Monday, June 28, 2010
What happened in Toronto?
There was a whole lot of craziness in town this weekend and even though I wasn't involved, I am going to discuss it a little bit. This is my immediate reaction to what happened - I reserve the right to change my opinion upon further contemplation. I don't usually write about current affairs because it takes me such a long time to process my thoughts.
(I live downtown and like any person who follows world news, I knew it was definitely going to be a bad scene this weekend so I got away from the city. Thanks to Twitter, I did get second-by-second updates on the situation. I don't really know how I feel about what happened. For the record, I'm not anti-police or anti-protester.)
Readers outside of Canada may not be aware that Toronto hosted the G20 Summit this weekend. Yes, the Toronto-hating Federal Government decided this extremely high security international event should be held right in the centre city. The G20 always attracts thousands of non-violent protesters who aim to bring attention to numerous issues (eg. climate change concerns, indigenous rights, banking regulations, funding for maternal health, general G20 hate, free Tibet!, no more war!, stop clubbing baby seals! etc.). It should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that the peaceful protests and marches yesterday were overshadowed by smaller groups of self-described "anarchists" who went on a rampage along various shopping streets, destroying property and burning vehicles. I think their message was 'capitalism sucks' but perhaps it was really 'breaking stuff is fun'? A lot of this destruction seemed to be performed intentionally for the photographers and camerapeople to capture.
Somehow, even with thousands upon thousands of police patrolling downtown, chaos and damage was not prevented. Later in the evening, riot police rushed a crowd of low-key protesters in Queen's Park. Amnesty International isn't too impressed and neither is the NYT, The Guardian or TVO's Steve Paikin. The series of events followed the 'Miami Model' word for word.
This evening (Sunday), there was another incident at Queen and Spadina. Reports are that a group had assembled and was peacefully occupying the intersection. I read various people Tweet that they were 'going to go check it out'. A heavy rainstorm broke over the city then it came through that the police were corralling and arresting protesters and some bystanders one-by-one even though there wasn't any kind of violence happening. Sounds like there's a lot of outrage bubbling up about this detainment in particular. It's true that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows us to assemble and protest anything we like, however, the Criminal Code of Canada sets out limits to prevent the obstruction of roads/transit and causing common nuisance and so on. Queen and Spadina is a major intersection and it is the crossing point for two surface transit lines. I would suspect that the arrests were made in accordance with these anti-obstruction laws, violence or no violence.
I might comment that those protesters should have congregated at the designated protest zone, Queen's Park, except for the fact that a large number of people were hurt and arrested for protesting inside that actual protest zone last night, so I don't really know what to say...
I can understand that anyone who went into the melee just out of curiosity, not to make a political statement, would be pretty angry about being arrested. Who wants to be a martyr with no slogan? In the Queen-Spadina incident, it's sounding like it was mostly onlookers and "riot tourists" who were arrested. But you know, it's not a terrific idea to go looky-looing around this kind of tense situation. Is it worth being detained for some photo views on Flickr, a provocative Facebook status update or the chance to be on the B roll of the evening news? Common sense dictates that those who go looking for trouble may well find it. For those who were really, truly just wandering down Queen Street and got stuck in the intersection, that's very unlucky.
No doubt we will be trying to sort out what happened this weekend, and why it happened, for a long time to come. The G20 riots will be a divisive topic of conversation from now on.
links: Torontoist's liveblog of the events on Saturday and Sunday, BlogTO's G20 coverage