Riot cops beat down reporter in front of TV Ontario anchor
Armed police officers beat up an unarmed freelance journalist on the penultimate day of the G20 summit in Toronto on Saturday.
Jesse Rosenfeld, a Canadian news journalist based in Ramallah, and a native of Montreal, writes for a number of left-leaning and alternative news publications including NOW Magazine, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, The Montreal Mirror and This Magazine. The day before his assault The Guardian ran Rosenfeld’s report on the alternative policy issues raised by protest groups at the G20 summit.
The attack was witnessed firsthand by several observers, including Steve Paikin, the well-known broadcaster and author, and host of the nightly TV Ontario news programme, The Agenda.
It occurred while Rosenfeld was covering a demonstration by peace protesters in the heavily secured downtown core of Toronto, the G20 summit’s host venue.
The whole world’s watching (in high definition)
For the past months and weeks, there has been considerable public and media discussion and controversy surrounding not only the summit’s unprecedented security budget–in excess of $1 billion so far–but also of the negative implications of the heavy and highly visible police and security presence on virtually every street and intersection in the Queen City.
Journalists filing reports for their respective news and media services have almost unanimously reported that the pervasive police presence in the downtown of Toronto over the past four days resembles, choose your favourite phrase, “an armed camp”, “a police state”, etc.
The most visible consequence has been that the normally bustling urban core has been turned into a ghost town.
On the plus side, business boosters are ecstatic that all the downtown hotels are booked solid notwithstanding that many of the added guests are either partaking in the G20 or were unaware of how drastic the curtailment of touristy activities was going to be until they showed up.
“Hey Sarge, does that guy wit’ the Blackberry look familiar to you?”
Steve Paikin was observing a group of G20 protesters on The Esplanade in the heart of Toronto’s “theatre district” on Saturday night and had been filing “tweets” on his Twitter account for the duration of his time there.
At one point, Paikin told the CBC, he was “asked to leave” by police officers and observed two cops holding a journalist as Paikin was being led away.
Paikin described the ensuing actions of the police as follows in his “tweet” of the incident:
“The journalist identified himself as working for the Guardian. He talked too much and pissed the police off. Two officers held him. A third punched him in the stomach. Totally unnecessary. The man collapsed. Then the third officer drove his elbow into the man’s back.”
Turns out the victim of the police brutality was Rosenfeld, 26, whose father spent the next dozen or so hours trying to locate his son at one of the impromptu lock-ups or “holding” areas that police set up around the GTA to detain the record numbers of arrested people.
Rosenfeld describes the confrontation as follows: “An officer came up to me, looked at my ID, my alternative media centre press pass and said: ‘This isn’t a legitimate press pass. Put him under arrest!’”
According to the freelancer, at that point he “was immediately jumped and beaten” as the same “officer grabbed my arm, ripped it behind my back.”
“I was punched in the stomach to make me go down to the ground. I was being hit in the ribs.”
Anyone who has had the unique pleasure of getting up close and personal with those choice members of Toronto’s renowned constabulary may already be scrambling to find their Atavin or “happy place” as they read Rosenfeld’s account, which was corroborated by Paikin and others on the scene.
The difficulty in such situations is that the testosterone-charged behemoths who are invariably assigned to police “crowd control” or “riot duty” are typically so wound up in the hours leading up to actual physical interaction with protesters that they are seemingly incapable of exercising restraint or discretion in the face of legal and passive opposition to their authority.
Agents provocateurs and Che Guevara wannabes
Add to that the previous incidence of violent clashes between the provocative, fire-throwing “direct action” cretins among the peaceful demonstrators and by Saturday evening it was apparent that the tension within Metro police units had been ratcheted up in the hours leading up to the Saturday incident downtown.
Still Rosenfeld, who has seen action in the streets of Gaza and other international hotspots, does not exactly fit the bill as an agent provocateur–of either the “terrorist” or police variety.
During the brief but violent encounter with the riot cop Rosenfeld says he posed absolutely no threat and did nothing to provoke the assault that took place against him. He later told the CBC:
“All the time I was saying ‘I am not resisting arrest. I am a journalist. Why are you beating me?’”
And if you’re going to be brutalized by the Toronto police, you can’t get luckier than having it occur in front of Steve Paikin, who confirms that the “confrontation” between Rosenfeld and his police adversaries was anything but a fair match.
“This guy is about 5-foot-4, 140 pounds,” Paikin said. “I later spoke to his father and found out he’s only got one kidney, and he’s an asthmatic. Hard to see how he was a threat to anything.”
For its part, the ever image-sensitive Metro police force (hey, they’re called “police service” now!) did its usual go f–k yourself public relations response to media inquiries, telling reporters that “Rosenfeld is welcome to file a complaint.
Not a banner day for Canadian democracy, Mr. Prime Minister
All in all it was not a banner weekend for civil liberties in Toronto the Good as police and assorted security-bots reportedly unleashed a dragnet that collared more than 300 individuals and subjected several, by their own reports and those of their worried family members, to indefinite detention that in some cases lasted more than 24 hours.
The security dragnet was so massive and indiscriminate that early betting says it may even smash (pardon the violent reference) the old arrest record set in 197o when the Trudeau government enacted the War Measures Act which RCMP, the “emergency powers” of which provincial and municipal police agencies relied upon to cart off 465 citizens during the apprehended “insurrection” during the FLQ crisis.
Kate Holloway, also a journalist and activist, ran for the provincial legislature as a Liberal party candidate in the 2007 Ontario election. She told the CBC that her son and his girlfriend were arrested at a demonstration on the same night as Rosenfeld and spent the night in jail for simply being present.