Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Only one of Toronto's disasters was man-made

An earthquake, the G20 and a blackout in the middle of a heatwave. It’s been a busy few weeks for Toronto. Only one of those incidents though is a man-made disaster, so I’ll focus on the G-20.

This is one of those issues for me where there are many shades of gray, which will upset those that prefer to see everything in black and white. If only the world was like that.

I sympathize with the police for the very difficult situation they faced: trying to secure a major conference in downtown Toronto, trying to deal with large crowds of protestors exercising their democratic rights, and trying to tell who is a peaceful protestor trying to make a point and who is a hoodlum hiding in their midst trying to cause trouble. And I’m angry at the police for unfairly targeting those peaceful protestors while trying to get to those hoodlums, for being too slow to act on Saturday and too fast to act on Sunday, I’m angry about the reports of excessive violence, of suspension of civil liberties, and the apparent dishonesties of the police leadership.

I sympathize with the protestors that wanted to make their voices heard and raise concerns, whether I agree with them or not, that were important to them, that had their voices drowned-out, that faced violence and confinement. And I’m angry at those that view these events as anarchist summer camp, that seem to lack any coherent message, and that use peaceful protest as a cover for mindless violence and vandalism.

I sympathize with the media that put themselves on the frontlines to bring those of us at home the true picture, or as true a picture as an on the ground eye-witnesses with only one piece of the puzzle can bring. TVO’s Steve Paikin did a great job. And I’m angry at the media for their simplistic coverage, for focusing on the violence, to the near exclusion of all-else. Who were the “real” people protesting? What were their points? Did they have any merit? From the media coverage, I have no clue.

In the end, it will all take time to sort out. Police conduct will be closely scrutinized and investigated, as it should be, with lessons being learned and appropriate consequences meted-out. It’s unlikely most of the so-called Black Block-tactic types will face justice, but one can hope. I’m content to let those processes play themselves out.

These are symptoms though of the underlying issue of last weekend: was it right to hold the G20 in downtown Toronto, and were the results of the conference worth the $1 billion price-tag and the ensuing chaos in our streets? I have to say the answer to both questions is a resounding no.

Stephen Harper’s decision to hold the G20 in downtown Toronto instead of at the CNE, as the city preferred, or even on a military base or some other isolated location, created a cascade of negative effects. It increased the security costs exponentially, it made the security task of the police much more difficult, it inconvenienced more people and cost more businesses money, it put more people and property at risk, and it made protests more disruptive, damaging and difficult to contain.

I sympathize with those that say we can’t let the threat of violent protest dictate where, when and how we meet. But at the same time, sensible planning dictates both a security analysis and a cost/benefit analysis. And the cost and security benefits of a more isolated, easily-secured location far outweigh whatever advantage you get by giving delegates a glimpse of Bay Street from your shuttle bus inside the security zone.

Then there’s what was discussed and accomplished at the conference itself, which is why we’re going through all this hassle and expense at the first place. At least if there were substantive achievements, you could say well, it was worth it. Unfortunately, there were not.

What did we get? Statements that Iran and North Korea are bad. Funding for maternal health that falls short of expectations, and is mostly old or re-directed money (although the sentiment is positive). A non-binding commitment to eliminate deficits that countries can decline to pay attention to. And an agreement that those that want to tax banks can, and those that don’t want to don’t have to, not that they could be forced to anyway. Did I miss anything? We did, though, get lots of photos of Harper with world leaders. And reports say that, not having tripped on his shoelaces or been stuck in the bathroom for any photo-ops, he was a great host. Oh, how high we set the bar.

I don’t side with those that say these conferences are a waste of time. There is value in bringing world leaders together, face-to-face, for discussions on important issues, to coordinate international responses to major issues. But I don’t support the Conservative boondoggle that was the Toronto G20. The cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t hold; this wasn’t worth a billion dollars, and the security chaos.

All that ensued a week ago in Toronto, the protests, the security chaos, the lost business, the police investigations, at the root of it all is bad decisions made by the Harper Conservatives. Every other conference has been held for a fraction of the price, and not near the disruption. But for Conservative mismanagement, poor decision-making and pre-occupation with showering Tony Clement’s riding with pork, this one could have been to.

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1 comment:

CanadianSense said...

I am not that upset that some bloggers, reporter, camera happy people got caugh up in the police action on Saturday night and Sunday.

How many bothered to show up 10k with a free bus and accomodation?

Compared to Quebec City over 50-150k estimate.

Police were tougher at APEC.

A few hundred arrests was a very small price to avoid a potential repeat of the property damage by the few hundred who came dressed in black and had cover from the crowds.

The anarchists would have NOT been able to create the havoc if they were not given the safety of the large crowds that were bused in to protest "x".

A short stay 24-72 hours in the Toronto Hotel compliments of Dalton, Blair and Miller is not a serious abuse of power.

Compared to Iran or China, these malcontents get to go back home if cleared.
Those in China and Iran did not get that opportunity.

How many deaths as a result of police actions in the G20? Zero.