When I arrived at City Hall on June 29 to register to run for Mayor, I was mildly frustrated that there were plenty of security staff there checking to see if I had bombs in my bag, but no information booth to help me find out where Elections Toronto was. After searching in vain for staff I eventually found Elections Toronto after going back through security, but the implication that I or others were potential threats to City Hall was not the way I wanted to be received at the building that is the centre of my city’s democracy. Still, I wondered if I was being unreasonable, after all, everyone else seemed to be okay with these measures. Then I interviewed Adam Cohoon on my podcast. Adam is an accessibility advocate who has been vocal in his calls for improvements on the TTC and elsewhere in our public realm so that those with physical disabilities aren’t excluded from our city. He told me that when he showed up at City Hall in July, he had the indignity of having to explain his bladder routines to guards after the contents of the bags on his power wheelchair were taken out during the screening process.
After hearing his story, I realized the security measures were more than an inconvenience, they were a genuine barrier to democracy. Civic advocates like Dave Meslin have written about the impacts that security measures have, pointing out that an evidence-based risk assessment that measures benefits against negative consequences is a better approach.
I don’t believe that searching residents, otherwise called “patron screening,” makes City Hall safer, and I certainly don’t believe it creates a welcoming environment. Residents are not patrons of government, they are their employers, and it doesn’t make sense to me to ask the people who pay city councillors’ salaries to be subject to a search to see them.
While I understand the desire to feel safe, we are ultimately only as safe as our city is. Crime prevention happens by taking thoughtful city-wide action, not by clamping down on those who wish to visit City Hall to make their voices heard.
I must also point out that City Hall already has a highly trained pool of employees equipped to deal with crime. The 52 Division of the Toronto Police is located just four short blocks from City Hall in the case of emergency. And I’m certainly not opposed to having trained staff onsite that are available to respond should someone be harassing or threatening residents or staff at City Hall. I just want to make sure that whatever security measures we take do not hinder access to government. My goal is to welcome residents – and all that they have to contribute – into the City Hall their taxes pay for.