To Serve And Protect What Exactly?

July 19, 2015

garyowens

5 years after the G20 fiasco in Toronto, we sit down and talk with reluctant police activist Sherry B. Good.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Profligate Mayor (No, Not That One. The New Guy)

May 6, 2011

Hey. All you hard-ass, union haters out there. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the indignation? Yoo-hoo! Why so silent?

The city just rolled over and gave the Toronto Police Services an 11.5% wage increase over the next 4 years. My math is a little fuzzy but that doesn’t exactly work out to the 5% cut the mayor has demanded from all city departments, does it? “The police will give us concessions elsewhere,” Councillor Doug Ford said. Specifics to come, of course, but the TPS isn’t really known for its concessionary tactics.

“Of the thousands and thousands of doors I’ve knocked on,” the brother-councillor went on to tell the Globe, “there was not one complaint of how the police were paid.”

So instead of demanding across the board budget cuts we’re now selectively determining who deserves increases and who doesn’t, based on Councillor Ford’s informal door-to-door polling? The mayor and his team have been rigid in their insistence that any budgetary increase must be balanced with a corresponding cut. If the police services don’t provide such an offset to compensate for these new wage hikes, it’s got to come from somewhere else according to the mayor’s math. Does Doug then go out canvassing neighbourhoods asking folks who they think are overpaid by the city?

Ford scoffed at suggestions by Councillor Adam Vaughan (Councillor Ford regularly scoffs at anything Councillor Vaughan says) that the mayor had caved on the deal. “I find it ironic that the only people [on council] complaining about this deal are the ones responsible for a previous police contract that included a far larger increase than this one,” Mr. Ford said.

If memory serves, the expiring contract was a 3 year deal with a 10% wage increase. ‘A far larger increase’, Councillor Ford? That’s about a .4% difference. You guys are supposed to be the belt tighteners, aren’t you? An increase is an increase.

More to the point, anybody remember the outside workers’ strike in the summer of 2009? The one where Mayor Miller handed the keys to the city vault to the greedy unions and greased the rails for his exit? Yeah, I though you might. The wage settlement went like this: 1.75% in 2009, 2% in 2010 and 2.25% in 2011. That would be 6% over 3 years, nearly half of what Mayor Ford just conceded to the TPS.

So I ask again. Where’s all the chatter and clucking (aside from Councillor Vaughan) about the mayor caving into greedy union demands and breaking the bank? Where’s Budget Chief Mike “There. Is. No. More. Money.” Del Grande yelling and harrumphing about a lack of fiscal discipline? It seems in a Mayor Rob Ford’s Toronto, widows and orphans can get stuffed but the police? How much would you like, guys?

Do these imposters really deserve the dignified name of ‘fiscal conservatives’? Really, it’s more like fiscal ideologues. They are perfectly willing to spend money hand over fist with no regard for the bottom line when it suits their fancy. Just like their federal brethren that the mayor worked so hard to get elected to a majority government on Monday. Last year’s G20. Prisons. Engineless F-35s. Money is no object if it means conservative values are being upheld. Anything else is deemed special interest gravy.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Get A Job

February 13, 2011

A friend of mine was commissioned to paint a mural onto one of Toronto’s underpasses a couple years back. He told me that everyday during the week or so that it took him to complete it, a guy on a bicycle would ride past him in the morning shouting ‘Get A Job!’ Then again a few hours later, seemingly on his way back home from work the same thing. Get A Job!

An enduring schoolyard taunt meant to heap scorn, derision and contempt upon its intended target. And one used this past week by Councillor Doug Ford when he was aggressively confronted by a raging protester outside a budget committee meeting. It’s a Ford family favourite apparently, thrown around at least once before by the then councilor and now mayor, Rob Ford, during a 2005 meeting that was similarly besieged by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

Now I don’t begrudge Councillor Ford a response to someone who was literally in his face. I would’ve preferred to see him try and reduce the heightened tension by calmly listening to the protester and explaining what he was trying to do as a member of the budget committee. Failing that, I’d even be OK if the councillor simply told the guy to go fuck himself.

But the ‘get a job’ retort reveals an absolute lack of empathy or understanding toward a point of view that is different from the one Councillor Ford possesses. He clearly has no concept of what drives people toward protesting against what they perceive as injustice. Just like his brother who couldn’t understand what people were doing downtown during the G20 meeting last summer and thought their mere presence justified the police over-reaction. Nor does Councilor Ford get what people would be doing in the middle of the day, disrupting his business. Shouldn’t they be just like him, off somewhere doing a job?

What makes his ‘get a job’ shot even more disturbing is that it comes from a daddy-made millionaire who, in all likelihood, didn’t have to look very far to get work or spend much time polishing up his resumé. It’s a Marie Antoinette ‘let them eat cake’ (yeah, yeah, I know she probably didn’t really say it but it’s the sentiment I’m going for here) moment that reveals a stunning degree of cluelessness and callousness toward people struggling to get by especially in these dire economic times. Or toward those who have designated themselves defenders of the underrepresented underclass.

That Councillor Ford lied about having made the remark suggests somewhere in his consciousness he recognizes the inappropriateness of it although I haven’t seen or heard him issue an apology for doing so. So maybe he knows he shouldn’t have said it from an optics point of view but ultimately can’t understand why. This bodes ill for those he doesn’t agree with or whose plight the councillor isn’t sympathetic to. An age of nasty that seems to be the trademark of modern conservatives everywhere.

work like a doggingly submitted by Cityslikr


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


Signing Off On Mayor David Miller

November 25, 2010

David Miller’s legacy? Rob Ford.

So conventional wisdom has it as our out going mayor gives way to our incoming one, again glaringly revealing our backward belief in the fallacy of correlation proving causation. (Simply because one thing follows another does not mean the first caused the second, people. How many times do I have to tell you that?)

Listening to Mayor Miller’s interview this morning with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, I couldn’t help thinking that those waiting for His Worship to aurally prostrate himself before them and humbly admit defeat and beg their forgiveness for a job poorly done were going to be sorely pissed off. He did nothing of the sort. And good on him, frankly. Because if you are seriously going to look back over the past 7 years and conclude that this city is in worse shape than when Miller first took the mayor’s office than you are suffering from one of a host of ailments and quite possibly a combination of a few of them. Amnesia. Mental myopia. Congenital stupidity. Blinkered ideology. Factual debasement.

And your pants may even be on fire because you are a big fat liar.

Is that to say that everything the mayor touched turned to gold? Let’s not run aground on the shoals of false dichotomy here. To expect anyone, let alone our elected officials, to perform perfectly is unreasonable and the surest cause of disappointment.

The way Miller lead the charge in sweeping police actions at the G20 meeting in June under the rug was, for me, the low point in his mayoralty. No one truly concerned with civil rights could’ve urged the city to “…put what happened over the weekend behind us…” regardless of how politically expedient. In comparing police behaviour at similar gatherings around the world “…the only conclusion you can come to is that we have a police service that respects peoples’ rights, that acts with incredible professionalism…” Miller said at a post-summit press conference. That obviously wasn’t true when the mayor said it and it’s painfully obvious 5 months later.

Yet it does not make me regret twice voting for him and certainly would not have stopped me from doing it again had he sought another term. Others were not so forgiving. For those writing the history of Mayor David Miller will invariably point to the Toronto Civic Employees Union strike in the summer of 2009 as his undoing, his Waterloo. As the garbage piles grew, his support dropped and when he didn’t crush the unions into oblivion, well, the only conclusion you could come to was that he caved and handed over the keys to the vault to them.

Complete and utter nonsense, of course. Pure bullshit in fact. But no matter. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” as Mark Twain suggested. The unions won. Miller lost. He had to go.

Never mind that in engaging with the union so aggressively, Miller went where no municipal politician dared to go before. Certainly not our previous mayor, Mel Lastman, who never made a peep about such contentious matters as banking sick days when he faced a strike by the same union in 2002. He still couldn’t come to any sort of agreement, needing provincial intervention to end that strike which, arguably, gave much more to the union than Miller did.

This is what should be the hallmark of David Miller’s time as mayor of Toronto. His resolve to wade in and deal with messy matters of governance that had to be faced for this city to progress.

Transit City. Bringing workable public transit to parts of the city that are dying on the vine without it. The mayor rightfully points out that it’s the biggest transit development the city’s had in 3 decades. Why? Forging agreement and the financial resources necessary is not very easy at the municipal level, let alone bringing the other two levels of government into the mix. So previous administrations ignored it or took half-measures to appear as if they were doing something.

Urban renewal. Especially in his 2nd term, Miller took to heart the social/economic divide within the city and endeavoured to initiate steps to address it. Thus the redevelopment of Regent Park and the proposal to do likewise with Lawrence Heights. The Tower Renewal Program to revitalize Toronto’s aging high rises. Targeting 13 priority neighbourhoods – most inherited from the pre-amalgamated inner suburbs that had created them – in order to address issues of poverty, crime and isolation.

Of course, the irony is that these same neighbourhoods and communities Miller had attempted to reach out to soundly rejected his initiatives and voted heavily for the anti-Miller, Rob Ford. As has been written at great length both here and elsewhere, there was a failure to fully sell these accomplishments to those areas most benefiting from them. Actually, it was probably more a failure to beat back all the misinformation about them.

It also suggests that politicians of David Miller’s caliber aren’t a dime a dozen. Without him on the campaign trail, trumpeting his agenda, it withered under the assault from those seeking to undermine it for their own political gains. We somehow expected another David Miller to step from the shadows, displaying similar skills and smarts. Now we should realize he may be the exception not the rule.

The simple fact of the matter is, David Miller didn’t elect Rob Ford. We did. He has nothing to apologize for. He presented us a vision of the kind of city he wanted Toronto to be and, after 7 years, we bailed in a shocking failure of nerve. We chose easy sentiment over hard work, pithy phrases over complicated solutions. David Miller is not responsible for the next 4 years. We are.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Crisis? What Crisis? Check Out Our 3rd Quarter Earnings

November 24, 2010

I venture outside my comfort zone on this. Beyond the realm of municipal politics and into the wider world. I do so with trepidation, unsure of my footing but feeling absolutely compelled to give it a whirl.

The global financial crisis. Specifically, the slow unfolding of the car crash that is the Irish economy. From pauper to prince back to pauper once more and again under the harsh lash of foreign occupiers. Having drunk the koolaid of neoliberal promise, they are now forced to swallow its bitter pill of logical conclusion. A familiar story played out all over the globe for over 30 years now but one we simply refuse to learn a lesson from.

Now, I’m no economist (and I’ve never played one on TV) but it just seems to me that the mounting real life, on the ground evidence all points in the direction of telling us that this shit simply doesn’t work. What shit is that exactly? Low tax, low inflation, low regulatory, free trade, free market laissez-faire, Friedman-omics that has hijacked our government and public discourse to such a degree that we treat it as gospel. Inerrant teachings so secure in their factual basis that to question or doubt is nothing short of an admission of heresy or mental imbalance.

Exactly how many crises do we need to experience, how many severe economic meltdowns and downturns must we face before we finally stop and say: you know what, something’s not quite right here? How many bubbles need to burst – tulip, real estate, internet – for us to start questioning fundamentals we’ve been told are irrefutable? Or have we traveled so far beyond the point of return where, after a generation or so of indoctrination about “market realities”, we are incapable of challenging a system that is so clearly rigged, corrupt and in need of desperate repair?

We get indignant when protests at G20 meetings turn violent. When students in England, betrayed and lied to by their government over tuition fees, go on a rampage and tear up Tory HQs. When France goes out on another strike, we sit back, shaking our heads, tsk, tsk, tsking. Oh, those French. What the hell do they have to complain about? Yet when something like this (h/t @stealthbadger) crosses our desk, well, it’s all yawns and whaddagonnados. The money boys gotta play. (Hint on content to those not following the link: all about Wall Street excesses like $400 000 summer rentals in the Hamptons.)

Yesterday as news of the Irish IMF bailouts spread it was also reported that American 3rd quarter profits hit a record high. Are those two items connected? I think we’d be naïve to think they weren’t. This is a global crisis after all. At least, at a symbolic level we should recognize how these two stories fit seamlessly together. Another spectacular flame out in the private sector leads inexorably to a monumental flow of public money to save its ass. Again. An orgy of financial recklessness in which a precious few of us benefited back stopped by a drain on public coffers from which many more of us will suffer. Every few years, like clockwork, almost as if it were planned or something. If not planned, at least bad behaviour condoned and ultimately rewarded.

It’s not that we’re helpless bystanders in all this. As voters we oscillate between electing governments that encourage this economic system and governments that enthusiastically encourage this economic system. We soak up the exuberant atmosphere when things are going swimmingly and lash out when they head south which they do invariably and inevitably. We get angry but we get angry at the wrong people. We demand action but never action that might actually help us fix the problem. It’s happened too often to simply be chalked up to ignorance. Willful ignorance hardly qualifies as an excuse. Maybe we just love all the drama.

I weigh in on all of this because as we gird ourselves in preparation for the incoming Ford administration, we’re going to be hearing a lot about austerity. We already did during the campaign. It’s all going to sound strangely familiar. There’s no money. We need to cut taxes and spending. Belt tightening. New fiscal models. None of it will be new and none of it will ultimately do a whit to turn around whatever dire condition has been pronounced upon us. Let’s call it Situation: Gravy Train.

No, what it will be is nothing more than a settling of scores. A governmental ‘correction’. A righting (ha, ha) of 7 years of wrong and a return to the proper order of things. Re-directing the flow of money as it was meant to be. From public to private hands as God and St. Milton intended.

ecumenically submitted by Cityslikr


When Governments Shrug

November 15, 2010

Last week’s Canadian Civil Liberties Association/National Union of Public and General Employees hearings into security force conduct at June’s G20 Summit in Toronto revealed few surprises except, perhaps, the degree to which lawlessness prevailed. We all know about the Black Block and the burning of a police car during the brief but damage filled riot that broke out on the Saturday of that weekend. How could we not? It was international news.

But equally, and far more sinister, was the conduct of the police force and the shocking assault not just upon peaceful protesters but the very foundation of our democracy before, during and after the summit. Peace, Order and Good Government? All tucked away nice and neatly. Noble sentiments in theory but, come on. This is the post-9/11 real world we’re talking about here, where the idea of “security” trumps all.

Even if the smallest fraction of what was said during the 2 days of hearings last week were true (and there’s absolutely no reason so far offered why I would assume there wasn’t far larger degree of truth being told), we should already be knee deep in some sort of public inquiry. Pre-summit arrests of various social activists. Police going badgeless (therefore nameless) while conducting highly questionable tactics with dubious claims of legality. Onerous bail conditions set on some detainees afterwards that suggest we’re dealing with the most nefarious of Al-Qaida suspects. Even in the pages of one of our more hawkish right wing dailies, there was a tentative call for a public inquiry.

And yet, to date all 3 levels of government have merely shrugged their shoulders. Whaddayagonnado? A few bad apples. Dock a day’s pay. Let’s move on. Nothing to see here.

In other words, people, go fuck yourself.

It’s almost as if we’re asking for a favour. A special dispensation handed down from on high. An indulgence granted by parliamentary privilege. Like we have no say whatsoever in how our governments and, by extension, those they oversee like police forces operate.

In his National Post piece above, writer Chris Selley asserts “Most people trust the police, and in general they should.” It’s his statement’s ‘in general’ qualifier that stands out. Shouldn’t we trust the police implicitly? Given the powers vested in them to, when deemed necessary, intrude into our private lives and personal freedoms, shouldn’t we demand full and open accountability at all times? Democracy and freedom are easy when neither’s being tested. The real measure happens when they come under duress. That’s exactly what happened at the G20 summit and by all accounts we failed them both miserably. It might be beneficial to try and figure out why.

Unless of course we don’t ultimately care. I mean, how often do we host G20 summits anyway? Police crackdowns are hardly ever necessary in the grand scheme of things.  It’s not like the security cameras remain up or lists are kept to monitor future activities. Right?

Yet for some reason, the ultimate villain in Mr. Selley’s article is Naomi Klein. Naomi Klein? Wait, how did she become—Oh right. Whenever criticizing the police, however mildly, don’t forget to raise the specter of a “radical” bogeyman, just so readers will remember what or whom the police are up against. In this case, outspoken lefty Naomi Klein who had the gall to praise student rioters in the UK for smashing up the 1st floor of Conservative Party headquarters to protest yet another hike in university tuition fees breaking a promise made when the coalition government was formed.

Naomi Klein is pro-riot. Naomi Klein is pro-G20 summit public inquiry. Therefore, G20 summit public inquiry = riot. Anarchy ensues if police aren’t allowed to trample our civil rights. Read between the lines, people.

Why are we more tentative in our criticisms of some displays of lawlessness than we are of others? In fact, shouldn’t we be much more vigilant in guarding against allegations of illegality conducted under the auspices of those entrusted to uphold the law? Doesn’t that present a much bigger threat to our civil society than the violent outbursts of citizens driven to such desperate acts because of oppression, neglect or ongoing and systemic disregard by those we elect to serve our interests?

No matter how sympathetic I may be to a cause that results in violent protest – and I think a democracy takes Tearing Up Some Shit off the table at its peril – I fully expect those who participate in such actions to be ultimately held responsible for their actions. Arrest and prosecution, all in proper legal fashion. Why is it so difficult to expect the exact same process for our police, its leadership and our own? It’s a dangerous double-standard and one we imperil our way of life with if we continue to hold it.

judiciously submitted by Cityslikr