Businesses damaged. Cars aflame. It's been two weeks and we've yet to take responsibility for Toronto's G20 rioting. We should, because we laid the groundwork for it.
For years, our neglect, denial and self-censorship have prepared the conditions for this kind of mess. We citizens have elected, appointed and rewarded those who have all but telegraphed the message that it is open season on public order, peace and stability.
Toronto's civic leaders and police management set the stage for the summit riots by advertising their self-paralyzing tendencies. Remember 2009, when the city signalled its willingness to be victimized by masses of Tamil Tigers' terrorist supporters who flouted the law by blocking public thoroughfares? Ordinary citizens saw their constitutional right to free movement impinged, and had to get out of the way. Police high command met its own short-term convenience by refusing to act as police. This dereliction clearly had the support of city government. There were no consequences for Metro police and city managers who facilitated this lawlessness and public constraint. Meanwhile, society said little, and adversaries watched and took note.
The same thing unfolded contemporaneously in Ottawa in front of Parliament. Police bosses and city politicians, fearing offending radical vote-blocs, chose to smooth the way for disruption rather than enforce the law. In an appallingly graphic display of society's malaise, smartly-uniformed Ottawa police were interspersed throughout crowds of people bearing Tamil Tigers flags. Some officers sported fluorescent vests emblazoned with the word, "Liaison". What were police liaising with? Did it bother Ottawa's mayor and police hierarchy that the visible presence of liaison personnel legitimized one of the world's foremost terror organizations, the granddaddy of suicide bombers?
In major cities, disruptive terror-supporting elements have become emboldened. Hezbollah, another banned terror outfit, has had its agitators brandish their flags openly in our streets. This may be free expression, but it reflects a growing extremist conviction that there is nothing to fear from quaking authority. And little protection for average folk.
An exaggeration? Not to tourists attending Montreal's charming Old Port district in 2006 for the international fireworks competition. Witnesses saw bearded and beveiled Hezbollah supporters take over an area near Place Jacques-Cartier in a solidarity moment with terrorists "back home." Encircling and intimidating a lone busker, the yelling radicals ordered him to leave "their" territory. Frightened, the performer whimpered that he'd put money into a municipal permit to perform there, that he had a wife and kids to support.
Like any predator, Hezbollah recognizes helplessness – in society and people – and kicked out the terrified man. Two anxious police watched this extension of south Lebanese jurisdiction, considered the matter, and scrammed.
What are society's enemies making of authorities' betrayal of citizens and the rule of law? A great deal, and much of it spells licence. Why would the violence-prone be inhibited by non-existent consequences? And why should risk-averse police and city supremos change their ways when the public doesn't discipline them?
Meanwhile, we sit back as opinion-making elites encourage the underlying confusion that brings this collapse of will and enforcement.
As though Toronto's summit was a nonstop fundraising and recruiting drive, multi-million-dollar human-rights' groups competed with one another's inflated claims and demands for G20 public inquiries. One lawyer-ladened group raced out with what it claimed was a careful, comprehensive report condemning police – a scant two days after the summit.
Then there is the media.
We give audience to Canadian journalists who confound us by stumbling from one relativistic noun to another in confused attempts to be neutral about those wanting to kill us. Having effectively banned "terrorist" from their lexicon, media gut language and our understanding by grasping for the non-judgmental word "militant" – a term formerly reserved for nonviolent unionists and the like.
Remarking on the trend, I suggested – facetiously – in a speech a few years ago that CBC might soon describe as "activists" those firing rocket-propelled grenades into Parliament. Little could I know that CBC Toronto summit reporters would routinely refer to rioters, including some approximating Criminal Code definitions of terrorists, as mere "activists" and "protesters". It reminded me of the former CBC foreign correspondent who preferred to "go live" on coverage of baby-killing guerrillas. It was the only way to slip in the "T" word without the producer's snipping the tape.
So, too, in recent CTV stories of Taleban attacks on Afghanistan's Jalalabad airfield. Neither a Kabul-based reporter nor the anchor nor the writer of the network's accompanying website piece could force themselves to call these killers of our own Canadian and allied soldiers, "the enemy", let alone "terrorists". Instead, befuddled CTV journalists came up with the word "militant" – and repeated it eight times, plus "gunmen", "insurgents", and "fighters". Like those local police and civic leaders, they'd do anything to avoid facing unpleasant reality, and we viewers put up with it. As in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Kabul, we can no longer properly distinguish between our enemies and ourselves.
No wonder we are dangerously confused about the threats we face, the nature of our foes, our worth as a society, and our entitlement to come to our own defence.
No wonder we embolden our adversaries and render citizens blind to what is coming.
And no wonder urban guerrillas felt that they had a licence to destroy Toronto.
A lawyer with 30 years in intelligence affairs, David Harris is director of the intelligence program, INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc, has consulted with intelligence organizations in Canada and abroad, and served with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 1988-90.