Early on the morning of Sunday June 27th, police burst into the University of Toronto’s Graduate Student’s Union. There they arrested around seventy sleeping political activists, protesters, guests from out of town that the GSU had billeted for the weekend and allowed to crash on the floor of the gymnasium. They were seized and led away (some barefooted) to waiting buses for the trip to the freezing cold, perpetually illuminated cells of Torontonamo Bay – otherwise known as the Eastern Avenue detention center. Fast forward three and a half months to October 14th, and all charges of conspiracy and unlawful assembly have been dropped. In fact, of the roughly 1,100 people arrested over the course of the G20 weekend, charges have been dropped against all but 100 detainees as of this writing.
Two other glaring instances of detention and mass arrest occurred during the evenings of Saturday June 26th, outside of the Novotel building on the Esplanade, and Sunday June 27th at Queen and Spadina. In the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s preliminary report on the summit, the authors write “it appeared that after 5pm on Saturday, the constitutional protection against arbitrary detention and unreasonable searches had effectively been suspended across downtown Toronto.”
During Police Chief Bill Blair’s interview on TVO’s flagship current affairs show The Agenda, host Steve Paikin asked him to account for these police actions given the peaceful nature of the protests that were underway. He responded (referring to the Novotel arrests), that it was up to police officers on the scene to decide if there was a “reasonable apprehension” that people in the crowd were “determined to engage in criminal acts” and that the crowd was then asked to leave:
“…unfortunately, a lot of people came down to – either to witness what was happening or to get in on the action and became part of the problem. It made it very difficult to manage that other group that came to commit criminal acts. And so unfortunately when, in order to prevent those breaches of the peace or to prevent those criminal acts you have to ask those people to disperse or when they don’t – whether it is intentionally complicit or simply negligently, and involved in presence there it made it very difficult for us to prevent those breaches of the peace and I know a lot of people who did not come to commit crimes but were facilitating the potential of that breach of the peace … by providing cover in a crowd.” (emphasis mine)
Seriously. Watch the interview – the quote’s at 15:14 in.
Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with this account. Preemptive arrests of protesters or people leaving restaurants in the area or even those attempting to access their hotel rooms, when premised on the vague potential criminality that Chief Blair makes reference to, is of course wildly unconstitutional. But even more disturbing is the fact that numerous reports from the scene filed by human rights observers and others [report page 16-17 ] indicates that any warning to leave the area came only after all avenues of egress had already been blocked by riot police, directly contradicting Blair’s account as well as his implication that protesters and passerby were unresponsive, uncooperative, or complicit.
This week, the House of Commons Public Safety Committee held hearings to investigate the security response at the G8/G20 summits. Part of an ad-hoc patchwork of narrowly scoped inquiries that sprang up in the wake of the summit, this particular Committee heard from witnesses on the astronomical cost of G8/G20 policing as well as the now familiar and harrowing accounts of the use of force and imprisonment. Much of the effort exerted in the attempt to understand how and why our police acted the way they did could have been spared, however, were the committee to simply search online for the phrase “the Miami Model”. Because as it turns out, this is standard operating procedure drawn from a common playbook.
The Miami Model – Militarizing Civilian Police
As Star columnist Catherine Porter points out, the tactics used in Toronto have been in development for years and are supported by the US Department of Homeland Security, the sister organization of our own Ministry of Public Safety. These governmental bodies were both created in the wake of 9/11 and share more than an affinity for Orwellian naming conventions – they’re both active in integrating elements of the police, the military, and other security forces to form multi-level paramilitary organizations. For the G8/G20, operations were run out of secretive integrated command centres (Toronto’s INSET and Barrie’s Joint Intelligence Group) reminiscent of the federally funded ‘police fusion centres’ springing up to fuse the police and military intelligence throughout American cities. There is little that is new here – many of the tactics deployed in Toronto were first widely noted at the Miami FTAA summit in 2003 (read one account of that fracas here) and have become so well defined that a forty-point checklist has been developed identifying the practices involved. Play along at home and see if any of these highlights sound familiar (click each item to reveal its local implementation):
- Establishment of joint, unified, multi-agency command/control network
- Mass purchase of surveillance equipment, riot gear and other supplies
- Mass detention facilities identified and prepped for use
- Public training drills and mass show of force
- Sporadic harassment, detention and arrest of demonstrators traveling in area
- Information warfare: display of confiscated “weapons” prove malintent
- Precipitous violent event coordinated with major news cycle
- Illegal mass detentions and arrest
Incidentally, the same well-polished narrative was employed last year at the Pittsburgh G20. In a scene eerily reminiscent of the crackdown in the ‘Designated Protest Zone’ at Queen’s Park in Toronto, police riot units indiscriminately cut through groups of peaceful protesters and onlookers alike at Schenley Park wielding batons, rubber bullets, and sound cannons. The legal director of the ACLU’s Pennsylvania chapter told the Associated Press in the aftermath that “The deployment of police seems to be more geared towards suppressing lawful demonstrations than actually preventing crime.” (Emphasis mine)
It’s difficult to disagree with this analysis, given the checquered history of the ‘Miami Method’. That is to say, it fits the available evidence better than the official explanation when, time and again, the paramilitary tactics employed result in the public and peaceful protesters taking the brunt of police violence and abuse even as masked cadres already well infiltrated by police are given free reign to break store windows and run wild for news cameras. By any definition of legitimate police activity, this should be regarded as a failure rather than any kind of measured response.
Einstein’s popular (if facetious) definition of insanity entails doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Applied to the Miami Model, there’s either a serious case of institutional insanity at work here, leading police in summit cities to imagine that tactics contravening established constitutional rights and the rule of law will work this time around – or there’s a method to this madness.
To Serve and Protect?
Looking back on a weekend many in Toronto would as soon forget, one of the clearest concerns to emerge is the lack of clarity in regards to public accountability by local and federal police forces. At the Parliamentary Committee on Oct 25, Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, was asked a simple question by Vancouver MP Don Davies “Who was responsible for the decision to arrest some 900 innocent Canadians?” In response, the Honourable Vic Toews suggested that it would constitute political interference to make a determination on the guilt or innocence of the arrestees and that Mr. Davies should ask all the police departments involved whether there was inappropriate conduct by any of the officers involved.
Huh? An interesting response, considering the question was not a request for a ministerial judgement call on the decision – the question Toews chose to answer. It would appear that he dodged the real crux of the matter here – who was in charge? Even the terms of reference of the ‘Independent Civilian Review’ crafted for the Toronto Police Services Board explicitly acknowledges that this is an area of concern. Clause 1(c) in defining the inquiry’s subject matter calls for “A review of the role played by the Toronto Police Services Board in the command structure for the policing of the G20, including whether the fact that a number of other police agencies and security agencies were involved with the Toronto Police Service impacted on the Toronto Police Service delivery of police services or created complications in the command structure during the G20.” (emphasis added)
The men and women involved in police operations understand hierarchy and clear chains of command. They’re absolutely vital to the functioning of any centralized organization. Obfuscation of this reporting structure implies either the breakdown of public accountability by the formation of independent cells (a gambit we might expect of paramilitaries rather than peace officers) or a deliberate shell game orchestrated at the highest levels of the service. Neither possibility bodes well for a parliamentary democracy.
Ultimately, whatever rationalizations are offered, the Miami Model serves as a de facto conditioning and training exercise for police in those cities visited by global summits. Front line officers are conditioned to attack dissenting citizens. Those on the sidelines are conditioned to view our peace officers as enforcers and propagandized to view dissent as facilitating criminal activity. Weapons and surveillance equipment are purchased and stockpiled for an uncertain future.
In a healthy political ecosystem, police are supposed to act like white blood cells – targeting invaders and mediating the immune response of a society regulated by law. Our peace officers are supposed to be our white knights; their motto is To Serve and Protect, and this is why we respect them so dearly. This is also why it’s so disturbing and traumatic to the culture of a city when this expectation is undermined by the sight of rioting police, the equivalent of an autoimmune response, a disease that occurs when the body politic’s defensive systems are turned against those it was intended to protect.
Unfortunately, this disease is spreading. As the FBI amps up raids against anti-war activists in Minneapolis this past September, actions one former US Treasury policy chief equates with the witch hunt against Vietnam protesters and the ‘Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy’ or TAVIS team demands Toronto citizens produce identification during patrols in less well-heeled areas of this city, it’s becoming clear that there is a shift underway that affects policing long after the steel fences have come down.
To understand why this is happening, we need to go inside that fence. While the cameras of the world’s media focused on the streets of Toronto, on violent ‘anarchists’, on (to a lesser degree) the various demands made of the G20 by civil society groups, few stopped to question the legitimacy of the forum itself. What is this group of central bankers and national heads of state? What legitimacy can this forum claim when the citizens of this country were never consulted on Canada’s participation in a council Paul Martin and Larry Summers literally sketched out on the back of an envelope? As posh global summits like the G8/G20, Davos, WEF etc. proliferate along with their attendant promises to cure the ongoing economic crisis – promises typically benefiting those same institutions implicated in precipitating the crisis – more and more people are beginning to ask who the new militarized police cadres are really protecting. What is it that’s really going on behind the wall?