The fifth and possibly final group of witnesses to the G20 protests in Toronto testified before the Commons public safety committee in Ottawa on Dec 6.
Conservative committee members heard from friendly witnesses who extolled the virtues of the G20 process. But one Conservative MP, Brent Rathgeber, dissected the statements of two University of British Columbia students who were arrested on June 27 in the University of Toronto (U of T) gymnasium sweep and detained for two days in appalling conditions. Grayson Lepp and Kirk Chevarie describe puddles of vomit and overflowing toilets at the detention facility on Eastern Ave.
“It seemed from the government side that they didn’t seem to care about the fact that our human rights have been completely violated,” says Lepp of the committee’s reaction to his testimony. “It seems like something they would completely gloss over and focus more on what kind of weapon was pointed at my face. It shouldn’t really matter what kind of weapon.
“Myself, Kirk, hundreds of francophones, hundreds of other Canadian citizens, had their rights systemically destroyed over the course of those two days, and there seems to be no recourse.”
Xtra producer/reporter Justin Stayshyn, who was among those kettled for nearly five hours on June 28 at Queen St and Spadina Ave, recounted to the committee how his passport, which he carried that weekend as identification, was destroyed in the downpour in which he was trapped.
Stayshyn says the committee process is bogged down by partisanship.
“Partisan concerns are overwhelming those of justice,” says Stayshyn. “I do think there are people on the committee who are genuinely concerned about accountability, but I also think there are those concerned with ensuring this is swept under the carpet.”
Still, Stayshyn says he is glad his testimony is on the record.
“Right after the G20, pretty much everyone thought this is all just about some hoodlums, and now we’re starting to understand it differently,” Stayshyn says. “I know what happened, and I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Stayshyn says he wishes the committee had heard testimony about queer detainees who were subjected to homophobic slurs by police and who were segregated into their own holding areas.
Liberal committee member Alexandra Mendes, who says she hasn’t heard about the experiences of queer detainees, says she is having trouble reconciling the testimony about police violence with her vision of Canada.
“I don’t understand why it happened, under what grounds,” Mendes says of the U of T arrests. “If, supposedly, police had their suspicions about certain members in the gymnasium being members of the Black Bloc, then identify them and get them out of there. Don’t arrest all of those students in such a brutal way and keep them in those conditions – that goes against everything I see as Canada.”
Mendes says she is troubled by what happened at the U of T.
“The different police bodies that we’ve heard [from] have all passed the buck, and nobody’s assuming responsibility for anything about what happened to those students, so I’d like somebody to actually get them to take full responsibility,” Mendes says. “And it would have been nice for the government of Canada to accept some measure of… responsibility.”
Mendes adds her voice to those calling for an inquiry into the events of the G20 weekend, but she says she sees a larger and more disturbing trend.
“Where is it going?” she asks. “We’re criminalizing everything – protesters, immigration. Everything is becoming a crime in this country, and that’s very dangerous. “