Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Toronto G20: Confronting Reality

Like most people in the GTA, or so I believe, I spent this weekend doing chores, running errands engaging in leisure activities and doing a little work. On Saturday evening I sat down to watch some television while I ate dinner after a long day. Surfing the channels I stumbled upon the media coverage of the G20 in Toronto.

At the time I turned on the television the fire was tearing through the second police car on Queen Street. Perhaps it was naive, but I was actually shocked. I watched CBC’s coverage. A number of journalists on the street were at risk in the no man’s land between the “protesters” and police forces.

Before this weekend I had never heard the phrase “black bloc” tactics before, but I could immediately recognize the type. The black-wearing groups of people who lurked through the city and to my eyes caused mayhem.

People’s comments about how this was a police state are ridiculous. They’ve clearly never talked to people who have lived in a police state. In a police state no demonstrations would have been legal, and any sign of dissent would have been immediately crushed. Let’s know what words mean. The security measures and reactions of the police, given the scenario, seems, to a point, reasonable. Obviously there were police abuses. We know this. People were arrested for very little reason and the use of force at times was excessive. But let us keep in mind that there were over thirty leaders of major world powers meeting in a small section of the city of Toronto. Thirty. Rarely do so many world leaders concentrate in one place in an ad hoc manner.

The organized, peaceful protesters – largely labour unions – had their role to play, I’m sure. But I also wondered about this, what were they actually fighting about? I listened to Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, discuss what the point was, and it was the same old, same old. Anti-globalization, anti-bank, anti-Wall Street, anti-corporate, pro-environment. There’s nothing specific about these complaints. If the government was declaring a new war, or taking a specific policy action and they were protesting it, then it would make sense. But that is not the case, “We don’t like you!” seemed to be the message.

On TVO’s the Agenda on Monday night commentators at one point described the acts of some to be a performance. Mercedes Stephenson, an investigative journalist, was amongst a crowd and according to her protesters were taunting and degrading police officers and a man turned to her and ask, “Did you get that? Cause we can do it again.” I think the most important piece of news I heard was that black bloc activists put broken glass in a main boulevard so that passing innocents would pop their tires. People cheered each time they heard a pop.

People actively antagonized police, throwing rocks, bottles, insults and spat upon officers. Police attacked and arrested protesters, at times, without provocation, worse still is the fact that the police failed to protect the property of the people and city of Toronto. In short, it was a disgrace.

On the positive side, the international media is paying only modest attention the 19,000 police and the black bloc activists’ antics. The focus is on the commitments the world leaders arrived at, and the violence is considered all a part of doing business. It’s a sad reality. All of these types of gatherings will have outcomes like this – violent protests and police overreaction and photos of world leaders. I guess I am not the only naive one to have assumed it couldn’t happen here.

No comments: