I said I wouldn’t cover the G20 riots. It’s the same thing every summit – a peaceful protest march is met with a show of police force, someone makes the first move, a riot breaks out for the cameras, the protestors are blamed, and everyone forgets about it by the next week.
Instead, I attended a friend’s barbeque in west Toronto. By chance, I ended up only two blocks away from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre during the mayhem Saturday evening.
The story begins in Hamilton. A friend picked me up at The Spectator building around 3:00 p.m. We drove towards Toronto listening to reports of the rioting occurring within the city. As we approached Ford Drive, we decided to head for highway 401 planning to take highway 427 to Dundas Street to avoid the Gardiner Expressway which we assumed would be closed.
Passing Pearson Airport, I caught a view of the United States Air Force One. We merged onto the 427, where we quickly hit a wall of traffic – all exits from the 401 to QEW were closed. There went our brilliant plan. Listening on the radio, we were told the Gardiner had been closed and all traffic was being diverted onto the Hamilton-bound QEW – great, we’re back to square one.
We crawled south and noticed a passing motorcade – the case of all our troubles. Finally we reached the QEW, when suddenly the OPP blocking the Gardiner moved out of position and the highway was reopened. As a bonus, we had an open highway with OPP escort – two cruisers leaving the area – in front of us.
We drove along the Gardiner toward the Jamison exit and discovered it was closed – great I thought to myself, we’ve going to have to go to the DVP, turn around and come all the way back. That’s if we weren’t stop due to the riots.
To our surprise, the Spadina Street exit was open and we turned north onto Spadina. No police checkpoints, no signs of the mayhem only blocks north. As I passed Bremner Boulevard, I noticed people walking their dogs, waiting for the streetcars that would never come, and even a person carrying groceries home – all the scenes of a non-G20 day.
North to Front Street we drove. I looked to my right westerly and saw the Metro Toronto Convention Centre – I was only two blocks away in an SUV without being checked. I was shocked that an empty street lay before my eyes with no visible obstacle blocking me. Of course, the roofs of all nearby buildings were crawling with snipers and probably a few military Special Forces units.
There were not many people at the intersection. I noticed a woman walking her dog, and a couple jogging. Life seemed perfectly normal and the infamous fence barely visible – it seems the show was elsewhere.
The vehicle I was in preceded north to King Street – only three blocks from the epicentre of the original conflict. Our first encounter with is with police occurs, they’re not interested in our vehicle, only in making sure we don’t travel further north where they’re busy dealing protestors.
We wait for the two police officers directing traffic to give us the right of way to turn left back towards our original destination. The intersection is calm. There are teenagers going about their normal Saturday activities, local residents walking their dogs, and vehicles travelling east and west without a care about the rioting occurring only blocks away.
The only initial indications that something was occurring were the lines of riot police forming up two blocks north and a few gawkers looking towards the mayhem.
We waited patiently for the right of way when the police decided to hold all traffic. Suddenly, a convoy of rental vans carrying dozens of riot police whisked eastbound on King towards the Bay Street intersection where a police car was aflame. Then, the police ordered us to do a U-Turn back towards Front Street.
Back two blocks from the MTCC and looked west once again. It wouldn’t have taken much for someone to drive a common SUV and take a run at the MTCC – they wouldn’t have gotten thought, but it would cause a great deal of embarrassment that thousands of police in riot gear were busy enforcing a police state and stripping people of their civil rights meanwhile any vehicle could come off the Gardiner and get so close to the G20 summit.
Makes you wonder – is the billion dollars about protecting the physical safety of the leaders or more about protecting the psychological safety of some of the world’s worst dictators from the trauma of seeing democratic protest?
I’m betting on the later.
What an expensive show that Toronto’s going to be cleaning up after.