Another peaceful protest at Queen and Spadina

Until it wasn’t

I don’t think I have the right to use this photograph here, but I’d urge everyone to have a look at it because it’s already iconic. Here’s another really good one of the same scene. Now think again about what civil dissent has looked like on the streets of Toronto this weekend.

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I wasn’t at Queen and Spadina when the lines finally closed in around an otherwise peaceful protest. It was the same thing we’ve seen again and again throughout the weekend. It was the same thing when the police cleared the “designated” protest site at Queens Park north. It was the same thing last night when I was boxed in with 80 or so demonstrators outside the Pape/Eastern detention center. It’s the same thing now–only this time they’ve boxed in an immense number of people and the media and television crews who were there to film the (non-existent) riot and the (non-existent) violence have started to notice the other story. Quite a number of them have unwittingly become part of the story, finding themselves on the other side of police lines, treated as protesters, identifying with protesters, or simply arrested no matter their press credentials.

This is a breaking story as I write this. I’ll head back out in a moment. But for those tired of the media storm and sick of the images of burning cars out there, please tune in to your televisions tomorrow, read a variety of news sources, and hear what journalists are trying to tell you; what they are already telling us via twitter in real time. The ability to peacefully assemble and to protest in Toronto has been entirely suspended. It doesn’t matter who, where, how, or what you’re saying. The new police power is essentially “leave as soon as we say so or you’re part of the problem and will be arrested.”

As you read these accounts from other journalists and media types who finally experienced what it’s like out there, please consider that Queen and Spadina was not a unique encounter–only the biggest and perhaps the final one. Police tactics and mentality of this sort do not excuse violence. Please do not imagine I am suggesting otherwise. But also, don’t allow yourself to be tricked into regarding anyone who refuses to immediately and unconditionally cooperate with every police demand issued for every reason as “violent.” Police have never had unilateral powers to order our citizens in this way and they still do not. Our rule of law has not changed.

Or maybe it has. It’s terrifying to me how many people feel this is a measured and appropriate response. Show some scary stuff on television, create an identifiable fear-inducing peril (the Black Bloc!), rope the media into cooperating with your message with constant and repeating coverage of the same material and bam, you’ve got a blank cheque. At least in America it took 9/11 to threaten their commitment to civil liberties. It’s sad how much they compromised but anyone would admit they had good cause. In Canada, for all we trumpet our civic values, all it takes is repeating video images of some police cars that were burned yesterday, and a few damaged Starbucks, and too many people are eager to be rescued on any terms at all.

Think carefully what you wish for.