A Niagara, Ontario Man’s First-Person Account of a Hellish Encounter with Police

The Weekend ‘Security Forces’ Went Rogue in the Streets of then-Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Canada

By John Pruyn, with a Brief Foreword by Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper

Posted July 8th, 2020 on Niagara At Large

A Foreword by Doug Draper

A recent photo of John Pruyn and his wife, Susan, now living in the Niagara, Ontario municipality of Pelham

Imagine sitting on the lawns of a legislative building – a place government leaders inside had assured members of the public was a “safe zone” where people could gather without being set upon by police decked out in riot gear.

Then, while you are sitting there, under the shade of a tree, listening to a series of speakers talking about health care and environmental issues, and better wages and jobs for working people, an army of heavily armed police, looking like Darth Vaders, descend upon you and others on those lawns.

In the case of one man sitting on the lawn – a 57-year-old amputee – police grab him, pull off his prosthetic leg, and proceed to drag him with his hands tied behind his back – all while his daughter pleads with them to let him go.

Separated from members of his family and denied requests to make a phone call, the man is imprisoned for a weekend in a warehouse full of make-shift cages, before finally being let go with no charges filed against him, and no explanation.

This incident did not happen in North Korea or Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Putin’s Russia, or in Trump’s America, for that matter.

It happened just 10 years ago, right here in our Canada – in Toronto, Ontario, during a week in late June, 2010 when world leaders gathered for a G20 Summit there.

And the man who was indiscriminately dragged away and caged for a whole weekend was John Pruyn who, to this day, has never had a criminal record and who, at the time, was and full-time Revenue Canada employee and part-time farmer, then living in the Niagara, Ontario municipality of Thorold.

The front cover of a 2011 Ontario Ombudsman’s report, highly critical of security operations during the 2010 G20 Summit.

Now retired and living in the Niagara municipality of Pelham with his wife Susan, John Pruyn, has never received an apology, much less an explanation, from any one holding an official office for what happened to him and to thousands of others during a week that saw – as several mainstream media outlets and an Ontario Ombudsman’s report described later – a security operated, front-lined by police, that crossed constitutional lines and went brutally out of control.

Some 20,000 police took part in what were described in official circles to be “security operations.” They included Toronto police, RCMP officers and police from other forces, shipped in from across Ontario and Canada.

To this day, what unfolded in Toronto during that 2010 summit led to the largest mass arrests of Canadian citizens – more than 1,000 were taken into custody, as John Pruyn was – and the first time tear gas was used against citizens on the streets of one of our cities – all of this capped off with a comment, caught on video, to one citizen by an anonymous cop; “You ain’t in Canada right now.”

Police in riot gear, form a line in Toront, Ontario in June, 2020

Indeed, look at still images or video footage of it today and there is a disturbing resemblance to scenes in Portland, Oregon this July, Washington, D.C. early this past June, and other places in America where uniformed forces are wading into mostly peaceful protesters.

And like what we watch going on in the United States now, where there is often a handful of violent actors, blending in to gatherings of peaceful protesters and creating an excuse, through their destructive actions, for Trump and company to send riot squads in, the events that unfolded in Toronto saw a small band of actors, covering in black and loosely identified as “the black bloc,” smashing store windows and lighting dumpsters and police cruisers on fire.

How curious that authorities and mainstream media outlets, for that matter, never get to the bottom of who these bad actors are and who may be supporting or paying them to come in, so well-equipped with weighted clubs and other gear. How conveniently they are then always used as an excuse to move in on everyone else.

John and Susan Pruyn in July, 2010 at their home then, in the Niagara, Ontario municipality of Thorold. Photo by Doug Draper

Ten years ago this July, Niagara At Large was first to tell John Pruyn’s harrowing story.

And now, as we are going through a period in regions across the United States and Canada where many have called for reforming or re-imagining the way police departments play a role in our communities, I think it is worth remembering this disturbing episode in Canada’s recent history.

This time, I am backing off and letting  John Pruyn talk about his experience in his words.

It is a lengthy account, and I am begging your patience here. And keep in mind that as long as the following piece it, is in no way compares in length to the nightmare John Pruyn and so many others went through that late June weekend when we had, what amounted to a police riot unfolding in the streets of a Canadian city.

Here is John Pruyn’s account. It begins with a brief note he sent to NAL earlier this July –

‘Ten years after the attacks and I am still upset. It did open my eyes to police and political abuse and brutality. I had one visitation of police terror. There are minority communities and indigenous nations who see this type of police behaviour on a daily basis.

Most Canadians do not want to acknowledge this.

Police fire tear gas on protesters in the streets of Toronto during the June 2010 G20 Summit.

I bet 99 per ent of  Canadians would say that what happened to Gabriel Jacobs or myself was wrong. However, most of them will support the police and say it is a few bad apples. Events like the G20 show that police brutality is common. Police from all across Canada were allowed to abuse, rob and drag people into cages on behalf of Canada.

Many hid their identities. This is our police.

Maybe only 10% of police will be willing to beat-up and rob a one-leg amputee but 90% of the others will support them. So far no police have apologized to me. I don’t think Gabriel Jacobs ever got an apology. He died in 2015.

Here now  is John Pruyn’ blow-by-blow account of what happened –

John Pruyn and his prosthetic leg, being dragged away by riot police, on the lawns of Queen’s Park in Toronto in June 2020.

Sarah (my daughter) and I are at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Queen’s Park (Ontario’s seat of government) was designated as a safe area by the police for people involved in G20 events during the June 26-27, 2010 weekend. I have been on my feet for 5 hours and I am tired. I am a left, above the knee amputee and have a prosthetic leg that fits using a socket held on by suction. I use two walking sticks as mobility aids.

I  notice two people sitting down and sit down beside them. We do not know the two young men. We find out latter they are Josh and Steve, two monitors for Amnesty International.  They offer us water. One of them comments that I am wearing Nike shoes. We chat for a couple of minutes.

Armored police come behind me and say ‘Move’. Sarah, Josh and Steve jump up quickly. It seems we are surrounded and I feel pushing and shoving. Josh or Steve grabs my hand and starts to pull me up. I shake it lose as I do not have my walking sticks. Also worried that I will get knocked over if I get up. Lots of legs pushing against me.

I hear Sarah loudly saying to let me get up on my own and that I have a fake leg. She tells them to give me room to get up. Normally I would roll over on my hands and knees and push myself up without assistance. Lots of jostling and I am concerned about losing my walking sticks or being pushed over.

Some of the many make-shift cages that John Pruyn and hundreds of others were locked in during that June 2010 weekend.

I believe I have time to get up. Sarah has clearly told the police that I have a disability. A second time Steve or Josh grabs my arm and tries to pull me up. I shake it lose and reach for my walking sticks. I grab them and feel it is time to get up. Josh or Steve is pulling me by the hand and I start to get up.

I hear someone yell ‘Get the four of them” and someone tackles me. In a flash I am on the ground with a knee grinding into my head and someone yelling “You are resisting arrest”. I do not remember the take down. I was stunned by the hit. I think to myself; ‘I did not realize I was under arrest and I am not resisting. What is going on?’ My glasses are knocked off and are under my face. I yell “my glasses, my glasses” as I feel they will be broken. I am alert but not sure how to react. Why are so many police attacking me?

It feels like there are four or five people on top of me. I cannot move a millimetre. Every part of my body is pinned to the ground. My right arm is pinned underneath me and someone is yanking on it. Someone is pulling my left arm behind my back. The guy with his knee on my left ear yells again that I am resisting. I yell I am not. 

Peace signs didn’t count for much during showdowns with police on the streets of Toronto in June 2010

Someone is yanking on my right arm which is jammed beneath me. He cannot pull it free due to all the weight on top of me. He yells that I am resisting arrest and to release my right arm. I am not resisting.  I cannot move. What is going on? Why are they hurting me?

I yell ‘I cannot move’. He yells he will break my arm if I do not release it. I yell “I cannot move”. Then the weight on me is lessened and he pulls my right arm from under me. Someone tightens my arms together behind my back with zip ties. It is very tight and painful.

One of them grabs me and pulls me up. I grab my glasses with my mouth. They pull me up in a sitting position. I see blurry white faces looking at me. All armored police. A white face in front of me yells “Walk”. I say, through clenched teeth, as I am hanging on to the glasses with my mouth, “I can’t’.

He then walks forward and yanks off my prosthetic leg. He yells “Hop”. I say through clenched teeth “I can’t”. He then says “You ask for it”. I cannot believe what is happening. Can’t they see the glasses in my mouth and that I have one leg. How can I get up and walk or hop with my hands zip tied behind my back. It makes no sense. This is deliberate. The police are lying.

Two cops than grab me under the arms and hoist me up (posted picture). I feel terrific pain in my shoulders and wrists. My elbows are scraping on the cement as they drag me away. My shoulders and head ache. I scream from the pain. Police are all around and I hope that someone will stop this but no one steps in. I cannot believe what is happening. Why are they dragging a disabled person around? I am hanging onto my glasses with my mouth. Why don’t they stop?

They drag me some distance when I hear other cops approach and they say they are Toronto police. The two dragging me stop and drop me on the ground. My head hits the pavement. My glasses fly away and I shout “my glasses, my glasses”. One of them answers not to worry as I have worse things to worry about.

Than four cops hoist me in the air. One on each shoulder, one on the right leg and one grabbing my left pant leg. They walk at a quick pace. They start saying things like “he is a spitter” than they all hit me in the body, “he has a weapon” than they hit me in the body. This goes on. I look up and see four white faces, I look at the sun and close my eyes. How can this be happening? Can’t they see I have one leg? Why are they hitting me?  I try to remain calm as I cannot do anything.

When we reach their destination they throw me on the ground. My head hits the pavement. One of them puts a knee on my chest and pins me. They turn out my pockets and take my money and ID. One of them rips off my whistle and throws it away. I hear Sarah for a moment. One police mocks that I must be proud of my daughter. I say I am but I hope she is alright.

They then drag me to a police prisoner van. They pick me up like a sack of potatoes and push me onto the floor of the van. It is like a cage. There is one person inside. I slide on the floor and he helps me get up on a bench. A white guy. We sit there for a while. They bring in more people. It is hot outside and bright sun. It gets hot in the cage. Police refuse to open the window or leave the door open. Our cage fills with 8 people and some are complaining about the heat. One person is at the door yelling he is going to pass out. Police say it is his own fault for being there.

We are locked in cage for some time. It is hot and I mention that if we were dogs, the police would be charged for cruelty. After a long wait they start up the vehicle and there is a fan and ventilation that turns on. They were pestering us. We move a little bit and park beside a bus.

Largest mass arrests in Canadian history

They tell us to get out of the van. I slide on the floor to the exit. They remove the zip ties from behind my back and put on hand cuffs with my hands in front. One police asks if I need help to get on the bus. I tell him not to touch me. I do not want police to touch me. It takes 3 hops to get to the bus. I turn around and sit on the first step. I bum my way up, grab a pole with my hands and pull myself up. I use my hands for balance by grabbing the fencing and hop to a seat. Sections for men and women.

We are on bus for a while and it begins to move. It takes us to a large building with four big cages in it. It is still daylight. The bus is parked in the building. People are removed from the bus into the cages. I hop and slide off the bus. They bring up a cheap, old wheel chair for me to sit in. One of the police has my prosthetic leg and asks if they should let me wear it. Someone says no as it could have a weapon in it. They say I must keep the handcuffs on.

I am put in a cage by myself. There is guard in front of the cage at all times as the door will not lock properly. I sit and ponder. I vow not to talk to the police or ask them for help. Why should I ask for help from people who abused and hurt me? I do yoga breathing. My head and body hurts, blood oozes from scraped elbows. My vision is blurry. I hope Sarah is OK.

People already in the other cages are yelling “I have been here four hours and have not had a phone call. Let me call a lawyer, my children will be wondering where I am, I need my medicine, I am hurt, I am cold and need blankets, my parents will wonder where I am, my husband will wonder where I am, I have been here for 6 hours and need to call home”. This went on all the time and over time sounded like a chant. 

Queen Street in Toronto in June 2010

After a while they bring another person into the cage. He is in an old wheel chair, is handcuffed and is upset with the guards. He wants his custom wheelchair. He is begging, crying and swearing for it. They say he cannot have it. In the cage he says his name is Gabriel and is a native Indian. He tells me the Nation he belongs to and that he is a semi quadriplegic. Half his body is paralyzed but he is very weak on the other side. He wants his custom, motorized wheelchair.

He is upset and continues to yell at the guards. He wants his wheelchair. He tells them he needs it. They ignore him. This goes on for some time. He is handcuffed but why? He ask the guards to remove his handcuffs as he is paralyzed. They refuse. I cannot believe what is going on. How will they care for him?

He talks to me and says that he was reaching down to pick up a cigarette when the police attacked him. They accused him of attempting to poke a hole in a tire. They dragged him from his custom wheelchair and stuffed him into a police cruiser. He did not know who they were. He was very upset. He wants his personalized wheelchair.

Latter Gabriel needed to go to the washroom. Three guards came in and rolled him to the portable toilet inside the cage. They had trouble getting him inside as it was not a suitable toilet. I heard yelling and swearing.

They dragged him back and his pants were soaked from urine. They placed him on a metal bench in the cage and left. He said they would not remove his handcuffs and he could not relieve himself. They refused to help him. He defecated in has pants. The bench was narrow and he could not keep himself on it. He rolled on to the floor.

Showdown after showdown, all weekend long

He is lying on the cement floor for some time. It is a cold floor. The guard on duty said Gabriel will have to wait for help to get back in the wheelchair. He asks me for help. I try to help him get in the wheelchair but cannot do it. He smells and is soaked from the urine. He lies on the floor for a while and the guards do not help him.

Latter in the evening a black guy is brought in. He was out shopping when they caught him. Gabriel asks him for help to get into the wheelchair. He mentions that Gabriel stinks but he does help him get in the wheelchair. Latter still another black man is brought in. He had on leg shackles as well as zip ties. The police refuse to take off the leg shackles. He said it was because police thought he could run fast.

I had my shoe on the right leg. The guards let me keep it. However the two black men had no shoes. The cement floors were cold.

All the while other vehicles and buses came in. Police or guards walked past our cages. Some mocked us. Others said nothing. People were cold and shouting for blankets. People were hungry, thirsty, they needed their medicine, they wanted to call their children, their families, lawyers, they chanted, they were there for 10 hours without a phone call. Many voices asking for water, food, warmth and contact.

A white guy was brought into our cage on Sunday morning while still dark. He had his wrist wrapped in a bandage. He and a friend were fooling around and he cut his arm by accident. He went to emergency to get it stitched. On the way back police captured him. He was very upset. He had to report to work that day and operated a special float. He was the only one on the crew with a license to operate it. He had to call his boss to let him know he could not be there. He yelled this out over and over to the police/guards as they walked by. He chanted it for hours. No one was getting their phone calls.

We were thirsty and there was no water. After a long time they gave us a small cup of water. Gabriel was asleep, slumped in a unsuitable wheelchair and did not drink any water. He was not properly supported in the wheelchair. It was cruel. He stank and was soaked in his waste. The guards did nothing. They did not have the facilitates to look after him. He should have been released.

Police and guards were going to the different cages and asking for people. Some they took away and they were returned after a while, others did not come back. During the night, police did come to the cage, identify me and say they could not locate the charges against me. Therefore, they could not process me and I had to stay in the cage.

People continued with their chants. I have been here for 15 hours and no phone call. I need my medicine, I want to call my parents, I am cold, and I am hungry. In our cage there were 5 of us. None of the others had anything to do with the G20. They all had their own stories. The police were grabbing anyone.

It was a long night. I resolved not to engage with the police or ask for help. They had hurt me. Late Saturday night or early Sunday morning a black guard did ask if I needed medical attention and I said no. I was not weak. I would not ask for help and I did not trust them.

Quiet in the hours before dawn on Sunday. Less chanting. I am worried about Sarah and Susan. Hope to be released soon. This is crazy and I cannot understand why the police are so brutal. It is quiet as the sun comes up.

Daylight, Sunday morning. They brought us a bread and cheese sandwich to eat. Gabriel continued to sleep in the wheelchair and did not eat or drink. They gave us a cup of dirty water to drink.

People were chanting “I have been here 20 hours and I have not had a phone call. My family will be worried, my children will be worried, I need to call my wife or I need medicine”.

Eventually they took Gabriel from our cage and put him in his special wheelchair and took him away to get cleaned up. He came back with a happy voice on his custom wheel chair. However they refused to let him bring it in the caged. Gabriel voiced that he was upset and wanted to stay in his custom wheelchair. Guards refused and transferred him to the clunky wheelchair. After this Gabriel slumped in the wheelchair and was there for many hours. I never saw him eat or drink.

I went to toilet to take a dump. There was no door on the portable toilet. It faced the police and guards as they walked by. I did not care.

In the morning a cop came to the cage, he said that they could not find any paperwork on me. They could not process me so I had to stay in the cage.

Early in afternoon guards said more people were coming in and we had to move to another cage. There had been only 5 of us in the cage. They moved us to a cage that had some people in it already. Gabriel was pushed into the corner, slumped in the wheelchair. After a while more buses and prisoner vans started to roll in. They were bringing in a lot of people.

Our cage was filled up with people. Some were very young. Talked to one man who was 17. They were rounded up at one of the G20 support centres. He said the police were rounding up anyone they saw and closing down the city.

The new arrivals had their hands zip tied and had no shoes. Some said there feet were cold. Some wanted blankets. Sunday had been a cooler day and it rained a lot. I could hear thunder and see this when the large doors were opened to allow the buses to enter.

Sunday afternoon and evening the chanting continued. “I need to contact my family. They do not know where I am. I have been here 18, 20 or 24 hrs without a phone call. I need my medicine, I am cold, I am hurt and I am hungry”. Sometimes the cages were banged or rattled.

The police came around, identified who we were and gave everyone a number on a piece of paper. In the future they would call us by # rather than our names. We were to retain the number.

I thought this was crazy. We were not charged with a crime and they wanted to turn us into #s. Some people in the cage told the guards they would not comply. They would not answer to a number. After the guards left people still discussed the #s. Some ripped up their #s. I looked at mine and put it in my pocket.

“John Pruyn is a constituent of mine. I know him,” the now- late Niagara Centre MPP Peter Kormos said after Pruyn  was set free.. “He’s 57 years old. He works for Revenue Canada, for Pete’s sake. “He’s an amputee; he lost his leg in a farming accident 17 years ago. John Pruyn is a peace activist. He was at the event with his wife, Susan, and his daughter (Sarah).” Photo taken in 2011 by Doug Draper

All four cages were full of people. The guards started calling out people by #s. No one in our cage answered to their #s. The guards moved on. Many had discarded their #s. I folded mine up and dropped it out of the cage. The guards came back and called out #s again. No one answered. The guards moved on. A bit latter they came back and started with just saying #s but then they switched to names. The # system was dropped. We were persons again.

It was Sunday evening. I had been held for more than 24 hours. No charges were laid against me and they could not process me. They did not know what to do with me.

People were still chanting about the lengths of times in the cages without a phone call. Many were over 24 hours. It was crazy. Why were we being held? It seemed we were being punished for daring to attend the G20 or to be outside.

Around 8:30 the same black guard from Saturday evening shift was back on duty. He stopped by and asked why I was still being held. I told him they said they could find no paperwork for me and I could not be processed. He said he would do something about that. He would see if I could be processed.

John Pruyn, with wife Susan, talks about his ordeal at a Niagara meeting of Amnesty International members in St. Catharines in Novmeber 2010

He came back and said they would let me go. They would process me and send me out the back door. They could not locate my glasses, walking sticks or money. I said it was raining, I had no walking sticks or glasses, I had no money, I was not sure where I was or the address I was staying at in Toronto. He would go back and see if they could arrange a ride for me.

They come back and said they would arrange a ride. They took me out of the cage and rolled me past other cages. People see me and yell shame at the police for holding me. Gabriel is still in the cage. We go through doors into another building. This building has cages of many different sizes. It is jammed with people. They roll me past many cages.

I pull up to a cop at a desk. He gives me my driver’s license and leg. I ask him for my walking sticks, glasses, money and whistle. They do not have these items. He writes down the missing items, said they would look for them and get back to me. They cannot find any paper work on me so they are letting me go. There are no charges and no explanation. I feel like I was kidnapped.

I put on my leg. They take a video of me with someone reading a statement I had to agree to. I promised not to participate in the G20. For me it was over. I wanted to get away from the police.

It is about 9:30.  I am placed in the back of a police car. It is like a small cage. No door handles. There is a sign saying anything I say may be recorded. No freedom yet.

Two cops in uniform enter. They ask me where I am going. I do not know the area of Toronto but think I know the street. They look up the street. Not sure if I am right but they head for that area. It takes some time to get there. We reach the neighbourhood and find the street. A police assists me to the front door. He knocks and my wife, Susan answers. It is about 10:30.

Then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, never offered a full explanation or held accountable for the outrageous events that unfolded on the streets. Never mind an apology to those whose civil liberties were trampled on.

I go inside, hug Susan and tell her what happened. She is horrified. She explains that she was looking for me and that I disappeared. We get a call that Sarah has been released and that John, our son, is bringing her to our address.

He came to Toronto to search for me. John arrives with longtime friend Dominic. I tell them my story. Dominic says it has been crazy in Toronto. The police have gone berserk.

I want to leave Toronto. I am anxious and full of tension. I cannot sleep. First we drop by Dominic’s place in Toronto. Other people are there and I tell them my story. They are shocked.

Around 12 we head to Guelph and drop Sarah off. We get to Niagara about 4 in morning. I cannot sleep. I am full of tension, confusion and anxiety. My head and body ache. I turn on the TV and stare old movies.

TO watch  a CBC Fifth Estate piece, first aired in 2011, on the shocking events that occurred in the streets of Toronto during the 2010 G20 Summit, click on the screen below –

 

To read a commentary, recently posted on Niagara At Large, on this affair, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/06/26/10-years-ago-today-the-day-police-descended-on-thousands-of-citizens-right-here-in-canada-to-dominate-our-streets/

To read a report on an Ontario Ombudsman’s Office investigation into this matter,l click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2010/12/07/ontario-ombudsman-releases-blistering-report-on-provincial-government%E2%80%99s-role-in-g20-security-mayhem/

To read another Canadian citizen’s account of what happened to him and others on that June 2010 weekend, click on – https://wikispooks.com/wiki/Document:How_I_Got_Arrested_and_Abused_at_the_G20_in_Toronto

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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