Occupy Toronto: limitations to freedom of speech

The Occupy movement provided an extensive look into the deeply cemented problems and issues that are present in a democratic country like Canada. In the last blog, almost all newspapers analyzed provided a critical view of the movement by reporting on only specific issues dealing with the Occupancy of Bay Street and St.James Park. In essence, the media reported heavily on the subject but only produced material which would systematically purge any positive connotation to the movement but rather sought to remain “neutral”. By providing a false balance between the message of the movement and who the messengers are, through integrated media tactics, the media has aided the state in legitimizing coercion, mass criminalization and most importantly, nation building through the use of intelligence led policing. In this blog, I will set out to conceptualize three topics. First, the display of power by city officials through eviction notices. The second topic will discuss citizenship in relation to the movement. The last topic will attempt to explain how the movement placed a limitation on freedom of speech.

Since the inception of the movement, city officials were closely monitoring the activities of the protestors and sought to dismantle the movement. Eviction notices were the ultimate display of power by Mayor Rob Ford who did not support the movement and essentially stated that “the protest is over and I’d like to keep it that way and if they go to another park, we will ask them to leave immediately” (CBC News 2011). This action was in response to the movement criticizing by claiming that “Toronto mayor’s security measures and the growing crowd showed the 99 percent are not happy with Ford’s service cuts” (Li 2011). This is a transparent example of the use of authority and display of power. Mayor Ford’s time in office is marked by various controversies and the response to evict the camps was just an austerity measure to prevent any more damage to his reputation (Li 2011). This idea ties closely with the concept of class struggles. The citizens protesting are considered to have origins from lower and poor classes. “Without Civil disobedience we can never even imagine a society in which law, like the state itself, withers away, its presence no longer to constrain human beings who can, in circumstances barely imaginable in our times, be truly free” (Palmer 2003: 490). This idea essentially ties up the notion of the eviction notices as a form of power portrayal to the idea of the protestors as a class who by law is guaranteed to be free, but in application, it is a victim of the class struggles in society.

The second concept which was a central theme during the movement was the issue of citizenship. During the preliminary research as well as the previous blog post, it was evident that almost all articles analyzed portrayed the movement as lacking in direction and leadership. Furthermore, some articles held the view that “mainly young people and a handful of older adults many with ideals, some with specific grievances” are the participants of the movement (Flayelle 2011). Furthermore, to attach greater negative connotation and discredit the movement, a source stated that “we have drug addicts here that have nowhere else to go” (The National CBC news 2011). Through these quotations, it is evident that not only did the media outlets discuss youth and drug addicts in similar context; they also created a stigma revolving youth which set them apart from other youth who were not participants of the movement. This is a classic maneuver through which the concept of “othering is achieved. Furthermore, this connotation perceives the youth as at risk “as young people perceived to be suitably fulfilling their pending citizenship status are treated differently from those who are seen to be delinquent’ or failing in their obligation to develop appropriate civic virtues (Kennelly 2011: 349). Through this analysis it is evident that the youth who participated in the movement are not considered citizens because one of the civic virtues is being a law abiding individual. The youth involved in the movement were fighting for change and were protesting peacefully but the general public shared the opinion which mirrored the media thus providing no extensive support.

The last theme during the movement which was evident more than others was the limitations to freedom of speech. Although, the protestors were given the chance to exercise their charter right to protest, there were two main limitations attached with it. First, the protestors were only allowed to remain in the park from 5:30am till midnight, meaning if they stayed past it, they would be formally charged with trespassing (CBC News 2011). Furthermore, the protestors were only allowed to remain in St.James Park as it is a public place and if they relocated to occupy lands designated as private, they would face more charges than just trespassing such as obstruction of justice. Second, the protestors’ camps were not allowed to remain in the park as they would be considered a violation of city bylaws (CBC News 2011). Furthermore, while the police were clearing up the park, they also arrested eleven people despite stating that they would be allowed to remain there till midnight. The reason for this step was that they wanted to declare the camps a violation but not the people. This notion not only limits the ability to protest, but also limits the freedom of speech. If they are only allowed to remain till midnight, the idea for a stance decimates and limits the effect of their message. Furthermore, it is clearly evident that the decisions for the courts to evict the camps are biased as New Year’s Celebrations and other overnight events are attended by citizens after midnight. The municipal government controlled the space around St. James Park. In an analysis of anti war protests in Washington, it was concluded that “our observations of the event show that the clashes between police and protestors were sparked by the MPDC’s attempts to control the spaces of contention” (Noakes & Gillham 2006: 253). Personally, the city police attempted to control the space by isolating the protestors to just park and then eventually using force to evict them from public premises. Through this notion, it is evident that the state controls space even if it is considered to be public.

The Occupy movement provided an insight into some of the core issues that our current state not only neglected but institutionalized. Although the movement had positive energy and provided solutions for the problems they outlined, none of the suggestions and ideas was considered and no laws or regulation changed. Furthermore, the occupy movement provided the state the opportunity to maintain their power and create a distinction between the people protesting and an average citizen. This was displayed through the use of different media frames that the popular press attached to the movement. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides us with guarantees of freedom of speech. However, when the step is taken to exercise that right, all efforts are undertaken to prevent any harm or challenge that the dominant ideology, political, societal and economical culture could face. Furthermore, not only is the behaviour criminalized, it is portrayed to the public as a lesson that those who oppose existing ideologies will be punished. The media and state clearly differentiated between the protestors who were considered non-citizens and the people who stayed home and opposed the movement as law abiding citizens. In conclusion, despite residing in a democratic state, Toronto mirrors the attitudes and legal behaviour of the United States where the protests were violent as compared to the peaceful protests that were seen in Canada.

References

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp. 216-247 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

CBC News. 2011. “Occupy Toronto protest site cleared.” CBC News, November 23. Retrieved on February 18, 2013 (www.cbc.ca)

Flavelle, Dana.2011. “Occupy Toronto meets a plan protest on Oct 15: Big banks are the problem and power must be taken from them, speaker tells gathering of 250” The Toronto Star, October 15. Retrieved December 8, 2012 (http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/cbcacurrent/docview/896689303/13AEBCC36D22AD654A3/34?accountid=15182)

Li, Anita. 2011.“Occupy Toronto takes on Ford with rally at City Hall”. Toronto Star, November 24. Retrieved February 18, 2013 (www.thestar.com).

Kennelly, Jacqueline. 2011. “Policing Young People as Citizens-in-Waiting.” British Journal of Criminology 51:336-54.

Noakes, John A., Brian V Klocke and Patrick F. Gillham. 2005. “Whose Streets? Police and Protestor Struggles over Space in Washington, DC, 29-30 September 2001.” Policing & Society 15 (3): 235-54.

Palmer, Bryan D. 2003. “What’s Law Got to do With It? Historical Consideration on Class Struggle, Boundaries of Constraint and Capitalist Authority.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 41: 465-90.

 

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