At first it wasn’t clear why a sun-shy group of protesters was scattered across the lawn at Queen’s Park on Saturday. Once the megaphones were switched on, however, the afternoon swung into action. Organizers in reflective vests handed out fliers for the “G20 Public Inquiry Rally” with the march route on one side and a list of almost poetic protest chants on the other. (“Who are you serving and protecting? / What you’re defending, we’re rejecting!”)
The march route hit some symbolic targets, including Queen and Spadina (where the controversial “kettling” occurred on the Sunday of the Summit, and around where the vandals first struck one day earlier), and ending at the Metro Convention Centre (where all the G20 handshakes happened).
Everyone was well-behaved. During the rally, a few mounted police were letting curious teens pet their horses, while a dozen officers rested in the shade.
Over 1,500 people attended—roughly matching attendance at the two previous post-G20 rallies. Since the last rally, though, the message has tightened and the movement has become bigger and better organized. It appears that the momentum has been captured at a pivotal moment and is now being channeled into a concise demand for an independent, public inquiry into G20 security measures. Or, as the megaphones put it, “We want to know who was responsible for calling the shots.”
The list of organizations supporting an inquiry has grown from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) to include Amnesty International, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, CUPE, and at least a dozen other groups. The CCLA and Amnesty have started a (somewhat technologically stunted) e-petition to support an inquiry. Solidarity protests have sprung up in other cities, including Halifax, Montreal, and Vancouver.
According to organizer Joel Duff, it has been hard for these politically charged organizations to eke out a common path, but they have engaged in some “tough discussions” over the past two weeks to make the movement work. This coalition-style leadership seems to have made the message more diplomatic and less concerned with blame and the grinding of old political axes.
The movement now has to penetrate two arenas in order to stay relevant: politics and public opinion.
Politically, some movement has already happened through the Ontario ombudsman’s probe into the fake five-metre rule and the Toronto Police Service’s independent review of policing during the summit.
Protesters march along College (top) and are met with an anti-protest protester at College and Spadina, “Rob Ford For Mayor” button and all (bottom). Photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.
But the nature of a public inquiry is complicated. The summit’s Integrated Security Unit knit together different police forces and powers in a complicated chain of command. While the ideal is a single, centralized inquiry, so far the reality has been a patchwork of single investigations that claim jurisdiction over only their small piece of the puzzle. Duff, for one, thinks that laying full blame at the feet of Police Chief Bill Blair is premature and “wrongheaded….Bill Blair wasn’t calling the shots on CSIS. We should be asking questions everywhere and of everyone.”
While the the details are scant, organizer Walied Khogali claims support is building in the provincial Liberal caucus for a more in-depth inquiry. He also suggested that the federal Liberal, Bloc Quebecois, and NDP have shown interest in creating a federal investigative committee.
The leader of the Ontario NDP, Andrea Horwath, came to yesterday’s rally to show her support as the self-proclaimed “only elected politician calling for an independent public inquiry.” Although her political options are limited while the legislature is on vacation, she said she was committed to pushing for an inquiry until she sees some results. She hit the next step on the head: “A big part of what we need to do is keep up the momentum.”
To ward off protest fatigue, the movement also has to connect with those outside its circle for support—it won’t remain legitimate for long if it fades into fringe status. It currently relies on a mixed bag of dedicated supporters, including those affected by the summit, civil liberties activists, and anti-G20 diehards. The general public will have to shed its stereotypes and adopt its own degree of dissatisfaction with G20 security measures in order to provide a broader political base. To develop this support, Duff plans to set out around Toronto to “talk to regular people” about the meaning and importance of a public inquiry.
The events of the G20 weekend have already roused the political beast in those who would otherwise be uninvolved. As Duff said, “These people out here are not all the usual suspects.” The G20 politicized the city in new ways, and Saturday’s demonstrators are not going to let their questions go away.