On November 17, a forum on downtown safety organized by the Downtown BIZ was scheduled to take place at the Lo Pub. Panelists consisted of a University of Manitoba sociologist, a Winnipeg Free Press crime reporter, and reps from the Winnipeg Police Service, the BIZ, and Portage Place. Given some of the things that went down at the BIZ’s recent CEO Sleepout – costumed protestors crashing the stage, swarming CEOs, handing out pamphlets – I suppose I should’ve been less surprised by the spectacle that the event quickly devolved into, rallied by a handful of people in opposition to the BIZ.
Panellists were regularly interrupted with tired radical slogans and hateful insults – “murderers,” “racist scumbags,” “smash the patriarchy,” “cops are killers.” During the audience question and comments period, a few thoughtful and sober criticisms were raised; but the affront most marked in people’s memories will surely be the moment when one person countered a panelist’s response to his comment by jumping onstage to entangle him in a rope. I didn’t catch if his attempt succeeded, since my face was buried in my hands in embarrassment.
Given their salience, it was pretty clear that the belligerents made up only a minority segment of the audience. But I’m guessing plenty of others there that night harbour reservations about the Downtown BIZ and their outreach patrols. Unfortunately, amidst all the clamorous radical posturing, it was very difficult for a reasonable debate to take place wherein critics might have impressed others with the force of their arguments, and not just their voices. The effect of such behaviour was to paint a picture of critics as frenzied fools, and thereby alienate neutral or otherwise sympathetic parties from the cause of limiting the presence of the outreach patrols or improving their public accountability.