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The Culture of Fear

When the G20 summit came to Toronto this summer, it promised a weekend of discussions about economic outlooks, foreign policies and international communications. Its unexpected consequences were the fear and backlash that stayed in Toronto after the G20 left.

In the aftermath of the G20, rather than remark on the progress made during these international talks, instead media focused on the story behind-the-scenes: the invigoration of Canadian politics.

Prior to the Summit weekend, the Ontario government passed a new regulation which allows police to take drastic measures to maintain the utmost security at the G20 events. Under the new regulations, anyone who came within a five meter radius of the security zone (which included the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and along the security fence) was obliged to give the police their name and state the purpose of their visit if asked. Anyone who failed to provide identification or an insufficient explanation could be searched and arrested. This new regulation passed in Ontario’s cabinet on June 2 without legislature debate.

The G8/G20 Integrated Security Unit assured the public that the new regulations were precautionary measures to ensure the security of the G20 officials.

Over the course of the weekend, over 900 people were arrested, although few were actually charged and prosecuted, Toronto streets were destroyed as banks and commercial chain stores were broken into and police cars were set on fire. One billion dollars in security, 20,000 law enforcement officials and 1,000 private security guards failed to securitize this city.

Those arrested claimed they didn’t want to lose their free speech or freedom of assembly simply because prominent members were in town. Suddenly, a city that rarely sees such political activism, a country known for its peace-keeping nature, transformed into a protest zone. In only 24 hours, more people were arrested than during the October Crisis in Quebec 40 years ago.

Back in the early 1960s, the government of John Robarts tried to pass a similar law (Bill 99), which would have given the police powers similar to what they had during the G20. The government concluded the law was inappropriate and inconsistent with Canada’s democratic traditions. Premier Robarts’ attorney-general, Fred Cass, was forced to withdraw the bill and resign.

Behind the prestige of a world conference is the criticism that this event was a corporate-driven excuse to make a profit. This event brought together Canadian state security agencies with a Canadian multinational corporation which gained millions in public funds. The contract to build up the security in downtown Toronto was given to a Montreal-based engineering company called SNC-Lavalin, who has a history of seeking global contracts. In 2004, its subsidiary, SNC Technologies, managed to make a deal to manufacture over 300 million bullets for the US military in preparation for the war in Iraq. A year later, SNC-Lavalin’s annual general meeting was met with a barrage of protests, condemning the participation of Canadian corporations in the US war on terror. As public rage increased, the contract was dropped.

Another one of SNC-Lavalin’s big contracts is in Afghanistan, where it works with the Canadian military in Kandahar. Its role is to develop infrastructure that can help assist Afghanis with the transition change in their government. The corporation was selected to rebuild a dam on the Arghandab River, a 50 million Canadian accomplishment in Afghanistan, which is now taking a turn for the worse.

SNC-Lavalin works directly within the militarized compound of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of Afghani leader Hamid Karzai, and recent paramilitary clashes over the project facing a ballooning budget have forced Canadians overseeing the project to leave Afghanistan. New developments by US investigators indicate that officials linked to Karzai may be conspiring with local insurgents in order to maximize profits by securing a development project on the brink of disaster.

SNC Lavalin is a beneficiary of the post-9/11 global security demands. However, these security developments may not be protecting Afghanis or Canadian interests in Afghanistan at all. Private security companies and engineering contractors have relied on this climate of fear to maximize their profit by keeping fear and security needs at bay. Following 9/11, over 130 billion was invested into private contracting companies by the US Department of Homeland Security. Perpetuating a climate of fear only ensures that a city can play into the security needs and hand over millions of dollars to support it.

The need for a billion dollars of security in a post- 9/11 world is rooted in this cycle of fear. Rather than open up the doors to discourse and freedom of thought, Canadians closed the door to those democratic ideals under the guise of maintaining security. The new regulations and security preparations developed for the G20 summit only entrenched the idea of a new security culture in Canada.

Ontario police prepared for violent behavior at the G20 summit, and encouraged a belief that the only way to protect citizens is through the removal of certain rights. This occurred in the city that Statistics Canada examined had the second lowest overall crime rate in all 27 metropolitan areas. Canada’s national crime rate has been declining for the past three years although the media doesn’t show it.

Torontoist magazine studied the homicide statistics in Toronto and found that Toronto was a relatively safe city to live in. Despite statistics like these, Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Sun make vivid reports of the “summer of the gun… again” (2007 and 2008), even though the number of people killed by any type of weapon went down 28% in 2008. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) stated that the risk of terrorism is low. Yet protesters at the G20 were not allowed to express their opinions and instead the city prepared to stifle them. Companies like SNC-Lavalin benefited from the militarization of Toronto’s culture.

In the post G20 Toronto, citizens are now confronted with a climate of fear that they must accept or refuse. The sensationalism of Canadian politics only serves certain interests, not those of private individuals. Perpetuating this climate only allows the cycle of fear – real or not – to continue.

This article was published in Futuréale‘s online magazine.