There are some making the claim that the Toronto police exceeded the bounds of acceptable police activity during the recent G20 meeting. Among the allegations are that some women who were arrested were threatened with rape (apparently to discourage them from further protesting activity), overly aggressive tactics against peaceful protests and that police officers dressed up as protesters and engaged in property destruction. In fact, a hypothesis is that it was violent activity by police dressed as protesters on Saturday that was used as a justification for the heavy handed police crackdown on Sunday.
After allowing a small group of people to burn police cars and smash windows unimpeded on Saturday afternoon, many of the 20,000 police officers deployed in Toronto changed tactics that evening and during the last day of the gathering.
At a NAFTA summit in Montebello in 2007, undercover Quebec provincial police officers were exposed as agents provocateurs. The police were wearing bandanas over their faces, one of them was carrying a rock, and the whole thing was captured on video.
As I wrote recently when discussing animal rights activists, heavy handed tactics, legal slight of hand that gives police crazy amounts of authority without discussion, and lumping all activists as crazy terrorists intent on eating your baby is not, from a practical standpoint (leaving aside the legality and morality questions), a good long term strategy. What you’ll end up with is erosion in confidence in the security forces, reinforce the motivation of those who already believe that the government is intent on squashing individual rights and freedoms, and encourage more radical behavior among a portion of the activists (After all, if you’re going to get arrested if you are protesting peacefully AND for torching some cars or breaking windows, why exhibit any restraint?).
Worse still (or maybe better, depending on your point of view) you’re going to be discouraging all political activism since people may come to believe that even though intending on protesting peacefully and within the bounds of the law they can expect to get tased, gassed, or arrested.
Rather than treating all protesters/activists as part of the problem, authorities should be trying to work with the groups that want to abide within the law. Just ask this guy who worked on the 2010 Olympics:
The vast majority of protesters do not wish violence. Treated well, they are the most valuable asset that security planners have.
Well-intentioned protesters can exercise peer pressure on potential perpetrators of violence, as occurred in Vancouver. They know that law-breaking can impede or distract from their message — if the message is in fact getting through.
I’d recommend an outreach program where protests are expected. Have local law enforcement offer to meet protest groups before their events and explain the law and boundaries of public protest and what to expect if they do violate the law. You aren’t going to convince everyone and certainly there’ll be great gobfulls of mutual suspicion but you’ll be able to head off a whole bunch of resentment and conspiracy theories if you can get these groups informed.
But hey, you don’t get your picture in the paper by talking to a bunch of pansy-assed hippies. Better to play Jack Bauer so you get to dress up in your military surplus gear, knock a few heads together and then proudly declare you’ve saved the republic (or whatever Canada is the parliamentary democracy…doesn’t quite have the same ring) and the arrest of hundreds prove how dangerous the threat was. Nice…
One of the risks however, is that doing that might make you look like a douche by claiming a geek on his way to a little LARP action was, in fact, looking to start some anarchic mayhem with his chain mail and foam shield.
Chief Bill Blair, who told reporters the items were evidence of the protesters’ intent, singled out arrows covered in sports socks, which he said were designed to be dipped in a flammable liquid and set ablaze.
However, the arrows belong to Brian Barrett, a 25-year-old landscaper who was heading to a role-playing fantasy game when he was stopped at Union Station on Saturday morning. Police took his jousting gear but let Mr. Barrett go, saying it was a case of bad timing.
In addition to the arrows – which Mr. Barrett made safe for live-action role playing by cutting off the pointy ends and attaching a bit of pool noodle covered in socks – police displayed his metal body armour, foam shields and several clubs made of plastic tubing covered with foam and fabric.
Really, are we to believe that there’s no one in the Toronto PD under the age of 50 who has even heard of this sort of thing and could have prevented the Chief from making a fool of himself?