Failure of Strategy Defeats Toronto’s G20

Toronto Police use bicycles as  barriers at the G20 Summit

Toronto Police use bicycles as barriers at the G20 Summit

Leaders of the G20 countries should get together to discuss world issues. This is without a doubt. With images of Toronto riot police intimidating all and sundry, tear gas and fear on protester faces, images of destroyed storefront windows and police vehicles, and images of wanton destruction by a select few “Black Bloc” criminals, it is not a great leap of faith to say that the G20 in Toronto did not go well. For more than a couple hours, Toronto was lawless and chaos reigned. Is destruction and the terrorizing of civilians an inevitable result of any G20 summits? I believe that the Prime Minister of Canada made some ill advised decisions that put my fellow Toronto citizens in harm’s way as well as cast Toronto and Toronto Police in a very dark light. In the mind’s eye of Toronto residents the recent memories of Toronto riot police intimidation and brutality will take a long time, if this is possible, to forget. The G20 did not have to unfold this way. The message of the G20 to the world has largely been overshadowed by the senseless violence of G20 criminals and Toronto police.

Toronto is an excellent place to hold the G20, offering the world a multi-cultural setting for global talks. Still, practicality should have overruled the photo op. The Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto was a terrible place to hold the summit. Just north is the financial district, and north of this is largely retail residential downtown. All these areas close to the Metro Convention Centre are all vulnerable to property damage and chock-a-block filled with people who live and work in the area.

In contrast the Canadian National Exhibition site (CNE) is an excellent place for the G20 summit. Still downtown, the CNE is a very large and already fenced in location, designed, built and tested to hold large crowds. The home to the Molson Indy, to the north there is an 8 lane road that skirts its perimeter. To the south is Lake Ontario. The CNE is separate and away from the populated areas of Toronto, accessible by public transit and would have been much easier to make secure and defend. For the $1 billion it cost Canada for the G20, any required buildings could have been built or refurbished. Why this extraordinary and available location was not selected remains unknown.

The failure of the Federal Government of Canada to select a G20 site that is both secure and defendable, that would reduce harm to Canadians and local businesses, and would therefore reduce the overall costs of the summit to well below $1 billion lay the groundwork for the disaster that unfolded at Toronto’s G20. Advice from Toronto’s mayor to hold the summit at the CNE was ignored by the Federal government.

Once this disastrous decision was made, Toronto police were given the task of securing and defending a suboptimal summit site. Drastic measures had to be used, including closing off a large swath of downtown Toronto, secretly enacting new provisions that allow Toronto police to search and arrest citizens without warrant, and inviting Canada-wide police into Toronto so that there were 14,000 police officers present. Toronto turned into a police state, with the accompanying intimidation and brutality scaring the hell out of Toronto residents.

Never before have Toronto police beat up and wantonly arrested so many people. For the criminals that vandalized the city, they should be arrested. It is the little encounters between curious Toronto residents and police that will have a lasting effect. While Toronto police have been accused of beating up certain individuals in the past, a widespread campaign complete with police state intimidation against your average resident was surprising. Torontonians have seen, with their own eyes or by the deluge of images of police brutality, how the police can destroy the civility of our city. Evidence is easy to find as citizens have photographed and filmed much of the trouble. It’s truly sad that events of the G20 have unfolded this way.

In their stated goal of defending the summit site, Toronto police pushed protesters north (south of the site is Lake Ontario) into the financial district, and north again to Queen street, which is largely retail and residential. By pushing protesters further north, thereby reducing the risk to the summit site, police needlessly endangered the lives and property of area residents. The damage to Queen street retail stores is the result. Did the police have to increase the risk to area citizens to reduce the risk to the summit site? This tradeoff of risk should not have happened and was not worth the benefits, whatever they may have been.

This too will pass. It will take a long time for Toronto residents to forget when their city was turned upside down, when personal rights and freedom of speech was squelched, when Toronto Police unleashed their fury on city residents. This G20 was a black eye to the city of Toronto, detrimental to tourism, our reputation as a safe city, and more importantly, to the residents of Toronto. I’m unsure if it was all preventable, but a terrible choice of G20 summit venue by the Federal Government of Canada put into motion an inevitable disaster. The summit choice also highlights how out of touch the Prime Minister of Canada is with the citizens of Toronto. He forgets that one of his roles is to protect and not endanger the lives of Canadians, and this overrides his apparent need for a great photo opportunity. This too, blew up in his face.

We now must move on and live with the disaster.

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