V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer

G20 debates a friendship in the breaking


Published in The Toronto Star, July, 2010.

It wasn't just police and protesters who clashed at the G20 summit in late June.

Offices, lunch rooms, cafés and cyberspace have overheated with passionate debate as Torontonians engage in a G20 post-mortem.

And friends who have never talked politics are revealing their allegiances, causing rifts in relationships for some, and forging new friendships for others, as they discuss the weekend's protests and mass arrests.

“I've been doing a lot of arguing with a lot of different people,” laughs Caitlin Johnson, 25, a legal assistant who works downtown.

She's had a “heated debate” with her mom about the fiasco. At work — a conservative law firm — she's been the lone person to criticize police actions.

Her co-workers chastize bystanders for venturing to hot spots in the first place.

“I almost feel like a radical at work, which is funny because I don't consider myself far from the mainstream on most things. But I'm in the minority for this,” says Johnson.

Johnson's perspective stems from her background as a political science major, as well as her younger sister's experience at Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave.; she was one of the hundreds of people standing in the rain, surrounded by police on Sunday, June 27.

Facebook profile walls, usually the site of pithy one-liners and good-natured ribbing, have also become forums for rants that engage strangers in conversations and compel people to unleash fiery salvos.

Chris White, creator of the Facebook group Canadians Demanding a Public Inquiry Into the Toronto G20 (which has more than 30,000) members admits he has been “exasperated” by a few friends with opposing views.

White, 32, whose wife was caught in the melee at Queen's Park on Saturday, June 26, created the group because he was outraged at the scenes he saw on TV.

But his criticism has put some friendships at risk, drawing rebuttals from friends on Facebook, and colouring his view of people whose political ideals he never got to know.

“It did change my view of an old friend I've known for 15 years,” says White, a Whitby resident. “We're not close, but it's impacted the way I look at him now.”

A Facebook debate with a relative also drew White's wife into the argument; she grew upset at the relative's steadfast trust in and support of police.

But White's call for a public inquiry has also won him some new friends.

“Just from starting this group, I'm meeting likeminded people. It's quite extraordinary.”

And while Johnson holds true to her convictions, she hasn't let it get personal.

“I don't want to lose friendships over this.”

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