By Daniel Tseghay
It was about noon on Saturday (June 26) in Toronto when I made my way southward on Yonge Street from Bloor Street. I hoped to reach the security fence, behind which 20 world leaders would be meeting to solve the globe’s most intractable problems. This, at least, was their stated intention.
The very existence of the G8 and G20 summits is a problem to many. Something like $1.2-billion was spent on security alone for the pair of meetings. To put that in perspective, Canada pledged $1.1 billion over five years toward maternal and child health care in the global south. I don’t need to point out the absurdity that Stephen Harper considers the lives of countless women and children who suffer from malnutrition and higher rates of preventable diseases than they deserve as being worth about the same as the solitude of weekend visitors.
It’s perfectly clear to many of us that these summits are anachronistic. Such a small body of people with the power to make such profound and long-reaching decisions is undemocratic and ineffective. The complexity of the issues we face—and the issues the summits ostensibly dealt with, from poverty and the global economic crisis to climate change and international conflict—calls for a more inclusive approach. We need to begin hearing the voices of far more people than the leaders of the very countries that have led us astray in the first place.
Hence the protests. The first few blocks south of Yonge and Bloor looked like they would on any other day. Shops were open and people were walking by casually.
At College Street, though, the setting shifted dramatically. The sidewalks had overflowed with people and they filled the roads. A Foot Locker had its windows broken and so did a Starbucks. Around King Street, columns of police officers in riot gear filed out of vans to block the way of largely peaceful protesters, broken windows or not.
At various spots in the city, the police employed what we collectively considered unnecessary force and intimidation. We were chased by officers in riot gear and officers mounted on horses. I saw one officer in riot gear push an old man, yelling “Get out of the way!” I saw another, mounted on his horse, stampede a couple in their 40s. Hundreds of peaceful contrarians were unexpectedly encircled and arrested. Arrested but not charged for the most part, which should tell us everything we need to know. What was all this for?
What did the summits actually accomplish? The $1.1 billion Harper put toward maternal and child health care will be, reports point out, diverted from other aid programs. This is indicative of what all these international meetings are about.
We are getting the sinking impression that our so-called leaders are about nothing but appearances, about finding new and creative ways to hold on to power and lead us to believe they’re doing something to make this world a better place. And when we call them out on it, when we question their plans and ask if we can be included in the discussion, they resort to using the most heavy-handed of tactics to keep us away and keep us quiet. How noble is their cause and how legitimate is their leadership if this is their response?
Daniel Tseghay is a Toronto-based journalist.