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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.

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