Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Some summit perspective

G8 times are here again! And France gets its day in the sun as host, which clearly heralds the ascent of a new French Order in Europe and the world. It will inevitably send their newspapers and TV chat hosts into a month-long tizzy of neurotic self-congratulation and overblown patriotism. Nicolas Sarkozy will almost certainly cite this as evidence that France has matured into a really, really respected power – respected, and loved, and more than capable of organising big dinner parties. Right? Right??

Or is that kind of parochial identity anguish a particularly Canadian phenomenon? Sigh.

We remember it well. Last year, the Canadian media universe (i.e. the Globe and Mail), and the Harper Government together, each treated our hosting of the G8 as though it was the victory in a highly competitive popularity contest. It was the culmination of years of leadership on the world stage. That ill-founded conceit was hyped not only directly from the PMO, but also in copy-and-paste form in the columns of that critical eye, that investigative journalistic powerhouse, Jane Taber. Canada had suddenly become a strong, bold, respected international player, because, well, it was our turn to host a big dinner party. One which happens every year, somewhere in the world.

Harper is still talking about it as though it’s some kind of lasting evidence of his global leadership. Let’s compare world leaders on this – does anyone think Nicolas Sarkozy (and Le Monde) are so insecure about France’s accomplishments in the world that they’ll weep tears of joy this week because they’re in the international news? Equally, will the world look to France as being somehow “bolder” because they’re hosting the thing?

If the answer is “no” there, then sadly, it was always “no” here too.

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Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , ,

What can you protect for two billion bucks?

$2 billion. It’s a familiar figure to anyone who was aware, and critical, of the G8/G20 summit security costs in Toronto.

Now, an equivalent mound of moola is considered more than adequate, and indeed excessive, regarding the entire security bill for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The Russian authorities haven’t revealed how much they are spending on Olympic security: the figure is a state secret.

Some reports in the Russia media have suggested the total cost will be around $2bn, although Vice Premier Dmitry Kozak says that figure is inflated.

So, the Russians consider $2 billion “inflated” when talking about securing, for two full weeks, the world’s largest multisport cavalcade, right on the Abkhazian border, in the heart of the restive Caucasus. Whilst, last year, Ottawa considered $2 billion a reasonable cost for a three-day summit on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Which is worse: that Canada is more afraid of its university students than Russia is of its Chechen suicide bombers? Or that Team Harper considers itself a sober steward of our precious tax dollars? I’m awash in a swirling double-helix of nausea.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , ,

Another bullet in the foot

It’s been a while since I’ve put together a political cartoon. But, as a picture’s worth a thousand words, and I think I’ve already done a thousand words on the Conservatives’ current woes and trip ups, I thought I’d draw you all a picture as a bit of a diversion.

This is sort of an end-of-summer tableau, I guess. Couldn’t fit Stockwell Day in here, but maybe next time!

Everything's under control

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Living above the law

It’s a horrible irony. On the fifth anniversary of this, the police also decide to announce this.

On 22 July 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by police fairly deliberately, with seven gun shots to his head, while sitting on a Victoria Line train at Stockwell tube station. The rationale to shoot him dead, without knowing his name or his business, was little more complex than assuming that his olive complexion and black hair (in a neighbourhood full of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants) were suspiciously Al-Qaedesque. Menezes had done nothing whatsoever to raise suspicions that he was a terrorist threat – this was bad police information, bad police protocol, and an “anything goes” police policy in place that summer after the London bombings.

During London’s G20 meeting in 2009, Ian Tomlinson was also killed, though less deliberately, by police securing the summit. A newspaper salesman in the Bank area of the city, he was walking away from his kiosk after a shift -and walking away from riot police who were on guard. Perhaps the police suspected he was an anti-freedom, Gap-window-smashing anarchist, as everyone on the street was that day. Rather than ask him, police beat and kicked him to the ground and terrorised him with snarling dogs. Within half an hour, he had a heart attack and died.

No officer at any level was held accountable for the death of Menezes, and today it’s announced that no officer will be held responsible for the death of Tomlinson.

Physical assault and murder, whether premeditated or as tragic mistakes, are against the law and are punishable by anything up to life imprisonment. If I’d been assaulted or murdered on my street or in the tube, it would be a small comfort to think the machinery of our justice system would take its natural course – especially if the evidence of the attack is in place. Evidence such as video, and a clear identification of the perpetrator.

Apparently not. Whether in the UK, or in Canada, we have this crystallising pattern of juiced-up riot police forces, acting far outside the boundaries of reasonable force, assaulting complete innocents and not seeing any judicial reprimand after the fact.

It’s in the interests, not only of our hard-won civil liberties, but of the police forces themselves to: deal with their bad eggs properly, to submit to independent inquiry when adrenalised riot-protocol leads to such tragedies, and to go out of their way to correct instances of wrongful detention, assault, or murder. Anything less gives the real impression of an institutional culture of aggression and disrespect for the very law they defend.

Filed under: International, Politics, UK, , , , , ,

Spot the good guys

I made a brief comment on Warren Kinsella’s blog today, which I’m basically just reposting here. The discussion concerns another example of an over-zealous, juiced-up, smack-em-down summit security mentality during the G20 in T-Dot over the weekend.

Since when is it good practice to do this?

There are calls from some quarters, including Kinsella’s, for a formal investigation into police behaviour (brutality?) during this summit. I’m all for it. With a security price tag of nearly CDN $1 billion, I suppose the forces felt they had the resources and the political go-ahead to make over 900 arrests and beat down all sorts of potential hippies in between. No real foresight that the twitterati and the camera phone bystanders would be more than happy to let us know about it – who would have thunk such organised thuggery would offend the public? Isn’t it students wots the enemy?

An investigation is important for a few reasons. It helps establish a precedent of accountability for security policy. It might (if it does its job) identify a particularly over-zealous protocol and particular members issuing orders or actively encouraging overly aggressive behaviour. Those protocols and members can then be admonished, punished, and draconian special police powers can be held up and debated in full public view. From there, there’s every chance the force in general could appear “cleansed.”

No investigation, blame-passing, and attempts to diminish public grievance against this assault against the right to free assembly, just means everyone is left with the taste in their mouth that the police generally enjoy too much power and they don’t respect the law they defend.

Summit security has a stained history as is. The “Fake Black Bloc” agent provocateur at Montebello, the London police at last year’s G20 who removed their ID numbers from their jackets before assaulting complete innocents are examples. Genoa 2001 is another (literally fatal) example.

This only adds to memories of Jean Charles de Menezes and shoot-to-kill policies in times of perceived duress. Such images accumulate in the public mind, piling up into a residue of negativity and faithlessness in police and politics. It’s not just the atrocious behaviour of thugs with batons, it’s something that I think contributes to a general public malaise and mistrust of public institutions overall. Our lawmakers are implicated, our leaders, our community officers – everyone appears conspiratorially intertwined when such brutality is endorsed, forgiven, and forgotten by public officials.

In democracies, quaintly perhaps, there are civil liberties that are held aloft by leaders as the great treasures of our civilisation – treasures so precious that they can single-handedly be used as adequate justification of war policies against badly-behaved regimes worldwide.

Okee-doke. So, then, our own police forces need to be transparent and self-critical. They need to be able to hold up tangible examples of how they’ve protected demonstrators’ right to free assembly as well as how they’ve protected the summiteers’ right to security. It shouldn’t be so hard for “law and order” to win our undivided support, should it?

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AN ADDENDUM – here’s Mike Watkins’ post today on the storm-troopering of Canadian liberty this weekend.

He considers the view of new Canadians who’ve experienced life without freedom of assembly or expression in their countries of origin. Lest we forget that we’re supposed to be defending the same – eh?

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , , ,

G-Force?

And so, under the breezy glades of Lake Muskoka, amongst the gentle cooing of Ontarian loons, the G8 gave way to a super-powered, ultra-inclusive, supra-national cocktail club: the G20!

Much of the Globe’s editorial team are impressed and amazed at Stephen Harper‘s ability to chair the meeting, be included in the leaders’ photograph, and apparently forge broad consensus where once there was none.

I can’t help but view their adulation as a very Canadian response to any occasion in which the world appears to pay attention to us – a giddiness that betrays cringe-worthy insecurities about the weight we actually pull in global affairs. The idea that Europe, China, and America were “shepherded” to anything other than the dining hall by our travel-shy PM beggars belief.

But a triumphalist media aside, the main question here is: now that the G20 has effectively replaced the older, smaller eight-member club, is it time to applaud a decentralisation of power to the developing world? I greet that proposition with a giant “umm.”

It might be true, if only such international bodies themselves had power to assign. We already have a UN General Assembly, and we’ve had in years past a G77 and a Non-Aligned Movement. We have regional international organisations in all parts of the world, often with overlapping memberships. There remains endless potential for nation-states to join ever-more extra-curricular clubs and sip from ever-more champagne flutes.

We shouldn’t diminish the importance of diplomatic summitry – of course leaders do need to have tête-à-têtes, build relationships, sell ideas and maybe buy some too. But the G8/G20 is emphatically not a place where binding commitments are made, where past promises are scrutinised for achievement, or where any country transfers decision making power away from itself and towards a “higher power.” Enforcement mechanisms on promises such as Commission for Africa pledges, Kyoto pledges, MDG pledges and the rest could give teeth to summit communiqués, but of course, if summit communiqués had teeth, it’s unlikely nations would ever write them…

To wish such for truly global oversight is, of course, naivety in the extreme – but no less naive than hosting a summit that costs $1 billion, that turns the host city into a fortress stripped its civil liberties, under the belief that this time, under this programme and in this format, we’ll have a world-changing experience.

What G8 meeting ever reviewed its development commitments, as made in Kananaskis in 2002 or in Gleneagles in 2005? What became of the funds pledged through the Commission for Africa (although in mid-2010, the Commission has temporarily re-formed to evaluate precisely what’s been seen through and what’s fallen through the cracks)? If no one is monitoring the promises states are making, then what effect does simply reformatting and expanding the meeting group have to do with empowering it?

Following through on the promises of yesterday would be much more effective, and inspirational, than a new list of good intentions. Maybe at the Korea summit later this year, the soju will inspire creative thinking.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, ,

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