Three weeks ago, Now Magazine published a first-person account of the forcible confinement and assault of regular contributor (and Pedestrian Committee member) Roger Brook. On an unspecified part of Dufferin, Brook stopped to take down one of those junk signs illegally attached to utility poles throughout the city—the kind of advertising that even right-wing city councillors get pissy about [PDF]. Despite the fact that he (and the sign) were fully within the public space, Brook was threatened and attacked by a private security guard who wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him to a fence, and radioed the police. Private security of course has no such authority in the public space—nor had Brook done anything illegal—but silly things like laws aren’t really of much interest to someone whose behaviour would warrant a feature-length investigation even if he were a cop. Brook’s article gave us difficulty sleeping; we have no idea how we would handle the situation he found himself in.
The issue of private security in public space is a frightening one—it’s like a police force with even less accountability. Or, more accurately, it’s like bands of mercenaries accountable only to the interests that hire them; these tend to be Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), which sometimes see employing private security as a logical extension of paying people to sweep the streets. Indeed, last summer’s Chinatown pilot was explicitly aimed at hassling panhandlers and other street people. So city sidewalks—if there are enough businesses abutting them—are being clamped down on as though they were the PATH; Brook quotes Councillor Vaughan asking about Chinatown, “Is it different than a mall, the TD Centre?” To which we must reply, Yes!
Yesterday afternoon we discovered the above signs attached to trees up and down Spadina. While we wish the artist had heard of TinyURL, it is still the most exhilarating public art intervention we’ve seen in some time. And, as of 7 p.m., only one had been taken down.