The G20 Summit in Toronto: The Aftermath and Afterthoughts

The summit ended a couple of days ago but the aftermath will continue for some time. The newspapers are filled with follow up stories about everything that happened over the weekend, from the Black Bloc to innocent people being arrested. It is interesting to see how the focus of the reporting moves from the big picture to the individual human interest pieces.

On Sunday night, the police surrounded a group of people at the corners of Spadina and Queen and refused to let them leave. I say "people" and not "protesters" as it seems that many individuals, hangers-on, passer-bys and even news reporters all ended up in this net of riot cops. During three or four subsequent hours in the pouring rain, the cops systematically arrested individuals in the crowd until finally, so it’s been reported, let the remainder go. Did the police over-react?

Reality vs. perception. I watched the crowd on TV and my take was an unorganized group of half-hearted protesters. I had also watched the crowds on Saturday both on TV and in person and believe me, what I saw on Sunday night looked not at all threatening. The police are now saying that they had information about ne’er do wells in this Sunday night crowd but the public perception seems to be that this was not the case.

What is the truth? What was the reality and what was / is the perception? Canada spent over a billion dollars on these summits with the tightest security Canada has ever had and yet, did we collectively hit the mark? Last night on the CBC, the head of the summit security centre in Barrie said that in the end, we had a couple of burned police cars and some smashed windows; all in all, not very much. That may be true; that may be a truth or a perception but now, in the cold light of day, questions are being asked about where were the police on Saturday when the Black Bloc swept through the downtown with impunity and was Sunday merely an over-reaction on the part of the police for getting caught with their pants down a day earlier. I have imagined Stephen Harper on Saturday sitting down with the leaders of the G20 and getting reports about what was going on outside and being embarrassed then sending the message down the line to not let this happen again. Quite frankly, I was certainly embarrassed. This is Canada?

Some Afterthoughts

On Saturday, I watched on TV various members of this Black Bloc group vandalizing property, property which is in my own neighbourhood. The Starbucks at the corner of John and Queen streets? I sometimes stop by for a coffee. The Bank of Nova Scotia at McCaul and Queen? I walk by there all the time. What the heck? No, at the time I said WTF. This is my neighbourhood; this is my backyard; how dare they?

Out on the streets Saturday, I watched as individual protesters yelled at individual policemen. What? I’m concerned about capitalism, global warming, inequality in the world and I’m in the face of an individual cop responsible for protecting the summit while screaming that this is "my street"? No, this is "my" street. I live here. And how is yelling at one poor cop supposed to change the mind, influence the opinion of Stephen Harper or Barack Obama who are blocks away out of sight and out of earshot?

Several times I watched as people in the crowd hurled objects at the police. I found this behaviour outrageous. At one point, I saw something white arc across the crowd and knock a mounted policeman off his horse. Of course, the police reacted and pushed back the crowd; in some cases a little roughly but what the heck? I watched people not just yell at the police but poke at them with sticks, taunting them, attempting to provoke them into doing something. I have to ask these individuals "Are you out of your freakin’ mind?" There’s a guy standing in front of you who outweighs you by probably 25 kilos. He has a helmet, a shield, body armour and a club. Behind him are more of the same and you’re poking him with a stick and yelling at him about your beefs about the world? Newsflash! I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. I don’t care about the subsequent media coverage and what may or may not end up in court. At that moment, at that precise moment, you are going to get your ass royally kicked.

My beef is with the government, with the system, not with the individual policeman standing in front of me. Rights? What the hey? This is Canada; this isn’t some 3rd world dictatorship. There is a time and a place; there is a system; there is a process. Sooner or later, the individual behind the police uniform, the human being behind the riot cop is going to react by being scared or just having taken enough B.S.

I watch a young man and a young woman yelling anti-capitalist slogans at the front of the crowd. They are both look around 18 or 20; they are dressed scruffily with body piercings and tattoos. I ask myself if they have jobs; are they in some way part of the "system"? Aren’t we all part of the system?

I walk by a relatively normal looking citizen, a woman, except she is wearing a black T-shirt which reads "F*** Canada". I beg your pardon?

Let me be right up front in case you missed what I’ve said before. I’m 57 and you’re 20. You want to change the world. I want to stop the world from falling apart. 2 perspectives; 2 different ages. I repeat: if it was all that easy, it would be fixed by now.

I’m not saying the big boys don’t make mistakes. I’m not saying I’m completely pleased with the world. I’m not saying I don’t have my own list of grievances. But, breaking the windows at Starbucks does not in any way help the cause. Standing in front of a riot cop and yelling at him like he is personally responsible for the ills of the world is not just ineffective, it is not fair. Throwing objects at the police is hateful, provocative, anti-social and just downright stupid.

Let me be clear. I did not vote for Stephen Harper. I am not at all pleased with the performance of our government and the governments of the G8 and the G20. Nevertheless, I do respect the magnitude of the problems; it is not easy getting everybody to pull together in the same direction at the same time.

Burning police cars. Roving Black Bloc gangs. People throwing stuff at the police. Local businesses vandalized. People yelling at police, taunting them, poking them with sticks. I’m sorry; did I just walk out my front door onto the set of the next Mad Max movie? Is this anarchy central?

Several times I heard protesters chanting. Some group leader yells, "Whose streets?" and the crowd replies "Our streets". Sorry folks, this is my street. Now go home.

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