By Frank Moher
The massive article, “Anatomy of the G20,” published by the Toronto Star last Friday, is a curious document indeed, especially coming from a newspaper that has taken a hard editorial line against the police’s actions that weekend. It feels like one of those articles that has gone all wonky as higher-ups got their hands on it and started messing around for political reasons.
For example, why, in an article that purports to be “The story from both sides of the fence,” devote the lede and end to police explanations that are intended to be exculpatory? One reason might be that this is an old journalistic strategy to give an article a point-of-view without actually articulating it. About 200 words in, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is depicted as heroically marching into the TPS command centre and, despite his concerns about subverting standard operating procedure, ordering that the protestors and assorted bystanders kettled at Queen and Spadina be released. “I went to the command centre and I said, ‘I believe now is the appropriate time to end this thing. End this thing,'” he declaims.
Blair was apparently a widely-admired police chief before his lost weekend; with PR like this, it won’t take him long to regain his standing, or at least his self-image.
“The black bloc was growing. And for police, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Just two blocks north, a military repatriation ceremony was underway. The body of Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil, killed in Afghanistan on June 21, was being transported to the coroner’s office, just north of where the boisterous rally was headed.
“According to Blair, about 30 black-clad protesters began breaking off from the crowd and moving north toward the coroner’s office.”
“Police say their lines were stretched thin; officers could not disengage from their responsibilities. At one point, police were facilitating the transportation of a kidney to a downtown hospital, according to Insp. Scott Weidmark, a planner stationed at the command centre.”
So there you have it: not only were Blair’s forces protecting the city — sort of — they were also protecting the remains of a Canadian soldier and making sure those raving anarchists didn’t steal the kidney of a needy recipient. I’m not suggesting the Star is in the propaganda business — but it might consider it as a hedge against declining journalism revenues.
My favourite bit: “Officers ordered people to move out of the way but Emomotimi Azorbo, a deaf man, failed to hear police demands and was arrested.” He failed to hear them? Damn those deaf people; they’ll just have to try harder to hear.
Look, the Star has acquitted itself better in reporting and following-up on the G20 than any other of our major news organizations. It has certainly done better than the CBC, which was hopelessly weighed down by the hardware of television, or Maclean’s, which revealed that it really will put anything on its cover. But that doesn’t forgive the basic failings of this piece, which are most evident in the questions it begs but doesn’t pursue. “By early afternoon [on Friday], police were already ringing the site, searching people’s bags and confiscating potential weapons”? Er, um, weren’t those searches illegal? And what potential weapons did they confiscate, given that they had nothing significant to show the press days later?
“Two undercover agents had infiltrated [the Blac Block]”? Why then did Blair not know “beforehand of the intent of this group to engage in criminal acts away from the summit site”? And if the answer is, well, you can’t know everything, how is it police were so sure, once the vandals allegedly melted into the crowd at Queens Park, that “they weren’t done,” and used that as a pretext to attack peaceful protestors?
A police cruiser was abandoned on Queens because “A handful of black bloc members — now revealing a cache of golf balls and hammers — engulfed the lone car and began smashing its windows and lights”? Okay, but what about that other “abandoned cruiser” with “‘murderer’ scrawled on its hood,” the one at King and Bay? If anyone’s explained what it was doing sitting there, I’ve yet to see it. The Star doesn’t ask.
There’s a lot the Star doesn’t ask.
While the paper’s columnists continue to hold authorities to account, per Thomas Walkom’s“The G20 protests and judicial farce,” it’s prominently played big pieces such as this one that tend to seep into the public mind and become the accepted version of events. If the Star‘s going to take them on, it needs to do the job properly — or at least not let them become vehicles for authorities trying to explain away their criminal behaviour.