Cab driver Louis Seta lifts what looks like a cross between a window for a fare booth and a riot shield.
After a brief Escher moment, it's possible to imagine the claustrophobia of being behind the barrier - about the width and height of a sedan's cabin - and easy to wonder how much safety the plastic really affords.
But as the media's flashbulbs reflect off of its surface, it's clear that the shield fills another role: a concrete representation of not just the precarious situation many cabbies work in but the racial divide that exists between drivers on the issue.
The tragic stabbing death of Mahmood Bhatti in May moved Councillor Janet Davis to seek city approval for the mandatory use of barriers in all Toronto cabs at a meeting of the Planning and Transportation committee on July 4.
Support for the use of shields is far from universal among cab drivers. Many fear that the shields will make their cabs less welcoming, especially to the tourists who make up the bulk of cabbies' income.
"I'm not going to war, I'm going to work," says George Barisioc. "I came here to be a free man, not to be caged in like a bird."
Catherine Monserie agrees. "If I have the shield, I'm out of the business," she says, joining a handful of other drivers who've expressed a similar sentiment.
She also doubts the shield's efficacy, fearing it might provoke rather than prevent attacks. "People will see the shield and think, "Oh, they have a lot of money.' Stabbings will just become shootings."
Monserie, who owns her cab, offers a compromise: "Drivers should have the choice... I can't say no for other drivers."
I wonder if it's a coincidence that a female cabbie, an overwhelming minority in the business, is the one to point out the unspoken inequality among the deputants.
It's notable that all those speaking against the proposal are independent owner/operators and almost all white. By contrast, those fervently supporting mandatory shields work for cab companies as shift drivers often at night and almost none of them are white. The advice to shield opponents: don't work the rough neighbourhoods, pick your fares carefully, use your instincts. As if everyone has that choice.
Owen Leach suggests that fear of violence exists among all cabbies, and though he never says it explicitly, raises the question of whether those who say they only take "good fares" mean they prioritize white passengers.
"I am finding a lot of black youth in the city are not being served," he says. He believes shields could allay drivers' fears justified or not in certain neighbourhoods.
But after Davis, the motion's only supporter is mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield.
Her creative approach to the issue focuses on tourism. She wonders whether the shields' potential to prevent crime would stem negative press about Toronto and draw tourists back. But it could be that a cover story on her election bid in the inaugural issue of In the City, a news magazine put out by cabbies, might have helped her see the shields' utility.
Ultimately, support among committee members is lukewarm at best. "Why should we force drivers to put shields in?" asks Case Ootes, pointing out that cabbies are "self-employed."
But self-employed may be a term of convenience in this case. Cabbies seem to be anything but whenever something is added to the litany of regulations hanging off the back of any taxi's passenger seat, or when the city mandated the use of cameras in all cabs at driver's expense.
When the city wants something like shields for bus drivers, the expenditure is easily justified as part of the transit infrastructure. When cabbies want something, they're "self-employed."
"The city did not want to portray Toronto as unsafe," says Bashir Husen. But "if a TTC driver were killed, safety measures would be implemented immediately."
In fact, by contrast, recent incidents of violence against TTC drivers have prompted the TTC to look seriously at putting in shields on streetcars on the commission's tab.
Though impassioned deputations take up most of the five-hour debate, most councillors wear the expressions they wear when they've already made their decisions. And the actual debate is short-lived.
Howard Moscoe points out that crime against cabbies dropped 70 per cent after cameras were introduced and doubts shields would do much more despite the fact that some drivers say they no longer bother reporting crimes to the police, since officers rarely respond.
Michael Thompson bristles at this suggestion about the cops, and defers the motion until the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) releases standards for taxi shields.
The CSA, of course, has no such plans, prompting the majority of the committee to effectively kill the shield proposal.
Other councillors suddenly agree with Thompson that the real issue for the city is one of avoiding liability should a shield not work, when moments before they were supposedly reluctant to infringe on drivers' liberties.
Davis is livid. "We have strung cabbies along for years," she says.