Toronto’s G20 summit: a failure all around

Sometimes, even peaceful protest isn’t the answer

There are several ways one could have gone about making a point regarding this weekend’s G20 summit in Toronto. Some opted to break windows and throw feces—not so subtle. Others selected arson as their method of choice—a brilliant (excuse the pun) way to illuminate (excuse again) their serious socio-economic concerns. But the majority chose “peaceful protest.” They gathered at Queen’s Park, chanted and held signs, and marched through the streets of Toronto, calling for free tuition, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and, most collectively, for G20 leaders to go home.

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Yet to me, the futility was obvious. Don’t get me wrong; I recognize the value of the right to protest. And I, too, was outraged at the $1 billion security bill, the evacuation of University of Toronto residences, the security fence and “fake lake.” But a protest—peaceful or otherwise—was not, in this case, an effective way to call attention to frivolous G20 measures. If everyone, and I mean everyone, had stayed home drinking tea on Saturday and Sunday, the message would have been way more effective (there’s that word again) than 10,000 protesters taking to the street. What better way to “humiliate the apparatus” (to borrow a phrase from the anarchists) than to really demonstrate the uselessness of a billion dollar security fleet?

Of course, no such concerted effort was made. While protesters spent time dousing their handkerchiefs in vinegar and silkscreening “F*** the G20” on their brightly-coloured tees, the effectiveness of a strategic, silent protest seemed to evade most of the outraged. I should apologize, though—I haven’t completely shaken the youthful naïveté that a protest should be about actually getting something done. But I’m working on it. After all, this weekend confirmed—at least to me—that demonstrations are more about hearing yourself than actually being heard.

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On Saturday afternoon, I went to check out the Canadian Federation of Student’s Student Feeder March. Like an idiot, I thought the march was to demonstrate Canadian students’ objection to the G20 summit, specifically regarding the evacuation of U of T’s downtown campus. Obviously I’m new, because I was surprised when I was treated to a megaphone lecture about Indigenous rights, Stephen Harper’s maternal health plan, and the evils of corporate America.  After the obligatory “Education is a Right!” chant and a few dozen “Shame!’s,” we were off.

The group marched through the spitting rain, east from Bloor and Spadina towards the desolate U of T campus. There were a few hundred students, and no police escort. Despite the grey skies and murky ground runoff, energy was high. The chanting was constant (and, I’ll admit, quite catchy). As students turned onto U of T’s closed campus they got louder. “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? OUR STREETS!” Followed by, “This is what democracy looks like!” which evolved into a confusing “This is what democracy smells like!” And, of course, it wouldn’t be a student march without, “We gotta beat, back, the corporate attack.”

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When I was in Grade Six I learned about the standard, five-paragraph argumentative essay. “You need a thesis,” said my teacher from front of the elementary school classroom. “One point that you will argue,” she continued. “The rest of the essay will support this point.”

Could you have two theses, I wondered? Three? Four?  Like most eager 11-year-olds, I wanted to impress my teacher. “Just one,” Ms. Levitt reminded the class. “A focused argument will always be stronger.”

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The CFS placards on Saturday afternoon read, “Keep Education Public!” But to the uniformed bystander, the group could have been marching about anything. Native land rights? Corporate greed? A woman’s right to choose? While marchers took great pride in reminding spectators that, “The people, united, will never be defeated,” they really should have kept in mind that a message, diluted, is not properly entreated. (See? I can rhyme too!)

It just got worse when we reached Queen’s Park, the designated protest site. I saw signs about occupation in India, a group for animal liberation, and a slew of unionized men and women advocating for workers’ rights. Okay, I get it; I saw the “Long Live Socialism” sign. The idea was undoubtedly to highlight the causes that could have done with some diverted G20 cash. But as long as protesters were present, there needed to be police. And when store windows were crashed, riot cops had to be brought in. The Toronto Transit Commission lost revenue because of afternoon system closures and someone’s gonna have to pay for that damaged public property.

I’m not saying we should be silent on the issues that matter most. But ironically, silence might have been the way to go on this most important matter. Imagine how silly it would have looked if the feds spent a billion dollars on riot gear, bringing in the RCMP, army, private security and swarms of police on bikes, motorcycles, and horseback, and the downtown core turned out to be empty as air. The Black Bloc certainly made things worse for everyone, but even the “peaceful protesters” weren’t really helping their cause.

I would hope students, as the “bright thinkers of tomorrow” would lead the way by initiating constructive means of protest. Or, at the very least, come with a focused, coherent message. I wasn’t beaming with pride when I spotted student leaders amid a mob standoff with riot police, nor was I pleased to accompany a student march rallying for a mess of different causes, only some of which I supported.

Police certainly overreacted, peaceful protesters were detained, media was arrested, and rioters wreaked havoc. So, until next time, G20, I’ll be drinking my tea.




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Toronto’s G20 summit: a failure all around

  1. too bad about media getting arrested. but its the old scenario “the fog of war” . in all the excitment you dont know who is your friend or enemy, so you lean toward not taking any chances.

    I dont know if you have every been “in” a violent protest”. but it can be very dangerous.

    the police had “snipers” on top of all the highest buildings.
    I am told they were all “loaded guns with real amunition”.

    Welcome to Toronto, I laughed when Mayor Miller said ” everybody stay “calm”, I still cant stop laughing, my god , has the world gone “insane? >>>

  2. The outcome of the G20 protests proved that it IS necessary to spend 1 billion dollars to protect our democratically elected represented leaders when they wish to come together to solve the worlds problems.

    It is the price paid to defend democracy against anarchy.

    Without the media the anarchists effectively have no audience and no purpose for demonstrating. The media are not neutral participants in the conflict between police and protesters. The media are there to profit from whatever transpires.

    The media provide to the public what they want, they know their market. The public want entertainment, not dry stories about how many dollars will be allocated to what area. Police acting professionally and with restraint is not entertaining to today’s audience, nor are peaceful protests.

    You reap what you sow….these are the seeds YOU THE PUBLIC planted so suck it up.

  3. Re: comment by Mal Curtis

    Without the media you would not have the chance to voice your opinion as the protesters would also not have the chance to voice theirs either. If you think you can justify building a million doller “fake lake” so that the leaders can solve the worlds problems than I invite you to do so. The decision to hold the summit in Toronto is the real problem, and had it been held somewhere more suitable the budget would have been kept under control and the people of Toronto wouldent have been held prisoners in thier own homes for the weekend. If you want to point blame at someone then blame the people responsible for putting the G20 in Toronto in the first place.

  4. 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.

    Harper’s folly, Welcome to Harper’s Canada.

  5. I haven’t read yet where the ‘leaders’ of the opposition parties of Canada were during the protests of this weekend were, but one obvious conclusion can be made from your piece. There were/are no leaders. There was no message of protest to be heard. What point(s) were the protests trying to make. The media can be held accountable for not making sense of the event, but ‘leaders’ of the protests have to recognize that there message was not heard. So much so that the only lasting memory of the weekend will be (for me at least)is that we can deploy 20,000 security staff (the majority of it on overtime wages)to provide excessive crowd control, but if you need a doctor in Ontario, woe be to you. Both the opposition parties and the media have failed to provide any benefit to the citizens of this province and that is the most significant failure that must be considered for our future.

  6. Sorry, I couldn’t resist it: EPIC FAIL.

  7. I agree that “sitting home and drinking tea” would be the best response. However, activists are too impatient to drink tea. It might have worked if the media saved that little piece information until after the summit (I personally think the majority of the people were stirred up knowing their leaders spent a billion dollars protecting the wealthiest); or the leaders stop acting like rich spoiled children.

    I am thrilled to think: If the police force is literally concentrated there, if stores got robbed, again, literally, then the downtown area has been “unprotected”to all sort of crime.

    Someone told me that the policemen abused their powers during this event is an psychological effect similar to the Stanford prison experiment.

    Toronto is undoubtedly ‘peaceful’, but in a childish way. Getting so worked up for a few broken window glasses??? flaming cruisers??? (or the earthquake, lol, I just wish it happened during these two days to see what fantasies people could think of, I mean a billion dollars can cover just anything) If it was a real riot, you would see a few policemen on fire.

    It’s the leaders’ fault, but in the end, they all blame the “men in black”.

  8. PS: G20 did not get to see Toronto, nor did Toronto get to see G20

  9. Stephen Harper should be held accountable for the overspending, restriction of civil liberties, and the turning of Toronto into a police state during the G8/G20 Summits.

    How can he ignore all the problems the staging of this summit caused and walk around the mess like this is all beneath him.

    Imagine what $1 Billion could have done for any social cause or how it could have reduced the deficit.
    Stephen Harper must explain to Torontonians & Canadians why these meetings weren’t held elsewhere at less cost, less disruption, and less militancy.

    Please write about this…Torontonians are outraged!!!
    Regards
    Dave Rivett

  10. I was on site on Saturday and in a peaceful march. What I saw was a police car being torched and hundreds of police in full swat regalia. They did nothing. I have been investigating the so called Black Bloc and found out they were “planted” by our own police force to wreak havoc, then the media go crazy with photos which are then posted, posted until Toronto swallows it all. I was there and I know what I witnessed. The police, G-20 powers did this tactic in Montreal,(proven, google it), really simple, a no brainer, you bribe a few people to perpetrate violence and then blame it on the protesters. And to be fair maybe only some of the Black Bloc were plants as there were some unaware, unenlightened people there as well. There were people who are just very fed up being told they should be happy to have a $10.00 job at Walmart. Mothers fed up with endless discussion about proper childcare, housing and after 25 years of discussion our housing is “market priced” which translates to having to live in dumps.

    The G-20′s agenda is to collapse economies, take control and subdue. How do you subdue People?? Take their economic base away, simple,again a no brainer. If I am not right, why is the Iraq war still raging, so the Cheneys of the World can war profiteer? Now I read the welfare rolls are going to be rolled back on millions. Same agenda as the G-20 has had for a very long time. Probably another vaccination mass program was planned as well. Wake up People, put the dots together.

    Thank you for your time,

    Terra
    Toronto

  11. It’s awful how we are being used and abused by our government and the media to fight with each other and the corrupt police department. We should be asking for an apology from Harper and every other “leader” who attended the G20 summit. It always fails and not only am I angry about the money we spent but I am angry that they turned a busy downtown core into a ghost town. No money was spent helping our economy here -which added to more of a loss. Shame on you Harper you should step down and finally run off with your tail between your legs.

  12. G20 takes the cake; it’s not bad enough that Stephen Harper acts like Canadian tax payers are made of money as he squander cash around the world and Canadians accumulate billions of dollars in debt and being taxed to death; but this G20 was disgusting. Protest groups were upbeat and peaceful consisting of; Justice for out community, Indigenous Rights marchers, Anti-Capitalist Convergence group and many other peaceful groups. Many came to protests about Canadian hunger and child poverty or just to get recognition for a cause being held deer. As G20 governing authority with extreme force arrests about 900 innocent protesting Canadian citizens conveying their freedom of expression for a better Canada and a better environmental world Canada becomes a stage. I watched media televise as arrests started with a death person that could not hear what he was being told by police, then media, individuals walking home after watching a soccer game in a local pub, tourists, graduates from the University of Western Ontario studying political science and peace studies, etc. Many were being held for 4 hours in a down pour of rain, kicked, beaten, disallowed bathroom privileges or food and possible medications. I watched video clips on news channels of the violence; many were showing the camera persons their bruises, cameras showed one media member being punched in the face by police for no apparent reason; another media member that was arrested talked about the person next to him showing signs of concussion and not receiving medical help. People from Canada, elsewhere and media trying to inform Canadians of what’s happening in Canada were being treated like animals by Canadian authorities in the eyes of the world. In embarrassment I felt like it was watching something out of Red Square. Who’s the thugs here the Canadian Government and Police or the Black Bloc protesters? Human rights have been smeared with disregard to the generations that have worked so hard to build it and for what Canada now use to stand for. If Blair referred to the Black Bloc protesters as “violent anarchists” what does that make Canadian Government and the Policing authority?

  13. Dear Jeff,
    I am glad to see we have finally agreed on something. I only wish the G20 events would have panned out your way. The city of Toronto, the victims of the violent occurrences and the government of Canada would most definitely have been better off that way. As it stands, I guess the need for 1.2(?) billion dollars of security was warranted (though I still question the whole necessity of the summit entirely, something I will be investigating later).
    I especially liked this comment: “demonstrations are more about hearing yourself than actually being heard”
    This is exactly what I had meant by my previous comments on your other article. Thanks for writing this one!

  14. Dear Robyn,

    I apologize, I assumed that this article had been written by Jeff Rybak. My mistake entirely. I guess I still have yet to agree with Jeff on something. I really enjoyed your article, thank you!
    -Ashley

  15. With respect, the summit was not a failure. What you fail to see is the purpose of it.

    There was never any intention at all to hold any serious business here. What this was, was that the same corrupt bankers that have just finished stealing tens of trillions of dollars from national economies (to be paid for via massive cuts in services to, and taxes on, you and me) decided to shut down an entire major city so they could have a party, and stick you and me with the bill (as usual). And it worked out splendidly for them, they had a great time. A billion dollars plus? Deficit reduction is so for little people!

    Sucker. You should be outraged. You should demand the impeachment of any politician who enabled this scam. Toronto should belong to the millions of people who live and work there, not a handful of bankers who decide to make it their playground the public be damned.

    Thank you for your consideration,

  16. Rex Murphy’s CBC piece published in the National Post entitled “Hooligans Coddled for too long” is worth reading.

  17. Just a word to all those who want Harper held accountable for this: Did you all remember to vote in the last election? Are you going to remember to vote next time?

  18. Pingback: The Black Bloc (Agent Provocateurs) Create Order Out Of Chaos « Vigilant Canuck

  19. The Blac Bloc are police agent provocateurs. Think about this , 4 police cars were allowed to be burned while the police stood idly by and did nothing.

    The tip-off is Blair saying “Most of the anarchist leaders have been rounded up and arrested”.

    Anarchists have leaders now ? Isn’t that an oxymoron ? What the “Blac Bloc” has is police overseers & instigators.

    Protesters in the future should confront these agent provocateurs on mass , like was done at the SPP in Montabello. Surround them , pull their masks off and photograph them , make a group citizens arrest.

    The police did absolutely nothing to prevent the torching of the four “bait-cars” , but if protesters were to expose , demask , photograph and/or citizens arrest the “Blac Bloc” agent-agitators , you’d see cops coming out of the woodwork to false-arrest/save their comrade.

  20. I am from vancouver and i wanted to comment on the G8 and G20 summits.The civilization and justice of bourgeous order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters.
    Then this civilization and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge.Each new crisis in the class struggle between the appropriator and the producer brings out this fact more glaringly.

  21. As soon as the billion dollar bill was news, I started a Think Global. Protest Local campaign. “Don’t Show Up in TO” I emailed many times.
    Many many of us didn’t and stayed home in our own provinces.
    Your stating this after the fact does nothing to help the cause.
    The silver lining of this weekend is that we saw how manipulative the state has been.
    It was an ugly scene from the fence to the fake lake to the deplorable detention centre and the gross mistreatment, abuse and harassement of citizens that went on there.
    This was an UGLY display of force and control and well planned for.
    The government turned our once friendly and respected police into enemies of Canadian people.
    I consider myself a veteran peace activist and I am now a senior.
    At Clayoquot with now the second biggest mass arrest in Canada, the police were gracious.There was mutual respect.
    There was no riot squad. They wore ordinary uniforms.
    They also protected us from certain rednecks in the area up to no good.
    Perhaps, the demonstrators in TO felt quite secure too what with some 20,000 police there to keep the peace.
    After all, they had plenty of time to study up on the bloc and figure out their tactics. The bloc has been around for sometime and they behave quite consistently.
    The police have an awful lot to answer to in the aftermath.
    And so does our government.
    By the way, you could have attended the excellent People’s Summit that happened that week . Hosted by the Council of Canadians.
    Brilliant speakers, presentations and workshops.
    The peace marches have always been more or less like a parade and people enjoy walking together in the street and having fun.
    The infiltration of the Black Bloc has been tolerated : they dress in black and are easily visible for police to monitor.Organizers of the march have no ability to turn away people from joining the march.They pleaded tho’ for nonviolence from all participants while rallying prior to the march.
    The issues with the bloc are complex, and again there are questions of police provocatouers as well as bait cars
    .So, after all this, who did show up?
    And who was arrested.?

  22. Great article, but that’s still not going far enough. Hows this for an idea though – peaceful protesters turning up specifically to stop the agent provocateur infultrated ‘black blocs’ from committing acts of vandalism. Id love to see what the police and the media would make of that.

  23. I think it is so funny that people keep pointing the finger at others instead of holding the protestors accountable. I am tired of hearing everyone demanding to have someone held accountable other than the protestors that did the damage. To me, a riot is burning police cars and vandalized buildings and stores. I think the protestors are lucky and maybe the Emergencies act should have put to use. Close enough I guess. If you were “smart” enough to go down there on Sunday after what happened on Saturday, then you deserve what you got. Protests are great when they stay peaceful. When you have people using the crowd for cover, then it is time for the peaceful protestors to realize that it is their presence that is making it possible for the violent protestors to have free reign. They should have left or stopped the violence themselves. It is so ridicules for people to think that the police should have been able to distinguish between who was peaceful and who wasn’t. Hence the reason they hide in the peaceful protests.

  24. Hi Robyn,

    I really take issue with your comment about everyone staying at home to prove the security budget wrong. I don’t think you realize what you’re saying here. You’re suggesting that the protestors, passerbys, onlookers, workers etc had no right to be on public streets. That we would have made a more effective point had we not been present in our own community and had we not stood up for our rights and civil liberties and had we not taken action to voice our concerns over issues that are negatively affecting our communities. What good does sitting at home do? I do not believe that you really think that sitting at home on the couch is a step forward for social justice?
    I am concerned that someone like you who seems to be active within her own community advocates this sort of thing. If you had your way and everyone had stayed at home, it would not have sent the message that the budget wasn’t needed, the budget wasn’t needed in the first place. There is no need for thousands upon thousands of police officers with countless weapons to ‘protect’ the streets of Toronto, what are they protecting it from? Clearly not members of our community. If we live in a truly democratic society we would not need a billion dollar security budget regardless of the number of protestors because ‘that is what democracy looks like’. If we had stayed at home the message would have been that we don’t care about the G8/G20 nor anything that it affects, that we don’t care about our civil liberties as democratic citizens because we will not use them anyway so just take them away. I find your comments incredibly problematic and I would be really intrigued to see if you still feel like this is the right way to go about living as a engaged member of a community. Please do tell me.

  25. Hi Nico,

    I absolutely believe protesters, onlookers, media, etc. had the right to take to the streets the summit weekend. I don’t believe I suggested otherwise; if I did, as you say, that was certainly not my intention. Indeed, the freedom to protest is a right that should be upheld and exercised when necessary.

    But that’s key–when necessary. The noise made by protesters during the G20 weekend served no pragmatic function. All it did was convey their dissatisfaction. Perhaps staying at home would have sent the message that citizens don’t care about the effects of the G20 in the city, as you say, but really, it doesn’t make a difference. Public mood swings are not particularly persuasive when it comes to billion dollar federal budgeting.

    Think of it this way, if there was going to another G20 summit in Toronto in 2012 (which I’m certain there won’t be, just ask Dalton McGuinty, but nevermind) and officials decided to look to the 2010 Toronto summit to decide on an appropriate security budget, which scenario would be more persuasive in compelling the government to cut costs?

    A) Thousands of protesters swarm downtown to voice their dissatisfaction with frivolous government spending.
    - Government thinks.. “Oh, jeez, the public didn’t like all that spending we did in 2010. We should probably cut down on the number of cops for the 2012 summit, even though there were swarms of protesters blocking roads downtown 2010, so people can smile again.”

    B) No one is downtown during the summit.
    -Government thinks.. “We spent a billion dollars on security measures during the 2010 summit and downtown was dead. How embarrassing; there were more cops roaming the streets than civilians. We can’t possibly justify spending that much in 2012 since the 2010 summit demonstrated that there really isn’t a need.”

    You decide what’s more compelling.

    It’s not about ideology (unless, of course, it is to you), it’s about taking a pragmatic stance against something you don’t support.

  26. Thanks for your reply Robyn,
    Yes it is about ideology for me (and I believe it is to others as well but I will not attempt to speak for them) and not necessarily about pragmatics, but if the protests dissuade the government from hosting a G20 summit in the future in Toronto or anywhere else in Canada then I would be happy with that.
    You talk about the protests as if it is a bad thing that ‘all it did was convey their dissatisfaction’ – I cannot stress how important this is, is this not the point of protest? to convey an oppositional or alternative perspective to how something currently operates? Granted protest cannot in of itself provide alternative options and necessarily create the change that is needed but i think it is wrong and unrealistic to expect protest to encompass all of that. This does not make protest any less important.
    Protest is just one action in amongst many others that work to create change. Protest highlights dissatisfaction, it educates those who may not have known about the G20 what it is really about, it encourages people to take action and to become an active member in a democracy.

    What I think the point here is that protest is not about pleasing the government, it is not about appealing to what it already operating as the status quo, it is about opposing it. So to suggest that it is more compelling to stay at home to decrease the amount of $$ spent on security in the future by the government is a somewhat redundant argument. How would we ever create any change if we were to operate in this way? This way of operating may work for those in power as they would have the luxury of never having to deal with any opposition but this is not what the values of a democratic state is built on.

    Protesting the G20/G8 Summit was much much bigger than being concerned about the billion dollar security budget, it was also about critiquing the entire enterprise and the need for it, so to say that we should stay home to ‘prove’ the government ‘wrong’, that the budget wasn’t needed. This would be seen as success by those in power, it would simply have demonstrated that if the government threatens to spend enough of the tax payers’ dollars then it would ensure that no one would come out in public to protest and threaten the current power hierachy.

    I know i’ve gone of on a bit of a rant here. I respect that you have your opinion which may differ to mine, at the same time I also think it is important we challenge each other’s opinions.

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