civil liberties

Vidcap of Saltspring Island teacher Kristi Kallip attempting to keep the crowds at bay,
sitting atop a police car being smashed while holding out peace signs.

Originally posted on r h i z o m i c o n

I’m not sure why, but I just had a feeling the Canucks were going to lose Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. It may well be from my experience in the 2002 World Series when San Francisco went up 3-2, only to lose two straight and series. So, when I was flipping around in the wee hours of EDT to catch the score, the Canucks loss was overshadowed by the riots following the loss. The Province has an interesting article on how Vancouver hasn’t progressed since 1994 [see 1994 footage of 40-50,000 rioters taking to the streets], when the Canucks experienced a heartbreaking game 7 Stanley Cup loss. A Vancouver constable summed things up::

“People complain that this is a ‘No Fun City,’” said Const. Colin Naismith, lifting up his riot-protection mask. “Well, they had their chance. This is what happens when you let the floodgates open.”

Rioter wielding a hockey stick takes out some frustrations on a Bank of Montréal branch.
I think the Vancouver Police made the right call in how they handled things, given that there were estimates of 100,000 people watching the game on Georgia St. on bigscreens in downtown. The scale of people out on the streets was immense and giving the crowd a reason to escalate the violence would have been a bad move. Imagine the use of coralling with 100,000 people on the streets. In contrast, during last year’s G20 protests in Toronto, there were only 10,000 protestors and allegedly a splinter group of 2,000 black bloc was responsible for damage caused through vandalism. While it may be disturbing to see vandalism and property damage, it’s a delicate balance between ensuring public safety and not pouring gasoline on the fire, given the huge crowd, and ensuring civil liberties. Moreover, a heavy-handed approach, a characterization levied at the Toronto Police for their handling of G20, can result in a PR fail and a sense that free speech rights within the Canadian Charter of Freedoms are being undermined, in the name of public safety. The Vancouver riot had nothing to do with public safety, but with a brutish Hobbesean state fueled by social contagion—as rioters sense a lack of consequences for acting out given the sheer scale of the mob, it gave more people the courage to act out. The best thing for law enforcement to do would be to focus on stopping any assaults and getting out videocameras to add to the panopticon of visual surveillance in the city consisting of about 1,000 cameras. Let the rioting crowd simmer down and document the vandalism and sort it all out later—criminally and civilly. Imperfect? Sure. Some scofflaws might get away with their vandalism or worse, but as evident in this case of a Toronto officer accused of assaulting a bystander during G20, the panopticon can catch up with you long after the emotion of the moment and the criminal deeds were done.

Here’s some video footage from The Province, showing vandals, along with some concerned citizens trying to stop the violence::
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Well, it makes one wonder what would have happened if Canada lost the hockey gold last February in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver {although the crowds on the street were in the tens of thousands, not 100,000} and also what would happen if election results were big screen televised public spectacles with large gatherings.

Finally, all of this reminds me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s video for Fiona Apple’s cover of “Across the Universe”, on the soundtrack for Pleasantville {1998}::

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Twitterversion:: [blog] #Vancouver Riots-Critical Mass & Contagion:powder keg w/ safety, property, civ liberties, & exacerbation at stake @Prof_K

Notes from North of 49ºN

Lyon in Ambush

Last month, I was watching CNN and saw Amber Lyon’s Craigslist trafficking story, which struck me as shoddy gotcha journalism used to stem the tide of CNN’s downward spiralling ratings. Her more recent story covers Craigslist’s removal of the adult services section {replaced with the word “censored” in the US} and also shows the clip I mentioned::

When I saw this, I felt that Amber was conflating trafficking and sex work and that her catching of the founder, Craig Newmark, like a deer-in-the-headlights was for pure dramatic effect. Newmark called her out on her ambush, which she took offense to and got rather huffy about anyone calling into question her journalistic ethics. So, let’s get this straight, she created a fake ad, solicited johns with the words “sweet, innocent new girl with a WILD streak…”, evoking a “To Catch a Predator” vibe, and equated responses to her ad with evidence of intent to engage in underage trafficking. Craig responded, as did CEO Jeff Buckmaster, but the fact of the matter as I see it is that she, along with 17 states’ attorneys general, opted to create a sex panic for ratings and political gain, respectively. Jeff Jarvis’ take is that regulators and old media are going after Craigslist because it’s a technological disruptor upsetting the established power structures. I think there might be something to that, but I’ll wager going after adult services on online sites is like the pornography prosecutions in the late 1980s {see Frontline, American Porn}. Politically, going after sex work on the Internet is low hanging fruit in the court of public opinion and throwing in underage trafficking into the mix is an attempt to make such endeavors by attorneys general appear unassailable. The acid test of one’s motives should be how policy affects the abused. Crackdowns will only serve to drive sex work underground, further exacerbating the issue of helping those who need it.

Markets & Institutions

I feel that this issue of Craigslist as a market creator that doubles as a hotbed of immoral and illegal activities taps into cultural hot buttons that lead us astray from those being abused—the trafficked. There are serious issues to address here regarding the quasi-markets of sex work that aren’t legitimized, yet have been allowed to proliferate on the Internet and in free weeklies. The lack of legitimacy fosters an environment for exploitation and abuse for sex work, by those in positions of power. Sadly, this can involve unscrupulous law enforcement officers taking advantage of their positions. The institutional framework {government agencies, law enforcement, non-profits, etc.} operate within a context where issues of sex work are criminal justice matters, not ones of public health. Melissa Gira Grant in an article today cites three studies on sex work, institutions, and police::

“Even when girls sought out the support they needed – from drug treatment and foster care programs to hospitals and the police – they were denied help because of their involvement in the sex trade…In a University of California at San Francisco study published in 2009, 22 percent of San Francisco adult female sex workers surveyed reported having police as paying customers. Fourteen percent were threatened with arrest if they did not have sex with a police officer. Washington cops fare no better: in a report published on people involved in or perceived to be involved in the sex trade, Different Avenues reveals that one in five people were solicited for sex by the police. They also report that police confiscated safer sex supplies, and strip-searched and assaulted people suspected of prostitution.”

A criminal justice approach sets up a series of power dynamics within a market system and with the advent of sex panics come the temptation to engage in clampdowns.

So, what will happen in light of the Craigslist ban? James Temple of the SF Chron was interviewed on All Things Considered {via Melissa Gira Grant} offering some insights::

If the player doesn’t launch, click here.

He cites what CEO Jim Buckmaster said what would happen, i.e., the adult services ads would move to other parts of Craigslist. This makes it harder for Craigslist and law enforcement to engage in surveillance efforts.

Crime & Punishment

Microsoft researcher, danah boyd, in a HuffPo post addresses several issues regarding the Craigslist ban. I agree with her take on visibility and I feel that forcing sex work and trafficking underground will only serve to harm those being abused. I agree that online spaces can be made risky for criminals, but I’m wary of civil liberties abuses stemming from online activities being monitored. While I haven’t had the experience of talking to many law enforcement officers, like danah has, on the topic of Internet and crime, but I’m wary of increased leveraging on online technologies by law enforcement, particularly in stings or clampdowns. Why? I think this places a great deal of faith that a criminal justice approach to the abuses in sex work will actually help the victims. The system is set up to punish those breaking the law, not addressing the root causes of the issues. The same hold true for the elicit drug trade. I see both substance abuse and trafficking to be better served with a public health approach and I’d rather see more investments there than towards increased law enforcement with the objective of catching perps. On the other hand, as Grant pointed out in this 2009 Slate article, technologies like Craigslist do create a marketplace “commons” where users leave traces that can be used in surveillance to solve crimes, such as the so-called Craigslist killer in Boston. Within our current state, I think there’s a role for a certain amount of collaboration between websites and law enforcement, but one that’s not too cozy.

I do have a suggestion for Amber Lyon’s next journalistic coup. There are no bans on adult services in Canada, so she can go to the border crossings with a camera crew and look for suspicious-looking pervy characters heading to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montréal, bringing only a laptop, a cellphone, and an overnight bag.

Screenshot from Craigslist—Toronto,

Song:: “Prostitute”-Fifteen

Twitterversion:: [blog] Craigslist ban on adult services due to sex panic pressure ignores institutional issues & those needing help. @Prof_K @ThickCulture

Vidcap of Jason MacDonald at a G20 Protest, Queen West & Spadina, Toronto, Canada, via impolitical

Notes from North of 49ºN

I was far from the fray two weekends ago when the G20 was in town here in Toronto and I thought the mainstream media was being overly dramatic about the “violence” in the city due to anarchist protesters. On Saturday, the 26th., statements on the news like “Toronto will never be the same” while shots of boarded-up shopfronts on Yonge Street and a police cruiser set ablaze conveyed the message that the city was under siege. More on the cruiser later.

The fact of the matter is that the “destruction” was isolated and targeted at corporate entities, but the lingering fallout will be that of lawsuits and questions pertaining to civil liberties. There were over a thousand detainees stemming from the G20. The Toronto Star {via impolitical} summed things up regarding the detainees and the police use of section 31 {breaching the peace}::

“According to section 31 of the criminal code, officers can arrest anyone found to be ‘committing the breach of the peace or who, on reasonable grounds, he believes is about to join in or renew the breach of peace.’

But according to criminal lawyer Paul Calarco, there is ‘no legitimate basis’ for many of this weekend’s arrests.

‘Wearing a black t-shirt is not any basis for saying reasonable grounds (for arrest),’ he argued. As for arresting peaceful demonstrators en masse, “that is not a proper use of Section 31. That is an intimidation tactic,’ he said.

‘Standing on the sidewalk and exercising your constitutional rights is not a breach of the peace.'”

While some might argue that the G20 protests had the potential to truly get out of hand, the reality was that incidents were isolated. The problem is where is the line drawn with respect to police actions under these circumstances? Should civil liberties be expected to be waived due to extraordinary circumstances and how are these circumstances defined?

One would think that a transit worker in uniform going to work, blocks away from protest activity would be OK, right? Particularly if nothing was “going on”. Wrong. A fare collector spent 36 hours handcuffed in detention for being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Gerald Yau heading to work at the Queen’s Park TTC station was tackled and told to stop resisting arrest::

“’I told them I wasn’t resisting arrest, that I was on my way to work. I was in full uniform with TTC shirt, pants, full ID, my employee card, everything,’ Yau said on Wednesday. ‘They said, ‘Really? Well, you’re a prisoner today.’

Moments before, another man had run into him but kept going, Yau said, adding that man was also arrested. There was no protest in sight and not many people in the street, he said.

Berating Yau and swearing at him for being an ’embarrassment’ to the TTC, officers dragged him half a block in handcuffs and shackles and threw him into a paddy wagon, he said.

After a TTC supervisor arrived to vouch for him, he thought he’d be released but was sent to the Eastern Ave. detention centre instead.”

The tactics used by the police bring into sharp focus the lines between public safety and the rights of citizens and visitors to Canada. I tend to agree with Boyd Erman of the Globe & Mail who said the actions of the police give Toronto a black eye::

“But the events of this past weekend have shaken that faith for many. Some of the scenes on Toronto’s streets during the G20 recalled for witnesses those more often associated with dictatorships. There were plainclothes officers snatching people from the midst of seemingly peaceful demonstrations and stuffing them in the back of minivans, before speeding away. Passersby arrested just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were cops busting into homes and pointing guns at innocent people in their own beds. (That’s what one Toronto couple, veterinarians both, claim happened to them when police snuck into the family apartment at 4 a.m. by mistake, then hemmed and hawed when asked to produce a warrant.)

There were police charges at crowds with no warning. (This is a point the Toronto police dispute, but most eyewitness accounts, including those of journalists, are in agreement that warnings were inadequate, inaudible or even non-existent.)

Some showcase. A few broken windows by lawbreaking protesters have, sadly, become expected at these events. But police behaviour like this and the criminalization of civilian dissent is not expected, certainly not in Canada.

None of the criticism of the police absolves all protesters of blame. Both the criminal element who damaged property and taunted police, as well as the many peaceful protesters who nonetheless refused to disavow violence as a tactic, are at the root of the problem.

However, the police must be held to a higher standard. These were the biggest mass arrests in Canadian history, numbering more than 900. There were surely legitimate reasons for some, but the vast numbers of people simply held then released suggests that police simply picked up everyone in sight, a civil libertarian’s nightmare.”

While it might not seem like a big deal that a peaceful protester gets a little bloody from a police shield, the damage is done when it comes to perceptions of proportional use of force. Frankly, it makes Toronto look bush league with a city government worthy of derision, given prior debacles when the city wasn’t able to handle “crises”, such as Mel Lastman’s snowmageddon, when the army was called in to remove the snow. {BTW, I’ll leave it to Rick Mercer to give his un-PC rant about Toronto and the weather}. Sure, nobody expects the Spanish inquisition, but there should be better planning, policies, and procedures in place to deal with crises—that don’t throw civil liberties out the window.

With the luxury of hindsight, this was indeed a debacle and it’s not as if there wasn’t plenty of lead time to prepare for it, including the expectation of Black Bloc activity. There were also plenty of funds to go around. What about the violence and police cruisers set ablaze? Some are saying that they were “bait”, as in props to fuel the media frenzy. Sounds pretty paranoid, right? Well, in Montebello, Québec in August of 2007, a rock-wielding police infiltrator was “outed” at a protest, which was captured on tape and made the rounds on YouTube.

While it may not be surprising that the underground media is stating that the police “staged” the “violence” or at least allowed the “violence” to seem more threatening than it actually was, what might be surprising is that the mainstream media are picking up on this theme. David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen offered this::

“…No one was seriously injured. It would have taken very little traditional police effort to prevent almost all of the property damage that occurred last week. Instead we spent something like a billion dollars in overkill, necessitated by the bureaucratic need to permit violence before awkwardly suppressing it.”

And so it goes…

Song:: Nick Lowe-“So It Goes”

Twitterversion:: [blog] Post-mortem review of G20 #Toronto police actions & civil liberties fallout. #ThickCulture