The G20 Summit protests will be remembered for two things; one being the implementation of Regulation 233/10 and subsequently from that, the event responsible for the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Former Premier McGunity and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair have exhausted the excuse of “need for security” during the G20 as the rationale for passing the law. What I find more troubling than the actual law is the way in which it was passed, leaked and executed. During the buildup and through the protests the streets of Toronto transformed into a militarized state where Canadians were subjected to a policing style that was not “to serve and protect” but more akin to “search and detain.” This fundamental shift in policing led to a change in power, the net of criminalizing dissent to expand, and lastly a delegitimization of the act of protesting. These repercussions are all a part of a domino effect that started with the passing of Regulation 233/10.
Regulation 233/10 could have been passed in the Legislative Assembly and presented to the public as a security measure to protect the area engulfed in the security zone. It would have provided a clear definition to the media, public and most importantly given individuals a chance to challenge the law before it came into effect. By avoiding this legal process the government and the institution of the police avoided criticism while gaining the powerful tool of the “unknown.” By examining the passing of Regulation 233/10 and its aftermath from a Marxist perspective the notion of a police shift in power arises. Without a clear definition of where their jurisdiction ended police were able to switch from an information based style of high policing to a more coercive low policing approach. This is evident by officers straying away from using their powers to arrest suspects who might commit a crime to using this power on anyone who passed by. Further this style of policing produces the notion that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about. This philosophy puts the onus on the individual to prove to law enforcement that they are innocent and more importantly an individual who will not challenge authority. This repression is a result of policing through coercion to maintain that individuals consent to the law by surrendering their freedoms. Not only are civil liberties and rights violated but the potential for one to be seen as a criminal is exponentially greater. A criticism that one may draw from my critique, is that the passing of the law was leaked through the media and citizens were therefore informed about what would happen. Though that is true, the leak provided an unclear definition to the public that in turn created a moral panic surrounding the downtown core. By the government manipulating the use of the media they were able to successfully gain a shift in power while seemingly deterring individuals specifically protestors from interrupting the summit, or so they thought.
By broadening the definition of who can be searched and allowing the police to arrest on “refusal of search” the net of criminalization began to widen. Criminalizing individuals based on appearance became a legitimate form of policing and another form of suppressing dissent. From this, activists, protestors, dissenters and anarchists fell into one category during the G20 Summit protest. This approach only furthered the notion that the government is in favor of limiting forms of change to hegemony and the political system. Yet, as Jackie Esmonde (2004) pointed out in “Bail, Global Justice, and the Limits of Dissent:” “the use of dissent can be the only option for those without political power to inspire change” (Esmonde 329). Thus police presence exists in large part to suppress the possibility of dissent. Therefore a conflict is created between those who are fighting for change and the police. In this conflict the protestors and activists who are participating in the demonstration peacefully are caught in the net through association. As Monaghan and Walby (2012) note in “’They Attacked the City’: Security Intelligence, the Sociology of Protest Policing and the Anarchist Threat at the 2010 Toronto G20 Summit” police were instructed to target what intelligence believed to be “anarchists” who are members of the Black Bloc’ movement. Members are described as “having an ‘average age [of] mid teens to early twenties but they have the occasional 30–60 year old anarchist/(Black Bloc’), adding: ‘Some, not all, Anarchists will dress in all black clothing or carry them in a bag to be used later on in the protest” (Monaghan and Walby 662). The aforementioned definition provided by intelligence is very broad and allows for officers to stretch the interpretation. Many individuals carry backpacks and most protestors are between the ages of 20-60, does that necessarily mean they’re anarchists? Individuals engaging in dissent were caught in the net because of the “stereotypical caricatures of violent anarchists that were produced from frontline officer training programmes” (Monaghan and Walby 663). Though the Black Bloc’ turned the peaceful protest into an assault on the infrastructure of downtown Toronto, the media showed images of members of the public, protestors and anarchists being round-up by police. You were criminalized for engaging in dissent not because you were guilty rather because you shared a likeness to the definition police were instructed to target. The label of criminal was reinforced by the media presenting those captured whether they were guilty or not as part of the problem police were deployed to counter.
Four separate identities and motives become encompassed into an image that the media sold as “hooligan” or “delinquent.” Coercive tactics allowed police to detain and hold those caught in the net, which at the same time diminished the cause the protestors were speaking out against. From first reports of the protests to the coverage it receives today the issue of what the protestors message was has never been prominent. Boykoff (2007) notes in “Mass Media Deprecation” that the “media plays an important role in the construction of social issues and problems,” the social issue becomes the misrepresentation of demonstrations and the action of dissent (Boykoff 246). The media becomes more interested in the sensational aspects of the demonstration: the actions of those who participated in anarchy, the police who abused power, and the passing of Regulation 233/10. When we apply an extension of Pamela Oliver’s (2008) argument in “Repression and Crime Control” we are able to see that legitimacy and public perception are directly controlled by the government through the media. The image of the protestor could sway either way if the movement was presented as “just crime” or a “rebellious action” (Oliver 8). With the lack of meaningful coverage to explain their message the goal of the protestor was lost. This furthers the notion that attempts to change to the status quo will be lost in the political agenda of news media. So why protest if your message is going to be lost in the chaos of anarchists and the draconian State? This question becomes more concerning when legitimacy is lost in the eyes of the public due to images of burning cars, broken windows, and a militarized police force constantly replayed to the public. Isn’t this a problem in itself? Shouldn’t a protest of this magnitude garner the attention of the media to report on why these individuals risked being labeled a criminal? By the media avoiding attention to the cause they effectively are delegitimizing the message and dismissing the notion that dissent develops democracy. This is essentially a form of social control and by diminishing the issues value the hegemonic view remains intact.
A critique one may find in my reasoning is through the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation where a group of police officers were found guilty of abusing their power. In addition those individuals who were wrongfully arrested and detained were given a clean slate. Those results are important to democracy but I question what long-lasting impact they serve? As a microcosm, justice is served but on the macro what really changed? Have the institutions of the government and police radically altered the way in which they operate? The dynamics of power in this event may have shifted back but how long before they revert back in order to fulfill another agenda?
The strong presence of the government and policing will always be present to deal with the extreme measures of dissent. Yet, when dissent is repressed the state essentially loses legitimacy because individuals are losing their ability to engage in civil disobedience. There must be a balance between maintaining security and fulfilling the philosophy “to serve and protect” while allowing citizens to engage in a protest to encourage change. Without this balance a battleground for power will always exist resulting in a loss of the message and legitimacy. Maybe this dichotomy benefits the State in the sense that they are feared and as Machiavelli pointed out in the Prince there is greater security in being feared then being loved.
Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp. 216-47 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.
Esmonde, Jackie. 2004. “Bail, Global Justice, and the Limits of Dissent.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 41:323-362. Electronic.
Monaghan, Jeffery and Kevin Walby. 2012. “’They Attacked the City’: Security Intelligence, the Sociology of Protest Policing and the Anarchist Threat at the 2010 Toronto G20 Summit.” Current Sociology. DOI: 10.1177/0011392112448470. 1-19.
Oliver, Pamela E. 2008. “Repression and Crime Control: Why Social Movement Scholars Should Pay Attention to Mass Incarceration as a Form of Repression.” Mobilization: The International Quarterly 13(1):1-24. Electronic.