In the wake of the release of the OPIRD’s recent report on the G20 summit in Toronto, condemning police for their actions, “around five” ranking officers and 28 front-line cops are being charged with “misconduct” relating to “unlawful arrest”, “excessive force” and other violations of the Ontario Police Act. After almost two years of trials, videos, complaints and denials, the Police are finally acknowledging that they did something wrong. Though these charges are likely to be more spectacle than substance, the symbolic victory here is quite satisfying.

The G20 security effort spent a billion dollars and mass-arrested over a thousand people to protect a meeting of world-leaders. In so many ways, what went on that weekend foreshadowed the last two years of austerity and uprisings, but at the time it seemed beyond shocking. Despite a thoroughly militarised police presence which occupied most of Toronto’s downtown, stopping, searching and arresting anybody they chose, a small contingent of black bloc rioters still managed to break a bunch of windows and two police cruisers were set alight with barely any interference from police. Since then, we’ve seen the scale of this destruction dwarfed by everything up to and including Vancouver’s hockey riots, yet almost never with anywhere near this number of arrests.

Those arrested included peaceful protesters in the “designated protest area”, bystanders and pretty much anybody downtown at the time, as well as a host of “organizers” swept up in targeted arrests for “conspiracy” before and in the weeks after the summit. Many I knew awoke to police raids before dawn the day protests began, and others I know were picked up in the weeks afterward (yes, even in Hamilton). Their trials revealed years of extensive surveillance and infiltration directed at anarchists in a number of Southern Ontario cities. The files they gathered were massive, covering all kinds of actions across the province. Though I had no involvement in the G20 protests (at least until “jail support” became a priority), I’d met at least one of the under-covers and was noted in court disclosures for attending an environmental action over a year before. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve seen him in Hamilton, too.

This crackdown imposed an atmosphere of terror and paranoia on activists all over the province. It’s hard to be open and to engage the community when any new person could be an undercover cop. It’s even harder to organize (or even relax) when anything you say could end up played back before a courtroom. “Incriminating phrases” included “kill whitey” and “Molotov cupcakes” (for a bake sale), recorded during meetings, car rides and long nights of drinking. This is exactly why infiltration tactics are used – beyond any useful data brought back, they make it very hard for people to trust each other in any kind of protest.

If this crackdown was meant to crush dissent, though, it failed. Utterly. In the years since we’ve seen a global reawakening of protest movements like little the globe has ever seen. As anarchist communities became consumed with (still ongoing) legal support work, we began to turn our attention to police and prisons. This, it turns out, was a very popular move, and it’s been a part of an enormous backlash against police brutality in the years since (with many marches held in Hamilton and elsewhere). Even in North America, massive protests are now becoming routine, with massive arrest tolls coming in almost daily from Quebec and elsewhere (over a hundred Wednesday, BTW). As for the anarchist movement, we probably haven’t seen this much attention or support in a century.

In other G20 news, Byron Sonne has been cleared of all charges! Sonne, a hacker and amateur rocketeer was locked up for 11 months on trumped-up charges which portrayed him as a terrorist and cost him his marriage. Also, keep an eye out for “Who’s Streets?“, a recently released anthology of academic works relating to the G20, such as Shailagh Keaney’s excellent (and horrifying) work on the way police targeted women during the protests.

The response now coming from the OPIRD is too little, too late, but at least it’s something. These processes move at a glacial pace, ensuring that they won’t interfere with post-summit demonization of protesters. Yet, with all that’s going on right now, it couldn’t be coming at a better time. This weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago and Charest’s new attempts to outlaw the student strike in Quebec are both likely to fill our papers with further “chaos” in the streets. The lessons of the G20 need to be learned – the “Miami Model” of militarized protest policing does not work – it only encourages rioters and brutalizes countess others. We need to take a hard line on police brutality before it takes a hard line on us.