World leaders have started arriving for the G8 and G20 meetings amidst a massive security crackdown that will mark the most expensive three days in Canadian history. 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. The security price tag is around $1 billion, and some predict the total summit cost will surpass $2 billion. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Toronto, Canada. World leaders are arriving for the G8 and G20 meetings here amidst a massive security crackdown that will mark the most expensive three days in Canadian history. President Obama is among the heads of state gathering in the remote town of Huntsville for the G8 talks today before heading to Toronto for the G20 beginning on Sunday.
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.
The thousands of activists here have been holding daily marches on a wide range of issues, including environmental and social justice, war and indigenous rights.
We’re starting today’s broadcast with two guests. Sharmeen Khan is a spokesperson with the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, the umbrella group behind the G20 protest. And John Clarke is with us. He’s the founder of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, or OCAP.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
JOHN CLARKE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharmeen Khan, let’s begin with you. What about these preparations for the summit? And what’s happening to —- how does that affect the protest?
SHARMEEN KHAN: Well, we’ve been expecting [inaudible] security for the last few months and have already been visited by police in the months leading up to the mobilizations against G8/G20. We’ve been hearing in the media and also from police themselves about the weapons that they’ll be bringing to the streets of Toronto. So that hasn’t been a secret.
The impacts on the organizing have been a great deal of police intimidation. Even before the week of mobilization began, we’ve had activists and organizers met by both CSIS and police on their activities. I was visited twice at my workplace. And -—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean you were visited twice?
SHARMEEN KHAN: Police came to my workplace twice just to ask about what the plans were for the G20 mobilizations.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’re having some sound problems, so we’re going to try to fix the microphones. We’ll go to a break, and then we will come back. We’re here in Toronto, Canada, where the G8 and G20 summits are taking place over the next few days. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to try to bring you the sound as best as we can. We’re in Toronto. We’re overlooking the water, which is very choppy. There are planes overhead. Toronto is behind us. Our guests are Sharmeen Khan and John Clarke, two key organizers here in Toronto.
Before we go back to Sharmeen, John, I want to ask you why people are gathered here, why there is protest for the G8 and the G20.
JOHN CLARKE: Well, I think there’s recognition of the fact that the G20, going all the way back to the G6 in '75 —
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the G20 is, and the G6 and the G8.
JOHN CLARKE: OK. Well, the G6 in ’75 was an initial grouping of the world's most powerful and important imperial nations, essentially.
AMY GOODMAN: Group of 6, uh-huh.
JOHN CLARKE: And they were formed at a time when the world economy was in crisis, and they were looking to rearrange the world economy on the basis of a neoliberal agenda, to impose massive cutbacks and austerity on populations, to reverse the relative concessions of the postwar boom years. And their strategy all along has been to do that.
And this gathering, which has now been broadened to the G20 formation, I think, is setting itself the task of essentially deepening the process of austerity massively. They just stabilized the system with this binge of spending, bailouts to corporations and banks and what have you, spent trillions of dollars, and they’re looking to impose — looking to come to us for the bill. The International Monetary Fund is talking about twenty years of austerity.
So these meetings are always vile. They’re always reprehensible. They always need to be challenged. But this one in Toronto, I think, is exceptionally important.
AMY GOODMAN: And the difference between the G8 and G20?
JOHN CLARKE: Essentially, they’ve brought some of the other economies in the world — major, often third world economies — to the table, so that they can form, I think, a partnership between the traditional imperial powers and elites in the rising economies within the third world. I don’t think it represents a democratization; quite the reverse, it represents a consolidation of an anti-democratic strategy.
AMY GOODMAN: And Sharmeen Khan, the fact that they’re together, this is rare, right? The G8 and the G20 all in one place.
SHARMEEN KHAN: Yeah, I believe that the G8 meetings are planning to be — they’re still going to meet, but I believe that the G20 meetings are going to become more prominent. The G20 is quite new; they’ve only met four times. But I think this year marks a moment where the twenty countries — or twenty leaders, I should say — will consolidate and try to meet more regularly and be the power broker.
AMY GOODMAN: You said that the police came to your workplace. To say what?
SHARMEEN KHAN: Well, I was visited. They came to two events that we were organizing. They’ve mostly been wanting to check out the events we’ve been putting on around the G8 and G20 and then to also ask activists in the room about what our plans were. I should say that they were very polite, but we still refused to speak to them. But that’s sort of been their — they’re called community liaisons, and that’s been their strategy, is to come to different meetings, talk about a different partnership. But a lot of activists felt that they also want to get a sense of who was in the room and who the organizers were.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk, John Clarke, about the amount of money that is being spent for this summit and what’s happening in Toronto, yours an organization dealing with poverty.
JOHN CLARKE: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the decisions the G8/G20 will be making that affect Canada and, of course, countries all over the world.
JOHN CLARKE: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharmeen Khan, you’re the umbrella group of many of the groups that are protesting. Talk about the scope of the people’s concerns and the scope of the organizations.
SHARMEEN KHAN: 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.
I should say, though, that we’re not organizing any of the actions. We’ve asked — we’ve done call-outs for organizations to take on some of the days, do workshops, do rallies. But the network is doing the convergence center. We’re providing childcare, doing logistics of the actions.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people are involved in these protests?
SHARMEEN KHAN: That’s hard to say. I mean, as the days go on, it has — yesterday we saw around 2,200 people in the streets. In the network itself, there’s probably around 150 to 200 people involved.
AMY GOODMAN: John Clarke, what are the actions planned?
JOHN CLARKE: We’re putting most of our resources into an action today. It’s going to be a day to struggle for community justice. We’re going to gather in a major downtown park. We’re going to march through the streets. We haven’t choreographed the route with the cops, so we don’t know what to expect in terms of how they’re going to respond.
And the event will culminate this evening in a tent city. We’re going to take over an area. We’re going to put up tents. It’s going to be a place of solidarity for homeless people. And it’s going to be a place to express the anger of all those who are being displaced and victimized by the system and by the agenda of the G20. I think it will be a very powerful event and a very important one.
And as was alluded to, the real question is going to be where it goes from here. We’re not just protesting a summit; we’re protesting a whole series of attacks. We’re protesting a whole economic system. And as such, the struggles that flow out of today are of the greatest importance.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue of war. Yesterday, as we came into Toronto from Detroit, from covering the US Social Forum, I was seeing a news zipper occasionally would mention the name — I think it was James MacNeil — of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.
JOHN CLARKE: Right, right. Yeah, I mean, I think that the great — one of the great ironies of preparing this and working with mainstream media, for example, is that the fixation is, is this going to be peaceful? Is somebody going to break a window? Is somebody going to scuffle with the cops? Which is such a tiny issue relative to the enormous violence of the agenda that’s being prepared here. It’s not just about imposing austerity on people. They’ll use whatever form of military violence is necessary to ensure that that agenda is enforced. And yes, we are confronting something that I think is profoundly dreadful.