Toronto G20 Main Conspiracy Group: the charges and how they came to be

It has now been almost a year a half since the mobilizations against the G20 in Toronto. Six of the seventeen people who had been accused of conspiracy for being the masterminds behind the riots – the ringleaders of anarchy, the generals and lieutenants of the black bloc, the Board of Directors of mayhem – have plead guilty to a lesser charge. This brings to a close the story of the G20 Main Conspiracy Group. So far though, this story has gone largely untold, but there have been many rumours. It's known in a general way that the people who co-ordinated logistics, transportation, and networking with other cities all got arrested. This has created fear among both the many people for whom the G20 demos were their first brush with protest culture, and even among some more experienced organizers who find themselves thinking twice about stepping forward.

{C}

Table of contents:

1) Intro

2) The Filthy Back Story

-Travis Wilks' obsession

-Enter SOAR

-The big day arrives

3) So What's the Deal with These Charges?

-The three pillars

-A crime in a single conversation: what's a conspiracy?

-And just what exactly are they accused of conspiring?

4) Why Haven't I Heard About All This Already?

-The no-demo condition

-Don't even look at them

-Miscellaneous harassment

-Keep it out of the papers

-Cut their names from your memory

5) Undercovers, Surveillance, Snitches, and More

-Infiltrate everything

-The tale of Brenda and Khalid

-Surveillance teams, spin teams, watch your back

-Facebook and email bleed intel

6) Security Lessons from this Debacle

-Defeat fear and paranoia with accurate information and practical protections

-The role of shit-talk and posturing

-It doesn't matter if you don't think you're doing anything illegal

-Explicit security culture norms based on Circles of Trust 7) What does all this mean for people organizing now?

-What's the precedent?

-The difference between caution and fear

1) Intro

It has now been almost a year a half since the mobilizations against the G20 in Toronto. Six of the seventeen people who had been accused of conspiracy for being the masterminds behind the riots – the ringleaders of anarchy, the generals and lieutenants of the black bloc, the Board of Directors of mayhem – have plead guilty to a lesser charge.

This brings to a close the story of the G20 Main Conspiracy Group. So far though, this story has gone largely untold, but there have been many rumours. It's known in a general way that the people who co-ordinated logistics, transportation, and networking with other cities all got arrested. This has created fear among both the many people for whom the G20 demos were their first brush with protest culture, and even among some more experienced organizers who find themselves thinking twice about stepping forward.

Uncertainty around this story has created fear, and that fear has left people uncomfortable stepping up to roles at Occupy actions and elsewhere. Meanwhile though, the real lessons of the Main Conspiracy charges go unexamined.

This paper will attempt to tell the story of those charges, knowing that any telling now will be incomplete. Hopefully though, this will make space for others to share their experiences, and finally bring to light what seventeen people have been dealing with for the last year and a half.

2) The Filthy Back Story

The G20 was an unprecedented event in Southern Ontario for the scale of its security. The state spent more than a billion dollars on security for the event, more than five times the amount spent on any of the previous G20 summits. A large swatch of downtown was surrounded by a security fence, with the roads leading in guarded by militarized checkpoints. In the two weeks leading up to June 26th 2010, police patrolled the downtown in squads of ten or more. There were 18 000 police brought into the city from all across the country. Apart from these swarms of aggressive yellow-jacket thugs, the normally bustling streets of Canada's largest city were eerily emptied.

Meanwhile, several hundred million dollars of that big one billion went into a multi-year intelligence operation co-ordinated between several policing bodies. In the early days of January 2009, at the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) headquarters in Oshawa, the first meeting of the 2010 Joint Intelligence Group (JIG) was taking place. This meeting included representatives from the OPP, the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP – kind of like the FBI), CSIS (kindof like the CIA), and local law enforcement from Toronto, Kitchener, and several other cities.

At this first meeting, they decided that “criminal leftist extremists are likely to attempt to disrupt the leaders summit”. This immediately lead to the question, Who are these criminal leftist extremists? At least one law enforcement project in Southern Ontario was already working on this question. Travis Wilks, of the OPP Hate Crimes and Extremism Unit, was tasked with spying on anarchists in Guelph.

Wilks' project would become central to the investigation. But first, from intelligence gathered at previous mobilizations and events, the JIG came up with a short list of people known to them as criminal leftist extremists and placed them under intense surveillance. By mid-January of 2009, about a half dozen people's homes were being surveilled, sometimes around the clock. Their movements were monitored, and anyone they interacted with was investigated as well. In their intelligence reports, these people were deemed “suspects”, and the people they seemed to work with became “persons of interest”, and were investigated further.

Yes, there was a list of people suspected of being threats to the G20 being compiled more than a year before the summit, in January 2009.

The people being targeted at this early point were singled out for their long-term commitment to social and ecological justice struggles in the region. They included an anti-poverty activist who focused on harm reduction for drug users; a lawyer representing people assaulted by police; a staff member at a university Public Interest Research Group; and the host of a radio show dealing with deep ecology. They were not targeted because it was suspected they were doing something illegal, but rather just because they had been involved in this work for many years, sometimes several decades, and were well connected in our movements.

Travis Wilks' obsession

Along with beautiful rivers, an agricultural college, and close proximity to highway 401, Guelph is well known for its vibrant anarchist movement. In particular, it is famous for having the largest number of Earth Liberation Front actions of any city in North America. Travis Wilks was assigned to spy on anarchists in Guelph after one particularly famous incident in the fall of 2008.

There had been a woodsquat on the old prison grounds in Guelph for a number of years, and it had been taking on an increasingly political character. After the squatters began pouring concrete to build the foundation of a permanent home, the city posted an eviction notice. The woodsquat crew responded by a march from the squat to the downtown, where they nailed up eviction posters of their own in city hall and in the local police station, giving those institutions until September 6 to get out of town. It was mostly a joke and no plan was made for the 6th, but a police vehicle was torched that night. No claim of responsibility was ever made, but the front page of the local paper made it clear that it was being blamed on pesky woodsquatter anarchists.

From September of 2008, spying on anarchists in Guelph became Travis Wilks' full time job. Anytime political graffiti went up in town, he was there fingerprinting the site. He kept a file of anarchist propaganda and writings released in the city. He knew where the various collective houses were, and personally drove by them almost every day, sometimes even going out of his way on his days off to check in. He spied on peoples mail, he kept records of who rode what bike, and he called internet service providers to get access to the browsing history of people's workplaces (presumably, their home connections were already monitored).

Basically, Wilks was a big giant creep. And his creepiness did not go unappreciated by his superiors. When the JIG kicked into gear in January, he was one of the first people they contacted. Suddenly, the personal vendetta of one small town cop was transformed into a multi-million dollar intelligence gathering operation. With a dedicated crew of six officers, he increased the number of houses he surveilled, made lists of who attended what meetings, who they lived with, and what other work they did. With this information, he guided the two undercovers (UCs) provided by the JIG, who called themselves Brenda Dougherty (really Brenda Carey) and Khalid Mohammed (Bindo Showan), to infiltrate two different but overlapping groups. These groups were the Guelph Union of Tenants and Supporters (GUTS) and Land is More Important than Sprawl (LIMITS). (We'll talk more about the tactics used by these undercovers later.)

Enter SOAR

Brenda and Khalid spent the next year participating in various projects in Kitchener, Stratford, and Guelph, working with the loose network of anarchists and anti-authoritarians from about eight of the small cities to the east and west of Toronto. These different communities had been developing links of friendship and solidarity for the past several years, by collaborating on social but confrontational actions that built relationships through the experience of struggle.

In the years before the G20, co-operation between these different and sometimes far-flung cities represented a substantial increase in capacity for anarchist movements in the region. For instance, in the summer of 2009, this network was able to pull of the occupation of the proposed Hanlon Creek Business Park site, taking and holding a construction site for a month, and effectively stopping work for that year. It also demonstrated a significant degree of co- ordination in protesting against the olympic torch traveling through Southern Ontario, in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and others resisting the winter olympics on the west coast.

The formation of the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance, or SOAR, in February 2010, was an attempt at formalizing this network for the purpose of organizing against the G8 and G20 summits. Both Brenda and Khalid were already well embedded in organizing and so were able to be involved in SOAR from the beginning. Anarchists from Toronto increasingly got involved with SOAR, and by the end of March of 2010, it was based in the big city and was working closely with the Toronto Community Mobilization Network (TCMN).

The TCMN was intended to be a hub for organizing against the G20, and establishing necessary logistics.The TCMN did not plan any actions itself, but its Action Committee attempted to co-ordinate actions called by others to ensure a separation of time or space between actions of different risk levels.

SOAR announced three actions to take place on the 26th and 27th of June, and began meeting bi-weekly to move them ahead, with its working groups meeting more often. This is not meant to be a detailed analysis of SOAR's organizing, but in brief SOAR:

* planned a confrontational march called Get Off the Fence to break off from the big labour march on June 26. This was presented as a continuation from the labour march, which intended to march in a circle, beginning and ending in the designated protest zone several kilometers from the fence.

* planned a roving dance party called Saturday Night Fever for that night.

* called for an autonomous day of direct action of the 27th to disrupt delegates attempting to reach the convergence space inside the security zone.

* held three spokes councils, and one large consultation meeting.

* participated in the completely open TCMN Consulta, and met with reps from the Canadian Labour Council. They also held a large meeting with reps from NGOs, labour groups, and community organizations. Many of these groups decided to support the Get Off the Fence march as an alternative to marching in a circle, and the consensus from there was to trust SOAR to organize the march safely and responsibly, having heard their concerns.

The big day arrives

On Saturday June 26th, five days into an exciting and powerful week of mobilizations, less than twelve hours after the last spokes council meeting, the JIG conducted two home raids against organizers with SOAR, kicking in their doors guns drawn between 4:30 and 5:00am. Alex Hundert, Leah Henderson, Mandy Hiscocks, and Peter Hopperton were the first of more than 1100 people who would be brought to the makeshift detention centre on Eastern Ave over the weekend. This detention centre was a film studio rented by police and filled with cages and small trailers. The treatment of those arrested during the G20 is now infamous and this detention centre is the subject of a class action lawsuit.

Most of the G20 Main Conspiracy Group were arrested over the weekend, with a few others being picked up over the weeks and months that followed. Notably, David Prychitka and Jaroslava Avila were not arrested until September. Most of those arrested spent between ten days and three weeks in jail. One accused, Erik Lankin, spent about three months in jail after being denied bail.

It is worth noting that with only one exception, everyone denied bail from G20 related arrests was denied for mental health reasons. People with more obvious mental health needs were systematically brutalized by the guards at Maplehurst Prison, and some would ultimately spend more than a year in jail before having their charges withdrawn.

The one exception is Byron Sonne, a hacker and security expert, who was arrested on June 22 and was accused of making bombs after police gathered any chemical they could find in his house into the kitchen, called in their bomb specialist who looked at the pile and concluded, “Sure, you could make a bomb out of that”. At this time of writing, Byron Sonne is out of jail, but still faces charges. Those denied bail for mental health reasons are all out of jail, and it is believed that their charges have been withdrawn.

In the afternoon of the 26th though, undeterred by the tales of armed goons running cars off the highway to arrest their occupants, or leaping from vans to tackle people off bicycles (just two of the ways that other “ringleaders” were pre-arrested), the people took to the street en-masse. A contingent gathered for Get Off the Fence, grouping around the black flags as indicated in the callout.

However, the plans for the march went no further than gathering. As Crimethinc accurately reported back in 2010, SOAR's process was unable to come up with a specific plan for the march, and the spokes council the night before had simply agreed that “the plan is to not have a plan”. In an inspiring show of courage, around 1000 people broke off the big march, some of whom participated in a black bloc.

The breakaway escaped an attempted kettle at King and Bay, forcing police to retreat, then moved north on Yonge street where a bunch of storefronts were smashed up. As well, several police cruisers were set on fire during the march in what has become the symbol of that day. SOAR's stated goal of humiliating the security apparatus and making the powerful think twice about ever having one of their parties here again appears to have been a success.

Following Get Off the Fence, the veneer of free speech was torn away in favour of full-on martial law. All other demos for the rest of the weekend were completely shut down by the outrageously brutal conduct of the 18 000 police brought in for the summit. It was in the designated protest zone at Queens Park and outside the detention centre where the most intense police violence and largest mass arrests took place. With all this brutality, within twenty four hours of Get Off the Fence, the media were forced to abandon their script about bemoaning the broken windows in the face of the massive public outcry by the literally thousands of people who had been attacked by the pigs.

In all, 1100 people were arrested, 330 were charged, over a hundred were accused of conspiracy, 20 were accused of being ring leaders, and now six are pleading guilty to counciling. 24 people have already plead guilty to their charges. Several others still face charges for property destruction during Get Off the Fence. One lonely police officer, Babek Andalib Goortany, or Officer Bob as his fellow officers apparently call him, is facing charges for assaulting protestors. The financial cost of the G20 continues to grow, as the preliminary inquiry against the Main Conspiracy Group was costing, in a conservative estimate, $50 000 per day for the month it went on.

3) So what's the deal with these charges?

The three pillars

In some ways, the G20 Main Conspiracy Group charges are exceptional, and in others, they are predictable. Police use pre- emptive arrests, trumped up conspiracy charges, and routine violence and surveillance against many communities in the Greater Toronto Area, with the Muslim and Black communities being the preferred targets of the past decade. As well, there have been conspiracy charges used against anarchists in Canada in the past, like the Germinal case after the FTAA in Quebec city in 2001, and the OCAP conspiracy of the same year.

What makes the Main Conspiracy case stand out is the sheer scale of it. There were originally twenty people charged (along with more than a hundred accused of being the “footsoldiers”), stemming from the work of eighteen undercover police officers in more than a dozen different groups starting almost two years in advance. This represents an extreme escalation of repression, and it was explicitly targeted at three overlapping sectors of the resistance: anarchists, Indigenous solidarity organizers, and migrant justice organizers. These are the three pillars that hold up the crown's case.

The first pillar, anarchists, is the most obvious considering the group in question is called SOAR. As is mentioned above, anarchists in Southern Ontario have been slowly but surely building connections with each other, learning together, and becoming stronger. That said, the anarchist movement in this area is very small, relatively young, very spread out, and not that visible (I love you dearly, just telling it like it is). But it has been growing, and in the past five to ten years in particular, anarchists have been central in some exciting social struggles.

Here's a poor list of just some of the struggles where anarchists have contributed their energy, analysis, and tactics: The Red Hill Valley protests in Hamilton; the woodsquat and anti-development conflicts in Guelph; the movement against prison expansion in Kingston; anti-gentrification and surveillance organizing in Peterborough; industrial showdowns in Windsor; runaway sprawl in London; creating youth social space in Burlington; resisting the criminalization of poverty in Kitchener; OCAP, NoiI, and ARA in Toronto; and the Ontario Common Front and the Days of Rage across the region.

The other two pillars of the crown's theory are less obvious, but perhaps more important in explaining these charges. Anarchists involved in solidarity with indigenous sovereignty struggles came under surveillance far more intensely than did other anarchists. This is likely because of the huge and ever-increasing amount of resources dedicated to repressing First Nations Peoples in the past two decades. Since Oka in 1990 and Ipperwash in 1995, the struggles of First Nations Peoples for land, health, and sovereignty have become steadily broader and more powerful, inspiring people throughout the region.

In particular the group AW@L, Against War at Laurier, was targeted for their solidarity work, with almost half of their members charged with conspiracy. Starting off as a student group at Laurier University in Kitchener/Waterloo, AW@L was banned from campus for direct action against military recruitment. They then moved to downtown Kitchener where they started a community centre, the Kitchener-Waterloo Centre for Social Justice. Early in its existence, AW@L developed a strong commitment to anti-colonial struggles, and worked to built alliances with First Nations in struggle across the province along with many other groups and individuals in different cities.

The anarchists involved in solidarity with Indigenous struggles who were targeted by the JIG were primarily working with people at Six Nations, Tyendinaga, and Grassy Narrows. Here is a brief summary of some of the struggles there. People at Six Nations reclaimed land from the cities of Caledonia and Brantford, and fended of the police and racists who attacked them along the way. Tyendinaga is a reservation known for its self-governance, direct action, and active solidarity with other First Nations, and in the years leading up to the G20, they were preventing attempts by the Canadian state to install a fancy new police station on their land. Grassy Narrows is in Northern Ontario, and people there have been holding blockades against clear-cut logging, resource extraction, and the genocidal poisoning of their lands and water for many years.

The third pillar of the crown's narrative is the migrant justice movement, one of the most dynamic and effective urban struggles in Canada of the past decade, with the group No One is Illegal (NOiI) taking an inspiring lead. NOiI is most active in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, and no surprise that the JIG picked a key organizer from each city to throw into the conspiracy case: Jaggi Singh, Syed Hussan, and Harsha Walia. However, this pillar of the state's conspiracy narrative was the quickest to collapse – they simply didn't have the evidence to make NOiI fit as part of their evil league of criminal leftists, even by their own flimsy standards. Harsha's charges were dropped at her bail hearing, and those charges were considered so outrageous that she was allowed to walk straight out of the prisoners box and into the body of the court. Jaggi plead guilty to councilling on June 21 2011 after an unsuccessful attempt to have his no-demo condition removed. He was not sentenced any additional time in jail. Hussan's charges are being withdrawn as part of the plea deal to resolve the Main Conspiracy charges.

Canada is currently undergoing an historic crackdown on the rights of migrants, particularly targeting refugees and people deemed by the state to be “illegal”. An army of bureaucrats in Ottawa are currently rewriting the policies to reflect the edicts of the Conservative government, but enforcement agencies have not waited for the ink to be dry to begin a redoubled attack on targeted communities. NOiI has been successful in keeping immigration enforcement out of women's shelters and schools, and have managed to overturn several deportation orders, which has left the state eager to find ways of fucking with them and their allies.

A crime in a single conversation: What's a conspiracy?

As the seventeen defendants wrote in their statement, “The government made a political decision to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to surveil and infiltrate anarchist, Indigenous solidarity, and migrant justice organizing over several years. After that kind of investment, what sort of justice are we to expect?” It's definitely true that there is no victory in the courts, and it's well known that in Canada, conspiracy charges are among the most difficult to defend against.

There are two basic elements of a conspiracy. One is an intention to agree to commit an illegal act, and the second is an agreement or plan to commit that act. That's all. Unlike in the United States, there need be no acts taken in furtherance of the conspiracy; any such acts are just used to prove the existence of the agreement. A conspiracy can take place in a single conversation, and it remains a conspiracy even if, in later conversations, the people decide not to do it.

The two main undercovers from the G20 Main Conspiracy case were in place for a year and a half each, and took detailed notes on thousands of conversations. At trial, the defendants might successfully demonstrate that ninety-nine out of a hundred meetings or chats did not constitute conspiracy, but the crown only has to convince the judge or jury once to secure a conviction. These odds are clearly stacked against the defense.

In addition, the police have the only written record of events. As UC Khalid repeatedly said in court, his mission was to look for evidence of illegal activities. This means that anything not about illegal activities would not have been written down. The narrative of a year of just about anyone's life told in such a way could justify conspiracy charges. Apart from testifying oneself (and one would surely be less credible than a cop, and less consistent than a notebook), it is impossible to add anything to this narrative, and so the defendants were forced to situate themselves within the police's version of events.

Canadian conspiracy law was first developed to deal with striking workers in the early part of the twentieth century (look into the Winnipeg General strike of 1919), but it soon fell into disfavour and was seldom used. In the early nineties, conspiracy law was revived and rewritten to target biker gangs and mafias, and it pretty quickly became a weapon to target so-called “street gangs” composed of young people of colour. In its recent history, it has been a deeply racist branch of law, used to go after entire social circles as a form of collective punishment. Now, once again, nearly a hundred years after these laws were first written, they are being used to target anarchist organizing.

And just what exactly are they accused of conspiring?

The co-accused had three main charges that they all shared. These are conspiracy to assault police, conspiracy to obstruct police, and conspiracy to commit mischief over $5000. In a general way, what the crown is alleging is that the defendants planned to disrupt the G20 summit and create chaos in downtown Toronto. The specific charges are the means by which they intended to do so: attacking police, de-arresting protestors, by destroying property.

One interesting point that the crown made is that, in all the tens of thousands of pages of disclosure, the defendants never discuss whether or not to disrupt the G20 and interfere with the security operation. They only talked about how to do it. From there, the crown believes that this means the agreement to disrupt predates the formation of SOAR. This is an interesting premise and is worth examining.

Although the crown does not need to prove an explicit agreement to disrupt the G20 and interfere with the security (this can be understood from the tactical discussions), in order for their big crazy theory to float, all the defendants (and the dozens of unindicted co-conspirators) need to have a common unlawful motive. The crown says this unlawful motive was common among all of these different people before any of them had ever met to discuss it in SOAR. But SOAR's only basis of unity was that one be an anarchist from the area who has worked in the movement enough to be vouched for.

The crown's theory then is that having anarchist values constitutes an unlawful motive, that organizing protest around those values is a conspiracy, and that therefore, any jokes made in the pub about fighting cops become a crime. This is of course nothing new. In this case, explicit anarchism and the planning of a march route combined with a bunch of diligently noted jokes and boastful statements were enough to lead to charges.

Let's not become indignant at this latest lifting of Canada's democratic veil to reveal the naked force beneath. The legal system is a weapon that is used against anarchists and any group that poses a threat to the social order. Rather than outrage, let's focus on the many, many lessons to be taken from this experience about how to organize more safely in the future. The goal of this paper is to lay out a few of them, and provide enough information for other communities to draw their own conclusions.

4) Why haven't I heard about all this already?

The use of conspiracy law against the G20 mobilizations is just an extension of the exceptional security that surrounded the G20 as a whole. It is as glaring an indication of the state's illegitimacy and impunity as the security fence, the detention centre, and the mass arrests. Why then have the Main Conspiracy charges been so much less talked about than these things?

The no-demo condition

Since the Main Conspiracy charges were laid, the state has very successfully harassed and pressured anyone who spoke out about this case into silence. The defendants especially have been targeted for even simply describing the charges in public. They have been under extremely restrictive bail conditions, including the infamous no-demo condition; non-association with their co-accused and an indefinite number of others; and house arrest. The legal matters have also been covered by a publication ban. We'll look at each of these factors in turn, but their end result is that people were scared to spread information, defendants could not take a lead on raising awareness, and reliable information was impossible to come by.

The principal tool used to silence the defendants has been the bail condition that reads: Do not attend or participate in the planning of any protest or public demonstration. It is fondly referred to as the no-demo condition. This condition is tremendously broad, and replaces the Clark condition (after John Clark of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, a defendant in the OCAP conspiracy case) that simply prohibited one from attending any illegal protest. It represents a serious escalation in the state's use of bail conditions to silence defendants before their trial, preventing them from mounting campaigns to raise awareness and gain support. Crown attorneys have attempted to impose this condition on at least one other anarchist since the G20.

The police in Toronto, under the leadership of John Vandenheuvel, used this as an opportunity to harass and bully defendants with complete impunity. One defendant was pulled over while driving home from a private fundraising event for the legal defense fund. Although the event was invitation only and very successful, she was threatened with arrest if she ever did anything like that again.

Out of the defendants, Alex Hundert was the most persistent and most public in denouncing the charges, and early on he was singled out for intense repression. While on house arrest, he was invited to speak on a panel at Ryerson University about the criminalization of dissent at the G20, and he attended the event with a surety in compliance with his bail conditions. His remarks are available on Youtube. When he arrived home afterwards, he was arrested for violating what has come to be known as the “no-demo” condition.

At his bail hearing for the breach charges, the crown pushed for a new condition that read “No expressing of political views in the company of others”. Alex refused to sign and so returned to jail. But that night, he was taken from his cell by guards and confronted by higher-ups in the prison who threatened him with indefinite solitary confinement if he didn't sign the conditions immediately. Surrounded by these brutal thugs, Alex decided to sign the paper. He was then kicked out of the jail in the middle of the night and had to walk home.

Alex immediately wrote an article about his experience and the new condition. Three days later he was re-arrested, this time for allegedly writing down the license plate of the crown attorney's car while leaving a bail review hearing where the crown was trying to harshen his conditions. He was charged with intimidating a justice system participant, and spent about two months in jail before managing to get bail again.

Although Alex dealt with this repression bravely, the amount of shit being dumped on him did serve to keep the other defendants from taking similar risks. Some defendants found that they were able to continue organizing in the ways they had been before as long as they didn't talk about the G20. They could either keep organizing and stay quiet about the G20, or talk about the G20 and risk so much heat coming down that they wouldn't be able to do anything at all. Or so the choice appeared. This meant that although most of the defendants stayed politically active even while on house arrest, they didn't speak up about the conspiracy charges.

Don't even look at them

For criminal charges in Canada, it's routine that co-accused are only let out on bail if they agree to sign a condition that they won't associate or communicate with each other. In political circles, these conditions are routinely ignored: some people with non-association conditions have even been arrested together again without being charged for breach of bail. Maybe it was the knowledge of the surveillance they'd been under for years, or maybe it was the huge sums (up to $150 000) pledged by their sureties for bail, or maybe it was trauma from the experience of arrest and prison, but from the beginning, the Main Conspiracy Group decided to take their non-association conditions very seriously.

The rest of the movement took them seriously too, generously organizing to help accommodate these conditions once the defendants had some freedom of movement back. But there was another non- association condition too. This one read: non-association with any member of SOAR or AW@L. Some defendants also had non-association with members of NOiI.

It would be difficult to overstate the amount of fear and trauma among activists in Southern Ontario after the G20, with anarchists and their close allies most affected. The newspapers were full of wanted lists, dozens of their comrades were in jail, the streets were still full of pigs, and the court rooms were packed with prisoners from the G20 trying to get bail. It didn't take long before everyone knew that SOAR was considered a criminal organization, and as the Main Conspiracy Group began to get out on bail, that it was considered to have “members”.

Just a few weeks before, hundreds of people were involved in planning actions against the G20 through SOAR. It never had formal members – anyone known and trusted by those present on a given day could show up and take on tasks. It was not open, but it was by no means closed. It had a core of perhaps two dozen people who were most consistently involved, but even this was fluid, with people stepping in and out depending on their other commitments. In the days following the G20 though, a line was drawn through the movement: member of SOAR or not member of SOAR, anarchist criminal or just an anarchist.

It's not that people distanced themselves from SOAR necessarily. It's that lovers were scared they would be prevented from seeing their partners, roommates wanted their friends back, siblings risked being kept apart. People just kept quiet. They kept their heads down and waited for the storm to pass. Many of them were waiting for some kind of statement to appear, some website about “Free the G20 Twenty” or whatever the Main Conspiracy Group would be called. But that never happened – the defendants couldn't even go outside or speak to each other – and so SOAR and AW@L went from being inspirational groups to being vaguely shameful subjects that people avoided talking about too much.

This condition meant that it has taken a very long time for the defendants to reconnect with people. Some interpreted non- association with SOAR and AW@L to mean no one, because neither group still existed and SOAR never had members. Others played it safe and kept clear of any face they recognized from a meeting. Some activists in the area are still unsure if the defendants consider them to be members of some forbidden group – it's not like they could just call them up and ask.

House arrest doesn't take much explanation. For the better part of a year, the defendants were not allowed outside unless in the company of a surety (one of the people who bailed them out). Since most people only had two or three sureties, and these were often parents, the options for leaving the house were extremely limited.

The defendants never took a solid lead on organizing politically around their own case, and neither did anyone else. There was some organizing for support for people on house arrest or in jail, and some fundraising to get folks through the prelim, but the big push back against the charges never appeared. For some defendants, this absence of political momentum was the biggest factor in deciding to plead guilty rather than continue on to trial. Without political momentum around the case, the charges felt like a political inconvenience rather than an opportunity or site of struggle. This is not to blame anyone, but it hopefully explains why ending the charges quickly seemed to the defendants like a good choice on a political level.

Miscellaneous harassment

Apart from the factors above specifically relating to the bail conditions of the defendants, there were a few other instances where the police worked to intimidate the broader movement from getting too curious about the Main Conspiracy charges.

One of the co-accused, David Prychitka, who was arrested three months later than the others, was finally picked up just two hours after attending an event in Hamilton denouncing the criminalization of dissent at the G20. The police had his address, so they could have arrested him at any time, but only finally did because he was starting to make a fuss. It had been known by some since early July that there were still two more warrants on this case, and so David's arrest meant that one more arrest was still pending (Jaroslava Avila was arrested on Sept 29). But many did not know this, and simply saw a local activist ambushed and arrested by OPP officers outside of a restaurant in Hamilton after a day of protest.

The OPP also sent an agent to the folks who run anarchistnews.org to pressure them to remove a link to the website Snitchwire from their page. Snitchwire is a hub for news relating to undercover police and informants in political movements, and both Brenda and Khalid were featured on it. Officer Vandenheuvel had been unsuccessful in convincing blogspot to take Snitchwire down, so he contacted local police in the United States to go to the homes of the A-News crew and order them to remove the link.

On Aug 25 2011, journalist Dan Kellar from Kitchener was arrested two days after he made a blog post describing his experiences with the undercovers, and referring to details from the Snitchwire posting. He was charged with threatening a police officer and released on the condition that he remain a kilometer away from either of the UCs – which conveniently prevented him from attending the preliminary inquiry that began two weeks later.

Keep it out of the papers

Since the earliest days of bail hearings back in June 2010, the legal proceedings against the Main Conspiracy Group have been covered by a publication ban. These bans are common in Canada, and are issued all but automatically if a defendant requests it. In this case, if any defendant requested a ban, it would be applied to all of them, as the evidence was the same.

The standard publication ban prevents anything brought up in court from being published in any way until the ban is lifted, either by the charges resolving, the beginning of a proper trial, or the order being struck by a judge. When the ban was first requested by a lawyer for the defense, the defendants had not yet had any opportunity to discuss, having just been arrested that morning. The media were into their seventh hour of filming police cars burning while making fearful noises, and in that moment it seemed best that they not be given a group of ringlearder-scapegoats to tear into.

Publication bans are useful to defendants and are commonly issued,because of the recognized bias that exists in bail hearings and in preliminary inquiries. A bail hearing is presided over by a Justice of the Peace who is not a judge and is usually not even trained as a lawyer. Instead they are “pillars of the community”, meaning former cops, school principals, and famous athletes. They are notoriously conservative and volatile, and by routinely denying bail, they are responsible for about sixty percent of all people incarcerated in Canada. So much for presumed innocence. In a bail hearing, the crown prosecutor has nearly unlimited leaway to make any claim about the defendant without having to back it up. Evidence cannot be meaningfully challenged, and all the defense gets to do it present reasons why the accused person should be released.

The prelim is a little better. A preliminary inquiry is a hearing where the crown has to demonstrate that all of the elements of the charges they have laid are present in the evidence. If they can demonstrate at least some evidence on each element of each charge that, if believed, might reasonably result in a conviction, then the accused is committed to trial. Typically (and this was the strategy of the conspiracy defendants), one doesn't make a serious attempt to avoid committal. Rather, the defense uses the prelim as a chance to get a clear sense of the crown's case, identify its weaknesses, and then get their witnesses to commit to their positions so that one can prepare for trial. Again, the crown's threshold is very low, and it's not an even playing field.

When the prelim came around, many of the defendants wanted a publication ban again. This time, it seems to have been largely because there didn't seem to be the political momentum present to meaningfully shape the narrative in the press. So again, the ban was requested and it was passed.

This is by no means intended to fault their decision. But these bans did play into the absence of awareness and information around the case. That it became illegal to share information about the case publicly ended up creating a lot of fear, and contributed to stifling what little discussion was going on, especially in the context of the ongoing harassment of those who spoke out.

The publication ban was sought as a form of self-defense against a system that will try politically important cases in the media before they do it in the courts, shaping the narrative in the public's eye to such a degree that the verdict becomes certain. For an example of one recent case like this, look into Nyki Kish, convicted of second degree murder with hardly any evidence, but after a multi-year media feeding frenzy about “scary, violent panhandlers” and the passage of the controversial Safe Streets Act. But that's another story...

Cut their names from your memory

In addition to the standard publication ban sought by the defendants, the Crown put in place a far more exceptional, dangerous, and far reaching ban. With less than a day's notice to the defendant's lawyers, the Crown presented at the prelim a proposal for a publication ban on anything to do with the identity of the two key undercovers, Brenda and Khalid.

This ban was quashed at the request of the crown at the time when the defendants entered their pleas, on November 22 2011, but not before at least one activist was charged under it. The crown said it was because the ban had already been breached and now the information is so public that the ban is irrelevant.

This was of course not a worry the crown had two months earlier. The real reason is likely that the assistant to the main crown in this case leaked information covered by the ban to a national newspaper, apparently in an effort to discredit the co-accused. He was quickly found out though, and the crown opted to simply quash the order rather than risk being humiliated by charges of abuse of process.

That the crown messed up in so obvious a way is pretty lucky, but if they hadn't, the ban would have been active indefinitely. For two months, it was illegal for anyone, anywhere, to publish the real names of the UCs, their pseudonyms, their images, or “any details that might serve to identify”. This prevented the former roommates of these scumbags saying that they lived with an undercover cop. It prevented any of the hundreds of people who Brenda and Khalid interacted with from saying that this person who once gave them a ride, sat across from them at a meeting, or took them out for drinks, was in fact a police officer.

Unlike the regular publication ban, it reached beyond the walls of the courthouse to criminalize the sharing of the personal, lived experiences of hundreds of people. Throughout the entire prelim, Justice Gerald Lapkin went along with any proposal the crown attorney had, be it to double security or assign an armed guard to sit beside the witnesses. So when asked to pass a historically far reaching publication ban that is definitely outside of his powers as a prelim judge to order, he complied without asking any questions. For anyone present in the courtroom, it was easy to see Justice Gerry just didn't care, only looking up whenever the crown mentioned someone talking about breaking windows.

But in a rare show of generosity, Gerry did add that people needed to be warned of the ban before they can be arrested for breaching it. However, when being warned, offendors would have been handed a copy of the order with, if you can believe it, the details of what they are not allowed to report on blacked out.

From mid-September to the end of November, there was been a ban on linking to the Snitchwire posts, reporting on the undercovers in any way or on the substance of the case. A music video by Test Their Logik was banned because it contained a picture of the Ucs, as was an issue of the Peak, an independent magazine out of Guelph, that talked about infiltration of the Hanlon Creek Business Park occupation. Even talking about the existence of the ban was illegal, which means that if the crown hadn't fucked up, this paper itself would be illegal.

5) Undercovers, Surveillance, Snitches, and More

Infiltrate Everything

It has been proven that the police had at least seventeen long term undercovers infiltrating a wide variety of groups in the years leading up to the G20. These groups included Greenpeace, the Council of Canadian, Common Cause Ontario, Mining Justice, the Toronto Community Mobilization Network (TCMN), la Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitaliste (CLAC), and even the Law Union of Ontario's activist defense body, the Movement Defense Committee (MDC).

Some might wonder why the police would bother infiltrating the MDC and the Council of Canadians. They did it for basically the same reason that they attacked all the people sitting on the grass in the designated protest zone while the confrontational march tore up Yonge street. The problem for them is not good-protestors vs bad- protestors: all protest is undesirable in the eyes of the police. It has violent elements and pacifist elements, but the police see those elements as part of a single whole, and it is that whole that they aim to break.

The police are happy to stay away from the people who will fight back against them, preferring to attack those who are unwilling or unable to defend themselves. A breakoff march like Get Off the Fence only exists in the context of a larger mobilization, so the police tried to end that mobilization as quickly as possible. The police have tried to paint the violence in Queens Park as the actions of a few bad cops, the result of a breakdown in the chain of command, but this is clearly a lie. Using their undercovers, they initiated a similar strategy in these groups years in advance, seeking to undermine and disrupt all protest.

Even when they couldn't find evidence of “illegal” protest activity, there was still a lot of damage an undercover could do. To give just two examples, undercovers among the medic collective of the TCMN absconded with most of the medical supplies, and an undercover in la CLAC directed the buses arriving from Montreal on Friday night to unload their passengers in the wrong part of town. There were also cops in the TCMN working to block consensus on diversity of tactics, cops in the MDC using information meant to help protestors with their legal defense against them (leading to the charges against Kelly Pflug-Back), and cops in Greenpeace trying to talk young people into doing crimes.

It doesn't matter if you aren't doing anything illegal. If there are cops in your group, you are at risk, and if you tolerate their presence you are putting other people in the movement at risk.

The tale of Brenda and Khalid

Of course, the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance was also infiltrated. The cops who called themselves Brenda Dougherty and Khalid Mohammed operated in different ways, targeted different people, and entered SOAR through different routes, but both were ultimately successful in gathering huge amounts of information to use against anarchist organizers. We'll look at them each in turn.

Brenda Dougherty

Brenda was the more experienced undercover, having done numerous prior operations relating to prostitution, gambling, and organized crime. On her first day on the job, she ordered some PETA t-shirts on the internet, watched V for Vendetta, and bought a Ward Churchill book – no joke. She dressed colourfully, had a friendly smile, and liked to wear her politics on her shirts, buttons, and patches, as if proclaiming with the stickers on her laptop that she was certainly not a cop.

She was perhaps in her mid-forties, and her backstory was extremely effective at shutting down any questions about her life. She claimed to have been born in Victoria, BC, and then to have moved to England in her youth. She moved back to Canada to flee her abusive relationship, and moved to Guelph to try and get back on her feet. Fear of pursuit by her abusive partner meant that she was typically guarded about details of her life. Guelph is a community that takes support for survivors of sexual and intimate-partner violence seriously, and so she was never questioned any further than she offered about her past, and was in fact welcomed into a collective house there when she needed a place to stay. Of course, she only wanted to live there to get closer to one of the people she was targeting.

It's worth noting that at a certain point, she attempted to change her story to make it more radical. One person describes a moment in the summer of 2009 when Brenda mentioned having been involved with the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty campaign in England. She said she left the country when her friends started getting arrested for arson attacks against companies linked to HLC. The person hearing this story was surprised that she was sharing it with someone she just met, but never passed it on to anyone else until much later.

Brenda wormed her way into people's lives through the Guelph Union of Tenants and Supporters (GUTS), a radical anti-poverty group in Guelph that had recently been involved in some high-profile actions in that city. In March 2009, as they were getting to know Brenda, their main project was a weekly meal serving downtown, and they were pleased to find someone who would show up reliably, work tirelessly, and always volunteer to wash the dishes.

These meals were cooked in the kitchen of one of the busiest collective houses in town. By hanging around there and encouraging gossip, Brenda quickly got to know the social and political layout of the anarchist community in Guelph. Gossip was one of Brenda's favourite tools for gathering information. She encouraged people to vent their frustrations to her, to talk to her if they were feeling sad, and she was never above dropping bits of information gleaned from others in order to provoke those feelings. In the winter of 2009-2010, the Guelph community was experiencing a large and serious internal conflict that took up a lot of their energy. In between her trips to Toronto, Brenda spread rumours and invented lies to make the situation worse, all while offering people rides in to the next SOAR meeting where she could build up cases against them.

She took exhaustive notes on who was making out with who and who was angry at who. As a result of her work, the state now knows quite a bit about some of the fault lines in Guelph and the surrounding communities. We need to keep in mind that years from now the state might try to play on unmended divisions to pressure us into incriminating our former comrades even if we're no longer active in the movement. There's a recent case out in Vancouver where American prosecutors exploited old divisions in the American Indian Movement to convict John Graham for a murder that happened more than thirty years ago. It's likely that Guelph was initially targeted for the large number of anti-police and anti-development arsons there, and we can expect that those investigations are still slowly moving along even as these charges come and go.

There is some confusion around how exactly Brenda became a part of SOAR. It doesn't seem that anyone vouched her in, yet she was present at even early visioning meetings in Guelph, more than a month before the name SOAR was ever uttered. It seems that she was simply “around” when these early meetings were announced. She was then able to show up unchallenged as the meetings began to involve more people, and was just grandfathered in when the group decided to call itself SOAR and adopt a loose vouching system. She also had a car and would offer people rides into meetings, so she was usually seen arriving with someone well trusted, diffusing concern from the group, while the people she traveled with thought someone else had vouched her in.

She even made it into the Spokes Council meetings, which Khalid was never able to do. SOAR had issued a callout inviting people to organize themselves into affinity groups, and then one representative from any affinity group that could be vouched for was invited to attend the Spokes Councils. Brenda simply faked having an affinity group. When one of her comrades questioned her about who she was working with, Brenda got defensive, and chided the comrade for their bad security culture.

On June 25 2010, Brenda wore a concealed recording device into the final Spokes Council meeting. As anyone present that night knows, it was probably one of the top ten most unpleasant anarchist meetings of all time, and after several hours of discussion, all that could be agreed upon was to not have a plan. Armed with this knowledge that there was no plan, Brenda's superiors ran off to whatever corrupt judge was awake at that hour and got themselves a whole stack of warrants that they moved on immediately.

Khalid Mohammed

Khalid appeared on the scene rather earlier than Brenda, back in November 2008. He attended a film screening in Guelph about debunking myths around the Vancouver Olympics. A few months later, he reappeared, regularly attending meetings of the group Land is More Important than Sprawl, or LIMITS. LIMITS was organizing against the construction of a business park on a tributary of the Hanlon Creek and some of the last old growth forest remaining in Guelph.

During this period, Khalid stood out for his habit of taking people off to one side and trying to get them to talk about “doing whatever it takes” to make sure the business park didn't happen. He often invited people (who were assigned to him as targets) to come have drinks with him in order to have such conversations. This kind of sketchy behaviour set off alarm bells in Guelph.

At first, people approached him politely and told him that talking about illegal activity at LIMITS was unsafe and unwelcome, but he didn't stop. By June 2009, Khalid was considered to be a cop by anarchists in Guelph and their close allies in a few other cities. When the occupation of the Hanlon Creek site began in July, Khalid was deliberately excluded.

But he was never publicly outed, nor was he explicitly disinvited from anything. At the occupation, he was simply told that he was making people uncomfortable on the site, and was put in charge of bringing things in from town. Khalid had a large white passenger van that he was always quick to offer (his story was that he worked for a property management company and had to travel around a lot).

Meanwhile on the site though, another conflict was brewing. This is a delicate thing to talk about. There is one person in particular – let's call them person X – who really went out of his way to lie and bully to keep Khalid involved in anarchist organizing. He is definitely not a cop, and this is not intended to be any sort of callout or denunciation of person X. It is impossible though to tell the story of Khalid's involvement in the G20 Main Conspiracy investigation without talking about how this person's extremely bad behaviour sheltered an undercover cop and is now contributing to people going to jail. In talking about him, we are relying on people's own experiences with him during this time rather than on Khalid's notes about him wherever possible.

Since his arrival on the occupation site, person X had been taking pleasure in exaggerating sectarian differences and bragging about his organizing experience. When those at the occupation decided to exclude drugs and alcohol from the site, this person used it as an opportunity to single out some of the main organizers of the occupation for bullying, saying that this decision shows how privileged and disconnected the organizers were. Because he was using drugs and alcohol at the time, he spent a lot of time off the site, and he began catching rides between Guelph and the Hanlon Creek with Khalid.

Both Khalid and person X are people of colour, and the occupation was predominately white. This person talked with Khalid about how he shouldn't worry about being excluded, that it was just a bunch of privileged white kids. The Hanlon Creek occupation and the anarchist movement in general definitely have a lot of issues around race and racism, and it's completely likely that both Khalid and person X have grievances from that action we could learn from. Our failure to effectively address racism in our movements creates cracks that cops and snitches can exploit, which is also an element of what happened here. The distinction we'd like to make here though is the difference between trying to deal with an issue and engaging in divisive shit-talk in order to silence people.

Khalid began buying person X drinks, and three weeks later, this person was telling organizers in Kitchener that Khalid was his trusted friend. Based on doing a couple of banner drops together and going together as Khalid pretended to buy illegal cigarettes from other OPP officers, this person publicly claimed that he and Khalid had done illegal actions together, and that therefore Khalid was trustworthy.

At this point, being basically excluded from Guelph anarchist organizing, Khalid turned his attention to AW@L. Here he found a different political culture that was easier to infiltrate. The Guelph anarchists generally avoided forming organizations, preferring to work on projects together informally on the basis of friendship. AW@L on the other hand was a formal organization with a list of members and a regular meeting space that would actively recruit new members. AW@L emphasized making it easy for people to get involved in political organizing and direct action, holding frequent protests, leaflettings, banner drops, discussions, and film screenings. Many of their events and meetings were completely open to the public, while even those events that were members-only were still relatively easy to access if one was willing to make the time commitment of becoming a member.

This more participatory political culture unfortunately also came with a less well developed security culture, and bravado about willingness to carry out illegal actions and jokes about killing cops were generally accepted. Khalid of course happily made notes of all these comments for a solid year, all of which the prosecutors were equally happy to read back in court.

It's important to note that although AW@L is accused of planning offensive violence, they have always been a group that practices non-violent direct action as an effective way of gaining attention and achieving goals. They also encourage collective self-defense against police aggression through time-honoured protest tactics like reinforced banners and de-arresting. AW@L has been basically cast by the crown as some sort of terrorist group, complete with training camp (meaning a weekend of swimming and brainstorming at a cottage), but this a gross distortion of the inspiring role that AW@L played in this region for the years that it was active.

As Khalid set about buying people drinks, fishing for criminalizing comments, and pushing for more militant tactics, it was inevitable that word from Guelph would eventually make it to the folks in AW@L. Person X caught word of the rumours and called up Khalid to reassure him that he would take care of everything. This person then embarked on a small campaign of class- and race-baiting against all the white middle-class kids who fake being radical, silencing those trying to out his good buddy Khalid.

These polarizing personal attacks around race and class meant that not only was Khalid not challenged at that time, he in fact became immune from further scrutiny in the group. AW@L created an internal story that Khalid was firmly vouched for and that people had met the young daughter he was always claiming to have. AW@L in turn vouched Khalid into SOAR, and when they split into affinity groups for the mobilization, he was in one of them. People from Guelph saw this, didn't feel comfortable speaking up about it again, and largely stayed out of SOAR.

Eventually, someone in AW@L got a hold of Khalid's cellphone and saw something suspicious enough that they confronted person X about it. Rather than acknowledge a mistake, person X simply claimed that he had never vouched for him. On June 12, just a few weeks before the mobilizations against the G20 were to begin, Khalid was finally kicked out of the organizing. A feeling of dread settled onto those who had been closest to them, but it seemed too late to do anything about it.

Khalid was involved in the Get Off the Fence working group of SOAR. He kept quiet and didn't contribute much but always kept notes. He was generous with money, always taking people out to dinner and encouraging them to have another drink on him. He would gladly go hours out of his way to shuttle people around in his big white van. He had access to cheap photocopies and a lamination machine. He would always check his watch when someone said something incriminating, so he could note the time later. He would slip away to the washroom to send text messages to his handlers. He says he only had four months of training before joining the OPP, and this was his first undercover assignment.

Surveillance teams, spin teams, watch your back

The defendants are said to have received about twenty thousand pages of disclosure from the state, supposedly all of the evidence against them. Much of this consists of reports by more than a hundred different officers involved in surveillance of them at different times, starting with Travis Wilks back in 2008 and only intensifying as the clocked ticked closer to the last weeks of June 2010. This is not intended to be an exhaustive summary of the surveillance that took place, rather, let it be just a highlight of some of its more interesting aspects.

In the early days of this investigation, surveillance in Guelph and Kitchener was focused on a small number of people, less than a dozen, who police already considered to be criminal extremists. Some of them were singled out, designated as Suspects, and placed under heavy surveillance. Anyone a Suspect spent much time with became a Person of interest, and everyone they met was considered an Associate. Persons of Interest would be investigated and followed around a bit, and if they seemed involved in political organizing, they might become Suspects as well.

This work was carried out by surveillance teams, usually two officers in a car. If people were riding bikes, the car would circle the block to keep them in sight. If they were walking, often one of the cops would get out and follow them on foot, especially in Toronto where it's easy to disappear into a subway. They would follow people into restaurants or stores.

Mostly, the notes they made were pretty banal and undescriptive, but knowing the movements of their targets became important later on, when they would go actively looking for specific people to see what they were up to. Some people were filmed going to and from work every day for a month at a time. Some people were placed under extremely overt surveillance every day starting in May 2010 as an intimidation tactic. Surveillance teams typically kept eight hour shifts, after which they would turn the spying over to a new pair.

They built up a database on license plates associated with political radicals, and ran all the passports and immigration data of the owners of these cars. If they were unsure where a Suspect lived, they would sometimes begin surveillance on their family, or call their relatives, asking if the Suspect was there, then hanging up after receiving an answer. This practice landed them a couple of humorous red herrings.

Particularly interesting were the Spin Teams. There were many two- person surveillance teams active during June 2010 in Toronto, but these were supplemented by a smaller number of six-person spin teams. These teams would simply wait in areas where suspects were being surveilled, standing ready to arrest them at a moment's notice. They were looking for things like shoplifting, postering, even jaywalking. Their purpose was to keep key organizers off the street by burdening them with charges and bail conditions in the days before the G20.

As well, any time either Brenda or Khalid were anywhere, there was cover team nearby with a minimum of two officers, and sometimes as many as eight. These cops were there to attack anyone who threatens or challenges the identity of the undercover. Something to be mindful of...

Facebook and email bleed intel

One of the other main contributors to the size of the disclosure is the huge amount of online material collected. Both Brenda and Khalid spent a lot of time on Facebook and email. They especially used these as opportunities to get additional information about Persons of Interest. If they were missing someone's last name, odds are it's attached to their email account. If they are missing someone's date of birth, don't have a current photo of them, or want a better picture of who is in contact with who, they often turned to Facebook.

No one expects Facebook to be at all private, but even seemingly benign information can be useful to the police. The simple act of having a friends list or linking to political articles gives undercovers information about how to target and befriend you. If they know what your interests are, they can more easily pass as experienced, legitimate activists when talking with you. As well, several people had huge swaths of their Facebook pages read back to them in court, with every time they ever clicked “like” on something anarchistic being used as evidence of a pattern of anti- social behaviour.

In general, just remember that you are not the client of your email provider or of Facebook: you are the product they offer to their advertisers. They don't care about you, and they are trying in every way to harvest information about you. They encourage you to share information about yourself with others (including cops) so that they can sell details of your relationships and networks. The structure of these technologies itself – not just how you use them – works against good security practices, so be careful y'all.

6) Security Lessons from this Debacle

Defeat fear and paranoia with accurate information and practical protections

One of the key consequences of the G20 Main Conspiracy case is the fear it has spread within activist communities and movements for social and ecological justice in Southern Ontario. People at meetings for Occupy actions hesitate to join the logistics committee because many of the people who did that work for the G20 were charged with conspiracy. Routine tasks like facilitation and taking minutes, as well as the entire idea of security culture, have been criminalized in this prosecution. Many people, especially those for whom the G20 in Toronto was their first experience with organizing demos, are worried that taking on these roles will get them into trouble.

This fear has been fed by the limited information available about the real basis of the G20 Main Conspiracy prosecution. In describing this case, the defendants and their supporters have focused on the relatively harmless and popular aspects of what the defendants are alleged to have done, like organizing buses, childcare, convergence spaces, trainings, and sending callouts.

This framing of the issue is propaganda aimed at gaining the support of more liberal activists, building a narrative around the criminalization of dissent. It is also a relatively safe narrative while the legal process was in motion. There is no room for truth while facts are being tried before the court, as any rumours or explanations in our movements are liable to become evidence. By framing the charges around routine tasks though, we also ignore the real reasons why these specific individuals were targeted with conspiracy charges, as oppose to the hundreds of other people doing similar work.

Remember, in the leadup to the G20, all protest was seen as undesireable. One tool the state and media use to discourage protest is creating a divide between “good”/legitimate protest and “bad”/illegal/illegitimate protest. We are told to turn against each other on the basis of tactics and our movements then self- police to marginalize those advocating any tactic the media considers “bad”. Once those people are pushed out, all that is left is the most easily managed group with the demands that are the least threatening and easiest to satisfy. This split lead to the largest march on the Saturday of the summit being permitted, planned in consultation with the police, and centred around a protest pen several kilometres from the summit.

The 20 people who were accused of conspiracy are those who pushed most persistently, eloquently, and successfully for respect for a diversity of tactics in the leadup to the G20. They worked to support the permitted marches while also planning more confrontational events, and they were very public about the work they were doing. These organizers met with unions, hosted mass meetings, tabled large conferences, and engaged in debate and discussion for months. This made them the perfect combination of threatening and visible.

The police are not as concerned with preserving order at a summit as they are with preserving the image of themselves preserving order. For this reason, they are likely to snatch at the lowest hanging fruit so they have a prize to show, rather than risk climbing the tree. In retrospect, it was clear that planning protests with SOAR was riskier than preparing to smash windows, but those who came prepared to smash windows largely took their security more seriously than did SOAR.

Some say that one of the key roles of above ground movements is to push tactics considered “fringe” into the mainstream where they become available to more people. Advocating a respect for diversity of tactics and popularizing more confrontational actions is very important work, but we need to be clear that it puts a giant bulls- eye on our heads. The organizing that SOAR and the TCMN did for the G20 was very effective, but maybe next time we can keep the people doing it out of jail.

The role of shit-talk and posturing

Because the state is not yet in a position to make it outright illegal to organize a march without the consent of the police, they needed to find another reason to arrest the Main Conspiracy Group. This meant that much of the evidence presented against them centred around jokes about violence and belligerent comments made by defendants and the people around them over the space of a year and a half.

For instance, at a meeting to make banners for a march against the Olympic torch, the notes taken by the undercover cop did not focus the logistics of the march. It focused instead on someone joking that they love the smell of gasoline fires and that they want to collect spark plugs because of how well they shatter windows. The crown's strategy was to make it appear that this is what the meetings were about, that it was actions like this that were being planned. Never mind that the jokes being made varied wildly from meeting to meeting (someone saying “kill whitey” becomes a plan to murder all non-Indigenous people, for instance). Remember, a conspiracy can happen in a single conversation, even if it's renounced later.

We can look at this in a little more detail. The kinds of comments that the Crown chose to exaggerate can broadly be broken into two groups: shit-talk and posturing.

Posturing is bragging, bravado, boasting, macho aggressive humour, and so on. In this case, people made a lot of remarks about how much they wanted to fight police, sometimes getting into (admittedly hilarious) detail what they would like to do to a cop. Particularly, AW@L had a culture of one-upping each other with this sort of bravado. Focusing on remarks like that meant the Crown could rework a weekend at the cottage swimming, drinking, and brainstorming about the G20 into some sort of terrorist training camp.

Posturing also includes outright lying. This comes up most tellingly around the way that people fabricated stories about how well they knew Khalid. The appearance of having good security culture became more important than actually having good security culture, which lead to inventing stories about themselves or someone close to them having met Khalid's (non-existent) daughter. It also lead person X to exaggerate how well and for how long he'd known Khalid, while boasting about all the cool illegal stuff they'd done together.

A culture that tolerates this kind of posturing is a culture that makes it very easy for police to enter and remain in a group, and also for Crown attorneys to transform our meetings into something they weren't. Of course, they could do that anyway, and it's not the fault of these groups that they were targeted. But there's no reason we should make it this easy for them.

The second category is shit-talk. The prime example here is the way that person X used class- and race-baiting to shut down any challenges to Khalid's presence. This person would also often insult people behind their backs, and in this he was unfortunately far from alone. In Khalid's notes, we can see the way that shit- talk educated the police about the fault lines in our movements and communities, giving them convenient gossip to whisper into someone else's ear. It also directly did the cops' job for them by undermining trust and exaggerating differences, breaking down communication and reducing our ability to work together.

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough how fucked up, counter- productive and unacceptable this sort of attention-seeking shit- talk is. Both Brenda and Khalid engaged in this sort of gossipy sniping under the direction of their superiors, but plenty of people do it without being paid by the state. Remember, you do not have to be a cop to do a cop's job, and if someone is doing a cop's job, they are not safe to organize or hangout with.

Shit-talk and posturing are not harmless. They put the person saying these things and those around them at risk. There are people in jail right now because of stupid jokes and bragging, so let's take this as an opportunity to re-examine the cultures within our movements.

One dynamic that emerged is that some of the organizers perceived as most experienced lead the way with the shit-talk and posturing in SOAR meetings and elsewhere. Other organizers who felt less connected tolerated these behaviours and did not bring it up. Perhaps they thought that if they weren't talking about sketchy things themselves, then they were still “not doing anything illegal”...

It doesn't matter that you don't think you're doing anything illegal

Many of the defendants on the G20 Main Conspiracy charges were organizing more publicly and with less caution than they usually would have. The scale of the demonstrations they were seeking to pull off involved reaching out beyond their circles of trust and becoming very visible. They were able to justify this to themselves because they did not believe they were doing anything illegal.

And most likely they were not. But that didn't matter. This case demonstrates that it's not the legality of your organizing that will determine whether you are targeted by the police: it's how successful your organizing is, how easy a target you are to gather information on, and if it's politically opportune for the state to do so.

SOAR was a network of anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and other radicals from more than ten cities, with alliances across the continent. They set public and ambitious goals that they had the capacity to follow up on, goals that even got printed in huge letters across the front page of a national newspaper. Destabilizing SOAR group and the longer term network that gave birth to it became a high priority for the JIG. As we have seen, the law was only one of the tools they used to attack both SOAR and many other groups that mobilized against the G20.

The law is a weapon and nothing else, and it is not our weapon. Perhaps it will occasionally cut in a way we approve of, but let's not confuse this with justice, and let's not pretend the hand that wields it is neutral. Groups that believe they have nothing to hide make the easiest targets, and the state's agents are skilled at creating the story they want to find. Good security culture practices are necessary for ALL political organizing.

Explicit security culture norms based on circles of trust

Some of the security culture practices used by SOAR and other anarchists in the lead up to the G20 worked very well, but some didn't work at all. For instance, the affinity group model and the formality of the spokes councils meant that the undercovers were unable to say for certain if many of the defendants were even in affinity groups, let alone who was in their groups. The infection was unable to spread between cells. However, because the spokes councils were infiltrated, the reps sent by affinity groups were able to be targeted. This was because of a crucial failure of the vouching system.

Brenda was able to hang around the meetings unchallenged, even enter spokescouncils where other people's vouches were actively being checked, because everyone just assumed someone knew her. People who had been involved in ousting Khalid from Guelph found themselves organizing with him again, albeit reluctantly, based on his being a member of AW@L, even though they sometimes knew the other people in AW@L even less well than they knew him.

The idea of formal vouching within SOAR met with resistance at first and was never implemented consistently at SOAR meetings. This made vouching at the spokes councils meaningless, since people already organizing with SOAR could vouch people in without ever having been checked themselves.

Many of the people in SOAR were organizing together for the first time. Each group or community brought to the table their own expectations around security cultures, but often only knew of others as “the Toronto crew” or “the Guelph anarchists”. This sort of loose knowledge was enough for people to come together to brainstorm what actions they would be interested in or to release a callout announcing them. However, this more general sort of conversation quickly gave way planning the specifics of large actions, including soliciting others to take on roles in those actions.

In that transition, an important line was crossed. It should have involved a serious re-examination of security practices and the creation of some sort of group norm to replace the hodge-podge of different expectations. Remember, it doesn't matter if you aren't doing anything illegal. It is important to be able to organize openly and to involve new people in planning demonstrations, but few would argue against there being some organizing best done behind closed doors. The line for what is safe to do fully in the open is always moving, and in this case, folks definitely did not err on the side of caution.

Again, the appearance of security culture to the outside (formal vouching at spokes) was emphasized more than good security inside (actually knowing who you're working with) because of the way SOAR operated. In a bit of magical thinking (perhaps motivated by the hostility from previous attempts to oust Khalid), SOAR chose to assume that it had not been infiltrated already and tried to build a security culture from there.

Here, it is worth comparing SOAR's organizing to that of another anarchist demo organized independently for Sunday June 27th, Fireworks for Prisons. This event was promoted as a confrontational march to the Don Jail, Toronto's most infamous prison. The rumour was, in spite of the hype around SOAR's actions, it was to be the most exciting action of the weekend. FwfP was shut down completely by a tremendously heavy onslaught of police before the group even gathered (helicopters, snipers, and snatch squads hiding in residential yards). However, none of the organizers of this march were ever charged. FwfP also had spokes councils involving dozens of affinity groups, but these were never infiltrated.

This reflects a fundamentally different approach to organizing. Basically, organizing that risks repression is best done within our circles of trust. We all have people in our lives who we know very well – we know where they grew up, what organizing they've been involved in in the past, we know their families, what schools they went to, their passions, their fears, their strengths and weaknesses. If you were to map out the relationships between everyone you know, drawing strong bonds of trust where they exist, you would reveal a web of long-term relationships cemented with political affinity. This is your circle of trust.

There might be some people who you know only a little bit, and some who hang around your social circle who you don't know at all. By comparing your circle of trust with those of your close friends, it might become clear that some people are not well known by anyone. It's not a question of excluding these people, but of deliberately and purposefully trying to get to know them better, with the goal of broadening your circle of trust.

Expanding a circle of trust is much slower than simply announcing a meeting and working with who shows up, but it is far safer. There are strengths and weaknesses to both models. It was not possible to prevent Get Off the Fence by the time the 26th rolled around, even by pre-arresting almost all the core SOAR organizers: too many people were already involved. Fireworks for Prisons never happened, but the networks formed around it remain strong, and its organizers have been able to spend the last two years scheming ever better actions.

7) What does all this mean for people organizing now?

What's the precedent?

There is no strong legal precedent being created by this plea deal. Pleading to making a target list for direct actions, writing callouts, facilitating meetings or even just speaking at them does not make those things illegal. A plea has little weight as a precedent because the facts have not been tested, they just get agreed upon by the defendant's lawyer and the crown.

As well, pleas are very specific. For something to be counseling for instance, the person either has to intend for whoever they're talking with to commit a crime or to be reckless as to the unjustified risk that they might. In pleading, the defendants concede this aspect, but it would take a trial to establish intent or recklessness for someone else, even if the material facts were the same.

It's also generally understood within the legal system that the courts, prisons, and the whole injustice apparatus are designed to pressure people to plead, often to an offense different than the one they're charged with. If the defendants had the option to go on trial for the things they're pleading to, they'd probably win. But they don't have the option – if they opt for a trial, the charge against them would remain conspiracy.

Once you're in the courts on charges like these, all the real decisions have already been made. The meaningful precedent from this case was established back in 2008: multi-year intensive policing against activists is now politically justifiable in Canada. The policing of the G20 risks becoming the new norm for political repression.

Here are some of the things that the G20 Main Conspiracy case is a precedent for:

* Investigations against activists beginning several years before the target event.

* Dozens of infiltrators used against every part of a social movement.

* Using conspiracy charges to cast a wide net over many activists while naming ring leaders from among them.

* Conspiracy to commit an inchoate (not specific) offense – the defendants here are not accused of planning specific acts themselves, but rather of planning to disrupt the leaders summit and create chaos in downtown Toronto. This gives the crown a lot of flexibility and options in how they make their case.

It's also good to remember that the state knew relatively little about the lives and relationships of anarchists and their friends in Southern Ontario before this investigation. Now they know quite a lot, and we only know some of what they know. It will probably take them a lot less time to zero in on the real targets of their investigation next time around. The Hate Crimes and Extremism Unit of the OPP has also been gathering data in parallel to the conspiracy investigation, releasing for instance, a report about hate crimes aimed against police in the Hamilton area, with anarchists as the main subjects.

We know there will be a JIG established for the 2015 PanAm games based in several cities in Southern Ontario, including Hamilton and Toronto. In the next couple of years, this intelligence and policing process will begin again, and we need to be ready.

The difference between caution and fear

This essay has focused a lot on what the police and prosecution did well around the G20 Main Conspiracy Case. This is not always the most empowering perspective. It risks playing into the TV cop show dynamic where the police are some sort of force of nature with unlimited resources who can shut you down every time. So far in Southern Ontario, this paranoid perspective is the one that's really gotten around, often coupled with the absurd notion that the entire black bloc at the G20 was an elaborate police provocation. This is the perspective of fear, and fear is our worst enemy moving ahead.

Remember that when talking about this case, the only police tactics that come up are the ones that worked. The huge majority of the work the cops did lead to nothing, and even the things that did work only penetrated shallowly into our networks. The police are not unbeatable. They are not even very smart.

Throughout this investigation, the police were significantly encumbered by their awkward intelligence structure, which meant that information gathered by one policing body in one city was not necessarily being shared with any others. Police are also rigidly hierarchical, with information only flowing up. This means that the cops spying on your house have very little idea of what they're seeing or of what might be important to the investigation. These two factors contribute to a competitive climate where poor co- operation (or even outright antagonism) between different policing agencies is the norm.

Our goal in writing this essay is to temper fear with accurate information and encourage caution, not paranoia, when organizing in the future. As much as becoming paralyzed by fear is not a useful response, it's also silly to “refuse to be intimidated” and just continue with the same organizing habits we had before. We believe there are some crucial and simple lessons to be drawn from the story of the G20 Main Conspiracy case. This essay does not claim to be the whole story, but hopefully it brings big chunks of it into the open and makes way for more sharing and discussion.

Hopefully in the future, some more detailed reports and analysis of SOAR's process can emerge, as well as some stories about how the seventeen co-accused worked together, supported each other, and made decisions. There are also many less told stories from people accused of property destruction, who have often dealt with the worst repression but in relative isolation. Then there are the dozens of people who were charged who were not part of our movements in an organized way before the G20 and who we haven't gotten to know since. There are people in jail for burning cop cars whose names most of us have never even heard.

What are the experiences of the media collective from the G20? The medics? The hundred people from Quebec who were brutally raided on Sunday June 27 2010 just for being a hundred people from Quebec? As more and more charges resolve, the veil over these stories will begin to lift and many opportunities for learning will emerge. Although the G20 summit in Toronto happened a year and a half ago, its legacy is only just beginning.