Whose streets? Our Streets!

It came, it went, we all saw Toronto at its worst.

For most of Toronto, the G20 was an inconvenience that altered shopping plans, delayed travel routes or even meant staying home and taking a day away from urban society run amok.

For others, everyone in the thick of Toronto’s core, it meant a number of things.  For some it meant the chance to speak up about a cause and be heard.  For others it meant the destruction of property in hopes that society would crumble along with the window being smashed.  For most it meant protesting a 1 billion dollar price-tag on an event that could have been held on Skype.

It was the most ridiculous day.  It was possibly the most ridiculous weekend.  Protesters, police, bystanders, shop owners; even television owners can say that they were there and viewing Bizarro Toronto in real time as strange events happened from almost every angle.

The events of the actual G20 summit were far overshadowed by the mostly confusing police response, completely idiotic Black Bloc, the confused ire of protesters with seemingly nowhere to protest and the naivety of a number of people that just showed up to cause trouble with the police.

The Bell Store all busted up.

The riots and protests were expected, even the lunatic antics of the Black Bloc were forewarned, but when the day finally came to pass, average citizens were left shocked at a Toronto that seemed as foreign as walking down a war-torn street in Serbia during the 80’s.

Protests on Queen Street Saturday afternoon caused much confusion as 90% of the so-called protesters were hipsters trying to carry on with a normal day but became blocked in by police presence.  At times it looked like the police weren’t even sure why they were there.

“Whose Streets?  Our Streets!”

The guy in purple looking at me was throwing stuff at police, I almost got into a fight with him.

The battle cry began as a plea toward police to let everyone live as normal, it quickly escalated into the gigantic turf war between police and citizen over the course of Saturday.  As protesters made their way north to Queen’s Park the sentiment was amplified with the sheer number of residents taking a stand there.

As police cleared the park (a response due to violent outbursts from a few bad apples) the protesters were corralled north onto Queen’s Park Crescent in the hope that they would disperse.  What happened instead was a massive, almost 1500 person march across Bloor street to Yonge and then south.  For their part, the protesters went relatively unchallenged, perhaps due to their non-destructive nature, until they reached the downtown core.

It was difficult to tell how many were there protesting actual causes and how many were there to protest a 1 billion dollar price-tag, but after speaking with a number of protesters it became quite apparent that the latter had taken precedent on Saturday.  Most people just wanted to let live but found it difficult when their money had been spent on something that nobody except the Toronto hotel and conference industry wanted in the first place; many of the major Canadian news journalists seemed shaken for the first 24 hours, even their homes had been disrupted as they tried to cover the destruction of their city.

“It’s ridiculous, this was supposed to be peaceful at Queen’s Park, why are they clearing the area?”

The police clearing Queen's Park. There had to be at least 300 officers.

The relative calm that held until Saturday afternoon shifted drastically as police walked through and caught people commuting to and from work in their dragnet.  When asked, even some police didn’t know why the park was being cleared.

That would be the beginning of a confusing police response over the rest of the weekend; clearing out peaceful protests and ignoring the violent Black Bloc as they rampaged down Yonge street.  The 1 billion dollar cost needed to be justified and perhaps that is the way it was being exhibited.  It quickly escalated into sections of Toronto facing off against police lines for control of their neighbourhoods in an almost Warriors-esque manner while the real menace went unanswered.

The usually civil relationship between Toronto police and Toronto citizen seems to be completely divided.  Where this goes is yet to be seen, but in the wake of the G20, it will be difficult to answer that.

So where are we now?  What have we learned as a city and as individuals?  That answer is yet to come, but the tough questions that lead up to these two important answers are being asked and worked through.

The questions do have answers, they may not be the ones people want to hear, but I’ll be posting photos and thoughts from the weekend as my friend Josh and I traveled around to document everything that happened.

Next time; the story of Queen’s Park and forceful eviction and why the customer/protester is not always right.

-Aaron Binder



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