Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Harper’s billion dollar G8 G20 fiasco

Though we have lived through it, we have not covered the events surrounding the G8 / G20 meeting. Well, better later than never..

Personally, I did not attend the meetings of protest, as I could not see a reason to protest. It was unclear to me what had happened by the next day, but I wish I had attended the post-factum anti-police-state rally.

In short, it had come to this:

TO police car burning

Here’s how Steve Paikin, one of this province’s best journalists described the events by twitter on that faithful June 26, 2010:

"i saw police brutality tonight. it was unnecessary. they asked me to leave the site or they would arrest me. i told them i was dong [sic] my job."

"they repeated they would arrest me if i didn't leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist."

"the journalist identified himself as working for 'the guardian.' he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him...."

"a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back."

"no cameras recorded the assault. and it was an assault."

"the officer who escorted me away from the demo said, 'yeah, that shouldn't have happened.' he is correct. there was no cause for it."

"i can appreciate that the police were on edge today, after seeing four or five of their cruisers burned. but why such overreaction tonight?"

"the demonstration on the esplanade was peaceful. it was like an old sit in. no one was aggressive. and yet riot squad officers moved in."

"police on one side screamed at the crowd to leave one way. then police on the other side said leave the other way. there was no way out."

"so the police just started arresting people. i stress, this was a peaceful, middle class, diverse crowd. no anarchists"

"literally more than 100 officers with guns pointing at the crowd. rubber bullets and smoke bombs ready to be fired. rubber bullets fired"

"i was 'escorted' away by police so couldn't see how many arrested, but it must have been dozens."

"we must make a distinction between the 'thugs' who broke store windows and torched cop cars and the very reasonable citizens who..."

"...just wanted to remind the authorities that the freedom to speak and assemble shouldn't disappear because world leaders come to town."

"i have lived in toronto for 32 years. have never seen a day like this. shame on the vandals."

"and shame on those that ordered peaceful protesters attacked and arrested. that is not consistent with democracy in toronto, G20 or no G20"

"2. Who specifically gave the order to clear the street? was that decision made on site or by a higher authority?"

"Does the tor police svc have any evidence of dangerous acts from those demonstrators that forced them to act that way, at that time?"

"if any journos are talking to the police chief on sunday, those would be questions i'd like answered. ok, that's it. signing off tonight."

It turned out that the cost associated with hosting the event was well over 1 billion dollars (far more than for any other similar event). Twenty thousand police officers from across the country were brought to Toronto – again, many times more than at any other such event. Here’s globalresearch’s account:

In the weeks leading up to the summit, the media was full of fearmongering. A Toronto Star “Survival Guide” advised staying calm around the police, and explaining to them whatever they wanted. A police official went a step further, in an unusual usurpation of authority by police to tell citizens what to do and where to go: “don't come.” Security for such summits had in the past, at the highest level in Pittsburgh, run as high as $100-million. What was the $1-billion paying for? Some of it went to new, and lasting, police infrastructure: new water cannons, new sound weapons, new surveillance cameras, an array of nonlethal weapons intended to disrupt protests. The training, communications, and command systems would cost more. The overtime pay for the thousands of out-of-town police would cost still more. But $1-billion? No one believed there was any credible threat to the safety of the G20 officials. At worst, protesters might have smashed some windows, as they had in some previous global summits like the WTO protest in Montreal in 2005. Could smashed windows, or any conspiracy to smash windows, justify $1-billion in security expenditure? Could it justify the various changes to the law and emergency police powers that were put in place? The open question represented a political risk for Harper: if the protesters succeeded in capturing the agenda or disrupting the summit, Harper could lose some of his law-and-order reputation. If Harper's police went too far, they might risk a backlash from the public, who have so far been very forgiving of Harper.

In the event, the police forces took no chances, and quite probably took matters into their own hands. When the big march (well over 10,000 by my count, 25,000 by some counts) failed to pass police lines (given that about an equal number of police, 19,000 or 20,000, were deployed), and continued, a group of protesters doubled back before turning south toward the fence. Some of these covered their faces and, after they'd left the big march, smashed windows and police cars. While deep police lines backed by horses had prevented the big march from heading south to the fence, a gap appeared and a group of protesters was somehow allowed to head several blocks south before being stopped. At the southernmost location, Bay and King, a police car was somehow set on fire, although some eyewitnesses say there were almost no protesters around and also, mysteriously, no uniformed police. The role of police provocateurs in these events might eventually come out in court, to which I will return.

The point here is that at least through a passive decision, and more likely through active provocation, the police helped see to it that windows and police cars were destroyed. Journalist Joe Wenkoff followed the Black Bloc for 27 blocks without any police presence. A police source told Toronto Sun reporter Joe Warmington that the police had orders to let it happen: “there were guys with equipment to do the job, all standing around looking at each other in disbelief.”

Almost no one was arrested during the smashing. Before the demonstration took place, police seized activists and organizers in raids – some of whom are still being held at detention centres. The (Saturday, June 26) night after the afternoon demonstration and the day after (Sunday, June 27), however, police rounded up hundreds of people – some 1,000 in total (which means $1-million security expenditure per arrested protester). Curiously, police had announced prior to the summit that they expected to arrest 1,000. Did they simply keep arresting until they met their numbers? Given the “catch and release” policy they followed (100 of the 1000 are still in detention, and many of those released have given shocking testimonies of abuse by police, outdoor cages, open toilets, denial of feminine products to prisoners) it seems likely.

People on Toronto streets reported seeing police operations that had no relationship to any protest or anything going on: riot police shuffling about, horse charges, rapid deployment from one part of the city to another, temporary closures of areas and sweeping up of random people into mass arrests. It looked to me like Harper's people were flexing their muscles, testing the public stomach, seeing how far they could ride over people's rights and liberties. Accompanying the show of muscle was a public relations effort – placing the burden of justifying the $1-billion security expenditure on some smashed windows and police cars (with damages probably in the tens of thousands).

Something of a public backlash did emerge. On Monday afternoon, 2600 people (by my count) protested the police response outside headquarters. Among the slogans: “No more cops on overtime, protesting is not a crime.” The same police who had been so abusive the day before were relatively quiet. Protesters didn't see any riot gear, the bike police didn't push people with their bikes as they often do at protests, and the horses stayed largely out of sight a block away.

You might think that, as in any civilized, law-abiding country, an investigation will take place and those responsible for the “overreaction” will be disciplined. Instead, the Toronto City Council voted unanimously to commend the Police for their “outstanding work”. For a more incendiary coverage than this, try the wsws link below who will lead you to a socialist website (I’m not willing to go that far Raised Eyebrow).

Sources / More info: straight-paikin, @spaikin, torstar-g20, torstar-g20-survival, torsun-warmington, gr-g20, tyee-g20, rabble-g20, wsws-g20, ctv-defends, ytz-to-g20

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