Tag Archives: police abuse of powers

What the Demonstrations in Egypt Teach Canadians about Democracy

No, we cannot foretell the fates of Egyptian, Tunisian, Iranian, and Yemenite people and their governments.   But we do know that the mass demonstrations in these countries mark a monumental shift in the histories of their nations.  In my mind, there is little doubt that, ultimately, things will get better- even if they initially get worse.

This is so because when people peacefully band together to achieve positive change, that change will eventually arrive.  The power of the collective, united human spirit to guide its destiny toward greater equality, democracy, and justice can be temporarily impeded, but it cannot be forever beaten.

But what do demonstrations in oppressive regimes where public gatherings are usually met with the fatal force of the military or police have to do with us in Canada?  Plenty.  These events teach the skeptics among us two things:  first, protests do change the course of history;   second, we must resolutely defend our right to protest peacefully.

Recall just a few months ago when critics derided Toronto’s G20 protestors for trying to effect change through demonstrations.  “Protests achieve nothing,” they jeered.  “If you go out and protest, then you’ve got to accept the risk that the police may beat you or arrest you, so quit complaining.”  These detractors had no sympathy for the cause or the fate of the protestors.

Even once image after image, account after account, revealed shocking police abuse of power during the G20, these critics seemed to regard the incidents as excusable exceptions.   The entire country should have been on the verge of revolt, so to speak, at least to denounce the actions of the police and the complacency of our government.  Yet none of that happened. The apathetic sentiment continued, “Why bother protesting?” “Protests may be a necessary ‘evil’ in dictatorships or in countries where people have no other means of participating in government, but they are a waste of time and unworthy of protection in Canada.”

In other words, while oppressed people are justified in demonstrating against state tyranny, people living in democracies should not indulge in such vulgarities. Or, if they do protest, they should accept a little police brutality.

These conclusions run counter to our democratic principles.

The right of individuals and groups to voice their opinions directly, openly, and through the most basic method of participation in demonstrations is a fundamental element of democracy, is essential for its survival and instrumental to both attaining and promoting it.

Without people’s desire to participate, democracy is rendered meaningless.

Demonstrations are particularly important in capitalist democracies because they give voice to disenfranchised members of society, allowing them to partake in democracy alongside the more powerful in a manner that is more accessible than making submissions to Parliament or writing policy papers. No other form of democratic participation offers this crucial benefit.

Demonstrations give people a sense of belonging and solidarity, which helps to strengthen their resolve and determination to make change.

When properly conducted and properly reported in the media, demonstrations grant visibility and exposure to issues that are otherwise ignored.

Specifically, the annual demonstrations during the G8/G20 summits send a message to leaders about the priorities of large segments of society:  focus on the environment;  don’t abandon the poor;  reinforce Aboriginal rights; stop corporations from committing or enabling human rights violations in other countries which we would not tolerate in our own democracies.

If Canadians and Americans, or, for that matter, Egyptians and Iranians avoid protests for fear of being arrested, assaulted, detained and threatened by the state, or for the pessimistic view that nothing will change, then, indeed, nothing will change.   Democracy will never be attained nor, once attained, will it survive without people’s ability and desire to participate directly in their own governance.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men.” That conviction holds as true now as it did sixty years ago.

Of course, it is perhaps for all these same reasons that so many people, the police, and the state often fear and attempt to curtail demonstrations.

It is, therefore, never more important to protect our democratic rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom from unlawful and abusive police (state) interference with our rights than when people voice dissent and try to participate, peacefully, in democracy. To punish them for their participation is an attack against democracy.  If we reserve demonstrations only for dictatorships, we in the free world will surely lose our own liberty.

Every Canadian must defend and value our right to protest peacefully.  We owe it to our fellow human beings in the Middle East.  And our democracy depends on it.

(To see a short list of demonstrations that changed history…or at least, gave it a helping hand, click here: https://justicerequiresempathy.wordpress.com/?p=140&preview=true)

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Must see videos of Toronto’s G20

It’s been said that most people’s view of what went wrong during the G20 depends on what images s/he was first exposed to during the summit weekend and thereafter.  So, for most people, if the first images one saw of the protests was that of burning police cars and property-damaging “protesters,” then that person would be more likely to be sympathetic to the police and would find police actions of detaining hundreds of innocent persons justifiable.  However, if the first images that a person saw were those of innocent protesters or by-standers scared and trapped in police kettling or being roughed up by the police, then that person would likely be critical of police actions.

I believe that most people can be more rational and reasonable than that.  I hope that most people, when faced with a more comprehensive report of the events, will open their minds and modify their views.

To further our understanding of that weekend, I provide you with a list of what I believe are the must-see videos relating to that weekend.  For those who somehow also missed the infinitely played videos of burning police cars, I will provide those links, too (though I ask you to consider why the police, who had planned for months for this summit and had, according to them, deep knowledge of any clandestine activity, had left their cruisers in the middle of major intersections and abandoned them there.)

Here is the list:

1.  IF YOU ONLY WATCH ONE VIDEO, THIS MUST BE IT…

Queen and Spadina kettling:   On Saturday, June 26th, at the corner of Queen and Spadina, the RCMP and other police forces formed several “kettles,” advising people to go in a different direction while trapping them and leaving them no choice but to stay in ever more ominous and tightening police squares.  This is a video from the earlier part of the kettling (before the skies opened up and it started to pour.)   This video is posted by Jason,  “thedigitalliberty,” who attended the protests with his sister.  It is a telling account of the desperation and innocence of the people who were caught in the Orwellian nightmare.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aohGLp00MmU

2.  THIS IS NOT CANADA

To see an example of police abuse of powers and of search and detention way beyond the security fence perimeter, watch this video of a mixed police team (appears to be a team of York Regional police and Toronto police).  When questioned about his authority to search and turn away people from public streets under Canadian law, one officer quips, “This isn’t Canada, this is G20 Land” (at 3:59).    At 1:37, an officer physically handles a pedestrian in a manner that would almost certainly result in an arrest, were it the civilian who grabbed the officer.  The officers then keep moving in a line to push the peaceful pedestrian back, until he is caught between the police and the subway steps behind him.  At 3:23, an officer claims, “This is our area.”  The pedestrians keep insisting that they are not even near the “5 metres,” but relying even on this fallacious and police-declared rule does not get them anywhere.


3. PROTESTERS OR AGENTS PROVOCATEURS?

One of the first and repeated images that the public saw of the demonstrations in Toronto was of supposed Black Block members damaging property and setting police cars on fire.  Yet it is a known fact that the police sometimes plant “agents provocateurs” among crowds of demonstrators.  These are undercover police officers who act like a member of the public in demonstrations, but then may instigate or encourage violence, after which uniformed police make arrests of citizens who may have joined the undercover cops.   The maker of this video examined some suspicious activity and appearances by alleged “Black Block” members, and complied a montage.  Although there is no conclusive evidence, the question of which “protesters” and instigators were the police and which were real demonstrators is a valid one…one that may never be answer unless we have a full public inquiry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbLU9tdDwxo&feature=related

4.  MORE HARASSING OUTSIDE OF THE PERIMETRES OF THE SECURITY FENCE..THIS TIME SEVERAL KILOMETRES AWAY.

An independent film-maker is harassed and asked for ID in a location more than 3 km away from the summit location.

5.  DETAILED ACCOUNT OF ONE PERSON’S EXPERIENCE

Tommy Taylor’s account was one of the first to be circulated

Tommy Taylor’s ordeal

http://illicitpopsiclecollective.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/tommy-taylor-how-i-got-arrested-and-abused-at-g20-in-toronto-canada/

6. EVERYONE’S A TARGET:

Jesse Freeston of the the Real News reports on police attacks against a deaf person, journalists, and other protesters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7OA920pbv8&NR=1

7.   RANDOM GRABBING AND THE REACTION OF THE CROWD AT QUEEN’S PARK:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVDY8pE_twY

8.  FOR ACCOUNTS ON THE CONDITIONS IN THE SO-CALLED DETENTION CENTRE:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPwMU7HY-CE

9.  DETENTION FOR HOURS IN A CROWDED POLICE VAN, WHILE HANDCUFFED, WET, UNABLE TO GET FRESH AIR:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpe2vuanX2g&feature=related

10:  BURNING POLICE CARS

There are many major news reports as well as YouTube videos which shows images of burning police cars.  Here is one:

http://www.cbc.ca/video/player.html?category=News&zone=canada&site=cbc.news.ca&clipid=1531278854

If you believe that there is a video which is a “must-see,” you may write to me at justicerequiresempathy@gmail.com

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