To paraphrase anarcho-musician Utah Phillips, youth are always told they are the country's most valuable natural resource, and have you seen what we do to our natural resources? It's a thought that sprang to mind when I heard about the recent row over Albert Campbell Square between youth activists and Scarborough officials.
It seems that following a fashion show at the square beside the Civic Centre two years ago, a group of young people looted stores at the nearby Scarborough Town Centre. There were calls to ban similar events from the square, and youth groups booking events have been subject to increased scrutiny ever since.
Things came to a boil last week when Glenn De Baeremaeker told the media, "Until I, as a local councillor, have a comfort level that any event is going to be done safely and securely and nobody will get hurt, we won't have any more youth events. If the seniors' stamp club want to have a show, I feel secure."
Members of the Toronto Youth Council were quick to respond. "Keeping youth out of a public square is unacceptable,' says Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, who is also a member of the Mayor's Panel on Community Safety.
When I get De Baeremaeker on the phone, he denies there's an official youth ban. "We're trying to make sure events happen at a venue that guarantees safety," he says.
Prior to the fateful fashion show, Albert Campbell Square, unlike most civic squares in Toronto, had no permit process. After the events, it has stricter regs than any of them. These include standard requirements such as liability insurance and health department permits for food preparation - but come with extra toppings. The ages of organizers and participants must be specified, and groups must be checked out beforehand by the police, who also sit on a committee (along with mall and TTC representatives) that vets the permits.
How does this prevent similar incidents? "It doesn't, per se,' De Baeremaeker says. Then why are we doing this? "It's just about safe events. This is some free advice I'm giving.'
I concede that his earlier comments about comfort levels and seniors' stamp clubs could be open to interpretation. Until the councillor expands on them. "I am making a distinction based on age,' he tells me. "If that's discrimination, call me discriminatory."
The TYC already have. "The sense I get is that he doesn't have a true desire to understand youth issues in the city,' says Chaleff-Freudenthaler.
"We didn't have any seniors show up with a machete,' says De Baeremaeker in his own defence, saying that someone at one of the events in question had had a hunting knife.
"There are cameras and officers in banks when any of us go in there," he points out. "All thanks to a few bad apples."
That's true - except everyone is still allowed in. Of course, if just you want to meet up in the square informally for some gang warfare, no one's stopping you. But if you want to put on a fashion show, you'd better bring some ID.
Most youth advocates will tell you that events don't create youth anger. That role has already been filled by poverty, boredom, alienation and power structures that don't treat them like citizens. To this end, the TYC participates in community safety panels set up to look at youth issues in Scarborough, St. Jamestown, Regent Park, Jane-Finch and Parkdale. The council also encourages keeping schools open 24/7 so they can function as community centres in the off hours. Kids need something to do, and neither stamp collecting nor burger flipping counts.
Surprisingly, De Baeremaeker suggests three other spaces for events in the borough - Thompson Memorial Park, and Centennial and Cedarbrook community centres - that do not have similar processes. What happened to guaranteeing safe events? Why focus on Albert Campbell Square?
"It's a unique architectural characteristic - I don't know if we have it anywhere else," he says. "It's a large public square 30 metres from the entrance to a shopping mall."
Well, Dundas Square comes readily to mind, if we can consider it public. It has more private security than most banks. But it is across from the Eaton Centre, whose owners, Cadillac Fairview, were among the original cheerleaders for Dundas Square. Perhaps they've given some "free advice' to Scarborough Town Centre management.
Given that City Hall is looking at harmonizing public permit processes across the megacity, the Albert Campbell management committee, which includes police, sets an extreme precedent, to say the least. Consider the potential this policy has for reviving a once-rebuked police bid to have a veto over public demonstrations.
As things stand, the TYC, having established communication channels with the mayor's office on the issue, has reined in threats of filing human rights grievances. "As long as we're working toward a solution and not dragging our heels, we're committed to the process,' says Chaleff-Freudenthaler. "But I would hope the ban is lifted by spring."
And the committee? "I would be happy to have a youth rep involved,' says De Baeremaeker. Some good may come of this after all. The best way to make sure people are leaders in the future is to allow them to become leaders in the present.