. A man with a backpack and a suitcase asked to get through to get to his home on Queen Street. No dice.
Before there was time to check on the eastern exit, a group of police began pushing up from the south. "Move! Move!" they said as I stood in a crush of people with my bike. "I have nowhere to go!" I said. I was plowed into the people in front of me. A couple nearby looked to be in their 60s; the man was obviously not a protester: "Why didn't you leave your bike at home today?" he said to me in aggravation.
Someone nearby helped me by carrying my bike to a safe spot in a store alcove, but while it was allowed to stay there, we were not. We were told by police in riot gear in the alcove behind us to leave and get into the street. I stood in front of a woman who had six bags of food from Chinese grocers - she'd been shopping.
I don't know if it's all the practice we have waiting for the TTC in foul weather, but Torontonians were amazing. However confused they were, they stayed very, very calm. Very respectful of each other. All was quiet but for the sound of helicopters.
And then it began to rain. And I mean rain. Bollywood-musical monsoon-scene rain. Out came the umbrellas, about one for every five to ten people. We shared. People, a lot in T-shirts, were shivering severely. A destitute man wandered around asking if anyone would share food. Someone gave him a falafel.
The crowd seemed to be thinning. I wandered across the street and saw people being released. There had to be a catch, I thought, or people would be storming out. Yes: The catch was that you were allowed to go only if you gave yourself up for arrest.
I waited there, watching. I watched the destitute falafel-eater give himself up, passive, his frayed pant-legs dragging through puddles. I watched someone with a puppy go through. After three hours, it sank in that they would not be letting anyone out without an arrest.
I explained I was media and was told to speak to the arresting officer. I was motioned out of the perimeter of police and, before I had time to show credentials, I was grabbed. When I resisted to explain myself, four officers began grabbing me, cuffing me, taking my bag. "Take off her helmet," someone said, but they gave up after failing to undo the clasp. I was given over to a female officer who seemed more adrenalized than I was. She told me what I was charged with. When I began adjusting my wrists in the uncomfortable plastic cuffs, she said, "Stop zipping and unzipping things!" and poked at my pocket.
"Can I have my bag?" I asked. "Your bag will travel with you," she said. I asked for her to tear off and give me the piece of paper with the phone number of my lawyer on it, but she would not. I was searched and all my belongings were put in her care.
A kind of resignation stole over me, commingled with my dread of the detention centre, which I heard had taken 13 hours to process some prisoners. I talked to the people around me: a woman who was a corporate lawyer walking home with a friend. A Chinese student who was told he had "insufficient" ID. A guy behind me who was there to take pictures joked with the cops like he was one of them, then timidly said he needed the left cuff loosened. "I can't feel my fingers," he said. "Well, I can see them, so they're still there," the cop said.
After four hours standing in the rain, we were escorted onto chartered TTC buses which we imagined would take us to the detention centre.
In front of me were two protesters. Sisters. Very thin. One was dressed in a T-shirt and I watched the goose bumps rise on her arms for 20 minutes while we sat at the intersection not moving.
And then a sergeant boarded the bus. "You are all going to be given an unconditional release!" he yelled. "You will be released and this charge will be deleted from your record! However! If you make trouble anywhere in this vicinity in the next 24 hours, you will be arrested and detained. Do you understand?"
"Yes," we answered.
"Good!" he said.
I was led to the rear doors, where my cuffs were clipped off. I found my bike miraculously unscathed. And then I went home.
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