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By rob mclennan

This article is a part of rob's personal essay series, "Sleeping in Toronto."

a whole city can disappear and a love
that suddenly inevitable become a smudge
          Catherine Owen, “Somewhere in Toronto,” Frenzy (2009)

The stress that lead up to the G20 Summit in Toronto, the weekend of June 26 and 27, trying to convince Lainna that she needed to be somewhere else, her condo sitting square up against the boundary of the “red zone,” circling Metro Toronto’s convention centre. For the weeks leading up, every day, news reports of another unexpected closure, including the CN Tower, parts of the Gardiner Expressway, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Bank in the financial district, boarding up windows of government buildings. How much disruption does a conference require? When a tree falls in a forest, I suppose. If it doesn’t make noise, it can’t legitimately be called a successful summit. Where are your revolutionary odes now, Toronto? A shallow artificial lake and skyrocketing costs, built to replicate Muskoka for the sake of foreign journalists, costing well more, according to one MP, than more than 40 per cent of Canadians make over a year. We need to showcase Canada to the world, the Prime Minister tells us; didn’t we just have an Olympics doing that? Already dubbed “Harper’s Folly,” for the $57,000.00 price tag of fake lake alone. What is it Karen Solie wrote in her Toronto Star piece on Casa Mendoza? “It’s hard sometimes not to take Toronto personally.”

Every logic says it should have been located somewhere else; the cost skyrocketing, and still not accounting for lost revenues from, for example, a theatre shutting down performances, or hot dog vendors removed from street corners. Every day another illogical move, including the choice to tear out saplings so they wouldn't be used as weapons, or Lainna’s condo asking tenants to prepare for up to four days of food and water, in case the entire building is forced into lock-down. What if she were on the outside when that happened? Even her sister's office in the financial district, telling employees to bring pajamas, a change of clothes, in case they’re trapped inside. Who would want to sleep in their office? Telling lawyers, even the work-week before, not to wear suits but wear casual, so as not to be targeted. The Saturday before, the Globe and Mail's John Allemang, regular scribe of verse, published his “ode to oppression,” the poem “G20 Blues,” that ends with:

So army snipers stake out spots
Where they can get the cleanest shots,
While faceless men in suits and ties
Put on democracy's disguise,
And journalists behold T.O.
Now stripped of life, completely faux.
In compensation, there's a lake
Where visitors can learn to fake
A version of Muskoka's peace
With fewer bugs and more police
To guard their high-cost paradise
From those of us who'll pay the price.

Pretty much all media reporting the number of problems, the amount of disruption and the general ill-conceived notion of a summit as such in the downtown core of the biggest city in the country. Harper's folly, indeed.

As part of CBC's “G20 street level” blog the following day, blogger Carmen Millet writes about the dangers of living anywhere near the “red zone,” and the previously-unknown dangers inherent in living and remaining downtown, receiving a “G20 Summit Resident Information Guide.”

Here are suggestions of things we would normally do, but won't be allowed to do during the summit:
  • Pick up parcels.
  • Use any of the building's stairwells (unless in the event of emergency, of course).
  • Order food for delivery.
  • Have guests (if you expect a guest, they must be pre-registered by June 24).
  • Hang out in the lobby (read: no loitering).
  • Wear anything other than T-shirts outside the building (because wearing business attire may put us in a "susceptible" position).
  • Engage in conversations with the protesters.
  • Leave the building in our cars (I need more exercise anyway).
  • Use the barbecue, patio or recreation areas (you know, because cooking some meat or running on the treadmill may or may not attract hungry, exercise-seeking protesters).

But by the Tuesday immediately preceding, the media shifting gears, our national and daily newspapers turning top speed on a dime, proclaiming the sense that the meetings make, the security a small price to pay, no matter what the charge. What happens when policy gets twisted through ideology? Protesters turn down Yonge Street by Wednesday, Thursday. At a launch on Thursday night on the Danforth for Windsor, Ontario literary journal Rampike, poet Gregory Betts read his own poem for the occasion, number 99 of his “three words per poem” project up at

99 – Since the G8

Since the G8
the H
I've been keeping a list

          1.26 million five star meals,
          5,000 limos,
          15,000 politicians,
          20 bear-proof dumpsters,
          3.5 km of three metre tall fence,
          5,000 government funded employees,
          1 entire downtown core,
          and a pool that no-one can use

Since the G8
my assignment,
can I have an extension?

I can’t seem to score
a single Bingo
in this stupid game.

Friday morning: we got the hell out of town.

* * *

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of some twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections gifts (Talonbooks), a compact of words (Salmon Poetry, Ireland), kate street (Moira), wild horses (University of Alberta Press) and a second novel, missing persons (The Mercury Press). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at He will be spending much of the next year in Toronto.

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