A huge police crackdown on protesters at the June 26-27 G20 Summit in Toronto last week ended in the arrests of hundreds of primarily peaceful activists. Canadian group Socialist Project issued this statement on June 30 in solidarity with the protesters targeted by police. It is reprinted from The Bullet.
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The massive police presence in Toronto over this week has been officially justified on the basis of protecting the leaders of the G8 and G20 countries meeting in Huntsville and Toronto.
We were told that the creation of the fenced-in fortress, the massive mobilisation of police (estimates ranging from 10-20,000) from across Canada, and even the passing of a secret law on policing (by the executive of the Ontario government without reference to the Legislative Assembly and the opposition parties) that made it a crime to appear within five metres of the security fence would protect our right to protest.
This is not what unfolded in Toronto over the weekend.
Thousands of protesters marched peacefully on June 25 to challenge the purpose and agenda of the G20. They were completely hemmed in on all sides by thousands of heavily armed police over the entire march (and severely hampering the freedom of assembly).
On June 26, there was a larger demonstration of 10,000-25,000 people, organised by the union, anti-privatisation and peace movements. A series of unwarranted acts of vandalism by a small number of protesters against stores, vehicles and buildings, was used as an excuse for a massive unleashing of repression and attacks by police against the democratic rights of protesters and Torontonians as a whole.
As happened at the Montebello Summit of North American leaders in August 2007, it will come out over the next few weeks how widely the police had infiltrated some of the key groups involved in the vandalism — especially the so-called Black Bloc — knew the planning and took part as agent provocateurs.
There seemed to be no real effort on the part of the police to stop the attacks on the stores. None of the huge police contingents tried to stop some of the small groups from burning three of their police vehicles.
It was as if the police weren’t all that concerned with these actions. Reporters from European broadcasters and newspapers reported this was totally out of keeping with any real concern to prevent violence.
The police then unleashed waves of repression against the legitimate protesters. This included those who wished to push toward the security fence in an effort to challenge the militarisation of the streets; those simply voicing their concerns about the G20 agenda (with its radical austerity agenda of having the public sector and the poor pay for the bailout of the banks); journalists and innocent and curious bystanders.
In one attack on a “free protest” zone (previously negotiated with the police), rubber bullets and tear gas were used. People were indiscriminately taken down, beaten and arrested.
In all, by the morning of June 27, it was estimated that about 500 people had been arrested (and hundreds more over the course of the day, bringing estimates up to 900 detainees).
It is impossible for anyone to know how many of these were instigators of violence and how many were people simply exercising their right to protest. But clearly, the mass majority were only protesting and exercising their rights to assembly and free speech, which the Toronto police and the wider security forces have systematically violated.
The temporary jail in which protesters have been placed is at the old Toronto Film Studios on Eastern Avenue on the eastern edge of downtown, converted into a series of cages in essentially a huge warehouse.
The jail is described by inmates as a kind of “Guantanamo North”: cold, dirty and especially humiliating for those who were said to have refused arrest.
People have been held for hours without recourse to legal representation, for which there has been a large legal team at hand. Protesters hoping to provide some type of support for those incarcerated have themselves been attacked, tear-gassed and dispersed by police violence, and several more arrested.
Listening to the mass media and interviews with the police and security spokespeople for the city of Toronto and the Canadian state, one would have thought there was full-scale rioting and the huge, billion-dollar spending spree on security for the Summit — that angered people across the country — was somehow worth it.
As part of this, all protesters are being demonised, and the police are being portrayed as heroes, notably by Toronto Mayor David Miller.
The message of the protests was drowned out in a demonizing of the entire project of the protest. People protested to highlight the fact that the G20 meeting reflected the underlying agenda of the corporations and the political elites to make sharp cutbacks across the public sector, impose wage cuts, not raise any new taxes on financial capital, and impose new forms of hardship in the form of higher taxes and cuts in benefits for working people and the poor.
The ruling classes in the G20 were doing everything in their power to have the working classes pay for the crisis and their project of ensuring political hegemony of the banks and financial capital.
The police and much of Toronto’s political and economic establishment sought to use the incidents to change the entire discourse of the G20 week.
Socialists take their distance from the foolish acts of the few who confuse violent attacks and trashing with revolutionary politics. Such acts substitute individual acts of dissent for the working class and the mass movement as a whole.
It calls forth the most violent features of the security and policing apparatuses of the state, catching hundreds of innocents in their wake, and helps justify the endless expansion of the security state.
To challenge the neoliberal globalisation agenda of the G20 and overturn all the undemocratic exploitative relations of capitalism, we need to build a political movement in Canada, based among the working classes who don’t earn their income from capital ownership, and are oppressed by the unequal relations of race, gender, sexuality and nationality.
At this moment, it is a point of fundamental solidarity to denounce, as forcefully as possible, the police repression being unleashed against G20 protesters. We insist that those incarcerated on Eastern Avenue have their full civil rights restored, and that civilian authorities take control of oversight of these proceedings from the Toronto Police Services.
They have proven incapable of protecting — and understanding — basic civil rights (starting from the special emergency powers granted by stealth by Premier Dalton McGuinty). The accused should immediately be released without charge, or be freed on bail and given the right to defend themselves in open courts (not the kangaroo courts that have been operating over this week with limited or no public access).
The police occupation of Toronto should end immediately, and our full civil rights — and especially our rights to our city and streets — be restored.
There clearly will need to be a full and independent investigation about the role of the police in the violence of the past few days, the role of agent provocateurs and plants in the planning of these events, and the astonishing violation of the rights of ordinary people on the streets of Toronto.