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?
WHY DID THE POLICE BUILD A DESIGNATED RIOT AREA?
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….
WHO PAYS FOR DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY & LOSS OF INCOME?
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.