By Doug Draper
John Pruyn wasn’t much in the mood for celebrating Canada Day this year.
How could he be after the way he was treated a few days earlier in Toronto by figures of authority most of us were brought up to respect, our publicly paid-for police forces who are supposed to be there to serve and protect peaceful, law-abiding citizens like him.
The 57-year-old Thorold, Ontario resident – an employee with Revenue Canada and a part-time farmer who lost a leg above his knee following a farming accident 17 years ago – was sitting on the grass at Queen’s Park with his daughter Sarah and two other young people this June 26, during the G20 summit, where he assumed it would be safe.
As it turned out, it was a bad assumption because in came a line of armoured police, into an area the city had promised would be safe for peaceful demonstrations during the summit. They closed right in on John and his daughter and the two others and ordered them to move. Pruyn tried getting up and he fell, and it was all too slow for the police.
As Sarah began pleading with them to give her father a little time and space to get up because he is an amputee, they began kicking and hitting him. One of the police officers used his knee to press Pruyn’s head down so hard on the ground, said Pruyn in an interview this July 4 with Niagara At Large, that his head was still hurting a week later.
Accusing him of resisting arrest, they pulled his walking sticks away from him, tied his hands behind his back and ripped off his prosthetic leg. Then they told him to get up and hop, and when he said he couldn’t, they dragged him across the pavement, tearing skin off his elbows , with his hands still tied behind his back. His glasses were knocked off as they continued to accuse him of resisting arrest and of being a “spitter,” something he said he did not do. They took him to a warehouse and locked him in a steel-mesh cage where his nightmare continued for another 27 hours.
“John’s story is one of the most shocking of the whole (G20 summit) weekend,” said the Ontario New Democratic Party’s justice critic and Niagara area representative Peter Kormos, who has called for a public inquiry into the conduct of security forces during the summit. “He is not a young man and he is an amputee. …. John is not a troublemaker. He is a peacemaker and like most of the people who were arrested, he was never charged with anything , which raises questions about why they were arrested in the first place.”
Pruyn told Niagara At Large that he never was given a reason for his arrest . When he was being kicked and hand-tied, police yelled at him that he was resisting arrest. Then a court officer approached him two hours before his release on Sunday evening, June 27, and told him he should not still be there in that steel -mesh cage. So why were Pruyn and his daughter Sarah, a University of Guelph student, who was locked up somewhere else, detained in a makeshift jails for more than 24 hours, along with many other mostly young people who, so far as he could hear and see, had nothing to do with the smashing of windows and torching of a few police cars by a few hundred so-called ‘Black Bloc’ hooligans that weekend?
Why was Pruyn slammed in a cell without his glasses and artificial limb, with no water to drink in the heat for five hours and only a cement floor to sit and sleep on before his captors finally gave him a wheelchair? Why was he never read his rights or even granted the opportunity to make one phone call to a lawyer or his family – the same rights that would be granted to a notorious criminal like Clifford Olsen or Paul Bernardo?
He never received an answer to these questions and, he said, “I was never told I was charged with anything.” Neither were many of the others who were penned up in that warehouse with him, including one person who was bound to a wheelchair because was paralyzed on one side and begging, over and over again, to go to the washroom before finally wetting his pants.
Pruyn said others in the warehouse begged for a drink of water and younger people made futile pleas to call their parents to at least let them know where they were. In the meantime, Pruyn’s wife, Susan, was frantically trying to find out from the police and others what happened to her husband and daughter. She found out nothing until they were finally released 27 hours after she was supposed to meet back with them at a subway station near Queen’s Park.
So what was this all about and why were John and Sue Pruyn arrested if they were part of the gathering of peaceful demonstrators in the Queen’s Park area? Was their crime to dare to come to Toronto in the first place and join with those who express concerns about the G20 and whether it has any concern at all for the environment, for people living in poverty, for fair access to health care and other issues important to people around the world who fall into the category of ‘have nots’?
Pruyn wonders if the idea of the crackdown was to send a message to the public at large that gatherings of opposition to government policies won’t be tolerated. “That is (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper’s attitude,” he said. “He doesn’t like dissent in his own (party) ranks.”
Kormos said some might respond to the crackdown against the G20 summit demonstrators by saying that they should have stayed home or they should not have been there, or that if they were swept up by the police, they should have nothing to worry about if they did nothing wrong. But that misses the point, he said. It misses the possibility that this was another example of the province and country sliding down a path of clamping down on citizens’ right to gather together and express views that may not be popular with the government of the day.
Kormos stressed again that a public inquiry is needed, not only for those demonstrators arrested and roughed up during the summit, but for those shop owners in Toronto that had their stores vandalized by a horde of hooligans with little apparent presence of police officers to prevent it.
Asked if there was any possibility a few hundred black-clad vandals were allowed to run wild to make the thousands of people there to demonstrate peacefully look badly, Kormos responded; “That’s why we need a public inquiry.”
Susan Pruyn agreed. “ We need a public inquiry for all of the people who went (to Toronto) with good intentions and who ended up suffering that weekend,” she said.
(Click on Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news on this and other matters of interest and concern to residents in our greater binational Niagara region.)