Could the London riots happen in Toronto? The Star’s Christopher Hume says yes
Aside from the obvious, it’s difficult to know what, exactly, to say about the riots in London. But it’s on the top of people’s minds around the world, and inevitably everybody will ask if a similar outbreak of spontaneous violence could happen in their own city. In the pages of the Toronto Star today, noted urbanophile and outspoken Rob Ford critic Christopher Hume asks just that, and he also returns an answer: that while Toronto isn’t on the brink of breaking out in street violence anytime soon, it’s afflicted by some of the same conditions that gave rise to the kind of disorder that erupted across the pond on Sunday.
The spark that set off the London riots was the police killing of a black man, but virtually all commentators have pointed out that the violence is clearly not political. It ended in arson and looting, just as the Vancouver riot did last June.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the British riots is what they reveal about a society that has largely abandoned its youth and found few ways for the young to integrate into the larger community. Because these kids feel they have so little, they also feel they have little to lose.
For Toronto, the message is clear: It’s those very “frills” — libraries, community centres, school programs and the like — that can turn outsiders into insiders.
Now, to note that this is a painfully predictable argument given Hume’s status as a bona fide Ford critic is an understatement. And it sounds like a reach at first—but Hume does actually have a point. There is some evidence that (with a bunch of scholarly caveats) periods of government austerity lead to riots and civil unrest. And this phenomenon holds true, so say the researchers, regardless of the rise of different types of media; so people blaming Facebook and Twitter for the riots in Vancouver or London are barking up the wrong tree.
Now, Toronto is still Toronto, so we don’t expect to see rioting for a bunch of reasons. But while it’s tempting to dismiss Hume’s column as a cheap kick by an outspoken Ford critic, there’s more to it than that. As Hume writes: “It’s a long way from Tottenham to Toronto, but not as long as we might like.”