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What went wrong at the G20 meeting in Toronto? – Pt 2

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 19, 2010

Part 2 – Intimidation is the new Freedom

Are we taking our rights and freedoms for granted here? Is the media being distracted by showing propaganda while missing the ‘important’ issues? As the second part of my look at the G20, let’s check out the role of the security forces and what they mean for us.

The once of the main reason for the expense was to protect the delegates from terrorists and the people of Toronto from ‘black bloc’ anarchist “Thugs”. To accomplish this there was the largest single mobilization of security forces in Canadian history outside of war time[1]. Anywhere from 10, 000 to 20, 000 security forces (the vast majority being state officers) where set upon what was at best 4,000 protests[2].

The Toronto event in saw the largest mass arrest, almost a thousand people, in the history of this country…including the FLQ crisis and the imposition of martial law in the 70s (around 500 were arrested then). The HIGHEST estimate of the dreaded ‘Black Bloc’ was 100. The Black Bloc are self-described (and often governmentally described) activist who exercise an aggressive civil disobedience of smashing in corporate windows and painting anarchist slogans.

Now, with that number of security forces did they at prevent the destruction of property or injury of people?

Well, there were a number of people who were injured (by all of them claim it was the security forces that caused their injuries). What about property damage? Well dozens of windows were broken (mostly for multinational chains) and some minor damage by way of political graffiti. However, from the way the government officials spun things, back up by an overly critical press, downtown was a war zone; an image that was supported by the mass number of imposing security forces and, perhaps the iconic image of the G20, the torched of police cars.

Before I go on the talk about the press images, I have to ask – what were the police doing while the ‘black bloc’ protested? They were there; they did apparently smash windows and plaster graffiti. They security forced did nothing! It was as though they wanted the bloc to have the chance to justify the security forces presence. This is why is you check the video/images of the G20, you never see the police clashing with the bloc. There is great talk about past clashed (in Genoa) but the security forces seem to have allowed the bloc free reign over the city. So, then why have so many security officers?

I shall now return to the Miami Model I mentioned last post. This is a set of tactics that were used by the Miami policy to prevent the ‘disruption’ of the meeting of those negotiating the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement. The participants did not want a repeat of past events where ‘their’ efforts of ‘codify’ the neo-liberal model (such as that attempted with the Multilateral Agreement on Investment) derailed by popular protest and activism.

Of importance to us is certain tactics used to ensure both a passive demonstrations as well as to ensure a favourable image for the security forces themselves. Amnesty international, among others, refer to them as brutal intimidation techniques. The techniques used that I know of:

Pre-emptive contextualizing: This means ensuring lots of news stories, mostly rooted in official news releases, warning about the potential danger of “rogue” protesters who will turn the peaceful demonstrations into orgies of violence. This often includes pre-arrest of people and the ‘discovery’ of a cache of weapons. A notable example was a camper who was ‘driving slowly’ days prior to the event. Upon a search of his car they discovered an axe, a chain-saw, gas (presumable for the chain-saw), hunting equipment and other things you would have to go out in the country[3]. Further, great press was made of the security expert Byron Sonne who was arrested for ‘terrorist activity’. The fact that he had publicly informed the security community that he was attempting to test and show the futility of the security planning for the G20 was never mentioned (in the popular press). That, although stung by his own activities, he was never a ‘real’ terrorist but was useful in creating the proper context the security forces wished to establish prior to the event.

Also in the lead up, and often mentioned in news stories without any commentary beyond the official government line, were the pre-arrest of people who the security forces though COULD be dangerous. Over 20 people were ‘pre-emptively’ arrested. SAY WHAT!!!! The vast majority of these were not charges and their only crime was to be involved in social (but not violent) activist groups. To repeat Amnesty international – brutal intimidation techniques. I know acquaintances of mine went ‘underground’ during the Olympics because of vocal communist they were afraid they would be ‘gitmo-ed’ or just plain arrested. Even if you are released hours or days later, the process can be traumatic and disturbing; especially if your under the preconception we live in ‘free society’. 

Let get back to the iconic image of the Toronto G20, the burning police car. The police car and the apparent (well apparent to anyone watching on TV) willingness of the security forces to allow THESE acts of violence to happen leads us to conspiracy theory of sorts. Now being a proponent of this idea, I have to preface this talk by stating that just because something is labeled a conspiracy does not automatically make it false. Those watching the video were left asking 1) why was the police car left on the street? 2) Why, once it was a fire was started, did not the security forces (which in video could be seen in great numbers of security forces less the 50 metres away) at least ATTEMPT to secure the area 3) where were the fire department? 4) Why were there not police or security forces ATTEMPTING to keep people away from the bringing car that was potential danger to civilians? And 5) What were they afraid of, CTV and CBC both were next to the car and the vast majority of people were ‘gawkers’ trying to grab photos/vids with their cellphones. The most I ever saw were 2 to 5 ‘actively’ violent individuals (and they looked more homeless than Black Bloc).

Okay, lets pull back a bit. I am NOT saying Harper is creating a massive security force that will be Jack-booting their way down main street Canada tomorrow…probably not net year either… What I am saying is that what we saw in Toronto was the effective use of scare tactics; intimidation and misdirection that show scare us all[4]. There is where a great number of peaceful protest, activist trying to get the word out that there are things happening or not happening at the G20[5] that should be of concern to us all.


[1] I could not find firm numbers for other events, but what I could find supports this point but be sceptical.

[2] Although the CBC reported estimates of 10,000. From the video is saw, the lower number I used seems more accurate.

[3] There is not a lot of ‘forests’ around Toronto but the ultimate destination of this traveler was farther afield. It is noteworthy that he was never actual charged with any crime. Also if his intent was nefarious, it seems incompetent to act as he did…unless his intent was innocent.

[4] http://lawiscool.com/2010/07/04/naomi-klein-on-g20/

[5] http://www.canadians.org/g20/event.html

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