27 June 2010

Repost, G8/G20. Toronto resident impressions contextualised for non-Canadians.

Edit: this is a repost as formatting issues were to deeply embedded in code to be solved swiftly.

We started hearing about the unprecedented G8/G20 security measures over a month ago. From then on, every day brought news of more extraordinary measures which would make the lives of downtown Toronto residents complicated and possibly dangerous.

We were told to leave town for the weekend, but some of us are homeless, some of us are poor and some of us have professional responsibilities. The show must go on.

My street, hours after the tear gas

About one month ago, the authorities announced the perimeter of a security zone which would be fence off. That was traumatising enough. The zone includes the busiest subway, train and commuting train station in the city, possibly the country. In turn, the security zone would be protected by a buffer zone with traffic and other access restrictions. For the tens of thousands living right outside the buffer zone, it was clear we would be sitting ducks between protest and police.

In the last week, as police invaded our every streets downtown, not a few more police officers here and there but often dozens of cops, one street corner after the next. Helicopters hover over downtown for twenty or so hours at a time and then go and come back a few days later. Then we had our 5.5 earthquake on Wednesday which for a moment I thought might be a terrorist attack. I ran to my window, saw no smoke and the CN Tower still standing.

Friday, downtown Toronto was a ghostown we called it. It was crowded compared to the emptiness in between passing protesters this weekend. Coming back from work felt like waking up from a coma like in 28 Days Later. Litter everywhere but no souls. In between the riot cops, violence, riot cops, peace protesters, riot cops.

On Friday, a young man was arrested for refusing to identify himself while outside the security zone. It's how we discovered a "secret law" which the Ontario government passed in camera on the 2nd of June. Any person standing within five metres of the security zone could be asked for identification and be searched without cause.

Last evening and today (Sunday) the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has been showing is a one-minute loop of the few burned police cars thugs burned down and the shop windows they broke. Thugs are part of society. Such events are going to attract them. Even the mainstream media (CBC, The Toronto Star) have admitted that the police abandons cars so thugs will take the bait and all protesters will be criminalised in the eyes of average Canadians.

But look at this clip. Police repeatedly dive into the crowd, knock someone down at random and cable tie them. They are trying to provoke a riot.

 This footage was taken by a cameraman with G20 credentials. A few days ago, Chief of Police Bill Blair participated on a Live Chat with the Toronto Star in which he stated anybody was welcome to take photos and footage.

This happened near Queen's Park where a CBC reporter verbally mentioned this happening  late yesterday afternoon but, oddly, I haven't seen this footage on the CBC. What I have seen one hundred times is a one minute loop of police car burnings and window smashing. If it is a serious media outlet at all (and looking at CBC News and  CBC Newsworld coverage in the last few years, it is doubtful that it is), then the CBC should be far more interested in abuse by  the state than the actions of petty criminals.

Peter Mansbrige (prominent Canadian broadcaster on the CBC) responded to criticism of the one-sided footage by saying that media should really asks itself why it covers "thuggery" instead of peaceful protesters. Mansbridge, you toad. Stop being a pushover to the people who give you your pay check. Don't ask yourself. Give us substantive, informative stories. That one minute loop is an embarrassment to The Mother Corp (other word for CBC) and an  embarrassment to the country. CBC has been total Pravda today.

What's important for my U.S. and U.K. readers to understand is that we have a minority Tory   government that's been hanging on thanks to so-called left-leaning parties like the New Democrats (NDP). Just like the LibDems in the UK, the NDP have never enjoyed so much power and cannot believe their luck. Although they are not in a coalition with the Tory government, they have often voted with them against the interest of the Canadian people. 

Another important point: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, our three biggest cities, have not  elected one Tory MP. The Tories hate cities and they do not understand them. A Harper spokesman said that downtown Toronto was the perfect place for the summit because it is empty on weekends. 

(aside: that may be true of Albertan cities like Calgary and Edmonton. Many prominent Tories are from Alberta. The Progressive Conservative Party merged with the Reform Party in the 1990s to become The Conservative Party. The Reform Party was a mostly Albertan/western  party which included members with Neo-Nazi pasts way into the 1990s. Needless to say, they are homophobic and hold archaic views about the role of women and their right to control their own bodies. Soon after the merge, there was a power vacuum and figures from the Reform Party took over the Conservative Party. These are the people in power now.

Last note: Reform and PC merged because they were never going to win on their own. The Fiberals had to indulge in very bad corruption for the Tories to get where they are today. Anger that the Liberals also give votes to the NDP)

Toronto is not empty on weekends, people from all over the Greater Toronto Area (GTA, 7 million people, 1/5 of the country's population) come to Toronto on the weekend to party. It's    full of restaurants, theatres, cinemas, museums and nightclubs — all of which have lost millions over this weekend. The damage from broken windows is nothing compared to the  economic blow the summit is hitting them with. 

The Tories don't care of course, no one votes for  them here. But we must submit to the majority, except... Canada is a Parliamentary democracy with a First-Past-the-Post electoral system. My riding (electoral district) of Trinity-Spadina has 110 000 voters, whereas some rural ridings, like in Prince-Edward-Island, have 40 000 voters. My vote is worth three times less than the 
vote of a rural dweller. This division of ridings is designed so the densely populated provinces of Quebec and Ontario, who represent one half of the country's population, don't dominate 
Parliament. It is true that Central Canada yields a lot of power. So does China. The first lesson of history is "numbers". All minorities should be looked after but, when it comes down 
to it, democracy is about majority rule.

I do have sympathy for our First Nations in rural areas who are forgotten and abandoned but, as you can imagine, the Tories are not interested in them at the expense of the cities. (You don't want to know what the average Tory thinks of our First Nations.) All kinds of minority interests, such as baby seal clubbing and the abolition of the gun registry, are imposed on a vast majority for the sake of the very few.

People who know me know that I love England but I have said I wouldn't move there on account of identity cards and CCTVs. I should have kept my mouth shut. The UK scrapped it’s identity card project. Meanwhile, G8/G20 preparations came with CCTVs now perched all over downtown Toronto and who knows whether the police will cease their expanded identification and search powers when Air Force One flies back to Washington. As my Facebook friend Ian Sedwell wrote me, the authorities, having put in place measures "they always wanted” they might “find they are just so indispensable they have to keep them".

Today, even the mainstream media is reporting that the police is demanding identification and searching people who live around the corner from me, at least 700 metres from the fence. Some on Twitter are claiming police officers are even searching children.

There have been at least four hundred arrests so far, perhaps the greatest number of arrests in Canadian history. This isn't just Harper's fault. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is in it up to his neck, having passed the "secret law". And Toronto mayor David Miller issued a statement in which he focused on thugs. 

I will end by referring you to a good blog about whether or not Toronto is really burning. I think it is but not for the reason Miller and other leaders are telling us.

And watch Dave Coles’ clip. Protests starting more than three kms away from the security zone have been often blocked within two blocks of beginning their march.

As far as what was discussed and settled on between world leaders this weekend, well, I usually am a political animal but I could care less. I may write a blog about what I experienced coming home last night, but it's not that interesting. Fear of cops, fear of thugs, happy to be home safe. Followed by utter disgust.

My suggestion is for the next G8/G20 meeting to take place on a military base. 

Stop using the innocent citizenry as sitting ducks. 

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