Saturday, June 26, 2010

G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Protesters vs Demonstrators vs Rioters; Another Brilliant Harper Idea

Apparently the G-20, like the G-8, was originally to be held in a resort in the Muskoka Lakes District, in or near Huntsville, a 3 hour drive north of Toronto. Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his wisdom decided it was too big to be held there, and should be held in Toronto proper--the nation's economic capital and major international finance centre--in order to better show case Canada's banking industry, which kept us not quite as economically recessed as other countries. It was supposed to be better for security too.

Many Canadians had many misgivings about this. It was, and is, hard to imagine that the Deerhurst Resort couldn't handle the full G-20 Summit, or couldn't combine with other neighbouring resorts to do so. As all are private properties with clear boundaries, the army and police could cordon them off for security purposes, it seemed to many--much as would be done for the G-8 which would already be there. In that way, both summits would be in the same convenient location, one rather distant for protesters to gather. As one corporate friend pointed out, they could have put it in the far north, as was done with another G-20 Summit, and saved a huge amount of money. No one would much want to go there, it is easy to control access, so security costs would be less. Also, there would not be the financial losses of shutting down the country's economic capital.

I personally wondered why it couldn't be held at the Meech Lake residence/ retreat/ conference centre of the Prime Minister of Canada, famous for the infamous Meech Lake Accord, and already subsidized by taxpayer money, and secured. For yes indeed, the full cost of the Summits will be born by the taxpayer, including the $1 billion extra that has been estimated for security in Toronto specifically as opposed to anywhere else. Those familiar with Toronto know that it is a very spread out city, with multiply highway accesses, a long lake front, and 2 airports, one a wee boat ride from the financial district where the Summit is being held.

Toronto is also known for routinely topping the UN's most multi-cultural cities list. Over 50% of Torontonians are new immigrants or refugees. The ethnic groups include a wide range, most of them now "visible minorities", or they would be in another Canadian city. And being so new are also audible "minorities". This in itself is usually considered one of the riches of any major city, including Toronto. However, as journalists pointed out, they are also a prime consideration for security. After all, many are here because they are "unhappy" with the politics in their homeland; or the politics of the USA towards their homeland; or are here working against their homeland; or were tortured and imprisoned in their homeland, and now are refugees. Some groups hate each other, and have wars against each other on the frontiers between their homelands. Toronto is the 416 centre for the 905 region (both based on telephone codes), where wealthier immigrants, specific groups, and those longer established live--sometimes en masse, in communities with 85% homogeneity for their own ethnicity. Some schools were basically empty during the days last year when Sri Lankans were demonstrating, just to name one of many groups, as the children were pulled out of school to show their solidarity and boost the numbers. What with the world media watching, why not send a message to whatever homeland?

Then, of course, unlike Huntsville, or Iqaluit, or any number of other places, Toronto has many consulates and foreign national economic centres, AKA good places for demonstrating, also scattered in areas close by the Summit location. They include the British, Italian, German, French, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Russian. Even better, are the political-human rights-freedom of religion favourite protesting spots: the People's Republic of China Consulate, the Hong Kong Trade Commission, the USA Consulate (conveniently located on a wide major avenue near the Summit site, and at the south end of "hospital row" below the provincial parliament buildings and park), and that other site of perpetual protests, the Israeli Consulate (also conveniently located on a major artery due north of the USA Consulate, and very near the Four Seasons, Yorkville, where the Saudi Delegation will be staying--3km outside the security zone). Most national and international banks have their Canadian headquarters in Toronto, or the de facto one, even if the titular one is somewhere else. This being an economic summit, they are a prime target as well.

In fact, this being an economic summit, the prime protesters are not the ethnic groups but the anti-capitalists, the anti-north/south global divide; and, as it turns out, a very well-organized group of anarchists. The anarchists are causing the anarchy so far, including damage to capitalist symbols like a bank, store fronts, and police cars. The nationally publicized advisories suggesting banker types and corporate lawyers not go to work, or dress down now seem less ludicrous, and the jokes about executives in flip flops less funny.

Similarly, those thinking that there was too much paranoia, there were too many police loitering about the giant fencing with the gates that could lock down the downtown core, and that the police had too many emergency powers, have been having second thoughts. While legitimate protest against an oppressive regime may warm the left-winged cockles of Canadian hearts, some how anarchists in black taking on the Toronto police (reinforced by many others imported from elsewhere in the province and the RCMP) seems rather less justified--especially as there is freedom of the press, and the media have been excitedly looking for days for any malcontent to interview. Up until late Friday and Saturday, all they could do was expound breathlessly on the fence, and the number of police standing about with riot helmets and gas masks hanging from their belts.

Ah, yes, and what were the protesters protesting? A variety of things it seems: capitalism, and political hegemony, inattention to the environment, oppression of indigenous peoples, and GLBTQ, best summarized as a call for autonomous direct action everywhere "against the economic and political elites setting the G8/20 agenda. It's time to show them who's boss." And that was from the non-anarchist group.

As much as I hate to say it, the protestations below just look to me like photo ops created by individuals, and ultimately disrespectful of iconic real photos like those of the lone protester in Tiananmen Square.

So yes, then there were unhappy scenes like these:

As much as I can empathize with Native Rights protests, and deplore the violence; or have sided in the past with the peaceful protesters in Ottawa and Montreal, and agreed that there were RCMP agitators-- rather clumsy ones, easily identified by their regulation shoes, and their awkward incitements--planted in those crowds, I'm finding it hard to see anything but gratuitousness in this. With a media more than willing to give away free air time, or inches of newspaper space, to anyone with a grievance, it is hard not to wonder if they all couldn't just have "used their words", and done it by gathering at any one of Toronto's numerous parks, and notifying the eager media that there would be a rally, speeches, placards, and photo ops.

Perhaps Stephen is having second thoughts about showcasing Canada via a G-20 Summit in Toronto. Maybe he wishes he had put it in his adopted home town of Calgary, or at least in Alberta, which he would like to make the centre of the country. Maybe in, anarchists and oil wells are a bad mix. Besides, then someone might publicize these photos more:

More than 1,600 ducks died after landing on a Syncrude tailings pond in northern Alberta on April 28, 2008. (Government of Alberta/Todd Powell) Article on the recent conviction of Syncrude.

Image taken by Todd Powell, with the Alberta government. Article

Article with video

*All photos of the riots courtesy of Reuters, captions and credits here
The CBC provides a graphic map of the protests with some city landmarks and a general orientation to the security zones, here; and updated news, here (now at 560 arrests and counting, as the protests continue Sunday after the close of the summit; major hospitals and the Eaton centre were on lockdown) has a number of good resources including this map that allows one to follow the events; and a reminder that there were peaceful protests for 6 days as well which got little coverage
**As of June 28, protests against the police actions are ongoing, in front of the Metro Police Station in particular

What are your impressions of the G-20 Summit so far?
Of these demonstrations, protests, riots?
Are they necessary? justified?
Would other means of getting a message across have been more effective?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

All posts on the G-20 Summit:
The G-20 Meet the GlBTQ
The G(irls) 20 Summit: Part I--Background
The G(irls) 20 Summit: Part II--The Delegates
G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Protesters vs Demonstrators vs Rioters; Another Brilliant Harper Idea
G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, and Young Saudi Delegates
G-20 Summit Toronto 2010: Summarized--Part I Fake Lake and Fiscal Responsibility, Indeed
G-20 Summit Toronto 2010: Summarized--Part II Riots, Amnesty International, and an Unfinished Agenda

Coming next...Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah at the G-20


عثمان said...

Good Article!
I hate to see those picture which are of typical in back home. I couldn't image that I would see it here in Toronto.

BTW, excuse my ignorance, what the heck do these folks demand? I mean, I know about the paranoia about globalization...., but this is gone over the top.

Susanne said...

Interesting! I don't care for people destroying others' property so when you start doing this, you loose all sympathy you might have gotten from me.

oby said...

I do agree it might have been a MUCH better idea to hold it in a more remote location which would, if nothing else, lend itself to much easier protection of the delegates.

I have never been able to understand the gratuitous violence that happens in these protests. It takes the message of the protesters that is viable and worthwhile and turns it into something which is completely overshadowed by the violence. Seems like a really lousy way to get your point heard. It takes you from a peaceable citizen to a criminal. Like shooting yourself in the foot.

Chiara said...

Usman, Susanne, and Oby--Thanks for your comments and my apologies for getting back to this so late. I am thinking that I need to do a G-20 update what with the new allegations of police misconduct, and planted agitators. :(

Usman--Yes it is a shock to see this here when we are used to seeing it in other countries. Canada doesn't have many protests with this level of violence--especially without a hockey game being involve (the Montreal riots of 1954) :(

You aren't ignorant, their message was lost in the fray. Generally anti-power, anti-authority, anti-capitalism. Not a good way to express it. Anarchy seems a poor alternative.

Susanne--sadly whatever the message of the protest, it was completely lost to the headlines about the violence.

Oby-yes the moral of the story seems to be how stupid it was to hold the summit in Toronto. I agree that the message gets lost or denigrated when presented this way, especially in a democratic country.

Thanks to all again for your comments!


Related Posts with Thumbnails