Ontario: A leading jurisdiction for intense, coercive neoliberalism

By Joe Fantauzzi

Global capitalism has liberalized incrementally since the end of the Second World War. As the Keynesian welfare state fell out of favour in the late 1970s amid a stagnating economy and rising government spending, a new business-friendly approach dubbed neoliberalism (literally, “new liberalism”), emerged and ushered in an epoch of devotion to market principles as the solution to what ails Ontario both economically and socially. The implementation of the Canada-US Trade Agreement in 1987[1], North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994[2] and the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995[3] were major landmarks in the process of market liberalization. However, the hijacking and crashing of commercial jetliners on September 11, 2001, introduced a major challenge to the world of liberal capitalism. The Great Recession, the first stages of which began in 2007, intensified pressure on the world economic structures — and by extension, those in Ontario. I contend that Ontario has been, and remains, among the jurisdictions at the forefront of a business-friendly neoliberal agenda in Canada, despite rising structural unemployment, major challenges in the core manufacturing sector and a drop to a so-called have-not province within Canada’s federal framework. I also argue that neoliberalism has become increasingly menacing through three successive governments since 1990, culminating in the arrest of more than 1,000 people during the June 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto. To prove this, I will first attempt to define neoliberalism and locate it as an economic and political movement. I will then explore several examples of economic behaviour in Ontario during the neoliberal period and uniquely neoliberal political policies implemented by three governments since 1990. A significant amount of time will also be spent discussing the coercive nature of neoliberalism in Ontario, specifically the explosion of policing budgets both provincially and locally in the post-September 11, era. Finally, I will analyze the consequences neoliberalism has held for the economy, the welfare state and those who find themselves in opposition to the model, and where that ostensibly places them in a province that shows no sign of rejecting such market-based values in the near future.

Locating Neoliberalism As A Political and Economic Agenda
Before examining examples of neoliberalism in Ontario, a framing of the discussion should be helpful. Here, neoliberalism will be seen to have its origins in the 1980s. The era will be generally said to begin with the election of United Kingdom Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979, become internationalized with the election of United States Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1980 and be spread to Canada upon the election of Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1984. Neoliberalism will be seen to be entrenched in the 1990s, especially in Ontario which forms the starting point of this analysis, and intensified after the terrorist attacks of September 11, lasting to the present day. Neoliberalism is understood here to encompass government policies of privatization and deregulation and a liberalized trade and financial environment[4], following the Washington Consensus.[5] Post-Second World War governments oriented toward a reduction of support for the welfare state, opposition — or even hostility — to Keynesian economics, a preference for capitalist market solutions and tax cuts while realigning spending priorities to include a heightened emphasis on security and policing and coercion techniques, will also be viewed as neoliberal.

Proponents of what would one day be called neoliberalism saw an opportunity in the crisis of stagnant growth, inflation (“stagflation”) and ballooning government deficits in the 1970s to push counter-Keynesian measures, which were backed by many members of the business community, Stephen McBride tells us.[6] The electorate was taken in by the new agenda and eventually convinced “that balanced budgets and sound finance would eventually restore a degree of economic security that inflation and declining real incomes had eroded.”[7] However, McBride also notes that with the benefit of time, it can be shown “that major problems of public debt occurred after the abandonment of Keynesianism and the adoption of neoliberalism.”[8] To this end, he points to neoliberal hallmarks such as high interest rates as “curing inflation by driving the economy into recession” and the accumulation of lower public revenues in spite of the fact that social spending had to rise[9] given the unstable economy.

Economics in Neoliberal Ontario
In the 1980s, as the foundations of neoliberal politics were being poured in Ontario’s governing bodies, the provincial economy was also undergoing major structural changes. This section examines three economic events in Ontario during the neoliberal period: a drastic drop in manufacturing capacity following deeper economic integration with the United States, structural changes in Ontario’s labour market and the transition of Ontario into a so-called “have-not province”, whereby it receives equalization payments from the Canadian federation. It is arguably helpful to understand Ontario’s economic challenges not only from the perspective of what is happening in the capitalist economy but also in the public sector; Ontario’s ability to influence or encourage neoliberal capitalism may very well be tied to its fiscal health within the larger Canadian context.

For analysis purposes here (the post-1990 period) it can be said that Ontario’s manufacturing sector has been a ship tossed on rough seas. The early 1990s were witness to a significant recession but also a developing of closer ties of the Canadian (and heavily Ontarian) economy with that of the United States. It is hard to determine exactly how significant the processes of rationalization and redundancy excising were on the province’s manufacturers because of that closer relationship, but it can be said that by 1995, that the Canada-US Trade Agreement (CUSTA), the predecessor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, was a factor in plant closures in Ontario. Plant closures spiked to the highest level in 1992.[10] When trade barriers fell with the CUSTA, “[p]lant closures occurred disproportionately among the previously highly protected manufacturing industries,”[11] Eugene Beaulieu tells us. Automobile manufacturing, a staple of Canada’s Second National Policy, has suffered tremendously and has been recently described by one auto sector analyst as being “dismal.”[12] The auto sector is important to Ontario, where there is a concentration of auto assembly plants, representing the most prominent global auto companies.[13] The obvious relevance of news of the decline of manufacturing, specifically in the auto sector, is that it is that sector in which full-time, low to semi-skilled reasonably paid employment, protected by strong unions, was traditionally located during the Second National Policy.

Despite layoffs and job losses associated with the closure of manufacturing plants throughout the neoliberal era, the province’s attempts to develop labour market adjustment policy through the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board in the 1990s (and even earlier through the Ministry of Skills Development) has been described as “wholly inadequate.”[14] This is a problem, since the private sector cannot be relied upon to pick up the slack, Thomas R. Klassen tells us. “…Ontario, as the manufacturing heartland of Canada, will remain under pressure to ensure that its workforce is competitive. Given the nature of the North American labour market, businesses will continue to under-invest in training, and look to government to furnish a trained workforce.”[15] These deficient responses, coupled with larger trends in the Canadian economy that have included “a decrease in the relative demand for unskilled labour”,[16] have come at the same time as higher structural unemployment levels — a connection Peter Kuhn and A. Leslie Robb call “obvious.”[17] There are obvious ramifications for workers associated with these tendencies in the market; specifically, that they serve to coerce workers from becoming too militant, lest they risk their employment.  As Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen put it in Persistent Poverty: Voices from the margins: “Rising unemployment and downward pressure on wages and working conditions make it harder for workers to find replacement jobs when their rights are violated, making it all the more difficult to leave substandard work.”[18]

Ontario’s economic woes have not been restricted to the capitalist sector. Directly connected to the decline of manufacturing, a rising Canadian dollar and the slowing of the Ontario economy, has been its receipt of equalization payments for the first time in 2009-2010, some analysts argue.[19] Ontario’s position as a so-called have-not province is particularly interesting given that it once was seen as the economic engine of the country — a province from which other regions depended to maintain equal standards of living. Ironically, given the embracing of neoliberal principles by all three major political parties, around the time that news emerged that Ontario would begin accepting equalization, the leader of the  Progressive Conservative Party blamed “tax and spend policies” for putting the province on the “welfare rolls of Confederation.”[20] As of this writing, Ontario continues to receive equalization payments.

Politics in Neoliberal Ontario
In the past 25 years, three political parties have formed government in Ontario: The Ontario New Democratic Party, the Ontario Liberal Party and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Each party has implemented neoliberal agendas of varying degrees during their time in government — despite traditional understandings of the parties as representing the interests of centre-left, centrist and centre-right to right-wing voters, respectively. This section will examine some of the neoliberal policies implemented by each party. It will also explore the class relations that neoliberalism has brought with it during the same time.

While the roots of Ontario’s neoliberalism can be traced back into the 1970s, arguably the death certificate was signed for Keynesianism in Ontario about two decades later. When the NDP formed the government in 1990, the party came to power on an agenda that included previously uncommon overt discussions about class and social justice, Robert MacDermid and Greg Albo tell us.[21] However, the NDP was dogged by a massive government deficit throughout its administration as well as a slowing economy that drove up unemployment rates. [22] These challenges resulted in the party shifting to a neoliberal plan (The Social Contract), which included slashing $4 billion in government spending.[23] Those on social assistance also gained the wrath of the NDP government and experienced a “crackdown” as concerns about welfare fraud reached a fevered pitch.[24]

If it was neoliberalism the people of Ontario wanted, they got it when they voted out the NDP and replaced the government with the Progressive Conservatives, led by Mike Harris. The Tories formed two governments, one in 1995 under the banner the Common Sense Revolution, and another in 1999. The PC Party led Ontario’s first openly, honestly and transparently neoliberal governments: public spending was gutted, those employed by the Ontario Public Service faced massive layoffs[25], deregulation was extensive[26] and the spectre of privatizing government services and public works haunted the corridors of power. More than 10,000 public workers were expected to lose their jobs[27] during the PC Party regime and a major toll road running through the Greater Toronto Area (Highway 407) was privatized for $3.2 billion for 99 years.[28] “Ministries were required to act as businesses, contracting out of service provision increased, and services were simply cut,” MacDermid and Albo note.[29]

When the PC Party was turfed from office in 2003, many may have expected a realignment of political priorities with the election of the Liberals. As far as governing experience, the Liberals had, at that time, most recently struck an accord with the NDP in order to implement its agenda in 1985. There was, however, was no shift away from neoliberalism with the election of the Grits. Instead, by positioning itself as a visceral alternative to the PC Party, it gained a certain amount of progressive street credibility, Kendra Coulter tells us.[30] The reality though, is that while the Liberals talked about collectivist principles, the party continued to “incorporate neoliberal terminology, corporate evaluative criteria, and a managerialist approach to government.”[31] Liberal Party neoliberalism was not simply ideological but also material, Coulter notes. The party did spend more than the Tories on areas such as “environmental protection, First Nations services, agricultural support, and housing provision”[32] but the size of the public service continued to contract under Liberal budgets and the Grits privatized health services such as optometry and physiotherapy.[33] “These individualizing forms of privatization contribute to both the ideological and material normalization of the commodification of public services, and the continual encroachment of neoliberal approaches in ‘softer’ forms, strategies that are common to Third Way politics,” Coulter notes. As of this writing, the Ontario Liberals remain the government in Ontario.

While the public sector has been the epicentre of major neoliberal integration, the private realm, such as those suffering from a realignment of government priorities and a capitalist market concurrently focused on austerity and cost-cutting, is where ideology meets tangible reality. During the neoliberal era, work has been organized so that it falls outside the legal apparatuses established to ensure fair and minimum employment standards in Ontario.[34] One example is the rising use of temporary foreign workers, who may be less likely to vocalize their opposition to unfair labour practices, lest they be fired and removed from the country.[35] With the loss or reduction in many cases of job training through provincial government service cuts, the burden falls on workers to fund their own retraining if they wish to switch careers[36] — which can pose a major problem if they are being underemployed and undercompensated. In Ontario, workers face a double-edged knife because if they lose their jobs they can only look forward to a comparative very low rate of employment insurance[37] while fighting to get back into a post-Fordist marketplace, which is focused not on mass production and mass consumption but specialization and niche marketing. As all of this has occurred, fewer than one in three (28%) workers in the province have been members of a union.[38]

The precarious nature of employment is not hitting everyone equally in Ontario, either: unemployment, underemployment and issues around fair compensation for work done have a racialized and gendered component in the province. Recent immigrants are less likely to find stable, full-time work and are more likely to be overqualified and underemployed, according to a 2008 Statistics Canada study.[39] As well, Carole-Anne Hudson has written that discussions around increasing the minimum wage have a disproportionate impact on women generally and even more so for racialized women in the province. “The impact of low wages on the health, well-being, and autonomy of women, especially lone-mothers and racialized women, is well-documented. Pregnant women may not have the resources necessary to take sufficient time to fully recover from child birth. Precarious work can cause these workers significant stress due to job insecurity, pressures from holding multiple jobs, irregular hours of work, access to safe transportation, and increased risk of illness and injury due to long hours of work, fatigue and poor nutrition.”[40]

Authoritarianism in Neoliberal Ontario
One of the most glaring characteristics of neoliberalism is the trend toward authoritarianism and a centralization of power. This tendency toward autocratic governance has not halted at Ontario’s borders —instead, Ontario has participated in the institutionalization of neoliberal authoritarianism. This section will examine two ways in which this authoritarianism has manifested in Ontario; namely, through a heightened state of state coercion used against residents of the province and a concentration of decision-making in the Executive Council of Ontario. 

Concurrent with the neoliberal period generally[41], and the aftermath of September 11, 2001 specifically[42], has been an intensified securitization inside states, Greg Albo tells us. “In Canada this combination of economic and geopolitical interests has produced an internal realignment of the state, with military and security structures absorbing new funds and resources,” he notes. In Ontario, this has arguably meant an increase in the relative strength and cost of policing and imprisonment — despite overwhelming evidence that actual crime totals and the rate of crime in the Ontario is either demonstrably dropping and/or is relatively low compared to other provinces. As of 2012, the year for which the most recent statistics are available as of this writing, crime reported to police in Canada was at its lowest rate since 1972 after hitting a high point in 1991.[43] That same year, Ontario had the lowest violent crime rate of all provinces and was one of only two provinces (the other was Quebec) to experience a police-reported non-violent crime rate below 3,000 incidents per 100,000 population.[44] Despite this context, funding for the provincial agencies that oversee policing and jails increased 43% between the years 2000 and 2011.[45]

In Ontario’s capital, Toronto, a metropolitan city of millions of people that is often pointed to as Canada’s hub of high finance, a similar scenario is playing out. The total number of Criminal Code offences reported to Toronto Police plunged between 2006 and 2011. The number of criminal offences between 2000 and 2011 showed minor peaks and valleys during the years before 2006, but the overall trend has been a drop in reported criminal offences by 16% in that time-frame.[46] What this dive in reported crime has not been followed by, however, is a drop in the budget for Toronto Police. Since 2000, the budget for Toronto’s force has skyrocketed by 62%.[47] The budget noticeably spiked after 2002, the first year for which a budget was approved for Toronto Police after September 11, and did not return to pre-attack levels as high policing budgets became institutionalized during the so-called War on Terror. This spike also came during a period of extreme economic volatility in Toronto. For example, the unemployment rate in Toronto rose from 6.8% in 2007 to 9% in March 2014.

Explicitly neoliberal governments of all political stripes in Ontario have employed varying degrees of authoritarianism. During the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s reign between 1995 and 2003, poverty protestors were among the targets of the government’s coercion machinery. In one instance, a group of about 1,000 activists affiliated with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), fed up with the challenges of being poor in the province, marched to the Ontario Legislature with the intention of meeting with then-Premier Mike Harris. The marchers were denied entry to the building and a riot ensued after police used force to quell the demonstrators, which provoked them further, according to one report.[48] More than 30 people, including leaders of OCAP, were arrested.[49]

The bolstering of state coercion structures has not simply come about in isolation. Instead, it has been part of a wider trend, which has included a concentration of power in the Executive Council of Ontario, most often referred to as the Cabinet. Among the highest profile examples of this centralization of power was the way in which the provincial government handled the secretive passage of Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act, a piece of legislation enacted in 1939 with the aim of safeguarding public works in times of war.[50] The regulation provided police working during the G20 Summit in Toronto on the weekend of June 26, 2010, broad powers to secure the summit site, search people, make arrests and imprison demonstrators at a controversial makeshift jail. Meeting behind closed doors in Toronto that weekend were the leaders of the 20 largest economies in the world. By the end of the summit, more than 1,100 people were arrested in what Ontario Ombudsman André Marin called the “largest mass arrest in Canadian history.”[51] Summit participants had agreed on a range of items including further liberalizing global trade and reducing the fiscal deficits of the G20 nations.[52]

A $1 billion price tag for summit security included the construction of a $9.4 million, 10-kilometer fence in downtown Toronto.[53] Marin’s investigation focused on the passage of O.Reg. 233/10 and he took great umbrage with the fact that it was approved June 3, 2010 — several weeks before the summit — by a five-person Cabinet meeting and signed by the Lieutenant Governor without any public debate. Marin assailed the regulation. “In fact, Regulation 233/10 was of doubtful constitutional validity. By creating security zones to bar entry and by authorizing arrest, it imposed definite limits on freedom of expression. It was therefore in prima facie violation of the Charter as a matter of law, likely in ways that are not constitutionally justifiable.”[54] Exacerbating the secretive nature of the regulation, formal notification of its existence was not made until the provincial Registrar was told June 14. It was posted to the province’s online e-Laws website two days later and appeared in the Ontario Gazette on July 3 — after its force had expired. This combination of in camera legislating and the mass arrests that occurred in its wake allowed the state to marginalize civilians twice: first, by excluding the legislature, the people’s representatives, from any debate on the regulation’s merits; and then, by employing the coercive powers contained within the regulation and Act against civilians in an attempt to ensure the success of the summit.

Neoliberalism is, first and foremost, a rejection of the collectivist tendencies fought for and won after the Second World War. It is a return to a scenario in which competitive appetites dominate, tremendous amounts of time and effort are spent ensuring that freer markets monopolize all discussion about the economy and those people who stand in opposition to that agenda are marginalized — by force, if necessary. That all three political parties which have formed governments since 1990 have implemented neoliberal policies reveals the degree to which the philosophy is engrained in Ontario’s contemporary political and economic milieus. There is an argument to be made here about whether Ontario has entered a post-democratic age, since no party currently likely to form a government explicitly offers an alternative to neoliberalism. Fantastically, neoliberalism, and the class relations and inequalities that come with it, has proven itself to be an ideology reinvigorated, not wounded, by the Great Recession.

The seemingly meagre approach Ontario is taking to encouraging competitiveness in the manufacturing sector is unlikely to be a match for the forces of disintegration, both vertical and horizontal, at the plant level. This will become a major issue if, along with low and semi-skilled work, major manufacturers, such as the automakers, continue cutting jobs in North American plants and moving them to low-wage zones elsewhere. Ultimately, manufacturing still needs to be done, it is just a question of where. Ontario may be left at the sidelines of the manufacturing game if it does not differentiate itself in the market somehow before the jobs are all gone.

As well, the government’s reliance on secretively approved militarized coercion to enforce a neoliberal agenda shows hallmarks of totalitarianism. It reveals that human bodies are still required to be brought into compliance with an agenda that demands tasks be performed — possibly against the best interests (systemic underemployment, high unemployment, stagnant wages, etc.) of those involved. Perhaps helpful here to understand why there is no political relief offered in Ontario from neoliberalism, are Giorgio Agamben’s thoughts on the politicization of bare life, which I wrench here toward an explanation for the rejuvenation of pre-Great Recession neoliberal power structures. Agamben writes in the context of the speed at which democracies turned into fascist regimes in the last century — but I argue elements of such forces exist now in Ontario: “Once their fundamental referent becomes bare life, traditional political distinctions (such as those between Right and Left, liberalism and totalitarianism, private and public) lose their clarity and intelligibility and enter into a zone of indistinction.”[55] This suggests not necessarily an elimination or transcendence of worker/capitalist class distinctions, which can be aggravated by intersectional identities such as gender and racialization, I argue, but instead two classes that overlay those traditional Marxian distinctions: those who are captured inside the neoliberal agenda and those who are outside — that is, those who must be brought inside. Those not captured by neoliberalism must be brought inside in order for those who control power (exercised clearly through the private accumulation valued in a capitalist mode of production) to maintain it. Among those outside Ontario’s neoliberal scheme were the more than 1,100 people arrested during the Toronto G20 Summit.

Few real gains on a collective or societal basis have been realized for Ontario under the banner of neoliberalism. Work has become more precarious for the working classes and governments are functioning as facilitators of a lean, mean market agenda that really serves few except the wealthy and powerful. Ontario’s position as a driving force of neoliberalism is also doing little to improve its standing in a broader federal context: the province, once seen as the cash cow of Confederation is now accepting equalization payments. Also, the coercive securitization of Ontario after September 11, 2001 has created an atmosphere of totalitarianism, epitomized by the mass arrest of more than 1,000 people during a closed-door meeting of the world’s 20 largest economies in 2010. It is clear that collective progress is not currently on the provincial agenda in any meaningful way and the lack of real choice at the ballot box leads to questions of in whose interests’ governments are working and whether political leaders can now be looked to for leadership if civil society wishes to walk off the well-worn path down which a neoliberal Ontario has ventured.

[1] Government of Canada, “Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA),” http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/us-eu.aspx?lang=eng (accessed February 28, 2014).
[2] Government of Canada, “North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),” http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/nafta-alena/index.aspx?lang=eng (accessed February 28, 2014).
[3] World Trade Organization, “The WTO,” http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/thewto_e.htm (accessed February 28, 2014).
[4]Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press., 2009), 365.
[5] World Health Organization, “Washington Consensus,” http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story094/en/, (accessed March 1, 2014).
[6] Stephen McBride, Paradigm Shift: Globalization and the Canadian State, 2nd ed. (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2005), 96-97.
[7]Ibid., 97.
[10] Eugene Beaulieu, “North American Integration and Plant Closures in Ontario,” Canadian Foreign Policy, 8, no. 2 (2001): 36.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Dana Flavelle, “Auto manufacturing in Canada in long-term decline, report warns,” Toronto Star, April 18, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/04/18/auto_manufacturing_in_canada_in_longterm_decline_report_warns.html (accessed March 12, 2014).
[13] Government of Canada, “Assembly Plants In Canada—2014,” http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/auto-auto.nsf/eng/am00767.html (accessed March 20, 2014).
[14] Thomas R. Klassen, Precarious Values: Organizations, Politics and Labour Market Policy in Ontario (Montreal/Kingston: Institute of Public Administration of Canada and the School of Policy Studies, 2000), 147.
[15] Ibid., 155.
[16] Peter Kuhn and A. Leslie Robb, “Unemployment, Skill and Labour Supply: Evidence from Canadian Microdata 1971-1991,” Transitional and Structural Change in the North American Labour Market, eds. Michael G. Abbott, Charles M. Beach and Richard P. Chaykowski (Kingston: IRC Press and John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy, 1997), 73.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen, Persistent Poverty: voices from the margins (Toronto:  Between the Lines, 2010), 33.
[19] Lee Greenberg, “Growing equalization payments to Ontario threaten country: expert,” National Post, July 20, 201, http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/07/20/growing-equalization-payments-to-ontario-threaten-country-expert/ (accessed March 27, 2014).
[20] Ontario Legislature, “Orders of the Day,” http://hansardindex.ontla.on.ca/hansardeissue/39-1/l097.htm (accessed March 27, 2014).
[21] Robert MacDermid and Greg Albo, “Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right,” The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories, eds. Keith Brownsey and Michael Howlett, (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001), 184.
[22] Ibid., 186.
[23] Ibid., 187.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid., 191.
[26] Ibid., 191.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid., 192.
[29] Ibid., 191.
[30] Kendra Coulter, “Deep Neoliberal Integration: The Production of Third Way Politics in Ontario,” Studies in Political Economy, 83 (2009): 195.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid., 201.
[33] Ibid., 202.
[34] Swift, Balmer and Dineen, Persistent Poverty, 33.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Carol-Anne Hudson, “Pink Wages and the Colour of Economic Exclusion: The Politics of Wage-Setting in Ontario,” The Socialist Project, March 20, 2014, http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/952.php (accessed March 29, 2014).
[41] Greg Albo, “Fewer Illusions: Canadian Foreign Policy since 2001,” Empire’s Ally: Canada and the Afghanistan War, eds. G. Albo and J. Klassen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 253.
[42] Ibid., 260.
[43] Samuel Perreault, “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2012,” Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics – Statistics Canada, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2013001/article/11854-eng.htm (accessed March 17, 2014).
[44] Ibid.
[45] Joe Fantauzzi, “Appendix 1,” (attached).
[46] Joe Fantauzzi, “Appendix 2,” (attached).
[47] Joe Fantauzzi, “Appendix 3,” (attached).
[48] “Toronto protesters say riot was a 'proud day',” CBC News, June 17, 2000, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto-protesters-say-riot-was-a-proud-day-1.199304 (accessed March 28, 2014).
[49] “More arrests over Queen's Park anti-poverty riot,” CBC News,  July 22, 2000, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/more-arrests-over-queen-s-park-anti-poverty-riot-1.233632 (accessed March 28, 2014).
[50] Ombudsman Ontario, Caught in the Act: Investigation into The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ conduct in relation to Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act, December 2010, http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Resources/Reports/Caught-in-the-Act.aspx?lang=en-CA (accessed March 23, 2014), 9.
[51] Ibid., 25
[52] G20, “2010 Toronto,” https://www.g20.org/about_g20/past_summits/2010_toronto (accessed March 12, 2014).
[53] Ombudsman Ontario, Caught in the Act: Investigation into The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ conduct in relation to Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act, 25.
[54] Ibid., 9.
[55] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, eds. Werner Hamacher and David E. Wellbery, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 122.


The Toronto G20 Summit: A State of Exception

By Joe Fantauzzi

Between June 26 and 27, 2010, thousands of demonstrators[1] descended on Toronto, Ontario to protest while the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies[2] met behind a protective fence built of steel and secretive legislative authority. When the tear gas cleared and the G20 Summit ended, 1,105 people had been detained. It has been described as “the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history.”[3] Of those arrested, 779 — 80% — were released without any charges (as of June 2012).[4] Following Giorgio Agamben, I contend that the Province of Ontario employed a coercive, secretive state of exception in order to facilitate the flow of international capital during the Toronto G20 Summit. This analysis will examine three major events connected to the summit, including the secretive passage of provincial legislation and examples of reported rights abuses suffered by those caught in the legal net created by the legislation that established the state of exception. It will then explore the theoretical arguments in favour of employing state coercion for the sake of stability and contrast those with arguments in favour of giving greater preference to the liberty of citizens. The “state” is defined here as any constitutionally-recognized level of Canadian government ─ that is federal and provincial[5] ─ that works to perpetuate the geographic and governance status quo. Further, this analysis will link state coercion both historically and currently, to facilitating the flow of capital. Finally, it will analyze the significance of these interwoven social and economic relations on those caught in the state of exception during the G20 summit.

The G20 Summit: Three Flashpoints
In the run-up to the summit, the Province of Ontario behaved as though it was preparing for a siege. On June 2, 2010, a regulation (Ontario Regulation 233/10) was passed by the provincial cabinet behind closed doors with the aim of aiding police in the enforcement of the Public Works Protection Act during the G20 Summit.[6] A fence had been established near the summit site and large swaths of property in downtown Toronto near the fence were designated public works. The act itself was passed in 1939 to safeguard Ontario’s public works from sabotage after Canada declared war on Germany[7] and provides broad powers to police to make arrests. The act carries ─ upon conviction ─ a maximum penalty of not more than two months in jail, a fine or $500 or both.[8] In a damning report following the G20 Summit, Ontario Ombudsman AndrĂ© Marin notes that by enacting the regulation, “the province of Ontario (was) conferring wartime powers on police officers in peacetime.”[9] He concludes the regulation, which “worked to trip the powers of the Public Works Protection Act[10], “was likely unconstitutional.”[11] The legislation, which was designed to protect property ─ not people ─ was used to silence protestors, Marin tells us.[12] And, he adds, it was unnecessary: “The security perimeter it provided for would have been legal without it, and the existing common law and statutory authority of peace officers would have been ample to screen and prevent entry to those who might pose a threat to G20 participants. Simply put, Regulation 233/10 was of dubious legality and of no utility.”[13] Exacerbating the secretive nature of the government’s action was the lack of public notification about the regulation. In his report, Marin tells us that the public was legally notified about the regulation June 16 after the province posted the regulation on its e-Laws website.[14]  However, an e-mail Marin obtained from a provincial lawyer strongly reinforces the argument that the government was uninterested in notifying the public with any practicality about the regulation: “…it’s important to remember that filing the regulation itself would not have resulted in practical notice to the public at large. Nobody is out there reviewing e-Laws on a daily basis looking for new regulations under the PWPA … once filed, though, it can no longer be considered confidential in law. The effect of filing is not really notice to the public, but rather it officially loses its status as confidential/privileged.” Notice of the regulation would not be printed in the Ontario Gazette, the official communications vehicle of the provincial government until July 3 ─ after the force of the regulation expired.[15]

On June 22, 2010 — four days before the Toronto G20 Summit was to begin — Byron Sonne, a man described as a “geek”
[16] in the press was arrested by Toronto Police[17] and charged with five security-related offences under the Criminal Code of Canada, including possessing explosives and counselling others to commit mischief.[18] Sonne had caught the attention of Toronto Police after he took photographs of the fence being erected near the summit site and other security apparatus such as cameras.[19] Searches by investigators of Sonne’s social media accounts led to chats, photos of other buildings and security equipment. Police believed Sonne possessed an audio device that could be used to disrupt the G20 Summit. A search warrant used at Sonne’s home resulted in the seizure of chemicals, which police alleged could be the precursor to explosives.[20] Sonne provided two possibilities for why he possessed the chemicals: the first: to further his amateur rocketry interests; and the second: that he wished to “test the system” by purchasing chemicals that might make him the focus of attention.[21] Sonne’s then-wife was also arrested and charged with weapons offences.[22] The charges against her were eventually dropped.[23] Within days of his arrest, the words “terrorist”[24] and “terrorism”[25] began to appear in connection with Sonne’s name in news stories. Ultimately, the Crown did not prove its case against Sonne and he was found not guilty of all five charges.[26] Upon his acquittal, Sonne’s supporters, some of whom “considered him a political prisoner” cheered in the courtroom.[27] The arrest of Sonne arguably heightened public awareness of the security aspect of the G20 Summit and turned attention to potential violent threats mere days before it was to begin. 

While it is impossible to focus here on the more than 1,000 detentions that occurred during the Toronto G20, perhaps one of the most high-profile was that of protester Paul Figueiras. The detention of Figueiras is also important to the continuing narrative of exceptional actions taken by the state security apparatus during the G20 Summit. Figueiras was halted by police officers in downtown Toronto along with several others on June 27. He was told by a York Regional Police officer that he must consent to a search or leave the area. When he asked the officers why, according to his interpretation of the civil rights he was afforded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he unable to stay where he was without submitting to a search, he was told by York officer:
“we are in G20 Land” and “there is no civil rights here in this area.”
[28] A video posted of the interaction purported also shows the York officer telling Figueiras that the area near the G20 Summit “ain’t Canada right now.”[29]Figueiras left the scene of the interaction but later sued the York officer after the York Region Police Services Board declined to press charges against the officer.[30]

The State and its role
The crucial issue here is what the province, through its preparation, was attempting to protect: the state’s legitimacy. Two definitions are helpful here for the state itself, to assist in better understanding exactly what was being upheld by Ontario’s security apparatus during the Toronto G20. First, Max Weber provides an influential observation that the state is “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory.”[31] Another definition, arguably tangentially related to that of Weber’s, is proffered by Karl Marx and underlines the social relations inherent in those who control the state: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”[32] And while many in a post-Keynesian era may point to the state as sharing some responsibility in the provision of social services, the collecting taxes and the provision of security ─ internally and externally ─ remain crucial state duties.

Photo/Raysonho (Wikimedia Commons)
While any modern state will prioritize and re-prioritize it duties, depending on its aims at any given time, the most appropriate frame through which to view state function in relation to the G20 Summit is security. It is appropriate here to consider three important issues: the maintenance by the state of internal security, the state’s acknowledgement and respect for the rights of those within its borders and finally, the sometimes difficult balance of doing both simultaneously. Liberals, such as John Stuart Mill, would argue that society must be limited in the extent to which an individual’s liberty should be controlled.[33] It is only when an individual’s actions work to harm others that the freedom of action should be controlled, he tells us.[34] This “Harm Principal” justifies the interference of society, in this case, the state. “Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty and place in that of morality or law,”[35] he writes. The practical application of such a philosophy in the context of the G20 Summit may be the state enforcement of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provide several permissions such as the freedom of assembly and the freedom of expression.[36] The opposite of this position is the justified state coercion argued by Thomas Hobbes in his seminal work Leviathan. Hobbes believes that the natural state of humanity is a war of all against all[37], in which competition prevails and that only a common power, feared by all, can compel all to observe natural laws such as “justice, equity, modesty and mercy.”[38] This common power is an undivided, absolute and sovereign.[39] This contract can only be held together with coercion, Hobbes tells us, which he dubs “The Sword.” The example of such a power can be extrapolated here to be the state responding with force, emboldened by its perception that it was employing its monopoly over the legitimate use of force, to a perceived security crisis during the G20 Summit in Toronto. It is fair to argue that in a modern democracy such as Ontario, Canada, a document such as the Charter exists to protect people from illegitimate violence by the state.

The Relationship between the State and Capital
Image/Ximo Berna (Wikimedia Commons)

In How War Made States and Vice Versa, Charles Tilly writes that policing has been used by European states to secure territory in urban areas, with the agreement of local authorities.[40] But, security has been, and remains, a costly venture. It is clear that security was a major priority for the organizers of the G20 Summit in Toronto. Aside from the legislation that empowered the state, the cost of security for the Toronto summit was $509.9 million — or 77% of the total summit budget.[41] Historically, states needed to collect taxes and tolls even when there was no conflict raging.[42] Access to capital, via this taxation and tolling, was crucial for the success of European states. “The relative presence or absence of commercial cities within a state’s territories therefore strongly affected the ease of its mobilization for war,” he notes.[43] Historical examples of the state leaning on capitalists to finance security include Venice and Genoa.[44] In a modern Western state such as Canada, the immediate threat of territorial loss is minimal. What may be more likely is that internal challenges to this dominant and history-steeped state-capital hegemony are seen as the great threat to security. This may explain the extreme and arguably illegal measures taken to safeguard the G20 Summit’s success.

The G20 As A State of Exception
In the face of a security crisis during the G20 Summit, broad measures were taken. A resident was arrested as a suspected terrorist for purchasing chemicals and taking photographs. Secretive legislation was passed to provide sweeping securitization of downtown Toronto and by virtue of that legislation some police officers believe it their duty to suspend civil liberties by declaring the securitized area of Toronto “ain’t Canada.” Of particular importance to these flashpoint events is how to explain a scenario in which people no longer enjoy state-guaranteed liberties they did mere days before but remain subject to Hobbes’ Sovereign’s Sword, all with no change in government. Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the state of exception is helpful here as a framework for understanding the province’s response to the security issues during the G20 Summit. Because chaos cannot be regulated, it is important to include it in the administration of the law “through the creation of a zone of indistinction between the inside and outside, chaos and the normal situation ─ the state of exception,” Agamben writes in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.[45] That people can be caught up in the state’s authority without benefiting from it, for example, being subject to laws without the protection of civil liberties, is also possible, he adds: “the exception, in other words, embodies a kind of membership without inclusion.”[46] And, while many would cringe in abhorrence when told of the arrest of more than 1,000 people during the Summit, many of whom were incarcerated in an overcrowded makeshift jail[47] in Toronto’s east end rife with allegations of sexualized strip searches and threats of rape,[48] only two people ─ both police officers carrying out the state’s duty ─ were ever charged with a criminal offence.[49] Only one of those officers, Constable Babak Andalib-Goortani, was convicted. He was given a 45-day sentence for assault. Agamben tells us that this nebulous zone in which state violence is perpetrated is inherent in the sovereign’s very being. “(T)he sovereign is the point of indistinction between violence and the law, the threshold on which violence passes over into law and law passes into violence.”[50] When the York Regional Police officer uttered to Paul Figueiras that the G20 zone in downtown Toronto “ain’t Canada right now,” the officer served as an unofficial spokesperson for Ontario’s state of exception. The indefinite detention of suspects during the G20 under controversial legislation, while civil liberties were suspended, also demands questions about the status of those detained. A helpful parallel may be found in Agamben’s State of Exception, wherein he tells us that Taliban prisoners captured by United States forces in Afghanistan during the administration of George W. Bush were afforded no treaty rights as prisoners of war or domestic rights as American citizens charged with criminal acts. “Neither prisoners nor persons accused but simply ‘detainees’, they are the object of a pure de facto rule, of a detention that is indefinite not only in the temporal sense but in its very nature as well, since it is removed from the law and from judicial oversight.”[51] During the G20 Summit, there was no time for oversight of the detentions and the law, under which the detentions were made, may have itself been illegal. Ultimately, the G20 state of exception was instituted by the Province of Ontario at the behest of the Government of Canada, which was hosting international functionaries. Those officials agreed, among other things during the summit, to further liberalize international trade, reduce the fiscal deficits of the member economies and enhance the flow of capital.[52] From this, it can be judged that the longstanding relationship between capital and the coercive state continues to the present day.

There is little doubt that the province’s actions before and during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto constituted a state of exception, with serious biopolitical consequences for those subjected to the full force of the coercion employed. Further research, unable to be done here, should examine exactly how planned this state of exception was and whether the coercion used during the G20 Summit has damaged the public’s trust in policing in the Province of Ontario. As well, an analysis of any changes to the applicable legislation would be helpful. A fair conclusion to draw is that the province did what it felt necessary to ensure the success of the G20 Summit. What is not as clear is whether the true threat to the summit, a representation of the relationship between the state and capital, outweighed the perceived threat.

[1] “G20 protest violence prompts over 400 arrests,” CBC News, June 26, 2010, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/g20-protest-violence-prompts-over-400-arrests-1.906583 (accessed on November 19, 2013).
[2] http://www.g20.org/docs/about/about_G20.html
[3] Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Toronto officer convicted of G20 assault: What did CCLA have to say?, http://ccla.org/2013/09/13/toronto-officer-convicted-of-g20-assault-what-did-ccla-have-to-say/ (accessed on February 1, 2014).
[4] Ibid., G8/G20 Summits: Accountability in Policing and Governance, http://ccla.org/our-work/focus-areas/g8-and-g20/ (accessed on February 1, 2014).
[5] Government of Canada, “Sections 91 and 92,” Constitution Act, 1867, http://lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-4.html#h-18 (accessed on February 20).
[6] Ombudsman Ontario, Caught in the Act: Investigation into The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ conduct in relation to Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act, December 2010, http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Resources/Reports/Caught-in-the-Act.aspx?lang=en-CA, (accessed on November 13), 5.
[7] Ibid., 9.
[8] Province of Ontario, Public Works Protection Act, http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90p55_e.htm (accessed on January 23, 2014).
[9] Ombudsman Ontario, Caught in the Act, 9.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ombudsman Ontario, Caught in the Act, 5.
[12] Ibid., 9.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., 64.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Brendan Kennedy, “G20 ‘geek’ Byron Sonne granted bail,” Toronto Star, May 16, 2011, http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2011/05/16/g20_geek_byron_sonne_granted_bail.html (accessed on February 20, 2014).
[17] Canlii, R. v. Sonne, http://canlii.ca/t/frbmr (accessed on February 4, 2014), Par. 2.
[18] Ibid., Par. 3.
[19] Ibid., Par. 1.
[20] Ibid., Par. 3.
[21] Ibid., Par. 6-7.
[22] Natalie Alcoba, “Wife of computer expert Byron Sonne also arrested in G20 investigation,” National Post, June 24, 2010, http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/06/24/second-arrest-in-g20-investigation/ (accessed on January 24, 2014).
[23] Peter Edwards and Debra Black, “G20 charges dropped against visual artist,” Toronto Star, January 26, 2011, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/g20/2011/01/26/g20_charges_dropped_against_visual_artist.html (accessed on February 1, 2014).
[24] Jennifer Yang, “‘Middle-aged white guy’ doesn’t fit terrorist profile,” Toronto Star, June 23, 2010, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/g20/2010/06/23/middleaged_white_guy_doesnt_fit_terrorist_profile.html (accessed on January 30, 2014).
[25] Matt Gurney, “Terrorism’s new root cause — lots of money, great cars,” National Post, June 23, 2010,  http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/06/23/matt-gurney-terrorisms-new-root-cause-%E2%80%94-lots-of-money-great-cars/ (accessed on February 1, 2014).
[26] Canlii, R. v. Sonne, Par. 353.
[27] Colin Perkel, “Judge acquits G20 activist Byron Sonne of bomb-making charges,” The Canadian Press via The Globe and Mail, May 15, 2012, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/judge-acquits-g20-activist-byron-sonne-of-bomb-making-charges/article4178789/ (accessed on February 1, 2014).
[28] Canlii, Figueiras v. (York) Police Services Board, http://canlii.ca/t/g2g12 (accessed on February 6, 2014), Par. 7-11.
[29] Nicole Baute, “G20 officer: ‘This ain’t Canada right now’,” Toronto Star, January 20, 2011,
 http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/g20/2011/01/20/g20_officer_this_aint_canada_right_now.html (accessed on February 6, 2014).
[30] Canlii, Figueiras v. (York) Police Services Board, Par. 4.
[31] Alan Whitehead, “Whatever happened to the extended state?”, Renewal: a Journal of Labour Politics, 15, no. 1 (2007): 7.
[32] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx: Selected Writings, ed. Lawrence H. Simon. (1848; Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994), 161.
[33] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ed. Elizabeth Rapaport (1859; Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1978), 1.
[34] Ibid., 9.
[35] Ibid., 80.
[36] Government of Canada, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, http://lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html (accessed on February 13, 2014).
[37] Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (1668; Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994), 106.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Charles Tilly. “How War Made States and Vice Versa,” Coercion, Capital and European States (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995), 70.
[41] Canadian Civil Liberties Association, G20 Fact Sheet - By the Numbers, June 21st, 2011, http://ccla.org/2011/06/21/g20-fact-sheet-by-the-numbers/ (accessed February 1, 2014).
[42] Ibid., 71.
[43] Ibid., 86.
[44] Ibid., 90.
[45] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, eds. Werner Hamacher and David E. Wellbery, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 19.
[46] Ibid., 24.
[47] Jennifer Yang, “G20 jail photos raise ‘alarm bells’ for police chair,” Toronto Star,  November 2, 2011, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/11/02/g20_jail_photos_raise_alarm_bells_for_police_chair.html (accessed on February 15, 2014).
[48] “G20 reporters complain to police watchdog,” CBC News, June 29, 2010, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/g20-reporters-complain-to-police-watchdog-1.903226 (accessed on February 25, 2014).
[49] “G20 assault: Babak Andalib-Goortani gets 45-day sentence,” The Canadian Press via CBC News, December 9, 201,  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/g20-assault-babak-andalib-goortani-gets-45-day-sentence-1.2456893 (accessed on February 20, 2014).
[50] Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, 32.
[51] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Trans. Kevin Attell, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 3-4.
[52] G20.org, 2010 Toronto, https://www.g20.org/about_g20/past_summits/2010_toronto (accessed on February 12, 2014).