Fleming Drive: Be Careful What You Wish For

When a riot in your hometown hits BBC news, it’s probably time to blog about it.  For my international friends who haven’t heard, there was a St Patrick’s Day riot in London, Ontario in a neighbourhood made up predominantly of student housing.

I wanted to comment briefly on potential police response and preventing further occurrences.  From the G20 protests, the Vancouver hockey riots, and this weekend’s St Patrick’s Day riot, it is clear that once these kind of events are in motion, police are ill-equipped, and likely ill-advised, to intervene.  However, after the events are over, public ire often turns towards police forces with demands that they should have stopped it.

Well, we tried that during the G20, don’t you remember?  You likely remember smashed windows and burning cop cars, but remember how at the end of the first day they went into the park and did mass arrests of peaceful protesters?  Do you remember the kettles on the second day that caught up people out for dinner, and the TVO journalist Steve Paikin?  This is what a heavy police presence and preventative arrests looks like, and it sure looks ugly.  This was the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, the vast majority of whom were released without charges.  Do you remember the cages?  The cold?  The indignity?

And then of course there is the cost.  Yes, we could use a massive police presence, go heavy on the arrests, and kettle people in, as ugly as it is; but freedom and human rights issues aside, do we really want to pay for this?  Each major potential party we’re going to pay overtime for 100’s of SWAT officers?  This would quickly make $100,000 of property damage look like peanuts.  And, with police budgets taking an ever increasing portion of the City budget, what services will we cut to make this happen?

So, I conclude that the heavy police response is not the route any of us really want to go.  In the search for quick and easy solutions it is tempting, but hopefully we can be more thoughtful than the easy and expensive.  Other bloggers have begun to offer insight into possible solutions that focus instead on community-building; this is where we need to go.

5 thoughts on “Fleming Drive: Be Careful What You Wish For

  1. Thanks for a succinct and thoughtful opinion on this. I do completely agree. This is a no-win situation for the police; if they use force (tear gas, pepper spray, batons, tasers and so on) then it is seen as over-reaction (and that is sometimes the case). If they do as they did in London, then they are regarded as not doing enough. That this came to a point where riot gear was required speaks volumes to the fact that a chronic situation should have been analyzed and solutions sought before lives were placed at risk. Other university and college towns in Ontario had the same predisposing conditions (nice weather, St. Patrick’s day drunkenness); what factors caused this to become so out of control in London? I have thoughts and no answers, but as a community we need to look long and hard for the good of all, including the students.

  2. Well stated – the restrain demonstrated by police/fire given the acuity of the situation is commendable. hopefully future incidents in London can be addressed in a more upstream fashion, underpinned by civic responsibility and community cohesion. Militarizing the streets in preparation of future mass convergence events (e.g., next year’s St Pattys day) will solve nothing…

  3. I did some quick research, and carrying open bottles of alcohol on public property is illegal, and is ticket-able with a $120 fine. I made an open suggestion to Fontana that instead of ramping up security, that he encourage Police to simply carry out the laws on the books. Had the police started at 8am to ticket all offenders, it may have turned out the same way, but a precedent would be set. Small measures of disrespect lead to bigger ones; just my two cents.

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