Police surveillance of T.P.P.A. protestors a sign of desperation?

Today there was a disturbing change in tone by the New Zealand Police in their stance on the protests against Trans Pacific Partnership. In Dunedin, activists were visited by Police officers wanting to know what their plans for protesting with regards to the Trans Pacific Partnership are. According to the Police this was following a national directive to find out what activists are planning.

It is true that in order for Police to apprehend suspects, and those with warrants out for their arrest, that a degree of surveillance has to be carried out. This is particularly so with violent criminals who perceive that they have little to lose by being violent, those in organized crime who have access to resources and logistical support that normal criminal activity does not.

However it is also true that when a Government that is trying to push through highly contentious changes are in danger of losing critical support or the changes have reached a critical stage, they might use the Police to conduct surveillance on individuals and organizations known to be openly critical. Aside from being a major waste of police resources and time, as well as tax payer dollars, it also points towards that the trust between civilians and their elected officials is breaking down, and that the officials might be prepared to impose their will.

In 1951, New Zealand had the waterfront strike, where striking workers refused for over 100 days to load/unload ships. Caused by a wage dispute brought on by long working hours, the Court of Arbitration awarded a 15% wage rise to workers covered by the arbitration system. However it did not apply to waterside workers who were offered 9% and elected to strike over the matter. It was a highly contentious event where the army and the navy were brought in to do the work, for the duration of the 151 day strike. During this time many activists in the unions and on the waterfront, were under Police surveillance.

In 1981, New Zealand had the very contentious Springbok tour where a South African rugby team picked on skin colour and not playing ability was sent to New Zealand on tour. Under considerable pressure from Commonwealth nations who were disgusted with the New Zealand Government for its attitude to Apartheid, and considered a highly inflammatory issue in a bi-cultural nation, New Zealanders were split between pro-tour supporters who wanted the tour to go ahead, and the anti-tour movement. The tour went ahead, but not before unprecedented civil disorder in every large city, including rioting and acts of disobedience. New Zealand Police copped a lot of criticism for excessive force being used against protesters who had given up and for their tactics.

Is it possible that the Government is creating a non-existential  threat in order to give the appearance of a security issue existing so that it can clamp down on civil activists? If so that would be a very dangerous turn of events in New Zealand.

None of the anti-T.P.P.A. protesters or the organizations that are organizing and co-ordinating them are out to riot. On the contrary, the general consensus is that it will be unhelpful, and it might even harm the cause. None of them are out to beat up people or otherwise pose a threat to civil order. Many of them are mothers and fathers with young children. Some are small business owners, such as Donna Miles-Mojab. Others are grandparents in their 70’s, and possibly 80’s. Some are immigrants from countries where exercising ones democratic rights peacefully is dangerous. They left to get away from the repression and because they wanted to live lives without fear of persecution. A peaceful protest in Iran for example (where Ms Miles-Mojab is from)with peaceful intentions might end violently because, scared of large numbers of people peacefully on the move, the Iranian authorities beat and detain individuals. To them it is a security threat of some sort, and has to be put down, lest it incite trouble elsewhere.

IMG_20160128_190837[1]A peaceful gathering to hear experts talk about the T.P.P.A. at the Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral (Photo: R. Glennie)

Perhaps the Minister of Police might explain why the blue arm of the law should be suddenly so curious about activists they have seen numerous times on peaceful protests. Any disorder would be from fringe individuals with little or no real regard for the aims of the anti-T.P.P.

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