Dominion of fear
Why Stephen Harper turned downtown Toronto into an occupied city
Downtown Toronto is a ghost town [...] Stephen Harper and his buddies have [...] made a bloody mess of the downtown [...] They have transformed a bustling, prosperous city into a microcosm of the world they wish to create. Governed by martial law, cordoned off, leaders isolated from the people they claim to represent. This is what democracy looks like, indeed. They used to accuse activists of hiding our faces behind black kerchiefs and balaclavas — now they're the ones hiding behind walls.—The blogger Sabotabby on 23 June 2010, before the violence began.
|In Toronto, freedom of assembly was somewhat curtailed|
They came, they saw, they spat upon civil society, the rule of law and democracy, those 'leaders' of the G20, of the world's most important economies. Titular democracies, absolute monarchies and a peoples' republics, their 'leaders' came to Toronto to gather behind fences of steel and barricades of concrete, and behind the arms of 19,000 armed 'security' personnel. Together they occupied the heart of Canada's largest city like nothing else but a conquering army as a bewildered and frightened and sometimes even angry citizenry was shown in no uncertain terms the limits of democracy.
Outside the walls, citizens raised voices and shook fists in the face of heavily-armed, masked and shielded men and women who, at the whims of their masters, might — and sometimes did — attack the very people they had sworn to protect.
More than 900 people were arrested, among whom were protesters naively exercising their constitutional rights to speech and assembly; journalists covering those assembling and some people just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It may be that even some of the thugs who cloak their desire for excitement and broken glass in the mantle of politics were swept up in the mass arrests, but one suspects any of those were caught by happenstance and not genuine police-work.
In any case, the real violence, the genuine aggression, was not that of scattered bands of stone-throwers and window-smashers, but of the strong against the weak: of the armed and uniformed agents of the State turned against its own people.
Just why was this billion-dollar summit held in the midst of Canada's largest city in the first place? What sort of 'conservative' government would think the resulting and inevitable economic disruption would be worth the price when so many alternatives were easily available?
Why did Ontario's provincial government rush to secretly pass a law decreeing all streets within the security zone a "public work" — and why did Toronto's Police Chief blithely lie to the city's citizens, claiming the law allowed the police to arrest anyone who refused to provide identification for the "crime" of approaching the barrier?
What was the purpose of inflicting such a nakedly aggressive show of force on the economic and cultural heart of English Canada — in full view of the eyes of the world, no less?
It was not, as some have suggested, due to some personal animus on the part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Said animus may well exist but it is not sufficient to explain what happened, nor to explain why public displays of dissent throughout the Western world have more and more often been met with violence in recent years.
(some suggested further reading):
This list is too short and extremely idiosyncratic, but it won't take you much digging to learn much more.
The de facto occupation of Toronto was perhaps not a fully conscious choice, but it was a deliberate choice, and one designed not so much to cow the nation's citizens (though that was the unstated but obvious goal), but to comfort our so-called leaders.
Presidents and prime ministers, chancellors and chairmen, emirs and kings, our 'leaders' must be frightened men (and women), and such shows of force are one way those leaders can reassure themselves that their world is not, in fact, spinning utterly and irrevocably beyond their control.
As the western economy stands revealed as a ponzi scheme, and the polar ice-caps melt; as oil grows scarcer and fisheries collapse; and as, paradoxically, the genius of capitalism sees so many goods produced so cheaply that almost no one can turn a real profit; in short, as the assumptions of liberal democratic triumphalism — a state of mind barely two decades old — lie in ruins and capitalism itself seems to be running up against its own limits and contradictions, our 'leaders' want reassurance as much as any of us might do.
And they must now know (whether they admit it to themselves or not) that the reassurances they will get from their yes-men experts and true-believing economists are but empty words, ritual incantations of impossible infinite growth, of trickle-down and rational markets.
They may tell themselves as well as the rest of us that their plans will "fix" the economy, that cutting the deficits by cutting jobs, for example, will lead to greater prosperity for all down the line, but in the long dark bankers' meetings of the soul, most of them must at least suspect their solutions are smoke, that staying the course is simply impossible, that sooner or later, something unexpected — and quite possibly something horribly destructive — will arise to sweep them and their works into the recycling bin of history.
Stephen Harper deliberately "made a bloody mess" of downtown Toronto not only because he could, but because doing so made him feel strong; exercising the power to order 19,000 armed men and women is a form of magical thinking which he "and his buddies" feel will translate into the power to order about the economy and the weather.
Consciously or not, Toronto was turned into an armed camp, because our 'leaders' foresee a time when brute force will be all they have to hold on to the reigns of their illusory power.