Frontline reports from the G20
Gains and Losses
Although there was an immense amount of substantive, fascinating, and productive activity during the entire week by the network of labour-antipoverty-antiwar-indigenous issues-environment (extraction industries including tar sands and Barrick Gold)-gender, much associated with the week-long networking and protests was presented in a very dismissive, trivializing way by the major media. Controversial as was the activity of the Black Bloc and others, the graffiti and broken windows at banks and MNCs like Starbucks was about the only specific mention of banks and corporations in the overall reporting of both the protests and the G8G20 meetings.
Strikingly, there were no major media reports on the “Shout Out” despite amazing talks by Clayton Thomas-Muller, Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva, Bolivia’s UN (and Copenhagen/Cochabamba) ambassador Pablo Solon, the UK Guardian’s John Hilary, Maude Barlow, US Steelworker Leo Gerard.
In terms of violence, the media and others (including many on the left) did not distinguish between violence against people and vandalism of property. Nor was there any attempt to place these meetings in a context of violence: the violence of Massey Coal, BP, or the South African soccer games which perhaps was the circus to distract from the phenomenally undemocratic events in Toronto, or the violence of Canada’s brand new uranium deal with India. Despite the vague abstraction of “austerity” budgeting which seems to be the outcome of the G20 meeting, there was of course no drawing attention to the violence of poverty that will directly cause more premature death (in the hundreds of thousands? millions?). The parallels between Toronto and South Africa are interesting: $2b plus for the meetings ($1b for “security”) just when the Ontario govt. cut the Special Diet for disabled people, and in South Africa – $6b for the games while barring the shack dwellers from the right to protest.
Regarding the “rioting”, “violence”, this is what I witnessed, having been at the two major marches on June 25th and 26th and having witnessed the “kettling” at the mobilization network’s centre on the 27th.
The police behavior was quite different from the usual police reaction to protests here. They conveyed a great deal of outright suspiciousness and hostility to people plus obvious unfamiliarity with Toronto streets. Most of the national reports are about the Saturday march – it’s helpful to note what happened before. Each day saw themed actions, and there was a buildup on Friday.
Prior to the first “convergence” march on Friday, police checked IDs and searched bags. The march itself had a festive feel with the samba band, clowns, beautiful day. Then I noticed that with no provocation, police lined themselves up at intersections and lowered their riot helmets. Several minutes later a tall man next to me started to shout “F…the police” which seemed very much out of context – he did not look like the usual kind of protester (agent provocateur?). And within minutes there was an incident, on the sidewalk: police arrested a young black man with dreads who was deaf – before that they had pushed and poked another young white man. The marchers immediately congregated around the man and chanted “let him go”. The man was detained, and the subsequent media reports eventually clarified that he was an innocent bystander, deaf, but not one report revealed that he was black.
The next incident occurred about 45 minutes later. For no apparent reason, police halted the march on University Avenue. Within minutes squadrons of police emerged from all directions – from streets, from openings between buildings – they were on bikes, horses, and the most eerie group marched in formation banging their shields with sticks. Another group carried what looked like rifles. The marchers were completely silent and were not allowed to proceed for 20 to 30 minutes – . It was rumored that there had been some vandalism; several hours later one of the newspapers suggested that there might have been a gas leak in a building??? There was clearly no provocation for the show of force.
Prior to the big Saturday march I also saw more harassment and racial profiling by roving police squads: in two separate incidents near the protest route, cars with young men of colour were stopped and searched. In one case, a policeman furiously banged on the car .
There was much that was puzzling and peculiar about the police car burning and the vandalism – with various theories about police infiltration of the anarchist group. Many on various points along the political spectrum have taken the opportunity to condemn anarchism. Needless to say, Toronto’s mayor David Miller and Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty grandstanded in condemning “thugs”. The racist police chief spoke of “hooligans”. (the characterization of what actually happened was also obscured – the volunteer CCLA lawyer spoke about “looting” though the only reports I saw about items taken were cell phones and these were smashed – a political statement vs a robbery).
I also witnessed kettling at the Toronto Community Mobilization Network’s convergence centre on Sunday afternoon after a press conference. On my way there on the streetcar, police stopped the streetcar and searched the hockey bag of a young man, no doubt for bombs! (blocks from us a bus from Quebec had just been searched for bombs – memories of Ramallah – and reminding me that under the MOU signed between Stockwell Day and Israel, Canadian and Israeli police participate in joint training exercises). As riot police on foot, bikes, in vans, paddy wagons arrived at the mobilization centre, people from the local neighbourhood of Parkdale gathered to watch and then spontaneously protest – chanting “out of Parkdale” – “shame”. I heard that many from the Bike Block had been detained, but at that moment a number of spirited bicyclists whizzed onto the street, ringing bike bells and chanting anti G20 slogans.
You can’t fool all the people all the time.