Toronto G20: The brutal face of capitalist reaction

The mood leading up to this weekend’s G20 summit and the protest against it became increasingly tense throughout the week. The police and the state spent plenty of time informing the public of its vast arsenal, troop numbers, facilities, and readiness to defend the fence—itself a graphic symbol of the growing class divide not only here in Canada, but around the world.

Throughout the week discussion on the streets, and in the restaurants and cafés of Toronto, was focused on the summit. Many people expressed anger about the G20 and the policies of austerity to bail out the banks and multinational corporations. But, the police’s intimidation tactics also worked—many stated that they would not attend the mass labour rally planned for Saturday, 26th June. These people were rightfully concerned about the potential for violence. However, the overwhelming majority of people were afraid of violence, not on the part of protestors and activists, but on the part of the police. It was clear that people were afraid of police attacks. The police had created this atmosphere intentionally via all the press releases and threats made before the demonstration. It was abundantly clear that the police forces were itching for a fight.

Many people were justifiably angry at the disgusting and hypocritical $1.3-billion security price tag for the summit. All we have heard from the Harpers, Ignatieffs, and McGuintys is that there is no money for housing or health care, no money for pensions, no money to keep factories and maintain jobs and wages. Because there is apparently no money for anything, which is a boldfaced lie when we all know corporate profits are at record highs, the working class is being forced into paying for the bosses’ crisis. The fact the government suddenly came up with $1.3-billion, which could cover and fund many a social program or pension, to cover the security costs of the summit was a slap in the face, not only to the people of Toronto and Ontario, but the working class and trade unions of the entire country.

To back up the bravado and swagger of the police forces and riot squads, the provincial government quietly and secretly passed draconian legislation giving police sweeping powers to arbitrarily stop, demand identification, search, and arrest anyone, without cause, within five metres of the security fence.

Police harassment of protesters. Photo by Sweet One.Police harassment of protesters. Photo by Sweet One. Of course, the police were not content with these sweeping, anti-democratic, and anti-constitutional powers. They wanted more power—power to abuse the rights of Toronto’s citizens, power to arbitrarily intimidate and arrest people. Many officers, whom I myself personally witnessed, attempted to intimidate and harass scores of people into showing identification and allowing to be searched far from the jurisdiction of the security fence, and well before any demonstrating. Through the course of the day, one could observe repeated examples of the police breaking all democratic, constitutional and legal norms, even when considered in the context of their new police state powers.

Myself and two other Fightback members were stopped at the intersection of Church and Wellesley at 8:30 am as we made our way to Queen’s Park to set up our stall and info table for the labour demonstration planned for later that afternoon. As we walked down the street with a box of pamphlets and leaflets, a black unmarked SUV screamed up to the sidewalk and four plainclothes officers jumped out and ran at us—showing their badges and shouting that we stop and show them what was in the box.

Fightback stallFightback stall Despite the fact that the police had no right whatsoever to stop us or to ask us anything, we had nothing to hide—the box was full of leaflets and pamphlets. We stopped and politely spoke to the police, showing them the contents of the box. They then asked us for identification. We refused, stating that the police were out of their jurisdiction and that the new draconian search and arrest laws only applied within five metres of the fence, and that we would not comply with their request as they had no probable cause whatsoever to stop us and ask us anything, informing them as well that they had no right to ask us what was in the box and that we were voluntarily complying with their request.

The police were very angry and irritated at this, and clearly regretted that we live in a “civilized society” based on the rule of law (though this certainly was not the case in Toronto this weekend). They were looking for any excuse to break the draconian laws they had just been granted. These officers told us that they were aware of the jurisdiction zone for their new powers, and stated that they were not in fact asking to see our ID (which they had), and stated that they were simply asking whether we had ID, not asking whether we would show it to them. We told them that we of course had ID. Naturally and predictably, the officers asked again to see our identifications, seeing as we had ID and there was no problem apparently with their request (aside from that little snag that it was completely illegal). We flat-out refused. Much to their chagrin, and despite their angry red faces, the police had to let us go and “allow us” to carry on doing what we have a democratic right to do—to walk down the street carrying a box without having to show ID, or justify why we were walking down the street.

When we arrived at the demonstration site, we learned that the police had already illegally and arbitrarily stopped our other comrades who were already at the park, asked them for ID, and searched them.

People first rally against G20, Toronto.If the mood during the week had been tense, then it certainly was all the more so as the protestors and demonstrators made their way to Queen’s Park. The massive and draconian police presence could be felt throughout the downtown core as the police randomly stopped, searched, identified, and took the possessions of protestors—all of this many blocks away from the perimeter of the fence, i.e. well outside the five-metre perimeter of the security fence where the new Public Works Protection Act came into effect.

After making a quick stop at a nearby union hall to meet up with some of the union contingent and get some supplies (plastic rain coats, coffee and food, and earplugs for the “sonic weapon” the police had been threatening to deploy, etc.) some of us made our way back to Queen’s Park where we saw two protestors being stopped and harassed by the police. This was at the corner of College and Spadina—very far away indeed from the security fence.

As we walked down the opposite side of the street, we saw a woman who was trying to help these two youths and ascertain what exactly the police were doing. After attempting to intimidate her, humiliate her, and swearing at her and using generally abusive language (“Fuck off old lady”) the woman began to take photos of the police abuse with her iPhone. The police tried to grab her phone away from her and threaten her with arrest—obviously aware that they were breaking the law by illegally stopping and searching the protestors. She informed them that she had every right to photograph their abuse of the law and told them that she was a Globe and Mail journalist, which really set the cops off. They then demanded to see her press credentials, implying that she would be lined up with the two protestors and even arrested if she did not comply! She politely informed them that she did not need press credentials or identification to walk down the street or to take photos of the police abusing the law and abusing the two protestors’ rights. When the conversation between her and one particularly oafish officer got heated and she swore, he threatened to arrest her for swearing at him. She again informed this officer of the law, explaining that she could say anything she wanted to the police, and that this was her right, and that she could not be arrested on those grounds.

As soon as we had seen the police reaching for her phone and physically intimidating her, we made our way over to see what was happening. She relayed what had happened and was clearly livid at the draconian and abusive actions of the police. In fact, in a process that would be repeated throughout the day, her entire consciousness and understanding of the G20 summit, of the police, of the state, and of society in general had completely changed, right before our very eyes.

She had even explained that she was not too concerned with the G20 or the policies of austerity it was going to decide upon; she firmly believed this would have little effect on her, and that she had joked earlier in the week with friends (writers for the right-wing Macleans magazine) that she, in fact, wanted to go to the demonstration and protest the protesters—to hold up a placard that read, “Content with the status quo.” By the end of her ordeal with the officers, she was incensed. She compared Toronto to a police state, angrily denouncing the sweeping powers given to police, and the abuse of these already-sweeping powers.

She could not believe that these two youths had been arbitrarily stopped and abused on the streets by the officers. She bemoaned the fact that “Canada used to be a democracy,” and wondered aloud what this meant for the future. After the two protestors were released and after many of their possessions had been take by police (including t-shirts and banners), we all met up to compare notes and exchange information and discuss what this recent event meant for the rest of the day. We all walked away with a sense of foreboding, particularly as the three cop cars that had stopped the protestors drove slowly by us, with our cop friends staring at us menacingly and uttering what could only be taken as threats as they went by in a clear attempt to intimidate us.

Police arresting protesters. Photo by Tom Cardoso.Police arresting protesters. Photo by Tom Cardoso. As we made our way back up to Queen’s Park, both the presence of the demonstrators and police was on the increase. As protestors streamed into the area the police presence was stepped up. Even more shocking was that the police had not shut down traffic on University Ave., creating a very dangerous situation as the crowd spilled out onto the streets and motorists were trying to avoid running them over. The potential for an accident was extremely high, and the cops didn’t seem to care about this. This symbolized the utter hostility the police had to the labour movement and the demonstration. While not necessarily confrontational at this point in time, they were definitely an intimidating presence—and again the message clear. While the police have to recognize and acknowledge our right to demonstrate and protest, it was clear that, in reality, they were nothing but hostile, and very much regretted that we had any such rights.

And this is something that every worker, every trade unionist, every socialist, and all radical youth must understand: while the excuse for the massive police presence and the blustering swagger of the riot cops was the black bloc and the threat of violence and destruction of property (and, indeed, this threat was very real as we can graphically see downtown with the aftermath of the riot), the real intention for the police presence was to intimidate and send a message to the labour movement.

When the black bloc finally did break off and begin their march (or run) of destruction, this was all the excuse the police needed to crackdown and turn the downtown core into a veritable police state, with all but martial law declared. Throughout the day, everyday people and activists alike compared the situation downtown with Trudeau’s declaration of the War Measures Act in 1971 during the FLQ crisis—not to mention several other nasty historical examples. This comparison is even more glaring when we consider that the actual target of the War Measures Act was the left-wing activists and trade unionists from coast to coast to coast. However, as this article is being written, there have been more arrests during the G20 in Toronto than there were during the FLQ crisis!

People first rally against G20, Toronto.The labour march attracted between 20,000 and 30,000 people, a sizeable number when we take the intimidation, fear, and rainy weather into account. When the labour march started south down University Ave. at approximately 1:00 pm, we quickly arrived at the US consulate—and the intimidation tactics of the police. The police had surrounded the demo on all sides, and in fact were at the front of the march pointing guns at the demonstration. Apparently we have the right to free speech, to assemble, and to demonstrate, but only so long as we do not step out line. The US consulate was surrounded by barricades. As the demo approached, a large contingent of heavily armed riot cops, who as yet had not been seen in force by the demonstrators, and looking like something straight out of Fallout 3, marched in from a side street to bolster the barricades, smashing their batons as they moved into formation. These riot cops were already in addition to the other hundred or so regular and bike officers that were bolstering the same area.

It had seemed obvious to us that the police were itching for a fight. Their entire attitude in the weeks up to the demonstration made this clear. However, it was when we saw this incident at the US embassy that we realized that the long-expected battle between the black bloc and the police was going to happen.

No one on the demonstration seemed particularly bothered about passing the US consulate. As the march snaked by, some shouting and booing could be heard as we were herded like cattle down the street past the consulate. It was only when the riot cops made a disgusting show of force that the demonstrators got unruly. It was clear that the police were attempting not only to intimidate the labour demonstration, but that they were also trying to provoke it.

Police facing the protesters. Photo by Squirrel Brand.Police facing the protesters. Photo by Squirrel Brand. As soon as the riot cops showed up and began moving into position, the shouting and anger on the part of the demonstrators boiled over as one elderly gentleman made his way over the barricade, calling on others to join him. While it was an admirable display of defiance and resistance, it was all quickly over as 6-8 riot officers pounced on this man and literally beat him into submission. This incensed the demonstration, and protestors hurled angry and creative abuse at the shock troops, and nothing more as we eventually filed past.

As the demonstration made its way down University Ave., the new Toronto, the one that looked like a police state, was clearly visible. The police had regular and bike officers blocking all intersections, with rows of riot cops behind each line blocking the next intersection. The mounted officers could be seen behind them in strategic positions.

Many people were shocked by the police presence. The truly amazing thing was to watch the transformation in the consciousness of many regular, everyday people, workers, and youths on the march. Many of these were not activists or demonstration veterans, and many were shocked, dismayed, and horrified at the police behaviour.

Many Canadians, for one reason or another, have illusions that Canada is the “best country to live in the world.” Rightly or wrongly, many of these people firmly believe in, and are proud of, Canada’s “democracy,” and value very highly our rights to free speech, to free association, and to demonstrate.

Photo by Scorlirk.Photo by Scorlirk. Many of these illusions were torn asunder on the G20 march and the first shocks to people’s political consciousness took place. What we all need to remember is that these things we all value are not privileges, but rights. We don’t just have these rights because Canada is a nice place, or because our government is nice and good, or because Canadians are polite, quiet people. We have these rights because they were demanded, fought for, and won by the struggles of the labour movement. These rights do not simply exist in a vacuum and they are certainly not written in bronzed or written in stone. As was proven by the McGuinty government’s secret passing of these draconian anti-constitutional laws under the Public Works Protection Act, these rights only really exist precisely until when they are needed most. They mean nothing to the ruling class, and they will not hesitate to scuttle them, not only when their system is threatened, but when they fear that our voices may be raised loud enough to question their system. These rights were torn from the hands of the ruling class and the state and there is a constant tug of war between us, the people, and them, the ruling class. As we fight to protect and extend these rights, they use every opportunity to take them away.

And this was the message from the state, from the armed bodies of men in Canada. In the final analysis, the police, the army, the forces of the state, are designed to do one thing—protect private property, protect the means of production, and to protect private property relations, i.e. capitalism.

While in the past, mainly due to the unprecedented economic boom after the Second World War, capitalism was able to afford reforms, especially when faced with the struggles of the organized labour movement. Given this situation, the state and the capitalist class granted these concessions because at the time, it was the best and most effective and efficient means to protect private property relations.

But all of that has changed now. The current economic crisis, nothing short of the failure of capitalism, means that the bosses can no longer afford the reforms of the past, let alone any new ones. The bosses have announced that the golden age of class collaboration and social peace are over, that we will no longer have a welfare state, pensions, unemployment insurance, etc. In order for them to maintain profits and keep the capitalism system solvent, the bosses need to drive through an entire series of austerity measures, including factory closures, mass layoffs and sackings, wage cuts, deep cuts to the welfare state and privatizations. These packages will amount to the utter destruction of the gains made by the working class over the last 50 years.

Armed bodies of men. Photo by hakwking3141.Armed bodies of men. Photo by hakwking3141. The bosses, and their armed bodies of men in the state are very much aware that the democratic rights we won in the past are now a barrier to protecting private property and capitalism. From their point of view, there is too much democracy and we have too many rights—rights to free speech, free association, the right to demonstrate, and above all, the right to strike. Now, these rights directly threaten the “proper” functioning of capitalism. While it may perhaps not be the best, most effective or most efficient means of protecting capitalism and private property, it has become absolutely necessary for the bosses to attack and take away all of these rights in order to ram through their austerity packages.

As we made our way past the rows of riot police to the intersection of Queen and Spadina, the demonstration began to fragment and splinter. The main march, led by the unions, headed north up Spadina to make its way back to Queen’s Park. Some demonstrators, clearly not the black bloc but holding CUPE and Steelworker local flags, turned south to the line of riot cops, urging everyone to join them in “challenging the line.” This challenge was far more political than physical, and at this time the front lines were not filled with fighting and shouting, but singing and chanting. It was much more a political statement than a direct challenge to the presence and authority of the police. It wasn’t very long until the entire intersection was filled with people. As the main demonstration continued to file past along Queen St., many headed up north back to Queen’s Park while many others stayed, waiting to see if this was where the black bloc would attempt to penetrate police lines and attack the fence.

The black bloc was in the process of converging at the corner of the intersection. At a certain point a road flare was lit by a group of Maoists who had stood at the southern front lines for a time. The road flare disoriented and frightened the crowd and confused the police.

It was at this point that the black bloc split off from both the main demo and the large contingent of peaceful protesters at the corner of Queen and Spadina. They took off back eastwards down Queen, shouting through megaphones and urging everyone to “Head East! To the Fence!” It was at this point that the police momentarily lost control and all hell broke loose—just long enough for the police to regain control and allow the black bloc to smash up downtown.

After allowing the black bloc to storm down Queen, torch a police car, and smash windows, the police moved to reposition themselves around the intersection of Queen and Spadina, leaving the westerly direction open but blocking the road south and back east. Many, including some in the media, have wondered if the cars were left empty on the streets precisely so the black bloc would torch them.

The bloc was able, somehow, despite the mass aggressive police presence at every single intersection along the route of the demonstration, to roam freely north and south up Bay Street, smashing windows of a few Starbucks, banks, and other shops. The cops eventually gave chase—driving the blockers up Bay and seemingly driving them towards areas where they could do more damage, and also towards Queen’s Park, where the peaceful demonstration was wrapping up. Meanwhile, another group moved up and down Yonge Street, smashing a bunch of shops up to College Street.

While the details are unclear, it appears that the black bloc had split into several groups and ran amok downtown during this brief flash of chaos. The cops drove one group to Queen’s Park, where the black blockers joined the entirely peaceful labour demonstration, and changed into “civilian” clothing.

This was all the excuse the police needed. The cops let loose—charging the park and arbitrarily attacking the crowd. This crowd was composed of trade unionists waiting for buses and other peaceful demonstrators and activists wrapping up and getting ready to go home. The police beat anyone in site, including hot dog vendors and many in the media.

The mounted police were sent in and tear gas and rubber bullets were apparently used, something William Blair, Toronto’s Chief of Police blatantly denied and lied about at his press conference some 30 minutes later. When a journalist informed him that he had footage of cops using rubber bullets and indiscriminately attacking media and other peaceful demonstrators, our Chief of Police choose to basically call him a liar rather than simply face the facts.

This was also the case when another journalist asked why peaceful protests had been broken up at the “Tent-In” at Allan Gardens, and people, including his photographer, had been arbitrarily and brutally beaten and arrested. Blair stated that only perpetrators of violence had been arrested and that innocent and curious bystanders would be given a chance to leave an area before they would be arrested. This was countered by the journalist who stated that he had his photographer’s footage and it showed that when the photographer was beaten and arrested, there was no black bloc present and no violence whatsoever. Again, rather than face the facts, this journalist was basically called a liar.

Meanwhile, protestors and demonstrators snaked through downtown to see the damage and continue the peaceful protests. The riot cops moved to retake downtown—marching and beating their batons on their shields to intimidate innocent bystanders and peaceful protestors.

Steve Paikin, a noted and respectable journalist from TVOntario, has a very informative and objective look at what was happening from here via Twitter. Precisely because of the rioting and violence, the police had all the probable cause they needed to read the riot act and clear the downtown streets, now in full panic mode. They had all the probable cause to arbitrarily stop and arrest people and violently clear the streets, regardless of the proximity to the fence. The black bloc was gone—either arrested or disappearing in the crowd. The demonstrators downtown were peaceful and very much middle class, as was noted by Paikin and other journalists. The protestors were snaking through downtown when all of a sudden, the cops opened fire on a group of peaceful protestors.

The protestors chanted “peaceful protest” and raised their hands in the air. Paikin characterized the attack as an “unprovoked attack by the police.” He explains that the entirely peaceful crowd was prepared to disperse and leave the area but the cops attacked anyway.

As the cops launched an all-out assault on protestors throughout the downtown core, people became very interested in defending their democratic rights. There were no longer any banners or slogans, the only cause now being the right to assemble. Many explained that they were there not because they were radicalized youth, but because they were responding to what they had seen the police do and how they had behaved that very day.

Eventually, a group of peaceful protestors had made their way to Novotel, a hotel on the Esplanade downtown where the workers are currently on strike. The protestors had gone down to the hotel to organize a solidarity picket. As far as we understand from reports, Novotel workers were on the picket line and protestors sat in the street in solidarity.

The cops moved in on all sides and a new riot squad moved in. Despite the fact that the protestors were adamant that their demonstration was peaceful, the cops moved in violently, firing rubber bullets and overwhelming the crowd. We also have reports that Novotel workers were also fired upon, beaten, and arrested. Four of our own Fightback comrades were arrested for simply showing solidarity with the striking Novotel workers. Demonstrating the baseless nature of the police’s arrests, one by one they are being released as this report is being written, having being charged with nothing. As the scene exploded Paiken was escorted away by the police. As soon as he got to a computer, this is what he tweeted:

“i saw police brutality tonight. it was unnecessary. they asked me to leave the site or they would arrest me. i told them i was dong my job.

“they repeated they would arrest me if i didn't leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist.

“the journalist identified himself as working for "the guardian." he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him....

“a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back.

“no cameras recorded the assault. and it was an assault[…]

“i can appreciate that the police were on edge today, after seeing four or five of their cruisers burned. but why such overreaction tonight?

“the demonstration on the esplanade was peaceful. it was like an old sit in. no one was aggressive. and yet riot squad officers moved in.

“police on one side screamed at the crowd to leave one way. then police on the other side said leave the other way. there was no way out.

“so the police just started arresting people. i stress, this was a peaceful, middle class, diverse crowd. no anarchists

“literally more than 100 officers with guns pointing at the crowd. rubber bullets and smoke bombs ready to be fired. rubber bullets fired

“we must make a distinction between the "thugs" who broke store windows and torched cop cars and the very reasonable citizens who...

“...just wanted to remind the authorities that the freedom to speak and assemble shouldn't disappear because world leaders come to town.

“i have lived in toronto for 32 years. have never seen a day like this. shame on the vandals.

“and shame on those that ordered peaceful protesters attacked and arrested. that is not consistent with democracy in toronto, G20 or no G20.”

In addition to the beaten Guardian journalist, different media outlets were reporting their own members having fallen victim to the police attacks. The CBC reported that two of their interns had been arrested and even the rabidly right-wing National Post lost two of their journalists to arrest.

The police were itching for their fight, itching to put that $1.3-billion to good use against the protestors—and they got it. The black blockers handed it right to them, bringing the full brunt of the forces of the state down onto the labour movement, trade unionists, and peaceful protesters.

While in a certain sense the anger and the frustration of the black blockers can be understood as the blind rage and anger at the capitalist system and the ruling class—a violent outburst against the misery and injustices of capitalism. Having said that, however, these tactics cannot be condoned or supported in anyway. The labour movement must now fully denounce the black blockers and draw a dividing line—they are not welcome in our movement or on our demonstrations.

Black blockers attacking windows.Black blockers attacking windows. In an article in Sunday’s Toronto Star , a black blocker defended the bloc’s tactics of smashing store windows thusly: “This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. They (the corporations) are the ones hurting people.” Of course corporations hurt people, kill people. But smashing their windows does nothing to the corporations; it does nothing to actually threaten the corporations or their economic foundations whatsoever. The fight against the corporations, against capitalism, is an economic and a political struggle—strikes, nationalization, workers’ control, socialism, and a planned economy—a struggle that can only be fought and won by the working class.

In the end, despite whatever subjective interpretations they may have of their tactics or understanding we may have for their anger and frustrations, objectively speaking the actions of the black bloc not only hurt people, they hurt our movement.

The black bloc had no regard whatsoever for the labour movement, the unions, and the peaceful demonstrators on the march, or their interest in a peaceful demonstration. They used our movement in order to highjack it to provide them with the mass cover to employ their violent tactics. They threatened anyone—media, fellow protestors, innocent bystanders—anyone who threatened to expose their identities. One Globe and Mail photographer was injured and their equipment damaged by a black blocker. Their actions can only be compared to those of agent provocateurs. Indeed, the police were caught in Montebello, Quebec using genuine police provocateurs to use black bloc methods to provoke the police into attacking peaceful protests.

What were the objective results of the black bloc tactics? In the eyes of the state, the politicians, and their mouthpieces in the media, the violence of the black bloc delegitimizes the legitimate protests and demonstrations of the labour movement. It justifies the massive security expenditures and aggressive and intimidation tactics of the police. The labour movement can argue against the police presence and plead peaceful protest all they want, but because of the presence and actions of the black bloc, the police can always justify their aggressive presence and brutality. In the end, black bloc tactics justify the police action and brings the wrath of the police down on the labour movement. The workers at Novotel, the trade unionists at Queen’s Park, and the peaceful demonstrators downtown were all beaten, abused, and arrested because of the black bloc, who were brave enough to smash windows but too cowardly to face the police when they ran and changed clothes to blend in with the regular, peaceful demonstrators, using our movement as cover.

The police and the black bloc are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. The police step up security and their presence, causing the black bloc to come up with increasingly bold and inventive ways to circumvent this security, causing the police to step up their presence and attacks on democratic rights. This week, the police were almost daring the black bloc to attempt to penetrate the security perimeter and fence, precisely so the police could physically assault demonstrators and workers, and assault their democratic rights.

The Esplanade group, the Toronto Young New Democrats (TYND) must convene a town hall meeting to discuss the attacks on the community and organize support for those abused by the police, and raise support for striking Novotel workers. It was no accident that the final battle of the night took place on the Esplanade, at Novotel.

Labour has stood and demonstrated its opposition to the G20. This struggle against the G20 and the attacks of the bosses must continue. The labour movement must convene an emergency conference to discuss three central questions: 1) discuss the attacks on civil liberties; 2) discuss the attacks on the people of Toronto by the police and the Black Bloc; and 3) discuss the necessary tactics to fight back against capitalist austerity. This will be the only way to fight the G20 and the austerity packages, the only way to fight back against the bosses, to fight against capitalism for a better, socialist world.

Source: Fightback (Canada)