The radio announcer spoke with sincerity and conviction. Heavy snow is on the way. It will strike just before the morning rush hour. People should cancel appointments and stay home unless they have a dire need to get somewhere. Schools should be closed to allow crews to clear the snow without having to pull listeners out of ditches and work around cars blocking the streets.
The following morning was just as blustery and miserable as the radio alert had advised. I looked out the window and saw the streets were almost deserted. What was moving were snow plows of all description, clearing the drifts and minimizing the problems and property damage which would most certainly have occurred if the warning had not been heeded.
Several months back a friend invited me to meet with a few traumatized people who had attended demonstrations at the G20 in Toronto. He had read my comments in the August issue of Blue Line, where I declared the police handling of the summit to be a full success.
“I have no problem meeting with these people,” I responded, “but it should be made clear my comments were in a broader perspective. Whenever you get a large group of people together (citizens and police) there are going to be miscues, temper flair ups, accidents and a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation. What I said, that is a very big truism, is that if you have a lot of people doing the work there are less problems and fewer chances of injury (Something the French will learn if they think they can spend less money).
“I can speak to these people until I am blue in the face but they will still hold their opinions that they were brutalized or whatever. I have no doubt that what they experienced as individuals did make them feel they were treated unfair, brutalized etc. and in some cases, (maybe even all), they may have been. None of this changes the human element of police having to do their job and a larger group of citizens who feel they are doing what they must.
“Officers have been trained to go into these situations with the understanding they may get hurt but no real sense that they will really have to do the hurting. Citizens feel they can go into these same situations and not get hurt and have a great sense of disappointment and indignation when they do get hurt. In times like these a sense of reason can fail everyone.
“From my viewpoint the police were the best prepared that they could be for this event and I defy any agency anywhere, past or present, who could have done better.”
My friend never responded. I really wanted to attend to learn what they expected heading down to the summit and to find out if they had heard the warnings that police may have to take extraordinary measures to put down the violence. Much the same as the weather forecaster, the public was notified that a very extraordinary event was about to happen and violence was very probable. They were given clear information as to where it may happen and that police were prepared to clear the area to protect both people and property.
Clearly a great number of citizens did not heed the warnings of the storm that was about to come. As with the weather warning, disregarding it would have meant many vehicles damaged or towed to clear the roads so the snow could be removed and the community made safer for the larger group of citizens who did heed the warning.
Keeping with the snow analogy, this does not mean the snow plow drivers would not be held responsible for damage they may cause. Insurance companies would have to investigate on a case by case basis to determine the necessity of the vehicle being on the road and the amount of safety that could have been expected under the circumstances.
“Under the circumstances” is exactly what six inquiries are currently investigating with regard to the G20; there are actually seven but the Ontario Ombudsmen investigated even though it was outside his jurisdiction. One wonders how many cases that fall under his jurisdiction had to be sacrificed or given sub-standard attention so he could investigate the summit – and whether he might be taken to task for wasting taxpayer’s money.
In any event, weather forecasting is considered a science. Thanks to technology and research, it has progressed to a level of precision where most citizens heed warnings of storms and other extraordinary events. Much the same research and technology has been dedicated to policing but for some reason many see police warnings as only an opportunity for adventure.
As I have often said, 90 per cent of police work is keeping people from their own misadventure. The G20 proves my point.