Life on the G20 barricades
Welcome to the barricades, boys and girls.
That reality hit dozens of (mostly young) residents of the condo building at 51 Lower Simcoe St. on Wednesday night at a G20 security briefing.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of demonstrators will be right in front of 51 during the G20 Summit. Making lots and lots of noise residents learned. Every day. Perhaps ALL night long. Perhaps, and only perhaps, causing violence and damage.
Scores of good questions were asked of affable Toronto police constable Helen Dixon and building manager John Battistella. But it was the tone, the mood and the emotions (which, yes, included fear) escaping from behind the questioners' words that were most telling as the residents grasped, and grappled with, a now inescapable fact: you really do live right on the front line.
What a grim reality to learn in, of all places, the Party Room.
Sure, everyone had seen THE map, the one showing the security fence going right up Lower Simcoe, crossing north on Bremner St., right smack in front of the entrance to 51. Everyone knew, or should have realized, that 51 is the residential building CLOSEST to the south side Metro Convention Centre, epicentre of G20.
But noisy demonstrators on the doorstep? All night long? Possible lockdowns and lockouts? Who da thunk it when they handed over their downpayment?
"This building," said Dixon,"is in a unique position."
You bet it is.
"Protesters will be allowed right up to the fence." On two sides of the building. "Yikes", I think, was the shared, unspoken reaction.
"Who decided all this?" snarled a man standing in the doorway. The reply, almost in unison from several parts of the room: Stephen Harper. Lucky for the Tories there was no federal election in that room last night.
Dixon and Battistella gave a good, cheerful effort in trying to answer questions directly, authoritatively, or as directly as they were allowed. Sometimes with humour (there were quips on all sides about Harper's "fake lake").
The questions came fast and furious, almost all focused on mobility and safety:
How will I get to my condo?
Who pays if the building gets wrecked?
If I call the cops with a noise complaint after 11, will they do anything? What about the noise bylaw?
What's the level of danger?
Will I be able to get into the building safely at all hours?
Why were the fences put up overnight, disturbing our sleep?
What about all the different road closures each night?
Why are the police already so unhelpful, several asked (one man told the crowd he asked the police a question this week and the reply was "you're on a need to know basis")?
Are the police watching us? Some silence. Some snickers. A question as the response: "What do you think?"
Dixon had lots of good if obvious advice. Carry ID. Don't use your car after the Thursday before the G20. Read the website. Yes, you can use your balcony. We've never had a G20 before and don't know what kind of "animal" to expect (I think she was referring to the event but I'm sure some thought she meant the protesters). The majority of demonstrators are peaceful folks who just want their message to be heard. Police will be everywhere to protect you and your building. Check the website for updates. The security gates will close Thursday at 8.30 p.m. Check your insurance.
One store owner said she had thoroughly read the government warnings re G20 liability for damages. Read the fine print, she warned. The government won't pay, she said. Her insurance won't pay. So who pays if things turn ugly?
No answer to that one.
Building manager Battistella assured residents that, yes, extra security had been hired. Maybe more on the way. Yes, the garage entrance will be guarded. No one but residents will be allowed in the building. No protesters. And no journalists. (Though there are rumours that a British journalist has already scooped a condo for a week. $4,800 Canadian. And more are rumoured listed on Craigslist, saying "protesters welcome.")
"Will there be police snipers on the roof?" a man asked. "No," Battistella replied, emphatically. Several in the crowd looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
As the meeting wound down, the one unasked question that was on almost everyone's mind, but that no one had dared to ask: "So where do I walk my dog?"
Battistella chuckled and replied, "I'm working on that."
Welcome to the G20 "party" 51 Lower Simcoe.
Oh, and that party? When it's over, said Constable Dixon, don't expect it to be cleaned up until after the Canada Day weekend.
It just gets better and better.