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Despite a $1 billion security budget and some 19,000 security personnel during the Toronto G20 Summit, police appeared incompetent and confused as militants inflicted extensive property damage and torched 4 police cars. While the protests failed to breach the 6km security fencing, the attacks were a significant victory for the resistance, which had vowed to 'humiliate' the security apparatus in the weeks prior to the summit.
Toronto Police chief Bill Blair attempted to rationalize police inaction during the Black Bloc attacks by claiming they sought to distract police and lure them away from the fence. The police's main priority, according to Blair, was to protect the G20 Summit. Mission accomplished.
Yet, just two weeks prior, he had stated that “his biggest fear was that radicals would destroy property by 'breaking windows, burning cars, overturning street furniture'” (quoted in “Security or Liberty,” by Marcus Gee and Colin Freeze, Globe and Mail, June 28, 2010).
At the same time, a CBC News headline reported that “Black Bloc expected to test G20 security” (Monday, June 14, 2010). Police, therefore, cannot claim to have been ignorant of what was coming. While some are portraying the police inaction as part of a larger conspiracy, discussed below, it appears that the police were unprepared for the level of militant resistance on the streets and may have even believed it had been dampened through fear-mongering, massive police deployment, the raids and arrests earlier in the day of 'ringleaders', and overall intimidation of protesters.
Police inaction in the face of the Black Bloc was portrayed as an example of “remarkable restraint and professionalism,” according to Michele Paradis of the Integrated Security Unit. But others were left wondering:
“Thousands of cops were brought in from around the country, a new law was secretly enacted to give police more power, millions spent on security... but still a committed group of protesters made Toronto burn. So what happened?”
(“The Burning Question,” Michelle Shephard, Toronto Star, June 27, 2010)
The 'burning question' of why police failed to respond more aggressively to the Black Bloc quickly gave rise to conspiracy theories that they “allowed it to happen.” This is a common response from conspiracy theorists and liberals and has a number of contributing factors.
On the one hand, there is a deeply-rooted cynicism and distrust of government that sees sinister motivations behind any major disturbance or event (the 'Reichstag syndrome'). This attitude itself has a subversive tendency, but it also leads to a distorted view of the powers of the ruling class.
The idea that police allowed the destruction to occur also arises from a belief in the all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful state. This view corresponds to conspiracy theories that the world is ruled by a secret elite that manipulate all major events, including social disorder, as a means of imposing ever-greater state control and repression. It is ultimately defeatist, as by this logic, resistance falls into the orbit of 'state manipulation.'
Liberal reformists do not believe that the state can be fought through militancy. For this group, conciliation, negotiation, and adherence to strictly legal measures are the only way to succeed. When militants carry out an effective attack, especially against such a massive security operation, it shatters this defeatist premise upon which reformism is based. The liberal response to such attacks is that they must be part of a 'greater conspiracy,' a reaction based on pure speculation with no regard for the facts. In the long term, it will only make them look like the fools that they are.
The idea that police allowed the destruction to occur unopposed also includes allegations that police planted derelict vehicles to be torched, and that some of the arson attacks were carried out by undercover pigs within the Black Bloc.
Globalresearch.ca, a website known for circulating conspiracy theories, posted photos of members of the Black Bloc and focused on their footwear as 'evidence' they were undercover cops. This weak attempt to duplicate the incident at Montebello in 2007, when undercover SQ pigs were identified posing as masked militants, who were then 'arrested' by riot cops as a means of removing them from the hostile crowd. A key piece of evidence was that they wore the exact same boots as the riot cops, and the SQ later admitted they were indeed undercover cops.
From this, globalresearch.ca attempted to show that the same technique was used in the G20 Black Bloc, focusing on militants' shoes. In one case, they showed a pair of walking shoes with an outdoor tread and claimed they were military issue combat boots, although they weren't even boots. In another, they showed a person wearing runners and claimed they were the same as boots worn by riot cops. They also showed a mismatched pair of black and white socks worn by one person, speculating this was a 'code' for cops to identify the undercover agent. All of these allegations are easily debunked, and seem to be constructed by coming to a conclusion and then forcing the facts to fit the outcome.
The abandoned and subsequently arsoned police vehicles were fuel for perhaps the most popular of the conspiracy theories. According to this line of thought, they had been purposefully left behind to be smashed and burnt (thereby somehow 'justifying' the massive security operation). Yet, while it may be shocking news to reformists and other armchair theorists, it is not unprecedented that pigs abandon their vehicles and run for their lives in the face of determined resistance. This occurred during the initial police raid at Oka in 1990, and again at Quebec City in 2001 (where I saw police vans abandoned, full of riot shields, shotguns, munitions, etc., which were in the process of being looted until more vans of riot cops arrived to secure it).
The first police cars abandoned had been following the People First Parade on June 26 and were trapped when the break-away contingent reversed direction, storming east on Queen St. One officer, a Staff Sergeant, was trapped inside his vehicle and only rescued when a group of officers ran to protect him (documented by, among others, subMedia.tv).
The second pair of cop cars attacked was at King and Bay Streets, again overwhelmed by a rapidly moving mob that caught them by surprise. The pigs inside these vehicles ran for their lives.
In both cases of arsoned pig cars, munitions inside the vehicles could be seen exploding. If police had orchestrated the destruction of police cars, they surely wouldn't have left munitions that could be taken by militants who were already armed with Molotov cocktails and other weapons. These were not pre-planned actions and could not have been, given the chaotic, fluid, and rapidly changing situation on the streets.
The idea that police 'allowed' the destruction to occur also fails to account for what gains the police would make by doing so. Some assert that the $1 billion security needed to be justified, and by allowing militants to rampage through the downtown core this could be done. Sort of like, “See all the destruction? That's why we needed $1 billion!”
However, the most common response was not a case of “I told you so,” but instead sharp questions about police incompetence: With some 5,500 riot cops in the downtown area, a billion dollar security budget, etc., why couldn't police stop the Black Bloc? By 'allowing' the attacks to occur in the context of the largest security opertation in Canadian history, the police only appeared as incompetent, if not cowardly.
A Toronto Sun columnist claims to have spoken to frontline pigs deployed during the June 26 protests. They described a situation of utter confusion and signs of fear among police commanders about attacking the Black Bloc:
"The orders went from engage to, no, don't engage, to engage to, no, don't engage,' " said an officer. "It was an absolute shambles. Everyone was talking over each other on the radio. Nobody seemed to know what to do. It was just a mess."
“The officer said that eventually there was "a clear order from the command centre saying 'Do not engage' " and, at that point, smelling weakness and no repercussions, the downtown was effectively turned over to the vandals while police, up to 19,000 strong, were ordered to stay out of it.
(“Warmington: Cops had hands 'cuffed,” by Joe Warmington, Toronto Sun, June 30, 2010)
It may very well be that police intelligence, based largely on the 2001 Quebec City riots, expected the security fence to be the primary target. Two weeks before June 26, CBC News had reported that “The No. 1 target of the Black Bloc in Toronto is expected to be the tall mesh security fence surrounding the centre where the G20 leaders will meet” (“Black Bloc expected to test G20 security,” CBC News, Monday, June 14, 2010).
This report was probably based on interviews with police and reflected not only their main concern (security for the Summit), but also wishful thinking (the militants will only attack the fence). Much of the mobilizing propaganda was also focused on the fence, with graphics and slogans referring to tearing it down. Police may also have felt that their efforts at intimidation, raids and arrests, had seriously eroded the capability of a Black Bloc to carry out any actions on June 26. In this regard, they would have seriously underestimated the resistance.
There are also reports that police had significant problems with communications. Toronto police had received a new communication system prior to the G20. They would also have had problems coordinating the actions of multiple police agencies from across the country, including many cops unfamiliar with the downtown streets.
The ability of the bloc to move quickly enabled it to outmaneuver the riot cops, who were hampered by a slow response time. Wearing up to 80-90 pounds of gear, they could not move fast enough over any distance. Just to get to an area required moving chartered buses or convoys of mini-vans through city streets (not an easy task even under normal traffic conditions).
I observed one convoy of vans, for example, moving to stop the protest that was eventually mass-arrested on Saturday night (at the Novotel Hotel). After the protest had passed south down Yonge St., the convoy rolled up and stopped at an intersection. A pig got out of the lead vehicle and began walking back, telling others he had extra batteries for their radios. Pigs got out of the vehicles and made last-minute adjustments of their gear, then got back in. The whole process took some 5-10 minutes. Overall, they were just too big and cumbersome to move quickly enough, especially against the elusive Black Bloc.
Days prior to the June 26 action, a local Toronto activist told me that Toronto police had lots of experience in crowd control. Aside from the militant actions of ARA and OCAP in the late 1990s, however, most crowd control situations in Toronto have simply been for large public events such as baseball or hockey games, parades and festivals, etc. It can hardly be said that they have much experience in facing off against militant street fighters (as is the case with Montreal pigs). This lack of experience would be another contributing factor to the poor performance by Toronto pigs (who had overall control of security outside the fence).
If police had simply swallowed their pig pride, they would have used restraint following the Black Bloc attacks in order to keep attention focused on the 'violent vandals.' Instead, unable to capture the black-masked militants, impotent with rage, and with orders to re-establish control of the streets, they launched a counter-offensive against peaceful protesters and citizens, thereby creating an even bigger problem. In fact, the police's heavy-handed response to the vandalism helped minimize criticism of the militant attacks and focused attention back to the police state:
“On Saturday, as images of torched police cruisers and masked vandals left a public embarassed by the world's view of Toronto, much of the criticism was directed at violent protesters.
“But by late Sunday, with a reported 604 people arrested, tear gas used on Toronto streets for the first time and demonstrators stung by rubber bullets, the focus had turned to the police.”
(“Police tactics: Too tough or too soft?” Robyn Doolittle and Michelle Shephard, Toronto Star, June 28, 2010)
One can see the same dilemna affecting Western military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan; unable to identify and directly attack insurgents, soldiers vent their frustration and anger on the civilian population. Although they know that the insurgents find cover among the people, their repressive actions attempting to seperate the people from the insurgency only draw more people into the ranks of the insurgents.
Now the pigs are screwed either way. The enormous security budget and the imposition of the security zone had already drawn widespread criticism. Now people are asking why, with a $1 billion budget and some 19,000 security personnel, could they not stop the Black Bloc? Why were police so slow to respond, and only attack peaceful protesters and citizens when they did? Not only do they appear incompetent and cowardly, they also emerge as brutal and vindictive (all true).
In summary, there is no evidence that police voluntarily 'allowed' the Black Bloc to carry out attacks as justification for the massive security operation, even if authorities attempt to spin it this way (as they do with any militant attack or disruption, part of the cycle of resistance-repression).
More than anything else, the inability or unwillingness to control the militants shows the state to be vulnerable and weak, while the brutality unleashed on peaceful protesters and citizens has further alienated police from the public. Both are dangerous trends for state authority; on the one hand it encourages and emboldens the resistance, while on the other it deepens public cynicism and hostility towards the state itself.
Note: this is a revised excerpt from Fire and Flames: A Militant Report on the Toronto Anti-G20 Resistance