Sat, 11/22/2014 - 19:41

Posted by Dana Lacey on July 20, 2010
Jesse FreestonA first-person account from The Real News Network journalist Jesse Freeston on being beaten, denied access to public spaces and the story police didn't want him to capture.

Read about other journalists who were arrested, beaten or had their equipment destroyed in J-Source's G20 roundup.

My ability to cover the Toronto G-20, more precisely to cover those people expressing their dissent against the G-20, was repeatedly restricted. At virtually every step, my attempts to document and gather information for my audience were impeded by police officers. Here are a few examples of how this took place:

1) RESPONSIBILITY TO INFORM: Early on the afternoon of Sunday, June 27th, police detained dozens of people outside the activist convergence centre in the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale. During this operation people were searched, asked to show identification, held for hours without charges or investigation, and roughly twenty were arrested. Many were arrested on seemingly arbitrary physical profiling. I say this because I heard and recorded officers saying things like ‘get anyone with a bandana’, and arresting people for having phone numbers written on their arms. Neither the media, the detained, nor concerned community members were ever given a statement as to what was going on. It is inexcusable that such an operation went on for hours without any communication from the police.

2) DENIAL OF ACCESS: During the mass detention on Queen and Spadina on Sunday, June 27th, the police set up a broad perimeter from which they denied journalists access to the area. This perimeter was too far away to provide any line of sight as to what was happening. I was told later by Staff Supt. Jeff McGuire that such actions were necessary to protect us from an unlawful assembly. I believe that it is up to the journalists themselves to determine their level of risk, so long as they don’t directly interfere in what they’re covering.

More worrisome is that not a single journalist was allowed into the detention centre while people were held there. That is, no journalists that weren’t themselves under arrest, and nobody with any kind of photo or video device to document what was happening. There are serious accusations coming out of that facility and the public has been left to weigh the words of the accuser and the accused, with no third party. This is the predictable result of not allowing media into the facility. As a poor substitute for real access, a media tour of the facility was provided by police after everyone had been released or transferred. No detainees that I’m aware of were present on the tour to deny or confirm the police version of events. In fact, journalist Adam MacIsaac, who was beaten, arrested and had his equipment confiscated, was denied entry to the media tour.
   
3) USE OF FORCE: On Friday, June 25th, during the ‘Justice for our Communities’ march, police used force to remove me from an area. I was punched in the face twice while being pushed up against some bikes by a group of officers. When I inquired as to where the orders came from to do this, an officer snatched my microphone and told me to leave. They eventually returned the microphone after other journalists gathered around.

It is true that I respectfully ignored two requests for me to leave the area, but I think it is our duty to take reasonable measures to remain in such an area. We should be wary of situations where only the journalists are being asked to leave and other civilians are being allowed to stay. We should take all reasonable measures to remain on the scene.

**

My experience is one of many that, when combined, paint a picture of a consistent policy toward journalists. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is very clear that journalists don’t enjoy any additional individual rights, but rather that all people have the right to a free press. The victims of these violations are not primarily the journalists themselves, but the public that was forced to form an opinion while their information gatherers were beaten, imprisoned, threatened, and otherwise denied their ability to do their work.

Freedom of the press is found under the ‘Fundamental Freedoms’ section of the Charter. This means that no crisis, real or perceived, gives authorities the right to revoke it. On the contrary, it is precisely for such times that these freedoms exist. In other words, it is not to cover Blue Jays games that we have freedom of the press, but specifically to document things like extraordinary measures taken by authorities.

I believe that journalists should demand two things. First, to find out why journalists, and by extension their audiences, were treated this way. Second, they should demand a new precedent, based on the Charter, that such treatment will not be tolerated in the future. The public inquiry is, in my opinion, the only process in this country with the jurisdiction, subpoena power, transparency, and legitimacy to achieve both these goals. Therefore, journalists should not hesitate to openly advocate for such a process.

Jesse Freeston is a journalist and video producer from Ottawa, ON. He currently resides in Washington, DC where he produces documentary news pieces for The Real News Network. The Real News is a free, viewer-sustained, daily video news service that accepts no money from corporations, governments, or advertising.

Comments

Good work. The Real News Network is doing the job ignored by those formal networks sanctioned by government license. Global TV, trying to degrade the message of protesters, stooped to cheating, using February footage from Vancouver while reporting on a July 10 Toronto demonstration. Spicing up the Toronto footage by unrelated video of Olympic protesters was an act aimed at discrediting the opposition movement. http://northerninsights.blogspot.com/2010/07/global-tv-news-caught-cheating-red.html
I really like your recommendations for a public inquiry, Jesse. We need to have a full, open and equal dialogue with the police and municipal/ provincial governments about the rights of journaists and other citizens during times of unrest. All of those public officials who have declared the police did a great job of keeping order during trying times should be asked what they think about the arbitrary confinements, physical abuse, vocal abuse, and searches conducted by police. Which of those behaviors should be condoned (or excused), and which should be censured? The police seem to have arbitrarily assumed emergency powers of seizure, search and arrest without charges. Who will go to bat for our rights to privacy and being left alone to go about our business unhindered? We cannot let this be forgotten.
I have to admit that I am a bit bitter about what happened in Toronto, but I believe that the police are traitors to their country, and opposed to the idea of Canada as a democratic society.
As much as your face might hurt and your ego might have taken a dent, I see nothing that would fall outside of normal police riot tactics. The only new thing I've seen is the part where they use their bikes as a makeshift wall, which is rather clever, actually. In these types of situation, especially when directly at the scene, you need to realize that traditional methods of journalism are either grossly ineffective or simply don't work. So you need to get creative. 1) Responsibility to inform: During riots or protests that could quickly turn into riots, the police are not too fond of asking too many questions. And compared to what I've heard "Everyone with a bandana" is rather specific. Try "everyone in black" for a change. Also, the policemen simply have no time to talk to all the detainees during a riot as the situation has to be kept under control because if trouble erupts in the detention area, injuries are far more likely to occur and are far worse. Therefore the policy is "Shut up and sit down" for a change. As for informing the media in these situations, you should really know better. Police normally only communicate through a spokesman. Besides, in case of a riot, nobody has time for an interview. Not even us press-folk. Besides, they are not authorized to even talk to you. So pestering them is of no use. 2. Denial of access: Let's be honest here. Did you really expect to gain access to a temporary and mostly unsecured detention area where everyone inside thinks they've been wrongfully detained and everyone outside agrees? Between them are a couple of makeshift fences, maybe an unsecured building and a couple of very agitated policemen. My piece of advice to find out what happens inside: Get yourself arrested. Inform everyone back at the office what you're about to do, take nothing of value with you, walk with the violent protesters and then give yourself up. 3. Use of force: I admit, it sucks to be punched in the face. It has happened to me quite some times and every single time, I find it most annoying. However, if I was you, I would not be surprised. You shoved that microphone into the guy's face and were a real pest. Granted, you were probably very agitated as well and convinced that you were witnessing great cruelty towards protesters, but what I saw in the numerous videos was standard police tactics. The policemen were agitated, outnumbered and very probably outgunned, too. So you pestering them was just that one bit too much. Also, why should we stay? All that happens is police getting pestered and people getting punched. Every arrested person will claim to be innocent and that he has been mishandled and so on. Other than that, there's nothing to see at a police cordon. Again, if you want inside information, get yourself arrested and deported to the holding area. And if you take all reasonable measures to stay, getting punched is more than reasonable. Teargas or rubber bullets would be unreasonable. Granted, Toronto is not used to riots and violent protests, but over here, we're used to these things as they happen almost every weekend. And what I've been has been relatively tame. However, a public inquiry is not a bad idea, even though nothing will come of it. Why were journalists treated this way? Security concerns, mainly.
Why can our rights be suspended in the first place? Do we have them or not? People who do damage, use violence, and kidnap should be arrested, especially police who are breaking the public trust. So the police should have a top twenty list of criminals who inflicted these crimes against the public. There is enough control of the free press that these questions will not be asked. I think this was police training exerciser for future arrests. It proves to them that the police will follow orders to be brutal It was announcement that any law can be suspended, anyone can be arrested, any city can be taken over and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Therefore as a journalist you must ask yourself do I want to pay the price for speaking the truth and is the price worth paying.
Si el oficial de policía permitía esa agresión con los proyectiles, posiblemente otros terroristas harían lo mismo y eventualmente convertirse en armas de destrucción masiva. Sería ataque abrir una una biblia y apuntar a tu cara? maybe?
I'm still in shock: This was Canada. CANADA! For more than fifty years now I've thought Canada was a much better, saner nation than the US. I can only conclude that your nation has somehow been infected with the worst of the US virus: an insane militarism protecting an empire of corporate parasites. I hope this bent will be vigorously pruned and burnt before it perverts the whole organism.
Regardless of all the hype of jobs, economics, class struggle, racial bias, the bottom line is simply illegal immigration is ILLEGAL. The law of the land so states, and the president is committed to enforce that law if he agrees with it or not. Now that's not real difficult to comprehend, is it?
This is the G20 that are meeting, the top brass what were you expecting. Better that all the people who go to these things use their heads a bit more and just don't go, don't protest that;s what they want you to do that's when they can see you and earmark you for being arrested later. We live in a technical age people so use it!!!!!! Use your brain not your feet. Stay away non compliance is the key and the more who do it the better. I have to admit I'm surprised at Canada being like this but the last two times I visited yhe immigration staff were like the gestapo so I won't be back, it has sadly become an extention of the Excited States of America! Which is a great shame.
I have to agree with the guy that said you shouldn't have been surprised by the treatment you received, in fact I am pretty sure you aren't and saw it is a "news opp" That being said thank you for being brave enough to go where it is scary and potentially dangerous. Maybe learn to pick your battles though...? People we cannot win by rioting in the streets, that is what they are counting on. This will give them justification to lock us all down. Just quietly turn around and walk away and start your own movement to free those around you. Quit participating in THEIR system. Without our money they die, just like all REAL Vampires.

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