Any self-respecting Torontonian knows three simple truths: 1) that he or she lives in the Centre of the Universe; 2) that the rest of Canada is merely jealous; and 3) that we’re closely becoming as hip and dirty (especially after 2009’s garbage strike) as our meaner American counterpart New York City.
But 2010 was not a good year for our fair and growing metropolis. In fact, and allow me to be frank, it kind of sucked. We failed the city and the city failed us. The establishment showed an unprecedented display of violent policing during the G20 Summit earlier this summer, and the citizens displayed a disheartening lack of presence of mind when they elected Rob Ford in October.
Even Mother Nature lost her grip: Toronto streets were rocked in June by what our capital declared to be the most powerful earthquake to hit central Canada in 65 years. This came literally days after Toronto’s other success story of the year, the 2010 G20 Summit.
The Summit, a regular meeting place for world leaders, finance ministers, and bankers, claims that its goal is “to broaden the dialogue on key economic and financial policy issues among systemically significant economies and to promote cooperation to achieve stable and sustainable world growth that benefits all” – at least according to the Statement of G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors.
Translation? To talk about money and how to get more of it. Systemically significant economies? As usual, the international power dynamic is that a handful determine the fate of many. In this case, that means the 20 countries that were invited out of the 195 on the planet. And “sustainable world growth that benefits all”? I hope they’re not referring to the illustri- ous work of the International Monetary Fund or World Bank Group, organizations that have been successfully increasing the debt of developing countries since their inception in 1945.
But, I digress. That Toronto was hosting an event like the G20 is problematic enough, and definitely worthy of mention when discussing reasons why Toronto should be just a little ashamed of itself right now. But that’s not even the worst of it. Torontonians should be embarrassed about the other blight on our record that week: the $1 billion spent on security for the summit, the 1,100 people arrested and, though this may be a matter of opinion, the fact that anyone thought it would be necessary to bring water cannons into our city.
Water cannons? Seriously? Since when did our thriving cultural capital start masquerading as a police state?
Since when is it okay to flood our streets with not just officers of the Toronto Police Service, but also the Ontario Provincial Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Canadian Forces, and with additional officers from the Peel Regional Police, York Regional Police, Halton Regional Police, Barrie Police Service, Waterloo Regional Police, Niagara Regional Police, Hamilton Police Service, Ottawa Police Service, Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, Calgary Police Service and likely others?
Coverage of the unprecedented arrests that week included dozens of accounts of abuse; “kettling” (a technique of corralling demonstrators and containing them without food, water, or access to toilet facilities); homophobic, sexist, racist, and ableist remarks by police; and instances of outright violence by security forces, who used tear gas, rubber bullets, and physical force on everyone from peaceful protestors to passersby.
One notable citizen, though, had this to say: “I don’t think there should be an inquiry or review … I think our police force was too nice.”
This is coming from none other than our new mayor: Rob Ford. To be honest, there is not much I can say about Mayor Ford that he cannot succinctly explain for himself. The following three quotes, taken from the “Anyone but Rob Ford for Mayor” Facebook page, are some of many gems cropping up in news articles, blogs, tweets, and status updates of GTA residents. They very perspicuously illustrate why I am just a little concerned about the next four years.
Rob Ford on AIDS prevention: “(AIDS) is very preventable, if you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line.”
Rob Ford on the contentious debate over bike lanes: “I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
And finally, Rob Ford on the work ethic of a certain racialized population: “Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out. They are workers non-stop. They sleep beside their machines. That’s why they’re successful in life…I’m telling you, the Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over.”
Again, there is little I can add to the words of our esteemed mayor that could further illustrate how I, and many other Torontonians, feel about the result of the 2010 municipal election.
But overall, what is it about these three things (other than the obvious) that makes me worry for Toronto? What is it about militant force by the police or the fact that we are now facing conservatives in every level of government that makes me concerned? That should make you concerned? What is it about a simple 5.0 on the Richter scale that makes me cringe for future generations?
Maybe it’s the fact that these events were all preventable (excepting possibly the earthquake, but that’s a point to be debated by environmentalists and weather experts).
Torontonians know, deep down, that these are not just everyday news items. These are frightening and depressing historical events that deserve our attention. They deserve our derision and critique, and they deserve to be challenged and protested.
If we really care about our city, our families, or ourselves, we will care about these issues, and we will speak out against everything that’s wrong about them.
We will speak out against violence and oppression, against the environmentally destructive policies, against the underfunding of Toronto’s Pride Parade, and against the baseless condemnation of streetcars (Ford again).
And only when these messages of peace, solidarity, and change reach the right ears, will Toronto have a real future.
as published in the Ryerson Free Press, December 2010