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Friday, July 30, 2010

Oooooo! Safari extensions!

So Apple's just released Safari 5.0.1, along with a tasty-looking extensions gallery.  There were about half a dozen really useful extensions that I was using in Google Chrome on my PC, but I wanted to give Safari a fair go.  Well, here they are.  Anyone tried any of these yet?  Good?  Bad?

The early line from Gizmodo ...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More on police brutality during the G20, and institutional response

Thoughtful piece in NOW magazine, and my initial response:

All good stuff, but ultimately the fight isn't with the Board, the chief, or any discrete police force, be it municipal, provincial or federal. What's at issue here is a dysfunctional organizational and occupational culture that isn't going to be fixed by any institutional response or individual inquiry or review.

Consider: what is it about policing that makes individual cops think it's OK to beat the shit out of peaceful citizens exercising their fundamental rights? Or abuse the power of preventive detention, knowing that whatever charges are filed will ultimately never stand up, but also knowing that there won't be any individual or organizational accountability for the abuses visited upon people? As bad as the police misbehaviour during the G20 was, these questions go far beyond that weekend.

Which is why any anticipation of a meaningful institutional response is, in my submission, ultimately misguided and futile. The Board isn't going to do anything that seriously ruffles police feathers. They all saw what happened to Alan Heisey. Moreover, the fog and confusion arising from questions of overlapping jurisdiction, and just how far the Board's mandate extends, and the continuing distraction arising from the debate over policy versus operational matters, pretty much guarantees that the Board won't be able to accomplish anything meaningful.

Deputants will have their say. Recommendations will be made. Fingers will be wagged and tuts will be tutted. But as long as cop culture itself persists as it is currently, well ... don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What we must avoid at all costs

These don't even begin to scratch the surface, but they're a start.

Fox News and the right-wing wackosphere are not ridiculous. They are not harmless. They are not merely mendacious buffoons. They are an obscene perversion of everything journalism and reasoned debate are supposed to be about.  The toxic effect that the Fox approach has had on American journalism, on civil discourse, on civil society itself has been so profound and so grossly disfiguring that merely documenting it would be the work of years. Analyzing it would take years more. Fixing it? I don't even want to try and guess.

Some progressive observers to the south have recognized the danger for a long time and have tried to fight back.  The always-incisive, always-on-the-mark Shoq rallies for a counteroffensive here.  It's a worthwhile cause, but I can't help fearing that it may be too late.

Charles Kaiser's marvellous essay sets out the shameful record of mainstream U.S. media outlets, and the Obama White House, in the fallout from the Shirley Sherrod "scandal."  (Manufactured scandal, actually.)

And then there's Keith Olbermann's special comment.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Follow these links and you get an idea of where the Harpokons are getting their marching orders and where they want to take us.  And then ask yourself if we can afford to shrug off Peladeau and Teneycke's little project.

Come on, not even a little bite?

Just so you can say you tasted it and survived?

Over at Sex, Bombs & Burgers, there's a post setting out why we're unlikely to see this crime against nature in Canada anytime soon.

So we'll import their toxic politics, but not their artery-clogging deep-fried dreck? Damn you, free market!  God damn you all to hell!

Fighting the good fight at the Police Services Board

It's extremely doubtful that we're going to get anything meaningful in the way of institutional response to the police abuses at the G20.  And thus far, a lot of the heat has been focused on the cops themselves, rather than on their political masters at Queen's Park and Ottawa.  (Yes, we're looking at you, Harper and McGuinty.)

But you've got to love Julian Falconer as he lays it out for the Toronto Police Services Board.  Watch this:

Monday, July 26, 2010

A fight you don't have to pick sides in

Wow.  The RCMP's senior command is in meltdown, open revolt against the Commissioner.

So on one side we have the senior leadership and collective organizational/cultural memory of a closed, tribal, hierarchical organization that's been described as "horribly broken."

On the other hand we have a longtime bureaucrat and current Harper political appointee, with Harper's personal mandate to fix that organization, who's being described as arrogant, abusive, closed-minded and impossible to work with.

Sometimes ... life is kind.

UPDATE:  Sorry, tonight's all about trashy entertainment and junk food.  You want intellectual content, go check out what Chet Scoville's got to say.  It's a tall cool drink of reason.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ok, this census thing is getting out of hand

Two of my favourite progressive observers have noted the speed and suddenness with which the flying monkeys of the right have swung into line behind the Harpokons' inexplicable attack on the long-form census. As Chet Scoville notes at The Vanity Press, a couple of weeks ago nobody was even talking about it, but now it's tapping into long-held beliefs and long-suppressed rage and resentment of Condescending Urban Elitist Big Government Socialism. The fact that even Tom Flanagan's baffled by it is beside the point.

And note as well the all-or-nothing nature of some of the anti-census commentary. As Cathie from Canada notes, there's no nuance, no grey, nothing – it's all wrapped up in one big ball of string. If we let them collect census data, the next thing we know they'll be coming for our guns and forcing us to marry gay Muslims.

Another manifestation of the toxic right-wing tropes the Harpokons seem determined to import from their teabagging friends to the south. As we've seen in the case of the birthers, facts don't matter to these people. And when the facts get in the way of the narrative or the ideology, guess what gets thrown out the window?

That's the thing about manufactured controversies. For decades, nobody's gotten their knickers in a twist about the census, but out of nowhere, there's this huge groundswell of organized opposition to it? A grassroots movement of resentment that's been building for years? Can anyone say astroturf?

Zane Caplansky: Still king of the deli

Sunday afternoon at the Wychwood Barns.  Caplansky's, Goldin's and The Stockyards. Not optimum conditions, I grant you, but this is where we separate the delimeisters from the dilettantes.  This is where you get to show us what you've got.

Gentlemen ... start your smokers

For all his Zen-inspired approach to the competition, Caplansky still rules -- in this observer's view at least.  Tender, moist, fatty ... melts in your mouth.

Goldin's might be worth a couple more tries, though.  A little chewier than Caplansky's.  Leaves an interesting afterburn from the spice.  Not unpleasant. Until recently they didn't do retail but apparently they're now supplying the Free Times Cafe.

Naturally, the scientific method requires rigorous analysis and a devotion to the most rational and comprehensive forms of data collection.  Proof, yet again, of why any effort to do away with the long-form approach is misguided.  This is very demanding research, after all.

Putting Officer Bubbles in context

As this video from the Real News suggests, the focus on one power-tripping cop obscured the broader story of how the police were abusing the power of preventive detention.  Apparently wearing a bandana and having a lawyer's phone number written on your arm were reason enough for them to target you.

I'm sure an independent inquiry will get to the bottom of this.

UPDATE:  More detail about Officer Josephs and assholes in uniform generally from the often-snarky, always-worthwhile Sabina Becker.  Knowing that guys like this think of us as human garbage and don't like the thought of being held accountable really makes you think twice about taking to the streets.  Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A little foam with your census form, sir?

Well-meaning piece in the Globe this morning talks about the many ways the data from the long-form census is important.

Only thing is, who's the first guy they cite?  A guy who crunches demographic numbers for, er ... Starbucks.

Wouldn't be surprising to see a revival of the phony Starbucks / Tim Hortons dichotomy.  Because, as everyone knows, only sneering, Volvo-driving, Birkenstock-wearing urban elitists drink Starbucks.  Authentic Real Canadians(TM) don't have any truck with fancy-shmancy lattes and such; they head to Tim's for double-doubles.

If only it were as harmless as Hogan's Heroes ...

It's not a bad analogy. Steven Chase writes in the Globe's Ottawa Notebook that the Harpokons (I won't dignify them by calling them Tories, or even Conservatives – those are terms with honourable connotations) have decided to make their stand on the census kerfuffle with the Hogan's Heroes defence. (In fairness, lest anyone think they're all alone, they can take some comfort in the support they're getting from random flying monkeys.)

Good for a laugh, but it leaves me with the same uneasy feeling I get after watching Jon Stewart. Like the people Stewart skewers so effectively, the Harpokons just shrug it off and persist with their stolid disregard, even contempt, for differing viewpoints, critical engagement, and independent thought for that matter. They've been sticking to their guns on this despite a virtual avalanche of concern and opposition to their plans to neuter the census. Not just from the “socialists” and “elitists” they like to deride, but from virtually every sector – even those that normally align with them.

While the census kerfuffle may leave them with some temporary embarrassment, it's not as if they're going to sustain any serious political damage. And that's the worrisome part.

It's not as if they're going to pay for turning the jackbooted bullyboys loose on us during the G20.

It's not as if they've had to pay for their continuing campaign to intimidate and silence critics and undermine the entire notion of an impartial and professional public service. (Richard Colvin?  Name ring a bell?)

It's not as if anyone's held their feet to the fire over their sustained and multipronged assault on the "foundational infrastructure of democratic accountability” or their systematic undermining of democratic institutions and practices.

Not content with their attempt to dismantle the foundation of all good public policy via their assault on the census, now they're going after employment equity, because, as we all know, white men face such numerous systemic and institutional barriers in our society. Although apparently Jason Kenney's been trying to reassure critics that affirmative action isn't being targeted. Dog whistle? Ya think?

The most stomach-turning thing about all of this is listening to otherwise well-intentioned observers who caution us about the Harpokons and warn us that we can't afford to give them a majority. Well, here's a question: can someone please explain how this is any different from what we'd see under a Harper majority? Because I really want to know ...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Citizenship, politics and the census

Stephen Harper's contrived excuses for doing away with the long-form census may just come around to bite him in the ass.

On the surface, we have something that looks like a shallow decision meant to appeal to our inherent desire for privacy. It's red meat to Harper's ignorant, knuckle-dragging, big-goverment-hating base. Who wants nosy bureaucrats poking around our lives? Why does Ottawa need to know how many people live in my house? None of their goddamn business how many bathrooms I have. An easy two points.

(This line of argument, if I can call it that, can have unfortunate consequences. Remember Michele Bachmann railing against the U.S. Census and saying the information might be used to put people in internment camps? A census worker in Kentucky was found hanged from a tree with the word “Fed” scrawled on his body. It wouldn't be the first time that a political crime was inspired by political hate speech.)

Unfortunately, it's also going to have the effect of making government programs and public decisions less effective. All kinds of things influence our daily lives and the shape of our communities:
  • urban planning decisions (affordable housing, economic policy tools aimed at job creation)
  • resource allocation and service delivery to target populations
  • identification of disadvantaged neighbourhoods
  • planning of services and outreach programs to immigrant communities (where Harper, incidentally, wants to build his support)
  • private business decisions based on projections of population and economic growth
all rely on the data collected by the long-form census. And the record shows that the very people who are most affected by these decisions are the ones least likely to complete it. And incomplete data means you don't have what you need to make informed decisions.

One can't help but discern an ideological component to this. It certainly wouldn't be the first effort to reduce the efficacy of public services to the point where people are so fed up with government's incompetence and inability to accomplish anything that they're willing to see public agencies drastically reduced or even dismantled. We've seen this in the United States, most spectacularly in the Bush Administration's feckless response to Hurricane Katrina. The strategy is straightforward enough, even if its callousness and hypocrisy make you want to retch: slash the funding and narrow the mandate of public agencies to ribbons, staff them with incompetent managers, and then shit all over them when they can't respond meaningfully.

This, of course, feeds into the pernicious narrative about government being useless and incompetent generally, and the argument that its functions should be left to the private sector because the profit motive creates an incentive to do things more efficiently. Grover Norquist once talked about wanting to shrink the U.S. federal government to the point where he could drown it in the bathtub. And how convenient for corporate interests whose main motive is to maximize short-term profits and do away with public oversight.

We've all seen how well that's worked out in the Gulf of Mexico.

So yes, it goes beyond pandering to idiots like Michele Bachmann.

The attack on the long-form census needs to be seen for what it is: a calculated tactical initiative from a Prime Minister less interested in governing effectively than in politicking 24/7 and destroying all opposition, both in Parliament and in the streets. He knows the gormless opposition parties aren't going to bring down his minority, and that people aren't going to take to the streets over the long-form census. (Given the way the cops went wilding at the G20, fewer people are likely to take to the streets in any event. Not that that would have been part of the calculation, of course.)

No, it's not voluntary. Yes, it's a pain in the ass. It might even take a few minutes out of your day. Tough shit. Citizenship carries responsibilities, and this is one of them.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

When cops go wilding

Wilding: a slang term that refers to the practice of marauding in bands to terrorize strangers and to swagger and bully. From the Urban Dictionary. The term came to prominence in connection with New York's Central Park Jogger case in 1989.

Well, it looks as if the Toronto Police Services Board is going to launch an “independent civilian review” of the giant G20 clusterfuck. That should go well. No doubt it'll have the power to subpoena witnesses, compel production of documents, and cut through the layers of misinformation and bullshit that have characterized virtually everything we've heard from official channels.

That's one view, anyway. There's another view, one more likely experienced by the people who got kettled, rousted, tasered, beaten and locked up. From their perspective, the view looks more like this:
  • authoritarian bullies who know they're untouchable
  • brutality
  • lying
  • torture
  • beatings
  • sexism
  • homophobia
Even if the bogus charges of “breach of the peace” or “causing a disturbance” don't stand up in court, nothing changes the fact that hundreds of people were locked up in the Eastern Avenue gulag and treated with contempt, sadism and utter disregard for their fundamental rights. The message couldn't have been more clear: exercise your rights to free speech and free assembly, and this is what'll happen to you. Don't like it? You shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Here's some of what you can expect, apparently:

Sean Salvati says he was arrested, beaten and tortured before the summit even began, apparently because a couple of RCMP officers outside a baseball game took exception to his wishing them good luck. An excerpt from his account:

"The booking sergeant then immediately came from around the desk and grabbed me by the neck while officers 8830 & 8659 held me by the arms. I was dragged into an interrogation room with the door shut to be held by officer 8830 & 8659, while the booking sergeant began to beat me in the face, body and kick my legs. I was never asked to remove my clothing nor would I have objected if a strip search was what they were attempting to do - but my clothing was forcibly removed in way as to flip myself around like a rag doll on the concrete floor. The buttons of my shirt were ripped open. At this point I was completely naked and the beating continued. At no time did I resist or fight back, nor did they perform a search of my areas. I had defensive bruising to my foreams and many welts, burns from being dragged along concrete which I have documented with a physician and taken pictures of. The booking sergeant advised that he was going to rip out a nipple ring that I had (which was not returned to me) and made an attempt to pull it out, however, either officer 8830 or 8659 advised him not to. This was torture. It was removed in such a forceable way that it was swollen and painful for days following the assault. I did not resist and would have removed it myself if I was asked to. I was taken through the booking hallway completely naked in front of female officers and forced to sit in a holding cell for approximately 4 hours - completely naked."

Nathan Adler talks about being herded into the veal pens on Eastern Avenue after getting caught up in a snatch-and-grab operation near Novatel on the Esplanade. Forget, for a moment, about the presumption of innocence and the numerous problems inherent in mass indiscriminate arrests. One of the details that stands out, particularly, is his description of a claustrophobic prisoner having a panic attack and the reaction of one of the cops:

" ... the officer responded by taunting him and saying, “if you can’t handle it now wait until we get you into a cell, it’s going to be ten times worse”. "

(Gratuitous sadism. If nothing else, it's a pretty novel spin on “serve and protect.”)

Stephen (can't really blame him for not wanting to give his full name) earned this for little more, it seems, than natural curiosity and throwing the “rock on” gesture to a few music fans whose black clothing earned them the attention of police:

"In the blink of the eye my coffee had gone sailing through the air, and I felt the
unmistakable impact of a body tackling me to the ground. Realizing the state of affairs, and the likelihood that this was an officer of the law, I immediately went limp and declared out loud : “My identification is in my right hand pocket, I am complying, MY IDENTIFICATION IS IN MY RIGHT HAND POCKET, I AM COMPLYING”. My statement had gone completely ignored, and with face ground into the pavement, another officer proceeded to kick with vigor into the right side of my ribcage. Seconds later, my hands were cuffed behind my back, and I was pressed firmly against the brick wall that lined University Avenue.
“You cocksucker Black Bloc douchebags”, yelled an officer directly into my ear, “You think you are so fucking tough? How are you now without your faggot friends?”

"I was walking calmly off Queen’s Park lawn, with both hands in the air in peace signs when about five officers grabbed me, hit me repeatedly with batons and fists, threw me to the concrete, crushed knees into my cheek bone, back and thighs, dragged me on the pavement and put handcuffs on me.

"I was then transferred to officers who were not in riot gear, who demanded I tell them why I had come to trash their city and with which group I was with. When I responded that I wouldn’t answer any questions until I talked to a lawyer, they said that would only make it harder on myself and painfully tightened the handcuffs to cut off the circulation in my hands. When they were about 20 meters from the University Street intersection area, where I could see other individuals detained lying on the ground, one of the officers very forcefully squished the palm of my hand toward my forearm and squeezed painfully underneath my upper arm, making me double over in pain, while he screamed “Stop resisting arrest asshole! Stop resisting arrest!” repeatedly."

Sexism, homophobia, sadism, arbitrary and authoritarian behaviour, abuse of power.  Have I left anything out?  Nothing new here. All of these things have a common theme: cops with contempt for the people they're supposedly there to serve and protect, and knowing they're untouchable and will never be held accountable.

So where is it that cops get the idea that it's OK to do this? Is it a matter of organizational or occupational culture? Is it a question of personality traits already latent in people attracted to police work? All worthwhile questions, perhaps to be discussed in future postings.

Part of the answer may lie, though, in the class origins of the whole idea of “policing” -- essentially, acting as hired muscle for the elites, mainly to keep the lower classes in line. This is at the heart of a thoughtful argument by Jeff Shantz, ostensibly in reaction to Naomi Klein's call for the police to stop the PR and do their jobs. Shantz points out that the very term “police” comes from the Greek polis – city – and that

"...The institution was created to regulate the working classes and poor (the so-called dangerous classes) who were moving to cities after having been violently displaced from their communal lands (and who were rightly pissed about it and did not want jobs in the deadly factories). Look at the legislation that founded the first modern police forces in France and Germany. The royal edict of 1667 that founded the first modern police under Louis XIV in France stated clearly that the job of police was: “purging the city of what may cause disturbances, procuring abundance, and having each and every one live according to their station and duties.” Procuring abundance simply means ensuring the condition for economic exploitation. Having people live according to their station and duties is as clear an expression of maintaining class inequality as you can get.”

It's an important and troubling observation: the idea that maintaining the lower orders in their station is the very foundation of policing as we understand it. It's one that raises fundamental questions about the assumptions inherent in the expression “law and order.”

In any event, we saw during the G20 what happens when the mask comes off. All the niceties about civil society, all the smarmy talk from Bill Blair about community partnerships, was revealed for the insubstantial window dressing it is. The G20 demonstrated, quite clearly, that when the shit hits the fan, many cops have zero regard for the laws they're sworn to uphold or for the citizens they're sworn to serve and protect. All that goes down the toilet. This is all about power and showing us who's boss. And nothing speaks more eloquently to the quality of a person's character than the way he or she treats people with less power than him/herself. The examples cited above don't even scratch the surface.

What's been especially hard to stomach, subsequently, is the way they then turn around and ask for help from the public – the citizens whose rights they've been violating – in identifying “vandals.”

Once again, recall that thousands of cops, with a billion-dollar budget, with arbitrary arrest powers enabled under imaginary laws, couldn't protect a few vehicles or keep a handful of dickheads from smashing windows. They can't do that, but they're pretty good at beating the shit out of peaceful citizens exercising the rights guaranteed to them under the Charter.

If anything's been made clear, it's the relative weight of elite interests compared to our supposedly fundamental freedoms. No doubt a lot of people are going to think twice about taking to the streets again. And wouldn't that be convenient for Stephen Harper and his G20 paymasters. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Civic responsibility, again

Back to the Broadview parkette, just north of Danforth, this morning. This isn't the best we can do, is it?

Not hugely important in the overall scheme of things, I know, but still symptomatic. If this is the way we're going to treat public space, or allow public space to be treated, it impacts on our quality of life, in ways both obvious and subtle.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When public institutions fail us

Just finished listening to a ridiculously shallow and badly scripted interview by Robyn Brown on CBC Radio's Here and Now with Farrah Miranda (was in the car, so I may not have the names right, and I'll correct if necessary) from the Toronto Community Mobilization Network. TCMN is conducting its own investigation of the violence and brutality inflicted upon peaceful demonstrators by police during the recent G20 summit in Toronto. Not surprisingly, this grassroots initiative stems, in part, from a recognition that there isn't going to be any meaningful institutional response. No one is going to be held accountable by the Police Services Board, the city, the province, or Ottawa.

So what's Robyn Brown's approach to this, but to badger Ms. Miranda for signs of “balance?” It sounds to me like you've got your minds made up already, she said – are you going to talk to the police and get their side of the story?


Where to begin? How many things can you find wrong with this?

Well, let's start with intellectual laziness. That's very much in evidence in Ms. Brown's attempt to impose a facile “he said / she said” framework on the story. There aren't many stories that boil down to that. Framing it as “protesters say this, but police say that” makes it possible to ignore all kinds of complexities and shoehorn the story into a simple one-size-fits-all model. That may work for an eight-minute segment before you break for the news on the half-hour, and it may mean you can file your story without any conscious effort, but it doesn't do justice to the story or serve your listeners especially well.

And the suggestion that the Network organizers have their minds made up? Or that they ought to be talking to the police to get their side of the story? Let's see now. The Network is asking people to come forward with pictures, video and first-hand accounts of their treatment at the hands of police. In other words, anyone who was:
  • gassed
  • beaten
  • tasered
  • kicked
  • shot with plastic bullets
  • subjected to racial or ethnic profiling
  • “kettled” in the rain at Queen and Spadina
  • held without charge in the gulag on Eastern Avenue
  • threatened with gang rape
  • degraded by sexist and / or homophobic slurs, etc.
Associated with the CBC interview, I also heard one citizen describe how the bones in her finger had been shattered by a police baton. I also heard a doctor who was treating people for trauma, broken bones and concussion describe how police confronted her and confiscated her gauze, bandages and other medical supplies.

Just an observation, but I'd say those folks have already heard the police side of things quite clearly.

And it's not as if the traditional media outlets are going to devote any further air time or newsprint to these stories. They've got their images of broken windows and burning cop cars, and their interest in revising the narrative is pretty much non-existent. (Time to move on. Didn't Mel Gibson say something rude or something?)

If anything, the TCMN's initiative is just a further demonstration of the impotence of regular institutional responses – and of how traditional media outlets fail in their responsibilities. We already know that bodies such as the Police Services Board, not to mention all three levels of government, aren't even going to pretend to care about the citizens whose rights they're supposedly charged with safeguarding.

Citizenship and civic responsibility

I've been going on about the police and the G20 for some time. To the point, in fact, where my partner is starting to tease me about being a fanatic.

All of that concern about civil rights and fundamental freedoms needs to be framed in a larger context, and my choice for that framing is the notion of citizenship. There's a whole volume of conversations stemming from any effort to define citizenship and its attendant rights and responsibilities, but my intention here is mainly a statement of first principles.

I'm choosing to start from here because I think it's important to take back a large chunk of rhetorical and discursive turf from those who would characterize us strictly as "taxpayers." What a sad and limited view of our roles in civil society and our relationships with public institutions and with one another. I'll try to expand on the idea of citizenship in future posts, but I would argue that being a citizen means, at the very least, that you have obligations to your fellow citizens. Among those obligations are participation in the civic life of your community and a shared responsibility for the maintenance of public space.

Which brings me to the event prompting this post. The video above was shot with a pissy little cellphone camera, so the quality isn't great, but this is a little parkette on Broadview Avenue, just north of the TTC station. Sometimes I like to sit there with a coffee before getting on the subway. Until this morning, this parkette was a pleasant place to do that.

When public infrastructure is neglected, the result looks like this. Or worse. This isn't about the municipal budget and how much it allots to maintenance of parkettes. Nor is it meant as a nagging public-service announcement reminding people to clean up after themselves. What I am saying is that maintenance of public space is a shared responsibility -- a responsibility that lies with governments, and that is discharged by judicious allocation of the resources we provide through our taxes -- but also a responsibility that lies with us as citizens. And when that responsibility is ignored or sloughed off, the result is a decline in our collective quality of life.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How do we hold them accountable?

I've been thinking for a few days about police officers and the obvious, glaring inadequacy of mechanisms supposedly designed to hold them accountable. We may or may not get a public inquiry in the wake of the way citizens were abused during the G20 weekend, but it's pretty clear that nothing's going to change and no one's going to be charged, suspended or otherwise disciplined.

The police board isn't going to do anything. The municipal, provincial and / or federal governments? The courts? Not gonna happen. At best, we might get some sententious declaration, a few months from now, that mistakes were made.

Even a well-resourced public inquiry with the power to compel testimony and make findings of fact - the Braidwood inquiry in British Columbia, for example - can't do much more than decide that subject officers don't have any credibility. At least in that case, the four RCMP officers who tasered Robert Dziekanski to death were held up for the public scorn they deserve.

What we saw during the G20, however, goes much deeper. We've all seen the videos, of aggressive and violent police attacking, abusing and shoving peaceful citizens. We've all heard the stories about outrageous and appalling violations of civil and human rights. What I'm forced to wonder is: where do they get the idea that it's OK to abuse the people they're sworn to serve and protect like this?

There's no shortage of examples, of course, but I'm struck by the particular egregiousness of this one. This York Region cop - a fairly senior one, if the three shoulder bars mean anything - starts pushing around a guy at least a head shorter than himself (1:40) and says "this ain't Canada" (3:57). Take away the badge and the uniform and he's pretty much indistinguishable from your everyday asshole on steroids - note the aggression, the bullying, the clear contempt for the people he's dealing with - but what's particularly noteworthy for me is his obvious knowledge that no one's going to call him to account for this. He knows he's untouchable.

Since we can't count on an institutional response, however, it falls to the broader activist community (that's right, activists - there's nothing wrong with activism, and the idea isn't going to be demonized or marginalized by the manufactured corporate narrative) to find our own ways of holding guys like this accountable. And in this case, I think that's accomplished by the video: it holds him up to the light so that we can see him for what he is.

Also, you've got to admire the cojones on this guy:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

For some reason, this isn't going as smoothly as it should

So Toronto City Council has officially commended the Toronto Police for their "outstanding work" during the G20 summit. Is anyone really surprised?

As Chris Tindal argues, "I support the police" is Toronto's answer to "I support the troops." And, like the "support the troops" meme, the "support the police" banner is more than a simple declaration of political and civic sentiment. It's a strategy designed to reduce public participation and civic discourse to the level of bumper stickers and lapel buttons. It removes any need for reflection, for consideration of subtleties, for appreciation of nuance. In short, it removes the need for thought.

And more than that: it provides a quick and easy way to smear and demonize people who don't agree with you. Concerned about brutality and abuse and unconstitutional mass arrests? You must be soft on crime, you commie. Not only does it reduce a complex and constantly evolving social dynamic to a simplistic black/white question, it also provides a cheap and blunt rhetorical instrument for shutting down debate.

Fortunately, that strategy doesn't seem to be working as well these days. There's the story about John Pruyn, a 57-year-old guy with an artificial leg, and the way he was treated. Doesn't exactly fit the soft-on-crime storyline, does it. (Or the demonstrators-are-privileged-white-kids-crying-for-their-mommies-and-daddies narrative, for that matter.) You know that campaign's going nowhere when the story makes the National Post.

And then there's this story of Norman Perrin, a guy who was cited for bravery by the Toronto Police 20 years ago. He decided to return the citation in a signal of disapproval. Joe Fiorito tells the story of how he was received.

So, the violent-anarchists-trashed-our-city storyline isn't setting in quite as easily as the transmitters want.

UPDATE: However, as Jen Gerson points out, it isn't just about police tactics and civil liberties. The more the debate centres around that, the easier it is to lose sight of Stephen Harper's culpability in the decision to stage the damn thing here in the first place.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

This way to Authoritarian Avenue

(Photo by Jonas Naimark)

I've written at some length about the need to assert control over the way the story of the G20 summit is told. It's not going to be easy, given the institutional and political imperatives interested in spinning last weekend's events as a bunch of black-clad anarchist thugs trashing our peaceful city, yada yada yada. That doesn't make it any less important, however.

Just so we're clear: this isn't a story about a bunch of world leaders / political hacks / meat puppets for the corporate string-pullers getting together and agreeing on a whole bunch of things that'll make our lives a lot more painful. And it's not a story about a few morons breaking windows. And it's not a story about how thousands of riot cops couldn't protect a handful of cars, much as I'd like it to be about that.

No. This week's story has been about the corporate / state security apparatus using our fundamental freedoms for toilet paper. It's about people being locked up for hours without water, without being allowed to go to the bathroom, packed into cages like animals. It's about homophobic slurs and threats of sexual violence. It's about thuggish behaviour by people who know they can get away with it, because the mechanisms designed to ensure accountability are laughably weak.

Last Sunday evening, my partner and I rode our bikes eastward on Queen toward Spadina. We were held up at Queen and Cameron, about a block west of Spadina, by a wall of bike cops, backed up by a phalanx of more heavily armed officers from various police forces. We could see by looking eastward that the intersection of Queen and Spadina was completely cordoned off, so we pulled up and just watched. As we waited, we watched the facial expressions change on the cops confronting us; shoulders straightened, muscles tensed, batons brandished openly. The front line of bike cops started herding us westward, ordering us to move back, buzzing their bike buzzers and pushing us. We all complied, but you can only move as fast as the guy behind you, and that wasn't quick enough for the officers pushing us westward, and they began shoving us. I couldn't help but wonder whether they were doing it because they figured they could, that their uniforms amounted to a licence to push people around?

Theodor Adorno's description of the authoritarian personality may provide some insight, but ultimately it pales in comparison to some of the stories emerging from the weekend. As it happened, while we were being shoved westward along Queen, several heavy-duty unmarked vans pulled past us to discharge the heavily armed tactical squads, and that was our cue to get the hell out of there.

Lisan Jutras' account of being caught in the kettle is required reading for anyone who wants a first-hand account of what was going on at Queen and Spadina Sunday night, and despite being caught in the rain and not allowed to leave for hours, she was one of the lucky ones.

Tommy Taylor's account of his arrest and detention is mind-blowing. Hours without water or a chance to pee. Homophobic slurs. Abuse of disabled prisoners. At the conclusion he, like hundreds of other people, is released without being charged. It seems apparent that the police knew they'd have a hard time making charges stick, but in the meantime, hundreds of people were abused, threatened and deprived of the basic rights we normally associate with living in an open society. Got a problem with that? Go complain. There are avenues for that, Dalton McGuinty assures us.

And then there are the accounts of people who were actively beaten, threatened and abused. Lacy MacAuley was arrested outside the makeshift gulag on Eastern Avenue. Her story sounds like something from behind the Iron Curtain. Amy Miller talks about cops threatening to gang-rape her.

In a few weeks, or perhaps months even, there may be an inquiry. Findings will be announced. Wrists will be slapped. Tuts will be tutted. And eventually, if we're lucky, someone will decide that the police - Toronto, OPP, ISU, RCMP, York, Halton, Montreal, Sudbury, Barrie, and anyone else who was invited to the party - had absolutely no justification for treating people the way they did. Feel better now? If you want to complain, there are established channels. Uh huh. Good luck with that.

This needs to be hammered on, repeatedly, all the more so because the MSM are getting tired of it. There's an implicit assumption that our attention spans are, well, limited. Yeah, yeah, there were a lot of smashed windows and burning cars, and maybe the cops overreacted, but there were a lot of smashed windows, and - oh, look! Something shiny!

And that's the dynamic that the corporate / state security apparatus is counting on. The more distracted / cowed we are, the easier it is for them to keep doing this to us. Yes, it's inexcusable how people were treated, and it shouldn't have happened, but by the time these processes wind their way to the end, people will have forgotten. In the meantime, the association of protest and activism with all the negative connotations continues, and the mere act of stepping outside your door becomes risky, unless you're planning on doing anything more than being a good little consumer / producer.

So, part of the narrative that needs to emerge from this weekend is: let's just keep in mind how fragile our fundamental freedoms really are. It's become pretty clear that those charged with serving and protecting us, and those who control them, don't think they count for much.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Truth to power, and other battle lines

Not surprisingly, the battle to define the history of the last few days is in full swing. The whole point of the story we're being fed, by the institutions of state/corporate coercion and their PR transmitters in the corporate media, is to marginalize and demonize the very idea of activism and dissent.

Moreover, this shouldn't be reduced to a one-dimensional debate over where we land on the left / right spectrum. Fundamental freedoms and their assertion in the face of things like free trade, summits and continentalism are not intrinsically left or right, and part of our task in fighting for control of the narrative is resisting that kind of oversimplification.