Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When the blood started to flow

First appeared on

An older version at has a great comment you should definitely read.

Posted by Bethany Horne on Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Saturday, I witnessed what I think was the first instance of G20-related violence that day, at Queen St. W. and John St. This was before the black bloc split off from the march. A group called No One Is Illegal, which was protesting against immigration policies in G20 countries, tried to break off from the larger group.

In previous interviews with me, No One Is Illegal talked about how the security fence around the world leaders was a symbol of the fences and borders that oppress people every day. For them, it was an important strategy to approach the fence and protest it directly. However, their attempt to move down the street to the fence was blocked by police who didn't hesitate to use batons against those at the front of the march. First one, then another fell to the blows of the police batons.
I was with a good friend who has medical training and helped her get the first man who was injured out of the way of the advancing police line. We had to yell to make our way through the crowd. From the relative safety of the opposite sidewalk, we called for those who were helping the other wounded to bring them to us. I held the man as blood poured out of his head, down his face and onto my friend’s jacket. It drip, drip, dripped onto my pants.

My friend, who could see the man's skull through the deep gash, covered the wound with gauze and told him to hold it. Calls to 911 were fruitless: the ambulance never came. Another man with a head wound next to me was going into shock. The medics with him loudly asked the crowd marching past us to give us any extra clothing they had on in order to cover him and help hold his spinal column steady. People threw us their extra sweaters and t-shirts. The man's eyes stared into nothingness, flickered and glassed over. No ambulance came for half an hour. We called 911 I don’t know how many times. I approached police officers dressed in the green jackets of "Community Relations" and asked them to intervene, to let medical help through the blockades they had set up along all sides of the street. They said they could do nothing.
By that point the march had long ago passed us by. But we heard that police had deployed tear gas and the tail end of the march was doubling back and coming through where we were. We had to make a decision. We decided to move the injured, even though there was a risk of exacerbating any spinal injuries they might have.

We held the first man with the head gash between us and walked him, and another less-woozy guy, to Mount Sinai Hospital, a kilometre or so away. We left the man who was almost unconscious behind with three medics. They were going to use five people to try to move him into a van in order to get him someplace where an ambulance would pick him up. I know it took them a long, long time to accomplish that. We all thought he was going to die. He didn't. (for a full tale of what happened to him, check the comments at the j-source link, above).

The man my friend and I walked to the hospital had weak vital signs and in the end required seven stitches on his head. He couldn't have been any older than 23. I still can't understand why police thought they needed to deal with him in this way.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Getting ready to cover the G20

This is the "Protest Tip Sheet" Toronto Star reporters covering the G20 were given:

First off, this is NOT a tip sheet on how to cover a protest. That’s between you and your editors. This tip sheet is about how to get through a protest with minimal pain or injury, culled together by J-- R--- and S--- L--- at the Toronto Star from experiences at WTO protests in Seattle, FTAA in Quebec City, IMF and World Bank in Washington, the OAS in Windsor and attendance at the protester’s own training camps.

·       Get a gas mask. Old army surplus gas masks may offer some relief from tear gas, but filter canisters have a limited shelf life. Check expiry dates. Keep the mask concealed until needed. People may want to take it from you, and they won’t ask politely.
·       Keep a bandana soaked in vinegar in a Ziploc bag with you at all times. If your gas mask is stolen, or you don’t have it with you, it will be a backup. Place the bandana over your nose and mouth.
·       If you are stationed at an active fence demonstration, consider a helmet. Hardcore protesters throw rocks. Again, keep the helmet concealed until needed.
·       Ear protection. The sound cannons are new, so the best advice we can offer at this point is get good ear protection, from ear plugs to construction-grade ear covers. The closer you intend to get, the better protection you'll need.
·       Water bottle with a spray top. Not just for drinking. If you are gassed, and it gets in your eyes, spraying with water is the only cure. Aim for the corner of your eye by your nose. Water should flush around your eye and clear out the gas. Better yet, get someone else to do it. Not surprisingly, the protesters tend to be good at this.
·       How you dress is important. If you look like a protester, you are more likely to be treated as one by riot police. If you don’t dress like one, more militant protesters may surmise that you are a member of the main stream media or police and target you. In Quebec, hardcore guys threw paint-filled balloons at media. It was Barney purple, and very difficult to remove. So, try to strike a balance in how you look.
·       No natural fibres. Tear gas sticks to natural fibres, so wear nylon, polyester, etc. The last thing you want is to take that stink home, and we don’t want it here. Consider a change of clothes for going home.
·       Hide press credentials until you need them. Protesters often don’t like the “corporate media.” That said, riot police in the heat of the moment may not care if you are press, even if you happen to be Lloyd Robertson.
·       Food and caffeine. Carry with you. If the protests get bad, shops will close and you will have a tough time staying fed and caffeinated without leaving the story. High-energy power bars are good.
·       Know where you are and how to get out fast. Police in the past have fired waves of tear gas, at varying distances, all at once. This can cause great panic amongst less hardcore protesters and cause a stampede.
·       Rubber bullets, at close range, will break bones.
·       Don’t pick up a detonated tear gas canister with bare hands. They are hot. Very hot. If you must, kick it away.
·       Concussion grenades. These are loud bangs that will make you think a gun has gone off right beside you. They are meant to disorient, and they do. They are also hot, so don’t touch.
·       Tasers. Given the bad press for Tasers, we may not see much of them here, but they were used in Quebec City to break up protesters who sat down in the road and refused to move.
·       If you get enough of a snoot full of tear gas, you will find yourself on your hands and knees, leaking big time from eyes, nose and mouth. It will be very hard to breath. This is normal. You will be disoriented, but try not to panic, find relative shelter, if you can, and ride it out. You’ll feel like you’re dying but you’ll live. Flush your eyes.
·       If at all possible, pair yourself with another journalist and watch each other’s back.
·       If you are carrying electronics, beware of water canons. A waterproof bag is a good idea.
·       Have a pencil stowed away. In the event you and your notepad take an unexpected shower, you can still write with that. Those big, thick pencils meant for kindergarten classes are best, since the leads don’t break as easily.

Sensitivity to gas increases as the protest goes on. Tear gas can be like bee stings – it gets worse with each hit, so stick closer to these tips as the protest wears on.
You will need a shower after a day of being gassed. Remember, that the gas will cling to your hair (it’s a natural fibre), so the first thing to do in the shower is hold your head back and stick your face into the shower.
Otherwise, the gas in your hair will go straight for your eyes.
Be careful, and alert, and you’ll be okay.

If you are going to the protests next weekend and want to meet a real life Star reporter, to maybe get your picture with them or something, I have created the following professional-grade sketch of one, so you can more easily identify them in the flesh. Keep in mind, his bandana baggie and camera are stashed in his back pockets:

The reporter might also look like this:

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


I write a lot. We all do. Emails, chats, tweets, texts, stories and secrets. 
I have always written, in one form or another. I probably always will.
Increasingly, what I write will be preserved forever. The love-struck letters to Steven Skinner in grade seven, those I will probably never see again, nor will anybody else (thank God). 
But times have changed. The bulk of my letters are no longer on paper. I have a record of every email I've sent for the past five years. I was an early Gmail subscriber for that reason alone: I will never have to delete an email, ever again.
As the glut of writing in my own life increases, I ask myself: how can it be better?
One aspect of good writing is emotional honesty. I've never had a problem writing what I feel. To tap into the core of my current state, express it honestly and accessibly, has been a daily exercise. Every day, I communicate with someone who has been important to me but now lives far away. To do this kind of long-distance relationship justice, I have to be genuine, or else the relationship stays in the past and never grows. I have to be aware of who I am at that moment in time, and convey it.
But there is a skill that is harder than relaying with honesty the truth of what I feel. It's a skill I've thought about a lot lately. The skill is permanence.
What can I write now that I will still believe, in 20 years? That person is harder to tap into than the person who is going through today. That person exists, divorced from the events of this week or month. That person pops up when I'm reading, more often than when I'm writing. That person is better than the other one, I think.