Civil unrest watchers had a great week as hooligans in France, Argentina and Nathan Phillips Square brung the noise. Like Argentina's anti-imperalistas, a few of the 3,000 workers demanding a better contract offer from the Toronto police services board on November 2 also chose to arm themselves.
Police Chief Bill Blair is fuming about the apparent 150 or so gun-toting, uniform-wearing (sans badge number) protestors, who were either on shift disobeying his order or off shift conducting themselves unlawfully.
Packing a piece at a demonstration? A few years back, T.O.'s finest actually detained activists before a demo just for carrying bandanas. Pistol-plying protestors would face emergency task force snipers, not "Hmm, how shall we punish them?"
Cop union rebels got off easy. Senior officers responsible for public safety didn't apprehend these armed and uniformed civilians during the demo. Given Blair's decree and all. No tear gas, no scary phalanx of stoned-faced adversaries on horses charging into the crowd, no creepy tactical unit with all that padded gear.
"You wouldn't expect those things at an event of that kind," explains police spokesperson Mark Pugash. "It wasn't policing for crowd control, but for public safety, traffic issues." Wish this distinction were a little clearer when we're in the streets.
They did get a taste, however, of what it's like being the objects of scrutiny by senior officials trying to finger troublemakers and inadvertent stars in the official videotaping.
But back to the weaponry. I can't figure out why carrying a pistol off duty isn't more than just a violation of the Police Services Act. Isn't it also afoul of federal gun laws? Pugash concedes this may be true.
"This is a matter that may arise. If those allegations are proven," he tells me, "there will be discipline. The investigation started last Wednesday afternoon by the professional standards branch.'
Overt taping of the crowd did take place, but Pugash says, "We'll see if there is any need to go beyond first-person witness accounts" of disobeying officers. Tapes, he says, can only be used for evidence or training purposes, not for intelligence gathering.
Management faces a plethora of potential problems with this unique brand of yahoo protestor, Pugash explains, "but it's too early to speculate or prejudge the proceedings."
With Toronto police known for their bullying treatment of protestors, the hell last Wednesday's bad apples get had better be legendary.