G20: A few questions to ask organizers of G20

Simply put, this weekend in Toronto was horrible on every level. All of the events that transpired need to be examined with critical eyes — from residents, elected officials, and the media — in order for the city to come to grips with the scars left behind by the G20 Summit. I’ve pulled together a few questions any Torontonian should ask their elected officials.


Violent protests at G8 and G20 summits are as common as breathing air, so why would any federal government official think it would be a good idea to hold this event in any Canadian city? Mayor David Miller clearly stated that he did not want the summit held in the city as did many other local politicians. But Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has said the summit was a chance to showcase Toronto and Canada. “These are marketing techniques that have been put forward by our best people to be able to showcase Canada, and that’s what we all want. We want to be proud of what Canada represents and what we can do.”

So what did the delegates and foreign media get to see on their visit to Toronto? Not the vast array of cultural activities available downtown. Not the amazing restaurants we offer on King and Queen streets. Not the vibrant neighbourhoods and local businesses that operate so close to the core. None of the delegates got to see a city that prides itself on tolerance and diversity. When an event like this forces downtown residents to flee the city,  no foreign television crew or intrepid newspaper reporter will have a chance to discover the true spirit of this city.

If a summit of this importance is deemed to be such a high security risk then why have it in a city at all? Why not have the meetings on a military base where the infrastructure for the safety of delegates is already in place?


While we’re all aware that Queen’s Park was designated a free speech area (until the peaceful protesters there were dispersed on Saturday) the erection of the fence and the no-go zone effectively designated the downtown core as the official riot area. I know it’s cliché but if you build it, they will come. If you don’t want a riot then do not host it in an area that allows for a successful riot to take place.

By hosting the event in the middle of downtown and setting up the perimetre nearby, G20 organizers and security forces essentially told rioters this is the area you can trash. While this may seem far-fetched, Police Chief Bill Blair said as much to Marcus Gee in the Globe and Mail on Sunday. Gee wrote, “Chief Blair said that police feared the protesters would try to draw them away from the G20 security zone. That may explain why officers did not pursue the protesters on their smashing spree. Better to see some windows broken, they may have reasoned, than engage in running battles between police and protesters.”

On Day 1, the police let vandals run amok and made very little arrests. On Day 2, with no rioting and only peaceful protests on the streets, over 600 arrests were made.

There would have been unconditional support from residents and peaceful protesters if the police strategically targeted the violent rioters on Saturday — so many residents on the streets yesterday were disgusted at the actions of the Black Bloc and their cohorts that the police would have received help from the public identifying the vandals. Instead of having teams of police protecting local businesses we now have Toronto’s downtown main streets showing the scars of a one-sided battle that didn’t need to happened. And now there are even calls for an inquiry into the mass arrests on Sunday.

And this leads nicely to the next question….


There have been no reports of how much financial damage was inflicted during Saturday’s spree of window smashing and spray painting, but we can assume it will go into the six figures if not higher (the combined cost of those three burnt-out Crown Victoria police cruisers is over $100,000).

Who pays for the all the damage? If your business was open both days and meets certain criteria you can apply to the federal government to be compensated for loss of income, but not if you suffered any property damage like broken windows. If you closed because no one was visiting downtown yet ended up with graffiti or a smashed window you have to fork over your own money in repairs.

So the organizers of the G20 invite unruly guests to trash our city and really don’t want to pay to clean it up?

There are many other things that need to be questioned — mass arrests, secret sweeping powers, etc — in the coming days. It’ll be interesting, to say the least, how Toronto begins to cope with that feeling of violation. But Torontonians shouldn’t feel ashamed about their city — we never asked for this to happen to us, but if we ask enough questions we can find out why it did.


  1. An excellent, thoughtful article Matt, thanks for writing and sharing.

  2. I suppose hosting the G20 in a military base would have been a safer option, but Harper did try to organize it outside the city originally – which the media trashed him for.  Now it seems it was a good idea?  If it were hosted in a military base, I’m sure the media would have complained that it was inaccessible for protesting.  It’s a no win situation.

    I know the media has to criticize the outcome to generate readership and comments from readers (like me).  I blame reality tv for that. It would be interesting to take a different stance on the G20 and talk about how the strategy taken by police and organizers worked out relative to other G20s.  Challenge the mass arrest strategy, offer rational alternatives if they exist.

    Ultimately, it would be interesting to help the public understand why things happened the way they did (arrests, no-go zone, fence, etc).  Or does that just make for a boring story?

  3. Thanks for the questions, Matt. I don’t know what to think or who to believe and find myself rather skeptical about all accounts, even those from people “on the ground”. Emotion does such a good job of clouding objectivity.

    My hope is that anyone who feels wronged by the Police files suit and maybe then we’ll get some real answers. I know it’s tough to fight city hall, but I’ve also no doubt that there are some quality attorneys willing to work for cheap to find the truth after this weekend.

    It wasn’t the best weekend for accuracy in reporting, either (they gassed, they didn’t gas, wait…they did, no they didn’t) and kudos to Spacing for staying out the “instant Twitter-based” reporting game.

  4. The Canadian Labour Congress and Toronto Community Mobilization Network should pay.  These are the bastards who invited these terrorists to destroy our city so they should fork out the cash.

    They are also the ones who should foot the bill of the security costs.  If they didn’t encourage violent protests then the heavy police presence would have been unnecessary.

    I hope the organizers end up in prison where they belong.

  5. The view from the New York Times is that the violence was “not exceptional” relative to past summits and that Toronto is such an exceptionally safe and calm city that the relatively small amount of trouble was “extraordinary” and shocking to the local citizenry. I think that kind of sums it up — big news locally, but the rest of the world is giving the violence a collective, tell-me-something-I-didn’t-know kind of shrug. The economic news out of the summit was a much bigger story.


    However, there are some a few foreign papers following the story more closely. WSJ is calling it “some of the most violent protests to hit a global gathering in recent years, despite one of the most lavish security outlays in summit history”


    Time will tell whether this story holds, or if it recedes to become just a local introspective of appropriate police tactics (too hard, too soft, etc.)

    I would personally support never ever holding these summits again in any urban centre. It’s just lose-lose.

  6. Boo hoo! In the “M” town, we do this for funsies.! The leaders of the western world are in your city, and you only burned four police cars? Tabarnak, we trashed two dozen when we heard Halak got traded. Virginie gets canceled? Three dozen. And you can bet we’re going after liquor stores, not just American Apparel. Bunch of hipsters.

    Seriously, what was that, amateur hour? Colour me unimpressed. First time tear gas was used in your city? We spray that shit like Febreze. Pah.

    Seriously, Toronto, I understand that you are upset.. Here’s a consolation video to make it up to you:


  7. Matt, great piece and I think”violation” is indeed a good word to use about all this. Our city was violated on so many levels and that’s all I can really say right now.

  8. Not to mention that our trash bins were taken away, and business people were told to dress down.

    Even if delegates could have wandered safely around the city, they would have seen a city full of trash bags and poorly dressed shlubs. Hardly impressive.

  9. Frankly,

    It’s pretty narcissistic to think the world cares about the violence that occurred in Toronto over the weekend. I’m pretty sure something worse happened somewhere else on the planet. I liken what the police did to throwing out a bunch of uninvited guests to a party. It has to be done otherwise people think they can crash any party they want to.

    The big question: Why was any Torontonian downtown on the weekend if they didn’t have to be? Sheer stupidity. Gee honey, let’s take the kids downtown so they can see how you break windows. Real smart.  

  10. A lot of the people in that video were drunk. They were provoking police who had already had police vehicles burned. STOP blaming the politicians, the city, the police. Why are we no longer getting angry with the people responsible….the little bored stupid people who were provoking police and singing okay..mooning police….intoxicated in public? When did accountability for wrongful actions become second class? Gawd…this is just embarrassing on so many levels. If they are bored, I have some laundry these people could do.

  11. The main question for me is “How will the police brutality be punished and the police be held accountable so that this never happens again?” Many police should be going to jail for this shit, as seen in the video.

  12. Dear Ville de Montreal,

    This wasn’t an action put on by Torontonians against Toronto cops. There were protesters from around the continent and beyond, many of whom were from Montreal and other parts of Quebec. They were demonstrating against the largest domestic security deployment in Canadian history (i.e. not your average day police presence following some fucking hockey trade). There were cops and private security personnel from all across the country in Toronto (many thousands in riot gear).

    Why turn this into a Montreal v. Toronto thing? I split my time between both cities and I’m always amazed at how many Montrealers feel it’s necessary to hang on to childish, antiquated and boring comparisons between “Toronto the Good” and “Montreal the Cool”. This comparison is always annoying but in this particular context it’s just absurd.

    Time to grow up Ville de Montreal

  13. I’m of the opinion Mr. Harper chose Toronto knowing full well all hell would break loose. Toronto has yet to elect any member of Mr. Harper’s gang. It was his way of getting even IMHO.

  14. Sure, but I think the priority of your questions is reversed. Smashed windows is not nearly as important as the “mass arrests, secret sweeping powers” – and you dare end this with “etc.” as though it’s not a big deal.
     Peaceful people were detained without much reason. The conditions of the detention centre are completely unacceptable, as were the actions of the riot police ‘storming’ peaceful protesters. 
    And why were those people ‘penned in’ at Queen and Spadina? They say there were violent protesters in there – so why did they suddenly just let them all leave?

  15. on the “who pays?” question, people who are victims of violent crime in ontario (or sometimes their caregivers) may seek compensation from the criminal injuries compensation board in certain circumstances:

    for businesses, i imagine that insurance companies will partially pay for property damage and lost profits through commercial property insurance and business interruption insurance.

  16. This violence is NOT normal in any civilized country I have ever lived. As someone who has lived in Europe for the past 15 years and was back in Canada to visit family I am horrified by what has become of this city this weekend. Last year we hosted the G20 in London with relatively little disruption to city life, an active protest, and moderate property damage in comparison. Although the police were violent in London too (and someone even died) – I have to say as someone who was involved with both protests (as a peaceful demonstrator) – the level of police violence this weekend was very severe and far more wide spread than at the G20 London.

    In response to the PMK who thinks the Toronto Mobilization Network should pay for the damage, I have to say that a few windows and police cars are trivial next to the $1billion bills spent on security. It is very likely that a few cars were left behind by the police, to be trashed, in order to justify this one billion. TMN on the other hand – did a fantastic job of creating a broad united coalition of people. They are not responsible for the activities of thugs (police or black block). Every complacent Torontonian who has tolerated the steady erosion of our civil rights has more responsibility for the disgraceful violence against individuals this weekend by the police than the brave activists who are standing up to Harper’s police state.

  17. I’m so sick of people blaming those who were inadvertently caught up in police action and violence for simply being there.


    And others, assumed that they had the right to go about their business unmolested. Prior to this weekend, that was a reasonable assumption.

  18. To Mark Jull:

    You wrote: “Smashed windows is not nearly as important as the “mass arrests, secret sweeping powers” – and you dare end this with “etc.” as though it’s not a big deal.”

    I know that sounded glib but when I filed the article at 2am there was not much left in the tank for me. I felt (and feel) that those topics are much more important than smashed windows. I decided that the topics of mass arrests and secret powers need to be discussed in a different than this one (and maybe I should have stated that more clearly). Dale Duncan did discuss it some some extent in her post on Sunday, which is also why I chose not to directly address it in my column.

    I probably should have asked at the bottom of my post what other questions our readers want asked.

    to KellyE:
    The video you are referring to is on Sunday not Saturday when the cars were burned (though its in the same part of Queen St). I’d love to hear your proof of the protesters being drunk. These people are not the same ones who ran around the city smashing things. The people is this video were peaceful and far away from the fence and any secret powers that the police could use. You may not agree with their point-of-view but you need to respect the fact that a person has to break the law before the police can, say, charge at you with a baton, knock you over and detain you.

  19. Maybe the feds can get back some of the money they laid out for that new sidewalk in Parry Sound (http://bit.ly/bzmibn) to pay for repairs to businesses in Toronto.

  20. Matthew, since you have started the list, perhaps another question that you might already know the answer to or that could be asked in the near future: Have the 77 “temporary” surveillance cameras installed for the G20 (http://tinyurl.com/3aho2yn) actually been removed? Are there other physical “legacies” of similar nature that we should know about?

  21. The grounds of New Fort York (as opposed to Old Fort York) is now called Exhibition Place. That’s right, the CNE was a military base. The only original building of the fort is now called Stanley Barracks (the same Frederick Arthur Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, of Stanley Cup fame).

  22. So I emailed the mayor earlier today about the police behavior, and this is the response I received: 

    “Mayor Miller has expressed his confidence in the way police handled the reaction under very trying circumstances but he also recognizes that there are some legitimate questions being raised about some of the tactics used on Sunday. If there are concerns about any aspect of the police activities, there is now an independent provincial agency established to follow up on those complaints.”

    The email doesn’t go on to mention what the provincial agency is, although it does reference the Office of the Independent Police Review Director ( https://www.oiprd.on.ca/cms/ )


  23. I see a lot of ignorant comments about “why were people even there”. First, tens of thousand of people live in downtown Toronto – it’s one of the things that makes this a great and vibrant city. Second, not everyone can just leave – it costs money, we have things we need to do. And why should we have to leave? Police are supposed to protect us from vandals, not ignore the vandals and attack peaceful people instead.

    Second, we have peaceful demonstrations in downtown Toronto ALL THE TIME. It’s normal, and they don’t interfere with our lives. We are used to them and live around them, which is as it should be. And the demonstrations where the police caught up civilians and arrested people randomly last weekend were *peaceful*. There were no vandals or people throwing rocks at police at those ones. At the one violent breakway riot where property damage was done, the police were nowhere to be seen and the vandals were allowed to rampage unchecked. It gives the impression police only turned on the power and intimidation at people who weren’t a threat.

    What’s disappointing is that for the last 5 years, Toronto Police have been very good about demonstrations compared to most police forces. They managed them effectively without violence and without interfering with their right to express themselves. Somehow this weekend something threw them off their usual good sense – either the influx of other cops, the size of the occasion, or the fear of a couple of hundred vandals. What I hope is that Toronto Police will examine themselves, figure out what went wrong, and come up with a way to get back on track with their previous sensible approach.

  24. I first picked up this magazine because of its interesting articles about architecture and city planning. Now it seems to have become a second home for the leftists over at NOW Magazine. It’s a shame. This appeared to be an objective magazine/website.

    Obviously, it’s nothing more than a platform for those who feel entitled to everything in this world. Your kids probably feel entitled to $70K a year simply for graduating from college.

    It’s this kind of thinking that’s going to get the City of Toronto more of the same dithering that Mr. Miller gave us for the last seven. Wimpy politicians for a wimpy citizenry. 

    Trust me. The world does not care about the so-called atrocities of this past weekend. They have bigger issues to deal with like starvation and AIDS.

    Grow up people. 

  25. Has anyone considered this:
    Maybe Sunday was “peaceful” because the police removed people from protests that were associated with the Black Bloc tactic. There were enough police cameras and amateur photographs going around that they may have identified a significant amount of the criminals overnight Saturday. We saw the police fly into the midst of peaceful protests to extract targeted protesters; well, why were they targeted? I’m just doing some thinking here.

    Sure, they may have detained more people than were actually guilty, but if we are to believe them, they had information that they acted upon. The same folks that believe there were “agents provocateurs” in amongst the protesters deny that the police could have had this sort of information.

    Like someone already said (with immense reason) it’s hard to know who to believe, with so much emotion involved.

  26. “The big question: Why was any Torontonian downtown on the weekend if they didn’t have to be? Sheer stupidity. Gee honey, let’s take the kids downtown so they can see how you break windows. Real smart. “COMMENT BY WILL ASHWORTHJUNE 28, 2010 | 12:27 PM

    Answer: Because WE LIVE HERE.

    Do you have any idea how many people live south of Bloor Street? Are you just a troll or are you really that clueless?

  27. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to have these summits electronically, just set up an encrypted digital video feed between the leaders own offices and they all have a video conference call. You could have the whole summit for a few thousand dollars in equipment and satellite rental and the equipment would be a one time cost.

  28. Mr Ashworth: If being an “objective” magazine means ignoring police abuses in its city of origin, I hope that Spacing is as subjective as possible.
    Do you disagree that innocent people are “entitled” to being able to walk through their neighbourhood or disagree with their government without being assaulted by police?
    Your other comments are too ridiculous to respond to.

  29. Jordan, thank you for getting that mealy-mouthed response from the mayor’s office. What a spineless POW:

    “Mayor Miller has expressed his confidence in the way police handled the reaction under very trying circumstances but he also recognizes that there are some legitimate questions being raised about some of the tactics used on Sunday. If there are concerns about any aspect of the police activities, there is now an independent provincial agency established to follow up on those complaints.”

    Wonder how the fence he’s sitting on feels up his tuchus. He’s obviously in mind to run again for some level of gov’t. Well I won’t forget that he’s fine with mass detentions and ‘collective punishment’; the Geneva Convention and I don’t agree with him, or the police. Hope we can see if our courts will.

  30. “Ville de Montréal,” no hard feelings.

    Also, it’s really curious how in Ville de Montréal there are virtually no cranes in the sky (except for that one on rue Bleury near Ste-Catherine, unless it’s still a hole in the ground, last I saw); no new economic activity that isn’t a part of “Québec, Inc.”; no programmes particulier d’urbanisme (PPUs) revitalizing the urban fabric here and now; no welcome mat for cultural (and linguistic) diversity introduced to Québec by new Canadians; and no new endgame for un troisième référendum should Yeux Bleues gets his wish. Oh, and for that revolutionary breakaway from the RC in 1960, it sure is odd how a highly secular society lionizes the birthday of St. John the Baptist with such zeal — such as hosting xenophobic marches through Parc-La-Fontaine such as that one a week or so ago (and just like with every June).

    We can play this game of prodding each other where it hurts most, “Ville de Montréal,” or we as Canadians — which can’t happen without you, one of the most Canadian places in Canada — can grow up and stop prodding our tender areas with the magical touch of a modern-day Marquis de Sade. Personally, as someone who has lived in both cities, I don’t see the point of hating one another. It’s a waste of time and energy.

  31. Wow, Samantha… take a joke. Ville de Montreal’s comment was the funniest thing I’ve read in weeks, and I’m a west coast anglophone, only recently relocated to Montreal. Not everything has to be about the ridiculous antagonism between Ontario and Quebec (the rest of Canada barely gives half a damn about your petty rivalries.) 

    The point is, people in Toronto are losing their shit over what was a relatively minuscule riot by European, American or Quebecois standards. Most of the world are pretty un-phased by the minor damage the bloc managed to pull off, but here in Toronto way too many people are hitting the panic button in order to justify the extreme and unreasonable measures taken by the police. It’s true, Montreal has bigger and better riots routinely and it’s not that big a deal, as much as some may find it irritating. Just a bit of perspective. 

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