Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
“They were all dressed in black with masks, and they all looked at us and waved….It’s like they hated us for so much, and we didn’t even do anything wrong,” Kimberly Howell told us, describing the moments before a group of masked thugs smashed the windows of the Yonge Street shop she was working in on the Saturday of the G20.
Toronto hadn’t done anything wrong. We didn’t ask for the G20 summit to be held in our city. We didn’t want a meeting of the world leaders in our downtown core or the anarchist Thanksgiving celebrations—to borrow a Jon Stewart phrase—that tend to accompany these types of events. But it was decided for us, and, in anticipation of mayhem, millions of dollars were spent fortifying the city. Thousands of police streamed into Toronto and a massive fence was put up to protect the G20 meeting site. So the Black Bloc lashed out at whatever they could, whatever got caught in the middle: us.
If the Black Bloc’s targets are apathetic world leaders, unchecked globalization, and evil institutions, they missed their mark. Instead, they disrupted the lives of their would-be comrades, the people that live and work in Toronto. They pulled up building blocks of our city and threw them back at us. They escalated protests to the point of violence and vandalism and put those thousands of cops on edge. According to our timeline, the Black Bloc’s $2 million wave of damage that broke out on Saturday afternoon was winding down by 6:43 p.m. But police and government officials could now point to that short burst of violence to excuse more brutal police tactics late Saturday and well into Sunday.
Restaurant and retail workers lost wages. Countless businesses lost revenue and were then saddled with the cost of repairs. And it wasn’t just major multinational corporations that were damaged: Steve’s Music, Fran’s, and Urbane Cyclist were among the indie-r operations that suffered at the hands of the Black Bloc. The spectacle—one few could believe was unfolding in their city—dominated the news coverage and exploded all over YouTube. And perhaps worst of all, those who smashed windows and lit cop cars on fire distracted from the messages that thousands of protestors were trying to get across, but had the decency to present civilly and peacefully.
So what’s the Black Bloc anyway? Is it a group, or a tactic? Does it have a Facebook page—well, besides this one? What are they for, other than being against the things Toronto deems good: order, safety, cleanliness, even American Apparel.
The Black Bloc is a nebulous blob of badness hiding behind a mask for the pretence of proving a point. Or not proving a point. Or whatever. They don’t represent anything, and they don’t have the courage to identify themselves and confidently explain their positions in a civil and decent way. That’s not their bag, but it’s ours: we love Toronto, and we’re not afraid to say it.
And while we’re pretty sure they’re not terrorists, they are really annoying.