Paul Jay: Was the prime minister the hidden hand behind the G-20 fiasco
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: A room filled with police officers stare at pulsating screens. Feeds from 85 cameras cover most of Toronto’s downtown core. This was the command center for the G-20 integrated security unit. There was another ISU command center in Barrie, Ontario, just a little north of Toronto. In charge was RCMP Chief Superintendent Alfonse McNeil. It may have been Toronto police on the streets, but the feds ran the show. At some point over the weekend, the operational commander watched the action unfold on the monitors in front of him and made two fateful decisions. The first was not to immediately move some of the thousands of available police officers into position to stop 100 or so people from breaking store windowsï¿½more importantly, not to quickly stop the trashing of several police cars. CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) had decided there was no credible terrorism threat. The whole rationale for all the security was that a small segment of protesters, known for the day as the “black bloc”, would cause some property damage and might try to storm the security fence. Yet when the windows broke and the police cars burned, for perhaps as long as an hour there were no police in sight.
UNIDENTIFIED: As the end of the protest reached Queen and Spadina at around 3:00, somewhere between 75 and 100 black bloc members rallied. They left the main protest and started quickly back down Queen Street, heading east. On the way, they encountered two police cars with police in them, which they attacked, broke windows. There were riot police at the intersection of each street that went south from Queen Street into the financial district, but they didn’t engage the protesters; they just watched them go by, smashing windows and spray painting. From there they turned south on Bay Street and started into the financial district. There were three police cars abandoned in the intersection at King and Bay. The black bloc started smashing the police cars and set one of them on fire. After around 15 minutes they walked north on Yonge Street, smashing windows along the way, and there were no police to be seen anywhere.
JAY: Watch the CP 24 coverage of police cars on fire Saturday night on Queen Street. The journalists ask over and over again: where are the police?
PRESENTER, CP24: And, Farha, tell me what police are doing right now.
REPORTER, CP24: I don’t see any police here [inaudible] They dispersed down Peter Street. So, again, there’sï¿½and smoke coming out of this vehicle.
PRESENTER: What happened to the two linesï¿½or several linesï¿½?
REPORTER: They dispersed. They dispersed down Peter Street. So, again, there’s no police officers here.
JAY: Superintendent McNeil told his hometown paper, The Cape Breton Post, quote, “’We have the ability through our video feed to see everything that is going on.’ There are even helicopters and planes providing video feed. ‘We can see them from the air, we can see them from the ground, if there’s anyone trying to interfere, we would see that.’” Well, we know the police had infiltrated the black bloc. Now, we know the cameras could see everywhere. So why couldn’t the police defend their own vehicles? Was this part of a plan? Or a lack of available resources, as the police have said? Only a public inquiry can answer this question. Television images of police cars ablaze set the stage for mass arrests. The decision to order the arrests of around 900 mostly peaceful protesters was the second major decision made by the operational commander. It was clear to everyone who watched the television coverageï¿½never mind the police camerasï¿½that the actions against property were isolated incidents and did not involve the vast majority of protesters and onlookers. So what was the reason for such a blanket attack on the freedom of assembly, one of the Charter’s fundamental rights? Not only were there mass arrests, but the culture of brutality exhibited by the police was extraordinary, given they knew that every move was being watched and taped by their command. Who ran the training programs that led up to the weekend and created such a sense of impunity? Who decided that journalists were fair game? Journalists were punched, shoved, arrested, and told they would be arrested if they didn’t clear the scene. Having G-20 press accreditation was no protection. What meaningful right to a free press will there be if journalists can’t report on how the state exercises its authority? So we get back to the $1 billion security budgetï¿½okay, to be exact, according to the parliamentary budgeting officer, it was actually $929,986,110. If the Toronto police spent $122 million (and that’s what they say, and they say it included their own men and all the city police who traveled from across Canada, and their airfare, hotels, and overtime) and the OPP bill for the G-8 in Huntsville was around $35 million, how much of the remaining $840 million or so was actually for the G-8/G-20 weekend? The Mounties received the lion’s share, at least $500 million. Given how much more this is than the cost of the thousands of men paid out of Toronto’s much smaller budget, it’s hard to fathom that this was mostly manpower costs. Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer, in a report roughly breaking down the costs says this: “ï¿½ it is still unclear how the RCMP will spend its sizable share of incremental costs”. So where did the money go? One is forced to wonder if there’s a hidden agenda of the G-20 weekend. Are they preparing for the kind of social unrest that might develop in the future if Canada’s serious about meeting it’s G-20 pledge of halving its deficit by 2013, at a time when the world seems heading back into recession? Do our security forces look at the rising tide of strikes and protests in Europe and decide they’d better get ready here? Okay, a lot of questions and some speculation, but easy to answer with a full and unrestricted report from the auditor general. But here’s the big question, in terms of accountability, at least, and only a public inquiry with the powers of subpoena can get at this: who gave Superintendent Alfonse McNeil his marching orders? Who gave him the green light to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights? Who wanted the Public Works Protection Act imposed on the convention center and covertly served up by the Ontario government? It was a test of what civil rights lawyers are calling a form of martial law. It’s not too many degrees of separation to get to the real man in charge, the prime minister. This was his show from the start. Should not Mr. Harper step forward and straightforwardly defend his decisions? If he thinks Canadians should be willing to support and pay for a massive investment in more policing aimed at domestic dissent and be willing to compromise basic Charter rights in the process, then let him say so. Let’s have a proper public debate about it. And for that matter, shouldn’t Ontario Premier McGuinty join him? He went along with the imposition of the archaic 1939 Public Works Protection Act, meant to stop German agents from attacking public buildings. Only a public inquiry with subpoena power, led by a person of courage, can really get to the bottom of this. But that’s not likely to happen unless, dear readers, you raise your voices and demand it so.