don't forget your bar code
Friday night I'm at a pub in Mississauga, toasting the week that was with a virgin margarita. Someone's cell phone rings, and a side conversation ensues that sounds odd enough that the rest of us keep pausing the conversation so we can try to make sense of it all.
The conversation ends and we get told, "A friend of mine can't get home because she forgot her ID."
"She's in the hot zone?"
"Yeah, her boss said it was ridiculous to work from home for the week, so they've been like the only business around that's open. She's going to call me back if she can't find her photo ID card."
"How are you going to get home?" I'm the only one who lives past the hot zone.
later the same night
"The big loop," I say. "Huronontario to the 401, 401 to DVP, DVP to Lakeshore and home."
No-one tells me I'm being ridiculous or overly cautious. They say I'm being sensible.
I see four OPP cruisers and SUVs on the way home, riding in a pack. I also see an OPP cruiser with a car that's pulled over. When I was a kid living in Erin ON, this was normal, because the OPP were the local police. But this is Toronto, and it is not normal. It's certainly not normal to see so many OPP vehicles together at once.
Closer to home, there are seven or eight vans parked on the lawn beside Lakeshore Boulevard. A proportional number of police officers — five or six per van, so say 35-45 of them — stand amongst the vans, just casually watching the traffic go by. I don't get a good look because I'm driving, but I'm struck by how the whole tableau looks like a photo from a double-page magazine spread.
word of mouth
Saturday afternoon my mother calls, and asks me in two or three different ways if I had been downtown this weekend. I answer "no" in two or three ways, and ask what's up.
"It's downtown," she says. "It's on fire."
That's not strictly true, of course. But some things are on fire that should not be, and that's what's being shown on TV.
My mum starts listing all the major intersections that are being affected by the riots, and I keep saying, "That's not in the hot zone or the main protest area... that isn't either.... that isn't either" like I've nominated myself to be some sort of truth-teller.
The conversation finishes with me reassuring her that I live 12 km away from the downtown core and so should be fine.
The next day I find out I am less than 5 km away from the nearest detention centre and that my local supermarket has been boarded up for the weekend.
After I get off the phone with my mum, I call a friend of mine who lives downtown to see how things are on her street and find out what's going on. She says things are pretty quiet where she is (Bay & Wellesley-ish), but things "don't feel right." She's been watching the TV news too, and says what's being broadcast looks fake.
"They're too conveniently close to the CITY-TV building. The whole thing looks like a dance. Whoever they are, these guys mostly wanted to be on camera. None of them are holding signs or shouting slogans either — can't even tell if they're protesting or just smashing the place up."
My youngest brother and sister-in-law live downtown, but they deliberately planned to be out of town for the G20. I call and leave a voicemail on my brother's cell phone, just so he won't be surprised when he gets home. He texts me Sunday night to say that they had checked Canadian news and Twitter feeds before they headed out.
He decides that it sounds like things have calmed down enough, and goes straight home. My sister-in-law decides to stay at a friend's place overnight and comes home in the morning.
Torontonians are used to getting their lives disrupted by out-of-towners. They come, they complain Toronto thinks it's the centre of the universe, they leave their garbage all over the place, they whine that the city is dirty, and they leave. We get that at least every weekend. In the summer, we get it all week.
We're used to protests. They happen all the time, and, surprisingly enough, they are almost always peaceful. Note that, for the most part, the G20 protests were too. Media estimates are that 25,000 people protested, but only a few hundred caused the property damage.
Torontonians are used to chaos, too. We were part of the Big Power Blackout, SARS, garbage strikes, and TTC wildcat strikes, and we took it all in stride. For the power blackout, news reports commented on how little vandalism and looting there was.
This was different. As the editorial I linked to at the start of this blog concludes:
The idea that this was an effective way to show off Toronto to foreign guests is bewilderingly stupid.I don't want, ever again, to have to reassure family members that I live far enough away from riots that I'm safe. Or tell other family members that their homes may have been damaged by rioters while they were away. Or have to check on friends and make sure they have enough groceries to last the weekend in case they have to barricade themselves in. This is Canada, dammit, and our job in the world has been to help people escape police states.
Canadian authorities created a city no citizen could recognize and no visitor could admire. Then, they allowed a pack of brutes to trash it.
Now it looks like we're one ourselves. I, for one, will never forgive this government for what they did to my home town.