The crowd of artists, actors and other unionized cultural workers are taken aback when police officers stop them at the entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds at the end of Monday's Labour Day parade.
They can only enter, they're told, if they pop the hundreds of colourful balloons they're carrying.
Of all the law enforcement duties a police officer must carry out, forcing citizens to pop their balloons is surely one of the most inexplicable.
But Toronto's finest are serving and protecting the United States Air Force, whose war planes are soon scheduled to roar through the sky as part of the annual air show, billed as a family entertainment extravaganza by the Tim Horton Children's Foundation, an advertiser in the air show guide, whose motto is "helping children gain a positive view of the world."
For all of their shock-and-awe power, it appears that these flying angels of death are vulnerable to balloons. An area below the war show airspace must be designated balloon-free, forcing the thespians to entertain a rather Shakespearean question: "When we prick thee, do you not pop?"
And so the sound of many balloons popping is heard before the group enters the grounds, though some balloons act independently and break free.
But even before the last of them is popped, the sounds of terror - sounds familiar to many in Toronto who came here to escape wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan - fill the air.
How would the people of Lebanon react to this glorification of war? Would we think it appropriate to have a family fun day celebrating the "awesome aerodynamics" of Katyusha rockets, thousands of which terrorized Israeli citizens this summer?
In an effort to demilitarize the CNE war show and celebrate the many Canadian civil aviation achievements, a new coalition, WING (War Is Not a Game Committee) came together this August. The group wrote to the CNE asking that the air show be cancelled, noting that in 1999 Montreal called off its air show because organizers felt it was too soon after the horrific bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO to fly jets over Montreal as entertainment. The CNE organizers never responded.
At the Ex, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, Homes Not Bombs, the Toronto Catholic Worker and Country Music Fans Against War come together for a prayerful circle, trying to share a moment of solemn silence amidst the sounds of war.
The group passes out flyers along the jam-packed streets and tries to dialogue with war show fans and spectators. Air show memorabilia only provides technical details, making no mention of the human misery these machines wreak.
We prove an annoyance to spectators as we walk along the boardwalk with our huge banner and colourful placards.
Some spectators hurl verbal abuse. "Why don't you just go join the Taliban?" shouts one. Another grabs a placard and tears at it, leaving a large hole that looks like a shark bite.
Somehow, war has got mixed up with the notion of freedom. And it's no wonder: patriotic songs and perky pep talks about the defence of our way of life bombard us as the warplanes fly overhead.
How does dropping 2,000-pound bombs on Afghan villages equal freedom?
Past war shows have featured an obstacle-course "game" called Kiddie Commando. But this year's CNE offers the real thing: kids can pick up, hold and aim assault weapons, sit on tanks or inside armoured personnel carriers and win dog tags if they show themselves capable of pulling the device on an artillery piece that launches mortar fire.
There are also huge posters advertising upwards of $8,000 in free tuition if they sign up with the Canadian Forces.
What good will those lectures about not bringing guns to school be in tomorrow's grade-nine classes, when the CNE presents assault weapons as part of the family fun experience?