What we don't know about the G20 security.
A friend tells me today about acquaintances of his in the G20 security, and what they encountered during that time.
First off, the security forces during and after the G20 summit were busy scouring the downtown, and found what they were looking for. Found things common to summits, notably the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, which was marred by violence, as you recall.
Among the things they found were a lot of "$5 bikes with $100 locks."
Turns out, news to me, that throwing a bike or two under a horse is the only way to bring down a crowd-control horse. You can imagine that when the horse falls, its weight will crush one or several innocent people, and possibly the security officer riding it.
Throughout the downtown, and to a lesser extent the suburbs, security forces discovered caches of rocks and even firearms. They'd been planted around the city in advance of the summit, for use by people intent on disrupting peaceful protesters. And thereby discrediting them, of course.
"You have no idea the horrors these guys prevented," my friend said, referring to the security effort before and during the summit.
Well no, I don't. Because there's been no formal inquiry.
Until now, I've persisted with my long-held belief that inquiries into isolated incidents of alleged and real police brutality, and into larger, widespread failures as the G20 security effort is accused of, are useful especially to the police themselves. We all want better, more effective policing, especially the police themselves. Or at least they should.
So why the resistance to a thorough inquiry?
Because I've managed to reach the age of 52 without knowing that the one sure way of bringing down a horse is to toss a bicycle under it. And the police would like to keep that from becoming common knowledge. And for the same reason my newspaper does not report on the methods of suicide people choose. Neither does any North American newspaper, not now and not for the past century.
I'm a civil libertarian and a "law and order person" by equal measure. I can abide neither deprivation of free speech nor violence.
By varying degrees, it remains the case in 2010 that most countries - from Egypt to Russia to China to Venezuela to Zimbabwe - are police states in which freedom of speech is restricted. That continues to be the norm on this planet. I abhor that.
And, as we've seen from the tragedies of Columbine; Oklahoma City; Ecole Polytechnique; Taber, Alberta; Virginia Tech; Fort Hood; the former Troubles in Northern Ireland and the very present and ongoing slaughter of innocents at marketplaces throughout the Middle East, there are people among us intent on the killing of innocents. Innocent people die needlessly for lack of security or of adequate security.
My knee-jerk reaction to the security abuses at the G20 was that they were unfitting to my hometown, which prides itself on its civility. To my mind, a summit of this sort should be a showcase equally for "demonstrators" (I hate that term, I welcome your suggestions on a better one) who have important things to say about neglected issues of high importance, and also for the 26 heads of government in Toronto late last month.
The "message bearers" (the best, awkward term I've come up with so far) have an agenda as wide as the world, covering female mutilation; atrocious living conditions in aboriginal communities in Canada and elsewhere; the impure water that kills more people each year than TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS combined; the endemic poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, East St. Louis and Parkdale; and a range of environmental issues, hardly limited to global warming.
As Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman, "attention must be paid" to these and other preventable injustices. (1) Those are among my four touchstone words in our language - Attention must be paid. When you get down to it, that was the message of June Callwood, Gandhi, Dr. King, Mandela, Jane Jacobs and everyone inspired by their example. and those of other angels among us, in their continued fight for a better way of living for ourselves and for others.
We in Toronto missed our chance to provide a new and better showcase for those advocates of a better world. Then again, no one died. We know from the earliest months of the U.S./British-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 what the absence of law and order can bring. Death and destruction by vandals, of private and public assets, culminating in the exodus of the two million Iraqis who ran the country - the power and water utility bureaucrats, the doctors, lawyers, accountants, hospital administrators, the entire leadership class of one of the most advanced Middle East nations. The entire middle class, in fact. That's what happens in the absence of security, of professonal, accountable law and order.
I'd still like an inquiry of the G20. Because, as I say, Toronto missed its chance to create a new world-class forum for wide-ranging discussion of the major issues of the day, most of which were not on the agenda of the G20 heads of government.
There undeniably was over-reaction by security. It's recorded on cellphone cameras, on Twitter messages, and eyewitness accounts spread by word of mouth. For their part, Mayor Miller and City Council, the premier, and the law-enforcement establishment have been knee-jerk in absolving security of any misconduct.
You don't have 20,000 visitors descend on a place without certain unacceptable behaviour occuring. I would think that's self-evident. It's also obvious that you should not execute any mission - a combat operation, the launch of a new product, or the introduction of a government program - without a follow up "lessons learned" exercise. That is or should be standard practice. It long has been standard practice in the more sophisticated militaries, of Canada, Britain and especially the U.S. The civilian equivalent, in Canada, is royal commissions and probes like the Gomery inquiry.
That's what's still required regarding the G20 summit in Toronto.
I accept that that some of our visitors in June were intent on catastrophic behaviour, and that our security performed well in preventing it. I also regretfully accept that I cannnot know the details of all of that activity,in order to prevent copy-cat behavior at future summits and all manner of events, like the World Cup and the Olympics, where people gather in large numbers. But stonewalling serves no one. If the security methods were more nuanced and frustrating than we know, we all need to learn about this.
Nothing, nothing is as simple as it seems. That's why we ask questions - not to cast blame, but only to discover a better way. I would think that's self-evident too - its what our ancestors fought for - but apparently not yet.
Note: In the haste of posting the original version of this entry, I mistakenly attributed authorship of Death of a Salesman to Edward Albee. H/T: MLC