The G-20 wrapped up its work in Toronto on Sunday, and sent a message. Part of that message was in a document, 27 pages of a little bit of something for everybody. They also sent a message through the Canadian police about how the countries of the G-20 might deal with opposition to their plans.
I’ve only had a quick look at the document and it seems there’s one hard agreement. Everything else seems rather conditional. The advanced economies have committed to fiscal plans that will at least halve deficits by 2013 and stabilize or reduce government debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016. That means austerity plans, which was pretty much what was on the agenda before the countries got here.
The document refers to advanced deficit countries and advanced surplus countries. Deficit countries must,“elaborate clear and credible plans to put our fiscal finances on a sustainable footing. The speed and timing of withdrawal of fiscal stimulus and reducing deficits and debt will be differentiated for and tailored to national circumstances.” They call this consolidating their budgets, but we know what that means.
For example, in France they want to raise the age of retirement from 60 to 62. We know in Greece the social safety network is also under attack, and again a focus on the age of retirement. A similar thing is happening in Italy, where more than a million people went on general strike a few days ago. We know in the United States this means an attack on Social Security and a value added tax which hits the poor and working people harder than rich people. The Canadian tradition is the same, deficit cutting means targeting social services and healthcare, not an increase of taxes for the wealthy.
The document has quite another plan for the advanced surplus countries, and here they’re mostly talking about China. They’re saying these countries should strengthen their social safety net. Here’s how it reads, “Surplus economies will undertake reforms (that) . . . will strengthen social safety nets, such as public health care and pension plans.” By implication, and they don’t want to come out and say it, the advanced deficit nations being North America and Europe, are going to attack their social safety net. How else can they get to a 50 percent reduction in debt by 2013? That is, how else if you rule out going where the money is, and taxing those people who made fortunes in the various bubbles over the last decades.
So how does all this connect with what happened on Toronto streets this weekend? Where thousands of Toronto police turned the downtown core into something resembling martial law, especially so in the area of the Toronto Convention Center which was covered by some archaic act called the Public Works Protection Act. This legislation essentially suspended probable cause, giving police the rights of search and seizure to anyone, anywhere in the area. It removes any right of assembly and much more (see the link below for a full report on the Act).
It was the first time most people in Ontario had known there was such a law on the books. But perhaps even worse than this law, was what happened in practice in the parks and streets of the downtown Toronto, where people were assembling to demonstrate, protest, sometimes just to gather.
Police would tell people if you don’t move immediately, then it’s an illegal assembly. In other words, we found out this weekend that there is no right to a freedom of assembly, there is no freedom of speech, as long as the circumstances are such that you can rationalize some extraordinary measures.
And what were the conditions? Well, we had people dressed in black running up and down Yonge Street breaking windows. Except where were the police? The Chief of Police had already acknowledged in a press conference, and we now know from court documents, that the police had infiltrated this so-called Black Bloc.
So if the police had infiltrated the black bloc and the demonstration, how could they not have known that when the march was moving towards the security fence it would make a turn up Yonge Street? In footage captured by a freelance journalist, we can see police standing by for as long as an hour or more while the rampage continued (the link to that is below as well).
This becomes the rationale for hundreds of arrests that followed, not of people wearing black, but of ordinary demonstrators. We know of times when people sat cross-legged holding up peace signs had rubber bullets fired at them (see link to the Steve Paiken interview below).
To the people who participated in the “Black Bloc” who are not on the payroll of one of Canada’s police or intelligence forces, I would ask this: if you actually believe you want social change, how about going about it in a way that does not help create the rational for draconian police action and repressive legislation. Unless that is your objective. If that’s the case, you have a criminal lack of historical knowledge and understanding . . . and I do mean criminal.
One of the most significant things that happened this weekend was the direct assault on journalists who were told “you can stay in this area and report if you want to, but you’ll be arrested if you do.” Journalists were manhandled, thrown to the ground, beaten with batons or punched in the face or gut, which happened to Jesse Rosenfeld (who was writing for the British paper The Guardian) and our own Jesse Freeston at The Real News.
It’s not about the journalists, it about the public’s right to know whether police are or are not abusing their powers. The public can’t know this without professional journalists, with the courage to report from the centre of the storm. These journalists must be able to stand their ground if police try to move them, and the law must protect their right to do so. Without this, we are on our way to a police state.
A few questions remain to be answered.
Number one. Are Canadians going to demand to know what happened with the $1 billion the federal government is spending on security? The Toronto police force budgeted $122 million, and they say they might not even spend it all. $35 million we understand went to the adventure in Muskoka. That leaves around $850 million.
Apparently, $500 million of that went to the RCMP, but in Toronto, the RCMP mostly dealt with the downtown convention center. Of course they also played a role in Muskoka, but it certainly couldn’t have cost that much.
All the police that came from across Canada and all the thousands of Toronto police, were paid out of the hundred and twenty-two million dollar budget of the Toronto Police Services. So what is the RCMP doing with the $500 million?
Number two. Are the people of Ontario going to put up with the Public Works Protection Act? Should this legislation – that was created in 1939 to protect public buildings and prevent the assassination of public figures by German agents – be used to suppress dissent? Are the people going to accept that this Act was implemented for the G20 almost in secret, with just a decision of the Ontario cabinet, without a vote in the Legislature? At least in 1970, the War Measures Act had to be voted on by MP’s. Will the people of Ontario demand the repeal of this Act?
Number three. Are the people of Canada going to accept the principle that the police can declare any protest or demonstration an illegal assembly, just because they say it is? Will they demand full accountability from politicians and the police for what transpired this weekend? I think, that means, a public inquiry into everything that happened.
Is the Toronto G-20 the shape of things to come, an attack on people’s social safety net and living standards, and thousands of police with extraordinary powers?
Or will it be a turning point for the city, a moment when people say freedom of speech and assembly are rights that cannot be eliminated with the snap of a police officer’s or politician’s fingers?
Here are some of The Real News Network stories about the G20: