Government and media smear tactics tar protesters

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

Given the abysmal state of things -- with no progress on climate change, financial markets still operating as unregulated casinos and oil continuing to surge freely into the gulf -- it's not surprising that many people feel the world is being poorly managed. Millions respond by drifting into apathy or hedonistic consumerism.

But there are others who are so passionate about the fate of the Earth that they feel compelled to do more than shop. They want to object, to let world leaders know they disapprove. These are the types of people who plan to protest at the G20 summit later this month in Toronto.

If you're thinking they're just violent troublemakers, you've probably been listening too closely to the Harper government, which is hoping you'll succumb to its attempt to lump terrorists and peaceful protestors all together in one giant bin marked scary and anti-democratic.

When I spoke to a meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students last month, I met a number of students who plan to protest at the G20, and they struck me as highly concerned about preserving democracy, indeed more concerned than most people.

It's sad that it needs to be noted that dissent is something worthy; that it used to be considered one of the cornerstones of democracy. John Stuart Mill, one of the giants of Western thought, argued in his classic text On Liberty that dissent is essential to freedom, partly because it challenges the prevailing dogma, which is often wrong.

Yet, rather than being treated as citizens exercising vital democratic rights, the dissenters who show up at the G20 will find themselves facing a phalanx of heavily armed police equipped with the latest assault toy: sound cannons that blast deafening noise of up to 143 decibels -- well above the 85-decibel level considered safe for the human ear.

There's been much well-deserved anger over the Harper government's absurd plan to spend almost a billion dollars on security at the summit (and the G8 summit in Huntsville). For the same price, we could have all ridden the TTC free for an entire year.

But there's been little anger that a good part of this money will be used to intimidate and terrify those who challenge the status quo.

The University of Toronto, falling in line with this new security-state mentality, plans to lock down its main campus during the summit, forcing the cancellation of G20 related events, including one featuring Maude Barlow, Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein.

It's hard to imagine a more inappropriate response. Universities should be centres of critical thought, where students are encouraged to scrutinize the current orthodoxy and challenge the Establishment. That's hard to do when they shutter their doors at the first whiff of controversy.

There's much that urgently needs scrutiny, starting with the Harper government's use of the G8 summit to score points with its ultra-conservative base by launching a "maternal health initiative" that denies abortions to the world's most desperate and impoverished women.

Last week Rex Murphy used his prominent spot on CBC TV to attack the G20 protestors as fame-seekers, "thirsty for the two-day fame a little provocation or a lot of violence can bring them."

So, before they've even held up a placard, Murphy has maligned people who will have to risk tear gas and deafness to get a fraction of the airtime Murphy gets every week to bellow on behalf of the Establishment.

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.