Off-duty journalist’s 1st person account of G20

Off-duty arts journalist Chris Le Page
followed his curiousity to march with a protest that quickly turned
from peaceful to chaos. Read his first person account.

I decided to join the peaceful marchers on Saturday to protest the G20. We were a diverse group of people from a number of causes all in solidarity with one purpose. When I arrived at Queen’s Park, I did not affiliate myself with any particular group, but just wanted the experience of marching in protest.

The march started to wind its way down University Ave. and included labour groups, environmental organizations, an individual dressed as a seal pup and even a lone bagpiper. We did not see any real resistance from authorities until we reached the American Embassy where we were greeted with police in full riot gear, a few rubber bullet guns pointed at us and one officer videotaping the crowd. Until this point, the march had been able to utilize both sides of the avenue on either side of the median. Now, we were all corralled and forced to occupy the east side of University and were not able to pass directly in front of the embassy, which was barricaded. Shouts of “shame, shame” were hurled at the police by those who thought this excessive show of force was definitely not needed (It’s hard enough to get into that building on a regular day).

I continued with the march to Queen St. where it was scheduled to make a right at the intersection. Some dude decided to perch himself on top of the head of a giant statue that sits within the median. At this point, he started to strip down to his boxers, perform yoga poses on top, and intertwine himself around the statue. Given the rain-slicked surfaces of everything that day and especially standing on such a small area, I am amazed he did not fall to his death. If it was attention he wanted he certainly received it, but I am not sure for what reason.

I left the march on Queen St. by the CTV building when I noticed black clad youths in the crowd. These were obviously members of the Black Bloc who had insinuated themselves into this peaceful protest to carry out their violence and anarchy.

When I had arrived home, near Yonge and Carlton, I turned on the TV to discover that my neighbourhood at that exact corner had been targeted by this breakaway faction. They had smashed windows at the Bell store, Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and Winners as well as the TD and CIBC branches at College and Bay. I was just there ten minutes earlier and all was peaceful. They had obviously carried out their destruction with swift, surgical precision. I was incredulous so I returned to the corner to see the result myself. The scene was surreal. There was broken glass covering most of the sidewalks and road. The streets were effectively shut down, with hundreds of onlookers snapping pictures in disbelief. There was a chair positioned half out of a smashed window at the Starbucks and even one of the tables from Timmies was sitting in the middle of the street as if it was part of some outdoor café.

I proceeded to walk towards Bay St. but I was a little—no, make that a lot—intimidated by the wall of riot-clad officers on the sidewalk outside of the main police station on College. All of a sudden they took of their masks and donned gas masks. A girl then yelled out “tear gas guys”. I began to feel really uneasy and thought that I should turn back and head home. A minute later people who were congregated at Bay St. started running toward me. I was caught up in the herd mentality and started running with them towards Yonge St. I was a little panicked, not knowing why I was running but knew that I should be. I was not sure if tear gas was deployed or if the mounted police positioned at Bay St. or officers outside of the police station were charging us. When we reached Yonge it turned out to be nothing, but the whole event demonstrates how crowd dynamics can turn in an instant in unstable situations.

My question: with all of those authorities flanking the cop station close to the scene, how were these vandals able to commit their destruction on that strip of College St.? I mean for a billion dollars I do expect that my ‘hood would be kept safe. I did pose that exact question to a group of officers stationed on the corner that same evening and they really could not give me a firm answer. Something about picking their battles, and that with fifty thousand people in the street it was hard to control everybody. Definitely something to keep in mind when Harper faces the next election.