Challenging Toronto's Corporate Security Walls:
Fabricating Voices For Peace And Development
27 June 2010
By Harsha Walia and Stefan Christoff
Toronto's winding razor-sharp tipped security walls
surrounding the upcoming G20 summit centre certainly
have inspired controversy and critiques across the
Behind the immediately pressing story of security
checkpoints cutting up downtown Toronto, intrusive
CSIS interrogations targeting social justice
activists, and a government-driven security atmosphere
aiming to intimidate social movements working to
challenge the G20, is a corporate-driven narrative of
profit by any means.
In Toronto this week, contract workers are putting
final touches on the three-metre high and six-kilometre
long $5.5 million dollar concrete and metal security
fence encompassing the Metro Toronto Convention
Centre. Total security bill for the G20 in Toronto and
G8 in Huntsville is expected to reach over $1 billion,
the most expensive in history. Within and around this
armed camp are 20,000 law enforcement officials, 1,000
private security guards, closed circuit TV cameras,
military-style checkpoints along with sound and water
Behind these steel cages is a corporate-driven
narrative of profiteering. An open conspiracy that
fuses Canadian state security agencies and one of
Canada's key multinational corporations, directing
millions in public funds towards private accounts.
Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin has been
awarded the contract for the construction and
conceptualization of the militarization of downtown
Toronto. SNC-Lavalin's history is global in reach and
politically fascinating as a corporation that has
quickly moved to seek global contracts in occupied
lands with minimal public controversy.
In 2004, SNC Technologies, a subsidiary, secured a
deal to manufacture 300-500 million bullets for the
U.S. military in the months after the Bush
administration launched the "shock and awe" invasion
of Iraq. Protests in Toronto targeted SNC-Lavalin's
annual general meeting in 2005, bringing attention to
the role of Canadian corporations in the U.S.
occupation of Iraq. In 2006, SNC-Lavalin dropped the
bullet-making division as public critique towards the
Iraq arm contract compounded.
SNC-Lavalin is also the largest Canadian private
contractor in Afghanistan, working in close
co-ordination with the Canadian military in Kandahar.
With hundreds of employees in the country, SNC-Lavalin
works to develop infrastructure that normalizes the
reality of a NATO-lead military occupation, under
which torture, poverty, and violence have come to
shape contemporary life for many Afghans.
As part of the 3D -- defence, diplomacy, development
-- paradigm touted by the Canadian military, in 2009
the corporation was selected to rebuild a major dam on
the Arghandab River. Billed as one of Canada's
"signature projects," today the $50-million Dahla Dam
project in the northern Kandahar province is heading
towards a political disaster.
SNC-Lavalin operates directly within the militarized
compound of Ahmed Wali Karzai, younger half-brother of
Afghani leader Hamid Karzai, and recent paramilitary
clashes over the project facing a ballooning budget
have forced Canadians guarding the project to flee
Reports indicate that U.S. investigators are currently
probing the possibility that Karzai-linked security
officials "may be colluding with insurgents to
maximize profits," in securing a "development" project
that is on the brink of becoming a national
controversy, pointing to blurry lines between
corporate interests in Afghanistan, Canadian military
activities and interchanging local political
alliances, all forces playing politics for greater
influence and capital gains within a war zone.
Disaster capitalism at ground zero of the first major
U.S. military strike point post 9/11.
SNC Lavalin is a direct beneficiary of the global
security industry that has been rapidly ballooning in
the post 9/11 climate. Private security and
engineering contractors have crafted a niche market
that relies on escalating conflict and perpetuating
A deliberate manipulation of fear, supported by
government and media sound-bytes on terrorism, has
meant the mass introduction of mass surveillance
systems. An atmosphere that allows countries like
Israel to normalize its daily illegal occupation of
Palestine, and the U.S. to justify its construction of
the anti-migrant U.S.-Mexico border wall, both
inherently unjust realities cloaked in security. It
has also meant deep pockets for pioneering companies
like Boeing and Elbit Systems who produce related
security technologies. In the years after 9/11, the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security handed out $130
billion to private contractors.
In Toronto, the summit perimeter walls are similarly
rooted in post 9/11 security concepts. A security
fence that is also a strong ideological reminder of
the contradiction of the G20 process: select global
leaders having closed-door meetings that exclude
voices of dissent, while simultaneously extolling
political rhetoric promoting the "free flow of ideas,"
"removal of barriers," and "global community,"
language standing in stark contrast to thousands of
armed police silencing dissenting voices. Democracy is
rooted in dialogue and engagement, not militarization.
In 2009, Barack Obama delivered a major address in
Europe, pointing towards nuclear disarmament,
advocating that "voices for peace and progress must be
raised together," political language pointing to the
violent contradiction of advocating for global justice
from behind kilometres of razor wire fence as
militarized police repel voices advocating for change
from the streets.
As the G20 convention centre is shrouded in two tight
rows of welded wire, as armed police flank street
check points and state-issued photo ID is the only
ticket into the Toronto's downtown core, it is clear
that security preparations towards the G20 summit, as
previously with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver,
are testing limits on security culture in Canada.
Certainly fences are becoming a symbol our era,
locally and globally, as security doctrines often
conflate terrorism with political protest, walls
silencing dissent become politically possible.
CSIS has itself admitted that the risk of "terrorism"
is low, hence the tired-old stereotype of "violent
anarchists." This has resulted in intrusive CSIS and
RCMP interrogations targeting and intimidating social
justice activists of all stripes and efforts to
demonize protestors in the eyes of Toronto residents.
Tips in the G20 Summit Resident Information Guide
include not engaging in conversations with protesters.
Currently in Toronto, the main rationale for the $1
billion security apparatus is apparently an incredibly
dangerous form of domestic terrorism: protestors.
Over the past decades, countless thousands advocating
for global justice have gathered on the streets every
year to protest the closed door meetings of both G8
and G20 summits, as global inequalities continues to
rise protests have grown; never at these mass
convergences has a single protester serious harmed
It was in Genoa, Italy, at the G8 summit in 2001 when
the first lethal gunshot rang out, and Carlo Giuliani,
a young Italian anarchist, was shot in the face by
Italian police. Giuliani died on that Italian street
surrounded by police. In Quebec City, as
tens-of-thousands gathered to protest U.S.-driven
efforts to establish the hemispheric Free Trade Area
of the Americas Agreement (FTAA), street protesters
suffered multiple injuries on the part of police, one
young activist from Montreal was permanently disabled,
a rubber bullet crushing his larynx, forever silencing
one voice of dissent in Canada.
Today in Toronto, police rule the day on downtown
boulevards, while SNC-Lavalin is laughing all the way
to the bank at having perfected the equation between
militarization and profit. Mainstream political
rhetoric revolving around the G20 remains a surface
level discussion on security, silencing real global
issues of poverty, war and displacement facing so many
throughout the global south.
So the question for those caged within Fortress
Toronto is a simple one: will we capitulate to this
cultivated culture of fear and the normalization of an
Orwellian police state? Today, let us see past the
smoke and mirrors of security and join thousands on
the streets in the daily struggles against the
violence of G20 policies locally and globally.
Harsha Walia is a Vancouver-based writer and
activist who is at http://www.twitter.com/harshawalia.
Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer and
activist who is at http://www.twitter.com/spirodon.