G20: Mayor breeds new generation of cynics

“The Toronto Police Service, with very little lead time, I think did a job that can only be described as extremely professional and to the highest standards.” (Near-complete press conference video: part 1, part 2.)

Toronto’s civic leadership has failed.  The inability of our representatives to utter anything helpful, comforting, or non-bullshitty during or after one of the bleakest weekends in this city’s history is nothing short of a travesty. If the public’s faith in democracy was damaged by the mass arrests, detentions, and beatings of peaceful protesters, journalists, and random pedestrians, then it was positively slaughtered by our politicians’ indifference to these things.

The Police Services Act prohibits elected officials from directing the activities of a police force; this is absolutely fine, and is exactly as it should be. But I am hugely doubtful that it is the intention of the Act to muzzle politicians and prevent them from addressing their constituents in a time of crisis.

That said, when a handful of our leaders finally emerged to talk to the media on Monday morning, I kind of wished they’d stayed in their burrow. Mayor David Miller’s own press conference was dismissive at best, delusional at worst. Early in his remarks, he encouraged people to attend the upcoming Tall Ships festival at Harbourfront. Twice. This was not an effective diversion technique.

He admonished mayoral candidates who would choose to address the incidents of this past weekend — “People running for elected office should not be speaking up” — bringing to mind Kim Campbell’s infamous declaration that an election is no time to discuss serious issues.  (Later that day, Joe Pantalone put out a post-G20 release that heeded the mayor’s warning and was appropriately oblivious; by Tuesday afternoon, the campaign realized its error and issued a new release saying all of the things that the previous one should have.)

“I don’t think we should second-guess police decisions made in the heat of the moment,” Miller proclaimed, implying that any errors would be justifiable and forgivable, if only we knew everything there was to know. In other words, those who are not omniscient should shut the f— up.

When the Globe‘s Marcus Gee asked him a question about the front-page editorial in Monday’s Star, Miller exuberantly proclaimed that he does not subscribe to that paper. Fine, there are legitimate reasons not to subscribe to the Star, but the comment was so odd, so out of nowhere, and so needlessly antagonizing that I started to wonder what the hell he was thinking. Why bother holding a press conference if you plan on only responding to questions with varying degrees of contempt?

With regard to the Queen and Spadina incident, he took no issue with the police’s decision to hold 200 people (many of whom were journalists, and the vast majority of whom were random pedestrians) outside in the cold rain for several hours, because the police believed there may have been some potentially destructive folks in their midst. A mayor who prides himself on his public realm policies effectively condoned the criminalization of pedestrianism.

“Let’s put what happened over the weekend behind us,” he concluded.

David Miller had originally hoped to be remembered as the “Transit Mayor.” After the provincial government threw the future of Transit City into doubt, he was willing to settle for the “Green Mayor.” But at this point, and even among those who previously supported him, I am afraid he may be recalled as the “Spineless Mayor.”

17 comments

  1. In the end, though ostensibly socially progressive, Miller is just a politician: ‘all sizzle, no steak’. You have to wonder if: he has ambitions to run for another office, or the police union has something on him (he wouldn’t be the first). A ‘leader’ would have done the following:
    – refused any city police, amenities or cooperation for the G20 until enough financial and civil-liberty guarantees were in place
    – refused these for the downtown site, but only for the Exhibition site
    – warned protesters off of being in any area where the ‘black block’ were active, but otherwise encouraged peaceful demonstration, even when disruptive
    – gone down to Spadina and Queen in person when that debacle was happening, so as not to leave the fate of the many innocent in that crowd to CP24s attention
    – gone to the detention centre too, and demanded explanation of why people are not arrested, but held as long as (dubiously) legal
    However, here in what we know as the ‘real world’ those ‘leaders’ don’t exist any longer.

  2. So the hyperbole continues. One weekend of questionable police tactics in a chaotic atmosphere, and an outgoing mayor’s presser the next day, have overnight bred a “new generation of cynics”?

    Sorry to burst the twitterati’s bubble, but this generation were cynics way before this past weekend. You can tell because 80% of them aren’t paying ANY attention to this.

  3. Monday’s press conference really marked the end of David Miller’s mayoralty. Various people had been calling him a lame duck mayor for some time now, fairly or unfairly, but this was the symbolic event that really did it.

    Many of the things he’d hoped would form his legacy have been undermined by the actions of other levels of government, but he still had plenty of support, especially with the Spacing crowd. I saw the response he got at the last Spacing launch party: the only-half-joking chants of “four more years.” Does anybody think he’ll get a reception like that again?

    I supported the Mayor through two elections and many ups and downs at council. My support had been wearing away over the past year over various things, but I still felt he was a better mayor than most of those who’ve come before you and any of those running to replace him.

    As of Monday, as far as I’m concerned he is Mayor in name only. I think the G20 summit is going to be remembered with the Christie Pits riots as a defining moment in Toronto’s psychological history, and hopefully the Mayor’s role in all of this will not be forgotten. He had a chance to speak for Toronto on Monday, to try to help heal the wounds of the days before, and he failed. That’s all the legacy he gets, as far as I’m concerned.

  4. Before him. Come before him, I meant to say.

  5. So, why has Miller chose to remain silent on police abuse? It makes no sense whatsoever given the overwhelming evidence of misconduct that has been presented — and there will be much more. Has our mayor really been reduced to telling citizens to file complaints and then changing the subject?

    I can only assume there is a backstory that involves a very large carrot or stick — why else would Miller sacrifice his legacy. 

  6. Dear Ben,
    It is not that people are cynics it’s just that they have puppy dogs and american idol to watch. Most of them may have a twinkling of concern for the social issues in the city but those twinkling are swamped in the diarrhea of the usual nonsense. I hate to sound like a conspiracy nut, but bread and circuses are what the people of Toronto are all about. Just look at the candidates for mayor this time… just awful, are these people the caliber of leader we can produce? – if so the future is looking dim. I laugh at all the FORD for mayor bumper stickers I see from the GO bus while commuting into the downtown.

    Don’t be a hypocrite and expect other people to solve society’s issues like most people in Toronto. If you find yourself spitting at “scum” protesters and asking for more street parking instead of a bicycle lane or streetcar track it may be too late for you and your city.

  7. This barrage of G20 aftermath reporting strikes me as simply an attempt by the media to create a crisis in order to sell more advertising. The police began mass arrests after a bunch of idiots sacked the city. I would have been upset if they hadn’t reacted with due force. As for those that were “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, why were you there on Sunday. I live downtown but I was keeping away from the protests after the violence started since being on the streets with the idiots had turned from a political statement to support for immature criminals. I have always been considered very left wing but I am ashamed of the support many left leaning people are giving to a group of criminals who just need to grow up!

  8. Yes, sbus, everyone knows that Spacing covers public space issues and municipal politics because that’s where the advertising dollars are.

  9. The one thing that has gone totally unmentioned is Julian Fantio’s role in all of this. He doesn’t like Miller and has shown contempt for Blair as well.

    As OPP commissioner he had a lot to say about police tactics; didn’t Sunday’s police force seem a lot like the Fantino days and the measured response of Saturday seem like a Blair-led day? Fantino wasn’t in Toronto until late Saturday, so you can only imagine the fireworks of central command after he and his gang of 5,000 cops arrived from Huntsville.

    While Blair deserves a heap of scorn for his handling of the “super powers” and the weapons press conference, he wasn’t the only one in control. He didn’t want it downtown and asked for it to be staged at the CNE grounds instead. OPP overruled that.

    Miller seems to backing Blair in a big way ’cause he has nothing to lose. Miller just sees that trying to save Blair’s hide is important to Toronto so we don’t end up with another Fantino-like police chief (my own pure speculation).

    I have no idea if an inquiry is the right thing to do but we do need some independent review to see how the policing was handled if only to make sure that the next time a big event comes to our city we do not end up with silly mass arrests while vandals are left free to destroy windows, wreak havoc, and steal all the headlines from worthy causes.

  10. Spacing turns on Miller? He is truly over.

  11. SBus, do you think we should amend the Charter of Rights to say sections 2, 7, 8, 9, 10 may not apply if a crime, no matter how minor, has been committed in the last 24 hours or so within a kilometer or two.

    “warned protesters off of being in any area where the ‘black block’ were active, but otherwise encouraged peaceful demonstration, even when disruptive”

    That is pretty much what happened, although it is hard to tell because the media stopped covering the peaceful protest when the black bloc split off and started damaging property.

  12. i agree with the sentiments in this piece. miller has lost his last bastion of support (e.g. people like me) through his public reaction to these events, and he has become a true lame duck mayor. baffling!

    it saddens me to see people continue to tar all protesters with a brush that should be reserved for a few extremists, who were allowed to run wild because it was expedient for politicians and police. extremists exist on both sides of any political debate, but there is nothing to be gained by intimidating, beating, arresting, and abusing peaceful protesters, bystanders, and journalists in the city of toronto in 2010.

    at the post-G20 rallies people have expressed differing views, which i think is great. while most were chanting “whose streets? our streets!” on monday as we marched down university, some shouted “car streets!” instead. we should be allowed to disagree in public without being sprayed with teargas and rubber bullets, and i hope that regardless of your political stripe you can agree on that.

  13. So, like the other locations of mass arrests in N.America we get an inquiry or class action suit that finds guilt and applies a long list of recommendation (to be ignored) and meager punishment. Again at the next one…

    This sort of patrician contempt led to 1848. They ought to realise that if the curtain is drawn on the theatre of democracy people find other means…

  14. Jonathan> Your name goes have “Gold” in it ! : )

  15. David Miller has always believed in globalism. In 2006, he said, to public meeting, that he wanted to Make Toronto a world centre for mining finance. As Dan Perkins said of lefties with unreal expectations of Obama, people need to stop listening to the David Miller in their head, and start paying attention to the real person. The real David Miller has never challenged the aspirations of the Toronto elite for a world-class city and a world-leading financial sector. They may not have wanted the G20 here; I suspect few Toronto bankers got to attend. But the financial sector in this city, who supported Miller through two terms, has a deep commitment to the kind of international elite accommodation that the G20 represents. Anyone who entertained illusions of anything else either did not pay attention, or worse, just did not want to know where the money for things like Luminato and Nuit Blanche really comes from.

  16. I think Miller and Blair spoke too soon to commend police actions. How were they to know that the police were sexually/racially harassing and abusing prisoners and innocent passerbyers? It was a few days after their announcements that the testimonials of an arrested TTC worker, a beaten cyclist, and potential victims of police rape surfaced. I hope that Miller and Blair would retract their statements soon.

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