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G20: Well, that was interesting

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Line of riot police in downtown Toronto. (Submitted by dav photo corp via Flickr)

By Carmen Millet, G20 citizen blogger


carmen52.jpgAnd here I was complaining that there weren't any G20-related things to talk about. I guess it's true what they say: be careful what you wish for.

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I'd see this beautiful city look like it was something that's normally beamed into my house from a war zone far, far away.

I never imagined I'd get goose bumps at the sight of thousands of protesters peacefully marching down University Avenue in passionate support of their causes and, later that same day, police that looked like robots in riot gear, cars on fire, and windows of businesses in my neighbourhood completely demolished.

Sadly, the thugs and vandals whose primary goal was to wreak havoc on our city, for a short time, succeeded. The fence seems to have been a symbolic target for them -- a symbol of power, exclusion, and greed. On the other hand, seeing police kettle ordinary citizens who were simply walking home from the gym, for example, seemed so, well, un-Canadian.

Living in a virtual ghost town for five days was not something I enjoyed. To walk around and literally see no one other than police officers made me stop and take pause as I wondered if this is how it felt for people living in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. Hearing helicopters flying overhead day and night. Being questioned about who you are when you're simply trying to get across your own city. It felt like my freedom had been taken away. It felt like being trapped in your own home, a place you're normally comfortable. A place you love.

I, for one, never want to experience those feelings again.

And what did the G20 really do for Toronto? According to our prime minister, it was supposed to show off this amazing city and its people. It's true that we have a lot to be proud of -- Toronto is unequivocally one of the most vibrant, superb cities in the world. We lead in environmental issues (to wit, we have a coloured-bin system that practically requires a PhD to understand it), and people from across the globe live in our communities that are, for the most part, inclusive, understanding, and unified. Our economy is one of the best in the world, and there are so many cultural activities to do here that, if you ever get bored, you just simply don't know how to have a good time.

Yet, because 20 leaders needed a place to hang for a couple of days, Canada's financial hub was paralysed. We passed secret laws, postponed the 30th anniversary of Pride, nearly crippled the Toronto Jazz Festival, and had to relocate the Toronto Blue Jays (and cancel a sold-out series), and the much-anticipated return of Roy Halladay and the Phillies, to be the "home" team in a city not our own.

The question of whether it was right to hold the G20 in the downtown core will be mused about for years to come. As someone who lived at the proverbial "ground zero," it seems that having an event in a way and a place that ultimately displaced its own citizens was bafflingly silly.

I am thrilled it's over. Seeing people other than protesters and police officers downtown again, hearing the streetcars clatter down the street, and hearing horns honking are like manna from heaven. Signs of life I took for granted before this traveling dog and pony show came to town.

Toronto is many things, but one thing's for sure -- after 175 years, Toronto is tough. This was a tiny blip on the screen of this spirited city. We came, we saw, we made it.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

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