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UPDATE: The aftermath of the summits

The G8 and G20 summits are now over, most of the leaders and their delegations have left Toronto, and sections of the security fence will start to be disassembled today.

But many are still unjustly being detained and need to be released, and the city has yet to shed the police-state feeling that has smothered it these past few days.

These summits just never added up to make much sense at all:

  • they were to promote austerity, but cost more than $1.24 billion to stage
  • the major development contribution from Canada was $1.1 billion for maternal health, less than the price tag for the summits
  • the G8 pledged $5 billion for maternal health, welll short of the $30 billion the United Nations says is necessary to stop preventable deaths,
  • this pledge may not mean that much, given the G8 has failed to make good on more than $20 billion of past pledges, and
  • the G20 was at times talked about as the more democratic version of the G8, but is still 172 countries short of the United Nations, now often referred to as the G192.

The Council of Canadians was able to make numerous credible interventions against the agenda and the very existence of these summits:

  • our ‘scrap the summits’ and ‘these meetings should be moved to the UN’ message appeared in many commentaries, editorials, speeches and common discourse
  • we quickly challenged the infringement on civil liberties by the Toronto police and their purchase of LRADs by handing out free ear-plugs
  • we repeatedly highlighted in the media the folly of $2 million spent on the construction of a fake lake for the G20 summit
  • we were a large part of the Peoples Summit, with Maude Barlow opening the forum and numerous staff offering workshops on key issues to many people
  • we were in numerous newspapers and television news reports when we took to canoes to take our ‘scrap the summits’ message to the Deerhurst Resort near Huntsville
  • we challenged the law brought in for the summit that anyone has to produce identification and state their purpose for being within 5 metres of the security fence, by measuring 5 metres out from the fence and marking the line with yellow tape for the media
  • we sold out Massey Hall and had an incredible line-up of powerful speakers (the real world leaders) address the 2,700 people in attendance as well as many others who watched the forum by web-cast in communities across Canada and at the US Social Forum in Detroit, and
  • we joined with 25,000 others for a peaceful march through the city on Saturday afternoon.

That said, many negative things have come out of the summits:

  • as noted above, many women and children will continue to die preventable deaths because the leaders of the most-developed countries only promised a fraction of what was needed
  • the G20 countries pledged to cut their deficits in half by 2013, which can only mean structural readjustment for millions of people, more fire-sale sell-offs of public services, and more cutbacks to critical social programs and social supports
  • the G20 summit communique noted that climate change would remain ‘top of mind’, an astonishing head in the sand position, and
  • the G20 recommitted itself to the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round (though admittedly few believe that will go anywhere now).

Much is being made now about the smashing of windows and the burning of police cars after the rally and march concluded on Saturday afternoon. While we can’t condone this, and those who do these things can expect to be arrested, we see this as a product of rage, a rage that comes with marginalization, exclusion, and a toxic economy that so casually discards people. The lesson must surely be that billions can be spent on policing and security, but without justice there never will truly be peace.

We are very concerned that more than 900 people have been arrested. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said that many peaceful protestors were caught up in the sweeping arrests and police raids. Many also experienced the provocation of the police in the days leading up to the summit – the suspicious look, the searching of bags, the unnecessary and intimidating questioning. We join with Amnesty International in calling for an inquiry into the appropriateness of police actions both prior to and during the summits.

We should take some solace in our courage and commitment, the fact that we did what we could do to challenge the monstrosity of the G8/G20 summits, and that in many ways we won public opinion. And we will need to do what we always have done: assess, regroup, speak out for civil liberties and the necessity of dissent, and continue our struggle for democratic global decision-making, for trade, water and climate justice.