A Saturday evening in June; this night, in the City of Toronto, there are black-clad “protesters”, faces obscured by balaclavas and masks, causing damage to the businesses and homes of regular working people. They are doing sensible, thoughtful and pro-social things like setting fire to police cars, smashing windows and throwing feces into clothing shops.
It seems like everybody approaches this event with an axe to grind. There are those with complaints about the international economic order who see the summit as an affront to their sense of justice. There are those on Twitter asking why the police aren’t just shooting some of these people in the street.
Television journalists, somehow apparently stuck for something to talk about in the middle of these extraordinary circumstances , are suggesting that the fact that some windows got broken and some police cars were burned is somehow evidence that the police have failed to discharge their functions properly and diligently.
I am saddened and ashamed by the events I have seen on the television screen today. Canada is a place that should tolerate a lively and spirited debate about our diverging political views. It is also a place where unassuming people who go to work and try to provide for their families can do so without having damage inflicted upon their homes, businesses, streets and vehicles. It is a place where we all should be free to roam in our public places without fear of confrontation and mob violence.
My own view is that the police have done a tremendous job in difficult circumstances. They can’t protect each and every piece of property in the entire City of Toronto; that would be impossible. The officers that were on scene had to respond cautiously to events unfolding in front of them. For tactical reasons (maintaining formations and their own security) they can’t necessarily chase after every idiot throwing a rock through a window. Respond physically to the actions of protesters, and they open themselves up to complaints of “police brutality”; respond in a measured fashion and in a way that preserves both their tactical objectives and their own security, and people complain that they aren’t doing enough to disperse the mobs. It’s ten o’clock right now, and current reports suggest that although there have been some minor injuries to a number of officers, none of them have been seriously hurt. I sincerely hope that remains the case throughout the rest of the evening, and indeed the entire weekend.
Likewise, I wish no ill upon those who, moved by the strength of their own convictions, have gathered to peacefully exhibit their disapproval about the policy choices of the assembled leaders. I genuinely hope those people stay safe too.
In the end, it seems to me that what we have seen played out so shamefully on our TV screens is irrefutable evidence that it was a spectacularly bad decision to try and hold this summit in the middle of the most populous city in Canada. The Prime Minister has released a statement tonight about the violence:
Free speech is a principle of our democracy, but the thugs that prompted violence earlier today represent in no way, shape or form the Canadian way of life
He’s right about that, but this sentiment rings a little hollow in the circumstances. The entire central core of Toronto has been locked down and turned into a no-go zone, essentially an occupied area from which the general public is completely excluded. You know what? That in no way, shape or form represents the Canadian way of life either.
And therein lies the problem: it is an unfortunate fact of reality that hosting summits such as the G-20 automatically ensures that a certain element of criminal agitators and troublemakers will be in attendance, provoking violent confrontation with a police presence that must itself be on scene to protect the gathered leaders. The question must then be asked: why host such a conference in the middle of an urban area, where the safety of innocent bystanders and their property will necessarily be placed at risk? Why do so, when security requirements are such that it is deemed necessary to so radically restrict the freedom and liberty of our citizens? There are reportedly more than 20,000 peace officers and security personnel massed in the streets of Toronto tonight, charged with the responsibility of facing down the violent thugs and preserving order. Each and every one of them is in harm’s way. I can tell you from personal experience that they have friends and family members sitting at home worrying about their well-being very much tonight.
Ask yourself what tangible benefit will come from this meeting of the political elites in downtown Toronto. What work product will emerge from this meeting that is so crucial as to justify not only the enormous financial expense involved, but also the outrageous injury to our country’s traditions of liberty and democratic freedom. What exactly will you see in the empty homilies contained in the end of summit communiqué that are of such substance, import and moment that they justify not only these things, but the risk to life and limb for police and (genuine) protesters alike?
The masked idiots who are setting alight police cruisers are misguided cowards. It is difficult to understand how throwing human shit through the broken window of a Starbucks will have any appreciable effect at all upon anything except the poor bastards who will have to clean it up. It is even more difficult to regard anybody who would hide behind a mask and a well-timed change of clothes in an effort to avoid detection as any kind of a thoughtful, responsible or courageous political actor.
Turning the focus to the summit attendees, it is similarly difficult to understand how a series of staged photo ops next to the fake lake or over the Conference Table will have any effect on the global economic order, or “maternal health” or any other issue you can think of. Whatever you may think of the established international economic order, it is difficult to persuasively argue that this physical convergence of the leaders of nations is of critical importance or necessity.
So, on both sides of the barrier: stupid; pointless; unnecessary; disgraceful. In short, an outrage.
There is little that either you or I can do about the violent agitators attempting to dominate the streets tonight. That will be up to the men and women from various police services stationed in the streets of Toronto. The next time you have occasion to be in the vicinity of a ballot box, however, you might legitimately ask yourself why this had to happen at all, and why it had to happen here in particular. If you don’t find acceptable answers to those questions – and I have suggested above that they are very difficult to find – then you might ask yourself why Mr. Harper and his government ought to expect your vote.