Violence and chaos in Toronto

Plenty of blame to go around for G20 protests turning violent

To this point, my coverage of the G20 protests in Toronto has come from the perspective of its impact on the University of Toronto. I remain very concerned about that, and I’ll shortly have some reactions from figures within the university and I’ll be on campus to survey the damage. As Leslie Jermyn, Chair of CUPE local 3902 (University of Toronto) has observed, violence and damage sells and that’s what the mainstream media (meaning us) want to report on. Well, I can’t deny the premise that violence sells, because you can hardly turn on a television just now without watching footage of a burning police car on the streets of Toronto. But speaking personally, I sure as hell don’t like it. I’d rather have a slow news day and see my city remain intact, thank you very much.

For background click here.

Also see On the front lines at the G20

So what’s left to say about the protests and protesters that hasn’t been said already? The great majority of people who tried to exercise their democratic rights to free expression came with peaceful intent. Whatever messages they might have delivered have been largely lost in the chaos. No one gives a damn why anyone would choose to throw a paper box through the window of a Starbucks. No message goes along with that act–other than a general projection of violent anger. And so the people who commit such acts are directly responsible for the silencing of every other voice.

Very often those who come with a cause and with a statement to make are fond of saying that they respect a diversity of tactics in protest and expression. Notions of solidarity compel many who might otherwise voice their disapproval to suggest tolerance for this sort of thing. I share no such view. I want to go on record as saying that the violent acts in Toronto today are stupid. They achieve nothing. And most of the violence comes from people who have little thought of achieving anything anyway. This isn’t public expression in any true sense–it’s just extreme sport.

I have no way to gauge how much of the violence was committed by foreign individuals who came to Toronto for this purpose and how much is the fault of local idiots. Certainly statements from Mayor Miller (bless his optimistic little heart) suggest that we’d all prefer to blame outsiders. But it would be a mistake to ever underestimate the power of a public circus. Even if Canada has relatively few professional anarchists, the desire to be part of the event inevitably motivates a lot of followers and joiners to jump into the mix. They add to the total wreckage, even if the worst stuff is coming from a deeply committed few, and most importantly they provide cover for the genuinely violent amongst them.

I’m mad as hell at what’s been done to my city. I’ve lived in Toronto all my adult life and I recognize every location and street corner on the news even before I’m told which shop has been vandalized, which corner has the burning car, and where police are clashing with protesters now. I have plenty of blame to go around. It was stupid to host this in Toronto. Decisions were made hastily, with little communication and no consultation. Locating the “designated protest site” in the middle of U of T was asinine. Just as I predicted, protesters have been pushed back from the legislature and into the heart of the campus. Police have actually pushed right through this zone in an effort to disperse people, and while it’s understandable they’d want to do that it rather defeats the point of a designated site if people aren’t allowed to stay there. And yes, I blame the violent elements amongst the protesters and anyone who willingly provides them with safety in numbers. Nothing justifies this.

Now I’m heading downtown to see how big a mess has been made of the city I love.

-Image originally published at