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A protester is arrested by police after a demonstration in Toronto on Monday. (Kevin van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
A protester is arrested by police after a demonstration in Toronto on Monday. (Kevin van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Native activist first to see inside of protester prison Add to ...

Built to house a few hundred like-minded demonstrators, Toronto's protester prison is a lonely place these days.

Just ask big Mark Corbiere. The towering indigenous activist was the first person arrested during G20 marches this week - an experience that quickly went from frightful to boring.

"I was the only one in the whole place," the 24-year-old Kitchener, Ont., resident says of the converted film studio on Eastern Avenue, roughly five kilometres from the downtown security fence. "It's this massive jail and it was completely deserted."

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Mr. Corbiere is a veteran of mass demonstrations and the resulting legal entanglements, but his G20 arrest was like no other he's experienced.

He arrived at a downtown protest Monday and says he was immediately approached by an unmarked black minivan.

"It was full of riot police," he said, thankful to be a free man as he ambled up Bay Street on Thursday. "They tried to take my flagpole, but I wouldn't give it up."

That was the first and most peaceful of four encounters Mr. Corbiere would have with police over the next few hours. Each run-in was witnessed and filmed.

The second confrontation came when a swarm of bicycle police surrounded him and forcibly took his flagpole, which was flying a Mohawk Nation flag.

A worker at Allan Gardens, site of the protest, then offered him a bamboo pole. Based on allegations he'd burgled the second pole, police began pursuing him, according to an Integrated Security Unit spokeswoman.

"About seven or eight officers tackled me to the ground, and took the second pole," he said. But they didn't actually arrest him until the rally was wrapping up around 5 p.m. Mr. Corbiere approached a community relations officer with the ISU to see if he could get the flagpoles back.

"She was taking down my information and giving me a file number when cops jumped on me," Mr. Corbiere said.

Four officers tackled the 6-foot-4, 240-pound activist into some bushes, while 20 or so others surrounded the scene with bicycles to prevent his friends from intervening.

"I just turned my back on him for one second and they grabbed him," said Chris Barton, 29, another activist from the Kitchener area.

Mr. Corbiere was ushered off to an unmarked black Chrysler minivan. He was surprised to find that the menacing vehicle was outfitted like any normal kid-hauler inside.

"Comfortable cloth seats and everything," he said. "Not at all like a cop car."

Throughout the eight-kilometre trip to the detention centre, he said that officers quizzed him for details of anarchist organizing activities. He had nothing to tell them, he says.

Passing a three-metre-high fence on his way into the converted film studio, he says he was eventually herded into a 8-by-16-foot steel pen, one of 50 chain-link enclosures, each built to hold roughly 10 people, according to the Ontario Legal Defence Committee, a legal-aid organization whose members have toured the studio's interior.

"It wasn't like any prison," Mr. Corbiere said. "It was more like those pictures you see of Guantanamo Bay, but completely empty."

The break-and-enter charges fell through, but police did find marijuana.

"Yeah, they got me for that," Mr. Corbiere said, somewhat bashfully. "But at least I'm out and here with my friends, socially conscious people just trying to get the word out. We don't want to do anybody any harm."

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