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Canada's G20 legacy: How to do everything wrong

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This is the first anniversary of the weekend from hell when Canada hosted the G8 and G20 summits. On a variety of fronts we became a role model other nations will study for years to come. Our peaceable kingdom showed the world how to do absolutely everything wrong.

Take any aspect of the event at all:

Just for fun, try to recall a single outcome of any kind of the two official meetings of all those powerful heads of governments. I'm betting you can't. If you say maternal health it means you've been sucked in by the Harper government's propaganda. Of course it helped that some influential reporters, practicing the hallowed craft of churnalism, simply regurgitated the government's spin. But as the development experts in the McLeod Group put it, the entire so-called initiative by Stephen Harper was little more than smoke and mirrors.

There is nothing more that can be added here about the astonishing overall waste of money and the Harper government's shameless use of so much of it for blatant electoral purposes.

Among the remarkable moments of the Saturday afternoon remains the vanishing act by all 20,000 cops while a small gang of thugs were trashing the main downtown core of Toronto. Canadians could witness this fabulous Houdini show live on TV. These hooligans (some pretending they had a political agenda) roamed downtown streets looting and smashing without a single copper ever coming into view. How could this have happened? Where did the police disappear to? Which commanders allowed this to happen? How is it possible no heads have rolled for such flagrant dereliction of duty? Why aren't all businesses being compensated in full for the damage the police enabled?

Like the scandalous outlay of money, there's little left to be said about the behaviour of the police. Maybe they were so humiliated by allowing the vandalism that they needed to feel better by beating the crap out of ordinary Canadian citizens who weren't even guilty of jaywalking. The facts are clear; Toronto had a police riot. The city was turned into a police state. Civil liberties, fundamental freedoms, were suspended. Eleven hundred innocent people were detained, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. No full public inquiry has yet been called. And the police at every level have shamed themselves a second time by their refusal to co-operate. Protests are being held Saturday in defence of fundamental Canadian freedoms. They deserve massive attendance. But watch out for the cops on duty; they may be pissed off again, and you know what that could mean.

The rioters succeeded brilliantly in diverting all media attention away from the first large public demonstration against the Harper government in years. The moment a tiny fraction of the crowd began rioting, the media -- typically enough -- lost all interest in the huge crowd of peaceful protesters and the causes they were promoting.

All of this is grist for a cynic's mill, as if the world needed more. But I harbour a greater grievance beyond all these. My most intense personal anger is aimed at those so-called leftists who advocate and employ violence -- anarchists, Black Bloc, whatever hokey name they assign themselves -- as well as other leftists who would not themselves use violence yet "understand," condone or even "respect" its use by others.

Here's an example of the first, a statement by two self-proclaimed direct-action radicals, one of them Jaggi Singh: "We live in a world which is defined by, and maintained by violence, a violence which self-interested G8/G20 leaders both perpetuate and deny.... In the face of this extreme social violence that is day-to-day reality, there can be no tears shed for the cars and windows broken by those who have had enough with the forces profiting from their exploitation."

As for the second group, it includes those who insist that breaking windows is somehow not violence (like the Nazi Kristallnacht, perhaps?) and those who refuse to criticize the tactics of anyone on the "left."

Both positions are completely untenable. None of the adolescent Che or Fanon wannabes who embrace violence have anything to do with the real left, with real protest or with advancing the cause of social justice a single step. They are no better than the nihilistic Vancouver rioters, who at least had the grace not to pretend to noble goals. You don't fight violence by doing violence; have we not yet learned that? You'd think that after an entire century of unparalleled crimes against humanity and unprecedented mass murder perpetrated by so-called socialists in the name of "the people," those who claim to seek justice might not be so cavalier about invoking violence or tolerating it when it's on "our side."

This is not my side. Anyone who promotes violence sabotages good causes. As a judge rightly told Jaggi Singh just this week, in urging people to tear down the security fence ringing the G20 summit site Mr. Singh knew he was provoking violence on the part of both the police and the protesters. He was summonsing a mob to perpetrate mob violence. The fence could never have been torn down by protesters. Police were bound to lash out. The ostensible cause was instantly forgotten. The rioting escalated, becoming an end in itself. The protesters became a mob. Not a single constructive thing resulted, and nothing constructive could ever have resulted.

Do I need to invoke Tunisia and Egypt? Imagine how a few Black Bloc thugs would have undermined the peaceful protests that were the most thrilling and legitimating characteristic of the Arab Spring. While our self-deluded leftists cry for violence, Palestinians are finally turning to peaceful mass demonstrations that will cause Israel and its allies far more trouble than Hamas's rockets ever did. These brave demonstrators deserve our enthusiastic support.

Think of the double-standard that is being invoked here. Violent protest for the left is the equivalent of torture for the right. Every leftie in the world condemns torture -- at least when the Americans do it. Because it's both reprehensible in principle and largely useless. Because it's unethical and doesn't work. Like violent protest, it's simply wrong, philosophically and practically. It gets you nowhere except another cycle of violence. Violent means invariably beget a violent end, as example after example in our sad world have long shown.

A tough-minded editorial by the leftist Canadian Dimension magazine spelled out the practical consequences of the anarchist/Black Bloc tactics. They legitimate an authoritarian, violent response. They divide and weaken social movements. They discredit progressive ideas. They alienate ordinary citizens from just causes. They mire activists in legal processes. And by no means least, they're deeply undemocratic, since the decision to use these tactics is made by a small number of self-styled radicals regardless of the views of the vast majority who will be affected by them.

Finally, they muddle the thinking of those democratic radicals who refuse to condemn such tactics, in the sweet-sounding name of accepting a diversity of means to fight a shared end. But violent protest is rarely a means for those who preach it. It is the end. It has no place in the unending struggle for a better, peaceful world.

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

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