Erin Cauchi was arrested last Sunday (along with Varsity staffer Joe Howell), after spending the night in the pouring rain at Queen and Spadina, hemmed in by lines of police officers.
Cauchi, a recent graduate of U of T’s History program and President of the Canadian University Press (CUP) did not expect to be detained for an estimated four hours by the police that weekend.“I’ve had dozens of discussions in classes about privacy vs. security, and you’ve always had the debate of, if you have nothing to hide what’s the harm of extra cameras, or police,” said Cauchi. “I always thought what’s the harm? You treat cops this weekend like you would treat airport security: you let them look in your bag, you don’t joke or antagonize them, whatever.”
“My perception of the whole situation has completely changed.”
Cauchi had stayed out of the protests all weekend, acting as ground control for CUP by watching Twitter and the TV news, while sending reporters to different places.
Sunday afternoon, she was walking around with friends when she received a message from Emilio Comay del Junco, an editor at the McGill Daily, that two Daily reporters—Stephen Davis and Braden Goyette—had been questioned, and one violently searched. Cauchi was downtown at the time, and went looking for them with friends, one of whom had been photographing the protests all weekend. At Queen and Spadina, she saw Goyette.
“We’re talking and all of a sudden my friends come back and say that we have to leave, and I really trusted his assessment of the situation because he had been there the day before, so I was like, ‘okay, we gotta book it.’ And then you see the police who had been sitting swing in like a pendulum. My friends had gotten past and we were caught by them right as we were trying to get out.”
Though Goyette had G20 accreditation, Cauchi only had her CUP business cards, but was confident that the police would let them out.
“It was at the very beginning, they had just closed the line, and we just walked right up to them and tried to be very polite and were like look, we’re press, she showed her accreditation, I showed them my business cards, and they said ‘okay, you have a badge, we’ll let you out, and they were like you, not good enough.’ Braden was told she could leave or stay and be treated like everybody else, and for me it was ‘stand up right here and get arrested or we’ll take you by force.’”
Goyette left, while Cauchi was kept for what she estimated to be four hours, in pouring rain. “People kept saying ‘can they do this, can they do this,’ and it became clear that it’s not can they, it’s whatever they want to do. After a while the fear subsided a bit, and we started joking that the police tactic was to put the fake lake above us, and just pour it down on us.”
Eventually, Cauchi claims that one police officer announced they would be put on a bus if they didn’t make a fuss, and soon after said “ ‘you were under arrest for breaching the peace, but all charges have been cleared,’” and the police line broke, at which point everyone “bolted.”
Toronto Police Chief Blair told the Globe and Mail that “The police gave three very clear warnings, separated by time, asking people to disperse, asking people to leave the area, warning those curious to leave the area to allow us to deal effectively with those who had come to commit criminal acts. They declined. Some left, some didn’t. So we had to contain that.”
Cauchi stated unequivocally that this was not the case. “To say that is such bullshit,” said Cauchi, “because we tried to leave.”
She found the experience particularly unnerving as a reporter. “When they gave Braden [Goyette] those two options to either leave or be detained, it was really scary, because then there were no eyes—the media had to choose their own well-being over covering this.”
Blair defended this choice, claiming that “accreditation does not afford you additional rights or any immunity from the application of the law,” and that “we asked the media to leave. They made choices. They chose to remain. And in choosing to remain they got hemmed in with everyone else and got wet.”
Further, as president of CUP, Cauchi claims to have repeatedly heard stories of reporters being harassed and questioned, especially student reporters.
“What keeps going through my head is the lack of acknowledgement of legitimacy of the press, and the student press especially. The issues we’re constantly trying to prove is we were press because they kept saying we were youth.”