The Toronto G20 and the Damage Done

1 07 2010

There comes a time when society has to gaze at its navel and decide what went wrong. How did the G20 become a public relations disaster in Toronto such that the tv stations were glued to the protestors and the heavily armed phalanx of riot police and not any of the actual conference? How did the idea of public and peaceful protests get hijacked so easily by a few hundred misguided and allegedly criminal elements? Outrageous.

The stage was set by the police unfortunately when Toronto’s Chief of Police convinced the Liberals that the “fence’ was in danger. The government hustled in the now infamous Public Works Protection Act Regulation 233/10 which made an area around a fence a “public work”. Stranger still was the initial interpretation that the police though gave them mystical arrest powers outside the fence such that they could search people wandering by 5 metres outside the fence.

The weekend played out nastily with burning police cars (while the police stood by,) storefronts vandalized, and ultimately a few hundred running wild. That chaos reigned while there were tales of people smashing windows in police headquarters while police stood by mute, undoubted protecting some specially designated zone which was created in secret at another time. Oh wait, they were outmanned at the time and didn’t want to intervene so they let them smash and continue down the road.

That was Saturday and by Sunday the police were stopping anyone who looked like they might be a protester. There were people stopped for having backpacks, tattoos, long hair, etc. I came upon some people being processed while a crowd taunted the arrestees. The police processed them in a professional fashion with note takers, and lots of perimeter security, and undoubtedly one or two of them “fit a description” that allowed them to be detained. I didn’t see anything that had been discovered in the search but they had huge property bags they lugged back to the “wagons” before they drove them back to the Eastern Avenue special detention centre. The Toronto cops involved in the arrests I saw were professional. The arrests of one group looked to be without any reason whatsoever although how could that be? There were other police in the city who did not exercise restraint, decorum, professionalism or even any knowledge of the law. A public inquiry isn’t going to stop that in the future. The Charter hasn’t stopped it so far. In R. v. Tran et. al. (a case unrelated to the G20,) released this week in the Ontario Court of Appeal, the judicial panel was scathing with respect to the lack of consequences for the police who had beaten Mr Tran. The court felt the only Charter relief was a stay of proceedings. The Superior Court Justice had made a finding of fact that Tran was beaten by police and consequently thought the appropriate Charter relief was a reduced sentence. The Court of Appeal was shocked the police continued to enjoy their favoured status with the Crown and were not charged as a result of the broken jaw Mr Tran sustained at the hands of the police. Tran had been convicted of 2 brutal home invasions.

Back to the G20. Sunday grew worse with people at Queen and Spadina being hemmed in on four sides by riot gear equipped police who would make raids on the crowd dragging the unfortunate back behind police lines to be “processed”. Many peaceful protesters were bewildered and lots of people were caught up in the police enthusiasm.

Final count on the weekend was something like 900+ arrests. There were countless violations of Charter rights but its unlikely there will ever be an accounting. People were detained for hours and police seemed to watch the clock in terms of either releasing people before they had to parade them in front of a Justice of the Peace, or taking them off to court for a bail hearing. Hundreds were released without charges hours after they had been arrested and from the many stories in the press there is no doubt free speech advocates who were peacefully participating were victims.

Did Blair really justify arrested the various credentialed media by saying they had failed to disperse? Did he really say they were in the way while the police were engaged in stopping an ongoing criminal conspiracy? Was that a conspiracy to breach the peace? How did we end up with more people arrested than when the War Measures Act was enacted? Somewhere around 500 people were arrested then, most without charges. More than 900 people arrested in Toronto and for what?

What’s the solution? A public inquiry? No thanks. I have no doubt this was not a billion dollars well spent, so why toss a few hundred million in on top of that? Let’s spend the money compensating the people of Toronto who were violated for the weekend. Let’s give the money to the poor and the disenfranchised, and let’s skip the public inquiry with conclusions that nobody will ever act upon. We’ll hear about how the police could have acted differently but were probably acting with bona fides. We will hear there should have been better coordination and better communication. I’m sure there could be lots of recommendations like, hold this sort of conference in someplace less populated, someplace more easily contained and less disruption, or as some people suggested, “why not hold the whole conference via Skype”?

We have Davos, we have the G8 and the G20. We had a G6, a G7, and a G8 +5. They haven’t solved dick! The collective costs of the various G-spots could have done a lot to solve some of the problems these “leaders” paid lip service to in the last tedious years. One positive thing should come out of Toronto that isn’t a public inquiry, and that would be other countries being smart enough not to hold their own G-down. It’s not worth the expense.

One last thing about the G20 and Toronto being “lucky” enough to be burdened with the G20. I suspect Harper is still chuckling over this one. Not a single person in the 416 voted for this PM so I guess we were the likely choice for punishment. Maybe next time the threat of a G20 conference will solve some of the world’s problems. . .or maybe they won’t find a place to have one. . .

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