By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor
Right off let me say that Toronto Police Chief, Bill Blair, is not only a friend of longstanding but someone for whom I have a great deal of respect.
The respect part probably comes from my observing the relationship between Toronto police and our community in this city for close to 40 years and his efforts, even before he was chief, to help make things better.
Of course, he was not the only one. There were/are a lot of good people who could have easily circled the wagons when things got tough but, instead, chose to work to see where improvements could be made and made them. Today, we do have – again, I might be biased here – the best police force in a large city in this country, probably in all of North America. To understand this, to see the changes that have been made, one just has to remember how it used to be with regard to the police and our community decades ago.
So I am not going to be on the bandwagon with those calling for Blair’s resignation or that he be fired in the aftermath of the G20 fiasco one year ago.
Having said that, I share the concern of all those in our city who watched events unfold that fateful weekend last June. It was very painful to see police cars being set on fire in downtown Toronto; to watch a bunch of hooligans destroying the city and, worse of all, the hundreds of people being “kettled” at the intersection of Dundas and Spadina. I couldn’t believe this was happening in Toronto. (Kettling is where lines of police officers form a square – four solid walls of heavily-armed police officers with shields raised – within which people are basically detained and forbidden to leave, a kind of open air prison.)
As if the kettling wasn’t bad enough in itself, the rains came pouring down and these people – young, old and in-between – many dressed to suit the fairly warm summer weather, stood there, drenched and shivering for hours with nowhere to go.
It was not our finest hour. It was not our finest weekend.
But it didn’t begin that way.
A day or so before – it might have been the Thursday or Friday – I went downtown to see for myself the much talked about security fence and to, generally, take a look at what was transpiring. This is an area with which I am very familiar, yet, it all seemed so surreal. There were groups of police officers in tactical uniforms everywhere. Yet, they did not seem scary. In fact, walking from York Street to Lower Simcoe on Bremner to get a closer look at the fence, I passed through a group of about 50 or so officers standing on either side of the sidewalk who seemed to have just come off a bus and was getting their instructions. As I near the end of the “honour guard” one obviously senior officer greeted me: “Good day, sir.”
No, they were not scary at all. In fact, all during my walkabout, I don’t remember any of them paying attention to me. And that included when I walked along the fence, stopping periodically to examine how securely it had been constructed.
At Lakeshore and Simcoe, while I waited on the lights to change, I chatted with a young officer. I believe he was from 31 Division, but I can’t be sure now. He said he couldn’t wait for this to be all over but he didn’t seem overly concerned. In fact, I think he was more concerned with the long hours he would have to be on duty and, maybe, the accommodation when he was off.
So, what went wrong? Actually, during the melee, I did wonder about that officer. Was he in that crowd; was he one of the officers involved in what I was witnessing. I hoped he wasn’t.
I have heard a lot about what the police did and didn’t do. But who was it who made the decision to hold this summit, famous for its violent demonstrations around the world, in the middle of our city? It wasn’t Blair.
Who was it who rejected the advice to hold it at the CNE instead? That wasn’t Blair either.
Blair and the police forces involved in this security operation – Toronto and other jurisdictions – were dealt a very crappy hand. Did they play it well? No.
In fact, it seems a mob mentality took hold over them; a sense that they were being set upon by the citizens and they reacted in a way that didn’t do them proud. In fact, it was quite shameful to see the way ordinary citizens of our city were being treated.
What has made it even harder for most of us are the reports of how those detained were treated by police while in custody. Surely, by then things should have settled enough to allow the officers at the temporary holding cells to be more civil.
I believe what has most people upset with Blair is that, in his efforts to protect his officers, he seems to have been stonewalling.
Wrong was done. There is no question about that. We have the videotaped evidence. Mistakes were made. Own up to them and let’s move forward. I am sure most officers -as well as most citizens – will welcome this so they can put this sorry affair behind them.
As for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, isn’t it interesting that he won so many seats in Toronto even after placing this summit and its accompanying carnage within our downtown? There are those who said he did it because he hated Toronto. Maybe they decided to vote for him so that he wouldn’t do this to us again.
If you want to blame someone, blame Harper. Not Blair.