An Orwellian Degree

So I don’t have a lot of time to write because I’m struggling to squeeze in a few paragraphs at work in the midst of moving offices weeks earlier than anticipated. But I wanted to touch briefly on what happened in Toronto over the weekend. You know, in case you missed it, even though you only had to go so far as signing into Windows Live Messenger in order to hear the news. Normally you see your local news, but apparently my news was local for everybody, because even Josh was getting updates in North Carolina about the cop cars being set on fire just up the street from my house, and having a couple of barely concealed brain aneurysms at my proximity to it all.

We hosted the G20 summit this past weekend, a move that not a lot of people agreed with. While the opportunity to show off our fair city is always appreciated, many were concerned with how much everything would cost, as well as the consequences on our streets of an event that by its very nature sparks protests. And although I agree that if you’re going to throw one of these behemoths then security is deserving of attentive spending, I still doubted it would do much to prevent the relatively minor issues of broken windows and other surface damage – as long as nobody was able to blow anything up or kill people, I’m happy. As for spending over a million on a ‘fake lake’ to recreate the atmosphere of the Muskokas for the media/cell-phone-charging station, well that was just stupid.

But I digress.

Canada is not always the quiet humble nation we like to let the rest of the world think we are. We protest when called upon, and while I do most of my protesting with signatures or online petitions, I will on occasion make the trip to Queen’s Park to protest whatever is on my agenda on the lawn outside of the provincial legislation. I won’t be behind a loudspeaker or undermining my own cause with stereotypical garb that makes it easier for the established power to dismiss me; no, I’m the kind to craft a strongly worded email to my M.P., or to call incessantly until I make enough of a nuisance of myself to get that stop sign or whatever put up. Still, I was tempted to get out there this weekend and into the thick of it, protesting if nothing else the fact that protesting in general was kept so far removed from the site of the meetings as to have zero effect on the delegates therein.

Because Toronto, in case you hadn’t noticed, turned into a locked down fortress practically overnight, and it was the police response rather than what they were responding to that finally waffled my decision to the ‘staying indoors’ option. The legitimate protests themselves were mostly peaceful; loud, organized, and varied in cause, but for the most part non-confrontational and an honest exercise in our democratic right. And of course there were a few more vocal characters, but by and large things were amicable.

Then there was the Black Bloc, a movement of supposed anarchists, apparently mostly from out of province, who made violence and destruction their mandate. Against ‘the pigs of Capitalism’ and ‘the march of Globalization’ and all that jazz, this felt essentially like a bunch of kids who had seen Fight Club one too many times. I’m not saying they got their black t-shirts at the Gap necessarily, but they sure got them from somewhere. So yes, we spent money dislodging all the mailboxes and garbage cans which did nothing to stop them smashing any windows that weren’t boarded up, and yes the Starbucks was targeted. Did you really think you were going to stop a bunch of pissed off kids from lighting things on fire? Don’t be stupid. The fact that there are cops in riot gear just makes the whole thing way more ‘awesome’ than just complaining on the internet. If anything, the excessive force gave them more fodder against ‘the man’.

So much for fighting fire with fire. How about using something a bit colder, like a frosty Toronto scowl? I hear we’re good at that. Maybe with a ‘What the fuck? Did you just break that window? What is wrong with you? We have to pay for that, you asshole!’ It’s hip to be an anarchist, so you’re not going to win unless you stop making it cool. Dig?

But no, they didn’t dig, and so when there was literal fire they fought with mismanaged attention followed by a blitzkreig of over compensation.

On Saturday, we were told that they were not ignoring the flaming cruisers, but rather were sticking to their more important task of protecting the already heavily reinforced series of fences in front of the summit site. This despite the fact that we had literally thousands of officers from all over Toronto and the surrounding suburbs. And while the gas exploding inside the burning cars could be heard several unprotected, unpoliced, and very crowded blocks away, they were not short of hands a few intersections north at Queens Park. Teams of riot squads, sometimes three lines deep, moved through the trees to corral the sparse protesters and joggers in search of kids from the nearby University, long hidden in the sewers. They struck their shields with their batons, steady and in rhythm while they walked, looking like something right out of 1984. Hooligans are one thing, but when I got home from stepping out for a quick bite (and maybe a glance or two up the street) and saw the same marching scene on every channel, that was when I decided that perhaps it was a good idea to keep myself indoors or at least west of Spadina for the rest of the weekend. It wasn’t broken glass or the inarticulate shouts of yet another loud and angry anarchist that worried me. (Hello? Living on Queen West means you hear a loud and angry anarchist at least once a week – and they don’t frequently break windows.) No, it was fear of being arrested for standing on the wrong corner and daring to frown at the goings on.

Which is precisely what happened the next day with a sudden shift, a take-no-chances explanation for a stark increase in aggression. From the police, I mean. While officials point out that there were no major injuries or security breaches, others prefer to point out their use of excessive force, indiscriminate arrests and even tear gas – something so uncommon here that many reputable news sources incorrectly cited it as the first time ever in Toronto (it was in fact used at an anti-poverty protest when Mike Harris was premier several years ago.) Apparently even rubber bullets were used, and all this in crowds that a fair guess from my window would put at, let’s say, a healthy mix of legitimate protesters, a smattering of the curious and/or foolish, and maybe 5% hooligan? Maybe? Then later, to add to the afternoon fun, about 200 people were surrounded and held at Queen and Spadina by police without explanation for a nice four hour standoff in the pouring rain between them and anyone who was standing at that intersection for any reason at the time of their arrival. In the end we ended up with figures of over 900 people held, 600 arrested, and five courtrooms set up specifically to process all this shit over the next couple of days.

And so after all that, here we are, the Monday after, and we’ve already begun the process of returning to our unfazed selves, and picking up the glass as well as the tab.

I’m not saying we don’t need police, generally speaking. Or even particularly at these events, should poor judgement bring them upon us. I’m just suggesting that perhaps this wasn’t the brightest display of foresight from the governmental powers that be. And if we really did need to have this ginormous clusterfuck of a security breach right downtown because we couldn’t house all those people anywhere in cottage country, then we could at least have done so with a little more grace and civility.

So today I’m in support of the demonstration outside of police headquarters against their excessive use of force on civilians, because frankly that should not be left unchecked. However, while criticizing the mismanagement I will admit that this was obviously not an easy situation to, well, de-clusterfuck. So I’ll refrain from calling it ‘police brutality’ and stick with ‘an ugly lesson to be learned,’ if only to avoid being a hypocrite the next time I want someone to save my ass from someone bigger than me. And to be fair, and in the interest of demonstrating that my support lies not necessarily with either the state or the anarchists but rather the rest of us in between, it would behoove me to leave out a full expression of my disdain for the other end of the disruptive stick that gave us this weekend bashing.

That’s right Black Bloc. Your strongly worded letter is on its way.

(Except later, because right now I’m tired, and I have a job to go to tomorrow, so here are some pictures instead.)

heavy police presence in Toronto. G20

Advertisements