In what’s likely an understatement, Justin Saunders says “it’s really not fun” to experience the eye-watering, cough-inducing effects of tear gas.
He estimates he was tear-gassed directly about 25 times during the Quebec City Summit of the Americas in 2001, and even when he wasn’t in the line of fire, it was “still kind of everywhere — it got on everything.”
“I noticed it hit my throat first, and it’s difficult to breathe. You usually cough. There’s a lot of mucus production,” recalls Saunders, an organizer with the Toronto Community Mobilization Network.
“If your eyes are unprotected, then that’s the next biggest thing that you notice. Your membranes start tearing up and it’s difficult to see because there’s so much production of that, so usually you have to have it flushed out, or you have to wait for a really long period of time before it calms down.”
If police do pull tear gas canisters from their arsenal during protests at the G20 summit, Saunders and an ad hoc group called Toronto Street Medics he’s helping to organize will be on the ground and ready to help those who are feeling the effects.
They will be carrying water for flushing people’s eyes, as well as first-aid kits with bandages and supplies to tend to anyone who might get injured or feel unwell.
Likewise, the big downtown hospitals are preparing for an out-of-the-ordinary weekend.
Dr. Howard Ovens, director of the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, said all hands will be on deck.
“We are hoping that there will be no major incidents that would require health-care intervention, but just in case there are we have reviewed things that we might encounter — including exposure of people who may be in or near a protest to irritants such as tear gas or pepper spray.”
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