What went on in Toronto during the G20 was incredibly traumatic for many of us. We lived under fear of being beaten at peaceful protests, of being thrown into jail for nothing more than walking around in the city. We were scared when our friends didn’t come home or return phone calls because in some cases they had been grabbed from the streets and thrown into unmarked vans by plainclothed police officers who didn’t identify themselves. We had tasers pointed at us, we were shot at with ‘less lethal munitions’ at point blank range. Some of us were sexually harassed or assaulted by groups of armed police officers while locked up, with no recourse. We were pulled out of bed by police who had broken into our homes without showing us warrants. Some at gunpoint. The city was unsafe. We are still traumatized. Those of you who were not here: We need you to read this. We need you to realize what happened, and we need you to take it seriously.
First, why did we even protest the G20?
The G20 is the meeting of 20 leaders from the 20 richest countries in the world. They meet to discuss and implement economic policies. There is no administrative body, and the G20 is accountable to no one. The one thing that came out of this G20 meeting in Toronto was an agreement on ‘austerity measures’.
In a nutshell, austerity measures is another way of saying cuts to public spending in order to bail out banks and corporations, which are the reasons for economic crisis in the first place.
A lot of people have been talking about neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a cluster of policies or an ideology based on belief in the free market: that the market can best regulate itself, and should not be subject to interference. This includes taking for granted the assumption that capitalism is a good thing and that it’s necessary. Capitalist enterprises such as corporations involve increasing profit by whatever means necessary: the responsibility of corporations is to their stockholders, not to those who are affected by corporate policies.
For example, a U.S. based oil company with operations in Ecuador is responsible by law to its stockholders, and not to those who reside in the area of its operations. Thus, as the company flourishes, people with stocks make money, while people who live near the toxic waste of polluting plants, where safety regulations are typically not enforced, get cancer. [I could link a lot of articles but here is a link for some documentary that I think get the point across: “Crude”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duFXuRnd2CU; “The Corporation”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pin8fbdGV9Y ]
Neoliberal policies and practices have resulted in the economic crisis that we’re currently in the midst of--where folks are laid off work, factories close, or companies move overseas where they can capitalize on more cheap labour to increase their profits.
Rather than questioning the roots and assumptions behind neoliberal policies, the G20 leaders have decided that the solution for neoliberalism, is, in effect, more neoliberalism. Rather than taxing banks or corporations, they are taking public money to bail out these institutions, which are by their nature unsustainable. Put simply, this is taking money from the poor, to bail out corporations and banks, which result in more money for those who own the companies or the people who own a lot of stocks.
This is a big part of why we protest the G20. Because we disagree with a small population imposing policies that make a few richer, while increasing the divide between the rich and the poor, and continuing to harm the majority of the world’s population and the environment.
Background: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Whatever your opinions are about what happened throughout the G20 protests, there are some rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by Canadian law. These include but are not limited to:
Context: What happened in Toronto during the G20?
The Debate on Police Reactions
Popular debate right now seems to be centered around whether the police acted in an acceptable manner towards protesters in Toronto. There has been debate as to whether the protesters deserved what they got. There has been talk about ‘some good and some bad’ on both sides.
Throughout the Week
All week long demonstrations took place to highlight issues such as ecological justice, gender justice, immigrant rights, and indigenous rights. Throughout the week (i.e. before any vandalism on Saturday), citizens felt the increase in police presence and increased intimidation. Contrary to section eight, police arbitrarily searched people on their way to lawful demonstrations in public places. Again contrary to section eight, police confiscated items such as signs, banners, and flags throughout the week, at peaceful, lawful demonstrations, which is illegal according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Activists were ID’d, targeted, and profiled throughout the week. By law, ID only needs to be given if one is being detained, and we have the right to not be detained arbitrarily. A reason is expected for any detainment. On Friday, a deaf bystander was beaten and arrested when he did not respond to verbal commands from police officers.
[There are many videos documenting this throughout the week, but here is one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZgjX5vHt2o ]
Saturday & Sunday: Vandalism versus Violence
On Saturday, for several hours, a group of several hundred people including ‘the Black Block’ broke away from the labour march, and continued towards the fence. Windows of corporations were smashed. Windows of several small independent businesses including a jewelry store and a strip club were also vandalized. Police cars were set on fire.
To be clear, whether you support or disagree with these actions[i], they are acts of vandalism. Whether you support or disagree with the actions of the black block, the vandalism of a couple hundred people is not equivalent to the presence and actions of 19,000 armed police and a security budget of 1.2 billion tax dollars in Toronto, police who repeatedly ignored their own laws throughout the week in a complete suspension of civil rights. Additionally, whether you support or disagree, recall that the police crackdown did not occur at this march. Rather, this crackdown occurred at other times, other days even, in other places throughout the city. Those rounded up included passersby, transit workers, and mainstream reporters as well as others who had absolutely nothing to do with any vandalism on Saturday. If anyone taken during these mass arrests was part of the black block, then it was purely by chance.
Whether you support or condemn the actions of the black block, these actions are not equivalent to the largest mass arrests in Canadian history, in which over 1000 people were arrested contrary to section 9 which states that citizens are to be free from arbitrary arrests and detainment. Vandalism is not equivalent to beating people at peaceful demonstrations with batons, and other weapons [http://www.vimeo.com/12903946 ]. It is not comparable to threatening, sexually harassing, and sexually assaulting women in the temporary detention centre [journalist Amy Miller speaks about sexual harassment in the detention centre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcXhEd_mDt4&feature=related ]. It cannot be compared with armed, night time raids, in which guns were pulled on sleeping people [http://mostlywater.org/node/91779 ]. It can’t be compared with police shooting less lethal munitions point blank into peaceful crowds[ii] [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiLt40d_AbU&feature=player_embedded ].
Despite public pressure, Toronto city council has voted to commend the police for the way they have handled themselves in Toronto, and downplay calls for a public inquiry into the behaviours of the police.
Some people have been brandishing about the word ‘fascism’. This seems really extreme: how can we take these allegations of fascism seriously?
People protesting the neoliberal policies of the G20 in Toronto this weekend have been treated in ways that can be compared to the violent suppression of political dissent in fascist governments. It does seem like a very strong claim, and hardly seems believable, based on what Canadians are taught to believe about their rights in Canada[iii]. The violent suppression of dissent and the attempted silencing of the media (alternative media and mainstream reporters alike were intimidated, beaten, and arrested throughout the weekend) that has occurred in Toronto during the week of the G20 is almost unbelievable, to the point that it seems made up. It simply does not fit with what most people believe about human rights in Canada. We have been taught to believe that Canada is a place where people are treated fairly, where their rights are not violated at the drop of a hat, unlike elsewhere, out there, where people do not have rights and are treated unfairly.
The word fascism conjures up images of Nazi-Germany. The kinds of images that spring to mind are the scapegoating and mass executions of those who dissent: Jews, scapegoated as vermin responsible for economic crisis and the troubles of the majority of the population. Jews, queers, and political dissidents rounded up and executed. Gas chambers. The SS. Book burnings.
This kind of violence escapes comprehension. We think of it as something that happens elsewhere, and we think it could never happen here. Sometimes I think we forget that those caught up in these extreme practices of violence and genocide didn’t necessarily believe it could happen to them either, or that they could ever be involved in such things. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to how fascism begins, and how it is perpetuated.
One element of fascism is the violent suppression of political dissent. Fascist government and those who support them tend to believe in strong leadership and unity of ideology. Beliefs that don’t match what is dominant and accepted are simply not tolerated. People who do not conform to those beliefs are silenced. Activists are always among the first to go.
In Toronto this weekend, activists--those who vocally disagree with policies we see as harmful to humans overall and to the planet that sustains us—have been rounded up, illegally searched, detained, beaten, and mass arrested. We have been threatened and harassed by 19,000 people permitted to use violence, armed with guns, tasers, tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons as well as other experimental weapons. Some police seemed perfectly ok with their new powers to arrest and detain without cause [i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGMTm3QRwEc ]. Others seemed to be reluctantly following orders. Despite apparent reluctance, however, they did not intervene when their colleagues were engaging in violence against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.
Following orders, obeying authority without questioning the legitimacy of the commands and information given, is part of the slippery slide into fascism. ‘Following orders’ was in fact the excuse of many Nazi’s involved in the persecution and mass executions of over six million people during the Holocaust. During the Nuremburg trials ‘following orders’ was not deemed to be a legitimate excuse for violence and genocide.
While I am not suggesting using that using less lethal munitions (i.e. rubber bullets) and beating and criminalizing activists in Toronto is equivalent to the Holocaust, I am suggesting that there are certain alarming parallels with the beginnings of fascism and that we need to be incredibly cautious and wary. We need to be informed and cautious about the directions in which our society is heading. Increased police presence and militarization at the Vancouver Olympics and the Toronto G20 is not an exception. It is the beginnings of increased police and militarization policies set out by NATO. I think it would be very dangerous to let this become the new norm.
Not speaking out against atrocities in their beginning stages is something that allows repression to flourish. Not thinking critically about what is going on, and speaking and acting out against rights violations is part of being complicit in these violations. A complicit, silent population that does not pay attention or resist allows the development and rise of fascism. Another element in the rise of fascist governments is effective propaganda campaigns. As your niece, daughter, cousin, granddaughter, sister or friend, I implore you to be cautious, and think critically about what you are told, especially when it comes to scapegoating relatively powerless people to justify the violent actions of those in power.
I love you, and hope we can talk more about this soon. xoxo
Endnotes//Important points that we can discuss later:
[i] While I did not personally participate in any vandalism or arson, I will not condemn anyone who did. While I definitely agree that these kinds of actions deserve honest criticism in terms of their effects and efficacy, (like any other tactic,) I believe that the most effective place for this conversation is during the planning and lead up, and that these conversations need to happen with respect. I would be happy to discuss this more with family, but I’m only including it as a footnote here, because I feel as though getting stuck in these conversations draws attention away from the more fundamental issues, (to which I feel the question of the legitimacy of vandalism is ultimately irrelevant) and I want to start by coming to an understanding on the issues that I feel are fundamental—I would be happy to discuss this (and probably respectfully disagree on it) later.
[ii] These were not isolated events, but became common place throughout the weekend. I was at these peaceful events, where without provocation police grabbed people from the crowd, tackling them to the ground and hitting them with batons. I had tasers shot at me from about a foot away. The shots that go off it that last video about the peaceful jail solidarity demo: that was fired just feet away from me to the right. I saw the wounds on the girl who was shot point blank with the ‘less lethal munitions’. I want to emphasize: this wasn’t a few isolated incidences with a few bad cops. This was occurring all over the city, and to people who didn’t break any laws. To people’s families. To your family.
This brings me to another point that I know will be more controversial and that we can discuss at a later time: the role of policing. And the uses to which it is frequently put—usually more visible in parts of the world other than Canada.
Overall, we are taught that police serve a beneficial role in society: that they uphold law and order, and that they serve and protect. In Toronto, during the G20, it was easy to see through this. Police, who are supposed to uphold the law, broke their own laws while telling us that it was for our own good, and for our own safety. And almost all the injuries that occurred throughout the G20 protests were caused by police. [Here is a story by the medics: http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/story/medics-speak-out-against-systemic-roots-police-violence-during-g20/4065 ]. During the G20, policing was used to repress citizens and to protect 20 leaders from the 20 richest countries in the world. The way the police reacted during these demonstrations was not an exception. A young black man was beaten to death by the police in Toronto two months ago. During the chaos of hurricane Katrina police shot unarmed people on a bridge. In other parts of the world though, the statistics of police shooting people, including children, in the back is absolutely overwhelming, and again, it doesn’t even seem believable. We need to think critically about the benefits of giving a group of people guns and power, and we need to think critically about the uses to which this can be put, and whether it is to the benefit of citizens at all.
[iii] Again, this is perhaps a conversation for another time, but throughout my research and experiences it has become clear that some of the things we are taught about Canada are simply untrue. We are taught that everyone is equal in Canada for example. However, the legal rights of indigenous peoples in Canada are repeatedly denied and pushed aside. I would be happy to elaborate on this at some later point. For now, see http://www.mediacoop.ca/story/2415
[for more of Niki's thoughts and writings, there is a blog: http://curiouspraxis.wordpress.com]