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Who's laughing now? How an "in-joke" aided police in catching Michael Corbett

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
Michael Corbett was suspected of being an agent provocateur by activists
Michael Corbett was suspected of being an agent provocateur by activists
Is this man a cop?
Is this man a cop?

Media Analysis, →Politics, →Toronto News, →Video

Look at the at the second picture down and think about this question for a second. Could that man be a cop? He is well built, clean cut and his eyes could be saying "Don't do anything illegal, I am watching you." In case you didn't know, the man on that photo is legendary punk rocker Henry Rollins.

The clean cut athletic looking man above him is also not a cop. He is 29 year old Michael Corbett of Toronto. On June 26th he was caught on video, smashing the light bars and windows of a cop car that was earlier smashed by militants who were protesting the G20 meetings in Corbett's city.

Four days later the website acreativerevolution.ca posted this blog entry which included screen grabs from the video and the phone number for Toronto Crime Stoppers:
 

"A question asked by a FB friend today. She has posted these pics, gleaned from the youtube video of a police car getting trashed in Toronto last Saturday.
I think it is an excellent idea to find out!

The following 5 pictures were captured off the youtube video embedded below. If you do know who this man is, operators are standing by....Toronto Crime Stoppers - 416-222-TIPS
But share with others too.....Just in case the info gets lost eh? Tell all your friends. What is his name?

And also, if other bloggers feel similarly curious, please repost. :) Wouldn't it be interesting if a media outlet asked these questions? (hint hint)"

And re-post they did. The first instance of a "twit" I found was by Toronto Star Columnist Antonia Zerbisias. In her June 30th 'twit' she asks "So who is this man?" with a link to the website and includes two twitter accounts, one of Toronto Mayor David Miller and the other of Toronto Police Deputy Chief Peter Sloly. By my count over 50 people re-twitted Zerbisias post and according to bit.ly it was clicked on 896 times.

This 'twit' sparked a friendly exchange between Ms. Zerbisias and officer Sloly:

Sloly 2:22 AM July 1st: @AntoniaZ Who is this man? Not sure why the question? Photos show no context of criminal/violent act?

Zerbisias 6:12 AM July 1st: @DeputySloly Did you watch the video?

Sloly 8:11 AM July 1st: @AntoniaZ There were only 5 photo images in the link. I didn't see any videos.

Zerbisias 9:08 AM July 1st: @DeputySloly Many apologies. I thought it was posted on the blog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-5jeaIh4YE

Sloly 3:02 PM July 1st:
@AntoniaZ Video shows crime by lots of people. Will add to big SM file of suspects. Thank you for helping TPS to I'd + catch #G20 criminals!

I have emailed Mrs. Zerbisias regarding her motivations in providing the police with such damning evidence, so I am not going to speculate. I'll post the answer here when it's available.* But some criticisms I received regarding a piece I wrote last week, point to a theory that was being floated on the internet following the militant actions of June 26th. That "agent provocateurs" mixed in with the crowd and destroyed public and private property in order to provoke the crowd to commit "crimes" giving the police the excuse to conduct mass arrests and therefore justify their 1 billion dollar budget. Apparently the publisher of acreativerevolution.ca and many folks who re-twitted the story were positive that Michael Corbett was an agent provocateur.

Others took the theory to new levels of "research" claiming that because Corbett wore an Arc'teryx jacket, a company that happens to manufacture police equipment, that this indeed makes him a suspect of being an agent of the state.

The "provocateur" theory gained more traction amongst "progressive" circles when Rabble.ca published two videos. The first one by Paul Manly is titled "G20 Toronto Black Block get green light to rampage?" It features a photo journalist who claimed that there was no police presence for 24 blocks when a black bloc "rampaged" through downtown Toronto. The video ends with Manly's claim to fame, a video of union protesters and members of a black bloc exposing agent provocateurs in Montebello in 2007. This is followed by a title screen superimposed over a shot of a masked man that reads "Were the black block led by infiltrators and provocateurs perfuming their duties?"

The second video "Did you see these G20 'provocateurs'?" by Humberto Da Silva "…captured three possible 'agent provocateurs' taking part in vandalizing a police cruiser" The video in question is the same video on acreativerevolution.ca and the same video that Antonia Zerbisias passed on to Deputy Sloly of the Toronto Police. This is the video that would land 29 year old Michael Corbett in jail.

"Law abiding" citizens, who would like to see militants and people like Corbett in jail might read this and say "So what? The people who were posting this website were helping the police to catch these thugs." But for progressives who have a strong analysis around police violence and repression, who reposted the damning evidence and who are now calling for the release of all prisoners, the truth is not so simple. As I have illustrated on this and my previous blog post, the carelessness shown by some respected members of the "left" have tangible consequences. One is that identifying people as cops with no proof or basis is dangerous and can discredit people who might have nothing to do with the police and creates an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust amongst activists. Another one is that you may aid in getting people in jail and weather you like it or not, you are doing the police's work for them. In the interest of furthering the movement, I feel that these individuals who spoke on the record, must now correct the record and set and example for the many that they represent. 

In the spirit of total resistance

the stimulator

*UPDATE: July 22, 2010 acreativerevolution.ca responds to this blog post.
*UPDATE: July 20, 2010 Antonia Zerbisias' response below. She requested that our entire exchange be posted.

From: Franklin López

Sent: Mon 7/19/2010 2:01 PM

To: Zerbisias, Antonia
Subject: Comment for an article on G20 'provocateur'



Hello Ms. Zerbisias,



My name is Franklin López and I am contributing member of the Vancouver Media Co-op. I am writing a piece about a blog post that was 'twitted' by many people including you.

 
The blog in question is http://www.acreativerevolution.ca/node/2474 . The man whose screen grabs appear on that post was arrested over the weekend and is being charged with mischief over $5,000. Story here: http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/07/19/14757701.html



My questions is what was your motivation in promoting this website?

My deadline for this article is 5pm.

 thanks for your time



frank



Franklin López

http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/
______________
On Jul 20, 2010, at 9:32 AM, Zerbisias, Antonia wrote:



> Sorry on holiday. This via iPhone so excuse typos
>


> Video was subject of much buzz and spec prior to Creative Revolution post which, by the way, was not the only one. It was rampant also on Facebook. The videos was in circulation, and available to anybody with YouTube, including police. By the way, it was not only did the agents provacateur conspiracy theory that was out there but the genuine outrage that peaceful protesters and activists were taking the blame for the actions of vandals, leading to the criminalization of dissent.
>


> Because I have been tracking social media effects post-G20, I thought it was a fair question to put to police, in public, as a journalist. Dep chief Sloly and I have had numerous professional contacts, via Facebook and Twitter. So why not tweet the blog post?
>


> Now it's my turn to ask a question: Do you find the actions of this man worthy of protection, and, specifically, of more importance than the right to protest and dissent?
>
>


> Antonia Zerbisias
_______________
From: Franklin López
Sent: Tue 7/20/2010 12:46 PM

To: Zerbisias, Antonia

Subject: Re: Comment for an article on G20 'provocateur'

Hello Ms. Zerbisias,



Thanks for getting back to me while on holiday. Do you mind if I post your response as an update on my blog?



I think that Michael Corbett, who was probably just letting off some steam on a cop car that was already smashed, did not deserve to be called a cop or a provocateur. I'm not saying that you did that, but that's the fuel that made the video 'buzz' on the internet. In some communities, being called a cop is a grave insult and people can be ostracized.



thanks again and hope you enjoy the rest of your holidays.



cheers//frank


________________
On Jul 20, 2010, at 10:51 AM, Zerbisias, Antonia wrote:



> No I don't mind on one condition. You run our entire exchange, including the iPhone/typos bit, my question at the end, your response and the following:
>


> While I understand that in some communities being called a cop can get you a lot more than ostracized, even killed, I would add that ''taking off some steam'' on public property while cameras are rolling was illegal, stupid, gave the Harper government reason to justify the $1B pricetag, helped convince Canadians that it was money well-spent (although it wasn't) and served to criminalize dissent by peaceful activists and community organizers. It was people like Corbett that ''justified'' -- at least in the mind of the ISU -- the arrest and imprisonment of a thousand others, including Jaggi Singh. I would suggest that these were the actual reasons for the buzz and they far superceded any agent provacateur conspiracy theory.

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