Toronto plans G-20 Summit, learns lessons from summits passed

By Olivia Garber

Toronto officials, who are preparing to host the G-20 Summit this summer, said they hope they… Toronto officials, who are preparing to host the G-20 Summit this summer, said they hope they can learn from Pittsburgh’s experiences last fall.

Adam Vaughan, a representative for Ward 20, the part of Toronto that will host the Summit, said in a letter to his constituents that he wonders whether the city is prepared for the foreign dignitaries and protesters who will come to the city for the June 26-27 Summit.

“Summits such as this in Quebec City and Seattle have presented serious challenges to host cities,” Vaughan wrote in the letter, published by Canwest News Service. “Anti-terrorism precautions, crowd control and the reality that these meetings usually draw large numbers of protesters, will mean that much of the ward will be severely impacted by security initiatives.”

This is not the first time questions have been raised about Canada’s chosen site for the Summit. Before moving to Ward 20, the G-20 Summit was tentatively scheduled to occur in Huntsville, Ontario, where the smaller G8 Summit will be held June 25-26. But despite the investment of millions of dollars into renovating Huntsville, the Canadian government decided that the city was just too small to handle the larger responsibility of a G-20 Summit, and the location changed to Ward 20 of Toronto.

Vaughan is asking that they change it again.

“The folks organizing the event aren’t from Toronto,” Vaughan said in a phone interview. “They think downtown closes at 6 p.m. We need more communication between the government and city residents.”

Representatives from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s office did not respond to requests for comment, and representatives for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police declined to comment on either Summit.

Other Pittsburgh officials said a lack of communication was one of the principal problems of the G-20 Summit.

“Communication,” said Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board. “It’s all about communication.”

She said she thought Pittsburgh could have avoided some of the controversy surrounding its Summit, which resulted in 193 arrests and an estimated $50,000 in damage, if it had more clearly outlined restrictions for protesters.

“If ground rules are laid out, then all’s fair,” Pittinger said, adding that one thing that could have been done differently is having a “more vigorous liaisonship” between police force and citizens.

Pitt emergency management professor Louise Comfort said, “[The police] need to explain to them that we’re not trying to block you, we’re trying to organize.”

While Vaughan said that he has apprehensions about having the Summit in his ward because of the lack of communication between the government and city residents, he is not concerned with Toronto’s ability to handle the protests that traditionally come with the G-20.

“Canada has a different political culture, a different approach to policing,” he said.

In May 2009, Tamil protesters gathered in Toronto to protest against a civil war in Sri Lanka.

“There were 10,000 people in front of the U.S. consulate, and we resolved the demonstration without a single arrest,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan attributes Toronto’s ability to peacefully handle protests to the city’s “tolerance for democratic rights,” a tolerance that will be applied during the Summit.

Toronto officials underwent an operational review of Pittsburgh’s G-20 Summit to gain an understanding of the scope of demonstrators, Vaughan said. They hope to strike a balance between security and democratic debate. Vaughan sees the Summit as an opportunity to provide a platform, not only for global leaders but for those with a frustration of not getting heard to present a different perspective.

The United States Secret Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police will help the Toronto Police Service to protect the event.

“Planning will be crucial,” Comfort said, adding that the police need to “take a … humane approach in working with citizens.”