The Good the Bad and the Ugly of the G20 Summit

Posted: April 7, 2013 by ryanuppal in Cases - Public Order, Toronto G20 2010

The Toronto G20 summit was the target of widespread protesting. Early opposition to the summit was a result of angry citizens voicing their opinions about certain laws. Peaceful protests were carried out throughout the city’s “Free Speech Zone” in Queens Park and the mayor encouraged everyone not be scared by the vast amount of security personnel present. “You Should Have Stayed Home” offers the viewer a first person recollection of the events that took place through the eyes of various citizens affected by the police brutality that took place those two short days.

Although the protests began nearly a week before the summit took place, numbers were small. As the first official day approached, peaceful protests with few members turned into mobs of angry people shouting and wreaking havoc to get their point across. In the video mentioned above, it seems as though we are introduced to the event through the eyes of the protestor and no one else. The viewer is introduced to several individuals who faced police brutality at the events. Because of this, stories seem biased. At the start of the protest, the main role of the police was to guard the summit fence. Even as rioters began breaking windows to local shops, the riot police stood by the fence and were eventually seen fleeing the site. The following day, the police came out in numbers. Having had enough from the previous days, it could be understood as to why they came out aggressively. The video walks us into the lives of average citizens. Among them are a woman from Quebec who is arrested without a warrant, a handicap gentleman who is arrested after losing a prosthetic leg, a carpenter who is hit and arrested while recording, and a gentleman who is simply taking a picture until he is arrested and left with a broken arm. Although these individuals all seem to be innocent, a critique I had was that of the comments they made. All individuals spoke as though they were innocent victims, which in most cases they were; however, among the thousands of  protesters and 10,000 police officers, how are the officers to know who is innocent and who is not. Following the first day in which the protestors were left to destroy buildings and wreak havoc, they should have known they were breaking the law. Fed up, could you blame the authorities for coming out strong the following day? It is clear they over-reacted in some cases (pepper spraying protestors sitting on the floor) but amongst the large crowds I feel we must try and understand their standpoint.

On the contrary, as stated above, the police were a bit too aggressive in some cases. Removing police badges and numbers leads one to believe that officers went out on the job knowing they’d commit a deviant act. With 1100 members in the detention centre, it is clear that the officers went overboard when arresting certain people. Arresting individuals screaming “Peaceful Protest,” “Let Us Go,” and those simply making peace symbols with their hands is unnecessary. These depicted acts of police deviance are sickening and force me to reconsider working in the police force. Having said this, I once again begin to consider WHY the officers began this in the first place. It all stemmed from the actions of the protestors on the first day of the summit.

This video introduced me to many videos I had never seen before of the summit. Although my mindset remains the same, I still feel as though the police were only acting based on the actions of the protestors. As the protests escalated, so did the actions of the police. Sure not everyone was to blame for the negative actions of some protestors but it was almost impossible for the police to distinguish who was doing what. Because of this, they were required to act in a hostile manner with everyone present. If the first day’s protests only resulted in 291 arrests and the second in over 800, people should have realized that things would be getting out of hand. As with the protests in Vancouver, many left the site of the riots rather than stay and argue about being treated unfairly. Organizations like the IIO and different police complaint commissions have been created to allow for police complaints to be made. Starting a protest in an already crowded city with angry people isn’t exactly the best way to voice your opinion.

Does it seem reasonable to say that both parties are to blame for what transpired at the summit in Toronto?

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    I would like to know what you mean by ‘biased’. Could you explain?

    You ask:

    “All individuals spoke as though they were innocent victims, which in most cases they were; however, among the thousands of  protesters and 10,000 police officers, how are the officers to know who is innocent and who is not.”

    I would answer:

    Officers are expected to adhere to due process and the presumption of innocence. They are not permitted to act indiscriminately because they are uncertain as to who is innocent and who is not. This is an important point to be clear about – in a democratic society, police are not authorized to engage in indiscriminate mass-violence against protesters because they are frustrated about previous actions.

    You go on:

    “could you blame the authorities for coming out strong the following day?”

    Yes, certainly – especially when you note that police reprisals and mass-arrests did not target the persons responsible for the actions of the previous day.

    You note:

    “I feel we must try and understand their [the police] standpoint.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. It is our task as social scientists to understand what unfolded during that weekend in June, and to explore as many perspectives and viewpoints as possible. But the effort to understand does not translate into an obligation to excuse.

    You close with:

    “Does it seem reasonable to say that both parties are to blame for what transpired at the summit in Toronto?”

    In my opinion, no.

    First, the statement ‘both parties’ implies that there were two recognizable groups involved in the events of the G20 – ‘the protesters’ and ‘the police’. This is incorrect. The G20 protesters were a diverse collection of individuals and groups, the vast majority of whom did not take part in any unlawful activity. ‘The police’ were also an incredibly diverse group – the Integrated Security Unit was made up of over 20,000 personnel derived from a wide range of organizations.

    We lose sight of the complexity of the events when we talk about distinct ‘sides’.

    Second, the militarized organization of the ISU and the heavy-handed police presence made for an intimidating atmosphere from the outset. This, coupled with pre-emptive arrests and the ambiguous legal context created by the Public Works Protection Act, gave visiting protesters and residents the impression that they were operating within a police state. It was within this context that the interactions between protesters and police unfolded.

    Finally, “what transpired at the summit” included mass arrests, the vast majority of which targeted nonviolent citizens who were held without charge. This reflects a serious violation of collective civil liberties. Contrast this with the property destruction caused by groups of protesters. The latter actions were certainly unlawful, but they do not reflect an abuse of authority.

    • ryanuppal says:

      Hi Mike,

      I say the video is biased because it seems as though it is only told from perspective of the rioters. Aside from the footage of the police chief speaking, all the footage goes against the views of the Toronto police. There doesn’t seem to be any narration about why the police acted a certain way despite there being plenty of excuses and reasons as to why the rioters and individuals showcased in the video acted a certain way.


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