Canadian Anti-Hate Network
A volunteer who observes and documents the actions of police during protests in Ontario had paint thrown on her by someone opposing a rally in support of searching landfills in Manitoba for the Indigenous victims of an alleged serial killer.
Gisela McKay is a legal observer and trainer with the Movement Defence Committee, a Toronto-based organization offering legal support, training, and protest monitoring to activists organizing demonstrations or direct actions. During an action demanding police search the Prairie Green Landfill in Manitoba for the bodies of victims of the alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki, she was singled out by one man to have paint poured over her.
“The March was completely uneventful from Pape Station to Carlaw and Gerrard,” McKay told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network when reached for comment. “It was just standard, going along, coming up on, and just kind of keeping an eye on the situation. Nothing but some angry motorist honking because people marching go slower than they would like.”
Video captured by McKay shows the incident. As the recording starts, a man, identified as Joseph Picken, is seen with a reusable grocery bag, arguing with protesters in the street. While the man and the crowd trade the same call to “go away,” Picken fumbles in his bag, eventually pulling out a bucket of white paint.
“What are you going to do with that?” a voice asks off-camera.
“I’m going to splash it all over you,” Picken replies.
Throwing the lid down, the man immediately begins moving towards McKay holding the camera.
“You’re going to throw it on me?” she asks before the video darts around wildly.
Moments later, a large white streak of paint is visible on the ground. The last seconds of the footage show Picken with part of his arm covered in paint.
It was not until after the protest, McKay says, did she realize it was caught on camera.
“I didn't know that's what he was gonna do,” McKay said of the incident. “I didn't even realize I had the footage until later, because I normally don't record unless I see there's a problem coming. I guess it was just the shock of the moment.”
McKay says police arrived after the paint was tossed and two individuals were arrested on scene. Rather than the man who threw the paint, it was individuals from the crowd at the demonstration.
“It is reported that the victim was swarmed by a group of people and assaulted at a demonstration,” police said.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network confirmed that Joseph Picken was arrested on Tuesday. He is facing charges of assault with a weapon, mischief/damage to property, and public mischief, according to the Toronto Police Service.
Since the incident, McKay has been critical of the police response and the difficulty she has experienced with filing a report. After being hit with paint on Saturday, McKay says she entered 55 Division, where jail support was being held, and attempted to report the incident. Despite being covered in paint, McKay says police would not take her information.
When she followed up on Monday, she reported spending 45 minutes waiting on hold.
Issues with law enforcement are something she is familiar with as a legal observer.
“We're there to watch for problems with police,” McKay said during the interview. “I'm a legal observer, trainer and coordinator. Our function is to make sure people's rights are respected vis-a-vis the police. So I was there – and it turned out to be necessary.”
The role of a legal observer is to monitor and record the actions of law enforcement during protests. They will also help individuals who are detained and/or charged with access to legal support, and get them out of jail in a timely manner.
“My role is to watch for police, to make sure that there's legal support if anything does happen and document what happened.”