Today Thu Fri
It is forecast to be Thunderstorm at 11:00 PM EDT on July 23, 2014
Thunderstorm
23°/15°
It is forecast to be Partly Cloudy at 11:00 PM EDT on July 24, 2014
Partly Cloudy
22°/14°
It is forecast to be Clear at 11:00 PM EDT on July 25, 2014
Clear
24°/17°

23 Comments

news

G20 Dispatches: Everyone Loses

Christopher Bird and Christopher Drost were Torontoist’s staffers accredited for the G20. They reported on the inside for the duration of the summit; Torontoist’s complete G20 coverage, including reporting from the streets, is here.

2010-06-27__20-09-17-G20.jpg
Detainees at Queen and Spadina on Sunday night. Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.


The story of Toronto’s Sunday—a long, wet, depressing day—is one of profound failure for every institution involved in the events of this horrendous waste of a weekend. After Saturday, there was the chance that maybe as a city we’d get past the mishaps, criminality, and overreactions, but as it turned out, nobody was interested in doing that.


Our first foray today was to attend the Toronto Community Mobilization Network’s press conference at 3 p.m., which was barely a press conference: it was in fact an extended chance for TCMN to whine at the press for being unsupportive. (At least when Bill Blair holds a press conference and bullshits to your face, he doesn’t need a crowd cheering for him.) It was exactly what you’d expect: cops are bad, we’re exercising our legal rights, the people who have been detained overnight are “political prisoners” (by the way, I’ve rung Aung San Suu Kyi on the phone just now, and she says “drama queen says what?”) and on and on—a long-winded stream of the biggest heap of self-righteousness not seen since, well, since the last time I heard Stephen Harper criticize the left wing in this country.
And for all of that, protesters, you still could have come out the good guys today. It would have been so easy. You only had to do one thing, one single goddamn thing: “We don’t approve of or condone the Black Bloc tactics and we don’t approve of or condone violent protest.” There you go. Say that, and you’re heroes, plain and simple: people who chose not to let their grievances against the government be tainted by malice, even in the face of ridiculously overwrought police tactics. One lousy sentence; that’s all we asked of you. Just show us a little good faith.
But of course it didn’t happen—not from the top. We got weasel words worthy of Parliament. “We don’t comment on the actions of individuals.” “That’s not the story here.” And the reason for the weaseling out is really simple: organizers don’t want to condemn Black Bloc tactics and bandana thugs. The radical protest movement in Canada (and let’s call it that for lack of a better umbrella term, to distinguish it from the labour unions and NGOs that vamoosed on Saturday the moment they realized the goon squad had ruined everything) long ago decided that the Black Bloccers are part of the movement and welcome at their rallies, and that the next time they hold a protest the thugs will show up again and they’ll break shit again, and the rest will just yell “solidarity” like a bunch of useless assholes.
We spoke to lots of protesters today while circling police lines, and near-unanimously they were disgusted with the thug movement and the groups like TCMN that have more or less claimed leadership of the radical protesters by fiat. A self-identified CAW worker watched the arrests in Parkdale, and she said to us, sadly, “we were supposed to have a rally yesterday.” One protester outside the Queen-Spadina fracas held up his Canadian flag. “You know the leader of that socialist bloccer group? Hassan something? I was at Allan Gardens on Friday, waving my flag, and he comes up to me and he says it’s a colonialist symbol and to put it away. I say, I’m here to support free speech and show that Canadians can protest. He says he hates the idea of Canada. Fuck that guy.” Even the ones who were a little bit sympathetic to “frustrated people” immediately added the “not that I’d ever do that” disclaimer.
What’s really depressing about all this is simple: the radical protest movement is never going to bring about any real change. Change comes in one of two ways: either by long-term peaceful demonstration or by a lot of really violent action. The protest movement isn’t disciplined enough to manage option one, and our violent protesters still aren’t violent enough for option two.
Go look back at footage of the Iranian protests from last year or the Thailand protests last month. Those protesters knew what to do with cops and soldiers: rush ‘em. Body armor and batons and Tasers and guns are all nifty, sure, but when you’ve got twenty protesters for every cop or soldier (and for all the hordes of extra cops we had this weekend, they were almost always heavily outnumbered), if they all rush the cops—yes, the cops will take some down with them, but they’re not going home.
Every cop on the line this weekend knew that it could happen here, which is why they were scared. I really think protesters underrate how intimidating they can get for cops when they parade or rally; protesters are in the middle of it and they only see their friends, but when you’re the people they demonize and there are more of them than you, it’s not good clean fun.
None of this, of course, excuses the performance of the police today. The cops had a disastrous top-down management strategy, to be sure, but over and over again the story of today was that some individual police were completely and totally willing to be bastards.
The stories got more and more ludicrous, sometimes so ludicrous we couldn’t begin to believe them until kids showed us pictures or video their friends had taken on cellphones or cameras of the incidents. Cops confiscating rainbow Pride bandanas. (Are bandanas illegal now? I know the Black Bloc movement is mostly comprised of very stupid people, but they proved this weekend they’re smart enough to change clothes.) Cops stopping people for having a black backpack. (Are people supposed to buy a new backpack because some idiots use ones the same colour?) Cops questioning a cyclist in the Critical Mass bike event after the cyclist stopped to see if a bike cop who had tumbled off his bike was all right.
I could go on like this for paragraphs more, honestly: cops snipping a megaphone cable to make it unusable, cops confiscating an electric shaver, cops detaining people for taking cellphone pictures of them arresting protesters, cops refusing to let people make cellphone calls in the vicinity of an arrest…
We saw that last one happen in Parkdale. After the protester press whine-ference, we were walking back to the car, and then saw a hastily formed bike cop line just outside the Parkdale Legal Clinic near Queen and Dufferin. The police had stopped a bus that was about to leave for Quebec City, taking protesters back home, and sorted the protesters out in the street as they went through their possessions trying to figure out which ones they could arrest.
Just looking back at that sentence makes me ill. The number of Charter of Rights and Freedoms violations that were committed here is beyond belief, and you can’t help but think that police, who are trained to know what the law will and won’t allow in detention and search procedures, knew that most of their arrests would be invalidated very quickly. Not that this stopped them from doing so.
But that wasn’t the end: they then expanded the line outwards as more cops arrived, and in doing so arrested more people they felt hadn’t moved out of the way quickly enough. The underpass at Queen and Dufferin was under construction, so about fifteen people were stuck there, not allowed to cross the police line to get across the street and leave, but theoretically, as one cop explained, “not exactly detained.” It’s not that the cops wanted anything with them, after all; they just weren’t allowed to go anywhere until the cops were finished their work.
The unprompted justifications police officers gave me all day were insane—there’s no better word for it. Most common was this refrain: “How stupid do you have to be to _________?” It’s not a new joke for cops—criminals frequently do really stupid things—but the context this time wasn’t funny. “How stupid do you have to be to wear black clothes today?” “How stupid do you have to be to walk up to a cop and wave a peace symbol in his face?” “How stupid do you have to be to have spray paint in your bag?” The more I heard it, the more I thought: maybe they’re just really, really in denial about how fucked this all is.
At this point, I’m sure of it.
Late in the day, as the rain started to come down at Queen and Spadina, we arrived just in time to miss surrounded protesters who had just finished singing “O Canada” get rushed by police. Those police then began the systematic snatch-and-grab tactics they’d used the day prior at Queen’s Park, because apparently guilt by association is the next big thing in Canadian policing. Sure, it’s pretty likely that some protesters knowingly concealed Black Bloccers within their ranks, but there’s no way in hell that constitutes probable cause.
I’d say that the crazy downpour squelched the chance that onlookers might do something, but realistically they were never going to do anything anyway. The peanut gallery has been in force all weekend at every corner, sidewalk, and anywhere else that’s twenty feet or more away from police. At least the protesters are willing to get arrested: that gives them a little bit of spiritual currency to catcall the cops. But for every protester, there’s three or four hipsters who are willing to yell out “PIGS” or “THIS IS NOT MY CANADA” and then cover their mouths or shrink back in the crowd or look inconspicuous really quickly so no cop would actually look their way. It’s the real-life equivalent of comments on YouTube: meaningless, disposable, anonymous, and annoying.
Sunday was also the day that the international press decided to cover the streets (and thanks to everybody for Saturday, just for that), and although most were quite useless, at least they were entertaining. Seeing the Fox News team get bum-rushed down Spadina by cops was probably the funniest moment of the entire day. More irritating than funny was the French journalist screaming “how DARE you?” over and over again at cops for refusing to let her cross the line. (Right in principle, perhaps, but we were talking serious screech factor on the voice.) An Italian media team asked us for directions because they couldn’t figure out which way was east, and then asked “have you seen the action? We are looking for the violence. Where is it?”
The entire day was a pathetic waste. At the end of it, journalists and delegates partied inside the International Media Centre; the summit was done, they could now go home, and there was free booze to spare, so why not? It’d be a shame to come to the G20 summit and not get hammered by the fake lake.
Actually, in retrospect, the fake lake is honestly kind of nice. It only cost about fifty thousand bucks, not the one-point-two million everybody kept discussing, and it’s really quite pleasant to sit in. But when a fake lake is the best part of your day, it’s been a worthless day. That’s the fault of pretty much every last one of us.

Comments

  • http://undefined rek

    “meaningless, disposable, anonymous, and annoying”
    And protected by the Charter, whatever that’s worth.

  • http://undefined Robsonian

    I’m still trying to sort out who’s brilliant idea it was to make the convergence space the legal clinic.

  • http://undefined bray

    More irritating than funny was the French journalist screaming “how DARE you?” over and over again at cops for refusing to let her cross the line. (Right in principle, perhaps, but we were talking serious screech factor on the voice.)
    Ugh. That’s all I’ll say about that.

  • Dry Brain

    Thank you thank you thank you for seeing through the self-excusing bullshit about agents provocateurs and so forth. There probably were some undercover cops, but we as leftists have to admit the ways our movement fails–and making excuses for the juvenile, anarchy-intent political simpletons in our midst is the biggest failure in the wake of this weekend.
    Having said that, even greater shame has to be heaped on the abusive police tactics and the mayor’s excusing of same. Nightmare weekend. Failure for activism, failure for policing, failure for civil society and government.

  • John Semley

    Chris,
    This likely the most thoughtful editorial I’ve read on this whole debacle, and I’ve been slogging through plenty. You’re 100% right about people hopping on board for the spectacle, not giving a rip about the politics. I was out of commission most of the weekend, but when I was about I had a constant barrage of people texting me to see where the “good action” was and junk like that, as if Barnum & Bailey’s was in town. You’re also right how this ended up being a zero sum game: cops, labour unions, citizens, everyone loses.
    And thanks as well for all the fine reporting this weekend.

  • http://undefined Luke

    Chris, thanks for the generally very good article. But one caveat: why are “radical” (but peaceful) protesters, despite police actions you acknowledge to be unconscionable, at least partially at fault because they are…simultaneously disorganized, and unwilling to put their lives on the line, but also “scary”? Isn’t this a little inconsistent? Are material Charter violations really an equivalent response to verbiage, even if you do consider it long-winded? Claiming a negative false equivalency (“everybody loses”) seems just as slippery as claiming that “everybody wins” – surely some people will lose far less coming out of this weekend than others?

  • http://undefined JEM

    An hour or so ago on the CBC – one of the organizers from Saturdays peaceful protest said they stand firmly against the black block tactics and that they are helping police in their investigation.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Since when did C. Bird start writing stories for The Sun?

  • http://undefined Mike

    The cops say they can do whatever they want, and if they’ve done something wrong, then you can file a complaint and if they are found to have done wrong, they’ll apologize. How nice. They freely go around violating people’s rights, and don’t have to answer to anyone. The police don’t care about anyone’s rights. They only care about enslaving you.

  • Dry Brain

    Fine, TorontotheGreat. Please tell me in 100 words what the motivation for political violence in Canada is, and why it’s a legitimate tactic.
    (And if you believe that the Black Bloc were all police provocateurs, I must disagree. Even if there were a few of those–still an IF–the majority of the violence I saw on Saturday was being perprated by people plainly not cops. As ooposed to on Sunday, when I heartily agree, ALL the violence was perpetrated by cops, which was repugnant and which will probably go unpunished, sadly.)

  • http://undefined Dan

    I agree. You’ve hit on the main point: the “protest” movement – those who stuck around once things went off the rails – is not aimed at change, but aimed at just that, protest. Spare me the “indictments” of the wicked G20 leaders, how are we going to bring about positive change?
    After labour and those who have a position and an idea how to get it across had gone, what was left? A great movement reduced to the narcissistic desire to have something to post to YouTube.

  • http://undefined glenthemann

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. Both sides of the equation were with utter faults, and I am embarrassed to call myself a Torontonian at this moment.
    I love your use of the term “peanut gallery” and again we are seeing it today. People who have no idea what it is like to be arrested, whining and complaining about the conditions that I am sure are fairly normal to any situation in which persons are arrested and held.
    Ive personally been in a situation where I was innocent, yet I was arrested and held, and at the mercy of the system I found myself in through my actions and choices. I was held for almost 48 hours before I was released on bail, and through that time I was given a noname brand cheese pizza pocket and some excuse of a sandwich with what they called tuna in it throughout my time in holding. I had to sleep on a “bed” which was a twisted crosshatch solid steel frame for a mattress (the mattresses had long since been removed because people used to burn and urinate all over them). Oh how deplorable and draconian! It is a terrible situation, but it is there for a reason, and everyone who is arrested for any crime no matter how meaningless they may feel it is, has to deal with this situation.
    I bet none of these protesters have any qualms about murderers dealing with such situations.
    The police for the most part try to be fair. If you are arrested you are a potential criminal and are treated as such; there is no special treatment for anyone.
    That said, the police have their faults. There is no doubt there were rogue officers taking the law into their own hands. However this is nothing new, and anyone whose head isn’t stuck up their own ass would realize this.
    There is nothing worse than a close minded person with a tidbit of information. I feel many of these protesters have tunnel vision and fail to look at the past days events in the big picture – from both sides.

  • http://undefined rek

    “The police for the most part try to be fair. If you are arrested you are a potential criminal and are treated as such; there is no special treatment for anyone.”
    Please note that a “potential criminal” is still, as defined by the Charter, innocent. Police do not determine guilt, courts do. So you are advocating that innocent people be treated like animals because some of them might be found guilty at some point.
    Furthermore, being detained does not retroactively justify or legitimize the conditions of the arrest. The Charter asserts the right to not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. What we saw Sunday evening was hundreds of arbitrary detainees, and a recurring element in accounts of time within the detention centre tells of further Charter violations, specifically regarding the prompt informing of the reason(s) for arrest, the retention of legal counsel without delay, and the right not to be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment (too many examples to list here).
    It is not the duty of police officers to “try to be fair”, nor does their “tireless effort” or “making the best of a bad situation” (or whatever other boilerplate phrase you might pick from the news conferences) excuse the parts where police (of whatever rank) royally fucked up.

  • http://undefined Dry Brain

    Seemingly impossibly, I agree with both Rek and glentheman, but I guess Rek moreso.
    I mean, some of the complaints about the Eastern Ave. detention centre smack of middle class boo-hoo-hoo-ing. One girl interviewed by CTV complained about not getting a vegan meal. (Christ.) A lot of people complained about crowding and cold, and claimed it to be “tantamount to toture.”
    But there are much more serious, credible allegations that people didn’t get timely legal counsel, didn’t get food or even water, and may even have been sexually humiliated/assaulted/threatened. This is extremely disturbing. Even in prison there are standards.
    The first mayoral candidate to promise a serious inquiry into those latter abuses–i.e., not one of those wishy-washy internal deals that always eems to absolve police of all blame–has my vote. (Unless it’s Rob Ford.)

  • http://undefined Kelvin

    best article i’ve read so far. I think you’ve written it in terms that what every sane, working person in Toronto felt when they saw the violence. the protesters were wrong, the police were wrong, the bystanders were wrong. everyone was just wrong.
    some of the best points
    -It would have been so easy. You only had to do one thing, one single goddamn thing: “We don’t approve of or condone the Black Bloc tactics and we don’t approve of or condone violent protest.” There you go.
    >blah blah yes condemning a fellow anarchist is imposing our colonial belief system which they don’t believe in blah blah blah. I don’t get TMCN, they are a bunch of crazies, they are anti-captalism (fine), but they also hate socialists, they are anti-colonialism. essentially they will not “conform” and protest their grievances as we would all like since they don’t even believe in that system! just get rid of them all. i would be so happy to hear them say into a mic that they hate canada since we are an illegitimate country and then start quoting Canadian law in their own defense. that will be the day
    - One protester outside the Queen-Spadina fracas held up his Canadian flag. “You know the leader of that socialist bloccer group? Hassan something? I was at Allan Gardens on Friday, waving my flag, and he comes up to me and he says it’s a colonialist symbol and to put it away. I say, I’m here to support free speech and show that Canadians can protest. He says he hates the idea of Canada. Fuck that guy.” Even the ones who were a little bit sympathetic to “frustrated people” immediately added the “not that I’d ever do that” disclaimer.
    >yes fuck him. people should actually search and read what he espouses, there is no sort of non-violence associated with his group.
    -Most common was this refrain: “How stupid do you have to be to _________?” It’s not a new joke for cops—criminals frequently do really stupid things—but the context this time wasn’t funny. “How stupid do you have to be to wear black clothes today?” “How stupid do you have to be to walk up to a cop and wave a peace symbol in his face?” “How stupid do you have to be to have spray paint in your bag?” The more I heard it, the more I thought: maybe they’re just really, really in denial about how fucked this all is.
    >yes why were the cops so stupid!! YOU HAD years of training and you can’t handle a bunch of whiny teens from quebec. at the same time I had friends who were detained. they whined but at the same time acted the laissez faire canadian and rubbed it off saying they “guessed” they shouldnt have gone shopping that day in that area knowing what was going on. so i would say looking back they would say they were also stupid. everyone was just stupid.
    >peanut gallery
    amen to that. if kids nowadays just had corporal punishment at school it would be all so much better.

  • http://undefined Jacob

    excellent piece.. very thoughtful, honest, fair.. very well done!

  • http://undefined thegreenwoodfive

    As a peaceful protestor, I quickly saw that my presence–in light of the weekend’s framing and evolution–was pointless.
    What a fool’s game; get arrested for what? A lack of political currency quickly saps that desire. Meaningless, disposable, anonymous, and annoying hipsters? Please, cast your net a little wider…

  • http://undefined pmaj

    All that corporal punishment that innocent people received from the police should turn them into upstanding citizens then, instead of remaining dirty hippies! Awesome!
    And, incidentally, this is why your complaining about TCMN is pointless at best – no matter how flawed you think their message is, it is still their CHARTER RIGHT to protest in a peaceful manner. And if the police actually had the interests of the public mind, they would have been helping to safeguard the right to lawful dissent, rather than trying to crush it.

  • http://undefined NuncScio

    Great article. I would add that social change can also occur through thoughtful, committed people working through existing legislative and political structures. It doesn’t always happen in the streets. And when it does, it almost never finished there.

  • http://undefined David

    I think this is one of the best articles I’ve seen on the weekend.

  • http://undefined white_jacket

    Excellent piece . . . the one great missing force? Imagination . . ..

  • http://bit.ly/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    Christopher, cogently written. Explosive and talented lives up to its name. :)
    This line:
    “You know the leader of that socialist bloccer group? Hassan something? I was at Allan Gardens on Friday, waving my flag, and he comes up to me and he says it’s a colonialist symbol and to put it away. I say, I’m here to support free speech and show that Canadians can protest. He says he hates the idea of Canada.”
    All I can think of is, uh, “Dude, La Fête nationale du Québec was next door last week. You could have just gone there (or, if from there, just stayed there).” Otherwise, I would have asked in a most chiding, Donnie Darko kind of way, “If you hate the idea of Canada, then tell me Elizabeth, what idea do you like? I’m all ears!”
    But yeah. I only read your piece this morning, a whole day after the fact. Thanks for some of the best and most consistent reporting I’ve seen from this past weekend.

  • http://undefined friend68

    Well said. Thoughtful stories have been the rarity, but this one manages it nicely.