Toronto on lockdown for G20 summit: the wall, snipers, and sound cannons

Protesters march through downtown Toronto on Thursday to draw attention to aboriginal issues. (Pras Rajagopalan/CBC)

I find it disturbing that a major city being put on lockdown in order to accommodate the international elite and suppress the underclass has become standard — and acceptable — procedure.

Right now, the leaders of rich and developing nations are in Toronto, and the authorities anticipated that there will be a series of protests during the conferences because there are always protests during the G8/G20 meet-ups.

Capitalism is particularly unpopular right now because the US has unleashed a steroid-filled version of it unto the world, and this economic system has failed to provide for the majority of people. It has, however, created a dwindling elitist echelon who control a vast majority of riches. In the year of Hayward and his yachting adventures, there’s no reason to doubt there will be any fewer protests against the douchiest rich people among us.

Toronto was ready to suppress such dissent, and shape a nice, pleasant narrative for the city’s visitors, by implementing a complete and total lockdown.

The “lockdown” of central Toronto includes a 3m-high (10ft), 3.5km (2.2-mile) concrete and metal fence enclosing the G20 meeting area and a huge security presence. Banks and theatres will be closed, as will one of Canada’s most famous tourist attractions – the CN Tower.

It’s important to remember that the supposed goal of the G20 summit is “to continue the work of building a healthier, stronger and more sustainable global economy.” And what better way to express that kind of egalitarian unity than to build a 10-ft-high, 2-mile-long fence to keep out the serfs?

These kinds of global gatherings have also become a playground for authorities to experiment with their newest, shiniest crowd control devices. Last year, I reported that Pittsburgh police demonstrated the latest suppression technology on protesters near that year’s G20 summit. The weapon du jour were sound cannons.

Lavonnie Bickerstaff of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police uses benign language like “sound amplifiers,” and “long-range acoustic device” to explain the new weapons in an attempt to sanitize what is essentially a painful weapon that leaves no visible marks on its victims. The mob utilized a similar tactic on snitches when they would beat everywhere except the face. If victims have no outward bruises to show, the world is less likely to believe their stories of assault and harassment.

Unlike aerosol hand-grenades, pepper spray, and rubber bullets (all traditional methods of protest suppression also used at the G-20 protests) the damage from sound cannons is entirely internal, and can only be preserved on video, but even then, the deafening noise cannot be fully appreciated unless one hears it in person.

The “long range acoustic device (LRAD)” is designed for long-range communication and acts as an “unmistakable warning,” according to the American Technology Corporation (ATC,) which develops the instruments. “The LRAD basically is the ability to communicate clearly from 300 meters to 3 kilometers,” (nearly 2 miles) said Robert Putnam of American Technology’s media and investor relations during an interview with MSNBC. “It’s a focused output. What distinguishes it from other communications tools out there is its ability to be heard clearly and intelligibly at a distance, unlike bullhorns.”

Except, police aren’t trying to send a distress call to allies two miles away. They’re literally blasting this extreme decibel of noise directly into the ears of protesters (or any unwitting citizens) standing mere feet from the cannons. Depending on the mode of LRAD, it can blast a maximum sound of 145 to 151 decibels — equal to a gunshot — within a three-foot (one meter) range, according to ATC. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that permanent hearing loss can result from sounds at about 110 to 120 decibels in short bursts or even just 75 decibels if exposure lasts for long periods.

Unfortunately, a judge ruled on Friday that these sound cannons are okay for use at Toronto’s G20, as long as they’re not being used at “ear-splitting levels.” Whatever that means. The police rely on manufacturer studies about what is considered “ear-splitting,” which could result in permanent damage, even though independent studies report lower levels of noise can result in hearing damage.

Also, a lot of this is left to police discretion. What may be considered “ear-splitting” to protesters may not be “ear-splitting” to the uniformed, masked authorities who think the troublemakers can take a little more punishment for daring to disturb the peace.

The Toronto lockdown goes far beyond the standard procedures of territorial policing. What is happening right now looks more like urban warfare. Giant walls have been constructed to cut off the normal flow of the city and partition the streets into manageable channels. Excessively armed police appear to be on every street corner, snipers stand on rooftops, and helicopters patrol the skies. Security is so tight that the downtown area is vacant.

The two summits are expected to cost taxpayers $930 million in security, including more than half a billion dollars for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

By far, the majority of G20 protests are peaceful gatherings. This year appears to be no exception. Thus far, the reports coming in indicate that the protests have been uneventful. Of course, every year there are a handful of individuals who damage police cars, or throw bottles through store windows. Yet, such sporadic acts of violence don’t explain why the budget for crowd suppression has increased annually, and why the city of Toronto dropped $930 million on surveillance and ghettoizing its downtown area.

The only explanation is that world leaders know Capitalism is failing to provide for the masses, and they’re preparing for the inevitable backlash. Stuff like food riots are easy to manage because right now they’re happening in places like Haiti — thousands of miles away, and relegated to third world countries. But now there is resistance in the cities, too, and that demands an awesome response – not just for the actual threats – but also for perceived ones. The police are basically doing a ton of flexing right now – just to remind everyone who’s boss.

It’s important to stress here I’m not talking about Beckian camps. However, anyone of average intelligence can plainly see how police suppression dramatically escalated in the past decade, alone. Thirty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that police in supposed “free countries” would be legally permitted to electrocute and deafen individuals exercising their freedom of speech. Yet, here we are. Tasers and sound cannons are now standard issued crowd suppression devices.

And it’s not that individuals are getting more violent. There are no more riots in the US and Canada than there were five, ten, fifteen years ago. However, poverty is much worse. In the US, wages are stagnate. In other words, the perceived threat has grown. The bailouts, the anti-corporate sentiments, all of these things have resulted in a public backlash that has the elites ever-so-nervous.

Goldman Sachs was so terrified of the little people storming the Bastille that they started buying gun permits during the populist ragegasm. Again, it’s not like people were actually killing bankers, but the imagined threat was very real. Sometimes, these fantasies of popular revolution are much more vivid than reality. It’s enough to inspire a $930 million lockdown to deal with a mild threat.

2 Comments

  1. Trefor

    It is really interesting watching the media response to this. I had the CBC (Canadian public broadcaster) on in the background a lot over the weekend and reading as much online and the pattern is incredibly (but predictably) unilateral.

    It is literally nonstop focus on the violent aspects of the protestors…..the CBC loops the clips of burning police cars and shattered starbuck windows all day and then has a string of government appologists out there to defend their positions (major of toronto, minister of foreign affairs, head of toronto police, some high up RCMP guy etc) while the coverage in the local, national and international newspapers basically gives a single line at best to the issues being raised by any of the protesters – peaceful or otherwise.

    Even the little commentary on what is actually happening at the G20 is being completely side showed by the focus on commentary about the violence. What little commentary gets devoted to the G20 meeting itself is largely of a political nature…things like omfg sarkozy says he will do the summit in france next year for 1/10th the cost (security in toronto cost a billion dollars to sustain the police state) or whatever and pretty much ignores the issues raised.

    The unilateral and carefully constructed coverage from the public broadcaster began before the protests actually. For instance, a week before the event in the face of mountain criticism about the billion dollars spent on security the head of our security agency CSIS did a CBC interview (much of it filmed 3 months in advance…indicitive of the vetting process on media releases from the government) on prime time the main message being “there are lots of threats, the money spent was needed”.

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