Monday, June 28, 2010


Greetings Friends,

Did this scene really take place in Toronto? According to a gallery of Reuters/Canadian Press photos I found yesterday on Google Canada News, yes, indeed it did. And that is, in fact, a Metro Toronto Police cruiser on fire in the background.

The scene I chose to display here resembles images from garden variety uprisings that could have taken place in any number of "developing" countries. Or, someone forgot to tell the rabid hockey fans in Montreal that the Habs were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The issues and potential locations aside, I still cannot believe this happened in the city I live in. 

The Toronto I knew as a child was safe; the city I knew was comprised of immigrant communities like Kensington, Downsview, Chinatown, Willowdale, among others. I rode the Bathurst Street bus, by myself, at the ripe old age of 7, to the nearest McDonalds, so I could eat a Big Mac without getting the stink-eye from my grandmother, who kept a kosher home. Sometimes, she even gave me the money for said Big Mac; I guess she didn't care if I ate it, as long as she didn't have to watch me. My cousins and I wore t-shirts that proclaimed "Streak Off!", purchased for us by my aunt at a shop near her grocery store on Baldwin Street, in the immigrant Jewish area of Kensington. We ate "fresh killed" chickens from the kosher butcher down the street from her store, and sucked on Lolas (triangular popsicles) purchased at Toby's Variety store, while we sat on the swings in Clanton Park. Pretty idyllic, huh? It was a long, long time ago...

I can't say I'm very surprised by the violence that occurred in Toronto this past weekend. In some ways, it was to be expected, even though the mayor and the chief of police assured everyone they were ready for it. But, the billion dollar price tag that came along with holding the G20 summit here in my fair city pissed off a lot of people. That's no excuse for the violence that resulted, but, in hindsight, there were many things that could have been handled differently.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted Toronto to be viewed on the world stage as a thriving, successful, multicultural paradise, where banks haven't failed, and commerce is transacted without the scheming greed that has become the norm in other countries. He wanted world leaders to look out beyond the security fencing to see a city where millions of souls from different backgrounds and cultures co-exist in harmony. Someone forgot to tell him that all the residents in the "red zone" were encouraged to flee to avoid the potential inconvenience of not being allowed into their high-rise condos in the event they were deemed a security risk. As I suggested on Friday, Toronto's downtown core bore a striking resemblance to Checkpoint Charlie as opposed to a bustling urban centre. The necessity of that scenario should have made a few bells go off in the prime minister's head, or at least in the heads of his closest advisors.

Now, in the aftermath of this disastrous weekend, Toronto is left torn open and bloodied, instead of basking in the glow of international celebrity. Cars were burned, bricks were thrown, windows were shattered; teargas was deployed for the first time in the city's history, and hundreds were arrested. That's about as far from a rousing success as it gets. The pugilistic American in me isn't surprised that all this went down. Sadly, I've become used to the fact that New York City morphed into a militarized city-state after September 11. The sight of cops in riot gear, toting Tasers and M16s is one I very quickly got used to. Military personnel patrolling Grand Central and Penn Stations became so common that their fatigues blended seamlessly into the bustling business-suited masses who were scrambling to get to their trains. It was the "new" normal. I hate that expression, but there is no better way I can think of to describe it. Toronto will now have to find a new "normal" while it waits for the spectre of photos like the one above to fade from the minds of local residents and the international community. Stuff like that wasn't supposed to happen; but it did. It saddens me greatly, and I hope that, when all is said and done, there will be some significant lessons learned. I'll try not to get my hopes up too high.

***Today's edition of The Bitch and Fail commented that the violence and destruction was not as bad as in other cities. Must there be any at all?***


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