Posts Tagged ‘Toronto’

Yesterday I was at the Luminato food event in Queen’s Park. As many of the booths were close to the road I was able to observe about three unmarked mini-vans that each had about 4-5 cops inside and these same vans continued to circle the block and passed me numerous times over a two-hour period. Maybe they were looking for subversive Pad Thai?!?

Earlier this week I was in traffic court (yes, I know, the shame, the shame) and had occasion to be sitting next to a plainclothes cop who was reading through what was about a 50 page booklet that seemed to be a manual for all those law enforcers who would be attending the big G20 bash that we’re apparently throwing this week. It was from the ISU and covered a wide range of topics so, of course, I did my best to unobtrusively read over his shoulder. I was able to read about 8 pages before my case was called. Aside from dictates on attire and washroom breaks, there was one part that did catch my eye.

The police obviously have plans to arrest 100’s and 100’s of people – or are prepared to do so. I know that they’ve denied this previously, but they are definitely going to be using the Toronto Film Studios as their “Prisoner Detention Facility”, as it said so in the manual. I took a drive past there the other day and the entire facility has been surrounded by high fencing and all the entrances have double gates, which is standard for most jails. Remember, these sound stages are HUGE and even one could likely accommodate 1,000 people, depending on how they laid out the beds, toilets, etc. I can only imagine what that’s going to be like for the people detained in there. The Somali refugee camps come to mind…

The manual went on to describe procedure for making arrests and it would seem that they’ve set up some kind of assembly line-like process. Officers are directed to take any newly arrested person to a “Prisoner Transport Bus”, which they will have ready and available in multiple locations around the downtown (more evidence of the number of arrests they’re anticipating). These buses, once full, will then transport the detainees to the detention facility where they will be held.

The officers are told not to accompany their prisoners – which is the usual process to maintain chain of custody for any evidence seized or statements made. Without that unbroken chain, that evidence or statement is inadmissible in court. However, they seemed concerned that if individual officers were to accompany their prisoners to the film jail (Little Guantamo?!) there would be chaos there and, more importantly, it would result in officers being taken off the front line to deal with more potential arrestees.

So, to deal with that they have set up a group of officers that was referred to as the “Prisoner Processing Detail”, whose job it will be to receive the prisoner from the arresting officer along with any evidence seized at the time. Some members of this detail seem to be designated to receive bodies, others to take physical evidence and still others will be there with recording equipment to record any statements made. As this ‘detail’ also needs to stay at the front line, yet another detail, the “Prisoner Transfer Detail” will then take the body, the evidence and the statements and will accompany all of these to the film jail, where they will be processed along with the prisoner, who will then get fingerprinted and photographed.

Now, here’s where it starts to get a little future-creepy. Apparently ALL prisoners will have their images scanned though facial recognition software and from what I was able to read they are planning to have multiple vehicles at the original scene that will be equipped with cameras tied into a facial recognition databases so that they can identify any wanted, or other people who are “known to police”, whose images they will be able to capture in the crowds. (As an aside, it’s not widely known, but quite a number of Toronto police cars now have facial recognition cameras inside the cars that photograph people in the back seat to aid in warrant execution and to prevent people from giving false names).

I’m going to be very interested to see how well this all works because the Canada Evidence Act is very clear on what’s necessary for evidence to be admissible in a court of law. That “chain of custody” I referred to earlier must be completely unbroken, documented and signed for every single time it ever changes hands and has to be sealed in evidence bags, also sealed and signed. As soon as that chain is broken – evidence placed on the ground during a scuffle and picked up by someone else or evidence misplaced and later found – will have the effect of rendering that evidence inadmissible and would usually result in an acquittal for the defendant. If this happens here on any kind of scale it would result in a colossal waste of money in the administration of justice as all the costs of arresting, processing, detaining, and then trying these in court will be for nothing.

The rest of the few parts I was able to read over his shoulder dealt with dress codes (uniforms always), bathroom breaks (only in designated facilities), and food (none allowed on your person but there will be food available at designated locations – the revolution will be catered!). Then my case got called and I had to tear myself away (I, of course, beat my ticket!).

Frankly, the whole thing is Orwellian on a scale that sends chills through me. Cameras that scan the crowd that are tied into facial recognition databases, prisoner assembly lines (my term, not theirs) and mass detention facilities all remind me of many movies that I’ve seen that are supposed to predict some kind of post apocalyptic future. Well, apparently, the future is now and it’s unfolding on the streets of our fair city. And I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling quite helpless as we plunge into an extremely costly summit thrust upon a city that doesn’t want it, and all and fueled by the erosion of our privacy and civil liberties. Thank you Mr. Harper. You really know how to throw a party.

God only knows what they have in those black helicopters that are already buzzing overhead and how much of this technology will linger after this debacle is over remains to be seen. It’s like the Patriot Act without an actual act of parliament. What has happened to our cherished notion of civil liberties? The press may have no business in the bedrooms of our nation but the police clearly have their business just about everywhere else.

This is a sad week for our city and our country. I barely recognize our city anymore and anyone who’s been brave enough to venture downtown will tell you of the chill they feel as Toronto the Good begins to resemble Fortress Toronto. In some ways I feel like our city’s being raped. I know that’s a strong word but what else do you call it when something you don’t want to happen is forced upon you with a degree of violence that leaves you feeling helpless, angry and distraught.

I love this city and I want it back. Harpo – take your G20 and G-out of here. It can’t be over soon enough for me…

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The first time I heard the number I thought the news anchor was joking.

But then I realized that news anchors aren’t usually the joking type. And then I heard it again. $1.1 billion. That’s the revised security budget for the upcoming G20/G8 summits that are being held in Toronto and Huntsville next month.

I say revised because there was an initial estimate when this whole affair was first announced and that was $179 million. That’s 600% higher than originally thought and – are you ready for it – that’s not the final number. That they won’t know until everybody goes home. I can’t wait to hear what that number will be.

As I I’ve been writing this I’ve been searching for the right word to express how I feel about that number. Flabbergasted. Dumbfounded. Stunned. But all those words somehow seem inadequate.

$1.1 billion. 4 days.

From the beginning the fact that we were hosting this summit has been met with a fairly tepid response. No one initially seemed too excited about it. And then the details started to come out. A giant fence surrounding a large part of the downtown core. Traffic hell. A huge film studio being turned into a temporary jail for the more unruly of us. A concerted effort to keep protestors as far as away as possible. They were originally going to shunt them to Trinity Bellwoods Park – a good 8 km from the sight of any world leader – but the local NIMBY folks got a hold of it and that location was quickly squelched.

Anybody who has any sense at all will get the heck out of Dodge during that week in order to avoid what could quite possibly be one of the worst disruptions in Toronto’s history. Far, far away. And not to Huntsville. That won’t be much better.

And now this number. $1.1 billion.

You have to put a number like that in perspective. You can build a lot of housing for that kind of money. Transit. Health care. Aboriginals. The list is endless and all are worthy. Now, the law enforcement community is poised to receive their own personal stimulus spending and while if you’re a Police Officer I’m sure you think this is quite appropriate. But nobody else does. Last night on the news they ventured out into the street to interview ordinary Torontonians about their reaction to this number. Most had nothing to say because their jaws dropped so low they couldn’t form intelligent sentences. Several questioned whether the reporter had her numbers right. She did.

So, I’m thinking to myself that their must be a benefit in hosting this summit if the government is going to such lengths to orchestrate it. It’s not going to increase tourism. News coverage outside this country will be somewhat sparse because it’s all pretty boring. There won’t be a bounce like we got from the Olympics (which went on for 18 days with a security budget of less than $900 million – and they had revenue.)

No, unless you’re Stephen Harper, who gets to play host and feel important, this is mostly a lose-lose for Canadians, Torontonians and the taxpayers. Just why are we doing this any ways?

Today we learned that the Toronto Police have used part of that money to purchase 4 sound cannons so that they can deafen any protestors who dare get too close. 1 truck mounted one and 3 hand-held ones. But, as they point out somewhat defensively, they will keep them after the summit to use on the everyday citizens of our fair city. Great. Just what I want my tax dollars spent on. Military deafness.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend $1.1 billion over 4 days and it’s not easy. That is an awful lot of money. I’m also very curious to know just how the original estimate of $179 million could have been so wrong and so low? Was it a PR move to placate the opposition or are the feds just plain incompetent? Something is very stinky in Whoville.

I suppose there’s no turning back now. I’m sure that, if asked, most Torontonians would politely suggest that this debacle be held elsewhere. But nobody is asking us. And then I had a thought. Why don’t they take about $20 million of that money and build some kind of meeting facility on Centre Island and hold the summit there? It would be very easy to secure and quite pretty, too. That would probably lop about $600 million off the estimate. But, again, nobody’s asking me.

I don’t really want Toronto turned into an armed camp, replete with soldiers, constant flyovers and disruptions of the highest order. I can already smell the tear gas.

Of course, one of the richer ironies is that one of the main agenda items at the G20 will be how to help the global economy better utilize its resources. I can think of $1.1 billion ideas to float past them.

I’m trying to remember the last time I felt so helpless in the face of such insanity. We have no voice in this, no ability to protest or to democratically subvert this whole mess. So, come June, we will all be good Canadians, suck up the inconvenience and wait out what will likely be the biggest cluster f#*@& we have ever been through.

You can do an awful lot of good for $1.1 billion but sound cannons, barbed wire and an armed camp surely should be low on the list. What kind of country do we want this to be?

O Canada, I’m sad for you today. Stand on guard, indeed…


Memory is a funny thing. As time goes by we tend to remember the positive, the happy. Old beaus suddenly don’t seem so unreasonable, accomplishments become iconic, and the past acquires a sort of gossamer glow.

I was born in Toronto and have lived here all my life. This is a great city which I firmly believe is one of the great cities of the world – especially in the summertime. Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick thanks to all the old friends I’m being reacquainted with on Facebook. And as I’ve been remembering old friends my mind has turned to remembering the Toronto I grew up in.

Toronto is a great city but the city we live in today is nothing like the city I grew up in. So much has changed – some for the better and, of course, some for not. We’re a lot bigger, we’re amalgamated and we have become a major global cultural capital. Good for us.

But what of those memories? Was the Toronto of my youth as innocent and carefree as I remember or are my memories being simplified by being viewed through the lens of my childhood? Probably a bit of both.

I was once told that memories are the signposts of our lives – markers that denote the significant occurrences that, together, create our life’s narrative. So, what are signposts that mark the city I remember? Here, in no particular order, are some of things that I remember from the city of my youth. Some are happy, some are not, and some just are. Please feel free to add your own as together, we try to remember the city that we’ve left behind.

I remember…

• having milk and bread delivered to our home by the “Milkman”, the milk all frothy in its glass bottle

• yellow police cars with the single red “cherry” on top

• 10 cent fares on the TTC, 25 for adults

• my father taking me to Yorkville and Rochdale to see the Hippies

• concerts at Maple Leaf Gardens where the best seats sold for the outrageous price of $7.50

• the most exotic food was Pizza or Chinese

• 1 and 2 dollar bills

• smoking everywhere – elevators, movie theatres and airplanes

• super balls!!!

• shoestring liquorice and other candies that sold for a penny a piece

• 1050 Chum and the ubiquitous Chum Chart

• saving my allowance to buy my first 45 rpm record, Space Oddity by David Bowie

• never having enough of those little plastic discs that went in the middle of those 45’s

• the Electric Gallery on Avenue Rd and the Markle brother’s unique take on neon

• payphones that cost 10 cents

• rotary dial phones, busy signals and no voice mail

• typewriters and carbon paper for copies

• Baby Blue Movies

• the most exotic language you would ever hear on the street was French (or maybe Italian in the right neighbourhood)

• the Toronto Telegram, the Globe in the morning and the Star at night

• Stoodleigh’s restaurant, the Bagel King and the Hamburger King

• The Toronto Police’s Morality Squad

• movie censorship

• 1 oz of Colombian Gold that sold for $60

• where the worst thing you could catch from sex could be cured with anti-biotics

• Shopsy’s on Spadina (next door to Victory Burlesque which was always a source of fascination to my 11 year-old mind)

• mostly white faces everywhere you went

• guns were the exclusive domain of police. Period.

• Ryerson was called Rye-high or, grade 14

• grade 13

• television stations that went off the air overnight, closing with our national anthem played over footage of endless mountains, lakes and the Musical Ride

• endless tests of the Emergency Broadcast System

• all the porno theatres at Yonge and Dundas

• the University theatre, the Eglinton and the Uptown – the three biggest screens in town

• the opening of the Imperial Six and spending an entire day moving from one theatre to the next, trying to see all six movies for one admission

• the opening of the first Cineplex theatre in the Eaton Centre where you could see rear-projected movies on a screen no bigger than your TV in a theatre that sat 25 people

I could go on for a while but I think the point has been made. Somewhere along the line we lost our innocence and we changed from a little big city to a big big city. Do we have more amenties now? Absolutely. But have we paid a price for that sophistication? Absolutely. We’ve lost some of our innocence as we’ve taken our place on the world’s stage.

Progress is a double-edged sword. We all want it but when it comes we often spend much time reminiscing over how good we had it. Maybe it falls under the category of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it”. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the Toronto of my youth and I still love Toronto today but they are two very different cities. Technology, sprawl and immigration have forever changed the face of this city as progress marches on.

What are your memories of the Toronto you grew up in? Was there an event that, for you, marked the transition to a different kind of city that you remember? Thank you Emanuel Jacques for my epiphany.

This city always surprises me as it’s constantly growing up around me, evolving, sometimes in step with the world and sometimes marching to its own drummer. I was once told that Toronto is a native word for “meeting place”. And today, that has never been more true…

CityTV suddenly fires 60 senior on-air and production staff and axes almost all their local news

What a shame. What a tremendous loss for our city.

CityTV has long been a beacon for Toronto, showing us our triumphs and our failures on an epicly moving landscape. I was at the party for the launch of CityTV in the early 70’s and mostly I remember how incredibly excited everyone was. There was a palpable feeling that this station was going to be different. And different it was.

Spurred by a desire to innovate and forced to be inventive as the result of a constant cash shortage, City transformed the way we saw our Toronto – and the way we watched TV.

I remember in the early days you never knew what was going to happen on the air. On-air personalities were given broad discretion to do it differently, the camera was always moving, and many early shows were live, meaning that some pretty audacious stuff got on the air. Led by media visionary Moses Znaimer, CityTV took the gloss off of our city and got down and dirty with the rest of us.

Early offerings included Boogie, which was the bold forerunner to Electric Circus. There was Forum, which featured live debates, often quite audacious, and shows like the New Music that forever changed the face of music on television. Indeed, the New Music would later morph into MuchMusic, which also trail-blazed the way for a whole new era of entertainment TV.

In my youth I used to spend a lot of time down at the station, which in those days was at 99 Queen E., on the other side of Yonge, and I’ll never forget the energy that rippled through the place on a constant basis. Everybody who worked there loved their jobs even if City was one of the most infamously cheap employers in the industry. You didn’t work at City to get rich, you worked at City to be a part of the evolving brave new frontier that was the ascension of TV in the 70’s and 80’s. You worked there because you believed in what Moses what doing and you wanted to be a long for the ride.

Even though it didn’t pay much, at City you got on the air – whether you were ready or not. Some of the more famous City personalities today have been with the station for over 25 years and we have grown along with them. Gord Martineau, Kevin Frankish and Anne Mroczcowski have all been there for 25 plus years and are considerably more polished now than they were way back then.

And it wasn’t just the on-air style that shook things up – where the building became the set and everything and everybody were part of it – it was what they put on the air. The Baby Blue Movie forever changed the standards of what is permissible to air on a public station. City Pulse News did away with the anchor desk and put it’s broadcasters right into the thick of the action and shows like Fashion TV and Sex TV have become ubiquitous in markets all over the world.

It was always a dream of mine to work at City, to be close to that marvellous energy. I was childhood friends with Jay Switzer, who would go onto become the President of City during it’s biggest growth boom, and my parents were close with the Swtizers, who lived a few houses away from us. They were a TV family through and through. Sruki Switzer, the father, literally invented the technology that made cable TV possible and his wife, Phyllis was one of the original three founders of City TV.

City was always in my blood and as a neophyte film maker I used every excuse I could think of to hang around down at 99 Queen E. I just wanted to be close to that unmistakable energy, to be around people who loved what they did and who knew that they were making a difference. In later years I would do a fair bit of business with City, whose penchant for innovation matched some of my fairly audacious ideas, and although I did interview there once for my dream job (and didn’t get it!!) I never successfully leveraged any employment out of the grand dame. Pity. That would have been fun, indeed.

But, like all good things, City eventually grew up and the little station that could became the cash-box that was a well run station in the new millennium. Over the 90’s CityTV grew exponentially. They launched station after station, taking broad advantage of the new CRTC rules which allowed for cable speciality channels. Overnight there was Space, SexTV, CP24 and about 20 other niche stations that are still making their shareholders very rich. And that, of course, was the beginning of the end.

City couldn’t hide its burgeoning revenues from the street and in the early part of this decade they were snapped up by broadcasting giant CTV. At the time, CTV seemed to recognize the inherent uniqueness of their new property and pretty much ran things as per usual. City looked a little slicker but it was still a “little” station. However that couldn’t and didn’t last and in 2007 CTV was forced by the CRTC to divest itself of 5 City stations across Canada due to rules that prohibit any one entity from owning more than one broadcast station in any one market. And who ponied up $375 million for this broadcasting plum? Good ‘ole Rogers Media.

Now, even though Rogers was led by it’s own media visionary, Ted Rogers, their styles couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. Where City was wild, Mr. Rogers was conservative. Where City dared to boldly go, Rogers preferred to tread more cautiously. And aside from their local Cable 10 operations and the ownership of OMNI, Toronto’s multicultural channel, Rogers had little experience in running a national broadcast presence. And it didn’t take long for the axe to start to swing.

Immediately, the first to go was Speaker’s Corner, a marvel of television democracy that let any body grab some air time – and just for a loonie. In many ways Speaker’s Corner was an important symbol of City’s guerilla status. Famous for launching many careers – the Barenaked Ladies, Mike Myers and Scott Speedman all got their first exposures on the Corner – Speakers Corner suggested all that was right about what CityTV was doing and stood for. Often irreverent, frequently shocking and always entertaining, Speaker’s Corner fulfilled Moses Znaimer’s central philosophy that suggested that television was for every one and every Saturday night at 6:30 you could turn on your TV and see some extraordinarily democratic TV.

Many observers who watched the axing of Speaker’s Corner had a pretty strong premonition of what would be next. Slowly, over the next two years, City gradually became more and more polished until you couldn’t automatically identify which channel was CityTV when you were flipping through the channels. Rogers moved them out of their shrine to TV, the marvellous and innovative building at 299 Queen W., and slowly began dismantling everything that was special about the little station that could. The old CityTV used to feel a little like Improv TV, where anything could, and did, happen, and the new , emerging CityTV became slicker and more polished until it’s current, almost unrecognizable, state.

After Rogers began cleaning house, all of the original staff, who had poured their very best years into that station, gradually began to go, becoming replaced by Rogers’ bean counters. By early this year there was practically no one single holdover from the early days still on the executive roster. And today, the axe fell again.

In a bold and unsettling display of corporate power, Rogers gave pink slips to 60 of some of City’s most recognizable faces. Veterans like Anne Mroczkowski, Laura DiBattista and Pam Seatle were all given their walking papers – effective immediately. Their bios were unceremoniously yanked from the web site and many of the veterans who we have come to know and love were summarily dismissed. City’s mantra used to be Movies, Music and News, and they did all those things very well but today Rogers announced that it was cutting the Noon News, City at 5 and all the weekend newscasts, as well, putting a final dagger into the heart of a once thriving mediatropolis.

I have been watching the devolution of City for some time now and over the past few years have had a number of conversations with some of the senior staff there about what the future held for CityTV. None of them were very optimistic and all were already looking afield to greener pastures. And while they were losing their jobs, I was losing a friend. City has been an integral part of my life ever since I can remember and it feels like something important is missing today from the fabric of this city. One of our best and most insistent voices has been silenced.

A few years ago I was down in Bogota, Colombia, where CityTV has a flagship station – also called CityTV. This incarnation was templated off of the original City paradigm and when I walked into the studio it was like walking into a time warp – but in Spanish. It was the same half-cocked craziness that used to make every City broadcast seem like an episode of SCTV. I stood amidst the chaos and revelled in the energy I felt and it was immediately apparent to me that our CityTV had lost its edge, in comparison. They were doing it the way they wanted because they seemed to understand that the very energy they were producing there was what made City different. It’s what made City special.

I have been sadly watching the slow death of my old friend for several years now and I think that the loss of the old CityTV is a much bigger loss for our greater City of Toronto. We used to have pride in CityTV. We liked that it was imperfect because we were imperfect, too, and in some way City’s irreverence and pluckiness came to symbolize greater Toronto’s more irreverent character and nature. When we turned on City we were looking at ourselves and all the imperfections and roughness made us feel a little bit better about our own less polished overtures.

People were in tears and in shock as news of the cuts rippled through the industry. Suddenly, everyone seemed to viscerally understand what others had been observing for some time from afar – that CityTV was no longer the maverick it used to be and that it was now certain that some things seemed destined never to be the same again.

Today some very nice and very capable people lost their jobs but I’m afraid that the City of Toronto has lost a lot more. If CityTV was tele-democracy in action then its new, evolving, more corporate image means that we are losing an important voice in our entertainment and cultural landscape. CityTV used to speak for all of us – in a language that we all understood – and it gave a voice to that most ambiguous of entities – our city proper. We live in a more heavily branded, more corporate world than we ever have before and without a voice for the underdog I fear that the corporatization of our media infrastructure will soon be complete.

And as those old familiar faces are escorted out the door by unsmiling security guards, Toronto is losing a lot more than a few newscasts. We are losing an important part of our civic identity. Yes, it’s true, that we won’t have CityTV to kick around any more and I, for one, am feeling very sad for us all.

Goodbye old friend. You’ll be missed…