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5 years after G20, democracy, and same-sex marriage

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I was thinking about how to mark the 5 year anniversary of the G20 summit and the police’s poor handling of peaceful protestors and innocent bystanders at the event. Peaceful protests were mired by members of the Black Bloc appearing and causing damage to buildings and even setting fire to a police cruiser. The police began sweeping arrests and failed to differentiate between Black Bloc members and peaceful protestors and other bystanders. Over 1100 people were detained with the majority being released without charges (all but 278) in what has been called the “largest mass arrest in Canada’s peacetime history”.

In the aftermath, the Ontario government and police admitted to misleading the public about their powers to stop and search members of the public. Ombudsman Andre Marin stated “[i]t was ‘illegal’ and ‘likely unconstitutional’ for Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government to pass a secret regulation that police used to detain people”. One video shows an officer telling a man “this isn’t Canada any more…you have no civil rights” when he refuses to have his bag searched. To his credit, the former police Chief, Bill Blair ordered an in-depth review of all police actions at the G20 and made the findings public.

Today’s announcement of same-sex marriage becoming legal in the US struck me as an example of positive change that is possible when citizens are given the freedom to stand up and be counted through peaceful demonstrations. In fact, one of the protests in advance of the G20 was to highlight the need for stronger LGBT rights among the G20 member countries (at the time only five members allowed same-sex marriage while three members had laws making same-sex relationships illegal). Each demonstration, protest or parade raises awareness and tips over a few more dominos in a slow but relentless progression to announcements like the one we heard today.

The Canadian government’s decision to hold the G20 in Toronto’s dense downtown core and the police’s treatment of peaceful protesters are a big deal because they could lead to people being less willing to participate in important future demonstrations. I think democracy exists on a continuum, with our society shifting back and forth depending on who is in charge, how transparent our government is etc. I believe our society became a little less democratic after the G20. Many innocent people and peaceful protesters that were detained and/or strip searched are much more likely to steer clear of similar protests in the future. And without people feeling comfortable participating in peaceful demonstrations, social progress is in danger of slowing or even stopping. President Obama today said, “We have made our union a little more perfect” but he also opposed gay marriage in 2008 to maintain the support of his base. Our elected leaders have no choice but to reflect the beliefs of their electorate – it is up to us to clearly show them what our beliefs are.

It is concerning that after admissions of guilt, public outrage and multiple reports, no one was ultimately held responsible for how the peaceful G20 protesters and bystanders were treated. A few officers who were caught on video for particularly egregious misconduct were charged in isolated cases. Only two senior police officials faced misconduct charges for the police actions during the G20. Superintendent Dave Fenton pleaded not guilty to five charges of unlawful arrest and discreditable conduct for two “kettling” incidents during the G20 weekend at his police tribunal hearing which heard closing arguments recently. Inspector Gary Meissner was also charged with misconduct, but he retired before his hearing could take place.

Even though it turned out to be dangerous to be a peaceful protester at the G20, I continue to believe that we need to encourage each other to stand up for issues we believe in. In order to do this, the police need to protect the rights of those who are willing to stand up and be counted through peaceful protest from anarchists like the Black Bloc. Today the US took an important step forward in social change, brought on by the Supreme Court. But let’s not forget the decades of peaceful protests and activism that underlie today’s decision. There is much social change still needed, and many miles still to march until we get there.

Written by Tilak Dutta

June 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Posted in G20

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The protest really would have been better for everyone if it had been sunny. Raincheck?

One of the street car drivers decided to get out and wait out the protest on Saturday morning at Queens Park. Everything was still peaceful up to this point. The hoodlums revealed themselves later.

Written by Tilak Dutta

June 29, 2010 at 9:16 am

Posted in G20

Seen and Heard

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Boomboxes making a comeback?

After the 1997 APEC summit in Vancover, a Canadian judge concluded that in the future “A generous opportunity will be afforded for peaceful protesters to see and be seen in their protest activities by guests to the event…”.

Peaceful protesters have the right to be seen and heard. It is a shame that the destructive acts of a few hundred destructive hoodlums have drowned out  thousands of constructive peaceful voices at the G8/G20. Don’t let anarchist mayhem overshadow messages of peaceful demonstrators.

I’ve heard many imply that demonstrators don’t  know what they’re protesting, or even if they do, there’s not much point in protesting because it won’t change things. I disagree with both these statements:

What are you even protesting against?

I can’t speak for others, but here are 3 messages I wanted world leaders to know about when I joined the protest on Saturday:

1. Foreign control of Canadian resources is dangerous because foreign companies can’t be expected to treat our workers with respect.

Nickel workers have been on strike in my hometown of Sudbury for nearly a year. Inco was bought by a Brazilian company Vale in 2006. Since then Vale closed mines and have cut 900 jobs. The contract dispute is the result of Vale wanting to cut pensions and benefits because “…Sudbury is among the company’s highest-cost operations…”

In the past, contract disputes were resolved by compromise. Vale shows no willingness to compromise and will likely wait out striking workers until operations can be brought back online using replacement workers or until the union eventually gives into their demands. There is nothing to stop Vale from imposing further benefit/pay cuts either.

2. The G8/G20 countries must stop breaking promises to support people with HIV/AIDS in Africa

In 2005, the G8 promised universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2010. They will fall US$7 billion short of this  target. Not only will they not make good on their past promises, now the G8 will be further cutting back its funding over the next 3 years.

3. Water must be declared as a fundamental human right

The World Bank required the Bolivian government to privatize it’s water supply in Cochabamba in order to receive funding. The government complied and the cost of water shot up as a result and it became illegal to even collect rain water. Some were spending more than a 1/4 of their wages to buy water. It is unethical to limit anyone’s access to water in this way.

Protests can work

The case of water privatization also shows how protests can work. It was only after citizens of Cochabamba took to the streets that the Bolivian government backed down.

Written by Tilak Dutta

June 28, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Posted in G20

G20 Street Furniture

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Adds a trashy twist to the draconian lockdown...

Garbage bins have been removed near the security zone for the G20 along with newspaper boxes, benches, bus shelters and even small trees.

Written by Tilak Dutta

June 25, 2010 at 8:51 am

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Must be hard to run in all that gear...

I’ve never seen so many police in one place – all decked out with riot helmets and gas masks. There’s a quiet eerie mood in the security zone near Union station as the G20 gets underway. The police officers seem to be having a good time though.

Written by Tilak Dutta

June 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Posted in G20