My Pledge for G20 Justice

Posted on July 9, 2010

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I have decided to leave my letters to the various political stakeholders out of this blog. They are diplomatic, politely worded requests for a public inquiry, and frankly they are not that interesting. Of course, everybody should still write letters to every politician they can think of. For help with this, see Rick Telfer’s widget. I’m going to stop beating the dead G20 horse after this post, but the whole thing continues to disturb me so much that I feel like I need to write a little bit more on the topic.

I was browsing the #g20report feed on twitter today, and I discovered two things. The first was a report that the Toronto City Council just voted unanimously to commend Bill Blair and the Toronto Police Service for their “outstanding work” over the G20 weekend. If you’ve read my previous posts on this subject, then you’ll understand why I find this both frustrating and depressing.

I also found a video where a young woman recounts her horrible experience being assaulted (both physically and sexually), arrested, and generally abused after being grabbed at the Queen’s Park rally. I’m not going to cite the exact video, but you can find it and many other video and print testimonials like it all over the internet, especially here and here. The testimonial isn’t much unlike the others that can be found. Like many other video testimonials, the speaker breaks down and cries midway through. What sets it apart for me is that I watched it right after hearing about the Toronto city council vote to commend the police. Did any of the councillors know this poor woman’s story? Did they care?

Democracy has failed the victims of the G20 police crackdown. Why do we have democracy if not to protect the citizens from abuse by their government? Surely forcing the leaders to answer to the people in the event of abuses is one of the main reasons we bother electing them in the first place. In this case, that failed to happen.

The only reason I can find for this failure is an apathetic and uninformed populace. I suppose the Toronto city councillors simply wanted to pander to the 73% of Torontonians who likewise supported the police abuses.  It is a strange paradox. The democratic will of the people appears to be in support of actions that violate the very democracy that allows them to have a say in public matters.

Democracy is more than simply a set of institutions. Elected representatives and a free press and civil liberties documents are all very important things, but they mean nothing if the population is not willing to defend them. Democracy requires an attitude of constant vigilance and participation on the part of the public. Without that, even an elected government has very little accountability. As we saw in Toronto two weeks ago, the indifference of the many can have catastrophic consequences for the few.

For me, “protester” is synonymous with “citizen”. Protesters and activists have a very important role to play in any democracy. They are the people who bring political concerns to the nation’s leaders with the full emotional force that only a march of thousands can muster. A politican can delete e-mails, throw out letters, and soundbyte their way to an election victory, but it is difficult for them to ignore a crowd of thousands that has come to see them in person. Unfortunately, the public reaction to the G20 seems to suggest that for many, the word “protester” has become a dirty one, roughly synonymous with “troublemaker”. It would seem that Canada is a nation lacking in democratic attitudes.

Accordingly, I pledge the following: Three levels of government, the media, and the public itself were all complicit in horrendous abuses carried out against Canadian citizens. Given that, I can no longer consider myself a proud Canadian.  I still love my country, but I can no longer celebrate it. I shall therefore refrain from singing “O Canada” until the victims of the G20 weekend have seen justice.

If anybody asks why I’m not singing, I can always just say I’m scared of being charged by riot cops.

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