Protests have always made me nervous, but Toronto’s recent Tamil protests a bit more than usual. They’ve been able to gather massive amounts of participants – by CP24’s estimate, Wednesday’s protest was to have had 100,000 attendees, although I don’t think it actually reached those numbers – and have managed huge disruptions, from forming a human chain through the downtown core a few months ago to Sunday’s impromptu blockade of the Gardiner Expressway.
Peaceful protests are great, but unfortunately it doesn’t take much to change a peaceful protest into a deadly one – especially when so many people are involved. Just how real this concern is was shown on Sunday when, in CP24’s words, without prior warning “protesters overwhelmed a handful of police officers on bikes…and swarmed onto a downtown Toronto highway.” What if someone had been hurt? Or what if these kinds of numbers had been gathered for a more polarizing issue, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Are our police prepared to deal with (God forbid) violence on such a large scale? Canada’s usual lacklustre attitude to security, as well as the “handful of police officers on bikes” do nothing to reassure me, for one. There was a much larger police presence on Wednesday, but the fact that it was a reactionary, rather than proactive, measure worries me.
The protests also raise another question: to what degree do protesters have a right to disturb Canadian civil society for the sake of a conflict in which Canada is not directly involved? On the one hand, it’s important for NGO’s and protest groups to be able to get Canadian society off of its collective behind to stop massacres, and disrupting pedestrian and motor traffic in the downtown core is a great way to get the message across. On the other hand, the peacefulness of Canadian society (among others) is what sets it apart from places like Sri Lanka, so isn’t disturbing that peace therefore counterproductive? Shouldn’t we keep stable and peaceful countries stable and peaceful, while helping others become more so?
So far the protest has only been a nuisance, but one with a penchant for unplanned detours. Sunday’s fiasco was repeated again on Wednesday when the protest, which should have been confined to Queen’s Park, spilled into the downtown core. Added to this is the use of the Tamil Tigers flag: although the protesters claim that it is nothing more than a nationalist emblem, it nonetheless brings with it a mental association as violent as the two crossed rifles in its design. This protest is clearly too volatile and potentially threatening for comfort, and while these questions apply to more than just the current situation, the time to answer them is now.