Having advertised myself as a “connoisseur of riots” in Wednesday’s column, I now come rather late to the tasting, a full week after milling through the “anarchist” street party that accompanied the G20 Summit in Toronto last weekend.
Indeed, bloggers and twitterers ruled, and national media used the blog-twitter format on their websites to follow the street action. This is how web readers were able to learn that the police had used tear gas and pepper spray, long before they had actually used small quantities of them.
On the other hand, precise and exhaustive information was provided, on which Yonge Street shop windows had been smashed by black-costumed thugs; and we were never in doubt about the locations of each of the four squad cars they had Molotov’d (with police just watching).
The media kept reporting 10,000 peaceful marchers down University Avenue earlier, but from my glimpse I’d say closer to 5,000, and the police estimate was 4,000-plus. There was a huge media presence; I saw television vans, and people with dangling press credentials, everywhere.
Compare the annual pro-life demonstration in Ottawa, which draws about 15,000 entirely peaceful marchers, and gets almost zero media coverage. The Summit march was around one-third of that.
There were 20,000 police, and probably less than 100 violent trouble-makers—very easy to identify even when not wearing their theatrical black costumes. Yet even as they cracked windows at the police museum, the police just watched. And no police were in sight during the Black Bloc glass-breaking spree up Yonge Street, which started terrifying all the glib little “radicals.”
Instead, we had these chorus lines of robotic riot cops, obviously wired to controllers at a remote location, thumping their shields with batons like extras in some Tarzan movie. One line I observed along King Street, with their visors up, was quite inclusively gendered; and most looked scared.
While I could not hear the conversation, I noticed a politely dressed young lady walk up to them, probably asking for street directions around the demonstration. She was alone, and offered no conceivable threat. She was immediately thrown back, as if she had touched an electric fence. I saw an old gentleman, likewise, pushed over. When he shouted, “What the hell did you do that for?” several of the riot police chanted in unison, “Keep moving.” One added, “This is not a joke.”
Where police did apprehend an indubitable baddy, with a rucksack full of pipes and rocks, it was catch-and-release. They took the rucksack and let the man go. He would have had no trouble later, helping himself to the loose bricks in Yonge Street’s pedestrian-friendly traffic medians.
Yet on College Street, near Queen’s Park, I was among a group of utterly harmless bystanders, who were suddenly charged by a riot-cop phalanx. It was memorable: the most gratuitous display of police power I have witnessed in a free country. “We’re not even demonstrators!” several cried out, to no effect. “Keep moving! This is not a joke!”
That was Saturday. Overnight to Sunday a police dragnet pulled in hundreds, apparently mostly out-of-towners camping at a University of Toronto gym and dorm, many carrying “things not needed for a weekend in Toronto.” I will not second-guess that operation, especially as it had a calming influence on the police themselves, who seemed to chill out overnight. And were now arresting people by the hay-wain, even though the violence had stopped.
Allow me to criticize this whole approach to policing.
From previous summits, the police were perfectly aware of the Black Bloc phenomenon: organized “anarchist” infiltrators, intending violence. While the robot phalanxes were necessary for back-up, the front of the operation should have consisted, from the outset, of identifying and detaining—in advance of violence—all those who by dress and behaviour were clearly bent on breaching the peace. By failing to do so—by letting things happen before intervening—they effectively granted permission for rioting to proceed.
This is hardly the fault of the police alone. The whole network of leftist “rights groups” which we encourage with public subsidies, and a court system willing to entertain frivolous charges, makes this kind of politically correct police strategy inevitable. The authorities are intimidated by the agitprop specialists, which is why they installed video cameras all over the Eastern Avenue detention centre: to protect themselves from false charges of “police brutality.”
The amount of real destruction was quite modest, as I noticed when doubling back over the Black Bloc route. By 6 p.m. on Saturday, glaziers were already repairing many of the broken windows. The violence had been unctuously symbolic: the “anarchists” targeting only resonant brand names, so that for instance the front of an American Apparel shop was thoroughly, almost lovingly trashed, but the shops on either side of it were ignored. No one was seriously injured. It would have taken very little traditional police effort to prevent almost all of the property damage that occurred last week. Instead we spent something like a billion dollars in overkill, necessitated by the bureaucratic need to permit violence before awkwardly suppressing it.