Thousands march in Toronto for civil liberties

The mass movement for an independent public enquiry into G20 Summit policing continues. And so does the war over numbers. CBC claimed one thousand rallied and marched from Queen’s Park on Saturday, July 10. The Toronto Star reported 1,200 took to the streets (College, Spadina, Queen, Peter and Front Streets), with a concluding rally beside the CBC building, right across from the Metro Convention Centre, scene of the G20 elite gabfest two weeks earlier. Protest rally chair Judy Rebick congratulated the crowd which she said was “over 5,000 strong”.

This reporter’s guess is that about 3,000 attended — which is more than enough to show that there is still plenty of energy behind the demand for public accountability, the dropping of charges and the release of the dozen or so political prisoners still held in detention, of the initial 1000-plus arrested.

Proof of the still-mounting public pressure are the three enquiries underway. Unfortunately, none of them is full, open and independent. The Toronto Police Services Commission, which includes the police chief, along with appointed city councillors and civilians, will be narrow and controlled by the establishment. (Toronto City Council voted unanimously last week to commend the cops ‘for a job well done’, with a few cowardly social democrats abstaining or absent.) The Ontario Ombudsperson promises to enquire only into the additional police powers secretly granted by the Ontario Liberal Cabinet prior to the G20 Summit. And the Toronto Police are conducting their own investigation — need we say more?

The labour organizations that endorsed the “July 10 Day of Action for Civil Liberties”, including the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Steelworkers’ Toronto Area Council, and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, should initiate a truly full, open and independent enquiry — one that would get to the bottom of the wasteful expenditures on ‘security’ and the arbitrary and excessive use of force by police, as well as expose the anti-human, anti-nature agenda of the G20 political and corporate elites.

Once again, the sound system deployed at Queen’s Park made it difficult for anyone, other than those close to the Ontario Legislature front steps, to hear the speakers. But the crowd that coursed through Toronto’s downtown, under brilliant sunshine, was lively and boisterous. They chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!”, “This is what democracy looks like”, “No more police over-time. No more police state”, “No justice, no peace”, and “Wasted, wasted. One billion dollars”.

Union flags and banners bobbed in the demonstration alongside anti-war, community and socialist banners. Giant white letters were carried by ten individuals to spell out “G20 ENQUIRY”. Huge walking puppets caricatured Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Horns, drums, and megaphones kept up a steady cadence of demands. Marchers noticed the intense heat only when we paused. One pause lasted fifteen minutes or more as hundreds of protesters sat down at the intersection of Queen and Spadina. There, on June 27, police kettled 300 innocent people during a driving rainstorm, arresting scores of them just to show who’s boss.

Socialist Action has been involved in all the pre- and post-summit protests, and once again had a prominent presence at Queen’s Park on July 10. Our colourful literature display drew a stream of public interest. People signed up for more information. SA members greeted rally participants with leaflets, press and buttons. Over $140 was received in sales, mostly of buttons and booklets, due to the fact that the latest edition of SA newspaper sold out a week earlier.

A dozen SA members attracted dozens more participants to the SA contingent during the two-hour walk-a-thon. SA youth and supporters carried their own handmade signs that read: Resign Chief BLiar ! For a FULL, independent, public enquiry ! Repeal the Public Works Protection Act ! Smash G20 agenda of Social Cuts ! Money for Jobs and Education, not war and police repression ! Fight for Socialism !

The NDP Socialist Caucus marched with its banner held high. Supporters distributed copies of the SC tabloid “Turn Left”. What a contrast to most NDP politicians who wrung their hands over petty property damage for a fortnight, and now echo the cry for civil liberties and police accountability.

What’s next?

There will be a Civil Liberties Day of Action, Music Fest and Rally, on Saturday, July 17, 1:30 p.m. at Queen’s Park, South Lawn, Toronto.
Spread the word. Bring your friends and co-workers. This struggle is far from over.

System change, not climate change!

Socialism or barbarism!
This statement is issued jointly by Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste (Canadian state), Socialist Action­ USA, and Socialist Unity League (LUS)­Mexico.

If it was just a big photo op for the world’s top twenty capitalist politicians, with an obscene $1 billion ­plus ‘security’ price tag, that would be bad enough. But the G20 Summit in Toronto, June 26­ 27, is part of an ongoing campaign of the global ruling rich to destroy a century of working class rights and benefits, while continuing to despoil the environment.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which serves as a kind of secretariat for the G20, openly advocates: increase the age of retirement; de­fund medical treatments; freeze public sector wages; introduce means ­testing for all social programmes; cut back agricultural supports for farmers; increase value­ added taxes; hike gasoline taxes and introduce a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions.

Clearly such measures do not address catastrophic poverty or life­ threatening climate change. They would force the world’s working masses to pay for the system crises not of our making. Recall that deficits and debt went through the roof when governments decided to bail out big banks and giant companies. Capital engineered a credit balloon, designed literally to paper ­over the central contradictions of capitalism: the relentless competition for profit and the overproduction of useless and wasteful commodities.

Capitalist politicians scowl at even the most modest reforms, like cutting the military, or putting energy company mega­-profits to work for conservation and green energy alternatives, or taxing the rich to support public health care, education, good nutrition, public transportation and decent, affordable housing.

The Conservative minority government in Ottawa, in its ‘free market’ zeal, campaigned internationally to block a special tax on financial speculation and ‘excess’ bank profits – a self­ serving tax touted by European powers and Washington as a hedge against the next big bank meltdown. At the same time, Ottawa sabotages maternal health by refusing to fund safe, legal abortions abroad (68,000 women die of botched abortions annually, and 5 million suffer infections and complications, mostly in poor countries).

Washington and Ottawa bear disproportionate guilt for the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference and for subverting the weak Kyoto Accord. They continue to dump surplus grains into Mexico, Haiti and other less developed countries. They drive poor farmers to desperation, and then exploit, harass and deport migrant workers.

The great fear of the world’s ruling rich is “the Greek disease”, which the capitalists label ‘overspending’, but is actually a sterling example of working class solidarity against the bosses’ agenda of impoverishment and disenfranchisement.

Socialists hail the fight back of workers across Europe. We embrace the current strike wave in China for decent wages and benefits. We salute the mass resistance to imperialist war and occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. We heartily endorse the declaration of the Cochabamba (Bolivia) Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which calls for an end to militarism, pillage of the planet for profit (capitalism), and denial of the rights of indigenous peoples. We identify with revolutionary Cuba, and with the revolt against neo­-liberalism sweeping Venezuela and Latin America.

For a world where all can ‘live well’, workers and oppressed peoples must expropriate industry and plan the economy democratically, in concert with nature. Not a bank tax but nationalization of the banks and big business under workers’ and community control is needed. Join us in the fight for a world without exploitation and war. It is urgent for everyone to choose: Economic democracy or corporate tyranny! Eco­Socialism or extinction!

Summits of Farce and Repression

by Barry Weisleder

In the end, the global rulers got what they wanted – massive propaganda for social cuts, plus a brutal demonstration of police power. As for the working class, we got the bill, $1.3 billion and counting — just for ‘security’.

During the G20 Summit in Toronto, police arrested over 900 people. That is nearly double the number incarcerated in the October 1970 Quebec crisis, under the auspices of the infamous War Measures Act. Most caught in the latest sweep were released, many without charges, after being held in filthy cages, in a makeshift ‘jail’, for up to 24 hours without adequate water, food, medication, toilet facilities, privacy for females, or access to legal aid. Police charged hundreds, and still hold a few.

The business media worked feverishly to spin the threadbare results of the G20 meeting (held on the heals of the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario), into a tapestry of triumph, an ode to worldly consensus and to Canadian hospitality. But plainly, it’s a hard sell — especially in light of the city core lock-down, and the acts of petty vandalism that police permitted (or planned) to occur, before resorting to the use of tear gas, pepper spray, beatings and mass arrests. Many peaceful protesters, working journalists, downtown shoppers and curious on-lookers were snared by the cop tactics. And so, illusions in bourgeois democracy and in ‘officers of the peace’ fell like a multitude of bowling pins.

Meanwhile, inside the media bubble of the world capitalist summit, there was minimal agreement on detail. This betrayed the actual farce of the high level gathering, which could have been conducted on Skype for free — minus the mini-police state imposed on Torontonians.

To the extent that the G20 leaders agreed to do anything, the measures they endorsed could hasten a global depression, and quicken the descent into environmental disaster.

The rich countries’ bosses promised to cut their budgetary deficits in half by 2013, and to cap their cumulative debt as a proportion of GDP by 2016. If attempted, without taxing big corporations and the super-rich, such actions would choke off jobs, services and investment in production, plunging economies into crisis, and billions into misery.

But Japan is exempt. Italy is not expected to meet the deadline. While Britain and Germany have announced Draconian cuts, Harper is not saying, and Obama is walking a tightrope. Just to reveal the blatancy of their class bias, the G8 and G20 rejected a tax on financial institutions (proposed by the more desperate French, Germans and British), and they put off until the next G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea any discussion of bank regulatory reforms.

Concerning climate change, the summiteers agreed to contemplate cuts to the subsidies paid carbon-emitting oil and gas industries. Of course such contemplations are subordinate to “country-specific strategies”. Canada’s federal government, for instance, is increasing its overall subsidies to the Alberta tar sands. Even the language on climate change from this summit is weaker than that agreed at the previous G20 gab-fest.

What about the G8? “The gap between the G8’s compassionate rhetoric and its readiness to help was especially striking” said the June 27 Toronto Star lead editorial. While hundreds of thousands of women, and nearly 9 million children die needlessly every year, the $50 billion in aid promised at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 “fell a breathtaking $20 billion short”. “This is a shabby performance for a rich club that generates close to $40 trillion in wealth”, stated the Star. Canada’s largest circulation daily failed to mention the source of this enormous wealth — the stolen natural resources and exploited labour of workers globally, especially in the Third World.

The G8 leaders went out of their way to caution the United Nations against hoping for much more from them, notwithstanding the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ which aim to reduce world poverty, hunger and disease by 2015. And really, isn’t that the whole point of the G8 and the G20? There the richest elites do not run the risk of getting outvoted by the 172 other countries represented at the U.N. — which can be mildly embarrassing, even if U.N. votes change few economic facts on the ground.

On ‘security’ issues, the G8 endorsed a five-year exit plan from Afghanistan (which can always be extended). They denounced Iran and North Korea (without any commitment to eradicate the largest stock piles of nuclear weapons, which happen to be held by the USA, Russia and Europe). And they called for an ‘easing’ of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, rather than demanding an end to the siege, let alone the dismantling of the Israeli apartheid wall, or recognition of the right of return for all Palestinian refugees.

None of the ‘decisions’ of the G8 and G20 were actually made at the summits, which serve a rubber-stamp and photo-op function for pre-negotiated policies, steeped in diplomatic vacuity. Thus, working people, the poor and all oppressed sections of society had good reason to protest long before the summits. After all, we live daily under disaster capitalism.

So, protests proliferated in the week of June 20. This followed the People’s Summit attended by over 1,500 at Ryerson University. It continued with demonstrations for aboriginal rights and against the rising tide of poverty, and culminated in the massive rally and march of 30,000, despite persistent rainfall, on Saturday, June 26. The sponsors of the main demonstration, which set out from Toronto’s Queen’s Park, included the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, their major union affiliates, as well as the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, Oxfam, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Ontario Health Coalition, Amnesty International, and numerous feminist organizations. The demo was peaceful and spirited. Chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “This is what democracy looks like” echoed down University Avenue’s ‘hospital row’, and up through Chinatown on Spadina Ave.

But the huge parade never made it onto prime time news. Mainstream media coverage fixated on a tiny breakaway group. The so-called Black Bloc, animated by self-described anarchists, went on a window-busting rampage that hit about 40 businesses, and torched four police squad cars. No one was killed or seriously injured. The only injuries were caused by the police, afterwards.

The anger of the Bloc-istas against the social injustices perpetuated by the G20 is understandable. But their tactics are worse than deplorable. They proved the straight men for Harper’s all-too-predictable punch lines about how ‘security’ spending was justified. The Bloc-istas also gave the cops ammunition to brutalize and jail over 900 innocents, using expanded police powers of search and arrest granted by a secret Ontario Liberal Cabinet decision just weeks prior to the summits.

Now that a majority of the 900-plus detainees have been released without charge, questions are multiplying. Why did 20,000 cops, including literally hundreds of them within spitting distance of burning vehicles and shattering store windows, just let it happen? Was it an exercise in policing or PR? And if cop claims are true that they had infiltrated the Bloc-istas, how many police were involved in prompting, as opposed to just spying on, the planners of mayhem?

Anger over the hundreds of arbitrary arrests, and the de-humanizing treatment meted out by police to detainees, spurred over 3,000 people to rally outside Toronto Police Headquarters on June 28. They demanded a full, independent public inquiry. Thousands proceeded to march to City Hall and back to the Legislature at Queen’s Park. Many in the youthful throng chanted “Wasted! Wasted! A billion dollars!”, “No justice, no peace!”, and the now emblematic cry “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Socialists were prominent in all of the peaceful, mass protest actions, and received a very positive hearing from the crowds which included many young women and men attending a demonstration for the first time. Dozens walked behind the Socialist Action banner inscribed with the words “No corporate bail-out. Make Capital pay for the crisis! Nationalize Auto, Steel and Banks – under Workers’ Control”.

SA members received over $550 in sales of anti-capitalist, anti-war and eco-socialist buttons, and SA newspapers in a span of four days. We distributed 1,000 trilingual statements against the agenda of the G20 (presenting the policies of our Canada/Quebec, American and Mexican sister parties). Over 40 activists attended an SA public forum at the People’s Summit, dozens more came to our display table at the Ryerson Hub, and we received applications from five individuals seeking detailed information about, or membership in SA.

Harper and his global partners in crime have stirred a giant from slumber. Will this youthful giant master the policies, strategy and organization needed to seize the time? No one can say, but socialists have an indispensable, and evidently welcome role to play in this still unfolding drama.

A report on Toronto G20 protests and police actions on June 26, 2010

by Julius Arscott, Socialist Action

I participated in the labour-sponsored mass demonstration which started at Toronto’s Queen’s Park at around 1:30 p.m., June 26. It travelled south along University Avenue, west along Queen Street West, north along Spadina Avenue and back to Queens Park. It was a rainy day. Police presence along the route appeared small until we passed the United States Consulate on University Ave., where close to 75 police were present, with tear gas guns and what appeared to be shotguns. Further south the labour marshals directed traffic along the agreed route.

After the concluding rally at Queen’s Park, several SA members went to a bar on College Street for a drink and some food. While there we watched the US vs. Ghana soccer game, which was followed by a news bulletin. It showed a police car on fire, which was rather unexpected. Outside, a little later, we could see many people walking east, towards Queen’s Park (QP). I departed and walked towards the crowd. Many police there blocked access to QP. After a while many more police gathered in the area. From a higher vantage point, I could see that there was another, even larger group of protesters in QP, and they were being rushed by the police. I proceeded through University of Toronto campus until I got to the south end of QP. There I saw many people shouting at police such slogans as “Whose streets, our streets!” and “This is what democracy looks like, that is what hypocrisy looks like”. There were many police present. More police than demonstrators. Police were using a ‘snatch and grab’ technique. They would rush the demonstrators, singling out a few individuals and targeting them for arrest. Pepper balls were used (paint ball guns using paint balls containing a pepper substance). I also saw several people who were injured and bleeding, though probably not from life threatening injuries. The police used horses to charge and divide the crowds. Many people, during the hour and a half that I was there, were arrested. The protestors did not attack the police. A few water bottles were thrown into the police line, but other protestors were shouting not to throw anything at the police. Either way, the police continued to arrest many people and eventually pushed everyone out of QP, which had been designated as a green “free speech” zone for protesters. I heard that after the mass labour-backed rally finished some anarchists broke windows on Queen Street, and that they then returned to Queen’s Park, took off their black clothing, and merged with the rest of the demonstrators. The police followed them to QP. I was also told by another source that when he arrived at the scene, he heard shouting coming from many police at QP. There were no protesters in sight. The cops were rallying and cheering for their own success at removing the protestors.

I departed, walking south to Queen Street to see what damage had been done there. When I arrived, I saw people running west. I could see black plumes of smoke. As I got closer, I saw one burnt-out vehicle, and another car on fire. Most of the people gathered here were evidently not demonstrators. They appeared to be shoppers and the curious who wanted to see what was going on. Eventually the police blocked off the street and had horses there as well. The police used the same tactics of snatch and grab. They arrested many people. The folks in this area became radicalized quickly as the police turned on them with force. They also shouted anti-G20 slogans and pro-democracy chants. The police fired pepper balls and rushed people, including me, with their horses. Apparently, the scene was caught on film and was on television . Eventually the police dispersed the crowd.

At this point I was ready to head home as none of these events were planned and I had no idea where the next action might be. I walked east towards Yonge Street. When I got there I saw a small number of people heading south. I decided to follow them and see what was going on. We continued south until we reached Front Street (at the northeast corner, across from Union Station). There were approximately 200-250 people here. They held a peaceful sit-down strike. We stayed for another 20 minutes and then the crowd headed south towards the Esplanade and closer to the ‘security’ fence. Eventually we stopped in front of a hotel and shouted “Whose streets, our streets” and “This is what democracy looks like, that’s what a police state looks like”. We stayed there for about 15 minutes. Riot police arrived at both ends of the street. At this point my priority was to get out as I did not want to get trapped or arrested. I managed to find a way out through a small back alley, access to which was denied by police a very short time later. I escaped. Hundreds of police converged at this spot. I suspect that most, if not all of the 150 people who remained, and were sitting peacefully, were arrested.

I was exhausted after all this and headed home. I would add only that there were police everywhere in the downtown core during this entire period, and they were very aggressive towards the general public. They would not answer questions. They shouted at passers by, many of whom probably then started to demonstrate against the police. I have never seen so many police in my life in the City of Toronto. There may have been more here than when I was in Quebec City for the FTAA protest in 2001. Tear gas was used here, possibly for the first time in Toronto’s history. The police were very heavy handed with everyone. Not once did I see police being attacked with any force serious enough to justify their aggression towards the public in general, and towards protesters specifically.

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