When there is a social movement or dissent, it means that the public is going against the state or wants to see changes. To raise their concern for certain issues they would protest in events where there will be some political attention given to them and an opportunity for them to raise awareness in the public. Although free speech is our democracy and protest are very much part of it; however when it is done in practice the circumstances vary then what is written in the book of law. Throughout the course we have looked at many protests from different time periods and all of them have one thing in common; how to keep a control over the protestors, whether be it by police brutality, unlawful arrests, abuse of power or the control of social spaces to prevent the protesters from their goal. These preventive tactics have been in use for years. G20 is a recent example of this, where almost all of the above tactics were applied.
Ericson and Doyle (1999) discuss evident techniques and methods that were applied to prevent protestors from protesting in the case of APEC summit in 1997. It is interesting to know how the world leaders were keen on resisting coming in contact with the protestors. The president of Indonesia Suharto said if appropriate measures are not taken, or if these protests are not controlled he would refuse to come to Canada. And had threatened Canada if they fail to meet their conditions it would have severe impact on mutual relations. To save their economic relation with Indonesia and other states Canada went out of their way to use excessive force and violence against the protestors who came out to raise their concerns that day. The rights of free speech were violated, students were told to take down the signs that said “human rights” and “free speech” and if they refuse to do so, they would get arrested. At one point a student had a cardboard sign up that said “human right” and was told by the police officers that it needs to be taken down, when she refused and said free speech was her right and they will not be able to arrest her, the officer responded by saying they we will find something to arrest her (Ericson and Doyle 1999). This indicates that because the police have the law behind them, they are able to use unnecessary force and misuse their power. One may conclude that for the state economic relations is much more important rather than protecting the rights of the protestors. It comes down to protecting the dominant political structure of the state, where the opinions or concerns of the powerless is not part of an important agenda. This was in 1997, but nothing has changed even after over a decade when the G20 took place in Toronto. There was still unnecessary violence projected by the police, massive arrests were made and the abuse of police power was inflicted upon the protestors.
Fernandez (2005) emphasizes the importance of spatial dynamics to both whether it is policing or protesting. Space plays a significant role when it comes to the maintenance of social control. There is a continuous effort by the state or the police to hold these meetings in a space where the political leaders are out of sight of the protestors, or make it difficult for the protestors to gain access to areas where the meeting would take place. Fernandez (2005) has stated different tactics that contributes in preventing the protestors to be able to voice their opinion and concern in public. Some of them are policing the protest, selecting defensible locations, Patrolling, reducing Anonymous space, building fences (Fernandez 2005).
The above article was published 5 years ago but yet we see almost all of these tactics being well applied to the G20 Toronto summit protest. There was indeed a fence built so the protestors are unable to reach near the area where the world leaders would be holding the meeting. There was a regulation passed on June 2nd that gave extra power to the police officers, to be able to arrest people who are certain kilometres near the fence. Not a lot of people were aware of this regulation and had fallen in the trap of police arrest. Some of the space that was initially categorized as free speech zone was closed off near Queens Park. There was constant surveillance by the police officers, and of course the massive arrests conveyed the impression that if you seem to be a threat to the general public you will be arrested. Not only are the protestors kept isolated world leaders for their safety, but also because they are being “disruptive”, so they should not be in the sight of the leaders. In a way protests are just there because free speech is a principle of our democracy, so just for the sake of it the state allows the protest to take place on the streets, yet so many methods are in place to discourage it at the same time. Noakes, Klocke and Gillham (2005) stated “symbolically important spaces, such as monuments or historically significant locales, become the site of intense contention, with protesters seeking to stake their claims in the most politically potent space while police seek to prevent the act as a means of both asserting their control over their jurisdictional space and preventing “off-the-job” trouble from politicians and others who oppose the protesters attempts to re-frame the meaning of the site” (Noakes, Klocke and Gillham 2005:238). The same was done in Toronto G20 summit, where certain areas near Queens’s Park were blocked off, even though initially they were supposed to be free speech zones. Queens Park is the site of legislative building/ministry building and occupies many historical and symbolic monuments, and that is why protestors try their best to raise their concerns in such political areas.
The above mentioned tactics used by the police officers were pretty much evident to some of us who were able to witness it in person in the protest of G20. The police who is the front face of the law and which states “to serve and protect” on their vehicles, had themselves violated the rights of the people in the protest. To serve and protect who? Rather than protecting they took the advantage of their police powers and had abused it to the limits. Which lead to about 1000 arrests, making it the massive arrests in Canadian history. A crime is only considered a crime depending on who is committing, whether it is a protestor who is there breaking windows because he wants to voice his opinion or whether it is the use of physical force and the tactics of kettling used by the police to control spaces. The difference is, one has law behind them to justify their actions with the name of providing “security” and the other (protestor) has no one and is considered to be a threat to the society and is being disruptive.
The high number of arrests, tight security, and inhumane brutality were justified in the name of “security” and concluded the summation that the police can arrest pretty much anyone from the protest if they feel the security of the public is at threat. There are many individuals who do not have a direct connection to the political system, and a protest becomes their only method for their voices to be heard. Even though free speech is a principle of our democracy, those who dare to go out and protest are suppressed in one way or another by the state. In a way the massive arrest at G20 is an indirect way of telling the public that if you dare to come out and protest, chances are you will end up in trouble with the police/state (Esmonde 2003). The state is in constant effort to somehow make it difficult for the protestors, whether it is through violence, excessive physical, constant patrol/surveillance or be at the control of space. At the end millions of dollars are invested in the security, rights are violated of the protestors, unnecessary arrests are made yet the underlying issue remains to be in place, which is the voices of the thousands protestors who participates remains unheard.
Ericson, Richard, and Aaron Doyle. 1999. “Globalization and the Policing of Protest: The Case of APEC 1997.” British Journal of Sociology 50(4):589-608.
Fernandez, Luis. 2005. “Policing Space: Social Control and the Anti-Corporate Globalization Movement.” The Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services 3(4): 241-49.
Noakes, John A., Brian V.Klocke and Patrick F.Gillham. 2005. “Whose Streets? Police and Protester Struggles over Space in Washington, DC, 29-30 September 2001.” Policing and Society 15(3):235-54.