Manufacturing fear and restricting the public's access to elected officials

Post by Eric Mang in

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big-brother-posterOn a few occasions, CityCaucus has pondered the ill-effects of Big Brother security measures. For example, following a study of closed circuit TVs (CCTVs) in the UK, out of 13 areas, “only two showed a statistically significant reduction relative to the control, and in one of these cases the change could be explained by the presence of confounding variables.”

Thus, the illusion of security. But even that illusion is an, um, illusion. Welsh and Farrington (2002) found that when respondents knew that CCTVs were installed in their communities, respondents did not have a feeling of security.

Similarly, the efficacy of the Orwellian-sounding Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Advisory System is questionable given that there are no criteria (that we know of – could be a state secret) for the threat levels. And if we don’t know how threats are measured, how can we know if the system is effective? When the threat level is blue do I pack a sweater?

This is about maintaining a feeling of security rather than providing any real protection (some of you will dispute my comments regarding the usefulness of HSAS, and your Dick Cheney speaking notes aside, if any terrorist plots were secretly foiled, I’m sure the public was not privy to such actions by changing the threat level to orange).

A few Toronto city Councillors seem to be enthralled with this concept of security and want more of it on the second floor of City Hall, where Councillor offices are located.

Councillor Michael Thompson, known for such utterances as suggesting that police should “target” young black men at random, thinks our “volatile environment” (i.e. less than buoyant economy) is encouraging unsavory types to wander into Councillor offices.

Councillor Norm Kelly said he didn’t want “strangers polluting or complicating the process.” I don’t know what process he’s talking about but it must involve keeping those pesky plebs away from the hallowed halls of political power.

But in case you think these poor, imperiled Councillors work in glass cubicles in the middle of Nathan Phillips Square, the Toronto Star reports that “the corridor serving councillors' offices is behind locked doors, with access by electronic pass card. Three sets of doors have receptionists who screen visitors during daytime hours.”

Agents 86 and 99 had to go through fewer doors and check points (should we raise an eyebrow or two that the name of Maxwell Smart’s government spy agency was called “CONTROL”?). And of course Toronto Councillors have a panic button they can press when James Bond or an unruly lobbyist sneaks through all that security. The Flying Monkeys are summoned and the infiltrator is whisked away and held in a dungeon under Old City Hall.

The voice of sanity, as usual, is Councillor Adam Vaughan. One of the few city Councillors who hasn’t forgotten that the only reason he gets to pad around the august corridors of our quasi-futuristic City Hall is because the people put him there.

In a moment of sober reflection and respect for public access, Vaughan says this about the security non-issue: “If we're worried about the anger we might provoke in the public, perhaps it's our behaviour that needs to be curtailed – and not another layer of security that makes it that much more difficult to access public officials and committee meetings.”

Exactly. This is our city hall and these people work for us. Of course certain measures must be in place to protect anyone from a child-eating, sewer-dwelling clown, but I would submit that the layers of security presently in place at City Hall are sufficient. Those politicians, such as Kelly and Thompson, who want to bar access, forget who they serve and are guilty of creating a security threat where none exists.

I’m not sure which of these charges is more egregious, but I thank Councillor Vaughan for voicing a sound perspective.

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