G8/G20 leaves Canada a large hangover

The billion dollar protection fences are coming down now world leaders have left Canada, but the country has major headaches to deal with following mass arrests, suspension of civil rights and nothing really tangible to show for the outrageous cost of the G8/G20 summits

Contrary to popular belief, Canada’s largest city, Toronto, survived the G20 summit, but the cost of the weekend gathering of elites should make any future host wince and worry.

Canadians – and possibly many others – were aghast at the billion dollar price tag for the matter of hours in which leaders of the wealthiest nations, along with about ten thousand of their ‘advisers’ dropped in to Tornoto for G20 and nearby popular cottage country, Muskoka, for G8.

Pictures beamed to the world showed (ad nauseam) a couple of police cruisers burning, damage to downtown business premises, mounted police, riot shield and baton charges and the presence of self-proclaimed anarchists in the ‘Black Bloc’ amidst thousands of citizens who turned up to protest their various causes from labour rights to no logos, world peace and much in between.

None of this is a surprise when it comes to the G8/G20 gatherings. They are now synonymous with violence and the protesting more about bringing down capitalism, rather than trying to influence the decision-makers.

Much of last weekend was, however, a surprise to Canadians who, possibly still in shock at the largesse of their deficit-ridden, grinning, back-slapping host of a Prime Minister, also saw their democratic nation transformed into a mini police state for the duration of the summits.

Police state sounds awfully dramatic, but the suspension of ordinary rights of citizens to protest in designated areas, arrest for not showing ID or submitting to a search upon police request, mass arrests and detention for hours of more than 900 people, are not what is expected in a democracy.

For the last couple of days the airwaves, blogs, letters to editors and the efforts of editors themselves have pondered, lambasted, and defended the pre-emptive actions of police to herd – or in police jargon, kettle - law-abiding protesters in a tried and true method of breaking up their numbers so as to better control them.

The idea is to ride the handily intimidating horses through crowds, corral them into smaller sections and hold them there while weeding out the leaders or inciters.

Trouble for Toronto’s Mounties was while they were ‘kettling’ legitimate protesters and media photographers in the designated protest areas, a group of scarved and balaclavaed Black Blocers ran amok for an hour, which proved plenty of time to smash the windows of stores and banks in the CBD before attracting official horse-borne attention.

And herein lies the dilemma when freedom of speech meets trigger/baton/horse-happy enforcement.

Spending a billion dollars on security to protect the ever-precious world leaders from dissenting views seems to have gone to the heads of Canadian law-enforcement in a ‘better show we are worth it’ kind of way.

While ostensibly kettling and weeding those potentially responsible for a herd mentality amongst protesters, security enforcement appears to have succumbed to herd mentality itself, seen in pre-emptive action against those not even remotely questioning the constitution-suspending law of the day. It was security that disregarded the quality in favour of the width, and it was not pretty.

But it was also not as ugly as previous protests in Canada – in Quebec City during 2001, or even after hockey matches in downtown Montreal.

The Toronto protesters who, often breathlessly detailed their ordeals did, it has to be said, sound a little pathetic in their descriptions of brutality and being kept in the rain for up to three hours, leaving defenders of the security tactics to claim victory in the fact that neither protester nor police officer was seriously hurt, let alone killed, as was the case with the 2009 G20 in London.

That however, is too narrow a definition of success given the deep concern protectors of civil liberties rightly have concerning the arbitrary suspension of civil rights, even if it was for just 72 hours. It is, as the saying goes, the thin end of the wedge and, coupled with the history of secrecy and control already displayed by Harper’s government should not be permitted to go unquestioned in the post-mortem of the Toronto tussle.

Success is fast becoming anathema in the parlance of G8/G20 because of the now inevitable violence, but also the pledges of the participants drenched more in good intentions than cast iron commitment.

It is very difficult to remember what each of these many meetings actually achieve, let alone carry through.

Harper’s unprecedentedly expensive fest where leaders paraded, strolled, hugged, posed for the cameras, and divvied up into groups only to reassemble and divide again, succeeded in exactly what?

For the precious few allowed in to see some in the flesh (which is the nature of such summits for obvious reasons) the body language provides plenty of fodder for column inches and panel discussions on which nation is Obama’s new best friend.

Apart from that it seems for a billion dollars these leaders have been reassured they have each others’ approval to do what many are already doing – moving from stimulus spending to deficit reduction…but the rather dire projections from the IMF already dictated that before they gathered, and so it will be until the next recession that is.

Oh, and there was that unenforceable commitment to improving maternal health care in developing countries – so long as it conforms to Western conservative moral views of course, but it is better than nothing. A lot better, actually, but may struggle to continue after more than two years.

One thing we do know for sure, is some Western nations, i.e. Canada, still have enough credit in the financial sense to splash out more than $12 million an hour for 72 hours to promote itself. No wonder there is nothing in the kitty to compensate for shattered store fronts and trading lost (unless the anarchists responsible can be caught and made to pay).

Next G20 stop, Seoul. By then Canada’s hangover may just be clearing, but taxpayers will still be paying.