Summer, and time once again it seems for people across Canada to give thanks they don’t live in Toronto.
Last year, a 40-day summer civic workers’ strike repelled tourists and delighted rats. This year, the city was infested with world leaders, which apparently necessitated an unprecedented $1-billion militarization of the downtown and arrests of about 1,000 anarchists, vegans, journalists and bystanders.
Ottawa hosted the G20 summit in November 2001. It was a much tenser time, mere weeks after 9-11, and police came out in massed armoured phalanxes. When it was all over, the toll was a few smashed windows and a grand total of 50 arrests. Was the threat to public safety really 20 times greater in Toronto? Was it really twice as great as the October Crisis?
Police and the politicians who let them off the leash will no doubt have some explaining to do in the coming weeks, but the big picture must not be forgotten. Nobody was killed or critically injured, a very real risk, and this is to the credit of both police and protesters. During last year’s summit in London, Ian Tomlinson, a bystander trying to get home, died after being attacked by overzealous cops.
It’s a selfish sentiment, but I’m just relieved the G20 wasn’t Ottawa’s problem this time around, and I wonder if cities will come to see hosting these summits as more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe our G20 poobahs could be convinced to spare us the aggravation and expense, rent a conference room at the UN, and cater in some sandwiches.
In Ottawa these days, our street closures are of an entirely different nature, shut off to vehicular traffic to make room for walkers, runners, cyclists and in-line skaters Sundays, or for our big, raucous group hug of a Canada Day street party.
Instead of G20 leaders insulated from the public in their billion-dollar bubble, we welcomed the Queen, without having to shut down the city or deploy (at the time of this writing) even a single whiff of tear gas to subdue the citizenry.
Our most recent example of politically motivated violence, the firebombing of a Royal Bank branch in the Glebe, resulted in no injuries.
I like Toronto, but ask me whether I would rather be there, as they sweep up the broken glass and shattered trust, or here, and it’s not even close.