So this weekend the G20 descends on the city. In preparation for the inevitable terrorist attacks and chaos*, parts of the city are more or less shutting down. Multiple TTC lines are diverting. There will be 175 motorcades**, at least 1/3 of which are decoys, which will shut down major roads and even highways for hours at a time. Downtown workers are being told to dress casually (i.e., not in suits) to avoid the ire of those nasty protesters.
I will not be among them – the nasty protesters, that is – because I’m going away to visit my family. But save a tear gas canister for me, OK?
Seriously, I understand that when you get a bunch of world leaders together security is necessary. What I don’t get is why the Toronto authorities are preparing for the apocalypse. The last riot we had in Toronto was in 2001, when the police went nuts and started beating protesters at an anti-poverty rally. The problem wasn’t the protesters, it was the entirely disproportionate response to the protest. Why do we think this is going to be different?
There’s a name for this – Security Theatre. This isn’t about making anyone safer, but about making people feel unsafe. If these extreme measures are necessary, then the threat MUST be huge. But you know what? You shut down multiple major streets and whip up law enforcement fervour in a big city, and people are going to die. If a bunch of roads are shut down and the others overloaded, an ambulance isn’t going to make it to someone in time to save them from their stroke. If the police are panicking and seeing everyone in a bandana as a terrorist war criminal, a policeman is going to taser someone with a heart murmur and kill them. Someone is going to get trampled by a horse or have a bad reaction to tear gas. It’s more or less guaranteed that this is going to cost a few lives.
Now, if you did a reasonable, calm kind of security – you know, protecting the world leaders, policing the demonstrations in non-confrontational way, not shutting down large swathes of the city for nothing – would anyone die?
They might. It’s possible that someone might suicide bomb Ban-ki Moon, but all the security theatre in the world isn’t going to make it impossible. Under any circumstance it’s extremely unlikely.
So if what we – collectively – really cared about was safety, we would not be doing this. I have some theories as to what this shows we really care about:
– being one of the big boys among nation states;
– sucking up to America;
– hating on hippies;
– showing the world that we do TOO have big penises
– making the populace feel embattled so the authorities can save them
– curtailing grassroots protest movements by making them dangerous, disreputable, and unpopular.
I might be wrong, of course. But it seems to me like a complex interaction of conservative insecurities and pathologies. Eventually I hope people will learn that dissent does not equal treason, and a gathering of people does not equal a mob. I hope the police etc. will get it through their helmets that making them uncomfortable does not equal threatening them. And I hope they clean up after their goddamn horses, too.
In the meantime, there’s always the Peace and Love Parade.
*Yes, that appears to be what they’re preparing for. Because nothing says “Canada” like civil unrest. Whatever.
**What is the point of the motorcade? The conference is in a hotel, no? So why not have everyone stay in the goddamn hotel and just take the bloody elevator instead of snarling up traffic?