Look up… look waaaay up…
Those words were part of every episode of one of my favourite CBC shows as a kid, The Friendly Giant. “Friendly,” the eponymous giant of the show, used it to guide the viewer up from their ground eye view to his lofty level. Ironically, while at work at the CBC this week, I’ve found myself looking up… waaaay up, not to see Friendly, but to see just how we’re being watched throughout this whole G20 circus.
On Monday, I spent my lunch break in a park near the CBC building in an effort to take in the sunshine while reading a book. Easier said than done – like every nook and cranny of the “green zone” armed camp that’s been erected in downtown Toronto for this summit, the park was crawling with cops. And virtually every one of them, when passing by the bench I was sitting on, gave me the up and down. Obviously, I must look like an anarchist protester and/or terrorist.
If that wasn’t enough to screw up one’s concentration, the constant din of choppers circling overhead sure was. And these weren’t the relatively unnoticeable civilian helicopters, they were the really big and loud military kind.
Walking back from the park, into the fenced-in camp and past the dozens of police, horse-mounted and in riot gear, I briefly understood what it might be like to live in places where civil order is not a given. Far be it from me to even suggest that I can understand what it’s like to live in a Gaza or a Baghdad, but I did get a brief glimpse into the long-term effects such a restrictive set-up can have on a person’s psyche. If anything, all the security has the exact opposite effect of what it’s supposed to do: it’s made me feel very unsafe. I’ve lived in Toronto almost all of my life and I’ve never felt that way before.
I usually like the big events that happen in Toronto, because the benefits are obvious even if the disruptions they cause are annoying. Aside from attracting tourists from all over, cultural events such as Gay Pride and Caribana also serve to highlight just how diverse and tolerant Toronto is – those are actually our best qualities. Even last weekend’s MuchMusic Video Awards, which caused major disruptions downtown (in combination with G20 preparations), had a net positive effect because it showed that we can throw a big entertainment party with the best of ‘em.
But the G20? I don’t see the point. A group of political and business leaders are flown in, we spend a billion dollars of taxpayer money to safeguard them and mess up the city for a month during a relatively rare period of good weather, and for what? Does Toronto somehow seem more “world class” to these leaders? Please – if they don’t already know that Toronto is Canada’s business capital and they don’t already have their Canadian operations here, we probably don’t want them. If the government really wants to encourage foreign business in Canada, maybe it should remove some of the ridiculous protectionist barriers we have up preventing them from doing so. See telecommunications or the book business as examples (fortunately, the Conservatives do seem to be taking action on telecom, at least). And if the G20 leaders really need to meet so they can sort out world problems, why not set them up on a military base, where the high security won’t screw up our otherwise great and peaceful city?
Getting back to Friendly… it’s not just cops and helicopters that are watching us. I’ve been looking up to see if I could spot any robotic drones hovering around, taking pictures. What’s that? Robots? Oh yes. Security officials are tight on the details, but you can bet that police and anti-terrorism forces are using military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in their surveillance of the G20 summit.
The Ontario Provincial Police have been using UAVs since 2003, according to CTV News, although they apparently have not been cleared for use in places where there are large crowds of people. But, according to an OPP officer: “This could be used at any special event for officer safety. It takes a clear picture of places where robots can’t reach without ever having to have an officer be there.”
In the UK, police have the same idea. According to a story earlier this year from The Guardian, police are “planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the ‘routine’ monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.”
I’m hoping to get further details of how security officials are using UAVs here in Toronto. Hopefully some answers will be forthcoming. Stay tuned…