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From Monday, January 21st until Friday, January 25th the Carleton University chapter of Students for Liberty planned to follow the lead of Sam Houston State University students in erecting a blank wall for the purpose of expressing free speech and beginning a debate on censorship. The wall lasted not one full day until was torn down, destroyed, and disposed of by Arun Smith, a student acting alone, on Monday evening who promptly posted/boasted about his “act of forceful resistance” (in his own words) based on what he called a “moral imperative” to protect students on campus from “potential” hateful speech.  The student does not claim that any hateful speech had already been found on the canvas. The student went on to justify his actions by alluding to the gay pride week occurring subsequently. Given that the theme of pride week is “unapologetic,” one might assume that they would be dismissive of inconsiderate and ignorant attacks and have no reason to pay them any mind. The student claims:

“The erecting of this “wall” is but another in a series of acts of violence against we who are forced every day to try and justify who we are, to try and justify our humanity and our being deserving of respect, dignity, and consideration.”

The only violence in this situation occurred in the tearing down of a neutral platform because one micro-tyrant did not think people around him could be responsible to manage or capable of handling the content that could be potentially posted on this wall. He had to step in to enforce his “moral imperative.” His use of violence is troubling and his lack of faith in ideas and words to change minds says more about himself than the capabilities of other students. Prominent positive messages had already been printed on the paper, proving that the board had the potential to be a very positive experiment:

“SPREAD LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE, NOT HATE”
“Gay is ok! <3”
“Obama murders by drones!”

Some were slightly more controversial:

“Israel is an apartheid state” (countered by “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, Pro-PEACE.)
“Education is NOT a right.” (Someone had scribbled out NOT leading another student to criticize the censorship and yet another to criticize the criticizer.)
“Stop killing babies!” and “Abortion is only killing a parasite! Let women control their bodies! PRO-CHOICE”
 
 

Most of the content accumulated on the board is positive, or at least respectful, some of it was jokes, some more contentious and reactionary. It’s always just words though, you could disagree right next to it or even over it and it’s still within decency. But tearing it down and destroying it is savage. It was the worst way to go about the situation. It was definitely not surprising. At the SHSU Free Speech experiment, a school staff member cut up the free-speech board with a box-cutter. Writing this on Tuesday, the students had erected a second board. Let’s see how long it lasts!

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We left town fairly late. I was worried we’d miss any action. We got down to Finch station at some point in the afternoon and started our ride down. There were nerves among all of us but I feel I had more of an idea what to expect than the other three people I was with. I’d watched videos from the Pittsburgh G20 that had taken place the year before. The United States really upped the ante with this event. The most widespread videos of G20 Pittsburgh showcased sophisticated ear-damaging sound cannons being used to neutralize protesters, ample tear gas creating a corrosive fog of war, and abundant examples of completely unjustified police action and completely ignorant vandals amongst the protestors. Chaos basically. Within what is supposed to be a shining example of a “free country” founded and predicated on necessity of free speech and a right to assemble and associate you saw a war zone emerge. The antennae and earpieces receiving orders from an unknown authority carried out their work dutifully against the scattered and unorganized protesters, herded and kettled like sheep into dead ends to be rounded up and arrested by the storm trooper brigades. All this could have been avoided if this meeting of our nations’ “leaders” and the predacious interests of the voices in their pockets decided to gather in a more isolated location. Instead they decide to section off major cities and basically shut them down with a martial law-esque security checkpoints and barriers for days at a time. There is no legitimate reason for this – the meetings are held in private, only press releases are to escape the conference. Placing these events in metropolises serves the interests of certain people… but certainly not the people. Toronto was going to be a mess.

I couldn’t let an opportunity like this slip by. Since 2007, and somewhat before then, I had fostered am eclectic interest in economics. I needed to react to an event like this in some active way. I had made a conscious effort to wear what I wear every day. Videos of previous G20s showed the rioters wearing completely black – part of some media coined “Black Bloc” group.  The validity of concerns became, to some, secondary to revolt and noncooperation. I was not going to be part of any riots or violence that would require me to disguise myself. I put on my over sized dark green sweater, black pants, hemp hat and wore my long hair down.

The subway ride down was typically quiet. I reflected on the very real possibility that I, and the people I had brought with me, could very well end up in the makeshift prison they had created in the old Toronto Film Studios to contain protesters. Mass arrests are not an anomaly at these types of events and I could not rule out the possibility though I had no criminal intentions whatsoever. You can’t rely on a chaotic situation like this to turn out rationally because of the complications of both intrusive officers and naive protesters. Queen’s Park – this is where they had designated the official protest zone. The very idea of a designated free speech zone was contradictory to every fiber of my ethics, however this was the “safe zone” so we exited the metro here.

Walking out and up the stairs a man engaged me in conversation, perhaps noticing my appearance.

“These damn protesters are holding up the whole city.” he said passive aggressively.

We had to leave the subway on Bloor, far North of where most people needed to go, anything South of that is blocked off.

“Well, you know there are a lot of people with a lot of reasons to be there.” I responded.

“I think they should just arrest every goddamn one of them.”

“How would that be justified at all? What about all the people here just to stand up against the monetary system… the spending on needless wars -”

“Don’t get me started on the Middle East, we should just bomb the hell out of them all in my opinion.” he interrupted.

At this point I severed myself from the conversation. Was this the sentiment I should come to expect from the day? Walking up the stairs things seemed more crowded than usual and I noticed private security guards in abundance but nothing looked too foreign to me. We exited the subway system and walked South towards the “orange and red zones.” We had to walk through a couple of kilometers of eerily desolate streets; private security guards manning the doors of banks and hotels. We got closer and started noticing more people, police sectioning off the road and lines of storm troopers blocking off strategic roads.

We encountered a group of peaceful protesters huddled around an amplified musician singing folky songs. Many causes were existent here. My girlfriend was approached by a communist offering her a magazine promoting communism in Canada. He requested a dollar for the magazine. The newspaper wasn’t even free! She pulled out a quarter and handed it to him. I poked fun at her for even accepting the magazine and for funding his confusion. Continuing walking South we encountered many police officers and private security patrolling the streets but none were keen to engage anyone unnecessarily.

I had been texting some friends that were already part of the larger parade of protesters making their way towards the security fence and we headed in the direction they told us they were in. We passed lines of officers who seemed more uniform than man and many people stopped to take pictures of them or of themselves in front of the lines.

The first bit of destruction we witnessed was spray-painted streetcars, empty and parked on the street. Continuing down Queen street we saw a Starbucks which had a large hole in one of it’s glass walls where someone had thrown a brick or smashed it with a tool. I snapped a quick photo and continued down the next street on our right. We began encountering more and more people and as we walked up to a busy intersection we witnessed police lines moving back to let us in. I noticed “Bomb the Banks” spray painted on the wall of the Bank of Montreal and was discouraged by the provocative and careless vandalism.

The active intersection was most interestingly characterized by a police car which seemed to have been distinctly abandoned in the middle of it. Police backed off this vehicle – it was bait for disgruntled vandals. By the time we had made our way through to the other side of the intersection the car was being destroyed. A few minutes later the car was set a blaze and as thick smoke was exhaled from the inside of the vehicle the horn seemed to be triggered by the fire and sounded for at least 30 or 40 seconds.

I looked around and at every available exit, a line of police blocked us into the intersection. I took the opportunity to videotape the flaming car and couldn’t help but conjure up hollywood huge explosions resulting from the inferno in my head. We headed east with many others towards a line of police asking them to move so we could escape the toxic fumes and volatile environment. The officers hardly responded for a few minutes then finally receded and allowed us to pass. This seemed to be the only side in which this occurred as soon we found ourselves marching with a large group of divided protesters all parading for their own causes.

Walking down Yonge St., the most iconic street in Toronto spontaneously a group of 50-100 so-called “black-bloc anarchists” began destroying the city strip. The legs of mannequins were grabbed from displays and used to smash more windows. The letters on the marquee of the strip-club which boasted “G20 Leaders Welcome in Our VIP Rooms” were torn down and the sign was destroyed. A few broke the window of cellphone providers and threw cellphones into the street for others to pick up. As I watched the carnage unfold, I stopped taking pictures and just let what was going on sink in. I man dressed in black with his face masked tore bricks from the median of the road and threw them into the streets to be hurled. I almost failed to notice his actions and one of these bricks came inches from smashing into my right leg. My shin would have been broken. The majority of damage was inflicted on the storefronts of corporations and companies that many people have legitimate grievances with. It’s unfortunate that the only way they can use their energy is destruction. The method of protest chosen by these people was not a sound course of action. The costs of all this damage would no-doubt only be placed on the franchise owners of these businesses and head office would not be affected much, if at all.

The behavior was misguided and hurtful to any and all of our causes, but I could not help but get a feeling of catharsis seeing the storefronts of McDonald’s, Starbucks, Nike, and other horrible corporations being destroyed. It was surely exhilarating being a part of this even as a critical spectator. As the shock and excitement soon wore thin I took to taking proactive measures to stop the destruction that the police were welcoming to occur. With thousands of police in the city, armed to their teeth with tear gas, rubber bullets, helicopters, and I’m sure some live ammunition there is no doubt that they could have stopped this at any time. I found myself playing the role of the police as I approached a group of black-blockers attempting to tip over a parked vehicle.

“Someone, just like you, had to earn this car. They had to slave for it just like you slave for all that you own. They are just like you, and you’re just creating another spectacle. More justification for a police crackdown. What is the point of all this?” I argued hoping to break through.
“They’re just fucking yuppies,” a small woman, hidden by a black bandana began to get in my face, “…they’re fucking yuppies. Fuck them!” All of her answers seemed to be extremely emotional. Her adrenaline was running high.

She had to leave the effort to flip the car to come and engage me and I noticed many of the others watching our exchange. Soon many of them, distracted, lost the motivation to destroy the vehicle and left it to cause shit elsewhere. This was the first of two cars I managed to save from being a media spectacle in this manner throughout the day. At one point I was able to have a calm conversation with one of the “black-blocers”.

“Peaceful resistance no longer works. We’ve tried all of that for years. It’s time to be active and to show them that we’re fucking serious.”

This was his, and I assume most of their general sentiment.

I would learn later that many people in black attire were seen being let behind police lines. Police may have been some of the instigators of the damage and destruction.

The parade, at many times marched past lines of police who had been given the order to stand down and let this all occur. There were obviously some who could hardly accept this backwards order but were not willing to stand out of line. At one point we passed a police station and there were two dozen or so police guarding the entrance. Even as rioters threw debris at the police there was little or no action besides defensive shielding of their own persons. The police station withstood significant damage from debris breaking its windows and damaging its infrastructure but still, no reaction from the police officers. The lines of cops managed to force us back to Queen’s Park and what “the city” had called the “designated free-speech zone.” This would soon become a lengthy standoff between police and a peaceful group of protesters that escalates far beyond what’s necessary.