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A Police Car  is set on fire while Riot Police Stand Back and Watch

A Police Car is set on fire while Riot Police Stand Back and Watch. Photo by Deborah Mensah-Bonsu/Torontoist.

Canadian Politics | Scott Andrews: For Distribution July 2, 2010

Yesterday marked Canada’s 143rd Birthday. 2010 has been brimful for our juvenile nation, though we have not behaved well this year. I am an extraordinarily proud Canadian, I believe that Canada can be great, but this July 1st, less that one week after the largest mass arrest in Canada, I am embarrassed.

Canada has accomplished many great feats in the past, many of which I share with people when I am traveling and think of when I sport our Maple leaf. A Canadian invented peace keeping, we see health care as a human right and in the past we have opened our doors and provided safe homes for refugees. Canadian forces stood their ground in 1994 when one the most devastating Genocides in Human History swept through Rwanda, and in 2003 we clenched our jaw and told George Bush that we will have no part in his invasion of Iraq.

Fast forward to 2010 and we live in a much different Country. In 2004/2005 Canada started tapping into the Athabasca Oil Sands, which became commonly known as the “Tar Sands”. In 2006, Canada cut funding to all Women’s groups who engage in advocacy. Just a few months ago our minister of finance bragged “We are staying on course to having the lowest corporate income tax rate in the G7 by 2012.″ To top off the emetic assault on Canada’s working class, this weekend marks the debut of the HST – a consumer tax, which by all definitions is regressive, ie: hurts poor people. The bill for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics was nearly 50% greater than our entire annual Overseas Development Assistance.

Two weeks ago I was in Toronto with Oxfam Canada for their National Assembly and for the lead up to the G20 meetings. On Saturday June 18th, I took part in a peaceful protest rallying against Canada’s imposition of the “Gag Rule” which bars funding to groups in the third world who provide safe abortions (The Global Gag Rule prohibits US family planning assistance to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion-related information or services, even if these services are legal in their own countries and are funded with their own money. The rule prevents NGOs from even participating in public debates or speaking out on issues concerning abortion.)  Our rally pictured below featured a few hundred activists taking to the streets and participating in a rally. We were met by dozens of Police on bicycles who did not let us take one step on the road. After participating in a Gaza Solidarity march in Vancouver a few days earlier, I was shocked at how overbearing these police were. The events that took place the following weekend, however, are the reason I am not wearing a Maple Leaf on my chest this Canada day.

Maternal Health Rally June 18th Toronto

Peaceful Maternal Health Rally June 18th Toronto

I was back on the West Coast for the Vancouver Peoples’ Summit, so I was fortunately spared the baton and the substandard detention cells. With Canada having spent one billion dollars on security for the G20 summit, $12 million per hour, The French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy was quick to announce that he will do next year’s G8/G20 for one tenth the cost. Amidst so many recent cuts to social spending, a billion dollars on security is not only a slap in the face, but an indicator as to what kind of a society our government is looking to create. A police state that makes no attempt to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and crime is not the type of Canada I want to be a part of.

To dig a little further into what exactly happened last weekend on the streets of Toronto, a few inconsistencies begin to emerge. The mainstream media has been repeating the images of the “black bloc” protestors who lit two police cars on fire and broke several windows in the financial district of Toronto. For those of you unfamiliar, black bloc protesting is a tactic (not a group) which entails wearing black clothing and balaclavas to hide your identity, often with violent intent. It goes without saying that violent protest at the G8/G20 is counter productive and absolutely unacceptable. Peaceful demonstrations on the other hand have been pivotal in turning the tides in the civil rights movements, women’s emancipation and in the ongoing struggle for universal human rights. From the actions of the Toronto Police during this monumental summit, the target was undoubtedly the peaceful activists.

With 20,000 police and a one billion dollar budget, it would seem that stopping the violence that was taking placed shouldn’t have been too much of an issue. This rings especially true when we consider the violence happened right in the middle of the financial district in downtown Toronto. Joe Wenkoff, a photo journalist recounts his first hand experience in a video posted online.

“At the end of the Protest reached Queen and Spadina at around three o’clock, somewhere between seventy five and one hundred 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 the police in them, which they attacked – broke windows. There were riot police at the intersections at each street that went South from Queen street into the Financial district, but they did not engage the protestors, they just watched them go 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 and King and Bay. The black bloc started smashing the police cars and set one of them on fire. After around fifteen minutes they walked North on Young street smashing windows along the way. There were no police to be seen anywhere. The streets were full of people just doing normal things. At 4:20 they reached College where they smashed more windows on their way back to Queen’s park. They also smashed some windows at a police station. When they arrived back at Queen’s, they had all huddled in a circle to remove their black clothing and then after I lost track of them – they all blended into the crowd with the peaceful protestors.

After about half an hour, the riot police began moving into the protest zone in Queen’s park. Another group of riot police came from behind Queen’s park and surrounded the protestors. They squeezed the bystanders and protestors as they pushed us back, hitting us with batons. They hit me in the back and my field producer in the hand, breaking his finger. They were also pepper spraying the protestors at that time. We knew we were going to follow the black bloc, so we wore helmets for protection. But we ended up needing them for protection from police more so.”

After only short reflection, it is very clear that police were not interested in stopping the violence. From Joe’s videos it is very clear that the riot police waited at the intersections and watched the protestors smash the police cars that were strangely abandoned in the middle of the road. Nine hundred people were arrested, but consider the fact that the police allowed the black bloc to disperse into the crowd.

Having witnessed the police set up a week prior to the G20 summits and bearing witness to the security during the Olympic Games in Vancouver, I am outraged. Outraged at a very strategic and political display of force that aims to subvert and discredit civil society. This Canada Day I am taking the day to reflect on the fact that I cannot take for granted that my country respects the rule of law and values human rights. In this situation of manufactured chaos and panic we forget that an active civil society strengthens democracy. If you have taken the time to see past the thirty second clip brought to your familiar media conglomerate and pieced together the puzzle, please speak up and lend your voice to the chorus that is calling for accountability for what happened Saturday June 26th on the streets of Toronto. To quickly take action, join the Facebook group and sign the petition on Amnesty International’s website demanding a Public Inquiry into the Toronto G20.

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