Sunday, June 27, 2010

No Running, No Responsibility, Only G20

I never expected anything good to come out of this weekend. What upsets me is that I've been vindicated. All I can do is hope that today will be somewhat more peaceful than yesterday. At least no one's dead yet.

I booked Friday off almost the instant I learned that Toronto would be hosting the G20 summit, and I hoofed it up north to Barrie to escape it. What I realized is that there's no escaping something of this magnitude. Even here, a hundred kilometers removed from the Black Blocs and the riot cops, the summit's presence was still strong up here. I had the poor timing to be out and about in Barrie's South End when the G8 motorcades from Huntsville were transferring from highway to helicopter at Molson Park Drive, a congested patch of the city at the best of times, as police and military choppers thundered above. It seemed like the entire Barrie Police Service was down there, pinching off the traffic flow - or, at least, what bits of the Barrie Police Service weren't trying to hold the line against the anarchists by the lake.

The truth is that there is no escape from it. It's possible that the passage of time may heal the wounds, but as far as I know Toronto hasn't experienced chaos of this scale within recent memory. Long after the riots are over, the shit is cleaned up and the broken windows are replaced, the bruises to Toronto's psyche will linger. It's hard to reconcile the notion of "Toronto the Good" with what rolls off the Twitter feed, dozens of perspectives per minute. What's more, it was painful to follow what was going on through the afternoon, as peaceful demonstrations gave way to cowardly hoodlums and base anarchy. A police car, a symbol of our civil society and our freedom to safely walk the streets at night, burning in the middle of the same intersection I cross every day. Hope gutters. Tempers fray.

It's distressing, it's sick, and it feels like it has a life of its own.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police helicopter C-FGSB while circling over south Barrie

Originally I'd meant to write about the G20's lack of understanding. It's plain enough to see, from the simple fact that they thought it was a crackerjack idea to hold this kind of summit in the center of a major metropolitan area - and watching Lawrence Cannon, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, flop around like a fish on a cutting board when Peter Mansbridge asked him a very simple, very direct question about whether the magnitude protests surprised him just put it in perspective: "It's not up to me to determine whether I'm surprised or not" is essentially what he said. The same way that the summit organizers thought it would be an excellent idea to transfer from cars to choppers in south Barrie - I suppose it's their good fortune that no one was camped out and waiting by the Bayfield Street bridge with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. More than a billion dollars of security theatre, and what do we get? Riots in the streets. Riots that would probably have happened even had the red zone been in Exhibition Place.

It's doubtful that those behind the summit will ever acknowledge their culpability for the events of yesterday. They brought the Black Bloc thugs here as surely as if they'd handed them tickets, but instead they will harp on about the "breakthroughs" the meeting achieved - which, if they're anything like the G8's condemnation of Iran and North Korea, will accomplish precisely dick - and keep on with business as normal. I feel for whatever city in France gets to host the summit in 2011, but at least the French are no strangers to riots.

Chaos like this on the streets of Toronto - I can understand people from other parts of the world who say they've seen worse. Undoubtedly there's been far, far worse, and what happened on Saturday is on the low end of the spectrum. It's an experience that Toronto hasn't lived through since the 1992 Yonge Street Riot - and even then, it's in a different category. In 2010, the anarchists rioted purely for rioting's sake.

I came to Barrie to escape the G20, but I can't escape what's going on in the heart of the city. A hundred kilometers away I can feel the pain.

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