The Day Democracy Died Just A Little

July 8, 2010

Maybe it’s the heat that’s making me so ornery. Or maybe I’m no more ornery than usual but with all the sweaty and stickiness, I just feel ornerier. Or maybe, just maybe, quite possibly, it’s the ease with which all levels of politicians have been sniffing at and dismissing the basic tenets of a democratic society that has me so hot under the collar. No amount of A/C or electric fanning is bringing me relief.

Watching the debate at City Hall yesterday was disconcerting enough. Councillor Mark Grimes put forth a motion that would see council issue a big ol’ thank you to all the city workers, police and police chief who worked so diligently before, during and after the G20 summit. What it really amounted to, however, was nothing more than a purely partisan maneuver, designed to flush out all those police-hating, anarchist-loving lefties who, according to conventional wisdom, occupy a majority of the seats on council.

That a right wing politician would politicize this issue is entirely unsurprising. When you’re riding a wave of a bankrupt and discredited ideology, what else have you got outside of simply trying to make your opponents look as unprincipled as you are? Perhaps it should be equally predictable that if there were progressives and left wingers present in council chambers yesterday, none stood up to defend themselves or their beliefs. Because, let’s face it, true dyed-in-the-wool, small ‘l’ liberals have been ducking for cover for 30 years now, trying to put their best pro-free market, pro-authority faces on lest their patriotism or sanity be questioned. You’re either with us or you’re against us, remember?

So it was left to two retiring councillors, Michael Walker and Brian Ashton, neither of whom one would call progressive lions, to stand up and make very qualified peeps in defense of civil liberties, freedom of speech and due process. Both, of course, ended up voting in favour of the motion to thank everyone for a job well done. As did the mayor but not until after he take another opportunity to reveal his inner reactionary. Telling of how for the first time in his political career he needed a police escort to leave City Hall on Black (Bloc) Saturday, he essentially condoned the sentiment that if a politician is scared, civil rights are easily jettisoned. With that stated, the motion was passed unanimously. No dissent. Zero.

That, my friends, was simply a precursor to the real show of authoritarianism and autocratic thinking. According to the Toronto Star, Premier Dalton McGuinty actually said this in the face of some of his caucus concerned about their government’s involvement in the whole G20 mess: “Just remember, the same guy who gave us the Charter also gave us the War Measures Act.” I’m sorry. What did you just say? Are you equating the June 25-27 G20 protests in the streets of Toronto to the FLQ crisis? Really?!

Nevermind the mind-boggling lack of proportionality in that statement – the only kidnapping and murder committed at the G20 was of that very same Charter McGuinty mentioned and at the hands of politicians of every stripe – his comprehension of history goes beyond staggering. The War Measures Act was controversial and it cleaved a major rift in progressive circles which Trudeau never fully healed even after shepherding in the Charter some 12 years later. So raising its specter doesn’t really alleviate concerns about the role in revoking the rule of law the Premier played. Moreover, you’ve delivered us your War Measures Act, Dalton, show us your Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

More sinister still, however, during the same closed door session the Premier apparently uttered out loud this beauty: “Don’t forget about the silent majority.”

Huh.

In all likelihood, McGuinty was merely alluding to polls that show a majority of people asked had no problem with how the police dealt with the situation at the G20 but was he oblivious to where that term originated or did he actually intend to align himself with the doings of former U.S. president Richard Nixon? This was a politician who used his perceived support among a majority of upright Americans (as opposed to the dirty hippies) to justify a secretive bombing campaign of a non-combatant country, the mowing down of 4 unarmed war protestors at Kent State and an increasingly elaborate and paranoid, not to mention entirely illegal, wiretapping operation to ferret out his enemies. This is how our premier wants to rationalize his actions?

It should be painfully obvious at this point that those who believe in the fundamentals of our Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and all that underlying crap of living in a true democracy, have been abandoned en masse by their politicians. The choice between liberty and security has been made for us whether we like it or not. We no longer have elected representatives. They have become caretakers at best, overseers in times of distress and dissent.

It would be heart-stoppingly chilling if it wasn’t so fucking hot outside.

hot and botheredly submitted by Cityslikr


Outrageous

July 3, 2010

We were alerted to this by a regular commentator to our site here. During the “troubles” at last week’s G20 meeting, it seems that mayoral candidate, Selwyn Firth, was one of the 900 people arrested and jailed. He gives an account of it at the above link.

Although we profiled Mr. Firth a while back in our Meet A Mayoral Candidate series, we cannot say that we know him personally. We exchanged a few emails in preparation for the post and did witness him in person when he spoke at the Better Ballots debate at Hart House last month. So our impression of him is not what you might call anything more than superficial. For all we know, he might be a raving lunatic and fiery anarchist intent on the destruction of our capitalist system.

All signs hardly point in that direction however. Mr. Firth strikes us as far more of the gentle sort, soft spoken, bookish even. He certainly isn’t a big man or an imposing figure. Non-threatening might be the apt descriptor. So to read through his account of how he was man-handled and bullied by our police is nothing short of shocking, frankly.

Are those who we grant the authority to uphold the law and maintain the peace equipped to deal with dissenting voices only by the use of brute force? Surely, Mr. Firth did not present such a clear and present danger to either the welfare of the state or those security forces he encountered that justified the aggressive over-reaction he described. Even if he broke some sort of law which, judging from the confusion and disarray emanating from official circles about the Public Works Protection Act, is in itself highly debatable, was there a need to deal with the many like Selwyn Firth in such an aggressive manner?

As written by Mr. Firth, the police last weekend were not serving and protecting (unless of course we’re talking about matters of property) but rather, intimidating and strong-arming. If those out on the streets last weekend were not doing anything illegal than they should not have been treated as criminals. And even if they were participating in something the police deemed to be against the law, they should’ve been dealt with in a measured, appropriate manner. Mr. Firth may have been annoying and disobedient. He hardly presented much of a security threat.

What may be even more worrisome in this whole sad chapter of the city is the response to the questionable tactics used by both our elected officials and those in charge of keeping the peace on the ground. Protestor’s should’ve listened to what they were being told. They were warned. They got what they deserved. Police did the best they could in trying circumstances…

There is a very strong current of fascism to such sentiments. No, I’m not calling all those who speak and write such things Nazis. I refer instead to the origins of the word.

The Italian name of the movement, fascismo, is derived from fascio, “bundle, (political) group,” but also refers to the movement’s emblem, the fasces, a bundle of rods bound around a projecting axe-head that was carried before an ancient Roman magistrate by an attendant as a symbol of authority and power. [bolding ours]

[A] movement with an authoritarian and hierarchical structure that is fundamentally opposed to democracy and liberalism.

By denouncing the violence perpetrated against property by the group calling itself the Black Bloc last Saturday yet condoning the use of it against people by our police forces, we reveal a disturbing knee-jerk acquiesence to authority and those wielding the most amount of power in our society. When the going gets tough we show ourselves to be, at heart, illiberal and anti-democratic. What we should be most concerned about in the G20 aftermath is not a few broken windows and burnt out police cars. It should be the easy repeal of our civil liberties that occurred at the first sign of inconvenience or dissent.

The arrest and incarceration of Selwyn Firth was highly dubious and very questionable. His physical mistreatment is nothing short of eye-poppingly outrageous.

submitted by Cityslikr


Organized Bands Of Roving Thugs

June 29, 2010

Thanks to a conspiratorial roving band of criminals/anarchists/ … (fill in the blank as to your dismissive name of choice) who chose not to disavow the use of violence and instead burnt and tore some shit up on Saturday, the well-armed and equipped security forces entrenched in downtown Toronto for the G20 gathering had all the excuses they needed to respond in kind, justifying not only their heavy-handed presence but the exorbitant cost of maintaining them here. If you build a barricade, they will attempt to storm it. From the very beginning, the organizing of the summit was a provocative act, used to demonstrate the need for a police state apparatus to keep us safe from the onslaught of threats swirling around us. Crazed terrorists from the outside; civil unresters on the inside.

It strikes me as funny that law and order types, mostly right of centre leaning, will throw unlimited money and resources at what they perceive to be a problem of national security but when it comes to issues of a more social nature, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Matters like poverty, the environment, unemployment are all best dealt with in a less is more fashion. There’s never enough money to go around especially if you’re doling out a billion dollars plus for a three day event hosting the world’s most vulnerable leaders.

But at least we know where these people stand and what it is they truly believe in.

What about the rest of us, many who merely shrugged a miffed shrug at what we felt was little more than an inconvenience albeit a costly inconvenience? Those that saw this gathering arbitrarily enforced and organized very much out of the public eye as simply an excuse for an extended summer getaway. To the cottage. To Scotland. (Yes, readers. I am indeed making a very pointed reference to those I once thought of as like-minded colleagues and fellow foot soldiers in the battle for progressive causes. I see them now as merely co-workers. Strangers sharing nothing but office space. Shame, shame I say to them and yesterday’s mea culpa should only be the beginning of their rehabilitation.) What exactly is it that they believe in?

Clearly it isn’t democratic principles. Those, we have just failed miserably. We stood idly by and watched as governments dismantled long, hard won ideals like freedom of expression and the right to open public assembly. “Designated areas of protest” do not constitute either of those freedoms. The provincial Liberal government’s Public Work Protection Act, secretively enacted by cabinet fiat earlier this month, handed over broad and very likely unconstitutional powers to the police, allowing them “to demand identification from and search without warrant anyone who comes within five metres of the security zone.” How did we find out about it? After someone was arrested and charged. Your papers! Where are your papers?!

We have not seen such intrusive, far-reaching powers granted to the government by the government since the fallout from 9/11 and, before that, Trudeau’s War Measures Act in response to the FLQ crisis. No longer does it take an actual threat for us to cravenly hand over our rights and responsibilities to the authorities. Any old perceived threat will do these days. Do we deserve any sort of freedom when we so easily hand it over with barely a peep of disgruntled complaint whenever we`re asked?

People on both sides of this battle line seem to agree on one thing: the violence we saw on Saturday did nothing to help the situation. There were many like Craig Kielburger who wrote that the nasty turn only served to diminish all of the protesters in the eyes of the public. “This group [Black Bloc] doesn’t deserve to be called protesters. Martin Luther King was a protester. He campaigned against racial segregation through non-violent tactics. The groups that marched peacefully on series of social issues, they were protesters.”

May I remind Mr. Kielburger that while Martin Luther King played an integral role in the civil rights movement, he was hardly alone in the effort. There was a more militant strain also at work within the African-American community epitomized by the likes of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. I don’t believe that one would’ve worked successfully without the other. For every Ghandi pacifist led march to independence there is the blood soaked path as witnessed in places like Algeria. The world’s beacon of freedom, the United States of America, was born from the womb of violent insurrection.

Am I likening the Black Bloc to early American revolutionaries? No. We’re simply talking tactics and I do empathize with those who feel the need to rage. While many will simply brush the riot-inclined off as professional agitators, I would suggest they’re missing the bigger picture.

When those we have elected stop listening to our concerns or wilfully ignore the requests we make upon them, what recourse is left us? The dangerous route is to throw our hands up in the air and dismiss them as only politicians doing what politicians do and head off to the cottage in disgust. Politicians will only do what we let them do and every so often they have to be reminded of that fact. Sometimes at the ballot box. Sometimes by peaceful protest. And sometimes by any means necessary.

Attempting to diminish that option with media massaged propaganda about anarchic radicals bent on nothing other than mindless destruction or trying to take it off the table entirely by an overwhelming show of official force emphasizes rather than addresses the underlying causes of dissatisfaction and anger. It is the growing disconnect between the citizens and those they have chosen to represent them that lies at the heart of the conflict that flares up every time the world’s leaders gather behind locked gates within our midst to discuss our collective future. We want to be heard not dictated to and if it requires the odd petulant outburst, so be it. Other, more reasonable methods don’t seem to be working at the moment.

violently submitted by Acaphlegmic