There is a theory as to why Stephen Harper chose to hold the G20 Summit in downtown Toronto. The Prime Minister would have known from past protests what could happen to Toronto and should have foreseen how it could play out.
In the wake of the destruction left by vandals, so-called anarchists, who mingled among peaceful protesters, it has been suggested that a political disconnect between the PM and this city was translated into the predictable storm of burning cars and broken storefront windows that have come to typify all recent G20 Summits.
The amount of money spent – $1.2 billion – and the manpower, a reported 10,000 police officers from across Canada, must have been a clear indication of the kind of trouble that was expected. Choosing Toronto ensured that the city would be left with a black eye.
With all due respect to Mayor David Miller, who tried to make the best of a looming disaster beforehand, the chances that news media from around the world were going to be interested in the more touristy aspects of the city over a 72-hour period when much weightier issues of world financial regulations brought them here was folly. Miller may have simply been trying to put the best face on what just about everyone knew was going to be like a bomb going off. U.S. news reports, for example, beamed images home of burning police cars and protesters and police facing off – not reports of the CN Tower, our beautiful lakes or our ethnic harmony.
So why did the important voices of an estimated 25,000 organized and peaceful protesters like the Ontario Federation of Labour, Oxfam Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace and the Canadian Federation of Students bearing banners with such messages as “People before profits” get pushed aside leaving the spotlight to people smashing store windows and spray painting graffiti?
Thanks to Harper’s intransigence about the choice of venue, anarchists were given the perfect setting. To these people, the transformation of parts of Toronto into a quasi police state was like waving a red flag before a bull.
We are still in the throes of a recession in which youth unemployment, as always, is among the highest. Give a group of disaffected youth a reason and they will vent their frustration, for to their way of thinking they have nothing to lose. The unemployment rate for Canadian youth is an unhealthy 15.1 per cent compared to 8.1 per cent for the overall population.
When an individual has no stake in a given system, there is no compunction about tearing it down, or at least trying to. So what most people will view as ‘senseless’ destruction, these people view as justified anarchy. Wherever people face a sense of unrelenting poverty and feel powerless over the critical decisions that govern their lives there will be eventual reaction.
Of course, last weekend’s rioters – for they were not demonstrators – were a clear case of doing the wrong thing, but is there anyone struggling through this recession in a climate of the growing gap between the rich and the poor who does not to some extent recognize what this is really about?
Finally, we have a few questions for the authorities about how security was managed. With the thousands of police present, was the lax response to the rioters a plan from the start? Were police cars left in key places to give opportunity to troublemakers to create havoc and the vandals allowed to destroy store fronts in order to justify the cost for security?
Was it necessary for the city to have been left so vulnerable? Why was more protection not given to businesses when it is a known fact that they are a convenient target of anarchists? And, on Sunday, when the police went overboard in their arrests, where were the commanding officers to urge restraint? Or were the cops deliberately allowed to release their pent up frustration and anger over the events of the day before when they were seemingly forced to watch helplessly as their city was being trashed?
Last weekend, the anarchists made an appalling mess but, let’s be honest, it’s really the system that needs fixing.