Special Segment: Toronto's Experience

February 19, 2012 10:00:00 PM PST
Toronto, Canada's largest city, hosted the G-20 summit two years ago this June. As Chicago prepares to host both the G-8 and NATO gatherings, ABC7's Paul Meincke went there to find out what happened.

Global summits always bring contrasting images. There is the photo op of smiling world leaders who make important decisions that are not immediately visible nor quantifiable. And there is the image of anger and sometimes chaos in the street. Both were part of Toronto's experience.

Canada's largest city has long been a world player, but hosting the G-20 would serve to give Toronto still more prestige on the global stage.

"There's extraordinary benefit in the direct and immediate sense," said Prof. John Kirton, director G8 Research Group, University of Toronto.

Kirton is one of the leading authorities on the last two decades of global summits. The media portrait, he says, is a prime benefit of hosting the Super Bowl of global politics. Several thousand international journalists arrive weeks in advance to write largely nice things about the host city.

"And you just can't buy that kind of advertising dollar, right, for all the money in the world," said Kirton.

While they always congratulate the host city, The G20 world leaders didn't see much of Toronto because they were behind a fence. A more than two mile long five million dollar fence that ringed the area around their meeting site. It went up a couple weeks in advance. Layered on top of that was a much larger security perimeter right in the heart of downtown Toronto.

"Essentially we transformed a large portion of our downtown core into an internationally secure site," said Abby Deshman, Canadian Civil Liberties Association. "I mean this is where people live and work and go to school."

In the days immediately ahead of the summit, some 40,000 workers and residents in the security zone had to produce passes to come and go through checkpoints. Businesses were not told to close, but many opted to anyway.

Queens Park, roughly two miles north of the summit site, was the designated demonstration area. Protests, and subsequent marches were large, loud, but mostly peaceful until Saturday afternoon when a smaller group broke with the clear intent of causing trouble.

There were no serious injuries, but there was significant property damage. Several squad cars were set on fire. It was not an image Toronto expected.

Heat from a burning police cruiser broke the windows and melted part of an overhead sign at Steve's Music store.

Today, there's still a hint of what happened then, though repairs have long since been made. What is still unresolved is the cost of lost business.

"Downtown Toronto - not just me - everybody was a ghost town for two weeks because there was all kinds of fences and gates even to get up here where people weren't allowed in the zone," said Kevin Parker, general manager, Steve's Music.

In the post mortems, one of the criticisms was that police spent too much time defending the fence at the expense of other parts of the city.

"We knew we could not be deflected or distracted from our primary goal. That was absolutely clear," said Mark Pugash, Toronto Police Service, director communications. "But we had other resources to respond to other situations around the city. So it wasn't an either or situation."

Still, deployment design, intelligence gathering, even the type of gear they had didn't allow police to be as nimble as they might have preferred.

After a more deferential approach the first day, critics say the police went overboard summit Sunday with mass "breach of the peace" arrests that have produced ongoing class action lawsuits.

Approaching two years after, the dominant opinion ABC7 found among everyday Torontonians was that hosting of the G-20 wasn't worth it.

"So many people being disturbed and put jail and all that -I don't think it was worth it. And the money spent could have been spent on something else," said Jalo Edwards, legal assistant.

The Canadian government spent roughly $800 million plus on security. That was a record in Canada, and the more than 1,100 arrests were also a record.

There will be a security perimeter created for the G8 and NATO here. The boundaries and credentialing needs have not yet been disclosed, but the hugely significant difference between Toronto and Chicago is that the security zone here will not be superimposed over the core of downtown. Thus, the refrain from the host committee here is that Chicago, during the summits, will be open for business.