No room for peaceful protest -

No room for peaceful protest

Legitimate demonstrators are frustrated by both anarchists and police


In my last piece on protest at the G20 summit in Toronto some seem to have missed the most essential point I was trying to make. I was almost arrested in a confrontation with police that came within a hair’s breadth of becoming violent, yet the action I was a part of was as non-violent and as peaceful as any action on the streets could be. As I prepare to head downtown for the second day of continuing protest activity–in the genuine hope of avoiding anything violent–I’m left wondering what could possibly be done differently.

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We were gathered on the sidewalk and within the bike lane of the street in a largely industrial area. Organizers were making genuine effort to keep everyone in that space and to avoid impeding traffic, even though there was little enough to impede. Even at the point where police blocked off traffic themselves we tried to stay on the sidewalk to avoid giving them any excuse. We were loud. I’ll give them that. And it was 1am. If that’s sufficient grounds for arrest then we were all guilty, and if anyone reading this genuinely believes that a bit of noise is an unfair imposition on the life of Toronto streets then so be it. But I want everyone to understand what we’re talking about here.

If protesters are not allowed to peacefully congregate and make noise without being threatened with arrest and forcibly removed from the areas where they have gathered then we are inevitably faced with the circumstances we now have. People are milling about aimlessly and then congregating in new places. What police call tactics I call the logical consequence of dispersion. You can’t tell people they are allowed to protest on the one hand and then push them off every space where they attempt to do so without creating frustration and problems. If a peaceful demonstration on a side street outside the largest concentration of police in the city (we were demonstrating directly outside the detention center) and far away from the G20 security fence isn’t going to be tolerated, then what is?

Bill Blair has repeatedly claimed that violent black bloc protesters are infiltrating peaceful demonstrations and hiding behind the “curious and the naive.” While this may at times be true it omits consideration of the fact that peaceful protesters aren’t entirely stupid and those who wish to avoid violence are reasonably good at policing themselves. But this only works when peaceful protesters can congregate and successfully establish a sense of identity and community spirit. When strangers are wandering around together no one is going to step up when violence happens. It would be dangerous and foolish. Even police are traveling in squads. But when peaceful protesters are gathered in groups with other peaceful protesters they can protect their action from outside elements. And they try really hard to do so.

I do not fault the police for their response to violence and aggression. There is no doubt in my mind that at least some of the people detained genuinely deserve it and a good number of people who aren’t presently detained deserve it too. But enough of this stuff about how protesters have “ruined it for themselves.” The fact that police response is justified in one or more occasions does not justify a citywide crackdown. And it’s insane that police have tried to characterize people who simply want to witness for themselves–rather than trust the official narrative of events–as part of the problem.

I hope nothing goes badly this evening. I really really do. But in the event that it may, I’d urge everyone to remember that even the most peaceful of protests have been repeatedly shut down by police and that they’ve already overrun the site that was officially designated for peaceful assembly. The resultant chaos is their own fault as much as anyone’s. Much as I’d prefer peace in my city to anything else right now, I can’t escape the sense that these are the occasions when our true commitment to free expression is tested. And I simply can’t accept a version of free expression that exists only until the authorities find it inconvenient. Even if someone on the other side of the city, earlier in the day, did something violent and stupid.

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No room for peaceful protest

  1. I like the Black Block and CLAC cause they fight the agents of influence. I suppose if they watched TV and played video games 10 hours a day owned by the agents of influence they wouldn’t riot.

  2. The property owners victimized by these rioters, along with the City, should sue (a far-left website that instigated many of these protests), the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (the site’s parent) and the public-sector unions (CUPE, PSAC) that support this site. This is a website where police are referred to as ‘pigs’, Canadian soldiers as ‘war criminals’, ‘Zionist plot’ and 9/11 conspiracy theories are presented as ‘truth’, and, finally, calling on their ‘rabble’ to riot. Slapping these people with a class-action suit would be a sensible move.

  3. Arrest people in advance. Have search powers increased. Shut down the streets…just wait until Harper builds his five billion dollars in prisons…the trains will run on time. Maybe the parents will have wished they joined their kids in taking down the fence then.

  4. You say you were trying to avoid impeding traffic. But you were in the bike lane. I just want to remind you bikes are traffic. Not secondary. Not lesser.

    I run into this attitude far too often, from the snow removal crew that piles snow in bike lanes, to city workers blocking paths with signs, to people who place garbage cans or news boxes encroaching onto the paths, to drivers who use the bike lanes to park.

    We’re trying to encourage more people to choose bikes instead of cars. I’m betting you’re onside with that. The attitude that bikes aren’t equal or deserving of equal consideration, especially by those claiming some kind of moral superiority is indicative of a problem. Please remind everyone if they are trying to be “nice” and avoid blocking traffic, to stay off the bike paths too.

    Or at least acknowledge you’re blocking them, and forget about claiming you’re trying to avoid blocking traffic. Because you are either blocking traffic, or you don’t consider bikes to be traffic. Neither works for me.

  5. Harper presses G20 leaders to adopt debt targets.

    What’s our debt target Harper, 500 Billion?

    Harper’s photo-op added 2.4 Billion to Canada’s debt and trashed Toronto.

    They built the UN Headquarters in New York for the world leaders to do business in.

  6. @Sofa Dog- Your protest accomplished nothing. Your slippery-slope argument is moronic. You’re in the same 1% as religious terrorists and common criminals. You bring nothing to society. Please, sterlize yourself.

  7. The Article in today’s Guardian is good, especially this excerpt:

    “The fact that so much attention has been directed towards the policing is largely due to the lack of anything newsworthy coming out of the summit itself. Even David Cameron, attending for the first time as British prime minister, published his own desperate plea in the Canadian press this week for summits to be turned into something more than the hot air and photo opportunities they have been in the past. (How this relates to his stated intention to take time out to watch the second half of the England v Germany game with Angela Merkel was not made clear.)”

    Full article here:

  8. Be aware that the anarchists have gotten what they want and that the police, as usually, have been fully and eagerly cooperative. Raise a ruckus, break some windows, burn some cars, and the authorities take the gloves off and haul the innocent in with the guilty. Almost immediately, and denying the most basic civil liberties.

    It’s been repeated in New York, Italy, London, Pittsburgh, etc., and now Toronto. Like clockwork. They lock everyone else up until the Very Important People go home. All rights are forfeit when those big boys and girls come to your town. In their minds, the anarchists are trying to clarify the situation for us.

    You would think that cities and citizens would begin to notice a pattern. At least that is the anarchists’ hope. With the futility, though, the anarchists haven’t come to grips.

    The message is clear only to folks getting gassed, punched in the gut, thrown to the ground, or held without counsel. But the majority of us are distant observers. Having lives outside of protest, it’s all just another media event — the anarchist provocations and the peaceful marches might as well be staged entertainments to get the blood up, all but forgotten by dinner.

    It would be wise to note, however, that police with their outsized powers will be with you quite consequentially, long after anarchists with their rocks, hammers and matches have gone home.

  9. anarchists are legitimate protesters d-bag. they protest in their everyday not just a few days a year when other people (usually anarchsits) have organized it for them.

    blaming the police violence on anyone but the police is not responsible.

  10. Pingback: Toronto’s G20 summit: a failure all around | Robyn Urback