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As basic rights and freedoms are stripped from the people of Toronto, Paul Jay sits down with Toronto’s mayor, David Miller.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Toronto. And now joining us is the mayor of Toronto, David Miller. Thanks for joining us, Mayor.
DAVID MILLER, MAYOR OF TORONTO: Paul, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
JAY: So, earlier today, before the black bloc, as they’re called, broke windows and apparently burnt a police car, the story on CNN was actually about the day before, yesterday, about a confrontation that took place in Queen’s Park, where police apparently got into a confrontation and apparently beat up some demonstrators, including, just to let you know, one of our journalists, who was smacked in the face. First of all, are you aware of some of the other stuff that went on? And what do you know about it?
MILLER: Well, I don’t know much. I’m aware of the allegations. And these kinds of things are always investigated. You know, Toronto Police Service has a very well-earned and honorable reputation for policing democratic dissent appropriately, facilitating it. And that’s the history here. And the history in Toronto is that incidents like what you describe are exceptionally rare. And the history is also here that incidents of violence are almost unheard of. We have protests every day in this city outside of the US Consulate. I’ve never seen one get out of control at all, ever.
JAY: I agree with you. I’m from Toronto, I grew up in Toronto, and I believe what you’re saying is true. So why the heck is there $1 billion worth of security and a psychology in the police that the black bloc is coming? I talked to a cop yesterday. She’s showing me this picture on her phone, the black bloc are coming.
MILLER: Well, it’s the billion-dollar question about the security. And even—you know our view, the city, we felt that this should be hosted here at the Direct Energy Centre, where we are right now, where the media is, because that’s our conference center and it’s secure. And we always felt having it downtown will be a bad idea. But that decision was taken by Ottawa, and that’s why the costs are high. In terms of the police, I mean, they were being prepared for eventualities. And the sad truth is, within all—all of these people have come here to protest. There were a group of people didn’t come to protest at all; they came to commit violent acts, and we’ve seen that today. And, you know, I hope whatever happened yesterday was not—that the police were acting appropriately. I trust that they were, because I’ve got great faith in the Toronto Police Service. But any allegation like that is always investigated impartially from outside the police.
JAY: So some people are suggesting, and I’m one of them, just—I don’t like when journalists just say “some people”, ’cause they usually do mean themselves.
MILLER: Fair enough.
JAY: CNN’s got the story of the pictures of the police beating up women and our journalist yesterday. That’s becoming the story. Then the black bloc becomes the story. And as you said, it’s extremely predictable about what the black bloc are going to do. A police officer tells me so yesterday. Why aren’t the police all over the sidewalks where the black bloc is?
MILLER: Well, first of all, I mean, if you look what happened today, there are thousands of police deployed all over downtown Toronto. They have one first priority, and that’s ensuring the safety of the perimeter where some of the world leaders are and where all of them will be. That’s the number one priority, and people can understand that. A secondary priority is policing the democratic dissent in a way that allows people the right to speak freely, safely. And our police service is very good at that. That’s why we have cops on bikes there, who allow, for example, the roads to be closed so demonstrations can go down. And within thousands of people demonstrating, there’s a couple of hundred that want to create violent acts, and, sadly, they’re quite organized and effective about it. And the Toronto Police Service are out on the streets as we speak, responding to those acts. They will arrest people, and they have. And I think the sad thing for me, the protesters’ message isn’t heard. You know, they wanted to be heard by the world leaders about having rights to safe abortions in the Third World, for example. That was one of the images I saw on TV. Those messages aren’t being heard because of a group of people who call themselves anarchists, who are actually criminals, chose to commit some preplanned violent acts.
JAY: Well, given what happened yesterday and given what happened today, because again I’d say preplanned means the police knew about it very well, and there didn’t seem to be any extra measures being taken where the black bloc was—I’m not asking you to reach some conclusion here. What I’m asking you is, isn’t there enough going on here there should be some form of public inquiry into the violence over the weekend?
MILLER: Oh, gosh, no. I think we’re a long way from that. You know, you have police officers here from across Canada, from Edmonton, from Calgary, from the RCMP, from Montreal, I think from Ottawa, from Peel region (our neighbors). They’re doing everything they possibly can. And if you step back—.
JAY: No, I’m not talking a public inquiry into whether the police are policing well enough or not. But given what happened yesterday, where demonstrators were hit—and we don’t know what started the confrontation, but we do have pictures of them being beat up.
MILLER: So, yeah, there’s an allegation from yesterday, and that will be investigated, like every allegation that’s done, impartially—that’s our system in Canada—by people whose job it is to review complaints against police.
JAY: By the police department.
MILLER: No, not by the police department.
MILLER: Yes. And that’s impartial, and that’s as it should be. That will be investigated. But to suggest there’s some systemic issue, I really don’t think it’s factual. This—our police service polices demonstrations almost every day, and—.
JAY: But it’s not only your police involved in what’s happened here today.
MILLER: Fair enough.
JAY: And there was an incident in Quebec, right, where there actually—eventually the QPP had to admit they had people inside the black bloc, and it was quite controversial.
MILLER: That’s true. I can’t dispute the past. All I can talk about is what’s happening in Toronto. And I’ve got confidence in the leadership of the Toronto Police Service, because I have watched the way they police. Every police officer here outside the secure area is under their command. Inside, it’s the RCMP, but they’re not policing the demonstrations. This is under Toronto’s command.
JAY: Okay. One more quick question. What do you make of this legislation that—the Public Works Act, which is—I don’t know if you got a chance to read it. It actually in some places seems to go further than the War Measures Act. And, apparently, it comes from 1939, just before the start of the war. But it actually allows, if I understand it correctly—and I have it here—it gives a police officer, or anyone the government deems to be a guard, the authority to define what public property is. It can be any amount of space, and it can’t be opposed in a court, and someone can go to jail for two months.
MILLER: So, I’ve been briefed on it; I haven’t read the legislation, but I’ve been briefed on it. My comment would be that the one thing I think should’ve been handled differently is these regulations, like any normal regulation, should have been posted for public comment. I think that’s the way they should be handled. And then people can make all of the comments that they’re making now ahead of time. That’s the way regulations are supposed to be done in this city and this country. That’s what democracy’s all about. They should be posted. People can comment on them and their appropriateness for or against.
JAY: Is it appropriate for the chief of the Toronto police to ask the Ontario cabinet to secretly do this without the mayor knowing about it?
MILLER: Well, first of all, the chief did not ask the Ontario cabinet to secretly do anything, and I think—I know that’s only a slight misstatement. The Ontario cabinet chose to do this without publishing it ahead of time. And I think what should be challenged there is, in fact, the Ontario cabinet, they should have made sure that it was done publicly. The premier should have done that. And they should have made sure that, as they do with most regulations, there’s some opportunity for people to comment before it’s passed. That’s the flaw. And I really—.
JAY: Okay, public or not, these measures are draconian, one reads it. Is it appropriate in this situation?
MILLER: These measures already exist in this province. The only difference is they’re being applied to the security fence, not just public buildings. They exist all across this province today. And you’re right: this act has existed since 1939. In the modern day would people support that legislation? I think you might be right there’d be a lot of questioning. But these powers have existed for over 70 years, and they’re applied to public buildings today—rarely, but they are applied. And that’s a law that’s been around for a long time. The change was to apply it to the security perimeter as well, and I think if it had been handled in public, we would be having a different debate.
JAY: Is it overkill?
MILLER: I’ll leave it in your judgment.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
MILLER: It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much.
End of Transcript
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