Toronto’s winding razor-sharp tipped security walls surrounding the upcoming G20 summit centre certainly have inspired controversy and critiques across the political spectrum.
Behind the immediately pressing story of security checkpoints cutting up downtown Toronto, intrusive CSIS interrogations targeting social justice activists, and a government-driven security atmosphere aiming to intimidate social movements working to challenge the G20, is a corporate-driven narrative of profit by any means.
In Toronto this week, contract workers are putting final touches on the three-metre high and six-kilometre long $5.5 million dollar concrete and metal security fence encompassing the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Total security bill for the G20 in Toronto and G8 in Huntsville is expected to reach over $1 billion, the most expensive in history. Within and around this armed camp are 20,000 law enforcement officials, 1,000 private security guards, closed circuit TV cameras, military-style checkpoints along with sound and water cannons.
Behind these steel cages is a corporate-driven narrative of profiteering. An open conspiracy that fuses Canadian state security agencies and one of Canada’s key multinational corporations, directing millions in public funds towards private accounts.
Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin has been awarded the contract for the construction and conceptualization of the militarization of downtown Toronto. SNC-Lavalin’s history is global in reach and politically fascinating as a corporation that has quickly moved to seek global contracts in occupied lands with minimal public controversy.
In 2004, SNC Technologies, a subsidiary, secured a deal to manufacture 300-500 million bullets for the U.S. military in the months after the Bush administration launched the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq. Protests in Toronto targeted SNC-Lavalin’s annual general meeting in 2005, bringing attention to the role of Canadian corporations in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In 2006, SNC-Lavalin dropped the bullet-making division as public critique towards the Iraq arm contract compounded.
SNC-Lavalin is also the largest Canadian private contractor in Afghanistan, working in close co-ordination with the Canadian military in Kandahar. With hundreds of employees in the country, SNC-Lavalin works to develop infrastructure that normalizes the reality of a NATO-lead military occupation, under which torture, poverty, and violence have come to shape contemporary life for many Afghans.
As part of the 3D — defence, diplomacy, development — paradigm touted by the Canadian military, in 2009 the corporation was selected to rebuild a major dam on the Arghandab River. Billed as one of Canada’s “signature projects,” today the $50-million Dahla Dam project in the northern Kandahar province is heading towards a political disaster.
SNC-Lavalin operates directly within the militarized compound of Ahmed Wali Karzai, younger half-brother of Afghani leader Hamid Karzai, and recent paramilitary clashes over the project facing a ballooning budget have forced Canadians guarding the project to flee Afghanistan.
Reports indicate that U.S. investigators are currently probing the possibility that Karzai-linked security officials “may be colluding with insurgents to maximize profits,” in securing a “development” project that is on the brink of becoming a national controversy, pointing to blurry lines between corporate interests in Afghanistan, Canadian military activities and interchanging local political alliances, all forces playing politics for greater influence and capital gains within a war zone. Disaster capitalism at ground zero of the first major U.S. military strike point post 9/11.
SNC Lavalin is a direct beneficiary of the global security industry that has been rapidly ballooning in the post 9/11 climate. Private security and engineering contractors have crafted a niche market that relies on escalating conflict and perpetuating fear.
A deliberate manipulation of fear, supported by government and media sound-bytes on terrorism, has meant the mass introduction of mass surveillance systems. An atmosphere that allows countries like Israel to normalize its daily illegal occupation of Palestine, and the U.S. to justify its construction of the anti-migrant U.S.-Mexico border wall, both inherently unjust realities cloaked in security. It has also meant deep pockets for pioneering companies like Boeing and Elbit Systems who produce related security technologies. In the years after 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security handed out $130 billion to private contractors.
In Toronto, the summit perimeter walls are similarly rooted in post 9/11 security concepts. A security fence that is also a strong ideological reminder of the contradiction of the G20 process: select global leaders having closed-door meetings that exclude voices of dissent, while simultaneously extolling political rhetoric promoting the “free flow of ideas,” “removal of barriers,” and “global community,” language standing in stark contrast to thousands of armed police silencing dissenting voices. Democracy is rooted in dialogue and engagement, not militarization.
In 2009, Barack Obama delivered a major address in Europe, pointing towards nuclear disarmament, advocating that “voices for peace and progress must be raised together,” political language pointing to the violent contradiction of advocating for global justice from behind kilometres of razor wire fence as militarized police repel voices advocating for change from the streets.
As the G20 convention centre is shrouded in two tight rows of welded wire, as armed police flank street check points and state-issued photo ID is the only ticket into the Toronto’s downtown core, it is clear that security preparations towards the G20 summit, as previously with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, are testing limits on security culture in Canada.
Certainly fences are becoming a symbol our era, locally and globally, as security doctrines often conflate terrorism with political protest, walls silencing dissent become politically possible.
CSIS has itself admitted that the risk of “terrorism” is low, hence the tired-old stereotype of “violent anarchists.” This has resulted in intrusive CSIS and RCMP interrogations targeting and intimidating social justice activists of all stripes and efforts to demonize protestors in the eyes of Toronto residents. Tips in the G20 Summit Resident Information Guide include not engaging in conversations with protesters.
Currently in Toronto, the main rationale for the $1 billion security apparatus is apparently an incredibly dangerous form of domestic terrorism: protestors.
Over the past decades, countless thousands advocating for global justice have gathered on the streets every year to protest the closed door meetings of both G8 and G20 summits, as global inequalities continues to rise protests have grown; never at these mass convergences has a single protester serious harmed anyone.
It was in Genoa, Italy, at the G8 summit in 2001 when the first lethal gunshot rang out, and Carlo Giuliani, a young Italian anarchist, was shot in the face by Italian police. Giuliani died on that Italian street surrounded by police. In Quebec City, as tens-of-thousands gathered to protest U.S.-driven efforts to establish the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement (FTAA), street protesters suffered multiple injuries on the part of police, one young activist from Montreal was permanently disabled, a rubber bullet crushing his larynx, forever silencing one voice of dissent in Canada.
Today in Toronto, police rule the day on downtown boulevards, while SNC-Lavalin is laughing all the way to the bank at having perfected the equation between militarization and profit. Mainstream political rhetoric revolving around the G20 remains a surface level discussion on security, silencing real global issues of poverty, war and displacement facing so many throughout the global south.
So the question for those caged within Fortress Toronto is a simple one: will we capitulate to this cultivated culture of fear and the normalization of an Orwellian police state? Today, let us see past the smoke and mirrors of security and join thousands on the streets in the daily struggles against the violence of G20 policies locally and globally.
Harsha Walia is a Vancouver-based writer and activist who is at http://www.twitter.com/harshawalia. Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer and activist who is at http://www.twitter.com/spirodon.