Paul Jay: Are extraordinary police powers and cuts to social safety net the G-20 plan for the future?
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: The G-20 wrapped up its work in Toronto today, and they sent a message. Part of that message was in this documentï¿½27 pages of a little bit of something for everybody. And [the G-20] 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. There’s one hard agreement; everything else seems rather conditional. The hard agreement goes like this: “[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″ï¿½which means austerity plans, which was pretty much what was on the agenda before the countries got here. Point 10 of the appendix is rather interesting. Here’s a little bit of what it says: “We will elaborate clear and credible plans that 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. . . .” So, for example, in France they want to raise the age of retirement from 60 to 62. We know in Greece the social safety network that was under attack. Same thing’s happening in Italy, where more than a million people went on general strike a few days ago. And we know in the United States what this means: it means an attack on people’s Social Security. We know that they’re talking about a value added tax in the United States, which is clearly a regressive tax, meaning it hits poor and working people harder than rich people. Then there’s what they call “advanced surplus” countriesï¿½and there they’re mostly talking about China. They’re saying they should actually strengthen their social safety net: “Surplus economies will undertake reforms to reduce their reliance on external demand and focus more on domestic sources of growth.” And then, a few points down, they will “[s]trengthen social safety nets (such as public health care and pension plans) . . . .” Surplus nations are going to strengthen social safety net. By implicationï¿½and they don’t want to come out and say itï¿½the advanced deficit nations, meaning, North America and Europe, are going to attack their social safety net, because how else can they get to a 50 percent reduction in their debt by 2013? So how does all this connect with what happened in Toronto streets this weekend, where thousands of Toronto police turned the downtown core into essentially an area covered by martial law, especially near the Toronto Convention Centre, where the G-20 events were happening? Fifteen yards from the security fence in the area of the convention center were covered by some archaic act called the Public Works Protection Act, which essentially established martial law in the area, suspending probable cause, giving rights of search and seizure to anyone and anywhere in the area. Of course, it was for the first time most people of Ontario and Canada even knew there was such a law on the books. But perhaps even worse than this law was what happened in practice in the parks of the downtown, where people were assembling to demonstrate, protest, sometimes just to gather. Police would come and say, get out of here; and if you don’t move immediately, it’s declared an illegal assembly. In other words, we found out this weekend that there actually is no right to a freedom of assembly, there actually is no freedom of speech, as long as the circumstances are such that you can rationalize some extraordinary measures. And what were the measures? 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, in papers, and we now know in court documents of some of the charges, that this so-called black bloc had been infiltrated by the police, some perhaps even as far back as before the last Olympics held in Vancouver. So if the police had infiltrated the black bloc and they’d infiltrated the demonstration, how on earth could they not have known that when the demonstration march was moving towards the fence and then made a turn and runs up Yonge Street, that that’s what the plans were? And how is it possible that the black bloc, for 10, 15 minutes or even more without a police officer in sight, are able to smash windows? And this becomes the rationale for hundreds of arrests that followed, not of people wearing black, just of ordinary demonstrators, and sometimes not demonstrators at all, sometimes just people on their way to work who just happened to be where a protest was. And we know of many protests where people were just sitting crosslegged with peace signs, and rubber bullets fired at them. And I’d like to say to people that participated the black blocï¿½at least those of you that aren’t paid by one of the various police forces in Canadaï¿½that if you think you’re fighting for social change, how about not helping create the legal framework for such draconian laws and actions as we saw this weekend? And one of the most significant things that happened over this weekend is the direct assault on journalists. Journalists were told time and time again, you can stay in this area and report if you want to, but you’ll be arrested if you do. Physical manhandling of journalistsï¿½grabbing them, throwing them to the ground, sometimes thrown and punched in the face, and including what happened to our own Jesse Freeston at The Real News. And if there’s anything that will fundamentally change the nature of democracy in Canada, [it] will be an attack on journalists. The most significant thing we saw over the weekend was the willingness and the legal framework to suspend democratic rightsï¿½the right of free speech, the right of assembly, the right of journalists to operate, all within the rubric of existing law and extraordinary law. So a few questions remain to be answered. First of all, are Canadians going to demand to know what happened to the $1 billion the federal government’s spending on security? Toronto police force budgeted $122 million, and they say they might not even spend it all. Thirty-five million we understand went to the adventure in Muskoka. That leaves $750 million. Apparently, $500 million of that went to the RCMP, but the RCMP in Toronto only dealt with the downtown convention center. All the police from across Canada and all the thousands of police throughout the city of Toronto were all paid for out of the $122 million budget of the Toronto Police Service. Number two, are the people of Ontario going to put up with a piece of legislation, the Ontario Public Works Protection Act, that was created in 1939 to protect public buildings and prevent the assassination of public figures by German agents? Are they going to allow this piece of legislation to be used to suppress dissent, to oppose the right of free assembly, to put young peopleï¿½who they constantly say they want more engaged in politics, and when they do, they want to throw them in jail in the hundreds? Are the people of Ontario going to demand the repeal of this Act? Number three, are the people of Canada going to accept the principle that police can go into any public park and tell people that are assembled to protest, under existing legislation, not this onerous Act from 1939, that they either have to disperse and leave or it will be declared an illegal assembly? So are Canadians going to accept that, or are they going to demand a public accountability, which means a public inquiry about everything that happened? So is Toronto G-20 the shape of things to come, an attack on people’s social safety net and living standards, and on the other side thousands of police with extraordinary powers?