Register Wednesday | June 26 | 2019

Where the Hell's My Gas Mask? Or: How the Police Trashed My Camera Equipment Because I Was Dressed Like a Cowboy

That's me, with my press credentials clearly visible. Photo by Simon Hayter. He’s good.

Photojournalists were strapping on gas masks and helmets when I arrived at the standoff between police and protesters on Sunday. Police had stopped a nonviolent march at Queen and Spadina, and they were forcing demonstrators, journalists, and bystanders down Queen and away from the action. The cops stood in a silent blue and black mass while some people milled around anxiously.

I didn’t have a gas mask, or a helmet. And I definitely didn’t have the body armour that the Canadian Press gave to their journalists. Instead, I wrapped a red bandanna around my neck, and kept a bottle of vinegar and old swim goggles in my bag. Breathing through a vinegar-soaked cloth had worked when police fired teargas at protesters the night before.

It started pouring rain soon after I arrived and I ducked inside a doorway with a small group of people. When the police advanced on the crowd, two came into the doorway and grabbed me. I realized my media credentials were tucked under my raincoat and I pulled them out as they pushed me forward.

“I’m a journalist!” I said.

“And you’re wearing a fucking mask!” one of the cops responded.

They brought me behind a line of police, where no other photographers could see me. One officer told me to keep my hands on the wall and stay perfectly still while another told me to empty my pockets.  They kicked my legs apart and one officer rooted between my legs, sometimes with a closed fist. I’d slipped my flash card into my mouth, but it fell out while I answered their questions. They opened my camera bag in the rain. I told them my gear would be ruined if they didn’t close it, and one responded, “That’s the least of your worries right now.”

They’d hauled me out of the crowd for wearing a bandanna. Eventually, they seemed to realize that although I could probably throw those rubber goggles pretty hard, I didn’t pose a danger to anyone.

Still, they were looking for a reason to justify the search. “Didn’t you notice that all the Black Bloc guys were carrying cameras?” one asked me.

Well, actually….

They finished their search and sent me away from the demonstration. As I splashed down the sidewalk, an officer shouted at me to walk in the road. I stayed on the sidewalk and asked him to stop yelling at me. He hit me in the chest and pushed me into the street.

***

When I had dug through my media swag bag a few days earlier, I asked if all that money could have been spent more wisely. I wouldn’t expect the government to greet journalists with a complimentary gas mask and bulletproof vest. But if everyone thought the protests could turn violent, and few journalists had adequate protection, why give them a bottle of syrup?

I would have been happy with a gift certificate to an army surplus store. Instead, I used my free G20 water bottle to carry vinegar. And when police fired teargas, I imagined journalists from small papers breathing through rags soaked in maple syrup.

***

I walked away from the police, and hid from the rain in another doorway. I shot some photos of police loading people into a paddywagon and called my friends and my parents. I’d been fuming long before the cops detained me. Earlier in the day, I tried to shoot some photos of police searching a man at Queen’s Park. One yelled at me to get out of the road, and as I headed for the sidewalk, he said, “You’re not even real media.” When I walked over and asked him what “real media was,” he shoved me and told me to get lost.

I wanted to show people what the police were doing, and if they were going to try and stop me, I figured it would only make it more fun.

I walked back to Queen Street, where the police were forcing journalists away from the mass detainment at Spadina. They were allowing business-owners to stand in front of their shops, so I crept from storefront to storefront. I wound up standing with a group of people around my parents’ age who wanted to make sure the events were documented. They spotted a group of men who were watching the action from their balcony and silently waving a CP24 camera crew over.

“You have to go too!” one said as she pushed me toward the camera crew. When I reached them, we watched police stop a young woman. I heard her say, “I’m not consenting to this” before police lead her toward the detainees.

Across the street, the men kept waving. When the police looked the other way, the cameraman and I took off. We sprinted behind the police, up the stairs, through the men’s living room, and onto their balcony. The rest of the CP24 crew followed. Below us, police searched the dozens of protesters who’d been standing in the rain for hours.

“Yo, Farah’s here!” I heard one man call to his friends.

I stashed my gear under their golf umbrella, looked through my foggy viewfinder at the police, and started shooting.

(From First Ascents: A Blog About the G8 and G20)

Related on maisonneuve.org:

—Appalling Conditions at the G20 Detention Centre
—G20 Protests for the Medium-Brave
—3 Myths About Anti-G20 Protesters

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