The Toronto Model

By Sublett

Early reports from the recent G-20 summit in Toronto make it clear that it was the worst case of state repression of a protest since the FTAA Ministerial in Miami in 2003, where the Miami model was born. After anarchists burned four cop cars and smashed numerous windows, the Toronto cops employed rubber bullets, beatings, tear gas, pepper spray, Tasers and random searches to attack nearly anybody they encountered, protester or not. Conditions at the temporary jail were Guantanamo-esque, featuring many of the same techniques used to torture prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. These included freezing temperatures, withholding of food and water, sexual assault and threats of rape, beatings and "pain compliance techniques." Many prisoners were denied phone calls for the entire duration of their stay, which was sometimes days.

There were 1,090 arrests – more than there were at the 2008 Republican National Convention, an event that lasted twice as long. In line with the Miami model, police conducted a campaign of pre-event repression by demonizing anarchists in the media, arresting several protest "leaders" the night before the meetings, and even falsely claiming to have passed a new law allowing the cops to arrest any individuals within five meters of the security fence if they refused to show ID.

At first glance, this all might seem fairly routine. Summits and conventions are usually an excuse to declare de facto martial law in the host city, and embarrassed cops can generally be counted on to stage a police riot when all their expensive toys fail to contain a handful of kids in black. A similar pattern was seen at the Pittsburgh G-20 and at the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, Minn. What set Toronto apart from those demos was the sheer size of the operation.

The Canadian government budgeted a reported $1.2 billion for the meetings – a world record for summit spending. Pittsburgh, by contrast, only got $20 million for their G-20, and they had to fight the Secret Service to get it. London only spent $10 million on theirs. Toronto brought in 19,000 cops for the summit, compared with only about 4,000 in Pittsburgh. In hindsight, such an enormous investment in "security" virtually guaranteed repression on a similarly massive scale if for no other reason than justifying the expense. From a public relations point of view, the Toronto cops have cut off their nose to spite their face.

The fake law regarding ID checks near the security fence is a prime example. The "new law" first came to light the day before the meetings started when a man was arrested near the fence for refusing to show ID. At the time the police claimed that the law had been passed and entered into Canada's official legal database but not announced publicly. A secret law (and one that egregiously violated Canada's Charter, at that) would have been bad enough, but this turned out to be a secret law that had essentially been invented by the cops with no legislative involvement whatsoever. (Technically, the law was a temporary addition to an existing Ontario regulation protecting public works, but it applied only inside the fence and did not allow arrests.)

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair admitted after the G-20 that the law did not mean what he had claimed, saying, "I was trying to keep the criminals out." Blair's flippancy aside, it's hard to see what the point of the fake law was, especially since his forces had no problem illegally searching hundreds of people who were nowhere close to the fence. It's tempting to conclude that the only purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate the complete impunity with which the cops operate.

To drive home the point that public opinion meant nothing to them, the cops also refused to allow reporters to embed with them. Members of the corporate media were forced to fend for themselves on the streets, where they were treated little better than the protesters with whom they mingled. This is a substantial departure from normal practice, to put it mildly. To give one example, at the Pittsburgh G-20, a man in a cow suit allowed a group of protesters to make their getaway by doing a dance in the middle of the road. The pursuing cops had to stop to avoid trampling the mainstream media photographers who had run out into the street to snap close-ups. The dancing cow guy probably wouldn't have had much luck with that stunt in Toronto, where Guardian reporter Jesse Rosenfeld was beaten up by three cops and arrested merely for not having his official credentials. This occurred in full view of Rosenfeld's colleagues in the corporate press, one of whom was upset enough to actually report the incident. A number of other corporate journalists were also arrested or detained, including two photographers from the National Post, a right-wing rag known for supporting the police.

Other examples of unnecessarily self-defeating aggression abound, including arresting and charging a deaf man for being unable to hear orders from the cops, and violently dispersing protesters inside the designated free speech area. The result was a tidal wave of criticism aimed at the government and police. Even in the mainstream media, the decision to host the G-20 in Toronto was vilified almost as much as was the black bloc. On the Internet, stories about police brutality were still hitting the front page of, a social media site, over a week after the summit. Comments on those stories took on an increasingly anti-cop tone as more information about police behavior trickled out during the week. Toronto's civilian police review board, in a reversal of their earlier decision, decided to launch an "independent public inquiry" into police conduct during the G-20. While this will undoubtedly be a whitewash aimed at exonerating the cops, the fact that the board felt a whitewash was necessary is a clear indicator of the political pressure they are under.

All this raises one obvious question: What were they thinking? Canadian officials could easily have protected the meetings without alienating their natural allies in the corporate media and Canada's white liberal middle class. Humane jail conditions and basic media relations skills would have gone a long way toward selling the myth that all those self-described world leaders just want what's best for everyone, but somehow nobody in Toronto could be bothered.

It's quite possible, of course, that they weren't thinking anything. It's never a good idea to read too much intent into the random thrashings of giant bureaucracies. Like the dinosaurs to which they are so often compared, their brains are very small and communicate poorly with their appendages. But the final statement from the G-20 itself hints at another possibility: The G-20 agreed to cut their economies’ respective national deficits in half by 2013, a decision that will require draconian cuts in welfare, education and other social services. Canada's vaunted healthcare system stands to be a prime target. Such cuts are likely to lead to widespread unrest – something that will have occurred to even the dimmest cop. Instead of being an aberration (as is currently being claimed by Canada's liberal apologists), the Toronto Model may be a harbinger of what’s to come.

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