An ounce of prevention is worth quite a bit more than the repression of hundreds. There was nothing normal about how Toronto’s G20 was handled and the violence could have been avoided.
In the lead-up to the conference, many activists received visits by Canada’s intelligence services and many other activists and others in the Toronto area were arrested on charges related to laws that were not yet made public. These kind of intimidation tactics work to scare and anger people. They do not deescalate civil unrest.
Spending half a billion dollars to confront protesters with twice as many security personnel does nothing more than anger and scare people. Also, a pretty bad thing happened: the roles became reversed. The footage clearly shows that given the critical mass of police, they were the ones infected by mob mentality. So what we witnessed was an armored and armed mob of security personnel indiscriminately spraying, hitting and arresting people.
Now, 900 civilians are detained and in order to prove that this wasn’t an indiscriminate act on the part of the police, those people will not be released despite the fact that Toronto doesn’t have the capacity to process them properly. Instead, speaking on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said several hundred people were engaged in a “criminal conspiracy to attack the city”. Not only is the statement far fetched and scary, it isn’t useful because it doesn’t justify the unethical and violent nature of the police actions. This is what Chief Blair is supposed to be doing right now.
There is a specific government department designated to ensure that tense moments are mediated properly by all security officials involved: Public Safety Canada. According to its website, its mandate is to ensure coordination across all federal departments and agencies responsible for national security and the safety of Canadians. Its work provides national leadership on effective and cost-effective ways to prevent and reduce crime by intervening on the risk factors before crime happens and its approach is to promote the implementation of effective crime prevention practices.
Where was Public Safety Canada? According to their strategic plans, they were supposed to pull ‘security partners’ together for the G20/G8 and provide strategic advice and support to the partners. What kind of advice did they give? That half a billion dollars was a ‘cost-effective’ security price tag? That outnumbering ‘black blocks’ by several hundred to one but not managing to arrest them before and during the riots is preventing crime? That abandoning police vehicles in the thick of a protest is OK?
The Integrated Security Unit led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in partnership with the Toronto Police Service (TPS) the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Canadian Forces (CF) and Peel Regional Police (PRP) did the following to ensure public security: they created a perimeter by putting up a fence, complete with security checkpoints and registration card services for those requiring access to within the perimeter. This was especially necessary given the inappropriate location of the conference, taking place as it did in a heavily populated urban area. All roads bordered by King Street, Yonge street, Queens Quay and Spadina Avenue were closed or restricted. Others were closed to accommodate protest activity. Highway 427 and the Gardiner Expressway were also restricted and traffic was generally severely disrupted. Buses were disrupted, Union station was partially closed. The underground pedestrian system was closed and parking was severely restricted in the downtown area. This was effective in protecting the safety of the delegates but given the frustrations it caused, it was ineffective in protecting the Canadian general public in the area. In other words, the prevention activities put into place to help mitigate the conference’s inappropriate location escalated tensions with the civil population.
The civil protests were supposed to be managed in the following manner: the Integrated Security Unit began their planning by recognizing that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression and peaceful assembly. In order to uphold these principles in the safest way possible, they worked with the city of Toronto to identify North Queen’s Park as a Designated Speech area. The area was equipped with audio-visual equipment that televised the activities at the Park to the delegates at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The plan went wrong when police failed to contain a riot elsewhere. This compelled them to forcefully clear the park. This act did a lot to escalate tensions between protestors and police and ensured that the protest process was no longer being managed. Protestors were at a loss as to where to go. Police then finally penned protestors in between Spadina and Queen street and arrested many. Giving peaceful protestors a place to exercise their civil rights, then taking this place away due to police incompetence over issues unrelated to them, and then arresting them for not being in the closed down designated area does nothing to promote anyone’s safety.
Protestors, journalists, residents and visitors were detained. There has been a lot of confusion as to the number of actual ‘black blocks’ involved and the focus on civil violence sidesteps the issue at stake: civil society. In any functional democracy, civil society needs to be protected. Civil society includes journalists, merchants, residents and yes, protestors. Protestors play a vital role in any functional democracy. Civil society needs to be protected, protected from common criminals and indiscriminate repression by security forces. The general failure to understand this explains why 900 people are in detention right now and in the context of a G20 summit, four burning police cars make major headlines.