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

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

Soul-swapping cities?

Here in the Twilight Zone, it seems that Calgary has elected a young, Muslim, centre-left, Facebook-savvy immigrant’s son as its new mayor, while Toronto leans heavily towards electing a right-wing, red-faced, “crass, hot-tempered straight-talker” pulpit-bully for its mayor. As Marvin Gaye once asked through the medium of song: What’s goin’ on?

Who frankly knows, but I’ve got a couple of thoughts. One concerns demographics. Calgary’s decade-old boom has meant a burgeoning metamorphosis, and a flooding of new labour from small-l liberal regions including the west coast and Ontario. The idea that sustained and significant growth in Calgary’s population would mean a growth in the number of conservative voters was always based in a premise that there’s something in Calgary’s water that makes people fall into the right-wing. But no, Calgary’s new arrivals seem to be capable of retaining their very “non-Albertan” approach to politics, and it’s evidenced in part by Naheed Nenshi’s victory.

Similarly, I suppose suburban T-Dot is inhabited by a goodly number of cautious middle-agers who have drifted lazily into conservatism, lockstep with their rising insecurity over mortgages.

My other thought is that this is not a picture of right-wing or left-wing trends in either city, but a shared anti-incumbency in both. Disestablishmentarianism isn’t just a fun word to say – it’s an anarchic condition that can rise up from the doldrums at scarcely a moment’s notice. To advantage from disestablishmentarianist (fun!) mood, all you really need is bang-on charisma and an exceptionally well-run campaign – the left vs right elements of the campaign become less important than the watertight message for “change.”

Surely someone out there is going to describe Nenshi’s Calgary win as an “Obama-esque” triumph, which is, I suppose, fair enough. Thing is, while it makes me get a bit sick in my mouth just to think it, perhaps Toronto’s affection for Rob Ford is also Obama-esque in its way.

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

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?


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, , , , , , ,


May 2020

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