Toronto G-20 Summit Protests: Confusion, Secrecy and the Media

Do you remember when you were a child and a game called broken telephone was played? It involved passing a message from person to person really fast, by the time the last person received the message it was a remade and distorted version of the original message. The game created confusion and left the entire class in laughter at what the message had turned into. The media reports revolving around the Toronto G-20 Summit protests and the passing of a “secret” law are a lot like the aforementioned game, however, no one was left laughing. Instead, our country was left dealing with questions about how the largest mass arrest in Canadian history took place. Further, how the passing of Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act occurred without public knowledge and most importantly why our civil liberties were violated.

So how was this confusion and secrecy spread during the G-20 Summit protests? The answer is found through the various mainstream media news sources and their political agendas. The public’s only hope of receiving updates on the events that were transpiring was through popular social media websites. In this media analysis I will examine articles that focus on the passing of Regulation 233/10, government responsibility and the use of social media during the protests. The three news sources I will use are The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and The National Post.

To provide insight on how Regulation 233/10 was presented to the public I will analyze articles from The Globe and Mail and The National Post. For a brief history on the events regarding Regulation 233/10 read this article by Adam Radwanski. The Globe and Mail operates from a centrist thought whereas the National Post is more conservative. The article written by Marcus Gee for The Globe and Mail examines the passing and probable ramifications Regulation 233/10 will have on Torontonians. Gee’s article is trying to inform and educate the public however, it is framed through misrepresentation and assumptions. In his article he presents the notion that: “police have the power to challenge individuals who enter this five meter radius by asking for identification and performing a search” (Gee 2010). The information in the article when it was written was based on an assumption by the institution not on facts. The misrepresentation leads to a fragmentation of everyday life in the downtown core. It presents the aforementioned zone as an area that Canadians should avoid because of the civil liberties that will be violated. Knowingly or unknowingly The Globe and Mail are presenting Regulation 233/10 as a law that will create a police state within five meters of the security zone. This stance reinforces the theme of the article which is that of disruption in the city and confusion surrounding the security zone. Furthermore, Gee states that this regulation presents this situation as “a present for activists who come to these summits in hopes of portraying themselves as victims of a militarized, undemocratic state” (Gee 2010). From this Gee is not making a distinction between activist, protestor, or rioter, rather he suggests individuals will use this as a way to perceive police action as a violation of the charter. Those who protest are essentially not responsible citizens; they are the “dissenters” who legitimize the police presence.

The article by National Post writer Lorne Gunter opens by reaffirming that he and his employer are not fans of the liberal Toronto Star. His article is in contrast with the previous article and other news media because it was written after the events. Gunter looks to clarify the misrepresentation and confusion the media spread before the G-20 summit while continuing the theme of being critical of law enforcement. He notes that news companies such as The Toronto Star were reporting on false information specifically that: “extra powers existed within a 5 meter radius of the security fence” (Gunter 2010). Gunter’s article is an over simplification of the G-20 summit, he does not touch on the role of the protestor or how police were trained. He writes from an informed view of someone who was given all the facts after the event and not from the state of confusion Gee wrote from, where factual information was lost in a game of “he said she said.” In his approach the reader is subjected to his conservative bias and the promotion of a deprecation of the Provincial Liberal Government. The article is framed with the intent to single out the former Premier of Ontario, a Liberal Dalton McGunity. Gunter points out to the public: “that in order to maintain security a special measure was taken by McGunity and the Liberals but they didn’t see the harm in not explaining” (Gunter 2010). This personal view doesn’t allow for the reader to understand what occurred, rather they are left with the notion that the Liberal Government is to blame.

The next section I would like to look at is how the media viewed the responsibility of the State and police during the G-20 Summit protests. The article published by The Toronto Star is an opinion piece by PC MPP Randy Hillier. The piece is framed through a war discourse, pointing the different levels of government along with law enforcement against those who are protesting. Hillier notes “Both the provincial and federal governments shirk responsibility for their actions by shifting blame to one another and to the police, who were acting under political orders” (Hillier 2010). The article has an authority-order bias and eliminates responsibility of the police, which I found troubling. The way in which the article is presented takes accountability away from the police and portrays them as actors who were just doing their job. Even though the force as a whole was acting under orders, officers abused their discretionary powers (as I stated in my first post). Further, it places the responsibility on the citizen much like Gee did in his article, which creates the common theme of security over liberty; in order to gain security the responsible citizen will sacrifice security.

The next article by National Post writer Allison Cross also focuses on responsibility but this time it puts the onus the police. Cross opens the article by presenting a picture of a dozen officers closing in on one protestor. The image seems to be focused on promoting the “violence” frame to illustrate how the police misused their power. What isn’t shown is the remainder of the environment, where are all the other protestors and what is going on behind the photographer? The theme of critiquing law enforcement continues, however, Cross seems to be the most vocal in her displeasure of police actions. Though her criticism is valid she does not differentiate between guilty and innocent officers. This problem is not distinct to her article, it is seen throughout the previous articles as well. The media either labels the police as individuals who abused their power or individuals who were doing their job. On the other hand the same label applies to protestors; they were either noble caused individuals or radicals who were spreading anarchy. This stance creates a dichotomy in the sense that one group is right and one group is wrong. The idealization of one side is problematic because it doesn’t allow the guilty parties to be seen as separate entity. This placement of the police as bad and protesters as good promotes a false representation of the group. Blame can never be put on the guilty without the public’s image of the protestors or police changing. By framing these articles in misrepresentation it further promotes the theme of confusion of what actually transpired. This point brings me to my last article which examines the difference between news media versus social media.

The last article I would like to examine is an article that examines how news media covered the G-20 protest summit versus how social media showed the factual events. The insight piece published by The Toronto Star points out that there was a “dichotomy between TV coverage of events and the information available to those following the Twitter hashtags” (The Toronto Star 2010). The article shows a true representation of the difference in media reporting which starts with the difference in framing. The large mainstream news channels will show the images of “burning cars, Black Bloc protestors, and the mobilization of police in riot gear” which shows violence and disruption frame along with the bias towards the institution of the police (The Toronto Star 2010). The observer is shown this repeatedly, however, they are not shown how the “police were using the kettling technique, wrongfully using Regulation 233/10 and violating freedoms” that individuals were documenting through social media (Toronto Star 2010). The notion of framing was not present because these individuals were reporting what they saw not contributing to a political agenda. By ordinary citizens and journalists reporting through social media they were effectively exposing the hegemonic view of the mainstream media. The world was able to witness the illegitimacy the State used through the police during the protests. This piece effectively showed how news was shown through two different sources, which allowed for the reader to see how mainstream media is able to manipulate the story in order to further the States goal.

References

Cross, Allison. 2012. “Toronto Police Officers Face Charges Over G20 Misconduct.” National Post, May 17. Online. Retrieved December 9, 2012. (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/17/toronto-police-officers-face-charges-over-g20-misconduct/)

Gee, Marcus. 2010. “Police Chief Scores Against His Own Team.” The Globe and Mail, June 26. Online. Retrieved December 9, 2012. Available: LexisNexis Academic. (http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?oc=00240&hl=t&hns=t&hnsd=f&perma=true&lni=7YT2-NXW0-YB30-Y1BH&hv=t&csi=303830&hgn=t&secondRedirectIndicator=true)

Gunter, Lorne. 2010. “Toronto Police Spin a Web of Confusion.” National Post, June 30. Online. Retrieved December 9, 2012. (http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/06/30/lorne-gunter-toronto-police-spin-a-web-of-confusion/)

Hillier, Randy. 2010. “Opinion: G20 Crackdown Reeks of Tyranny.” The Toronto Star, July 12. Online. Retrieved December 9, 2012. (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/torontog20summit/article/834320–opinion-g20-crackdown-reeks-of-tyranny)

Radwanski, Adam. 2010. “A History of Violence: The G20 Barrier that Wasn’t.” The Globe and Mail, July 2. Online Retrieved December 9, 2012. Available: LexisNexis Academic (http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?oc=00240&hl=t&hns=t&hnsd=f&perma=true&lni=7YVB-H1C1-2RKY-702D&hv=t&csi=303830&hgn=t&secondRedirectIndicator=true)

The Toronto Star. 2010. “A Little Birdie Told Me.” The Toronto Star, July 11. Online. Retrieved December 9, 2012. Available: LexisNexis Academic (http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/lnacui2api/api/version1/getDocCui?oc=00240&hl=t&hns=t&hnsd=f&perma=true&lni=7YXF-17N1-2PP6-R013&hv=t&csi=8286&hgn=t&secondRedirectIndicator=true)

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2 comments

  1. Hello lmbt16,
    I really enjoyed the way that you introduced you’re your analysis by using the game broken telephone to discuss the “secret” law that was implemented by the government during the G-20 summit. I was intrigued and enticed by the introduction that I felt like I needed to continue reading in order to further explore the issues behind this secret law that the public was not informed about. It is evident that your analysis describes the controversy behind the “secret” law and the specific ramifications that it has incurred. However, are the police’s invasive actions necessary in order to maintain social order and will laws, such as 233/10, ever be legitimated by the public as necessary for security purposes? Or will the power to enact such laws give the state to much power, possibly absolute power?

    This analysis has mentioned that the police’s efforts were criticized and not effective but it is still important to view both sides of the stories and attempt to recognize what the state’s intentions were when they implemented such a law. Lmbt16, you also discuss the concept of accountability and I wanted to add that in a protest as large as G-20, many individuals policing and monitoring this event, it may be difficult for one group to accept responsibility for the actions that occurred. It might be simple to just blame the police because they are the individuals at the forefront of the operation administering high levels of oppression. However, it is not exactly known what happens behind closed doors and what the political agenda is, nonetheless accountability should also be placed on every other state agent that contributed to the acceptance of the measures that were utilized during G-20.The political agenda and laws need to begin to value different ideologies in order for change to occur on a larger scale; because as long as the state prioritizes force the police will have no choice but to utilize this tactic. The blame cannot just simply law on the police every state agent that has had a role in the operation needs to be reviewed for efficiency.

    I find that you were very descriptive in your analysis and I really enjoyed how you have supporting arguments in order to justify how the media has been manipulative and misrepresented this protest. This analysis contained a comparison on how news was portrayed through different sources. It was rather interesting to find out how citizens felt about the protest as opposed to authors that have to write an article that attracts the interests of a particular group of individuals

    Hope you have a chance to take a look at my analysis, Thanks!
     Pmangiard09

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    1. lmbt16 · · Reply

      Hi Pmangiard09,

      I just got a chance to read your post, sorry for the late response been busy finishing up courses and dealing with the distraction of the Mexican sun. I do believe laws such as “233/10” are passed for the sole purpose of maintaing social order in times when the state believes a threat is evident. “233/10” is a branch of the Public Works Protection Act or (PWPA) that was passed in 1939 to protect the infrastructure of Ontario from wartime enemies, mainly an Axis attack during WWII. In that instance the law was justified and legitimate because it was passed during “war times.” Laws of this magnitude are important under the right context. Though this power raises issues regarding liberty and security, I don’t think many residents of Ontario would question the PWPA because of how it was being used. The issue of 233/10 stems from the ability for an officer to perform a warrantless search and requesting identification. The potential for abuse of a citizen is limitless. It also leads to an inconsistent and discretionary form of policing, whereby officers are acting on preconceived notions of who is a threat. (The article by Monaghan and Walby “They Attacked the City” on page 660-663 does a wonderful job outlining how police were trained to target certain individuals, if you are interested)

      From my understanding the intention of the law was from a preventive standpoint. However, I put the abundance of criticism on law enforcement because of how they interpreted the law and abused it to exercise a form of power. To expand on the preventative standpoint the security; fence, increased law enforcement, 233/10, and the militarized look of Toronto was enacted to prevent a terrorist attack on the leaders/members of the G20. Though the state and police had an idea that resistance was going to take place in the form of a protest, doesn’t this response seem excessive? Moreover, as we have seen throughout the course “threat assessment” becomes a way for the state to blur the definition of what is a terrorist to include the dissenter/anarchist as an internal terrorist. So, do you think the majority of those who took part in the demonstrations were the internal terrorist, probably not. There were a handful of individuals who fit the profile of the internal terrorist, however the majority did not. Yet, they were all subjected to the same treatment. So the bulk of accountability must fall on the state and police because they’re held to the highest standard. The state through an extension of the police are the authority figures who must set the example. If they cannot uphold the law and enforce it in a manner that is legitimate than why would the populace respect this power dynamic? I agree that all parties must be held accountable to a certain extent, however if we do not question how power is being used we ultimately consent to this type of treatment.

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