Photo by Carl Heindl.
Thursday marks three years since the G20 was held in Toronto. The summit of world leaders was also the scene of the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, after over 1,000 people were sent to a detention centre. In the meantime, the Arab Spring revolutionized the Middle East, riots popped up all over the globe, and here in Canada we had a bunch more protests of our own from coast to coast. These include over 100 days of tuition hike protests in Montreal, cat and mouse protests against police brutality, Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot, Occupy, and the historical Native protest movement Idle No More. So, what have we learned about “riot culture” in Canada since the G20?
Lawyer Peter Rosenthal who represented well known shit-disturber Jaggi Singh pro-bono in the massive G20 conspiracy case said the main thing he gathered from the case “was the extraordinary expense and effort that police were willing to expend in order to monitor and charge activists.”
This is backed up by evidence from the US National Security Agency PRISM scandal that shows how Canada was working with, or at least receiving information from the NSA and British Government Communications Headquarters who were monitoring emails, phone calls, and Internet activity of diplomats during the G20 in Toronto. And as we told you before, it’s not a big reach to think that Canadians’ Internet and Facebook messages, especially those of activists, were being monitored as well.
Monitoring the real bad guys can lead to solid law enforcement work. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police caught the creeps who were going to derail a VIA Rail train in April, everyone in Canada was very excited that no one had to die over the homicidal desires of two losers. When these tactics target protesters and innocent people however, public dissent quickly rises. That’s why so many Canadians protested and convinced the Harper government to kill Bill C-30, which was supposedly designed to catch pedophiles, but also would have granted police the ability to monitor Canadians without warrants.
I spoke to Alex Hundert, fresh off of being arrested at a Tar Sands Line 9 protest in Hamilton, Ontario. He spent 14 months in prison and under house arrest after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges at the G20. He sees the crackdown on activism as a sign that the protests are doing their job: “If they are coming down on us that hard, if they’re trying to smash these networks, it means they’re afraid of them and the state recognizes that we are effectively building a movement that challenges not just their power, but the legitimacy of their power,“ he said.
On the other side Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, said the biggest thing he’s learned from the G20 has been how helpful social media is for organizing protests, which conversely makes these protests easier to monitor through sophisticated law enforcement.
“In general we’re dealing with a different type of protester—much more aggressive, more intent on causing damage or baiting the police into engaging in some kind of conduct that later can be held against the police,” said Stamatakis who has spent time on the front lines of a Canadian riot or two.
While the G20 protests were certainly marred by the actions of the Black Bloc, who destroyed storefronts and set police vehicles on fire, the police are certainly guilty of some highly sketchy behaviour themselves. There were numerous incidents of excessive force used against protesters, journalists were arrested, and senior officers were quoted as telling the police force to “own the streets” during the G20 protests.
Abby Deshman a lawyer and director of the public safety program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has spent the years since the G20 dealing with the fallout for activists. She said most of the cases against officers are still being held up in court three years later including a class action lawsuit set to deal with protester complaints en masse, before an Ontario judge court rejected it, saying it needed to be split up into individual cases.
On top of all this, the Conservatives just passed a law, that makes wearing a mask (be it a Guy Fawkes mask or a panda suit) at an “illegal protest” punishable by a sentence of up to a decade in prison. This anti-mask law was tested on the Quebec students before Montreal passed a bylaw of their own called P-6, that makes demonstrating with more than ten people illegal if the police aren’t notified in advance.
Deshman said the CCLA is concerned with the effect these laws have on the Canadian right to protest. “We have had decades of relatively successful peaceful public protests every day within this country, we really haven’t had the need for this kind of [crackdown on protesters] before,” she said.
Montreal activist and indie journalist Aaron Lakoff took it a one step further, and compared notifying the police about a demonstration to “giving the route of an action to an armed gang of drug dealers or to your neighbourhood bully.” He added: “the police have not demonstrated that they are there for our protection or our safety.”
Evidently the fallout from the G20 protest has not resulted in any positive changes. When you look at how police officers in Toronto were charged with cornering protesters in a tactic called “kettling,” and that Montreal has continued to use that tactic against peaceful protesters, you have to wonder: have we learned anything at all? Or are things just getting worse?
Tweet at @Joel Balsam if you want, he really likes Canadian politics.
For more on Canadian activism:
Wearing a Mask at a Canadian Protest Can Earn You a Ten Year Prison Sentence
Was Adam Nobody, a G20 Protester, Assaulted For Carrying An Explosive Water Bottle