Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We Are Losing Our Democracy While the Middle East is Earning Theirs

Both in Canada and the U.S., many journalists and talk show hosts are praising the actions of Egypt, while wondering what happened to our own democracies.

Egyptians risked their lives to overthrow a ruthless and corrupt government, and we can't even get off the couch to cast our ballot. We should be ashamed.

But for those not inspired in North America, across the Middle East and Africa, there has been a domino affect. According to the Toronto Star: Citizens, ex-soldiers, labourers protest across Arab world

They list the countries currently uprising, and there's a common theme. Income disparity and police brutality. I kept rereading the names, because they could have been about Canada.

Libya: "Egypt-inspired unrest spread against Libya’s longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday, with riot police clashing with protesters"

Yemen: "... sent 2,000 policemen into the streets of the capital on Wednesday to try to put down days of protests against the president of 32 years"

South Africa: "Police fired rubber bullets Wednesday to disperse protesters in a third day of demonstrations in the eastern town of Ermelo"

And all of this started as a result of social media.
Over the last year, many have questioned just how important social media are in helping activists achieve social change. Writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote a famous essay in The New Yorker entitled “Small change: Why the Revolution Won’t be Tweeted.” He argued that social networks only create weak ties between people, but that it’s strong ties and close relationships that bring about real social change.

The topic has been widely debated, and then reality stepped in: If Twitter, Facebook and YouTube didn’t exist, Hosni Mubarak would still be president of Egypt. The social media tools gave Mubarak’s opponents unprecedented ability to share information and organize their activities, including the massive protests which riveted the world’s attention.
Pollsters in Canada didn't think social media had an impact but we proved them wrong during the anti-prorogation rallies. And cell phone images, videos and tweets revealed the police brutality at the G-20 in Toronto. Mainstream media had better get with the program or they are going to lose their voice in the same way that we once lost our voice. No one will be listening.

But they are sure listening now.

I cancelled my local paper (Sun Media) and rarely watch Canadian news shows (about 2 minutes a month is all I can handle). Too much spin and too little substance.


  1. Hi Emily, great blog, you're really active! It's good to see that somebody somewhere is still paying attention!

    While sympathizing with your desire to see Canadians be more active in civil society, I think that there is a false analogy between the protests in Egypt and those in Toronto on a number or levels.

    Egyptians have lived under a military-backed dictatorship for over three decades, and have not enjoyed any of the liberal rights and freedoms that we in Canada have had (officially) since the 1960s Bill of Rights. The protest was a large-scale domestic uprising, and could be said to represent a significant majority of their civilian population. They protested against an autocratic regime in favour of of acquiring democratic representation. A very worthy and noble cause, and its a shame that Western governments weren't more overtly supportive of that.
    In Canada, the G20 protestors were a rather small motley group who were generally unrepresentative of mainstream Canadian society. They hold a particular world view which is fearful of official international engagement between states because of their base belief in the state-apparatus as an executive board of capital and big business. The plain fact is that most Canadians don't feel an existential threat from our government or their collaboration with other governments. However, the protestors further undermine their position in mainstream society by choosing violent confrontation as a supposed superior mechanism for political dialogue than democratic institutional mechanisms. To say that the police acted first is somewhat of a moot point, as most protestors were surely aware of the likelihood of some form of violence occuring in light of past G20/G8 demonstrations. That they were at the scene of the protests, which could have been reasonably assumed to become violent, somewhat demonstrates that they had chosen this means of policy input over others. In a way its somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the state is out to get me, so I will act a certain way in anticipation of their action, and vice versa. Like you write in your 'About Me' section, these people could have chosen to elect another candidate in the next election to get the Conservatives out of office.

    Also, I quite enjoy CBCs political shows. They're much less overtly slanted than the American shows are. Their hosts don't seem to be putting forth any agenda of their own (a la Glenn Beck or Bill Maher) but instead host a panel of guests who represent different opinions on the same issue. Could you offer me an example of their slant?

    Again, great blog!

  2. You're right. I'm not really comparing the two, but it's upsetting that we take so much for granted.

  3. G20 TORONTO QUEEN & SPADINA PROTESTS & DETENTION - Decide for yourself!

    Taken from an apartment overlooking Queen and Spadina - clearly shows that the crowd is mostly just curious onlookers and absolutely NO violent protestors or violent actions (even agressive actions) everyone was just dumbfounded and confuse...d - trying to find a way out, which as you can see was NOT directed nor were they given directions. They were surrounded, and every single one of them was detained. For close to five hours outside. Video shows the first hour and a half (edited).



  4. A G20 incident caught on video that shows a York Regional Police officer telling a protester he is no longer in Canada and has no civil rights is under investigation.

  5. A total of 1105 people were arrested in relation to the G-20 summit protests,[4] the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.[5] Smaller-scale, non-violent protests took place the following day, June 28, during the afternoon and evening. Nearly 1000 protesters marched to Toronto City Hall and Queen's Park to protest the treatment of arrested individuals at the Eastern Avenue holding centre and demanded the release of individuals still being detained, although police had earlier released several arrested on minor charges.[72] Large numbers of Toronto Police Service officers continued to patrol the demonstrations.[73] On June 29, a group of gay activists gathered outside a community centre where Toronto Police Service chief Bill Blair was scheduled to speak to demand his resignation for the treatment of women and homophobia within the detention centre.[74]

    On December 7, 2010, Andre Martin, Ontario Ombudsman, issued a report called Caught in the Act, an investigation into the legality of the Ontario Public Works Protection Act, and, more specifically Regulation 233/10, in Martin's words, ...known as the secret security regulation, a little known and widely misunderstood legal measure that was supposed to help the police keep the peace, but in my view wound up contributing to massive violations of civil rights. [75]

  6. AFP - Ten thousand people marched against the G20 summit Saturday to protest for jobs and social causes, in a largely peacefully rally that saw nevertheless saw outbreaks of violence on its fringes.

  7. Hi Nadine,
    Thank you for that information.

    I didn't say the police were angels in this, nor did I say that the protesters were uniform mass guided or directed by some malovent leadership. I recognize the differences in opinion amongst the different protesters in the audience, which range from the peaceful to the violent.

    I said that the political views of the protesters in general are not representative of the Canadian population, and put themselves into these situations knowing ahead of time the likelihood of their being violence. Its unfortunate that some groups were surrounded and detained, but after the 'Battle in Seattle' governments and police have to take precaution against the more radical and violent protesters. That Security is needed for these summits is unquestionable, and that violence results against civilians is abhorrent.

    I appreciate the opinion and work of people like yourself because in the end a better way to provide for the security of conference while allowing peaceful demonstration will be reached.

    The comments of one police officer in the heat of the moment cannot be extrapolated to mean that the entire Canadian system supporting freedom of speech and civil rights has been supplanted by tyranny. Nor does the detention of a thousand people into hastily constructed detainment camps convince me of that either.

  8. as the protests gained momentum in Egypt,
    i like probably many other Canadians could not help but be reminded of our own people's protests during the G8/G20 here in Canada