Leaders, Go Home

I remember the G7 summit when it was held in Toronto. At the time, Ronald Reagan was the American president, Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister, and Brian Mulroney led Canada. And I don’t know what it was about this summit, or future ones, but I don’t seem to recall the organizers being quite as paranoid about public protest as they are in this day and age. Oh, there were protests. There was a pretty annoying spray painting campaign throughout the city that said something along the lines of “resist the summit” or some such, but the city continued to function.

Indeed, there was a buzz in the air as people made way for the various events that took place, and the honking big press tent that was set aside near Roy Thompson Hall. As a Torontonian and as a Canadian, I think I felt a little proud, that my city and my country were being featured as a major world player, and I’m pretty sure mayor Art Eggleton was gleefully preparing to count up the tourist dollars he felt were sure to come following this exposure.

Flip forward to today, as Toronto prepares to host the leaders of the world’s twenty largest economic powers. The mood is far less congenial. As much of an honour as it would be to host President Obama, it cannot help but sting to learn that our every move is about to be covered on closed circuit television, that residents and workers within a wide security cordon within downtown Toronto will have to submit to numerous identification checks and searches, that significant protests that will probably include a response with tear gas are a virtual certainty, and the whole shebang is costing various levels of government $1.2 billion to coordinate.

Excuse me: how much?

As one of the organizers behind the web site Transit Toronto, I’ve kept my eye out for transit news and announcements about various diversions and cancellations that will come when the summit is in force. Every single piece of news that crosses my desk makes me feel very sorry for the people who are still living in the city during that weekend. The latest shenanigans have affected VIA Rail, which has looked carefully at all of the security goings on for the summit and essentially thrown up its hands and vacated Union Station altogether.

Here’s a quote from their press release:

The following changes will be in effect for the period of June 24-27, 2010.

  • All VIA trains between Toronto and Niagara Falls, Windsor, London and points enroute will originate/terminate in Oakville. The VIA/GO Transit station is located at 200 Cross Ave., Oakville.
  • All VIA trains between Toronto and Sarnia via Kitchener and London (“north main line”) and points enroute will originate/terminate in Brampton. The VIA/GO Transit station is located at 31 Church St. West, Brampton.
  • All VIA trains between Toronto and Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, GaspĂ© and points enroute will originate/terminate in Oshawa. The VIA/GO Transit station is located at 915 Bloor St. West, Oshawa.
  • VIA’s Toronto-Vancouver Canadian will originate/terminate at the Oriole GO Transit station, located at 3300 Leslie St., North York.

Passengers with VIA connections will be shuttled between suburban stations to their connecting trains.

For arriving passengers without connections. VIA will operate a shuttle serving Oshawa station, Scarborough Town Centre, Yorkdale Shopping Centre and Oakville station.

To sum up: rather than cope with the security measures being installed during this period, VIA Rail has decided to bypass downtown Toronto altogether! They have decided that the entire area is simply not a viable destination, and will leave.

And I can’t help but wonder what GO Transit is thinking about at this moment… And what about the subway?

All in all, I’m very, very glad that, during this period, Erin and the kids and I will be in Washington, DC, attending the American Librarians Association conference, where (irony of ironies) security measures won’t be quite as strict.

But as others have pointed out: do we really need this? Isn’t this supposed to be the Information Age? Don’t we have the Internet? What’s the purpose of these meetings, other than photo opportunities for our various leaders? Who is this really helping, other than security companies and the manufacturers of concrete barriers? Does Toronto or Canada get the same level of beneficial exposure as it did from the G7 summit when it has to be filmed through several lines of barbed wire fences? Is such a summit really worth such disruption, and a $1.2 billion security bill?

It makes me want to launch my own protest: gathering a bunch of videoconferencing equipment and dumping it at the door of the summit with a note saying, “with our compliments. Now GO AWAY!”

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