December 6, 2010

G20 Redux by Garvie

Rebel Youth Magazine
Issue 10, Summer-Fall 2010

For the thousands that participated in the marches, the victims of arrest, and the many at home, the G20 police riot exposed the brutal and dirty methods of Capital. It demonstrated the shallowness and ugly underbelly of bourgeois “democracy.” As the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said, the police response was “unprecedented, disproportionate and, [even] unconstitutional.”

Why were such brutal means used? The answer can only be intimidation. The ruling class thought they could get away with a more aggressive approach.

But whether Harper and his thugs in blue “won-out” that weekend remains to be seen. Many people still face charges. A movement united around a call for an inquiry is still battling it out with the police’s PR machine. And if events leading up to the G8 and G20 demonstrations are an indicator, there is reason to believe that Harper’s intimidation and attempt at criminalizing dissent will not have its desired effects.

Drew Garvie, YCL Ontario organizer, identifies six-points

1. Stay home

Months prior to the G20 visit, the corporate media and the “Integrated Security Unit” (headed up by the RCMP) tried to desperately intimidate potential protesters. This included tough talk about the “fence”, “protest zones”, new weapons such as the sound cannon, warnings that parents should keep their kids at home, and continual talk about the largest police/military presence assembled on Canadian soil. The security budget scandalized the public when it was announced to be over $1 billion dollars (approx. 7 times that of Pittsburgh’s G20 security costs last year).

The message was clear: “if you don’t want trouble, stay home.” Despite the scare-tactics, almost 40 000 people turned up to protest against the G20. These were the biggest protests in Toronto in many years, and importantly, the largest in Ontario since the economic crisis.

2. “People First”

The week was characterized by lively, creative and democratic resistance. Marches raised many demands: Indigenous sovereignty, climate justice, (im)migrant justice, LGBITQ rights, women’s rights, labour movement struggles like anti-scab legislation, and student’s issues such as accessible education. For example, the Canadian Federation of Students outreached on an international level to the Asian, All-African, Latin American and Caribbean, General Union of Arab, European and United States’ Students organizations, who together issued a joint statement condemning the G20.

The main march took place under the broad “people first” slogan against the Harper Conservative’s pro-corporate attack of working families during the economic crisis. The crowds on the streets also showed that the youth and students’ movement overwhelmingly chose the people’s side of the barricades. The demonstrations became a flashpoint, highlighting the glaring problems of corporate power and capitalism.
Most demonstrators were able to participate from start to finish united, without any incident or attacks. This democratic right and necessity to protest should have been enjoyed by all demonstrators. However in the last few days peaceful protesters as well as journalists, legal observers, and by-standers who had no involvement in the protests, were subjected to a police riot.

3. Saving capitalism

These events happened outside “the fence.” But without drawing the connection to what was happening inside the “G20 perimeter” we are left with an incomplete picture.
This set of G summits was particularly important because global capitalism continues to be mired in a profound economic and structural crisis, notwithstanding the soothing media reports that the ‘worst is behind us’ and that recovery is well under way.

In reality, there is no recovery for most working people. Unemployment and job insecurity remain high, with over 1.5 million out of work. Soon EI benefits will be running out for hundreds of thousands of these unemployed workers. Nor is there any recovery for young workers suffering 14.6% unemployment, for women still earning unequal pay, for students trying to finish their education, for Aboriginal peoples facing systemic joblessness and grinding poverty, for new immigrants and their families trying to build a better life, or for pensioners and others on fixed income.

So what kind of recovery is this? It’s a recovery for the profits of the biggest banks and corporations, and for those who own and control them. Saving capitalism and restoring profit margins were the main concerns of the ‘leaders’, rather than solving the burning problems afflicting the world today.

At the Summit itself, Harper and the rest of the world’s leading criminals agreed to halve deficits by 2013. This translates into drastically increasing the burden on working people globally and locally and gutting public services. (Solutions such as corporate profits being taxed more equitably or cutting military spending on wars and occupations are other options, but they are not in the capitalist’s playbook.)

4. Largest mass arrests in Canadian history

By the end of the weekend, over one thousand and ninety people – mainly youths – had been jailed: the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Protesters, journalists and passer-by’s were subject to illegal searches, illegal detention, police brutality, harassment, sexual assaults, and detention in cells nick-named “Guantanamo North” where civil liberties were systematically violated and detainees had little access to food and water (see our first-hand account in this issue).

“For the first time ever visiting Toronto I felt unsafe speaking French on the street” one young Montreal activists told RY about police targeting Québécois youth and cars with Québec licence plates. Another activist we spoke to said they met people in the cells “scooped right off the street, randomly, who didn’t even know what ‘G20’ meant.”

And in this ominous direction lies a threat – fascism: the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class, no longer cloaked with limited electoral rights and constitutional protections.

5. The role corporate media

This message was not reinforced by the corporate media, however, which largely ignored the massive peaceful protests. Instead, the news decided to focus on the small-scale property destruction that took place at the G20.

It is mistaken to think that the people’s movement scored a significant victory by attacking the attention of the big business media, which reported on the burning police cars because of the magnitude of that event. Rather, they chose to intensively cover that issue, just as they ignore other protests. To put things in perspective, the amount of G20 “property damage” was comparable to the sixteen police cruisers and numerous buildings damaged in Montreal’s 2008 hockey riot when the Habs eliminated the Bruins. (Less than twenty people were arrested.)

6. The real criminals

However, the main argument used to justify the police riot continues to be that a “Black Bloc” riot precipitated it. “Criminal elements were mixed in with the peaceful protestors.” Five police cars were allowed to burn for hours in front of TV crews. After the G20 the newspapers published front-page photos of the police’s “G20 most wanted list” featuring young people. There is overwhelming evidence, however, that police allowed a small group of protesters a free-hand in engaging in petty property destruction.

As journalist and film director Paul Jay said: “At some point over the weekend the Operational Commander of the Integrated Security Unit watched the action unfold and made two fateful decisions [...] not to immediately move some of the thousands of available police officers into position to stop a hundred or so people from breaking store windows [... and then] to order the arrests of around nine hundred peaceful protestors.” (see “Who Commanded the G20 Commander?” on YouTube).

The police ‘riot’ and the mass arrests did not come about spontaneously, or result from the overzealous behaviour of individual officers. They were carefully worked out well in advance, provided with legal ‘cover’ by Ontario premier Dalton McGinty’s secretive Order-in-Council measure, and vetted by the Office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. All three – Harper, McGinty and Toronto Police Chief Blair – are culpable for this ‘reign of terror’ on the streets of Toronto.

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