The largest city in Canada was
traditionally known as Toronto the Good. Safe, a little dull, devoutly
Presbyterian and achingly parochial. That all changed some years ago but was
given its coming of age party in front of millions of people last weekend
during the G8 and G20 gatherings and consequent protests. Almost 1000 arrests,
four police cruisers torched, private vehicles destroyed and insurance
companies yet to count the cost for smashed and looted stores.
Which is all something of a shock to the
Canadian people, especially as the cost of the security for the event came to
more than a billion dollars and involved 15,000 police officers with additional
military and intelligence support. So what happened and why was the chaos
allowed to occur?
Two tales in one city. On the Saturday the
assembled ranks of police seemed to have no idea of what to do and, worse,
allowed crimes to be committed. “I grabbed a guy breaking into my store, held
him and called for a cop standing a few feet away to come and help me”,
explained a distraught business owner in the heart of the city. “The cop looked
at me, saw me, heard me, then just walked away. I let the looter go.”
Police vehicles were abandoned and allowed
to burn, anarchist thugs were filmed taking running kick after running kick at
store windows without any police intervention. Starbucks was left unguarded.
Now this is important. For a whole variety of perverse reasons the coffee chain
has become an icon of evil for Marxist punks at anti-globalisations
demonstrations and the like. We know Starbucks will be attacked. Not, however,
15,000 Canadian police officers with hundreds of millions of dollars of
equipment and intelligence behind them. Starbucks was left without any police
in the area and the usual suspects did the usual nonsense.
By the end of Saturday television screens
showed dozens of clips of, well, anarchy. The so-called Black Bloc anarchist
group dressed in black, covered their faces and seemed to be able to do
whatever they wanted without much fear of arrest. Then comes Sunday and the
other side of a bipolar approach to policing.
From the passive to the aggressive. The
police began to round up journalists, passers-by, innocent and peaceful protestors
and people walking home from watching World Cup games. They were searched and
then handcuffed in their dozens and even hundreds. Many were clamped around the
legs as well and several roughed up and even beaten.
Frankly, I find it difficult to have much
sympathy for a violent revolutionary dealt with a little harshly by a cop he’s
just insulted but these victims were entirely innocent. A journalist friend of
mine walking to his hotel was grabbed, pushed against a wall and about to be
handcuffed before his screams of, “Here’s my ID, here’s my ID, for goodness
sake I live here,” were listened to.
One much publicised case involved a young
reporter with asthma and one kidney being punched in the stomach by a police
officer while two others held him. People with nothing to do with the protests
were held for hours in pouring rain – there was flooding in the city – and not
allowed any access to friends, family or lawyers.
The police also acted on a secretly passed
law brought into activity only for the weekend that allowed arrest of anyone
who refused to show their ID. Most people, including politicians and lawyers,
had no idea this law had been implemented. From far too little done by the
police on Saturday we had far too much done by them on the Sunday.
They had a lot to cope with and were
insulted and abused by anarchists and their left-wing enablers in the
mainstream labour movement but instead of dealing with the bad guys they
reserved their anger for the innocent 24 hours later.
There should and may well be an inquiry and
we won’t know all of the details. But I’ve worked as a television host and
columnist in this city long enough to know how political the police leadership
In Toronto a socialist mayor appointed a
good but politically astute police chief who, for example, earlier this year
allowed one of the country’s major highways to be closed by Tamil protestors
who occupied the enormously busy road, often pushing their children in front of
them. Charges of child abuse, illegal occupation or endangering the public? Not
at all. The protestors were allowed to make their point for some hours and then
asked to move along when they were finished.
Toronto is also the location for one of the
largest gay parades in the world. Where some of the men and women championing
their sexuality parade naked along the city’s main street and where illegal sex
acts occur. The police, however, have been told only to intervene if it is
absolutely necessary. It is hardly ever, it seems, absolutely necessary.
This is the city where a Chinese immigrant
storekeeper working all hours to make a living finally stopped and over-powered
a repeat shoplifter, bound him and waited for the police. Who promptly charged
the storekeeper and offered to drop all criminal charges against the career
thief if he testified against his supposed assailant.
So what happened on the weekend? I’d be
stunned if the police on the front line had not been told to hold back, not
intervene, avoid confrontation – individual cops have said as much off the
record. When the policy was so obviously a disaster the police leadership
panicked and we had something verging on brutality.
This was a bad, bad couple of days not only
for Toronto but for the notion and ideal of apolitical and consistent policing
Fear not though. Every Canadian police
service – the word “force” is considered too harsh – has a hate crime or
anti-bias unit and works closely with federal and provincial Human Rights
Commissions. As for the actual conference, we’re not entirely sure what they
Coren is a broadcaster and writer living in Toronto, Canada.