More Walls are Going Up in North America–the View from Canada

I have studied the phenomena of walls, bridges, and open borders amongst people for decades.  I have observed the Berlin Wall go down.  I have visited the Great Israeli Barrier Wall in the Middle East and I have traversed often the roads and bridges between Texas and Nuevo Leon (Mexico).

Today, in the following interview, I learned that in Toronto and across Canada new fences are going at a dizzying rate.  “Where can a North America find freedom–if not in Canada?”  I thought.

Amy Goodman reported, “Large swaths of Toronto’s downtown core have the appearance of a police state, with an estimated deployment of over 19,000 security personnel, nearly five times the number at the G20 in Pittsburgh last year. A nearly four-mile-long security wall has been erected around the G20 summit site at the Toronto Convention Center, flanked by armed police at scores of checkpoints. The Canadian police recently added water and sound cannons to their arsenal of weapons that can be used to disperse protesters. A Canadian judge is expected to rule today on a court challenge to the sound cannons’ use. The security price tag is around a billion dollars, and some predict the total cost of the summit will surpass $2 billion.”

John Clarke rightly points out, “Right. If they’re spending a billion dollars on security, it happens at a time when already the austerity measures in this province of Ontario are really kicking in in a very decisive way. In the last provincial budget, the government here abolished something that’s called the special diet. It’s an income food supplement program for people on social assistance. It was worth $200 million a year. They’ve eliminated it. And so, just in one act of security buildup, they’ve spent five years’ worth of special diet money for people whose basic nutrition is not being met. And you could find a myriad of other examples of how this is an offensive and disgusting process.”

Clarke added, referring to the continuing work of G8/G20 leaders, “Well, I mean, these are the world power brokers. They’re going to devise a strategy to restructure the economies of the world in a regressive fashion—under US hegemony, of course. And the point about it is, however, is that this is not just some abstract process, that governments throughout the world are going to be expected to take their lead from the decisions of the G20 meeting, and they’re going to be expected to impose these measures of austerity. We’ve seen what’s happened in Greece. We’ve seen the budget—the budget has just been brought down in Britain, where savage cuts, unprecedented in the last forty years, are being imposed. I mean, I think we are looking at an incredible period of austerity. Hopefully we’re also looking at an incredible period of resistance, though. That needs to be said.”


And, yet, these governments and state leaders who want more supposedly- free and open trade are hyperfocused on building more security walls, barriers, militarized societies, etc.

Sharmeen Khan is part of an “umbrella group of many of the groups that are protesting”.  Khan stated in an interview with Amy Goodman, “Well, we’re made up of organizations, labor unions and individuals, who might not be affiliated with any organization, who are mobilizing against the G8 and G20. And we’ve been organizing around specific themes that we’ve sort of divided up into themed days. So, some of the issues that people are concerned with are indigenous sovereignty, anti-poverty, gender justice, migrant issues, and an end to war and occupation. So, these are many of the issues that we feel the G8 and G20 have a great deal of influence over. And it’s a very large and diverse network, hopefully that will keep going after the G8 and G20 meetings are done. It’s been a vibrant network.”

Meanwhile, “[t]he Toronto Star reported today that the province of Ontario has secretly passed an unprecedented regulation allowing police to arrest anyone near the G20 security zone who refuses to identify themselves or agree to a police search. At least one person has already been arrested under the new regulation, which expires after the G20 summit ends.”

One victim of the heightened security is Stefan Christoff, a Candian activist from Toronto.  Christoff explains what the CSIS is: “The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. And it’s an agency that basically surveils citizens. And over the last months, myself and other activists across the country have been in a situation where CSIS agents have been showing up at our homes, asking questions, early morning hours, late at night, and basically cultivating this culture of fear around the G8 and G20 summits. Those who are voicing dissent against government policies or critiquing the G8 and G20 process are facing this chill effect. And the fact that those who are participating and organizing street protests like we’ll see in Toronto in the next couple days are under this type of pressure really speaks to the larger security crackdown that we’ve been seeing here in Toronto.”

Amy Goodman noted, “And there’s a picture on the front page of the Toronto Star, Dave Vasey standing outside the Eastern Avenue detention center, where he was arrested under a law allowing police to pick up people refusing to identify themselves. The regulation was made under Ontario’s Public Works Protection Act and was not debated in the legislature. According to a provincial spokesperson, the cabinet action came in response to an extraordinary request by the Toronto police chief, Bill Blair, who wanted additional police powers, shortly after learning the G20 was coming to Toronto.”

Christoff added, “[I]n a sense, I think that the fact that the police can search, detain, question and hold anybody, any citizen, in Canada, in downtown Toronto, at this time around the summit, it speaks to this reality of a security culture that’s been cultivated here in Canada by the Conservative government, one of the most right-wing governments in recent Canadian history. And this new legislation, I think, speaks to the reality where also we’ve seen a three-layer massive security fence around downtown, constructed by a corporation, SNC-Lavalin from Montreal.”

Next, he explained what SNC-Lavalin is: “based in Montreal, a corporation. It’s an engineering giant. They actually produced millions of bullets between 2003 and 2005 for the US Army at the same time of the invasion of Iraq. So this is a corporation that’s inherently tied to the military-industrial complex internationally and also has been tied to the clampdown on dissent here in Toronto. It’s really incredible when you see the fence and also just see the almost 20,000 police and law enforcement officials that are patrolling the city.”

Finally, those in Toronto noted, “[D]owntown Toronto has become a fortress, literally. We could just hear now aircrafts that are hovering around the downtown core. The fence has been erased. So, when we hear all these speeches and languages coming out of the G8 and G20 about transparency, globalization, sharing of ideas, the reality on the ground is that these meetings are happening in a militarized fortress. And the fence itself was constructed by a company that has been directly involved in contracts that are linked to the NATO-led military occupation of Afghanistan. They’re building all sorts of public work projects in cooperation with the Canadian military and the US military—this is SNC-Lavalin, based in Montreal—and also, as I mentioned, the contract with the US Army just after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. So the security fence, I mean, speaks to the whole reality today, I think, of walls around the world. We’re talking about walls going up—the US-Mexico border wall, the wall—the apartheid wall in Palestine. And at the same time, the leaders at the G8 and G20 are talking about walls coming down and free trade. But for people, walls are just going up, even in the largest city of Canada.”


For me, this is all sad news because many Americans, Mexicans and Latin Americans see Canada as the last great frontier and hope in North America, i.e. in terms of free living space, but if NATO contractors are building such infrastructure in Canada now, what will Canada look like in a decade?

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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