The G20 is coming! The G20 is coming!
It’s easy to catch Summit Fever this June, what with every major news outlet in the country covering what might just be the biggest event of the summer (if, you know, you don’t like soccer). Much has been made of the intended discussions, the possible agreements, and the powers of diplomacy. Much, too, has been made of the security, the financial costs, and the interruptions to daily life in Toronto.
But what about you? What does the G20 Summit, coming to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this June 26 and 27, mean for you? (Other than a lot of time spent reading Torontoist, of course: we’ll be providing regular G20 coverage leading up to the summit, and live coverage on the weekend of.) Whether you live in Toronto, work here, walk or drive or cycle or use transit through here, attend school here, are just visiting here, or are just hoping to get out of here, this is Torontoist’s comprehensive guide for everyone in the city who’ll be affected by the G20.
There’s no way around it: living downtown on Summit Weekend won’t be any fun at all—unless you like limited access to your home, your friends, your family, and all the other amenities of modern living you’re likely accustomed to in a non-police state.
If you live within the “Security Perimeter” (in black on our map), the Integrated Security Unit has probably given you accreditation, much like members of the media might get for an event like this. That ostensibly makes it easier for you to get through the fence and cops and protesters and the media. Because pass cards have that power.
Otherwise, Toronto Police and summit organizers insist that residents of the city can go about their daily life. The Star reported on a June 10 meeting, organized by Councillor Adam Vaughan, at which police suggested that leaving extra time to get places and carrying photo ID will be necessary for those living downtown during the summit.
And if any emergencies should arise for residents, Toronto is apparently ready for the challenge. “All plans are in place for extraordinary circumstances,” Kim McKinnon of Toronto EMS tells Torontoist, indicating that, along with Toronto Fire and Toronto Police, service won’t be interrupted for residents, although she wouldn’t go further into the details of how that’s possible. “Toronto EMS is well known for its ability to manage large events and to do it successfully,” she added, citing Caribana and the 2002 papal visit as examples.
Non-emergencies, though, are a different story. The University Health Network’s website states that treatments will continue throughout the G20, but some doctor’s appointments will have to be rescheduled. The site also helpfully points out that “it is impossible to predict the impact that the G20 Summit will have on the downtown core.” That is: it’s impossible to predict the impact that the G20 Summit will have on you and your regularly scheduled life.
Some Torontonians are planning to leave town G20 weekend. That’s not a bad idea, especially because vacationing can actually be a profitable venture. For those who live downtown, why not list your home on Craigslist? Lots of people are—because if the government’s gonna spend a billion dollars of your money to pay for this thing, you might as well get a kickback.
Businesses and Employees
If you’re putting off a casual visit downtown during Summit Week, be thankful you have a choice: people who work downtown don’t—although many businesses have simply thrown up their hands and decided to close up shop on June 25, 26, and 27. Even the Art Gallery of Ontario has announced it will lock its doors at 4 p.m. on Friday.
For theatregoers, it’s even worse: Mirvish Productions is suspending its two King Street West productions during the entire week leading up to the Summit. And then there’s the TIFF Cinematheque, which is cancelling or re-scheduling several screenings. The Blue Jays are also flying the coop for the duration. All of that and more will have “a domino effect” on other businesses in the area, according to Janice Solomon, president of the Entertainment District Business Improvement Area. While not all businesses downtown will close their doors, Solomon says that smaller retailers—like restaurants—that rely on pre- and post-show or game customers will take a financial hit.
Things are expected to be so chaotic around the secured zones that many corporations are asking their employees to either work from home or take a few vacation days for the duration. Those who do make the journey downtown to work, be warned: leave an hour earlier than you normally would, and bring lots of photo ID. You’ll need it to get through the checkpoints.
And then there are those businesses that have already closed temporarily because of the Summit—involuntarily. As of June 10, the City began shooing hot dog vendors in the so-called red zone away from their designated spots. They’re not allowed to set up shop elsewhere, which means they’re essentially on an unpaid vacation for the next two weeks. “What can you do?” one exasperated vendor told us at John and Front during his last few hours on the job Thursday. “You can’t beat the city.”
But while some establishments may feel the pinch, it’s business as usual (or better) for others. Take Porter Airlines, for instance. Although airspace around the downtown core is restricted for unscheduled traffic during the Summit, Porter says its flight schedule will not be affected. Of course, getting off the ground is one thing: getting to and from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is another. Porter’s decided to suspend its passenger shuttle bus service for Summit Week, because no one knows if, or for how long, ground traffic will be delayed during that week.
There also appears to be a budding entrepreneur class developing. As delegates and journalists flood into the city, hotel rooms are filling up and accommodation is at a premium. That’s tempted some people to rent out their downtown apartments and condos often at remarkably inflated prices.
Speaking of hotel rooms, Tourism Toronto has high hopes for the Summit’s effect on the city’s economy. In a recent release, Tourism Toronto estimated that “delegates, media and security staff will consume approximately 114,000 total hotel room nights in dozens of hotels across Toronto….The summits are expected to generate $53 million in direct spending by delegates (hotels, food and entertainment). That does not include the convention centres, audio/visual companies, transportation companies and all the other businesses that will benefit.”
As for revenue lost by businesses that close, or face a customer drought, there are no estimates yet available, the organization says. There’s also the potential for violence between protesters and police, an eventuality that’s got business owners even more antsy. The federal government is refusing to compensate them for damage caused during the Summit. But Councillor Adam Vaughan—as councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, part of his ward is within the security zones—says the fight is far from over. The leading mayoral candidates have all pledged to keep pressing Ottawa to pony up some money for shopkeepers, should it be necessary, and Vaughan himself has launched a letter-writing campaign.
From the individual with a sandwich board and an axe to grind, to members of well-known, well-organized environmental and social justice groups, thousands of protesters from all over the world will be descending on the city over the next couple of weeks. If you’re one of them, here are some tips about what to beware of, how to find a particular demonstration, where to stay, and what to do in case you find yourself on the wrong side of the barricades.
First, let’s assume you’re from out of town. Whether you need a ride to Toronto, a place to stay while you’re here, or help deciding which demonstrations you’d like to participate in, the catch-all organization that’s overseeing the various interest groups and their actions is the Toronto Community Mobilization Network. The group’s website lists scores of events in a handy calendar format, from community meetings to full-blown marches, that are taking place across the city. If you want to start your own demonstration, they can also help you get organized.
So let’s assume now that you’ve made it to Toronto, you’re settled in a billet, and you’ve decided what event you’d like to participate in. Now, you’ve got to get there. The designated protest site is Queen’s Park, the park immediately to the north of the provincial legislature. It’s just south of the intersection of Bloor Street and Avenue Road, which makes it easy to get to by public transit, bike, or on foot.
Before you head over, though, the federal government would like to have a word with you. The Integrated Security Unit is overseen by the RCMP, but it’s staffed by everyone from local police officers to Canadian Forces soldiers. Here, you’ll find some advice the ISU has for protesters.
Now that you’ve arrived, armed with the rules and regulations set out by the authorities, you’ll almost certainly be taking part in a peaceful protest. But there are no guarantees. Almost no one believes that demonstrators will stick strictly to Queen’s Park North, and even if they do, clashes between protesters and police are not unheard of, at any demonstration. At most of the major protests here, though, demonstrators will have a special ally: an organization called the Movement Defence Committee. It’s made up of about eighty lawyers who’ve volunteered to help protesters free of charge. They’ll also be acting as observers at many of the major demonstrations. The lawyers have expertise in immigration law (to help people who may have trouble getting into Canada) and criminal law (for those who find themselves under arrest). The Committee’s recommending that demonstrators write their “Arrest Line” number—416-273-6761—somewhere on their bodies.
If trouble does break out during a demo that you’re participating in, you may be faced with a relatively new weapon in the police arsenal. Officially, it’s known as Long Range Acoustic Device. Unofficially, it’s called a sound cannon. It emits a high-pitched soul-piercing burst that’s supposed to convince you to do what the police are telling you to do (assuming you weren’t in the first place). Here, too, demonstrators will have an ally on hand: the Council of Canadians will be handing out free earplugs to protesters.
Walking is likely the best way to get around during G20 weekend, so long as you don’t walk anywhere near the secured or protest zones. It’s probably best not to be anywhere from King to Lake Shore and Spadina to Yonge unless you absolutely have to: that’s the “Traffic Zone,” where even pedestrians will be subject to police checkpoints. And if you do get past, don’t even think about getting over that ten-foot fence that’s protecting the “Security Zone.”
While the thousands of delegates, journalists, and visiting police officers might clog the sidewalks on their way towards the action, you should be able to walk free and easy through the streets of the city. Above ground, anyway. According to the Integrated Security Unit, the PATH system will be closed from Friday, June 25 to Sunday, June 27, so you’ll have to get your fill of fast food and Grand and Toy outlets in the open air that weekend, preferably far outside the downtown core.
Also gone anywhere near the secured zones for the Summit: trash bins and newspaper boxes. And someone will probably be watching you: OpenFile has a map of new CCTV cameras installed especially for the Summit.
In theory, anything outside the security zone is fair game for pedestrians. But, like everything G20, even walking is subject to change. Cops might ask you to alter your route so as to avoid landing helicopters (yeah, it happens) or you might get stuck behind a marching protest. So even if you’re just walking your dog, the same advice applies all weekend: leave lots of time, plan your routes carefully, and ask yourself if where you’re going is absolutely necessary.
If you absolutely have to make it to an appointment downtown during Summit Week, there are no sure things, but the TTC may well be the Better-than-nothing Way.
TTC Director of Communications Brad Ross says almost all routes will be running as scheduled; the only exceptions are 6 Bay, 72A Pape, and 320 Yonge buses. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be all smooth sailing for riders. For one thing, if you use Union Station, keep in mind that the Front Street doors will be locked (all other entrances will be open).
The real transit problems, though, will happen as a result of roads downtown that have been closed spontaneously—either by police or protesters. “There will be some diversions right downtown,” Ross warns. “The real issue is we do anticipate demonstrations and protests, so some of our routes could be delayed…we’ll be monitoring that situation closely, and communicating with our customers through PA announcements, or e-alerts and through the media. The general advice is: give yourself extra time, but we really can’t say where or when there’ll be delays.”
To keep up with those route changes—whether they’re planned or impromptu—check the TTC’s website, sign up for e-alerts, or follow @TTCNotices or the crowd-sourced @TTCupdates on Twitter.
Likewise, GO Transit is also planning on running a regular schedule throughout. And like the TTC, they’re also warning riders to expect the unexpected. “What we’ve been advising customers is to expect delays because of things we have no control over, such as road closures due to demonstrations,” says spokesperson Vanessa Thomas.
Starting today, getting from point A to point B in the downtown core may seem a bit like travelling the maze in a kid’s colouring book—particularly for cyclists.
Your first obstacle will be the “Traffic Zone.” Only some streets will be open, and to get into the zone you’ll be expected to show photo ID—Constable Hugh Smith of Traffic Services suggests you carry at least two pieces with you—and then…wait. There will be line-ups as police check pedestrians’ ID and search some cars before allowing them into the zone.
Once inside, you’ll find that some streets will be open as usual, some will be closed completely, and others may only be open to sidewalk traffic, so be prepared to walk your bike. If your trip through the core normally takes an hour, allow for two during the two weeks leading up to the summit, police suggest.
Which streets will and won’t be open is still up in the air, but expect to face a convoluted route to your destination, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself seriously off-course at best, and lost at worst. In that case, Toronto Bike Messenger Association spokesperson Marli Epp points out there’s nothing wrong with asking that courier who’s stopped at a light beside you for help. “That’s a good idea, definitely,” says Epp: they know their way around the city better than most, and although some folks find them somewhat intimidating, “there’s a camaraderie between messengers and average cyclists because of what we all go through on the roads.”
When you’ve arrived at your destination, there may be other surprises waiting, according to Councillor Adrian Heaps (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest), who chairs the city’s cycling committee. If you’re used to using one of the city’s bike lockers—at Metro Hall, for instance—you may be out of luck. The City is still undecided, but the transportation committee is pushing to have them removed for the duration. One bright spot: cyclists who’re members of the Union Station bike storage station will not be affected, as those lockers will remain in use. But getting to them could be a bit of a hassle, since the Front Street entrances to Union will all be closed. (Cyclists will only have access through south entrances to Union.)
But suppose you don’t use lockers to park your bike. Heaps says there’s been talk of removing about one thousand of the post-and-ring street bike stands—some have already been taken out near the inner security perimeter—although he’s opposing the idea. How could a simple bike stand be considered a security threat? “I think it’s a concern about what could be locked to it,” says Heaps.
Getting inside the inner “Security Perimeter” will be even tougher for cyclists. Yvonne Bambrick, head of the Toronto Cyclists Union, is warning that you’ll need a special security pass. The Bike Messengers Association’s Epp points out that messengers can get a security pass from Toronto Police Service headquarters on College east of Bay, or you can contact the BMA for more information.
If, for whatever reason, you insist on living your life as normal over G20 weekend—and living your life as normal includes driving—just leave a bit (read: a lot) more time than usual.
The much-hyped three-metre fence lining the “Security Perimeter” around the Toronto Convention Centre won’t be passable, especially by car, so if your business takes you there, you’re out of luck. Similarly, the so-called “Traffic Zone” just outside the Perimeter (see our handy map) will involve police checkpoints and, we can only imagine, not a whole lot of movement.
The Integrated Security Unit is vague on specific details, except the following: you won’t be able to exit the Gardiner going eastbound at York Street, Bay Street, or Yonge Street on Friday and Saturday, and you won’t be able to get on the York Street ramp going westbound on Sunday. But you probably don’t want to be on the Gardiner or the 427 anyway. While it won’t be closed outright, the ISU is promising “intermittent restrictions”—for Obama’s motorcade and the like—which will result in “significant traffic disruption.”
If you do make it downtown, just hope you won’t have to park. Street parking in the immediate vicinity of the convention centre—between Spadina and Yonge, Lake Shore and Queen—won’t be available, and “heightened enforcement” will be in effect. It is the end of the month, after all.
Other than that, you should be okay. All 400-series highways (427 occasionally excepted) are open. Aside from other traffic stoppage due to protests and civil unrest—remember, the official protest zone is Queen’s Park, assuming no protesting happens anywhere else—the city streets are running as usual.
Just keep in mind this is all subject to change. So the bottom line? The roads will be working best if they’re leading out of town.
School’s out for summer…or for the G20 weekend if you go to U of T. The university is shutting down for the weekend, prohibiting staff and students from its St. George campus from 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 23 to Sunday night, June 27. The closure comes in anticipation of protests occurring at Queen’s Park. That means no more teachers, no more books—and, oh yeah, no more residence rooms for students living in Innis, New, University, and Woodsworth colleges, who will be temporarily relocated elsewhere.
In fact, U of T is urging all faculty (and, we assume, all students) to “consider these days of closure as if we were experiencing a long winter storm!” Well, it’ll definitely be a storm of some kind, but winter’s not the word we’d use.
Recently re-named OCAD University is following suit and locking down from Thursday to Sunday, presumably because it’s close to the security zones and because art students are prone to political protest.
Bucking the trend is Ryerson, which will remain completely open and operational during the summit. George Brown, along with most other colleges in the GTA, will also remain open. There will, however, be some changes to small things like graduation plans, so make sure you keep checking your email and any school websites important to you.
But if you’re lucky enough to be out of school, don’t waste your free time trying to communicate your unformed, liberal-arts-educated ideals through carefully organized protest. Waste it by throwing a big G20 inspired house party. We suggest dressing up as your favourite world leader and playing G20 drinking games (a Pittsburgh radio show came up with one that could be adaptable). With almost ten thousand uniformed police officers surrounding the Convention Centre and secured zones, we doubt there will be any left over to deal with your neighbour’s noise complaints. So go ahead. Have fun. Just remember: only the real Berlusconi can get away with sexist gaffes and grabby hands.
Those Leaving Town
Travel information is a moot point if you can’t even get into or out of the city. Toronto’s not totally locked-down, but transportation to and from Toronto certainly won’t be business as usual.
Let’s start with airplanes. Both Pearson International and Billy Bishop Toronto City airports will be operational, but delays can be expected in both cases. Porter Airlines, which flies off the island just a short ferry ride away from the hubbub downtown, issued a press release stating its intentions to run a full flight schedule that weekend. Porter’s complimentary shuttle bus will not run from Monday, June 21 through Sunday, June 27 due to downtown road closures and traffic delays.
If you get to the Island airport yourself, though, flights are scheduled to depart and arrive as usual. Except they can’t say that for sure: “Everyone recognizes this is an extraordinary event and new information may cause some plans to be adjusted,” Porter CEO Robert Deluce said in the statement. So again, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Pearson is farther removed from the action, but no less affected. While travellers can still expect regularly scheduled activity, they can also expect “an increased police and military presence” at the airport, according to the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
As for ground routes in and out of the city, VIA Rail announced it will keep its train schedule—just not from Union Station. From June 24 to 27 VIA will load and unload Toronto passengers from its suburban stations and breeze through the city without so much as pausing for air. Passengers will then have to take shuttle buses into the city from Oakville, Oshawa, Brampton, and North Toronto.
And for those travelling to northern Ontario, Ontario Northland train service announced it will be running coach buses to North Bay from June 24 to June 28 instead. They’ll leave from the coach terminal at Bay and Dundas, which will be much more accessible than Union Station.
If you’re planning to drive out of town yourself, our guide’s section for motorists can steer you in the right direction—far, far away from Toronto.
While residents living inside the “Security Perimeter” will be given accreditation to come and go as they need, the same does not hold true for homeless people living in those boundaries: the homeless community will not be allowed within the Perimeter at all during G20 weekend.
The CBC reported that some homeless people have been told they’ll have to vacate the area as early as June 21. Failure to leave voluntarily could mean being removed by police and, possibly, arrested.
With no fixed address, many homeless people will have trouble producing proper identification to police officers. That means, unlike people who live and work in downtown skyscrapers, they may not be able to reenter the secured zones (including the “Traffic Zone”) at all during G20 week—not even for access to shelters and other important services.
While the Streets to Homes program is working in overdrive to help members of the homeless community in the area relocate, lots of people are bound to slip through the cracks due to the sheer size of the restricted zones, and the lack of easy communication to the community.
The Integrated Security Unit for the G20 insists these measures are for the good of the community and come as a means of protecting the “safety and security of our most vulnerable communities,” perhaps from protesters and riot cops.
OpenFile also reports, in their piece about how the homeless will be affected by the G20, that the Gateway Shelter will be open extended hours—from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.—to help with the increased demand. It’s just one organization trying to accommodate the move, but only time will tell whether this message spreads early and far enough through the downtown community.
Stephen Harper insists that the G20 is an opportunity to showcase Toronto to the world, which is why the city is rolling out the Welcome Wagon—er, the Salutation Sound Cannon.
If you’ve already booked your trip to Toronto and don’t belong to a governmental delegation or protest group, you might be wondering what to do this weekend. The answer? Go to Montréal.
Several key tourist attractions are closed G20 weekend. The CN Tower, which bills itself as “Canada’s most recognizable and celebrated icon,” will be closed from June 25 to the 27 due to its proximity to the Convention Centre. It will reopen on the Monday.
The Art Gallery of Ontario will also be closed, as will the Mirvish productions Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages, both at theatres on King Street Street. The Globe and Mail reported that the theatres will be dark the entire week of June 21 to June 27 due to security concerns, as well as concerns about ticket holders not being able to get through traffic jams and police blockages to get to the venues.
Even tours will be hard to come by. Toronto Hippo Tours is moving its operations from Front Street to the Delta Chelsea Hotel in the weeks leading up to the G20 weekend, but it expects some route alterations in the days immediately before the summit. “We’ll be closing for the actual weekend of the summit,” said PR Manager Anne Greenwood. “There’s not much we can do.”
Unpredictable traffic schedules and an inability to navigate such large portions of the downtown core have forced other tour operators to close as well. Toronto Tours won’t be operating its City or Harbour tours, and a Gray Line operator said the company hopes to be running, but can’t speculate yet on details or even whether it’s possible.
All of that, of course, is contingent on tourists being here that weekend at all. Sarkozy probably won’t be taking in the Textile Museum, but delegates from all over the world are taking up hotel rooms. The Globe thoroughly canvassed area hotels, none of which have available rooms and only a few of which have non-summit guests.
If you’re one of the lucky few to have a room, there’s another unknown variable to throw into the mix: the potential hotel workers strike. It’ll likely affect the French delegation at the Novotel most, but the threat of full-scale tourism shutdown looms large.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. Andrew Weir, vice president of communications of Tourism Toronto, is enthusiastic about the summit. “It’s a unique opportunity to see a global summit. It’ll be a tremendous spectacle,” he says. “We don’t have a global summit of thirty thousand people every day. It’s not lost on us that there will be logistical issues. But that’s what comes with hosting a major world event.” So, tourists, go out and ogle the protestors and see if you can’t catch a glimpse of Obama!
If the summit’s not your thing, Weir reminds us that Toronto really does have a lot to offer beyond the CN Tower. “People will discover new things about Toronto that weekend, especially the scope and breadth of the city,” he says. “With the World Cup, every neighbourhood in the city will be alive and electric and completely remarkable. People can move about the city and, while some downtown attractions are closing, others, like the ROM with Terracotta Warriors [opening June 26], are opening massive global exhibitions that weekend.”
He also said some entertainment district restaurants are planning on extending their hours to accommodate visiting media and delegates. That means you can talk soccer and listen to jazz (the festival’s still on!) with the rest of the world well into the night.
Introduction by Peter Saltsman. Illustrations by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.
Follow Torontoist’s coverage of the G20 over the days leading up to it here, or check in on the weekend of—June 26 and 27—for live, continuous G20 coverage from our reporters and photographers.