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Photos by Jason Mortlock
Words by Michèle Champagne


When is a world summit no longer a world summit? When its designed like an billion-dollar VIP party. Take the Toronto G20 Summit for example. No invitation for citizens, who hit the streets and come away looking like angry mobs. No crowd surfing for leaders, who hide behind security and come away looking like authoritarian fools. If this party wasn’t designed for mingling, why spend billions plotting it in Canada’s largest metropolis?

At first glance, world summits appear to be successful examples of leaders coming together to solve problems. Simple enough. Summits are organized by governments hoping to drum up local business. But most of all, they want to drum up multi-national trade deals and financial integration. And, a few dozen million are usually spent on keeping leaders safe for a few days. Like the $19 million US spent in Pittsburg for its G20.

But when a summit so quickly turns into bad press, marshall law, unimaginable budgets, massive protests and arrests, why does it continue to be designed the way it is? Like an expensive VIP party? And why then did the Canadian conservative government spend a whopping $993 million Cdn on its security? That’s almost a billion.



And for what? Hardly any progress is made on the agenda. As a media event, the summit is pretty dull. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings and Executives just max and relax, sitting around as interpreters translate their every thought. Then, graphic backdrops, leaders’ wives and Bono are dragged out to add sugar and spice. As if Canadian leaders went nuts with mommy and daddy’s credit card to throw a useless, boring VIP party, and hoped no one would notice.

But of course, lots of people noticed; just like they do at every other VIP party.

Indeed, if one watched news of the Toronto G20, it was clear that quite a large part of the citizenry noticed. And protested. And stole the limelight. Hundreds of thousands of protesters came from all over the country—and from all over the world—to dress up and parade around in their typical choreographic fashion. Gender equality over here; Aboriginal rights over there. Union workers here; Nurses and teachers over there. With a good mix of Falun Gong meditation, “save the cuban five” t-shirts and “9-11 was an inside job” DVDs.



Of course, its one thing to recognize the plight of people who are ostracized, whether socially, politically or economically. But the smorgasbord of issues was simply overwhelming. Even those who may have sympathized in principle—and who might have joined the chorus—stayed at home because protests got so bizarro. Even scary. Especially the black-mask types, who weren’t invited by protesters or world leaders. Or so it seemed.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters remained peaceful throughout several days—with their Ray Bans, Converse, keffiyehs and peace posters. Yet a small group of black-masks stole the show with their typical dash of vandalism and arsony. In other words, about 100 individuals, all-dressed in black, roamed freely for hours and hours, smashing windows and setting police cars on fire.

How did this happen? Why didn’t the $993 million-dollar security force stop them? Were their platform security shoes too high for comfort? Why were police cars abandoned in the middle of Toronto’s busiest downtown streets? Were the Ford Crown Victorias really going out of style? And why did these isolated incidents lead to crowd clearings, kettlings, snatchings, beatings, and the largest mass arrest in Canadian history?



There were no answers to these questions. And perhaps there never will be. But the curious case of black-masks was not new to Canadians. Or at least, not new to those who paid attention. Especially to reports coming from a Security and Prosperity Partnership Summit in Montebello, Québec from 2007. At a publicly held press conference, the Sûreté du Québec (a regional police force) admitted they went undercover as black-masks during Montebello protests. Officially, they denied forces were “agents provocateurs” and no charges were laid. But as YouTube videos revealed, officers were clearly inciting violence. If undercover officers were playing rough in Montebello, were they also playing rough in Toronto?

Again, there were no answers to these questions. Independent public inquiries were out of the question, and rumors were left for conspiracy theorists. Nevertheless, if leaders and protesters dropped the ball on this latest summer party, it was black-masks and police forces who picked it back up.

In an era of fiscal austerity and spending cuts, its curious to see how governments explain their billion-dollar parties. Especially those designed to instigate public resentment and spotlight but a naughty few. If security and face time were issues for leaders, why then meet in city centers? Why not convene in isolated areas like Timbuktu? Or the Dark Slope Crater of Ascension Island? Then, leaders could find peace and quiet for their wheeling and dealing. And, summits could ascend to the kind of parties they’ve always wanted to be: black holes overdosing on satan’s whiskers, salty dogs and singapore slings.


Jason Mortlock is a photographer based in Toronto.


To see more of Jason’s Billion-Dollar Party shots,
get our printed launch issue at:

‘The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades’
Sandberg Institute design events
8–10 July 2011, Opening 8 July 2011, 20.00
Vondelbunker, Amsterdam



  • Thought by Ahmad Chakkour — 2011/06/20 @ 12:19

    There was only a day when you sat at home watching state television showing how beloved leaders were. Leaders have always been ridiculed. Threatened. Assassinated. In public. But never on television. Now we have video cameras on our mobiles, and let’s not forget the internet. That’s why leaders don’t walk about anymore. They can’t sweep their shit under the rug anymore.

  • Thought by Xander Z. — 2011/06/14 @ 20:47

    There was a day, when leaders travelled the world with poise. When generals, queens or presidents were welcomed by crowds. When people lined the streets and waved flags. Even got their babies kissed.

    But no more. Leaders can’t walk about on the streets of their host cities. There’s no more good PR to be had by appearing abroad. Not even a baby kissing booth could solve their problems.

That New Design Smell
Issue n° 0
Michèle Champagne
Web Concept & Design
Lennart Bruger
Co-conspirators include
Daniel van der Velden / Metahaven
and Gert Dumbar
Glorious contributions by
Cedric Flazinski,
Anja Groten, Femke Herregraven
and Jason Mortlock