security crackdown at city hall in Sudbury, Ontario.

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My city has decided to implement new security procedures for city hall. This is probably in response to the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty disrupting a city council meeting back in January. It was a very short, reasonably polite interruption, but the mayor was completely and totally embarrassed when the city councilors didn’t get up and leave the room at her suggestion but instead sat to and listened to the very short little speech. (The coalition’s interruption was to have the city start an emergency homeless shelter, something the city has since done, though their press release failed to mention s-cap’s part in convincing them.)

Of course the city isn’t saying that is the reason. They are saying that people could be carrying knives. They are saying that signing in and out will allow the city to keep track of if the media have safely left the building in the event of an evacuation. (I wonder, do all their staff sign in and out? All the strangers coming don’t. So far it sounds like just the media have to.) One local newspaper wrote a great editorial against this craziness.

I dislike that the new policies set the stage for more control over the media. The Northern Life reports on the changes includes this warning from Brendan Adair, the city’s new manger of corporate security:

“The City of Greater Sudbury reserves the right to approve or deny any accreditation requests,” says the form Adair gave reporters. “Any accredited media who do not comply with the regulations will, without warning, have their accreditation withdrawn at which time a review will be conducted to decide the appropriate action and further status of the accreditation.”

Having media accreditation at all goes against the idea of “citizen journalism.” I wonder what would happen if someone from the local independent media coop tried to get “accredited.” What would the advantages be? Would there be disadvantages? Would the city let them?

If that quote from Brendan Adair wasn’t bad enough he also said: “We’re trying to create a barrier between citizens and staff.” That barrier scares me. Not that the changes will be a big deal. They’ll probably be small and mainly inconvenient for the media. But having the goal being to separate the people from the staff is definitely a bad thing.

It is a bad thing to have the city staff want to be separate from the people. It is a bad thing to view the people as dangerous, or potentially the enemy. It is a bad thing to think that dissent can be silenced by just making bigger walls. And it is scary, because to an extent dissent can be silenced. I know from listening to stories of older activists that they used to be able to go right into the areas where social assistance was distributed and cause chaos in the office there when a person was unjustly denied assistance. They used to be able to go into the office of the MPP Rick Bartolucci. Now those offices – for social assistance and for Mr. Bartolucci – are built with a definite waiting area completely separate from the rest of the office. They are behind a fortress, so to speak, and it makes it harder to use civil disobedience.

Civil disobedience should not be necessary. Despite being involved in civil disobedience, I’m actually very uncomfortable with it. Politicians and staff should do the right thing because they should be good, caring people able to be persuaded by facts and information, rather than because a small group of people break the rules. I hate that people have to break the rules, have to take direct action, and I like to hope that when civil disobedience wins it isn’t actually because of the broken rules but because of the rightness of the cause, and the light shone upon the problem by the publicity.

Civil disobedience should not be necessary, but it should be possible. Mayors with locked doors refusing to take meetings with the public, visits from the Premier and other provincial politicians kept in secret until the day of the event, offices for social assistance where clients enter little offices from one door and staff enter through a different door, always separated by a table: all of this becomes structural problems, keeping those in power from having to listen to others.

I see I’m not the only person to be writing about this subject this evening. Here’s a link to A Canadian Lefty in an Occupied Land’s post about this. He writes that the city isn’t responding to an imaginary threat but to the reality that the injustice in the world is leading to more and more angry people. He writes that:

…and those who think that the well-being of ordinary people and the planet should take precedence and who are willing to take disobedient action to make the state and elites act accordingly are not going to be met with soft words and partial measures but with uniformed people empowered, ultimately, to use violence against them.

Little changes pave the way for other changes. What are the norms we are going to accept? In some ways Northern Ontario still lingers behind other places in terms of security culture. There are security guards around, but we don’t have gated communities. Schools don’t have metal detectors, just signs asking visitors to report to the office. We accept screening at airports. We have police attend all political protests, and many embrace the idea that protestors should obtain permits from the city before staging demonstrations. What is normal and what is out of line?

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