John Sewell: $100 million windfall for Toronto police

“It’s important work you are doing, so spend what you must, and do what you must.”

Maybe they aren’t the exact words that were spoken, but it seems awfully likely that police authorities were given an open chequebook when they were tasked with providing security for the G20 and G8 meetings in Toronto and Huntsville later this month.

And it’s not just the money that’s disturbing: The disruption that is being caused to those of us living and working Downtown is considerable.

The initial estimate of security costs presented to Ottawa a few months ago was $179 million, and that’s much higher than the $30 million spent by British police to provide security for the meeting of G20 leaders in London in April 2009, or the $110 million spent for the meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005. Since that early estimate, expected costs have risen to a certain $830 million and a probable $1.1 billion. It’s not much different than the gun registry, estimated to cost $50 million but with a final bill of more than $1 billion.

One example of spending money as though it is going out of fashion is the installation of 77 new video cameras on Downtown street corners.Last year the chief reported that $2 million was needed to buy and install one of these cameras, so it looks like almost $150 million has been spent on just this one kind of equipment. Will they be dismantled once the G20 is over?

It’s unclear what the other equipment costs are: armour for the 5000+ officers, the extraordinary guns and other firepower at their command, the helicopters which will be circling Downtown, the armoured vehicles that we’ll see on the streets, the communications system? Chief Blair has said that about $100 million has been allocated to the Toronto force, and it seems most of that is to pay staff—a windfall in overtime for Toronto officers.

Who has been approving these expenditure allocations? No one except police authorities, it seems. It looks as though Toronto police worked with the OPP and the RCMP without any local or provincial oversight or accountability, and it’s clear from what Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said that the Harper government exercised no oversight.

The disruption to us locals is all too clear. The police will be establishing a secure perimeter in the large superblock from King Street south to the Lakeshore, from Spadina Avenue to Yonge St. It won’t quite be closed down, but access into and through it won’t be easy. You’ll need a permit from the police,which is why some of the 11 child-care centres within it have already announced plans to close the week before the meetings on June 25 and 26. Tough luck if you are trying to run a business there that depends on traffic. Parking will be a mess. And within that area, probably close to the Metro Convention Centre, fences will be erected.

Large law firms close to or within the perimeter (that includes most of the city’s large law firms) have already decided to cancel on-site client meetings the week before the event since access is so uncertain. The Blue Jays have cancelled their games that weekend in Rogers Centre and will leave for Philadelphia. University of Toronto is shutting down for a week, obviously worried that demonstrators might hide out on campus. The helicopters, which will circle at all hours of the day and night, will be very noisy; worse than the CNE air show.

Councillor Adam Vaughan has been complaining about these kinds of problems since day one and not getting very far. Councillor Pam McConnell, who is on the Toronto Police Services Board, has been generally silent.

Police keep raising the temperature about all the trouble we can expect. Four sonic boom machines have been purchased to terrify and deafen demonstrators; a warehouse in the port lands has been prepared to hold protestors who are arrested. All this has the effect of emboldening the crazies (witness those vandalizing bank machines) and frightening the rest of us. The police have done such a good job making so many people feel insecure that if possible most will leave the city altogether during the meetings.

Police ideas about what’s needed in the name of security seem to be far more important than how the city might function in a more-or-less normal fashion.

We have a few weeks to establish some sense of order and security. Perhaps our political figures can show some leadership. We might not be able to do much about the extraordinary sums spent on this, but surely we can arrive at police procedures that make us more rather than less secure.

Toronto police chief Bill Blair is certainly correct when he says success will be measured by nothing happening. Well, too much is already happening. Time to restore some order.