The Toronto protests against the G20-summit
The massive protests in Toronto against the G8 and G20 summit went almost unnoticed in Europe, except maybe for some pictures of a burning police car and some quick words on ‘violent demonstrators’ and arrests in some mass media. In reality an impressive program of protests and information was organized by activists, who were countered by massive repression. The turnout was also huge. The activist program started days before the summits (see here) Between June 21 en 24 there were days of resistance around a certain theme (migration and occupation, gender & queer, climate & environment, indigenous struggle) and 25-27 were days of action with the mass demo’s on Saturday 26. For more background information see websites at the bottom of this article.
The size, diversity and militancy of the protests was surprising, from a European perspective. While the ‘globalisation movement’ here in Europe seems to have petered down a lot, it doesn’t look so in the Toronto situation. How can you explain that? (The answers below are from two different activists, one from Montreal and one (underlined) from Toronto)
It’s difficult to say whether movement on this subject is going up or down, because we didn’t have many summits like this. The previous one was the Summit of the Americas in Quebec in 2001, which turned into a massive weeklong protest. Of course there was the summit in Montebello/Ottawa in 2007 (see report in Dutch) but that was relatively minor. If you compare Toronto 2010 to Quebec in 2001, it’s not all that positive. Then in 2001 there was a lot more information and discussion on globalization, free trade agreements, neoliberalism, and resistance against it, within civil organizations, trade unions and also the general public. It was also a much longer campaign then, and trade unions and moderate ngo’s did put lots of effort in informing their members and mobilizing them. With Toronto it was less intense and there was a lot less debate or analysis of the economical situation. But the G20-summit clearly created a momentum for people to protest. And also to push some anti-capitalist analysis, even mainstream.
Toronto is a very multicultural city and many people came to live here because they had to flee violence and/or ecological devastation. Maybe that explains partly the acceptance for protest that points at the responsibility of G8/G20-governments for this.
I didn’t get the impression though that people were coming together in Toronto as an (anti-)globalization movement. Part of the strength of the mobilization was highlighting the local issues and struggles we have here, and revealing how they are a result of the decisions that happen at the hands of these so-called leaders and institutions everyday. People connected to that sentiment and most recognized this mobilization as a moment in that struggle against the different powers that oppress and harm on a daily basis, and we weren’t going to let their “ringleaders” enter our city, disrupt our lives, build up more fences to divide us while they armed the police and turned our city into a military zone.
I also think that with the Alberta Tar Sands, with Grassy Narrows (in Ontario) and other Environmental Justice issues -there are stronger ties being built between struggles for indigenous sovereignty and the radical environmental movement. This is helping people acknowledge and understand through a local lens, that the g8/g20 and their policies do create the conditions for different types of genocide – that people are dying, cultures lost and displaced. By being exposed to this on the local level, I think more people can empathize with how this is happening on a global level and what these institutions and their planning actually do.
Still many people turned out to demonstrate. We even heard 70.000 on Saturday. Can you tell something about the numbers and where they came from?
70.000 Might be a bit exaggerated. On the main demonstration on Saturday there may have been something between 25.000 and 50.000 demonstrators. A much smaller group later split off and went into the financial district, they were maybe between 1000 and 2000 people. From that demonstration the property destruction was done and the burning police cars that you saw in the media. Most of the arrests occurred after these demonstrations, on Saturday night and Sunday.
But before the Saturday-demonstration the police was already very repressive. Stopping people in the street, raiding places, stopping buses. The demonstration on Friday -(Justice for Communities, mainly ‘no one is illegal’ for migrants rights see website) that was huge too, some 5000 people, was completely surrounded by police already at the starting point. They searched everybody, confiscated flags etcetera. And they kept the encirclement during the whole demonstration.
Still, a week full of action, tens of thousands of demonstrators, militant actions, we hardly see this anymore in Northern Europe, not around G20/G8-summits anyway. What explains that it worked in this case?
Many organizations and local activists worked hard to achieve this. I mean, of course trade unions and ngo’s did their part to mobilize for the Saturday, but the rest of the program was the work of organizations working on queer and feminist issues, migrants rights, students, anti-poverty, against corporations and environmental destruction, etcetera. And often working closely with neighborhood organizations and smaller unions. What also was important, compared to the European situation, is that nobody tried to argue against ‘summit hopping’. There was some discussion about it, but at the end nobody opposed the choice to focus on the summits. The government also helped, with their insane ‘security’ policy, building a fence through town and spending more than a billion dollars on ‘security’. Many people were pissed off because it was held in the center of Toronto and so much money was being spent, when at the same time the government is cutting back on everything because of the crisis.
There was also a lot of support (maybe not majority but this is still changing) of local residents in Toronto not wanting the summit to come here. The G8 was scheduled to take place in Huntsville (about 1,5 hours from Toronto) and when the G20 summit was added to here they said that Huntsville was too small to accommodate the G20 summit. So in the last months they said it would happen in Toronto and most people did not want it here – because of disruption, because of the cost, etc. So I think many people joined us in the streets not because they understood the political issues activists were there for, but they could relate to the idea that it was a waste of money and that politicians obviously are incompetent at managing finances. Hopefully, they made the connection that they have no legitimacy to manage the global economic system and the links to the issues. Post-summit, many are getting this in a subtle ways, but more “new people to the movement” are more outraged about the attack on their “civil liberties” than they are about the 20 years of austerity measures passed during the g20 summit or the police brutality that takes place everyday in poor neighborhoods, in racialized communities, etc. We’re working on helping people make those connections.
Another difference to the European situation, is that the climate-issue seems to be not so dominant. Here in Europe many people who used to be involved in more general anti-capitalist networks, suddenly started to focus on ‘climate’. At the G20 in London, a year earlier, the only well organized protest was some camp in front of the Carbon Trade exchange at Bishopsgate, far away from the confrontations with the police in the Financial District.
Climate and environmental issues where part of the protest-program. Especially because Harper’s policy is extremely bad on that subject. Many people for instance are involved in campaigning against the tar sands, a devastating kind of surface mining. But you are right that it was not central. The organizations that were most active where doing it from a general anti-capitalist motivation, and if there was a focus it was often on migration, women and queer rights or indigenous resistance. Issues that are difficult to be co opted or turned into simple ngo-campaigns
I think this happened mainly because the Toronto Community Mobilization Network acknowledged very early on that they wanted a collaboration of all the issues that we work on locally. That we did not want one forefronted over others – which is why we had those clear themed days of resistance:
*) Monday: poverty/economic justice, end to war and occupation, migrant justice
*) Tuesday: Gender Justice, Queer Rights
*) Wednesday: Environmental Justice & Climate Justice
*) Thursday: Indigenous Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Indigenous Peoples
*) Friday: Day of Action – Justice for Our Communities March
*) Saturday: Day of Action – People’s First Rally, Get off the Fence Rally
*) Sunday: Autonomous day of Action
*) Monday: impromptu Demonstration against Police Brutality outside of police headquarters
We also do NOT have very strong organizing around Climate Justice in particular. There are some people working on climate justice issues – i.e. before Copenhagen a group of autonomous folks did a series of actions across Canada under the umbrella “people for climate justice” otherwise there are more radical anti-tar sands organizers and around other environmental issues more generally. NGOs have taken up the “climate justice” slogan without much analysis on the word “justice” and the human impacts of climate change. There are some ties in Canada to Rising Tide North America – but there is no organization or collective (at least that I know) that is doing the radical work around Climate Justice (though there have been attempts to start this in Toronto – around Copenhagen but it got sidetracked by G20 organizing).
Then the split-off demonstration turned ‘violent’ on Saturday. Often this leads to angry reactions from the more mainstream organizations and their followers?
Well the leaders of the trade unions and NGO’s weren’t too happy from the beginning. People from the more radical spectrum tried to talk with the trade unions weeks beforehand about conditions to stay together in one march. But they didn’t get far, they were only met with a list of demands that would have meant that we might as well not have done anything at all. Then at a spokes council meeting was decided to organize the split off at a certain point.
And it was organized as much in solidarity as possible. It was called ‘Get off the Fence’ and the call was spread long time before, openly calling people to join the ‘big’ People’s First demonstration, but at a certain point not turn away from the city center and go back to the ‘protest pen’ (Queens Park that authorities had announced where protests would be allowed, but that later got raided anyway) with the rest of the demonstration. See the call: “(…)On June 26th, when the march turns towards the protest pen, we invite you to go beyond the tired symbolism of parades and beyond the will of politicians. When the People First march turns back, we invite you all to continue on with us to confront the self-proclaimed G20 leaders and the security apparatus that will have occupied our city. We will take back our city from these exploitative profiteers, and in the streets we will be uncontrollable! This is a militant march where many forms of resistance and tactics are welcomed and respected.(…)”
That’s what happend. In fact what happened was that they waited until the whole demonstration had passed and this Get Off The Fence block gathered and turned right and the demonstration was loud and angry and shops and offices in the financial district got their windows smashed, and some police cars, that stood along the route of the demonstration and police left behind when they got scared from the demonstrators, were burned. After that police started chasing demonstrators everywhere in town, and arrested totally arbitrarily hundreds of people. The count came to more than a thousand, which had never happened before in Canada. People who came out of the cages told horrible stories about being harassed, really bad treatment and many women had been threatened with sexual assault.
Larger mainstream organizations were angry, some came out with statements that condemned property damage (mainly peace organizations) – calling it “violence” and people that did it “vandals”. Though there was lots of attempts to try to build a culture of solidarity, it didn’t reach most of the bigger organizations as could be expected. Many are talking about the property damage as useless and unstrategic. Most who are saying this were not involved in any of the mobilizing, or really know how to mobilize (you know, ngo-world think if they put out an email they can build a movement). Many had no involvement with the grassroots/community organizing happening through the Toronto Community Mobilization Network. Many are pointing fingers and condemning. Though – – some individuals in these organizations and some non-political people are also making the connection to the greater violence on people done by the police and done through the decisions made behind the fences and by so-called leaders and their policies. So at some level those contexts are being heard.
So then all the energy has to go to anti-repression work, legal support and such. But how did the ‘moderates’ react to the militancy?
Some of the large trade unions like the Canadian Labour Congress and ngo’s like Greenpeace immediately issued a declaration attacking what they called ‘vandalism’ by ‘a small group of thugs’. But it was also a fact that rank and file union members openly protested against that. Already beforehand there were smaller unions, like from teachers, postal workers, who stood closer to the more radical activists.
Of course the mainstream media were terrible, they did the job that could be expected and made it look like the demonstrators were extremely violent and that everything in the way got smashed. What never got reported for instance, was that there hadn’t been one policeman or -woman who got hurt and that there had been almost no looting. That kind of nuance is lost on the mainstream media, and the police felt like they had all the backing they needed to do whatever they wanted, and could attack everybody who was still in the streets.
The arrests where so massive and the stories of people let out of jail so horrible that this partly turned the opinion again against the authorities. Some smaller unions spoke out in support of the demonstrators and the arrested. Also remarkable was that there was quite some debate in media on the events and some people openly tried to explain that property damage against corporate offices is not the same as violence and sometimes declared them self proponents of ‘black block tactics’. Of course the majority of voices in mainstream media was very much against it.
What especially angered people in Quebec, the French speaking part of Canada where I come from, was that it became clear that the police had a special eye for French speaking people. They were instructed to target them, apparently because they were considered to be more radical. We organized a demonstration against the repression and to support the arrested in Montreal after the protests on July 1st and more than 1000 people showed up, which is unusual for us when we have to do it in two days time. And it got endorsed by the big unions, they didn’t fuss about whether the demonstrators had been ‘violent’ or not. Also big organizations like FRAPRU and Fédération des femmes du Quebec endorsed. That is quite unusual. But for good reasons of course. Many annalists pointed at the fact that the mass arrests were even bigger than during the famous October Crisis in 1970, when the government declared the War Measures Act to repress the indepentist movement in Quebec.
On the one hand there was the distancing from the bigger ngo’s, and some of the bigger unions – who were involved in organizing the People First March on the Saturday – and were annoyed that the messages and positive coverage from their large march was missed due to burning police cars on the news for 5+ hours). But there have also been a few large rallies organized in Toronto at Queens Park (building of provincial government) by a group called CAPP – Canadians Advocating Political Participation – calling into public inquiries on police brutality and infringements on civil liberties. The first couple attracted over 1000 people too – and involved marches through the city (and even to the Metro Convention Center where the G20 talks happened). Bigger organizations like Amnesty and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have spoken (or helped organizing). I think because of the outrageous behaviour of the police, violence and infringements people that may have not supported those who did property damage or more militant action are now having more openness to work together in solidarity. Though some still blame the police behaviour on the actions of militant activists, or at least maintain that the police had planned all along to use militant actions as justifications for repression.
What’s the situation of the arrested now (the interview was done between July 17 and 27)
Most of the more than 1000 arrested were released relatively quick, as most were just sweaped from the streets without any indication or proof. Many had been kidnapped from the streets in the days following, and police started a publicity offensive announcing that they would arrest more ‘ringleaders’ and even announcing them on tv. Some people who were treated that way, went to the police themselves, and some of those were refused bail. It’s difficult to follow because the situation changes all the time, but 17 people were charged of conspiracy and after two weeks many of them were still in jail. Many others will have court cases due, but could get out on bail. This doesn’t include the four men who were arrested on the accusation of having firebombed a bank previous to the protests in Ottawa, by the way. Three of them are also still in jail.
Some hundred of the arrested got out without any charges. An estimated 700 were arrested on ‘breach of the peace’ and released within 72 hours. Of those some 250 were charged, and they will have their court case later, unless the prosecutor decides to drop charges. Some people are being prosecuted for more severe charges and have been released under heavy bail-conditions, they can’t leave their home or have to be accompanied by someone constantly.
The authorities are clearly targeting people who organize stuff. Almost everybody they arrested later or are prosecuting, is involved in community organizing or involved in effective campaigning. They want to tie them down, and their friends and the structures they are active in, in endless and expensive judicial procedures. It is an effective way to disturb the political process, unfortunately.
An extra problem is that in Ontario there is little tradition in mass court cases. They seem not to want collective defense, which means that every case will be dealt individually, which puts a much heavier burden on everybody, including lawyers, support movement and the arrested. Solidarity, in any form, would be very welcome.
As of July 26th – there is one person (of the 17 charged with conspiracy) still awaiting bail. There are 2 people whose bails are being appealed – which could end up with them returning to jail or their conditions being altered. The 200+ that are facing other charges have their first court appearance in Ontario on August 23-24. The Movement Defense Committee (who were organizing the legal support during the mobilizations) are organizing a public information session on Sunday Aug 8 – to learn about Human rights process, police complaints process, how to sue police, and possible class action lawsuits. The police are still issuing warrants and arresting people.
Several of the people awaiting more serious charges (and who are mostly out on bail but under house arrest with very severe conditions – needing to be in the company of surety at all times, for some of them they can have a chaperone of another adult but need to have a written note from surety given that adult custody, no use of mobile phones or laptops, no access to email or internet, etc). Several of those people were arrested pre-emtively on Friday and Saturday morning. Some were arrested in night raids – with police breaking down doors and awaking people at gun point. There was even one instance of police breaking into the wrong apartment of a house.
What’s for the future, did all this leave something positive behind for radical politics?
Such big events always have political effects. It was important for these organizations and people to come together and organize these actions, and the fact that many people saw that people are organizing against the plans of those in power. But the repression of course also has negative effects, and scares people away and traumatizes those that have been the target. For many people it was the first demonstration in their life. But what was also obvious, was that people knew how to organize themselves, for instance after the first waves of arrest all kinds of protests and (self)help structures came alive.
Police went on a total pr-campaign and it is also decisive whether they ‘win’ the battle over what really happened or not. The situation on that front is unclear. For instance it was a bit of a scandal when it was found out that they had been showing ‘weapons’ that they claimed to have confiscated from demonstrators, like bow and arrows and incendiary material, that in reality had been from people who were going to play some kind of a role-playing fantasy game and had nothing to do with the protests. But of course the ‘rectification’ gets a lot less attention than the initial ‘revelation’.
The CLAC in Montreal had a rebirth due to the summit protest, and for many other radical organizations it meant a boost. The CLAC (Convergence des luttes Anti-Capitalistes came into existence as a structure for the protests against the Summit of the Americas in 2001. After that summit it continued for a few years, then died down. Now for the protests in Toronto CLAC was re-formed after a first general assembly and after the protests they had their biggest spokes council-meeting ever, with more than 100 attending. It is unclear how it will proceed now. People are thinking to start a magazine, others think of a group to give workshops at high schools, and a media-working group. Many people think it would be a waste to loose this momentum and this might be the time for a more organized coordination of anti-capitalist activities.
Things in Toronto are also feeling more connected. Those that were involved in the organizing for the Toronto Community Mobilization Network are happy with the results of over 7 days of mobilizing! We are about to start a project of collecting the images, video and stories that show the inspiring and amazing things that happened (or at least the links to stuff that is already out there).
The legal support is taking a lot of energy, and people are also eager here to take a bit of a break since it was such an intense experience and the last year has been heavily focused on this organizing. Still support being shown and built for those facing serious charges especially (for instance this case)
What was accomplished and what we want to take forward is the collaboration locally between different organizations and coalitions and understanding better the connections to our issues an different ways we work and function. We’re trying to build some structures and projects to continue this. Some are more inspired to carry through with building a social center, some want to create a people’s inquiry that looks at the police and state decision making during the summit, others are very keen to continue anti-prison work and organizing against daily police brutality – i.e. cop watch, others want to focus on the impacts of austerity measures on our communities.On july 21 11 people were arrested in an OCAP action against a cut to the Special Diet subsidy (for people on welfare and disability, GI).
Extra: Interview on activist media during Toronto protests
One of the striking things of the Toronto protests, was the reporting that was done by people involved in the protests. There were all kind of organizational websites with background information that we take for granted these days at large protests (see bottom of this article, and that list is anything but complete). But there were also a few websites for quick update information and ‘running news’. They looked like the known indymedia-concept, but were different. Dru Oja Jay, one of the founders, was so kind to give some explanation via phone:
The mediacoop-websites stem from a magazine-project that we started in 2003, called The Dominion. While making the magazine people soon draw the conclusion that the strategy (of making a printed magazine and trying to get people to subscribe) wouldn’t reach enough people fast enough. So we started a cooperative to work on developing local websites. We have local projects now in several cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax) and hundreds of people who have contributed. Our main example was indymedia, which inspired us a lot, especially the model of stimulating people to do reporting themselves and bring these together and the idea of grassroots media as a tool for democratic accountability. But we also wanted to learn from the limitations of the model, such as the fact that you need people to be able to constantly maintain the website and the input, and support starting ‘journalists’. So the structure of the mediacoop has lots of similarities to indymedia, but also a few important differences. For instance we have a small central paid staff; people working part-time earning a minimum wage who do all kind of support work. And also we exercise much more editorial control, for instance we moderate the comments. But still the model is that we invite as much as possible people to report their own news.
How do you prevent the same things to happen that trouble many of the indymedia-sites, such as the amount of spam and trolling, or specific political ‘sects’ dominating the inflow of messages?
Partly by the working of our staff, and also with simple technological solutions. For instance to be able to post on the mediacoop-sites, you have to register first to create an account. It is a simple procedure that everybody can do, but it prevents people from spamming or trolling the site. Of course it is a balancing act. because it also makes the project less democratic, but we think we deal with this well. Also we do more editorial work than (most) indymedia. We have a two-tier model where one of the columns is posts that have been featured by an editorial collective and the other more ore less open posting. So everybody can post, but not just anything. And it is also a place for discussion. We never narrowed the mission of the website down politically. If someone wants to add some reporting or comment from a mainstream or right wing viewpoint, that is possible too, though we wouldn’t be necessarily extremely enthusiastic about it and if it disrupted the functioning of the site, we would make policy to deal with it. And anything overtly racist, homophobic etc. -which would make the site a hostile place for a group of people– is deleted immediately. We think it works quite well and during the protests in Toronto the websites were quite instrumental and we think the quality of the reporting was high.
How do you pay the costs?
Mainly through supporters. We have 260 supporters who donate between 5 and 100 dollars a month.
We also receive some grants, but we take care that we never become dependent on them. If a funder withdrew support, it would never mean the end of the project, and of course there can’t be any influence on the content.
How did you deal with the Toronto protest, did you have a special strategy to counter the police propaganda and corporate broadcasting?
The collective in Toronto normally consist of a core group of 3 or 4 people, and some 10 to 15 around them who did things occasionally. During the summit there were a lot more people involved and we also opened a space where people could register as ‘independent journalist’. One of the projects was the publication of a daily free magazine (the Daily Spoke, see example here (pdf).
We set up editorial meetings, to emphasize the collaboration between people and where for instance people could team up to report certain events. It was an amazing atmosphere and more than 100 people joined in.
We reached hundreds of thousands of visitors, so I think we can say that we achieved a lot with very few resources. Still, the goal is to reach millions of people, and we’re working toward that. The mainstream media had to take us in account. For instance, a prominent columnist in one of Canada’s national newspapers accused us of “not being real journalists” so we must be doing something right. Also very interesting is that we got massive attention via social media like twitter and facebook, where people shared videos and other reporting that was appearing on our sites. This is one of the ways that our reach is expanding.
Also see: video of press conference on activist media on the street.
General websites: toronto.mediacoop.ca, www.mediacoop.ca, www.g20breakdown.com, movementdefence.org, www.attacktheroots.net, g20.torontomobilize.org
(for a collection of random video’s on the protests see this blog
And a final note for inspiration. For some reason (probably because they helped the US invading Iraq and Afghanistan) the Netherlands are also part of the G20-meetings. So we could follow the adventures of ‘our’ leaders in Toronto. Prime minister Balkenende told the press that he couldn’t leave his hotel to join the meeting because of ’trouble outside’. His colleague minister De Jager tweeted that for the same reason he could not get back to his hotel. And a nightly concert that one of our most horrible musicians, classical ‘popstar’ Andre Rieu was going to give in the center of Toronto, had to be canceled. Well done!
And by the way, the community journalism at Marie Claire doesn’t seem to be working very well.
Some people where brought all the way to Toronto to tell the G20-leaders (“our leaders”) that they were very happy with them.
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