You Don’t Mind If We Keep These, Do You?

February 8, 2011

Maybe I was a little preoccupied last week, what with decorating the place for our Super Bowl party, ushering in the year of the rabbit and getting all hot and bothered about that revolution over there in Egypt, but it seems to me that the police services’ matter-of-fact announcement that they had decided to keep those sound cannon thingies they got for the G20 confab last summer went kind of unnoticed. Catherine Porter took an impassioned stance against the decision over at the Star on Friday. But that seems to have been about it from the mainstream press.

Maybe it’s not that big a deal, the police still a little on the hot seat for their (man)handling of protesters at the G20 meeting, deciding to keep 4 Long Range Acoustic Devices for the bargain basement price of $30, 000. Two of them will be used for ‘hailing’ practices only, one by the marine unit and the other lent out to the fire department. The other two will be tucked away just in case.

In case of what, you ask? If the police didn’t feel the need to use the LRADs during the G20, under what circumstance exactly do they forsee needing them in the future? I think one of the takeaway lessons from the G20 was not that the police required more crowd control weaponry at their disposal. Restraint seemed to be more in order and it’s hard to imagine how giving them access to an apparatus “originally conceived to support the protection and exclusion zones around U.S. Navy warships” is going to encourage any semblance of moderation or self-control. How will they know it works if they don’t try it out every now and then?

It immediately brings to mind the late, great Bill Hicks’ bit about the turkey shoot that was the Gulf War. U.S. soldiers reading from the manual as they try out the latest kill machines at their disposal. Take a moment and watch it here. And then watch this one which has nothing to do with this but it always makes me laugh. Watch it and think about the Black Eyed Peas or Christina Aguilera.

Give boys toys and they will play with them. (Sorry about the commercial before the video. Ain’t that Betty White funny?)

It seems to me the police and their chief Bill Blair could’ve used this opportunity to make a gesture of goodwill to the people they ostensibly serve and protect. To show everyone that, in fact, the police aren’t all about bully boy, military tactics and repressive measures chalk full of constitutional dubiousness. A friendly overture. A peace offering. I know, I know. It doesn’t make up for what happened last summer but at least you can rest assured that if we meet up again under similar circumstance, we’re not going to try and make your ears bleed.

Instead Chief Blair informed the Police Services Board that, along with the security cameras they received for the G20, they’d be keeping the sound cannons too. Done deal. Let’s move on to the next order of business, shall we? This elicited responses ranging from ‘shocked’ (Judi Cohen) to confusion (Councillor Nunziata… get used to that) to yet another excuse for bloviation (Councillor Thompson) on his way to handing off responsibility for making a decision.  Once more, the concept of civilian oversight mocked and slapped around a little.

Now I don’t want to go making spurious and possibly trite comparisons between what’s going on in Egypt currently and our police deciding to keep LRADs as part of their arsenal. But a security state starts somewhere. In that early mix comes an unquestioning deference toward those in positions of authority and power. If we can’t make a fuss and decide what instruments of coercion and surveillance our police are allowed to use, I’d say we’ve already handed over an uncomfortable degree of our personal sovereignty.

timidly submitted by Cityslikr


To Not Defend Democracy Everywhere Is To Not Defend Democracy Anywhere

February 2, 2011

Maybe it’s the winter blahs. Maybe it’s the disappointment over the lack of an actual, real life snowstorm that failed to descend upon us last night. Maybe it’s just the lull before the budgetary storm, between the committee meetings and public deputations and flutter of indecision in the Ford administration about what and how deep to cut, and when the thing goes before the full council to be voted on in the last week of February…

I’m sorry. Where was I going with that? I’m a little distracted and been finding it difficult to concentrate on the goings-on around the city over the last few days. You see, there’s this little life-and-death struggle for democracy happening over there in Egypt, a country located smack dab between Syria and Iran if I’m to believe the good people over at Fox News.

It’s difficult, almost impossible actually, to summon up enthusiasm for the political battles here on the home front, whether its attacks on public transit or our libraries or public sector employees, not because they aren’t important to defend but right now they seem, not insignificant, just minor compared to what people are fighting for (and against) in Egypt.

I step out onto less parochial political terrain here very, very tentatively. My knowledge of Egypt specifically and the Mideast in general is nowhere near what it should be. Yet it does seem to be undeniable that what we’re witnessing there is a genuine democratic movement finally bucking up from under a horrifically repressive regime that has had the very explicit backing of western democracies for a very long time now.

This should be a cause for much rejoicing and enthusiastic support on our part, shouldn’t it? Cheers certainly went up when the Tunisian strongman, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was chased from the country he’d ruled for over 20 years last month. But in Egypt, well, things aren’t as simply clear-cut as all that.

The thing is, they never are. That’s just a fact of life. If choices were always easy, always starkly black and white, any knucklehead could make them. We probably wouldn’t even need to elect governments to do our thinking for us.

But when a people regardless of where they are, regardless of their religion, regardless of their… politics, let’s call it, coalesce under the banner of democracy to demand all those things we blithely take for granted like free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from want, our first and only instinct should be nothing short of, absolutely. We are with you. What can we do to help?

The tepid responses so far from our governments, the western world, the developed democracies, to the situation in Egypt have been, while certainly not shocking or surprising, dispiriting and deflating. If we had reputations in the Arab world that could be damaged, it would also be damaging. Our humming and hawing while revolution and violent reaction rip through Egypt reveal, once more, that our commitment to democratic ideals are fickle and transparently arbitrary. No more so than when it comes to Muslim countries in the Mideast.

Every time we hesitate to embrace those in the region who put their lives on the line in the fight for a more fair, equitable and democratic society (usually in tandem with our refusal to jettison a relationship with a despotic autocrat who has helped maintain our ‘interests’ there with an iron fist), we cleave another wedge into the possibility of rapprochement with the wider society. We show ourselves to be hypocritical and undependable when defending the free wills of all people. Democracy is good. For some. It’s negotiable not essential for everyone. What’s in it for us, your democracy?

To deem a democratic movement inconvenient, inopportune or destabilizing suggests that there are certain conditions that have to be met before democracy can be granted which sort of undercuts every principle of democracy, doesn’t it? It’s as if the concept comes with an asterisk that takes you to pages and pages of fine print. Watching events in Egypt transpire in real time, it looks like one of those clauses reads: Some Muslims May Not Qualify.

Continued resistance to the Egyptians demanding justice and freedom suggests that we’re not, in fact, all that married to democracy. We’ve forgotten its true meaning and, ultimately, are no more deserving of it than those we’re watching die for it in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and throughout the country right now.

submitted by Cityslikr