If you have been following the protests in Toronto, you no doubt have seen the images of police cruisers set on fire, with protesters encroaching on the security fences that were supposed to be far from where protesters were allowed. News reporters and security analysts seemed confused as to the security plan as the police watch multiple police cars set on fire, with fire trucks arriving late on the scene.
The Black Bloc protest, responsible for more of the heavy protests, started off peacefully at the Ontario legislature and three hours later became more violent, with the only escalation by police being arrests. Store windows across the downtown core of Toronto have been smashed in addition to the fires burning in the streets.
So why did the police let the protests escalate from peaceful to fiery? Many might cite the public irritability to police overreactions. Although that might be true in part, there might be another reason. Security for the G8/G20 weekend, tagged over $1 billion, has become by far the most expensive security operation in Canadian history. Public outcries for overspending and a wrongful choice of venue have been circulating for weeks before the weekend.
With such an enormous, controversial budget for security, having police cars on fire and protesters so close to dignitaries may seem to further tarnish the government’s budget decisions for the event. However, the pictures of burning cars and escalated protests may actually prove to play well into the government’s high security plans. When politicians are asked after the conference if they could justify the costs of security, many will now be able to say, “Look what happened with our high security plans. If we decided to cut costs, imagine the damage protesters would have done. There would definitely be bigger problems than burning cars.”
Allowing the escalation of protests by holding back police intervention gives a sense of escalated danger. And the images of angry protestors and burning cars act as an image representative of that danger. Where critics of the budget for the weekend might have previously argued overspending on security, those outcries may now be quieter. When faced with imminent danger of any sort, budgets seem to go out the window. What politician involved in approving the G20 budget wouldn’t like that.