G20: Making The Case For A New World Order

My strongest opinions about the weekend's outcomes are directed to the world leaders, but I'd be remiss if I didn't address the protests. A few thoughts.

  • If they were able to box in hundreds of protesters on Sunday at Queen and Spadina, picking out people seemingly at random to search and send off to the detention center, why not do the same on Saturday, picking out and detaining anyone with a bandanna, black clothing, face masks, or other Black Bloc paraphernalia?
  • With the overwhelming security presence, how was it possible for a bunch of rampaging thugs to smash the crap out of dozens of stores on Yonge Street? The "defending the fence argument" seems weak. Was nearly a billion dollars in security not enough to do both?
  • How do multiple cop cars get abandoned in an unsecured area where it's well known that potentially violent protesters will be congregating? (Ah, this is how. Watch to about 1 minute in. Thanks to Breanna Hughes for the tip.)
  • How stupid are you if you use foul language towards police officers on a weekend when tensions are already high?

After a little thought, I've come up with an internal rule I use when trying to determine if a protester was unfairly targeted for search/detainment, and I call that The Rule Of Reasonable Accommodation. If whatever a cop is asking you to do (get out of the street and onto the sidewalks so traffic can pass, to temporarily disperse from an area, to not enter an area, etc.) is a request that you'd comply with on any other day, then you have a responsibility to obey those instructions. I'm not saying everyone who was detained this weekend was refusing to do this, but I have no doubt some of them were. If a cop tells you to shut up and put your signs away or be detained, that's one thing. If a cop says you can't be blocking traffic, that you need to get on the sidewalk, and you opt to do neither of those things, but instead call him a fascist pig, that's another.

And a side note on the whole "unaccredited journalist" thing: By all means take photos, tweet, blog, but unless you have a pass that the police have been told is acceptable accreditation, don't expect to be treated any different than a civilian, because to them you are a civilian. I don't expect to be able to go to exclusive nightclubs in Vegas and get past the bouncer by saying people listen to my tweets, because that's not a credential they recognize (unless it is, in which case, Steve Wynn, if you're reading this, call me). This past weekend, the credentials that cops were trained to recognize, you didn't have, and no amount of design expertise would fashion an alternative accreditation that they'd recognize as legitimate (although now that I think about it, how difficult would it have been to forge legitimate credentials? I'm kinda curious). This invites a ton of well-earned criticism as to who did and didn't get accredited, but that's not on the cops, it's on the organizers.

So yeah, protesters were overly antagonistic in some cases, cops were overly aggressive in some cases, and between passing a bill in secret and lying about its contents, both Dalton McGuinty and Bill Blair ought to resign for having violated the public trust. I'd like to say that this could bring down the Harper government, but I doubt the opposition can effectively frame the issue as a fiscal one. Also, I doubt the Conservatives will lose a seat because of the influence of what will be perceived as a bunch of whining hippies from Toronto (they're not, but that'll be the perception).

And what came of all this? A declaration that all the member countries need to halve their deficits in the next few years? Did we seriously spend over a billion dollars to reach, in essence, the same conclusion as an SNL sketch?

Okay, I'm oversimplifying a bit. And the nations of the world should be taking steps to reduce their deficits. That's a good thing. But if world leaders don't take these steps, who's going to make them? Recent developments in Greece have made it clear that while all nations are independent in their policy decisions, we're all interdependent in the economic outcomes of those decisions. Intelligent regulation of markets can insulate a country from damage, but no country is immune from the effects of its neighbours' decisions. The world's dominant democratic system of fairly short election cycles biases leaders towards short-term decision making, and that bias effectively torpedoes any change that causes short-term pain for long-term gain.

Sadly, we don't live in a world where all the problems can be resolved in a single leader's reign, and international treaties don't do much if there's no one there to enforce them. Harper's government decided they weren't going to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which upsets Greenpeace plenty, but other signatories to the treaty have reacted with nothing but indifference. No one's cutting off diplomatic ties or refusing to grant visas to Canadian tourists (perhaps extreme examples, but you get the idea). And you can't blame the other countries for doing nothing when we effectively flipped them off... they wouldn't want the short-term pain of giving up the economic benefits of trade with Canada in order to coerce action on matters of mutual importance.

That cumulative short-term disincentive to act is why I think we need a global governing body with some real teeth. Something that can take action when countries step out of line and don't live up to the commitments they make on environmental, social, or economic issues. I'm not sure what that body will look like or how it'll balance individual nations' sovereignty with the greater good, but I'm convinced now more than ever that the current system of global governance is broken, and in serious need of change.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share in the comments.

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