I don’t have a huge amount to say about this really, and I really don’t want to get into the politics, but the G20 summit was an ever-present elephant in the room throughout the Canadian Adventure.
We first knew it would be a bit of an issue when we got an email from the company arranging our transfers to and from the airport. Half of downtown Toronto was due to be locked down on the last day of our holiday, it said, you’ll have to find your way to an alternative pick-up point. This was doable, if not exactly straightforward – a traffic lockdown also meant no taxis, and Paul is unable to walk long distances. Like I said, it’s something that could be handled, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something of an inconvenience.
And then there were the fences, and I think they’re what hit me the most about the whole thing. I’ve been to Toronto twice now, and while this is probably just a naive tourist speaking, I’ve always found it to be a friendly, welcoming city – certainly in comparison to, say, New York. So when you start seeing fences going up everywhere, eight or nine foot fences designed to pen in protestors, it creates something of a psychological scar – "This city is expecting trouble," they seem to say, "Best beware." Workmen were toiling into the night to get these things assembled, and as the week went on, more and more disruption was evident. Whilst eavesdropping I overheard someone comment that "They should just meet on an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific." Given the disruption that seemed to be coming to everyone’s life, I kind of agree with that.
I don’t know whether this is due to the G20 or whether it’s an ongoing policy, but it was noticeable how Toronto police travel on bicycles in packs of five. This sounds more threatening than it actually is; I saw plenty of people chatting to them and it seemed to be more of a means of raising their profile and their visibility rather than trying to intimidate random passers-by. We did see them arrest a bunch of kids with a bong, but frankly, that was kinda funny. The last day, however, things were changing and you could see riot gear appearing more often. Yeah, they were getting ready for something.
Monday was our last day in Toronto, and I didn’t see much in the way of protests, just two guys carrying a sign standing up for those who lost their livelihoods as a result of the economic collapse. Politically, my sympathies lie with them – the global village may be a great concept, but no-one wants to end up being the panhandler outside the village hall, and no-one wants to see an oil spill in the village duck pond. Political leaders can meet all they like, but it’s the ‘little’ people who always get stepped on.
But the protests so often get messy, don’t they? I remember coverage of the Battle in Seattle, I expect Starbucks to get trashed. It ends up looking like the Empire vs the hippies, Darth Vader vs the Wombles, and the media love it because it fills a good chunk of the 24 hour rolling news cycle, and it’s easier to slag off police or protestors than really get into the guts of what globalisation is all about. And maybe that fuels the confrontations, and before you know where you are, people have died.
The Torontoist is twittering from miscellaneous protests throughout the city, and so far it seems to be relatively peaceful, albeit with some flare-ups. But a cop car is in flames and other issues are arising, and it only takes one person in the wrong place to do something stupid…
I hope the protestors remember that the police are human too, that communicating concerns over globalisation through violence isn’t going to help, and that they’ve got the weight of numbers, so be careful, smart and responsible.
I hope the police remember that the protestors are human too, that communicating concerns over crowd control through violence isn’t going to help in the long run, and that they’ve got the firepower, so be careful, smart and responsible.
I hope that tomorrow, people say what they need to say and that everything stays relatively calm.
And I hope that, when all this is over, the fences come down as soon as they can.