Our comrade Dane Rossman is currently locked up at Toronto West Detention Centre in Ontario, Canada. Dane was extradited June 14th, after being held without bail since February 21st at the Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence, Arizona. Another comrade, Joel Bitar, is currently free on bail in New York, awaiting the start of his trial in Toronto. They are both facing heavy fines and prison time for their alleged participation in breaking windows during the 2010 G20 in Toronto. They are among five Americans that Canada has sought to extradite for such offenses, along with Kevin Chianella, Quinn McCormic, and Richard Dean Morano.
While extradition for vandalism is incredibly rare, it is not entirely unheard-of. In January, a Mexican man was extradited to Houston, Texas for spray-painting “CONQUISTA” on Picasso’s Woman in Red Armchair. And Singapore, which drew international attention in 1994 for caning an American citizen convicted of vandalism, is currently seeking to extradite a British national for his participation in spray-painting a subway car.
The G20 Five are accused of having caused between $700,000 to $1,000,000 in damages. For Canadian prosecutors, these huge sums of money seem to be the main justification for this international procedure. The higher number exceeds the $750,000 estimate reported by a glazier to the Star, and approaches half the $2.5 million estimate testified by Detective Sergeant Giroux at parliamentary committee as the total losses for private and public property damage and lost wages.
Bitar alone, facing 26 counts of mischief, is accused of damaging at least $375,000 worth of property–all related to an alleged pickaxe assault on the windows of a Canadian Imperial bank building that took “less than 30 seconds to commit,” according to Detective Giroux. Chianella is being charged with a comparably high amount in damages. As far as G20 vandals go, Girioux says, “the two Americans [Bitar and Chianella] are at the top of the list.” Rossman might appear much further down Giroux’s “list.” He faces only three counts, and an estimated $10,000-$15,000 in damages.
The American suspects were targeted based on investigations that involved compiling private surveillance, citizen and journalist footage from the riots, the monitoring of the suspects’ social networks, and the implementation of new facial recognition software donated by the Canadian Banker’s Association. Although all of the suspects were well-masked, the prosecution will attempt to match particulars in their clothing to later, unmasked images of the protesters. To date, the use of this sort of evidence has convinced Canadian juries most of the time, but some have been found innocent.
Aside from the property destruction, Giroux stresses that the broken windows could have injured Canadian citizens. Joel Bitar’s support committee released a statement that responds to this claim, saying: “Governments claim that property damage somehow endangers the lives of citizens, all the while their police and military forces brutalize and kill people at home and abroad that they deem undesirable—non-citizens.”
The vast majority of those injured during the G20, for instance, were protesters who were inhumanely treated, beaten, and verbally humiliated following the mass arrests which occurred during the summit. In May of last year several senior police commanders were charged for a variety of offenses regarding their conduct during the G20. 28 other officers were charged as well. Ironically, the Toronto Police Union attempted to have these charges thrown out due to “lengthy delays.”
After the mayhem, many in the reputably nice city of Toronto questioned if the troublemakers could really be Canadian. The riots in Vancouver against the Olympics in February 2010, and again following the Canucks’ Stanley Cup loss in June 2011, as well as 2012’s several-month long student unrest in Quebec seem to answer that question. Nonetheless, Giroux seems to be playing close to that narrative, saying the Americans were “the worst of the worst. They came with a specific purpose in mind. We’ve never seen anything like that here.”
While the events in Vancouver and Montreal may have slipped Giroux’s mind, the Canadian State is no less paranoid of its population than the U.S. is of theirs. With their monitoring and prosecution of G20 protesters, the mass arrests during the summit, the ongoing surveillance of First Nations activists, with Bill 78 enacted to suppress last years’ student protests in Quebec, and the recent enactment of an anti-mask law that could put protesters in prison for 10 years, we’re reminded of a trend similar to the United States’ coordinated suppression during the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Once in custody, Rossman, for example, was interrogated by the FBI about his political affiliations in New York and Florida. Bitar was likewise questioned by Homeland Security before a flight last year. Giroux confirmed he had worked closely with the FBI in monitoring and apprehending the suspects.
The following is an interview with Guelph Anarchist Black Cross conducted in March, 2013. Guelph ABC has been one of the most active groups in supporting those facing state repression since the 2010 anti-G20 protests in Toronto.
Do you believe the investigations into the property damage during the G20 are political in nature? How so?
Every investigation the police do is political – the police are one of the most powerful political institutions in Canada, and what they choose to prioritize can be quite revealing. Pursuing these investigations on property damage is an attempt to reduce a broad-based and courageous mobilization against the global financial system and the capitalist, colonial Canadian state to a question of criminality. It is in the same vein as the aggressive police fear-mongering before the G20, where the police and mainstream media attempted to pressure our movements into denouncing so-called violence. By seeking to frame some acts of resistance as non-political and criminal in nature, and holding up permitted, self-policing demonstrations as ideals, the state seeks to pacify and divide those who oppose them.
Do you know how much damage they’re claiming occurred during the G20? The sources I’ve found point to something between $750,000 and $2 million, but the Americans are being charged with over a million in damages alone. Do you know how much in damages have Canadians been convicted of? And do you have any theories on why these numbers don’t add up?
Monetizing the property damage at the G20 goes alongside the policing efforts as a way of reducing a mass mobilization to a question of criminality, hiding its political dimensions. One could come up with a value of how much a sit-in at a corporate office costs in terms of productivity, but this is often not done because those actions are not criminalized in the same way. And all of it would still be a fraction of the value lost due to sitting in Toronto’s gridlock traffic or syphoned off the top by corporate leaders, whether legally or not. To me, the talk of dollars worth of damage is just nonsense – the numbers change because it is rhetorically convenient for them to change.
What sort of effect has the G20 task force investigation had on dissent in Canada?
Obviously the intent was to create fear, and to use this fear to pacify as much of the movement as they could, before using naked force to crush those who refused to be pacified. But I would say the largest legacy of the G20 is a huge de-legitimation of the police, especially of their ability to be politically neutral in protest scenarios. Even if people fear the violence of the police, it is easier to be brave in the face of an enemy who is revealed to be tyrannical and illegitimate, because we are not tempted to believe the story they craft about ‘peaceful protest’ and the rule of law.
That said, I think the nature of the G20 Joint Intelligence Group’s policing strategy is not well known, especially for the huge wave of new activists who became politicized within the mass movements of Occupy and Idle No More. I believe it’s important to spread word of the JIG’s tactics widely, not to encourage fear, but to transform fear to caution with accurate information. When we understand the lengths the state is willing to go to break our movements, then we are able to anticipate and prepare for the kinds of repression we are likely to face, thus robbing it of its sting.
Why do you think it is so important for Toronto police to extradite Americans in this case?
The most unprecedented aspect of the Toronto G20 was the size of the policing budget. The police seem painfully aware that they came out of the G20 looking like the bad guys, and they have had very limited success in prosecuting their scapegoats. It seems that they held onto these extraditions for so long before moving on them so they could see if they would need additional convictions to justify their budget. Because in the world of bureaucracy, it is a massive failure for a budget to contract, because that means cops losing their jobs.
Are Canadian activists doing anything to support the 5 Americans who have been/are facing extradition?
Radicals north of the colonial border have been making contact with the folks being extradited to build friendship and offer support through an experience that many of us are now unfortunately very familiar with. In addition to supporting these specific people through a difficult time, it is also an opportunity to strengthen our movements by making new friends in other parts of the continent, so that far from being broken, we can emerge from this new round of repression stronger.
Please write to: Dane Rossman, 111 Disco Rd., Box 4950, Rexdale, ON, M9W 5L6